Thailand Cities and Islands.. SAME SAME, BUT DIFFERENT

Bangkok

Bangkok, known by the locals as Krung Thep Mahanakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahinthara Ayuthaya Mahadilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udomratchaniwet Mahasathan Amon Piman Awatan Sathit Sakkathattiya Witsanukam Prasit is Thailands capitol city.  Bangkok is popular for it’s ornate shrines and wild street life.  Undesirable features of the city is its pollution and sex trade industry as seen in the Hangover 2. My favorite aspects of Bangkok was all the amazing food (Street Vendors, Gaggan (7th best restaurant in the world), Sra Bua by Kiin Kiin (only Thai restaurant in the world with a Michelin Star, Baan PadThai), Grand Palace, rooftop bars (Lebua Sky Bar, Moon at Banyan Tree), Floating Markets, boat rides, Chatachak Market, The Temples (Reclining Buddha, Emerald Buddha) and the insane pub street. (don’t bring your kids here) There is also an amazing speakeasy (Teens of Thailand, Maggie Choos, Speakeasy Rooftop, Havana Social, Sing Sing, U.N.C.L.E, J. Borowski) and a cool cafe scene. (Cabbages and Condoms, Unicorn Cafe, Caturday)

Recommend 3 days

Ayutthaya

Ayutthaya is a UNESCO World Heritage Site 80 miles north of Bangkok.  This became the second capitol of Siam. Its remains are characterized by the prang (reliquary towers) and big monasteries. Burmese burned the city down and most of the remains are temples and palaces, as those were the only buildings made of stone in the 1700’s. You can stop here on your way to Chiang Mai if you are traveling by train. Wat Yai Chaimongkol (Gold Buddhas and reclining buddha), Wat Phra Si Sanphet and Wat Maha That (Buddha in the tree) are must sees here.

Recommend a day trip from Bangkok

Ko Kret

Ko Kret is an adorable island about an hour taxi or boat ride from Bangkok.  No cars are allowed on the island so everyone bikes. The city is bustling and has an amazing market with really nice clothes and gifts. (not the tacky ones) Its a delightful day in an unexpected place.

Recommend a day trip from Bangkok

Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai a city in mountainous northern thailand that can be reached by train or flying. It is known for it’s 100’s of beautiful and ornate temples.  It is also known for the Elephant Sanctuaries.  If you are going to visit an elephant sanctuary go to an ethical one that take’s care of the elephants (Elephant Nature Park).   Do not go see the tigers, it is inhumane. You can see my post on that here. The hidden temple and Doi Suthep are must see temples in the area.  There are fun markets every night with live music and food and the best one is the Sunday Night Market which is not like the others. Visit the Karen Long Neck Hill tribes and support their culture.  They make beautiful hand woven clothing. Another must do in Chiang Mai is to take a cooking class, see my post on that here.  Many are under $25 and you go to the market and learn how to make curry, papaya salad, spring rolls, pad thai and many other dishes.

Recommend 4 days minimum

Chiang Rai

This small delightful city 3 hours north of Chiang Mai is known for it’s tea plantations and beautiful temples. It also is home to the famous White Temple Wat Rong Kun. Just north of Chiang Rai you can go to the golden triangle and see Myanmar/Burma, Laos and Thailand.  You can also take a boat to Laos and walk around a market there.  This is pretty touristy but you can say you went to Laos.

Recommend a day trip from Chiang Mai

 Island Hopping

If you plan to do all of the Islands I would do them in this order.  If you can only do a few I would do Phuket, Phi Phi, Krabi (Railay Beach) and Koh Lanta or Koh Samui, Koh Tao and Koh Pha-Ngan. You could do all of them but they are on opposite sides of the mainland and the ferries can be upwards of 7 hours.  I liked Koh Samui and Koh Tao the most.  They were nicer, more fun and less kitchy/touristy than all of the others.

Phuket

Phuket is so large it really doesn’t feel like an island.  There are many choices on where you want to stay. Phuket’s sin city of Patong is the biggest town and busiest beach. Patong is pretty wild with the parties and ping pong shows (no paddles). Phuket Town has morphed into an artsy, culturally rich capital, while Rawai on the island’s southern tip is pretty laid-back. The west-coast beaches of Kata and Karon reel in people who like their trips easy and can find a beach and resort anywhere. Phuket’s hotels and resorts are very luxe and you can spend several days basking in the sun while being pampered at the hotel spas. You can fly to Phuket from Bangkok.  We stayed on Kata Beach and Patong so we could get a mix between the party and the relaxing areas. There are many places for amazing sunset views in Phuket.  Wassa Handmade Bar and other overlooks make a spectacular view of the sunset over the beach.

Recommend 2 days

Phi Phi

A 45-90 minute boat ride from Phuket, these are some of the most beautiful islands. Phi Phi has six islands. The two main islands are Phi Phi Don and Phi Phi Leh. The larger Phi Phi Don is the most popular while the smaller Phi Phi Leh has beautiful beaches, including Maya Bay, which was the set where The Beach (with Leonardo Di Caprio) was filmed. The limestone cliffs are the most amazing sights you may ever see.  The city itself is pretty relaxed with lots of scuba shops and boat tours.  Come here for a day of relaxation and beautiful beach time.

Recommend 2 days

Krabi/Railay Beach

Krabi is stunning with limestone towers which are even more pronounced at Railay (also spelled Rai Leh). Railay beach is more popular for the savvy travelers and is more of a thai rasta paradise.  I didn’t make it to Railay but was told by all of my friends that went that this was their favorite place of all the islands.

Photo taken by Jay Dred

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Koh Lanta

Lanta is a luxurious getaway for European tourists looking for stunning less crowded beaches.  It is one of the more calmer islands in Thailand. There are a few popular dive spots here called Hin Daeng, Hin Muang and Ko Haa. I wasn’t able to make it to Koh Lanta but heard from many people that this one is a must for a more relaxing getaway.

Recommend 2 days

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Koh Samui/Pha-Ngan/Tao Trio

Koh Samui

Ko Samui is a luxurious island with beautiful sandy beaches, people and spectacular spas.  If you are looking for a classy, upscale island experience, Koh Samui is where you should go.  The big buddha, Chaweng Nightlife, Air Bar in the Intercontinental for Sunset,  the beaches and the Namuang Waterfall were my favorite parts about Sumui. Hin Ta and Hin Yai was bizarre but is a huge attraction in Samui. (See below)

Recommend 3-4 days

Koh Pha-Ngan

Famous for the full moon parties that draw 30,000 plus people, you can see my post on that here.  It’s hippy vibes are found throughout the island with the backpackers, bungalows and hammocks throughout.  Go when it is not the full moon and you will find much chiller vibes.

Recommend 2 days

Koh Tao

Koh Tao is the smallest of the 3 islands and has the busy vibe of Samui and chill vibe of Pha-Ngan. Cavort with sharks and rays in tangled neon coral Koh Tao is synonymous with diving.  Koh Tao is second only to Cairns, Australia (Great Barrier Reef) diving certifications. You you can also hike the amazing jungles and have a sunset cocktail amidst the white beaches. Check out my experience getting my Advanced Open Water Diving Certificate in Koh Tao here.

Recommend 3-4 days or more on if you are getting scuba certified

 

Other Notable Mentions

These islands are even further south and are much further to get to from Chiang Mai or Bangkok.  I would only do these islands if you have longer than 2 weeks in Thailand so you can still get to some of the other islands as well as Bangkok and Chiang Mai.

Koh Lipe

Koh Lipe is famous for it’s white sandy beaches and turquoise waters.  It is a perfect honeymoon getaway or relaxing vacation with your significant other.  It is a lot quieter and more relaxing than the other islands.

Photo’s by Amanda Davila

Langkawi

Langkawi is synonymous with ‘tropical paradise’ because of the island’s clear waters, relatively pristine beaches and intact jungle. The district has been duty free since 1987 and pulling in tourists well before that.  Langkawi can be reached relatively easy from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia as well.

langkawi-info

 

 

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