Want to live like royalty, swim with elephants, and visit temples with beauty that can only be captured in real life? Thailand is the place to go to. I went in May and it was H O T. If you do go around this time, plan to wear minimal clothing and you’ll be fine.
We flew into Phuket (Poo-ket), this was just an overnight stop for us. To put it bluntly, Phuket is ratchet. It’s a tourist trap. We were not interested in partying. If you are, you might want to schedule more time in Phuket. We stayed at the Bodega Phuket Party Hostel, a cheap, good stay for one night. You will have plenty of places to party in the nicer parts of Thailand, I wouldn’t spend too much time here. The only reason we stopped in Phuket was to catch the ferry to the Phi Phi Islands. You can take this ferry from Phuket or Krabi to the Phi Phi Islands. I recommend going Phuket to the Phi Phi Islands, then the Phi Phi Islands to Krabi.
Phi Phi Islands
First stop, the Phi Phi Islands (pronounced pee-pee), these islands are iconic, you won’t want to miss these. We stayed at the Phi Phi Cozy Seafront Resort. It wasn’t glamorous, but it has everything you need, and most of the day you should be out exploring! When in the Phi Phi Islands, go for an inexpensive hotel.
Do a boat tour for a day. If you want to party, like most millennials, you can do a booze cruise and meet fellow free-spirited travelers. We opted out of this because we knew we’d be drinking later in the night and would not be able to last all day. Heat + alcohol = an early night. We wanted to make the most of our trip! Hold out on getting your day excursions until you get onto the island. While on a shuttle from our hostel in Phuket to the Phi Phi Islands ferry, we stopped along the way at a “travel agency” with cheap day excursions. Don’t buy into this scam, it is cheaper to buy your excursions once you get on the island. These companies have a deal with the shuttle companies and they both make money from you paying for overpriced experiences. You will not be able to return these, hold out until you’re on the island.
Your boat excursion will take you all around the islands and to Maya Bay, which is its own separate island. This is a day you will never forget, unless of course, you opt for the booze cruise. Don’t expect much from Maya Bay. It’s overcrowded and you have to pay to get on it. There will be some hidden fees like this that will pop up on your trip. Don’t be fooled, but also know sometimes it is inevitable. If you think it’s worth it, pay; we went, saw it, and headed out before anyone asked us for money. There are plenty of other beaches well worth your time that are free.
WATCH OUT FOR THE MONKEYS. I had a friend that got bit because she thought it’d be cute to take a picture with it. A Thailand hospital visit, a few shots (needle shots; not the fun kind), antibiotics, a scheduled visit to the hospital back in the States, and the possibility of getting rabies is NOT worth the picture of a monkey on your shoulder. You can get plenty of pictures from a safe distance but beware, they like sunglasses and iPhones. Monkey Beach is in the Phi Phi Islands and will most likely be included on your boat tour. If you miss this, don’t sweat it, we didn’t see that many monkeys on this beach. You’ll see more all around the rest of Thailand.
Your nights in the Phi Phi Islands will be fun. I remember a man jumping rope with fire, and then of course a tourist trying to do it… yikes, and a beach dance party! They have cheap drinks in buckets to split with your friends. Live it up, it can be a wild ride, but still, stay smart.
Krabi is an athletic little town. We stayed at the Slumber Party Hostel for three nights and boy does it live up to the name. This hostel does a great job of connecting everyone who stays there for fun drinking games, bar crawls, or day excursions so you get to make friends with the people you stay with! When we went, unfortunately, it was raining for a day and we got food poising so we spend the whole day with cold sweats, throwing up, and in bed. However, you can rock climb, go tour the beaches on these cute little boats, or head up to Tiger Cave Temple, a steep 1,237 steps to the top. Get ready for your exercise because this is not an easy trip, but it is worth it. Pace yourself and bring water.
Chiang Mai is a stunning location, one of my favorite spots on the trip. We flew here from Krabi. Once you’re in Thailand, flights are cheap and an easy way to see the entire country. Definitely take advantage of this! We used Tigerair, it has sketchy reviews, but it was completely fine for us. You get what you pay for; save your money for the experiences. A plane is a plane and it gets you from point A to point B.
While in Chiang Mai, take a cooking class. It might seem like it’s ‘not your thing’ but give it a try. The culture in Thailand is beautiful and this is one way to immerse yourself in it. There are plenty to choose from, you can’t go wrong here.
Visit the elephants!! This is probably one of the main reasons people travel to Thailand, but do your research. If a place you see is allowing humans to ride the elephants, do not go there. Give your money to elephant sanctuaries, those that rescue elephants from those abusing them. Happy Elephant Home is a good one to visit. You’ll feed them, walk with them down to the river to swim, and play with them in the water and mud. This is one of my favorite memories of my entire lifetime. Spend a day loving these giant, gentle creatures, you will find magic in this experience.
While in Chiang Mai we stayed at the Bua Raya Hotel, right on the main square in town. We spent about 4 hours the first day walking around touring the temples, most of them are walking distance from the main square. I recommend staying in the heart of Chiang Mai. As for a temple walking tour, check out: Wat Lok Moli, Wat Buppharam, Wat Chedi Luang, Wat Phantao, Wat Inthakhin Sadue Muang, Wat Phan On, Wat Suan Dok, Wat Chiang Man, Wat Phra Singh (Gold Temple), and others! You will find that once you see three-five of these temples, you don’t need to wander out and see more, they are all very similar.
That being said, Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is located a little outside the center square of Chiang Mai and is worth the trip. This was one of my favorite temples out of our entire visit. A long staircase bordered by 4-headed dragons guides you up 306 steps. You can take a gondola, but where’s the journey in that! This temple has cool vendors outside, a perfect place to get a souvenir, schedule a trip here into your itinerary.
Wat Rong Khun or The White Temple; oh how breathtaking the White Temple is. The White Temple is in Chiang Rai, but conveniently there is a bus from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai. The Green Bus leaves a few times in the day and it is a little under a 3-hour ride each way. You’ll find demons sketched into the stone surrounding it symbolling unrestrained desire, and seeing the way forgoing temptation, greed, and desire, before arriving at the “gates of heaven”. There’s much more history behind this temple, I suggest reading up on it before going so you understand what everything means. This was a special trip, unlike any temple you will see anywhere else in Thailand. It is worth the trip.
We knew the White Temple was on our list of things to see, so we decided to stay a night in Chiang Rai. I am very happy with this decision because it is easy to get lost in the mass chaos of city life of Phuket, Chiang Mai, and Bangkok. Chiang Rai has much less tourism, and more nature and seclusion. We stayed at the Legend Boutique River Resort and Spa, my goodness was it beautiful!! We were in the superior studio and for a whopping $22 each… you could say it was a steal.
From here we flew to Bangkok to finish out the trip! Again, we used Tigerair.
In Bangkok, we decided to ball out a bit and got a room in the Baiyoke Sky Hotel (still it was only about $17 per person). This was a blast. This hotel has restaurants and things to do 80 stories up. There’s an observation deck, a bar, a floating market, a coffee shop, and a breakfast buffet, which has an impeccable lineup of salmons, omelets, and anything else you can dream of. This hotel had super friendly staff who helped us get around the city.
I was a little let down by the Wat Arun and Wat Phra Chetuphon (Wat Pho - reclining Buddha) Temples in Bangkok. They look beautiful online and they are in person as well, but I felt the temples in other parts of Thailand were more impressive. Wat Phra Chetuphon is tourist central. It’s busy and it’s beautiful, but don’t feel the need to spend the 3 hours here it requires after waiting in lines and walking around. Use Chiang Mai to get your temple fix in and Bangkok as your city/shopping fix. The exception to this is Tham Lhao Luang Cave.
Tham Khao Luang Cave is a temple located 2 hours outside of Bangkok, underground, in a cave. I loved it because it was so different. You’ll find many beautiful caves upon mountain tops, covered in gold, with beautiful views, but this one is unlike anything else. You can uber here, but ask your driver to wait! We had an extremely hard time trying to find a ride back to Bangkok. There is minimal public transportation and not many ubers outside the major cities… first world problems. We walked for a good 2 hours, trying to figure out where the nearest bus station is, what bus we should be on, are we actually going to get back? Did we understand the Thai directions correctly? Yea we had no clue, it took about 4 hours to get home. Ask your driver to wait. It should only take you about a half-hour to explore the cave, pay them for their time waiting for you.
Ping Pong Shows. Well, this is something you won’t see anywhere else in the world. It’s actually quite amusing. Your best bet is to find a local you can quickly befriend. If you don’t know anyone and you are a foreigner, they will probably let you in, but for a much higher price than a local. A Ping Pong show is where girls stuff things up their hoo-hah and then shoot them out. From multiple ping pong balls to darts that pop balloons stationed around the room, to (or so I’ve heard) live chickens. Yes, an entire live chicken. It’s something you have to see to believe. Don't expect anything glamorous from these shows either, but hey it's a unique experience.
Travel Tips for Thailand:
1. Careful of the water. Do not drink any tap water. Buy bottled water and also brush your teeth with it. When you shower, be sure to keep your mouth closed.
2. Not only do you have to be careful of the water, but also some of the street food. This is how we got food poisoning. When we stayed at Slumber Party Hostel and it was the little food tent to the right of it. If it looks sketchy, don't eat it.
3. In some temples you will need to cover your shoulders and knees. Bring light clothing that covers these areas.
4. A picture with a monkey is not worth rabies.
1. Swim with elephants
2. Phi Phi Islands Boat Tour
3. The White Temple
4. Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
5. Cooking class
6. Tiger Cave Temple
1. Bar Crawl in Phi Phi Islands
2. Ping Pong Show