Helpful tips when you first travel to Thailand
Thailand is our favourite travel destination right now. We’ve been five times in the past five years and we’re planning another visit very soon. But there are so many things we wish we’d known the first time we visited. So we hope our Thailand travel guide for first time visitors will help you to choose the right places to go and the right things to see on your first visit.
Thailand is a country that has so much to offer tourists and travellers. From great limestone mountain bays and sandy beaches in the south to unbelievable shopping experiences in the capital, to amazing temples and ancient historical ruins, walled ancient cities, fantastic festivals, the Golden Triangle and, of course, the great food and famous Thai smile.
There are so many famous travel destinations that it’s hard to get to them all in one lifetime, but we’re doing our best throughout this website so when you next travel, you’ll get the best too.
There’s no way you can see everything in one trip, unless you’re spending six or twelve months backpacking around the country. But our original three week itinerary was a great introduction to the wonders of Thailand and something we organised all on our own.
Week 1 was spent in Bangkok, shopping our little hearts out and visiting iconic tourist spots like the Tiger Temple, the Grand Palace, the Bridge over the River Kwai and the Chao Phraya River – we found the Phra Arthit area a great base in Bangkok, close to the river and the famous BTS Skytrain (the quickest way to explore Bangkok). We flew to Bangkok with Air Asia (from Gold Coast, Australia, via Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), stayed at the New Siam II guest house in Phra Arthit, just a short walk from Khao San Road, and we booked our tours from the tour desk in the hotel. It’s a five minute walk to the river ferry and a 10 minute walk to the Grand Palace.
Week 2 was spent exploring the southern beaches and islands, lazing on sandy beaches and having long lunches and dinners in palm-fringed cafes and restaurants. We based ourselves in Ao Nang beach resort near the town of Krabi, and took time to explore the delights of the nearby Ko Phi Phi islands. We flew from Bangkok to Krabi with Thai Air Asia (a local subsidiary of Air Asia) for just US$30 each. We stayed a couple of days in Krabi Town at the Krabi Riverside Hotel (a great place) and then took a 20 minute taxi ride to Ao Nang Beach. In Ao Nang, we stayed at a tiny guest house called Ao Nang Friendly Bungalows run by a lovely Muslim family. They organised our trip our to Ko Phi Phi and also recommended places to eat.
Week 3 took us way up north to Chiang Mai, the ancient walled capital of the former Lanna Thai kingdom, where we chilled out even further. In Chiang Mai we based ourselves on the edge of the “old city” near the city wall and the famous Thapae Gate, so we were in walking distance of the Chiang Mai night market, the Saturday Street Market on Wu Lai Road, and the Sunday Street Market in the old city. We also took the time to explore the famous temple at Doi Suithep, about 30 minutes from Chiang Mai, and the nearby White Meo hilltribe village. We flew from Krabi to Chiang Mai, via Bangkok, with Thai Air Asia for about US$50 each. In Chiang Mai, we stayed at the Elegant Lanna guest house, which was recommended on TripAdvisor. They organised our tours and looked after us very well.
There are lots of other destinations to explore in Thailand, some of which get added to our itinerary each year since. Popular destinations include:
The south is famous for its beautiful white sand beaches, sparkling blue oceans, incredible limestone islands poking up out of the azure sea, amazing seafood, resort hotels, diving and snorkelling trips, lazing on the beach, surfing and just having fun.
We prefer to travel the area around Krabi/Ao Nang because it’s a bit quieter and more laid back, but you’ll have fun almost anywhere here.
Just be careful if you get down close to the Malaysian border and especially further east from there as there have been some troubles around that area in the recent past with Muslim separatists.
- Ko Phi Phi – gorgeous islands in the middle of a sparkling bay
- Ko Samui – limestone mountains, white sand beaches, famous nightlife
- Krabi/Ao Nang – gateway to the islands and beaches
- Phang-Nga – gorgeous beaches, gateway to the Andaman Islands
- Phuket – the Bali of Thailand, famous for its beaches and seafood
- Ranong – famous hot springs, gateway to Burma (Myanmar)
- Songkhla – beaches, historical sites, gateway to Malaysia
- Trang – 46 islands, famous for its wildlife and natural scenery
The east does have some beautiful mountain scenery too, especially around Trat, and some gorgeous unspoilt islands around Koh Chang area.
- Chonburi – closest beach resort to Bangkok, close to Pattaya
- Rayong – beach resort famous for its fresh fruit and food
- Trat – mountains and sandy beaches, tiny unspoilt islands and coral reefs
- Pattaya – bars, sex, nightclubs, water sports (not my kind of place)
- Koh Chang – awesome marine parks, rainforest islands, amazing scenery
But there are also some beaches close to the capital if that’s as far as you can manage to go. Hua Hin is a very popular beach destination for Bangkok residents and for stop-over travellers who only have a few days in Thailand.
- Ayutthaya – ancient capital and major archeological site
- Bangkok – the capital and heaven for addicted shoppers!
- Kanchanaburi – Bridge over the River Kwai and famous war memorials
- Phetchaburi – unspoilt beaches, where Thai royalty went to holiday
- Prachuap Khiri Khan – Bangkok’s weekend beach getaway
- Hua Hin – Thailand’s original beach resort, a day trip from Bangkok
What ever your interests, there’s something for you in and around Bangkok. It’s also the jumping off point for many of Thailand’s most famous attractions like the Grand Palace, the Bridge over the River Kwai and the Tiger Temple.
The Isaan region is for the intrepid traveller, with lots of unspoilt wilderness to explore and great places to go hiking and trekking.
You’ll find far fewer tourists here, but more dedicated travellers. It can get dangerous too the further east you go as there are some armed insurgents and border conflicts in this area from time to time.
- Chaiyaphum – Land of Victory, famous for its national parks
- Khon Kaen – commercial capital of NE Thailand, famous for its silks
- Loei – pristine rural beauty with rugged mountain ranges
- Nakhon Ratchasima – center of Khmer culture in Thailand
- Nong Khai – ancient temples and market towns on the banks on the Mekong River
It’s a place of remote beauty, rugged mountains, hill tribes, rivers, amazing crafts and souvenirs, cheap accommodation and meals.
There are “must see” attractions here like the White Temple in Chiang Rai, the Doi Tung royal villa near Mae Sai, the Golden Triangle on the border with Burma and Laos, and some of the best elephant rides and river rides in Thailand around Chiang Mai.
- Chiang Mai – ancient capital of the Northern Lanna kingdom
- Chiang Rai – laid back gateway to the Golden Triangle, Laos, Burma and China
- Mae Hong Son – sometimes called the “Switzerland” of Thailand
- Sukhothai – capital of the first independent kingdom in Thailand
Where ever you go in Thailand, you’re sure to find friendly people, great food, fantastic shopping bargains, lots to see and do and a great all-round holiday for travellers of all ages.
The great thing when you travel in Thailand is that it’s so cheap – everything is cheap except perhaps wine and spirits, most of which is imported. If you’re like us and don’t throw money around stupidly, you’ll get by comfortably on 500-1000B per day for a couple, except in places like Phuket or Pattaya or perhaps Bangkok – because prices do tend to be a little more expensive in those heavily touristed places. This will cover your accommodation (around 300-600B per night), food (300-500B), transport (100-200B) and a few drinks to end the day. Of course you can easily spend more than that, but even if you eat, stay and drink in fairly good places, you should not need much more than 1500-2000B per day.
Read our guide to the Thai Baht to get a better idea about how to manage your travel budget.
I can’t say we’ve ever felt unsafe when we travel in Thailand, but we do tend to stay away from areas known to be troublesome I guess. But there are a few things to think about before you take your Thailand holiday.
Read our guide to travel insurance and staying safe in Thailand for more information.
Avoiding scams and trouble spots
The major scam to avoid is in Bangkok and involves tuk-tuk drivers wanting to take you to a “Thai Export Centre” to buy jewellery or the like. They will entice you with very cheap or free rides and they will tell you all sorts of small lies to get you to go there. Once there, you will get pressure from salespeople to buy expensive products, but no-one will actually rob you or do anything terrible. So even if you do get caught up in this, just give a lot of firm “NO” answers.
Read our guide to Thailand scams and how to avoid them before you go, and nothing will spoil your holiday.
It’s a fairly large country, so don’t expect to be able to travel Thailand on a bicycle in two or three days. In fact you are unlikely to even get a real handle on Thailand in two or three month-long holidays. If you’re travelling from the south (e.g. Phuket) to the centre (e.g. Bangkok) and on to the north (e.g. Chiang Mai), be ready for some airline flights. Travelling between these places by road or by train can be a long, slow haul and it doesn’t pay to waste your precious holiday time this way.
Read our guide to getting around in Thailand for all the best options on transport.