Only have 2 weeks to spend in Thailand? You're not alone! Though many people you'll meet in Southeast Asia will boast their seemingly never-ending travel plans, you can certainly get a good taste of the country in a short amount of time.
If you have less than 2 weeks though, we would strongly recommend choosing either the north of the country or the south Thailand beaches. Visiting both can be done in a time crunch, but it'll feel rushed and will include some long travel days.
We’ve had numerous readers and friends reach out asking where to go in Thailand and where are the best islands in Thailand. Most of them had a few things in common:
- They had 2 weeks or less
- They wanted to spend time in the Thai islands
- They wanted to see elephants
So we gave the people what they asked for! Below, you will find a sample itinerary that includes some of the more sought-after destinations and experiences around Bangkok and in the southern region Thailand – seeing the famous beach at Maya Bay, rock climbing over the ocean, partying 'til dawn at Full Moon, and yes, playing with elephants. It's a perfect guide for anyone's first trip to the "land of smiles".
We followed this itinerary almost to the "T" with Ben's sister, Shannon, and her now-fiancé (SPOILER ALERT!!! There was a proposal on this trip! Read on to see the very picturesque place they got engaged while in Thailand!).
Day 1: Fly into Bangkok
Bangkok is one of the largest hubs in all of Southeast Asia and most likely your international flight will arrive in this massive city. From the airport, take a taxi for around 400 Baht straight to your hostel or hotel (if you're traveling alone, search for other foreigners and see if they'd like to split the fare).
Tip: A cheaper option is to take the airport metro line all the way to the end at Phaya Thai station. From there you will have to get a taxi to your accommodation.
If you’ve flown from halfway across the world, you will most likely experience some jet lag. Take it easy the first day and get to know your new neighborhood by wandering the streets and grabbing dinner from one of the many street vendors.
Where to stay:
This modern hostel is a fifteen minute walk from the Grand Palace and a ten minute walk to Khao San Road. With soft beds, clean bathrooms, and free breakfast, this is a nice hostel to gain your footing during your first couple days. The atmosphere is pretty laid-back, so it's perfect for getting your internal clock readjusted. If you're looking for more of a party scene, check out the many hostels near Khao San Road instead.
Day 2: Explore Bangkok
Get ready to explore this mammoth city!
What to do:
For culture, check out the Grand Palace. The intricate temples and abundance of Buddhas is worth a visit if your budget allows. The entrance fee has increased since years past to 500 Thai baht (about $14 USD), which is quite hefty compared to most other temples. If you don’t want to shell out all that cash, check Wat Pho (reclining Buddha) and other less expensive temples in the area instead.
Tip: Wear a shirt that covers your shoulders and pants that cover your knees. If you don’t want to walk around all day in pants in the blistering heat, bring a sarong to wrap around your waist. There are also nearby vendors that rent and sell appropriate clothing.
Sidenote: If someone approaches you near the temple and says the grounds are closed for a Buddhist ceremony, ignore them! This is a common scam. They will try to convince you to rent a tuk tuk and visit other temples.
Relax in one of the many parks around Bangkok. Saranrom Park is very close to the Grand Palace area and has some nice green space. Bring a blanket, cards, some snacks (and maybe even a beer)!
For shopping, head to the area around Siam Station where you’ll be able to find anything imaginable (and some things you’d never imagine exist). There are some massive, luxurious malls with designer stores, but our favorite to explore is MBK. Inside, you’ll find electronics, souvenirs, and ripped computer programs.
For a culture shock, experience the famous weekend market. If you happen to arrive on Saturday or Sunday, take the Bangkok Skytrain to Mo Chit Station for tasty food, cheap souvenirs, and great people watching. If you plan on getting souvenirs, this is the place to do it. Once you head to the southern Thai islands, these items will double in price. Have lunch one of the many market restaurants and order green curry, papaya salad, or any other dish that calls to you for about 30-40 baht (about $1 USD). Try coconut ice cream for dessert!
Party (or people watch) on Khao San Road! Here you will find hordes of foreigners getting smashed on buckets of liquor, street vendors selling everything from t-shirts to an array of bugs – salted and ready to eat, and clubs blasting music loud enough to compete with the neighboring bar. Talk about sensory overload. It’s like a miniature version of Las Vegas strip. Trashy and dirty, yes, but worth a gander, even if only to gawk at all the crazy party people. If you're feeling adventurous, try eating a scorpion (Salty and crunchy, not unlike sunflower seeds. Not bad!) and then have your toes nibbled by doctor fish! Eeeek!
Day 3: Erawan Seven-Layer Waterfall
How to get there:
Take an early morning train to the city of Kanchanaburi. Trains leave twice daily – one at 7:35 a.m. and the other at 1:35 p.m. It's about a 3-hour ride from the Thonburi Railway station on the west side of Bangkok.
Tip: Have the staff at your guesthouse write the train station name and address in Thai. Many taxi drivers we talked to were very confused, even though it’s not a far ride from the center of town. One way to avoid the confusion of using the train is to book a bus ride from Bangkok to Kanchanaburi ahead of time.
Once you drop your bags off at your hostel, make the journey to the nearby Erawan Falls National Park. Buses run infrequently and take 2 hours to get to the falls, so if you’re arriving by morning train, it is a better option to hire a songthaew (pickup truck with benches). The ride will take 45-60 minutes and cost 1,200 baht for a round trip. We gathered a group from our hotel so we could split the cost.
At 300 baht, the entrance fee for foreigners seems steep, but we found it to be completely worth the price.
What to do:
When you enter the park, you’ll find 7-layers of crystal clear water with pools you can splash around in, and dirt paths to explore. The waterfalls furthest from the entrance close early, so hike all the way to the seventh and work your way back to the start. The best waterfalls for swimming are 2, 4, 5 and 7.
The last bus of the day leaves at 4 p.m., so if you hired a driver, you’ll be able to explore the park after the crowds leave until it closes at 6 p.m.
Once you're done, head back to town and get dinner at Blue Rice Restaurant. Located right across the river with a stunning view, this Thai fusion restaurant will wow even the snobbiest foodie.
Where to stay:
You wouldn’t expect much from the view on the main road, but once you walk down the stilted wooden walkway you'll feel as if you've been transported to the jungle. For the more adventurous, spend the night in one of the budget bungalows which sit on the walkway over the water. They are very simple, with bucket toilets, a fan, and cold showers, but you can’t beat the price of 200 baht ($6 USD). More plush rooms are available for a bit higher price.
Day 4: Elephants World
It seems that most people don’t leave Thailand without seeing elephants, and it’s no wonder why. There are countless agencies that sell packages promising an unforgettable experience with these gentle giants, but beware! Many excursions that involve elephants in Thailand treat the animals incredibly cruelly.
Elephants World Sanctuary is an exception. With the company motto of “They used to work for us, and now we work for them”, Elephant’s World is a retirement community of sorts. Most of the elephants there are rescued from the trekking industry, and some even carry the scars of their past work.
On your visit, you’ll feed the elephants, make food for them, help with other projects around the grounds, and help bathe them in a nearby river. You’ll also learn about the many ways these animals have been – and continue to be – mistreated and exploited.
Sidenote: Do some of your own research on the subject, and learn more about the benefits of visiting an elephant sanctuary instead of participating in a trek. If you are in the north of the country, Elephant Nature Park located near Chiang Mai also has a great reputation.
Once you’ve had your fun with the elephants head back to the bus station in Kanchanaburi. You can buy your tickets back to Bangkok at the station, or you can book them ahead of time online here.
Day 5: Taxi – Fly – Van – Boat to Railay Beach
This will be one of your longest travel days, but you won’t be disappointed with the destination (and if you get started as early as we did, you’ll be lying on the beach by noon!).
How to get there:
Take a morning flight from Bangkok to Krabi. The cheapest way is usually to fly out of Don Mueang Airport (DMK) in northern Bangkok. We booked a couple of weeks ahead and scored a flight through Thai Lion Airways for $22 USD per person.
Tip: As the cheapest flights are usually very early, stay near the airport the night before you so don’t have to wake up at an insane hour.
Sidenote: We chose to fly to Krabi instead of the more popular Phuket because the ticket to Krabi was nearly half the price – plus, we hadn't heard the best things about Phuket...
Once you arrive at the Krabi Airport, take a taxi or a van to Ao Nang.
Sidenote: This ride is exponentially more expensive than similar distances in Bangkok, costing 150 baht per person. This is not negotiable, and taxis or shuttle buses can only be booked from one stand at the airport.
At the port in Ao Nang, board a long boat (100 baht per person) to West Railay Beach. (Typically you will have to wait until there are enough people to fill the boat.) Once at West Railay, simply walk to your accommodation, as there are no vehicles and everything is relatively close.
What to do:
Drop your bag off at your hotel and explore all the island's beaches! West Beach is beautiful, but don’t spend too long there because you’ll definitely want to make it to Phranang Beach. Once you arrive, the first thing to do is pick your jaw up from the sand, rub your eyes, and gaze at the natural wonder that is before you. Swim through the turquoise waters in the massive cave and rock face that lurks over the waters.
Stay for sunset and when you’re ready for dinner, walk down East Beach for your pick of restaurants. We enjoyed The Last Bar (literally the last bar on the east beach strip) for their happy hour dinner deals, live music, and fire dance show around 10 p.m.
Where to stay:
Here's a breakdown of the many areas to choose from:
- Ao Nang or Krabi Town: There’s plenty of accommodation in both towns, but nothing special about either. In fact, the latter is quite seedy. You’ll have to take a boat to reach the best beaches, so instead, we recommend booking accommodation in one of the three locations below:
- East Railay: Here, you’ll find budget accommodation and lots of bars and restaurants. Note that the east beach is not one you’ll want to swim in, as it has many delivery boats and mangrove trees. But don’t worry; it’s just a short walk to the other more swimmable beaches.
- West Railay: This Thai beach is nice for swimming, but the accommodation tends to be more expensive in this area.
- Tonsai: This beach is a little walk from the other areas, and has a hippy vibe. Electricity runs for limited hours during the day, and accommodation isn’t as plentiful as some of the other areas.
Our Hotel Pick:
With clean rooms, stone-titled showers, and a spacious balcony with views of the jungle and ocean, we fell in love with this place. Oh and did I mention the huge infinity pool overlooking a 300 foot rock face that blends into the sea?! How much, you ask? Just $13 per person a night. Yes, welcome to Thai heaven. Although this was a bit of a splurge for our backpacker budget, it ended up being completely worth the couple dollars we would have saved by staying in a dorm room. (This hotel is located in the East Beach area.)
Day 6: Rock Climbing in Railay
The region surrounding Krabi is known worldwide for rock climbing and is popular with novices and experts alike. There are tons of shops to choose from around town, so do a little looking around before deciding on a company. We went through Real Rocks Climbing based off of good reviews. We were really happy with our experience, but it looked like the other companies in town were quite similar.
We did a full-day tour and began the morning with some simple instructions and climbs that increased in difficulty. After lunch, we embarked on the best part of the day. Our guide lit a kerosene soaked torch and led us through a secret cave, up a series of hidden wooden ladders, until we emerged out of a hole in the rock face about 300 feet above ground. We then repelled out of the cave with the beach in the background. We each had one last difficult climb before stumbling down to the beach to watch the sunset.
Day 7: Koh Phi Phi
Yes, Phi Phi is touristy. But yes, it is also beautiful and worth a short visit, in our opinion. Board the early ferry to Koh Phi Phi (book it here). There are plenty of hostels and bungalows on this Thai island, so do a little searching around. However, during high season, you may want to book in advance if you want to stay far away from the bass-bumping party on Ton Sai beach.
How to get there:
Take a ferry from Krabi to Phi Phi, which you can arrange at any tour agency or book it ahead online so you know for sure you'll have a seat. We paid 400 baht per person (about $11 USD). It should take around 2 hours and only leaves once per day at 9:45 a.m. (There are also ferries that depart from Krabi and Ao Nang. See the ferry schedule with respective prices and times here.)
Tip: If you arrive on a Friday, head to Princess Diamond Resort for a free pool party.
What to do:
If you're feeling up to it, hike up to the famous viewpoint that overlooks the Thai beach and turquoise waters. We witnessed a beautiful proposal overlooking the Thai island!!! (She said "YES!!!") The entrance fee is 30 baht per person (about $0.80 USD) and you have to navigate through a park with rather corny statues (think giant fruit), but the views at the top are worthwhile. Even though we were there on a hazy day, it was stunning.
Come sundown, eat at any one of the many restaurants or street stands, and then jump right into the party on the beach. Sip on a bucket as you watch a fire show – just walk along the beach and you’ll see several happening simultaneously. With flaming jump ropes, human pyramids, and blazing tightrope acts, the fire shows on this Thai island were some of the best we’ve seen.
Where to eat:
- We stumbled upon Grand PP Arcade because it looked so darn cute. Luckily for us, the food was just as good as the atmosphere.
- We found the best and cheapest Pad Thai (the other menu items we tried were fabulous too!) at a tiny hole in the wall place that I can't for the life of me find online. I don't think it even had a name – but its distinguishing feature is writing all over the walls proclaiming how good the food is. Only Noodles is supposed to have some good Pad Thai as well!
- Phi Phi Bakery has some damn good pastries. Peanut butter filled donut. Holy sh*t.
Where to stay:
We hunted around a bit to find a place to stay and we stumbled upon this nice and simple place. There was nothing too special about the room (clean, strong A/C, hot shower), but the location is pretty good – 3-minute walk to the best beach, but far enough away that we didn't hear music when we wanted to sleep.
Day 8: Maya Bay Sleep Aboard Tour
Maya Bay is arguably the most iconic beach in Thailand. Yes, it’s the one you’re thinking of – with screensaver-perfect turquoise waters and towering oceanside cliffs. It earned its fame from the Leonardo DiCaprio movie aptly titled, “The Beach”, and has had tourists flocking to it ever since.
With masses of people traveling to Maya Bay each day, a trip there can be quite disappointing. Instead of being transported to the serene waters you find in a quick Google search, you’ll be amidst hundreds of other travelers all fighting for the same picture. Not really our thing.
A couple years ago while traveling in South America, we heard about the Maya Bay Sleep Aboard Tour from a fellow traveler. It’s been on our minds ever since. Although it is quite expensive (about $90 USD), we knew we had to splurge on it. And like the person who told us about the tour, we are spreading the word. If you want to see Maya Bay, this is the way to do it.
Day 9: Wake up on Maya Bay and then Travel to Koh Pha Ngan
After our incredible night (and not so comfortable sleep), we woke to explore The Beach once more before the rest of the tourists arrived. We returned to Koh Phi Phi around 9:30 a.m., just in time for the morning ferries that depart the island.
If you are planning to make it to a Full Moon Party, follow the instructions below:
Arrange a joint trip (Ferry – Bus – Ferry) by booking online ahead of time. Your journey will begin with a 1.5-hour ferry to Krabi (sometimes it takes longer than expected). Then, you'll hop aboard a bus for a 3-hour trip to Surat Thani ( a major port city) and finally board another 3.5-hour ferry to Koh Pha Ngan. After you arrive, take a songthaew (pick up truck with seats) to your hostel and pass out. You'll deserve it after a loooooong day of travel.
Where to stay:
Located at the north end of Haad Rin beach, this grouping of bungalows is close enough to walk to the nightly parties, but far enough that the pulsing music won’t affect your sleep (too much). The onsite bar and restaurant is great and the staff is incredible accommodating.
Sidenote: One thing to be aware of when planning your trip is that most accommodations on Koh Phagnan requires that you stay a minimum of 5 nights during Full Moon. An alternative is to stay on neighboring Koh Tao or Koh Samui and take the ferry over for the party and back again in the morning.
Day 10: Koh Pha Ngan
What to do:
Treat yourself to a relaxing Thai beach day. Get bent over backwards and cracked in half with an hour-long traditional Thai massage for 250 Baht ($7 USD). Use this to unwind and get ready for the full moon festivities. Browse the countless shops selling neon clothing and headbands if you want to go all out for the celebration.
If you’re up for it, many bars have themed parties before the full moon celebration. Ask around to find a jungle party, foam party, waterfall party, or toga party.
Day 11: Full Moon Party
Okay, let’s just put this out there: Full Moon Party is NOT a must-see for everyone. There is no culture to be observed on Haad Rin, and although it would be a decent beach, the constant parties leave it littered with trash. It is a crazy party, and while we had a blast, we realize that it’s not everybody’s ideal vacation.
Sidenote: If you are not in Thailand over full moon, or just don’t want to participate in the party scene (totally understandable), stay on the Andaman Coast for a few more days. Relax and explore Koh Lanta by motorbike, or head to Khoa Sok National Park for a jungle adventure.
If you do go, be prepared to witness some drunken debauchery and take precautions to stay safe. Lock your valuables away. Duh. Don’t do drugs. (But really, don’t.) You’ll have no problem finding people or establishments selling the notorious mushroom shakes. Before you buy, know this: Some of the people selling them have a deal with the cops to turn in a certain percent of tourists in exchange for turning their heads. Fines for being caught with drugs are extravagant and if you can’t pay, you face jail in a Thai prison. We heard several horror stories, so just don’t do it. Rant over.
If you are prepared for the craziness that is Full Moon, and are cautious, you’ll have a great time. We sure did!
What to do:
Prepare your mind and body for a crazy night. Spend the day beaching it or exploring Koh Pha Ngan. Take a taxi and swim in the waterfalls that speckle the Thai island, or take a boat taxi and hop around the island’s best beaches. There truly is more to Koh Pha Ngan than the party scene.
Once the sun sets, Haad Rin beach changes into a colorful, fiery, party mecca. Stages are constructed and stands selling buckets line the water. After dinner, take turns painting your friends with festive neon paints while sharing Sangsom (traditional Thai rum) buckets.
Dance down the beach to any of the bars blasting booty-shaking tunes and snag some cheap street food throughout the night. It seems each bar has its own fire show that tries to outdo the others. Rave until the sun comes up over Haad Rin beach and then call it a night…err… morning and get some well-deserved sleep.
Day 12: Recover on Koh Pha Ngan
Koh Pha Ngan post full moon is all about recovery and detoxing. Order numerous tropical fruit shakes and seek out your hangover cure. Try to avoid the beach because it’s a sad sight with plastic neon straws, chunks of Styrofoam, and stray sandals floating in the water.
Day 13: Travel back to Bangkok
How to get there:
If you don’t mind spending a bit more, you can take an hour ferry and fly from Koh Samui airport back up to Bangkok. But if you want to save some baht, take the ferry and bus to Surat Thai and fly from there. It might take a bit more time, but it will save you anywhere between $50-100 USD per person.
Find a place in Sukhumvit area in Bangkok, which is right on the Skytrain line with plenty of cute restaurants and pubs to be explored.
Where to stay:
Tucked down a side street in the Sukhumvit neighborhood, Bodega Bangkok has a great social atmosphere with comfy beds and a quaint patio. About a 10 minute walk from Asok Station where you can catch the Skytrain to the airport, Bodega is a great spot for your last night in Thailand.
Sidenote: If your flight is early in the morning though, you may want to choose a hotel closer to the airport instead.
Day 14: Leaving on a Jet Plane
If you have time in the morning, wander the streets one last time before heading to the airport by Skytrain or taxi and heading home (or to your next destination!).