First Time Visitors Guide to Thailand
Where to go
Thailand has officially removed all of its restrictions for vaccinated tourists, so If you have been itching for a big trip this year, you’re in luck! The great thing about Thailand is that it suits every type of traveller. Whether you’re looking to go with your partner, with a group of friends, with your family or on your own, Thailand has something for everyone. If you’re not sure where to start, here’s my guide on where to consider going on your trip depending on your interests.
This will no doubt be in your itinerary for the simple fact that it’s the easiest and cheapest airport in Thailand to fly into. People have mixed opinions about Bangkok, and personally I wouldn’t recommend spending more than 2-3 days there, but there are a lot of things to do in the area. Temperatures in Bangkok can soar, so I recommend starting your day early and then relaxing by the pool in the afternoon. If you plan on temple hopping, my top recommendations are The Grand Palace, Wat Pho, Wat Muang and Wat Arun. In the evening, head to Cielo rooftop bar for great food, cocktails and amazing views of the Bangkok skyline. To end the night, walk through Khaosan road which is very popular with backpackers. Just expect it to be loud and very crowded!
Ko Samui is the second largest island in Thailand, and is a popular choice for families as there are a lot of resorts in the area. Personally I don’t think it’s the nicest island, but we did have the best excursions from Ko Samui and we loved the night market in Chaweng. Who wouldn’t love a pad thai and dumplings for £3? During your time there I recommend a day trip to Mu Ko Ang Thong Park, where you’ll get the chance to snorkel, kayak and visit the blue lagoon. Other sites of interest are the Wat Plai Laem Temple, and the Overlap Stone. Just make sure your Grab driver fills up the tank before heading up there!
There is one primary reason why people go to Koh Phangan, and that’s for the monthly Full Moon Party. To get here you can get a 30 minute speedboat from Ko Samui, which I recommend buying in advance from 12go asia because the boats do fill up. My advice for the full moon party is not to go with the expectation that it is going to be great music and a sophisticated atmosphere. Buy yourself a famous bucket drink and try to make the most of the experience! In terms of dining, our hotel restaurant Sand & Tan is situated right on Haad Rin beach and has the best Pad Thai I have ever tasted.
Koh Tao is the best spot for adventurous travellers who want to have a go at scuba diving. There are plenty of diving schools scattered around the island, but if you would rather just snorkel at your own leisure then I recommend heading to Shark Bay, Freedom Beach or Sairee Beach. You will also find some great viewpoints in Koh Tao, my favourite being the John Suwan Viewpoint.
Phuket is Thailand’s largest island, and arguably the most famous. It is also the gateway to the Phi Phi islands, which was the filming location for The Beach, which Leonardo Dicaprio starred in. When in Phuket, explore the Sunday Walking Street Market for some cheap food and to purchase some buddhas and bracelets to bring back for your friends and family. When you’ve had enough of tanning on Pa Tong beach, you can climb a hill for 5 minutes to see the 45 metre tall White Buddha.
Once you are done exploring the south, fly north to experience a different side of Thailand. Chiang Mai is a great place for street food, and one of the typical dishes in northern Thailand to try here is khao soi. It consists of either chicken or beef, in a coconut curry broth with boiled and fried noodles. Here is where you will also get the chance to visit an Elephant Sanctuary. We gave the elephants a mud bath, fed them tons of bananas and made medicine balls for them. The company we went with were called Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, who have a no riding policy. You could genuinely tell the elephants were happy here. From Chiang Mai you can also take a day trip to the nearby city of Chiang Rai, where you can visit the famous White Temple.
From Chiang Mai, you can take a 3 hour minivan ride to the town of Pai for a real authentic Thai experience. Word of warning, I suggest taking an anti sickness tablet because there are more than 750 twists and turns to get there. You won’t need more than two nights in Pai but we loved the fact that you could walk everywhere, and it is also a great place to meet other travellers. Here you can visit the Pai canyon, try ‘tipsy tubing’ down the river, visit the hot springs and swim in the Pam Bok waterfall. Another traditional Thai dish you can try here is the Kaeng Hang Lei, which is a slightly spicy pork curry.
Thailand is known as ‘The Land of Smiles’ for a reason, and you will find the locals to be so friendly and helpful. It’s definitely a place that I will visit again in the future, and if you have the time and annual leave, you can definitely see all these places in the space of a month!