Thailand-The land of smiles, offers travelers an incredible, exotic vacation at even more incredible prices. Pristine beaches, elephant riding, glimmering temples, delicious food, and insane parties are just a few reasons why tourists of all ages are flocking to Thailand.
“So Caitie, we have two weeks vacation, what should we do?”
This is my most commonly asked question. Therefore, below is my personal perfect two-week itinerary for those of you who want to experience Thailand in all its beautiful, crazy, amazing, jaw dropping glory.
You made it! Most likely you are arriving at night so this will not count as a “day” on the itinerary. Hop into a taxi to Khao San Road! Known as a backpacker hub for Southeast Asia, Khao San Road is the perfect place to start your trip out with a bang. Is it touristy? Absolutely! But it is a great place to meet people from around the world, pick up some cheap yet surprisingly stylish clothes, eat a plate of 80 cent Pad Thai, and loosen up with a cold beer after a long flight.
Day 1. Bangkok Khao San Road is also perfectly located about 1km from The Grand Palace and its neighboring temples Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha) and Wat Po (Temple of the Gold Reclining Buddha). Entrance requires covered shoulders and pants so dress accordingly to avoid having to stand in a long line to rent them inside. All three can be adequately accomplished in 5 hours and cost about $20 total in entrance fees. From Wat Po, walk 5 minutes to the river taxi ($1) and take it to Central Pier. This is a great way to see Bangkok’s famous Chao Praya River and all of the life on the waterways. Once at Central Pier, exit and walk straight to the Saphan Taksin BTS statin. The BTS, Bangkok’s sky train transportation system, is an amazingly cheap and efficient way to get around Bangkok with a day pass costing $5, which can be easily purchased at the counter. With your pass in hand, explore the city. My personal favorite is to stop at Victory Monument Station where you can find a fantastic local market called Victory Point, located at the exit to the right of the monument. Here, local merchants and designers feature the newest trends in clothing at a great price and more delicious street food than you can imagine. I love to drop in for a Thai Massage ($8 per hour), grab some local food and a beer and people watch. By now you will probably be exhausted so hale a Tuk-Tuk, a three wheeled colorful auto rickshaw, back to Khao San Road to refresh and hang out for the night ($9).
Day 2. Auyuttaya Head to Hualamphong train station, (pronounced “wrote fy hoo-uh-long-pong”). Here you can catch a 1.5 hr long local train to Auyuttaya for about $2 round trip. This is a great way to see Thailand’s beautiful scenery as well as the culture and people that live along the tracks. Once you arrive there will be multiple men/tour guides waiting to take you around to all of the ancient ruins. This is the BEST way by far to experience this amazing place. I strongly advise you to not give in and take a tour to Auyttaya, on sale from Khao San Road. If you like paying triple, being crammed into a bus with hundreds of people, getting off at each temple for 10 minutes where sweaty people rush to take their pictures, then the tours sold on Khao San Road are for you. If you are like me, and enjoy taking as little or as much time as you need at each site, riding around with your personal companions, wind in your hair, stopping to treat yourself and your driver to a beer and get to know each other over a local snack, then your in the right place!
After a couple hours, hope back on the train and return to your guesthouse for a much-needed shower. Depending on your energy level, I say hit the Red Light districts! You heard me, ancient ruins by day, go-go bars by night. Now, I am not advocating for exploitation, but sex work in Thailand, as reflected in my article, is not black and white, as CNN would like you to believe. That being said, I would say head to Nana Plaze, Soi Cowboy, or Patong to do some truly interesting “sightseeing”. Whether you just stroll past the street or grab a beer in one of the bars, in my opinion, the Red Light districts are something everyone should see. Sex work in Thailand is estimated to be responsible for up to 10% of the economy and is undoubtedly a huge part of Thai culture.
Day 3-5 Kanchanaburi Wake up early and head to Kanchanaburi on the local train. Costing $2 , the train leaves from Thonburi station also known as Bangkok Noi at 7:30am. I recommend purchasing your ticket to Nam Tok Station. By doing this you will go over the famous Bridge Over the River Kwai and get to experience the “Death Railway” which refers to the section along the rivers edge built by WWII prisoners of war. Once at Nam Tok station, I recommend staying at Boutique Raft Resort in the River Kwai Suite ($55 for two people on Agoda.com). The accommodation is a floating houseboat on the river complete with air conditioning, a private rivers edge balcony, fresh water pool, and breakfast included. Upon arrival, you can also book customized private trips to local attractions. We had a personal driver take us to the Erawan National Park Waterfalls and the Bamboo Rafting for $25 per person, which was cheaper than purchasing tours and we had the freedom to take as much time as we wanted. You can also opt for elephant riding, white water rafting, or hot springs. After a couple days of relaxing by the river, take the train back to Bangkok, enjoy some local street food for dinner and return to Hualamphong Train Station later that night to get on your night train to the Southern Islands!
Day 6-10 Koh Tao I am a lover of trains, be it that the US has a terrible train system and therefore they might be a bit glamorized for me, I still strongly say train travel is the BEST, especially night trains. Not only do you save time by traveling at night but you also save on a hotel. Being a budget backpacker myself, I always get some meat skewers and sticky rice with a couple large beers outside the train station ($4) and avoid the overly priced but decent train food. I recommend the 2nd class sleeper train from Bangkok to Chumpon Station (pre purchase online to secure tickets or if its low season you can usually buy them a couple days prior at the station. Ferry tickets from Chumpon to Koh Tao can be purchased at the station or Khao San Road.) Costing almost half of a first class ticket, a 2nd class sleeper gets you air conditioning and a bunk bed with fresh linens. Don’t fear, you can sleep soundly as a train employee will come wake you up when it is your stop. Once on Koh Tao, I recommend either partaking in a scuba diving package ($300 per person with Padi certification plus beach bungalow accommodation) at Crystal Dive, or if your more of a give a buzz and a beach kind of person, staying at Samatha Guethouse is a great option. Slightly new to the island, Samatha offers an artsy, modern bed and breakfast option ($50), with a fantastic staff and a great location just close enough to the beach but far enough away that the all night bar raves don’t keep you up.
Day 11-12 Koh Phangan Purchase your ferry to Koh Phangan from any of the many local travel shops ($15) let the fun begin. Koh Phangan is famous for its all night beach rave, Full Moon Party where neon painted almost naked backpackers dance and drink the night away. Although seen as a right of passage in the backpacker world, if this is not your thing do not fear. Koh Phangan is much larger than is neighbor Koh Tao and offers never ending beaches, night markets, eco projects, and even concerts out on the ferry jetty.
Day 13-14 Bangkok Back to Bangkok you go! Take the ferry back to Chumpon Station and take the reverse sleeper train, arriving back in Bangkok in the morning. If you time it out right, you are hopefully back on a Saturday or Sunday so you can go the Asia’s largest open air market, Chatujak Market also named J J Market. This is where you should save your shopping for. You can find everything here, great food, local crafts, clothes, art and more. You can easily get here by again taking the BTS skytrain to Mo Chit Station or the MRT underground to Chatujak Park. As for the rest of your stay, this is your time. If that means one last night out on the town or just recouping by the pool, your last day in Bangkok is for you to reflect and do what you feel. My last trip we splurged for a room at Grande Centre Point Hotel ($120). I have to admit, it was pretty nice after a long journey to hit up the high rise infinity pool and a movie at the conjoining Terminal 21 theater.
* If sleeper trains don’t appeal to you or you just have your heart set on the Phi Phi Islands, no worries. Remove the sections above on Koh Tao and Koh Phangan and buy a cheap domestic flight from Bangkok to Krabi instead. From Krabi, a short ferry ride will get you to Phi Phi Islands. Note, if from the US, Air Asia will require payment on an American Express, Visa is not accepted. I recently went to Phi Phi and stayed at Phi Phi Good View ($50) and would highly recommend it.
So, there it is, my Perfect 2 Week Thailand Vacation. As you can see, being a balanced backpacker can be for any length of travel. By having a good balance of activities, you can see the country and culture from a deeper perspective. Thailand is truly the land of amazing extremes; so let it take you for a ride, with its wonderful people, cuisine, temples, beaches and more, Thailand will rock your world!