Thailand is a traveller’s dream: delicious food, beautiful islands and frenetic cities all explorable at a cheap price! Known as 'The Land of Smiles', Thailand is a friendly and welcoming country where you can experience the trip of a lifetime without breaking the bank. During my time in Thailand I discovered the great places to visit and explore on a budget and I've combined them to make a six week trip.
Bangkok is the hub of Thailand and most likely where you'll arrive. I landed as a jittery 18 year old who didn't even like rice and when I left Asia 7 months later I was a changed girl!
Bangkok is a chaotic, crazy capital so don't worry if it seems a bit daunting, especially if it's your first time in Asia. If it’s your first visit, the best thing is to dive in, take everything in your stride and your travel confidence will multiply in leaps and bounds. For a 'soft landing', see our 4-day Bangkok stop over which includes return airport transfers, accommodation and a half day tour of Wat Pho.
The Grand Palace will be first on the list of sites but if you're saving your pennies, check out Wat Pho instead. Cheaper and equally impressive the Reclining Buddha is 43m long and over 15m tall with feet made from mother of pearl. With its shining golden body, the Buddha at Wat Pho is one of the most beautiful I saw in all of Thailand and believe me, you'll see plenty!
For delicious street food, head to Chinatown and squeeze your way through the tiny lanes and try some hot snacks from the Thai and Chinese vendors. Squid on a stick anyone?
After 4 days exploring Bangkok, why not take a few day trips out of the city? The ancient temples of Ayutthaya are only 2 hours away by train and costs a mere 30 pence to get there! Explore the city on foot or by bicycle as there are plenty of rental places close to the station.
Another popular trip is to the floating markets; the best are in Nakhon Prathon around 2 hours west of Bangkok where you can weave between the haggling traders surrounded by a kaleidoscope of flowers and fruit.
Take the overnight train to Chiang Mai in the north of Thailand. Away from Bangkok Thailand is an incredibly chilled out country and Chiang Mai will definitely prove it.
The overnight trains are incredibly comfortable and clean, plus you’ll save on a night’s accommodation. The train to Chiang Mai will cost around £30 and make sure you book it as soon as you can in the first week, at Hualamphong Station in the middle of Bangkok.
Arriving at around 10am after a good night's sleep on the train, head straight into the centre of the city.
Chiang Mai has so much to offer: spend time learning to ride an elephant, zoom around the city on a moped, trek into the jungle or homestay with a tribe.
In November, the skies of Chiang Mai light up during the lantern festival of Loi Krathong, where thousands of twinkling lanterns fly into the night. Perfect to combine with a visit to the Chiang Mai night market where all sorts of hand crafted, local goods are on offer.
pace, ride an elephant and raft downstream on a bamboo raft. I’ve also blogged about other ways to enjoy Thailand away from the beaches.
You can either take the train or fly back to Bangkok and then down to Surat Thani, where there are ferries to the east coast islands. It only takes 2 hours to fly down to Koh Samui, one of three main islands in the Gulf of Thailand, so this is a great option if you’re short on time.
Koh Samui, Koh Tao and Koh Pha Ngan are each known for very different things: Samui is an island of luxury resorts, Tao is a haven for divers and Pha Ngan is home to the world famous Full Moon Party. It's easy to spend 2 weeks in these 3 islands and quick to hop between them on a ferry. I would split 14 days into 4 on Samui, 4 on Pha Ngan and 6 on Tao.
Koh Samui is a buzzing beach destination and one of the few islands in Thailand you can fly directly to. Splash out and enjoy a little luxury in one of our Samui hotels, from where you can enjoy the stunning beaches that have made this island a world-class resort. Underneath its luxury exterior however there are still many traditional aspects of the island like hidden Buddhist temples.
Koh Pha Ngan is the ultimate party island, if that’s what you’re looking for. If you want to experience the legendary Full Moon party, make sure your dates line up and that you book accommodation at least a couple of weeks before you arrive. Haad Rin and Sunrise beaches are right in the action so if you want to stay there make sure you book ahead. If your dates don't work for attending the Full Moon party don't worry, there are also Half Moon parties that offer just as much neon paint and fire jumping as the Full Moon.
Koh Tao is a brilliant place to just chill. Life rolls at a slow pace here, with some travellers ending up staying months and even years as they fall in love with the relaxed atmosphere of this dive-centric island. It's a great place to do your PADI open-water diving certificate and it's a brilliant qualification to have under your belt, enabling you to dive all around the world.
For your final two weeks, head east to the island of Phuket, the base for island hopping in the Andaman Sea.
From here you can take ferries to any of the stunning islands of west Thailand, like Koh Hae, just a stone’ throw from Phuket with a spotless reef or Koh Raca, a little visited island with incredibly white beaches.
A must visit is the famous island of Koh Phi Phi where Leonardo DiCaprio enjoyed its breathtaking vistas in the film of 'The Beach'. A great place for kayaking and snorkelling, the crystalline water is so clear that you can see for 40 metres. If you want some inland fun, head for the jungles of Koh Lanta and ride on elephants through the thick vegetation.
For more incredible snorkelling, head to the tiny island of Koh Lipe which is almost in Malaysia and a certain times of the year can be used as a border crossing into Malaysia. The long ferry ride ends a little off shore - Koh Lipe doesn't have a pier so long-tailed boats will come out and take you to the beach. The kaleidoscopic vistas of the island are unforgettable, bright blues and greens reflecting in the bright sunlight and you can snorkel right off the beach.
It's very cheap to eat in the islands, with delicious Thai food costing around £2 a plate. Accommodation is affordable with huts on the beach costing upwards of £11 on the less busy islands, ranging up to smaller hotels and also resorts. Costs vary hugely by season; December to March is a bit higher, whereas most prices come down again during the summer.
After your 6 weeks exploring Thailand, it's easy to fly back from Phuket up to Bangkok or if you're up for more adventure keep travelling south through Malaysia and fly onwards from Kuala Lumpur or Singapore. You could head to Bali or Australia or anywhere else that takes your fancy. Remember, we can make any route - just ask!
We can arrange direct flights to Bangkok or multi-stop flights that include Thailand. From Bangkok, you can fly out to loads of destinations to continue your trip, including flying down to the Thai islands. See some ideas for multi-stop flights that include Thailand or some ideas for Asia multi-stop flights - if you just want to travel in Asia.
We can plan an itinerary that just focuses on Thailand, or plan a trip that combines this beautiful country with neighbouring Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. Here are some ideas:
Interested in visiting Thailand – check out our Top 10 things to do in Thailand. Whether you’re travelling on a shoestring, looking for more comfort or after sheer luxury, our well-travelled team of specialists can tailor-made your trip, including flights, transfers, accommodation and tours to suit your style and budget. Just call us on +44 1273320580 or request a quote by email.