The lowdown: The track is well beaten, but this certainly doesn’t detract from its charm. From the plush northern hills, down through the urban centre through to the islands of paradise, Thailand has something for all.
Culture: Thais are very friendly, laid back but energetic people. Always be polite and respectful, as the concept of ‘saving face’ is paramount here. Try and pick up a few local phrases, but expect most in the tourist industry to speak reasonable English.
Costs: Costs can be as little as £10 per day in the north, if you are willing to haggle for good prices and eat as the locals do (see our basic backpacking guide from the Felix Daily Issue 1). As you migrate south, expect prices to rise, and eventually double on Koh Phangan’s infamous Haad Rin beach.
Cuisine: A jamboree of flavours awaits you in the form of noodles, curries, and exotic fruit and vegetables. Stay true to the local food as much as you can: street vendors are recommended more than rival restaurants.
Charming Chiang Mai
Crammed with scenic temples and great eateries, this quaint city is your gateway to Thailand’s northern hills. Ambient by day, the city becomes vibrant at night with its young crowds and nightlife.
Accommodation: Many opt for the old quarter, where countless hostels await you. Surrounded by several Buddhist temples for your hopping pleasure, this is a great base camp to explore the city and has an abundance of taxis to take you near and afar.
Food: Worth noting is the food court at the city’s night market, which hinges on a token system: stock up on some cheap tokens, redeem them at various vendors, and dabble with as many things as possible. It’s easy to miss so be sure to ask around when you’re there.
Transport: Grab a map and explore the city by bicycle: you’re much more likely to stumble upon some hidden gems this way than if you’re crammed into the back of a tuk-tuk. That’s not to say that the occasional tuk-tuk won’t come in handy on those late nights!
Activities: Arrange some trekking through your hostel or a travel company, get off the track for a few days as you venture up the hills and stay with hill tribes, stopping to revitalise at cooling waterfalls along the way, and consider twinning the trekking with elephant training at an elephant sanctuary. Unwind with a well-deserved Thai massage once you make it back to town.
Cleverly described as “the decompression chamber between the east and the west” in ‘The Beach’, the city is both bizarre and lovable. It’s a great place to start or end a trip, and a great hub for any direction you could wish to venture.
Accommodation: The Khao San Road will probably be where you end up, though if you’re willing to walk two minutes into a side street you’re likely to stumble on a bargain. The rooms are rarely five star and never soundproof from the insane nightlife, but this is definitely the place you want to be to swap stories and recommendations with similar other people.
Food: The street food is simply unmissable, and hopelessly outmatches rival restaurant food. Get a bowl of pad thai (fried noodles) with all of the finishings, and grab yourself a frosty Chang beer from a supermarket. Sit yourself down and inhale the chaos around you.
Transport: Metered taxis are your best bet for longer distance journeys across the city, but make sure that the taxi uses a meter before you get in. Tuk-tuks are fine for short distances, but avoid scams of ‘free’ trips where you won’t be taken to your destination.
Activities: Check out the tigers and floating market out of town, admire Wat Pho and the royal palace’s outstanding architecture. Delve into the city’s huge markets, sight-spot while you cruise along the river. For the bold: go and check out ‘Patpong’ at night.
The Full Moon Party
The ultimate beach party: nothing you witness will match the scale or madness of Haad Rin beach when the moon is full. Party until way after sunrise as music blares, drinks flow, and fire-based acrobatics surround you.
Accommodation: Staying on Haad Rin has the advantage that you don’t have to pay extortionate taxi fees to get to and from the nightlife. The extra accommodation costs to stay here are nothing compared to the taxi fees. Accommodation is almost always under heavy surveillance, and the police are harsh on troublemakers.
Food: Resist the urge to submit to the standard drunken student food on offer, and go for some street food. Have a Thai green curry cooked up and wash it down with some lao cao (local whiskey). Or stick to falafel and super-strength alcoholic mixers, served in buckets.
Activities: Attend the ‘Same Same Cookery School’ and learn how to cook the Thai way while you nurse your hangover. Head over to the national park to the west, the set of the mythical island in Garland’s ‘The Beach’. Get on the island a few days early to make friends on the build up to the monthly big event. Then cover yourself in paint and dance the night away.
Annoyances: Spiked drinks are common, so look out for yourself and your friends. Equally, theft is more prominent here as people take advantage of drunk tourists. Stay safe and stay together in a group if possible.
Paradise on Phi Phi
In the humble opinion of far too many, the turquoise waters and sandy white beaches of Phi Phi take the prize for paradise spot. With its resident cats, fruit shake vendors and all round good vibes it certainly feels like home.
Accommodation: Beach huts aren’t much cheaper than hotel rooms, and also have the annoying habit of being susceptible to the bass from nearby speakers. Unless you’re prepared to pop valium every night, go for a quieter hotel room where you’ll actually be able to rest. As the island is so tiny, location is irrelevant.
Food: You should take advantage of the fact that this is an island and eat some fresh fish.The restaurants here are worth investing in and are highly competitive, always offering you good deals. A restaurant serving shisha is never a bad call: many have rooftop smoking areas that are a great way to enjoy the sunset after an evening meal.
Activities: Track down ‘Spider Monkey Travel’ and get yourself on the Maya Bay camping trip: the pristine set of ‘The Beach’ will be yours for the evening, following some cliff diving and shark snorkelling. Immerse yourself in the phosphorescent water and crash out on the sand to watch the sun rise. Hunt for a good deal on some diving. You should consider becoming qualified if you’re not already, as the diving here is world class and incredibly cheap. Take the climb to the island’s mighty viewpoint.
Annoyances: None. Now sit back in the sun and enjoy paradsise.