As travel around South East Asia goes, Thailand is the epicentre for those planning to tour the region. Most people arrive in Bangkok and make their way over land from there and with Thailand’s beaches, jungles, nightlife, food and scuba diving, there is plenty to do and see while you are in the country. The country itself is strongly orientated towards the tourist trade too, which makes it easy for anyone going there – buses and flights to different parts of the country are frequent and cheap, there is little or no language barrier and there is a ready supply of restaurants, bars, laundromats, souvenir shops – pretty much everything you want is close at hand. I’ll go through some of the best things from my recent month long trip here and hopefully it should be some help for anyone planning to visit.
1. The Full Moon Party (4-5 days is probably plenty) – although the full moon party is ridiculously touristy, it’s great fun and as you tend to meet a lot of different people throughout your time in Thailand, everyone usually migrates towards Koh Phangan at the same time for the party so it can be a great for reunions with people from different stages of your trip. In the days leading up to the party, there are usually a few smaller beach parties on Haad Rin beach, and there is a jungle party two nights before the full moon too which is (kind of expensive but) pretty cool. The full moon party happens about once a month and the dates for it can be found here. It involves fire shows, body painting, buckets of whiskey, meeting people and losing everyone!! Well worth the visit if you can, definitely an experience to remember. Personally, I stayed in Shenanigans hostel – it had a good atmosphere, a bar, did food and had a few hammocks so it gets a two thumbs up. I would avoid coming to Koh Phangan outside of full moon party week unless you want a relaxing week as I was in Haad Rin one afternoon in the middle of the month and the place was very quiet. Getting to Koh Phangan from Koh Samui takes about 40 minutes by boat and you get dropped off at Thong Sala Pier in the centre of Koh Phangan.
2. Koh Tao was my favourite of the islands. Two days after the full moon party, it seemed like the whole of
Koh Phangan were on their way to Koh Tao. We all hopped on a boat and made our way across the short stretch of water to the island for the next stage of the trip. You could spend weeks here, the place is really relaxed but again 4-5 days should cover the main things to do on the island. It was a bit more chilled out than the other islands, with events on maybe 3/4 nights a week rather than the other islands where every night there was something on. When here, check out Koh Tao’s famous pub crawl and there’s a silent disco too, also worth a try.
A lot of people come to Koh Tao to do the scuba diving course, it’s known as one of the cheaper places in the world to do it and 1 day courses can be done here too if the full 4 day course isn’t for you. Getting here from Koh Phangan take about 90 minutes by boat. When you arrive at the pier in Koh Tao, pretty much everywhere is walkable within twenty minutes.
3. The Taco Shack hostel – the Taco Shack hostel was probably the best hostel of my trip – the wifi was pretty slow and the rooms could be warm at times but it didn’t matter, it was a great place for meeting people and having a drink, they served food here too, tacos, burritos, nachos and fajitas and they were delish and finally, it was located between the pier where you get off the boat and sairee beach, so it was about a ten minute walk to the main nightlife but did have a bit going on in the area, a nice mix overall. We planned on staying here 3 days and ended up staying for 10.
4. Aow Leuk beach – again in Koh Tao, this was probably the nicest beach from my time in Thailand. The best way to get here is by renting a moped as it’s on the far side of the island but once you get here, it’s well worth the trip. With its sparkling clear water, beautiful weather, a nice bar on the hill overlooking the beach with views of the bay and a load of people relaxing and having a good time, it’s the perfect way to kick back. Snorkelling is good here too with the clear water and plentiful fish numbers.
5. Koh Phi Phi beach parties – Every night in Koh Phi Phi there was beach parties too, different bars had DJ’s, fire shows, drinks promotions and other attractions to get a crowd in. The parties usually didn’t start until later on so most people hit the bars in the town centre first and then made their way to the beach after. One of the best bars in Phi Phi was Kongsiam Live bar, they have a Thai guy with a guitar belting out a great mix of songs (I was told by someone in the bar that he got to the finals of X Factor Thailand although I’m not sure if this is true!) The viewing point on Koh Phi Phi is also a must, with views of the whole island from up there. It’s about a 20-30 minute walk from the town centre and it is steep in places so wear good shoes if you can. Personally, I came to Koh Phi Phi from Koh Tao and altogether it took about 12 hours. I had to take a bus from Koh Tao to Surat Thani, than a bus from here to Krabi, and then another boat to Koh Phi Phi. Some operators say that you can get to Koh Phi Phi in 5 or 6 hours overland but I don’t think it’s possible!!
6. Maya Bay (3-4 days in Phi Phi should cover the main tourist attractions and give you a bit of beach time) – Maya Bay is best known from the film ‘The Beach’ and is a very popular destination for backpackers because
of its profile and its natural beauty. Many people come to Koh Phi Phi specifically to visit this beach. If you are coming here from Koh Phi Phi, try to come in the morning group and not the afternoon group as it is less crowded, the weather should be better and the water is calmer. In my tour, we went snorkelling beforehand and then the boat drove to the back of Maya Bay and we swam through a hole in the cliff face and climbed onto the island. Pretty cool entrance!
7. Bangkok tourist attractions (2-3 days is plenty in Bangkok) – a lot of people stop off Bangkok for a couple of nights and make their way towards the islands pretty quickly although there are a few things not to be missed when you are here. The Grand Palace in particular is the city’s most famous landmark. It was built over 200 years ago and was the home of the king and the countries government. It is home to Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha) which is the home of the Emerald Buddha, which dates back to the 14th century. The whole complex itself is the palace and a series of buildings, all ornately designed down to the smallest detail. When visiting, the is a strict dress code, guys must wear long pants, socks and t-shirts/shirts with sleeves, while girls must wear long dresses and cover their shoulders too while socks must also be worn. If you do not have these clothes, there is a room in the complex where you can pay a deposit and get a loan of whatever clothes you require. Chatuchak market in Bangkok is another must see – it boasts over 8,000 stalls and sells anything you could think of. The perfect place to visit for a few gifts before you head back home.
8. Koh San Road – probably the most famous road in Thailand, Koh San road is usually the first place tourists visit the night they arrive. The road is an eclectic mix of everything – it has bars, restaurants, shops, tattoo parlours, street food, guys selling scorpions on skewers, tourists from all corners of the world and even a few celebrity lookalikes. It’s definitely an eye opener although it’s touristy so it’s not quite an accurate reflection of Bangkok, but it is a crazy night out!
9. Koh Samui nightlife (4 days) – The main area to visit in Koh Samui is Chaweng. I visited here about 8 years ago and it was quite a small town; nowadays it’s probably five times as big with lots of nightclubs, famous DJ’s, holiday resorts and parties. The place is quite Ibiza-esque with lots of people coming over here on a party holiday for a week or two, so some people love it and others not so much. As Koh Samui is bigger than Koh Phangan and Koh Tao, it has a lot more options for accommodation and food. There are lots of different resorts here from high end to mid-range. A great hostel option is Backpacker Hostel Koh Samui, I liked it so much I ended up coming back here for a second time during my trip and helping out working here for a few days. It’s a very sociable hostel with different things organised each night so it’s great for solo travellers. Make sure to check out the
Ice Bar in Koh Samui too, it’s about a fifteen minute walk from the town centre – it’s got some pretty cool sculptures and it’s pretty cheap for an ice bar, buckets were 300 baht and bottles of beer were 100 baht as far as I remember. Overall, I found Koh Samui the cheapest of the islands. Getting here from Bangkok can be done in a number of ways – flight is probably the most convenient and it’s cheap too. Flights leave from Bangkok and fly to Surat Thani and then you have to get a boat to Koh Samui. The flight ticket covers to boat too so you don’t need to book separately. You can also take a bus which is cheaper but a bit more long winded. If you do book the bus, make sure you book the boat to get you across to Koh Samui too as part of a package – you can usually get it cheaper if you buy both together.
10. Explore Chang Mai (5 days) – Chang Mai is Thailand’s second largest city after Bangkok and I found it to be quite different to the party vibe of the islands. Up here, there are quite a few different activities to do such as elephant trekking, white water rafting, bamboo rafting, jungle treks and visiting local tribes. A cool bar to visit here is the THC Rooftop Bar near the Tha Phae Gates. There are no seats so everyone sits down on the floor and with all of the bamboo in the building, it almost feels like a tree house! Getting here by flight is again the handiest – flights from Bangkok take about an hour and a half and are pretty cheap, just try to book a few days in advance to get the best deals.
11. Muay Thai (Thai Boxing) – there are plenty of places to catch a Muay Thai fight in Thailand – Koh Samui’s Chaweng Boxing Stadium has regular fights, when you are in Chaweng you will inevitably hear the boxing stadiums van driving around promoting the upcoming fight. A short taxi trip away (about 15 minutes), you can visit Lamai.
Here you can watch Muay Thai fights for free, although depending what section of the crowd you are in, you are encouraged to buy a drink from the adjoining bar. Another more touristy way to check out some Thai boxing is in Koh Phi Phi, where the Reggae Bar offers tourists a bucket of whiskey each to get into the ring and fight. Admittedly the standard isn’t as good but it’s very entertaining!
12. Renting mopeds – at some stage, you should try to take your life in your hands and rent out a moped. The Thai people use mopeds for everything and anything, I saw one moped with three lives pigs tied to the back seat and another with a family of five driving down the road so they’re pretty versatile modes of transport! Renting them out can be gotten for a few dollars a day – you usually have to hand in your passport as insurance – but it’s a great way to get around the islands and explore more off the beaten track areas.
Also a few tips for before you go:
What to bring:
Whenever you travel, always bring a padlock. Some hotels and hostels provide lockers and locks but in case they don’t, a padlock is handy to have. It’s also very handy to be able to lock your suitcase when you are flying or taking a bus around the country. Things like sun block, towels, flip flops etc can all be readily bought, as can plug adaptors, phone chargers etc, although the quality of most electrical items isn’t great.
Hostel beds can generally be gotten from about $7 and upwards for a decent standard with air con, with this largely depending on the area of Thailand or what Island you are on. I wouldn’t expect to pay more the $12 at the most. For hotel rooms, like anywhere else they depend on the level of luxury. The lower end rooms could be gotten for $15-20 a night with the higher end rooms costing $100+. Every different budget is catered for.
Wi-Fi is pretty plentiful in Thailand – pretty much all restaurants, hotels, hostels etc have good connectivity. Buying a sim card here can be a bit problematic, if you buy one you have to ring a number to get it set up and get credit for it – not the easiest of processes so a lot of people just stick to the Wi-Fi.
Taxis and tuktuks are the perfect way to get around, although if they aren’t metered, make sure to agree a price beforehand as otherwise, they will inevitably chance their arm and try up the price. In the taxis (particularly in the more built up towns) they usually have a meter tho so this isn’t an issue. Flying around the country is ridiculously cheap, even when booking flights a couple of days in advance – AirAsia has flights all over the country and it’s a fast and safe way to fly. Taking the bus around can also be a great way to see the countryside as you pass through lots of small villages and paddy fields out in the country and you get to experience more of Thai life outside of the tourist areas. It is usually cheaper than flying but depending on how far you are travelling, it can be time consuming. Getting the boat is also a part of travelling around the country as there are no airports on most of the islands and the islands themselves are generally the more popular destinations for tourists.
Booking buses and boats couldn’t be easier, with lots of different travel agents dotted around the place. Make sure to ask around in a couple of different travel agents – prices are generally quite settled although it’s no harm to try different agents as they may have different companies they work with, offering different prices or more suitable travel times.
Obtaining a visa for Thailand is quite easy, you can get it on arrival in the airport if you are from the US, Canada, Western Europe and most of Eastern Europe. Most people opt for the 30 day visa and if you need to renew it, you can do a border run and simply leave the country and come back in again. If you overstay your 30 days, there is a fine of 500 baht per day so it’s best avoided. To get the 30 day visa, you must have at least 6 months unexpired on your passport and you may be asked for proof of onward travel i.e. proof that you intend to leave before overstaying your visa.
At the moment, $1 = 35THB (Thai Baht). ATM’s are plentiful around the place so withdrawing cash isn’t an issue although try to stick to the bank ATM’s rather than the standalone ones as I had a card or two swallowed when I was here. Also, contact your bank and let them know that you are going, otherwise when they see foreign activity they can put a security block on your card, stopping you from using it until you confirm the transactions.
Not the type you get at the bar, the type you get in the doctors! Make sure you visit your GP at least a month before you go and they can go through what vaccinations you need. Give it plenty of time before you leave as they can take a while to begin working and you will usually have a sore arm afterwards which takes a couple of days to heal. Malaria is also an issue here, your GP is probably your best person to advise you on this, but from my own experience, I used the NHS Malaria map while I was all over Asia and took tablets when in the malaria areas and didn’t take them when I was outside of these areas. The reasons against taking them all the time was that they can make you feel queasy at times and they are expensive too, I used malarone and they cost about €5 a pop so it racks up the cost if you are travelling around for a few months.
So there you have it, my tips for a month in Thailand. The main thing is to take your time travelling around and if you like a place, stay a few days extra, if you don’t like a place, move in. Everyone is different and follows their own path. If you have any questions, let me know in the comments section. Thanks for reading.