First off, what an amazing trip #blessed. After receiving quite a few questions about where to stay, how to get around, what cities to visit, etc. I decided to turn my Type A extremely detailed itinerary into a more user friendly format so others can repeat what we did well ($6 massages, elephant sanctuary), and stay away from our mishaps…1 missed ferry, 1 missed flight, 1 motorcycle crash, and 2 double booked hotels…oops. Below is your guide to: Chiang Mai, Koh Samui, Koh Phangan, Phuket, and Koh Phi Phi.
A few things to hit from the get go – I went with one of my good friends whom I met at work, Lauren! Great travel companion. Yes, it was just the two of us girls. No we never felt unsafe, but that being said, we always were sure to stay in the tourist areas.
Lauren and I had both heard Bangkok was just eh so we opted to skip it entirely, tried to do the same for Phuket but ran into a few logistical issues and stayed there for a night.
Our trip: Bangkok – Chiang Mai – Koh Samui – Koh Phangon – Phuket – Koh Phi Phi – Vietnam.
Must do: Chiang Mai and Koh Phi Phi
First stop: Chiang Mai
Overall thoughts: LOVE Chiang Mai, such a cool city – so much culture, good food, and fun things to do. If you go to Thailand try to spend 3-4 days here. Really easy/cheap flights to and from Bangkok – about $40/flight and one every hour. Must do: the elephant tour and a cooking class.
China Airlines (love them):
- SFO – Taipei (13 hours I believe)
- Taipei – Bangkok (about 3-3.5 hours)
Thai Airways (decent):
- Bangkok – Chiang Mai (1 hour)
Misc: Taxi from the airport is really easy. Getting around the city is just as easy – they have “Tuk Tuk’s” aka they took a motorcycle and added seats on the back, really cheap/fun/easy way to get around. They also have normal taxi’s with A/C but what is the fun in that. Getting back to the airport we scheduled taxi with our hotel.
Nap in Chiang Mai – great location close to the night markets, really clean, nice hotel. If I was going with my parents and they were paying would I stay here? no., it’s no 5 star hotel. But it is still really nice, and affordable – $155 for 3 nights. Great for younger travelers or those who aren’t looking for the St. Regis in Thailand.
Do a cooking class in Chiang Mai! Learning how to cook some of the Thai dishes is a really enjoyable experience, the food is delicious, and if you are ambitious you can bring your skills back to the USA. (They gave us each a cookbook but I have yet to make something, still on the to-do list…ooops).
The one I chose was – Asia Scenic Thai Cooking School. There are a million on trip advisor, I am sure they are all great, I really just chose this one because we wanted to do a half day class for the afternoon after our flight so options were limited. They pick you up and drop you off at hotel.
Loved this class though! They take you to the market down the street for a hot sec and then we made like 4 dishes which were to die for, the massaman curry omg.
DON’T RIDE THE ELEPHANTS. Or don’t go to elephant shows, or somewhere that makes elephants do tricks, this may seem like a “must do” in Thailand but these places ABUSE the elephants. You can still have an amazing and personal experience with Elephants in a humane fashion by going to an elephant sanctuary. After doing my research I came across 2 sanctuaries (Elephant Nature Park – the one we went to -and Elephant Jungle Sanctuary) who rehabilitate hurt, abused, and sick elephants. We went to Elephant Nature Park.
Since I feel very strongly about this issue and I believe more people sound be informed as to what actually happens to these abused elephants, I am writing another blog post that goes more in depth. I’ll admit it’s a little hard to read, but I think it’s important.
At Elephant Nature Park, we opted for the Care For Elephants experience, which was a bit pricier than the normal experience ($170), but it was 100% worth the money. They picked us up from out hotel at about 8 am, and we made the hour drive to the nature park. During the hour drive they play you this horrific video on elephant abuse in Thailand, to put it blatantly the video is visually and mentally assaulting, Lauren and I thought we were going to throw up after watching it and had to have the car pull over. BUT it’s very eye opening and informative, and people need to know what really happens, so I am grateful I watched it.
After arriving at the park, since we did the more personalized experience we were in a group of about 6 people and 4 elephants….amazing ratio. They give you a bag of fruit and let you feed the elephants, getting comfortable with them. After about an hour we started a hike/walk over to the river which took about an hour. They give you a bag of food and it is the most amazing experience just walking alongside an elephant as it is the most casual thing haha. After at the river they have lunch prepared, and then you get to go in the river and bathe the elephants. Aka they give you huge buckets and you throw water up on them, which after 15 mins it ended with the 6 of us having a water bucket fight and the elephants were out of the river just chilling. You hike back to the starting point, and then they bring you over to the main camp where the larger tours are held so you can see the other elephants and where they prepare the food, thennn at around 4 pm we left and they dropped us back off at our hotel.
FYI – if you do the more general tour – you just go to the main camp and feed elephants from behind a red line….don’t be a cheapo and splurge for one of the more intimate experiences.
Night Markets / Night Bazaar
A bunch of stands/carts selling small trinkets. Cool to check out. Chiang Mai Night Bazaar.
omg. There are massage spots on every corner here, all super cheap, all very good. They are open until midnight too.
This is where you get the quintessential tiger picture in Thailand. Tiger Kingdom is a 30 minutes ride outside of the city, we just paid a tuk tuk to take us. *make sure they wait for you, do not pay the tuk tuk until you are dropped back off at your hotel*.
They say the tigers are nice because they have been living and interacting with humans since birth, some people say the animals are drugged. To be completely honest I am not sure. The animals are nice though (they say cats sleep 18 hours a day so it’s normal), not scary at all, most of them are sleeping and barely pay attention to you.
They have different size tigers and you pay for the ones you want to see. When we went there was a baby cub which was the cutest thing I’ve ever seen in my entire life and if there is a cub here when you go, pay the extra $30 and go sit with the cub.
Lady Boy Show
Otherwise known as Chiang Mai Cabaret, where they have men who dress up in drag as women, dance and lip sing. It may sound a bit odd but it is such a fun time. This cabaret show is located right by the nigh bazaar, it is every night at 9:30 pm. You buy your tickets at the door. Go have a few drinks beforehand and then come here, you will enjoy it. The main lady had a boob job and they were amazing and that’s all I have to say about that.
If you walk through the old town in Chiang Mai you will come across a million temples. As Lauren put it, “Temples are like Starbucks in America, one on every corner.” Fun to just walk around and pop in a few.
Doi Suthep/ Waterfalls
We didn’t have enough time to do this, but you can rent a tuk tuk for a day and go to this temple called Wat Doi Suthep and hike to a waterfall. Heard it is really cool, but takes up a whole day. About a 45 min drive out of the city.
Dash Teak House: amazing Thai food, woman who owns it, Noi, lived in Seattle for a while and then moved back to Thailand to open this Restaurant. Traditional Thai food, but a nicer vibe
Zoe in Yellow: fun outdoor bar.
Any/all random restaurants are delicious, you can’t go wrong. Get the coconut ice cream that the street vendors sell, it is ahhhmazing.
Next Stop: Koh Phangan (full moon party)
Overall thoughts: only come here if you really want to go to the full moon/half moon party. The beaches themselves are just eh. If I had a shorter trip and couldn’t go to both sides of Thailand I would choose the Koh Phi Phi side over this side. Must do: watch the sunset at Amsterdam Bar and go to eat at Fisherman’s Restaurant.
Bangkok Airways (love love love): Chiang Mai – Bangkok – Koh Samui
Once you land in Koh Samui you have to take a ferry to Koh Phangon (or Koh Tao if you want to go there). There are not that many ferries every day!!! See schedule below. Plan your flight to and from Koh Samui around the ferry schedule.
The Koh Samui airport is an 8 minute taxi to Bang Rak Pier (also called Big Buddha pier). At Bang Rak Pier we bought a ticket to Thong Sala Pier (on Koh Phangon). The ferry was about an hour ride, not too bad. There are only 2 ferries a day from Bang Rak to Thong Sala. Another option is you can take a 30 minute taxi from the airport to Mae Nam pier, where they have 3 ferries a day if those times work better for you.
Going back: you can get your ferry ticket at the dock, don’t need to buy in advance. Look up schedule beforehand, and I would plan on the ferry being an hour late. Give yourself enough time to make your flight….we missed our flight because our ferry was running late.
We decided we should stay in a hostel here since we wanted to make friends and find people to go to the half moon party with. My friend Carolyn had suggested the Nomad House so Lauren and I booked a private room here, too old for the dorm style rooms.
This is definitely a “party hostel” when you check in for you room they pour you a shot and by 9 pm everyone is downstairs on the patio playing drinking games together. Really fun atmosphere if you are looking to party.
We met a few people who were staying at the Baan Tai Backpackers Lounge and they liked it, we pre-gamed here before the half moon party. It looked a bit nicer than Nomad.
Full Moon/Half Moon
The only real reason to come to Koh Phangan is for the full moon festivals, happens twice a month with the half moon party. The party is basically this huge space with different stages where DJs play, a few bars, and everyone gets painted with bright/colorful designs on their arms/face/legs. You can get your ticket there.
I didn’t think it was that cool, too much hype. But that being said, we did go to the half moon festival and I am sure the full moon is much bigger.
Really popular “backpacker’s bar”. AMAZING place to watch the sunset. You can also buy weed at Amsterdam Bar if you are into that sort of thing. Regardless, go up to their top patio and you will find a bunch of people sitting and drinking and hanging out. Good experience, highly recommend.
Secret Beach/Rent Motorcycles
Backstory: Soooo for those of you who follow me on snapchat/IG know about our motorcycle struggles….we rented a motorcycle because that is a popular thing to do here, super cheap, easy way to get around, it’s fun, and they just rent it to you without any prior experience. I was clearly lacking in the prior experience department because we didn’t crash per say, but we tipped over. Lauren was on the back of my bike and to get things going I started driving in the wrong lane (I didn’t have any clue Thailand drove on the opposite side of the road), so that really started us off on the right foot. Our plan was to go to the secret beach, after about 20 minutes we took a wrong turn and ended up on this random desolate bumpy dirt road and found ourselves dirt bike riding. I slowed down to like 3 mph to go around these rocks and it ended up being too slow and we tipped over. What a fail.
We got back on and drove down to civilization where we stopped at 7/11 to assess injuries, buy band aids, and get the courage to get back on haha. I was having a mini panic attack about driving it again, texting all my friends freaking out. Lauren and I decided to weigh our options: get back on and drive the 5 minutes up to the secret beach, find someone with a phone to call the hostel to get them to taxi to us and drive the motorcycle back, or DM everyone we had met thus far to come save us. We obviously went with the DM route at first, but after realizing they were on the opposite side of the island, we decided we had to get back on the bike. And we did! Made it to the secret beach, only other mishap was upon leaving I was putting our Hostel key into the motorcycle and when it wasn’t working I had to ask these guys next to us for help. Not my proudest moment haha, but on the positive side we made some friends as a result of my blonde moment! Shout out to the 2 Justin’s from Boulder!
Suggestions: If you know how to ride a motorcycle or feel comfortable doing it, rent them here! It’s a convenient, easy, cheap way to get around, but it’s also dangerous with a ton of motorcycles on the roads and speed limits/general driving laws aren’t a thing so just something to consider. Looking back, I am glad we did because I have never laughed as hard as I did after we tipped over or were DMing people to pick us up or when I was using the wrong key. Also – these rental places take your passport as collateral, really freaked me out, but it is the norm. That being said, be sure to rent from a reputable place. We used a company that our Hostel suggested.
The secret beach is not so secret, easy to find. Just ask your hotel or google it. Really nice beach! Go here! They have this massage place right on the water omg I think my life peaked at that moment.
Fisherman’s Restaurant is probably my favorite restaurant from our entire trip. It is right across the street from Ban Tai Backpacker hostel if you end up staying there, 15 minute walk from Nomad House. We didn’t have a reservation, just walked right in.
This is a nicer restaurant (paid $30/each for a 3 course meal…which isn’t a lot in American terms but this was balling out in Thailand haha) – ambiance/decor is romantic and adorable right on the beach. Lauren and I had a table that was a traditional Thai wooden boat that they turned into a dining table, where they added cushions and we got to take off our shoes and get comfy. My tip – be warned the crab does not come cracked.
Next Stop: Phuket
Overall: tbh Phuket was just a layover on the way to Koh Phi Phi, we had originally planned to land in Phuket and head straight to Koh Phi Phi via ferry, but upon landing we realized the last ferry of the day leaves Phuket at 3:30 pm so we had to show up at a random hotel and ask if they had a room available for the night and took the morning ferry. There are only 3-4 ferries a day, **plan your flight/hotel/general travel plans accordingly.** Use Phuket as a layover city, I wouldn’t suggest staying here unless you have a lot of time in Thailand.
Bangkok Airways: Koh Samui – Phuket (about an hour)
We booked this flight day of, no need to plan out in advance. Also – we had missed our original flight because our ferry to Koh Samui was delayed, but Bangkok Airways are angels and they just put us on the next flight without a change fee!! (United – take notes).
The airport is about 45 minutes north of the main city area. That is also where the ferries leave, so once you land you will need to take a taxi down south. We bought our taxi at the same stand in the airport where we got our ferry tickets.
Next Stop: Koh Phi Phi
Overall: LOVE THIS ISLAND. Hands down my favorite place – fun “party” island, but we stayed in a hotel away from the party beach so we could go party there when we wanted to, but escape to a nice quiet area/hotel room when we wanted to. Also the beaches here are beautiful and the excursions are a lot of fun. Must do: booze cruise and maya bay.
In the airport in Phuket, after you exit baggage claim there are a bunch of stands selling ferry tickets to Koh Phi Phi, we got our taxi and ferry tickets here (they also picked us up from our hotel in the morning). As I mentioned there are only 4 ferries to Koh Phi Phi a day so look up schedule beforehand, posted below, and plan accordingly. We took the 11 am ferry, got picked up from our hotel, and dropped off at the dock. It’s about an 1.5 hour – 2 hour ferry. Wear your swimsuit! Lauren and I went up to the top level, got a beer, and laid out, very enjoyable ferry ride.
Once in Koh Phi Phi (there are no cabs – it is a walking only town) there are a bunch of people standing holding signs for hotels, we found ours, they took our luggage and we headed down a few blocks to the hotel.
Going back: we bought our return ferry with our ticket there. 8 am I believe. On this ferry an employee went through and scheduled everyone’s Taxi’s to the airport. Got dropped off at the same dock in Phuket, and got on the Taxi to the airport (45 min drive again).
Phi Phi Andaman Legacy Resort Hotel
We chose to stay in a hotel, over the hostel life, and away from the “party beach”. The party beach is just what it sounds like – 24/7 intense partying, the beach itself isn’t nice at all, really low tide during the day, and at night the music will be blasting until 2 am, so don’t plan on sleeping before then if you stay over here. We loved that decision to not stay there, but to each their own. We met a lot of people staying in party hostels and they had a blast, so just depends on what you are looking for. As for hostels – Ibizia Hostel is right in the center and has this raging pool party a few days a week. But right along that area there are quite a few hostels and they are pretty much comparable.
As for the Phi Phi Andaman Legacy Resort – 15 minute walk from the party beach, on the opposite side of the island – much calmer, nice beaches. The hotel itself was decently nice, great views, decent wifi, also pretty cheap – I think it was like $40-50/night if I remember correctly. We also booked this the night before, so not too much planning was involved. Not the most amazing hotel, not the worst hotel. Solid 3 stars.
Walking down the main street in Koh Phi Phi there are a bunch of stands selling you group tours and excursions: monkey beach, maya bay, snorkling, booze cruise, if you want to go diving they do a lot of that here. (If you are really big into diving – Koh Tao is the island you should go to).
Bob’s Booze Cruise
We were suggested this booze cruise by a few girls we met in Chiang Mai, had a great time! There is one other popular booze cruise company, can’t remember the name.
As for Bob’s Booze Cruise – amazing time. Book it a day or 2 in advance, it fills up! I think it was like $70 for unlimited beer/alc and it’s a day full of activities! You go snorkling, into these random caves, Maya Bay, and by the end I had too much to drink so I can’t even tell you the names of the places we went haha. Bottom line – this is so much fun!!
One thing I will say – I would be weary of booking this online, better to book in person. We had a few friends book online and pay via paypal but the reservation didn’t come up in their systems so couldn’t come with us because the boat was full.
This beach is advertised everywhere on the island for being where “The Beach” was filmed featuring Leo back in the 90s, 0 clue what the movie is or why it is such a draw haha, but regardless Maya Bay is beautiful. The prettiest beach we saw. Most excursions will stop here, but Lauren and I decided to just go hang out here one day on our own. So we took a water taxi to take us, again don’t pay them until you leave because they have to wait for you there or you will get stranded. Also there’s a 300-400 Bhat fee to go to Maya Bay since it is a natural park.
Eat before you come here, your food options begin and end with Thai Cup of Noodles. Great day though, brought a book and headphones and just sat and relaxed the entire day.
Beach where there are a bunch of wild monkeys you can get a pic with, when we went the monkey’s were not on the beach so no pictures for us.
Ibizia Pool Party
While in Koh Phi Phi go to one of these pool parties, it is at the Ibizia Hostel on the party beach. Free entry. They are every Tuesday, Thursday, and one more day – maybe Saturday? Anyway the name is spot on because it felt like I was in Ibizia – everyone is really drunk, DJ playing above the pool, people splashing and stumbling around the pool, and beer pong on the side. Don’t bring anything nice here haha, it will probably get lost, wet, or stolen.
Lauren and I randomly ran into this party as we were taking a relaxing stroll around the beach and got sucked in, next thing we knew it was 6 hours later and we are drinking and dancing and singing in the pool with these Germans like we had known them forever.
And that is all folks! After Koh Phi Phi Lauren and I headed to Vietnam which is a whole different story…all I will say is if you plan to go to Vietnam, get a Visa in advance.
To sum it up: if you have 2 weeks I would go to Chiang Mai, and then Koh Phi Phi and another island or 2 that you can ferry to from there, skip Bangkok. It was a lot of traveling to go from the Koh Phangan side to the Koh Phi Phi side and I thought the beaches/parties were better in Phi Phi anyway. All the food is amazing. Lather up with mosquito spray anytime you go outside. Get a $6 massage everyday. Try the coconut ice cream. Live like a king with $20/day. Meet other people! The cool thing about Thailand is it brings in young travelers from around the world, the majority of which are not from America. Be sure to check ferry times against flights, and take into account the hour taxi ride from Phuket airport to the dock. It is so hot here, wear clothes you can sweat in and be okay with. Don’t drink the tap water!
Currency = Thai Bhat. About 35 to 1 conversion to USD. I would suggest just taking out cash from the ATMs in Thailand vs. exchanging money beforehand or exchanging cash for Bhat. ATMs are everywhere and easy to find.
Packing = shorts, t shirts, birkenstocks, tennis shoes, hat, bathing suits, nothing fancy. I bought a towel there bc I forgot to bring one. I used a small carry on rolly carry on suitcase, but I would suggest bringing a backpack if you can. The roads are really bumpy and the suitcase was annoying to drag along and up onto ferries. Cheap sunglasses, I lost my dior’s…RIP. Buy or bring sunscreen and mosquito spray.
Phone/Wifi = wifi is fairly easy to find, we only stayed at hostels/hotels with wifi and most restaurants have it to. I bought a Thai SIM card for like $15 because they advertise you can put it in and use the data, but it doesn’t work on iPhones unless they are unlocked aka everyone is on Verizon or AT&T these days, don’t buy the SIM cards!