One big thing I look for when picking a place to go is how diverse the landscape is and how many of my “boxes” does it check. Food, exotic culture, mountains, beaches, wildlife, sea creatures, architecture, ancient temples, hiking… Thailand checks every box! And on top of that, it’s so. dang. CHEAP. If that’s not enough to make you want to pack your bags, just keep scrolling and I think you’ll be convinced. 🙂
Our flight from Pittsburgh was around 30 hours including long layovers in Paris (going) and Amsterdam (coming back), and the longest stretch of the flight was 11 hours. Honestly, it wasn’t too bad. I slept most of the time and took NyQuil to knock myself out.
If you have a 7 hour layover in Paris like we did and you think trying to see the Eiffel Tower is a good idea, just don’t take a bus. 😂
We met a lady in line that had the same idea as us, and we decided to split a ride. She talked us into taking the bus because it was cheaper, but that was a horrible idea. I swear the bus did about 10 circles, and it took us twice as long to get there.
Once we got to the Eiffel Tower, they dropped us off in the back where there was construction happening, and we couldn’t even find the entrance to the pretty green grass field that you always see in photos. We only had about 10 minutes until we had to get back in a car and head toward the airport, and we spent that time frantically searching for a bathroom.
Stephen ended up finding this little pod where the doors closed automatically, but of course, wouldn’t close for him. And now he can one day tell our children a story of public urination outside of the Eiffel Tower, hahaha. We only got a few photos.
We rushed back to the airport, and everything went smoothly from there. We landed in Bangkok, hopped on our 3rd flight to Chiang Mai, landed there around 4pm, and crashed pretty early.
Stay: LeNaview Hotel
LONG FLIGHT ESSENTIALS:
- aspirin (for swelling; also helps if you have back pain like me)
- compression socks (not necessarily essential, but my feet did swell and compression socks are supposed help)
- wipes (face + body to feel slightly less disgusting)
- plenty of entertainment
- lots of water (hydration helps with jet lag)
- We also took these jet lag tablets by 1Above. It’s hard to say exactly if they worked or not, but they definitely didn’t hurt.
DAY 1: ELEPHANT DAY!
We started out our trip on a high! This was honestly one of the best days of my life.
Because of time restraint, we had to do Elephant Nature Park on the first day, against our better judgement. We were a little concerned that we’d be too tired, but that wasn’t the case. Plenty of sleep, plus the adrenaline and we were good to go!
I have a detailed blog post here that includes all the details from our visit to the Elephant Nature Park, but in summary: it was the best. day. ever. and the highlight of our trip! This is completely worth going to Chiang Mai for. I researched a TON before choosing this sanctuary, and I’m convinced that none of the others would’ve given us such an incredible experience.
We fed, loved on, hiked with, and bathed with the elephants on our Pamper a Pachyderm tour. I highly suggest choosing a “saddle off program” for your day at ENP, and I talk about why in this blog post. ENP is also the most ethical sanctuary you’ll find, and they do not allow riding. They do everything they can to make life for the elephants as natural as possible, and to help elephants with physical or mental trauma from their previous owners.
Make sure to wear something that can get dirty and that’s breathable. Thailand is hot and you will get muddy on this trek. 🙂 I got these cute rust color shorts for cheap from Forever21, a black tank from AE, chacos, and a swim suit underneath and it worked great. The hat came from the tour!
After our unforgettable experience with the elephants, we went to the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar– a huge market that sells just about anything and everything. We got a lot of souvenirs and a couple random knockoff things. FYI: food stands close early!
Stay: LeNaview Hotel
DAY 2: TEMPLES + CHIANG MAI
Chiang Mai is full of beautiful temples, so we spent this day exploring the city and taking a tuk tuk from temple to temple. We saw Wat Chedi Luang, Wat Phra Singh, Wat Umong, & Wat Sri Suphan (silver temple). There’s a ton of them in the “Old City.”
As far as what to wear in the temples, you have to cover your shoulders and dress very modestly. Be sure to consider this when you’re packing! I brought a light little kimono from Forever21, an airy jumpsuit from Clad & Cloth, and SUPER comfy walking sandals from Roolee. Stephen wore tennis shoes, a light Columbia shirt, and zip-off pants, haha!
Here’s a few more temples that we missed but should definitely be on your list: Wat Phra Doi Suthep, Wat Suan Doc, and Royal Park Rajapruek. We tried to see Royal Park Rajapruek but no one we understood where we wanted to go– even after showing them directions on a map. The language barrier was real, but it’s all just part of the experience! We couldn’t be upset; after all, we were the foreigner in their country. So we just rolled with it. 🙂
Let’s talk Thai food! You can’t go to Chiang Mai without having Khao Soi– a native soup dish with curry sauce, fried egg noodles, and usually chicken. We grabbed some for lunch in a tiny hole-in-the-wall place with great reviews. The soup was packed with flavor and spice! Like a lot of spice, but it was one of our favorite meals in Thailand. If you love spicy food, you’ll be in heaven! If you don’t, you can always ask for no spice.
After a long day on our feet, we got a traditional Thai massage for only $7! This is a must! It involves lots of pulling and stretching, and it was an interesting experience to say the least. When you walk into the massage place, there’s an instant calming presence. You take your shoes off, there’s relaxing music playing, and they give you tea and a small snack before taking you back. Stephen couldn’t fit in his robe-thing that they give you to wear during the massage, so he had to go shirtless, haha. We left the massage feeling rejuvenated!
I also recommend eating ALL the fresh fruit you can get your hands on! Just be careful– you shouldn’t have anything that’s been rinsed with their water without peeling it yourself first. We had an amazing fresh mango smoothie and mangosteen ice cream before heading to the airport for a 4pm flight to Krabi.
Stay + Eat: Alisea Boutique Hotel
DAY 3: KRABI
We got breakfast at Cafe 8.98, which I HIGHLY recommend! Between the 2 of us, we got an acai bowl, a skillet of eggs, pepperoni, tomato, + other goodness (and then a second one because it was so good, no shame!), a smoothie, and a coconut. We spent the day exploring Krabi, checking out the beach, and relaxing at the hotel’s infinity pool with some awesome cheap drinks and an incredible view!
For dinner, we wandered up the street towards The Hilltop Ao Nang restaurant. A couple of employees flagged us down, assuming we were going up to eat, and insisted that we get in their car. We were a little apprehensive but I’m glad we did, because they proceeded to drive us up a mountain at a NINETY DEGREE SLOPE and when we reached the hilltop restaurant, this was our view. 😍 like holy moly wow! They had live music (think Ed Sheeran’s “Perfect”) and incredible food and just remembering the whole experience makes me emotional. 12/10 recommend!
Stay: Alisea Boutique Hotel
DAY 4: PHI PHI
We woke up early and grabbed a quick breakfast at The Coffee Club before taking a ferry to the island of Phi Phi Don. This was June (rainy season), and there was a storm coming. The ocean was SO rough, it was quite terrifying. Water rushed into the boat at times, and I was told the enamel on the boat cracked. People were crying and getting sick, and that lasted for a solid hour and a half.
We were all so glad to be off the boat, but we were greeted with chaos, people yelling at us to pay, and herding us like cattle. After that was over, we walked through the town to find our hotel, and we were not super impressed with the main town. We found our hotel in a sketchy alley, and we were all feeling a little disappointed and shaken up.
The sun started coming out, we decided to eat the cost of our original hotel (only $34 because Thailand is so cheap) and get one in a better area. This is where we ended up:
We kayaked, then hiked up to the insanely gorgeous Phi Phi Viewpoint for sunset. It’s a steep hike, but I highly recommend it! We also saw a monkey at the top. 🙂 After the hike, we were pretty sore and ready to relax. We showered up and went to Unni’s for dinner, where I had AMAZING cashew chicken!
Eat: Unni’s Restaurant
DAY 5: MONKEY BEACH + PARADISE
After having breakfast at Latte de Phi Phi, a cute little spot on the beach near the hotel, we met a boatsman and arranged for a longtail to be ready in 20. We grabbed our luggage, checked out of the hotel, and loaded everything onto the boat. Luggage on the longtail was something I was a little worried about, but it wasn’t a problem at all– even with 4 people’s bags.
When we got to Monkey Beach, we spent some time snorkeling around before we saw monkeys come out. I was so excited to see them, I immediately ran up the beach with the GoPro. It was cool for a bit, til I got a little too close to a baby monkey. Can you guess what happened next? 😂
The mama came RUNNING toward me, swinging her arms and doing everything she could to take me down. Hahaha, I remember it in slow motion and can laugh about it now (but in the moment I swear my life flashed before my eyes. And I’m never dramatic.) She grabbed my leg about the time I dove into the ocean, but I was a second away from being bitten… which would not have been fun. I’m always the one to push the limits, especially when it comes to animals because I love them and just want to get close. BUT, moral of the story: monkeys are no joke. Tourists get bitten for a reason. Be smart and keep your distance. You don’t want to ruin your day/trip by ending up in the hospital! Here’s a crappy photo I took right before the life-threatening incident:
ANYWAY, after recovering from that incident, we snorkeled for a while in the beautiful, clear turquoise water. It was one of the most amazing little spots! After a while, our boatsman took us to our next hotel, Holiday Inn Phi Phi – aka paradise.
When we pulled up, we were all a bit taken aback. This place was unreal! As we were checking in, they brought us a cool herbal towel to wipe down and freshly squeezed juice. They took our luggage and we walked around, taking in the gorgeous complex and basically private beach. Honestly, I felt like a celebrity. 😂
The rest of the day was spent relaxing and enjoying our new temporary home. We laid on the beach with hardly anyone around us, drank straight from coconuts, had some awesome food, and snorkeled for hours. The snorkeling right outside the hotel was surprisingly good! There were reefs and beautiful fish, like clown fish, rainbow fish, sea urchins, etc.
We chose to splurge on this hotel and get a villa with a private pool. It was expensive for Thailand, but close to normal price for a nice hotel in the US.
We spent a little time at our pool before getting an amazing aloe massage and having dinner at the hotel. The food, service, massages, comfort, and privacy on the beach was more than we could’ve asked for at this hotel!
Stay: Holiday Inn Phi Phi
DAY 6: ISLAND HOPPING
This is a day we will never forget!
The day before the tour, we stopped by the hotel desk to arrange for a private speedboat to pick the 4 of us up in the morning. We left around 7:30-8 AM and headed toward Phi Phi Leh.
The tour stops included Lo Sama Bay, Pileh Lagoon, Viking Cave, “Monkey Beach” (we didn’t actually get off the boat, it was different from our first monkey beach stop), and then another little snorkeling spot. We also stopped at Maya Bay (where the movie “The Beach” was filmed) for a few pictures, but it was closed when we were there so we couldn’t idle in the bay. When I found out it was closed, I was soooo bummed. But honestly, I don’t feel like we missed much. It was absolutely beautiful, but so was the rest of the island.
If you have time and are adventurous, you should look into the Maya Bay Sleep Aboard, where you can sleep on a boat in the middle of Maya Bay, have the beach to yourself, and swim with bioluminescent plankton. There are no hotels on this island, so this is the only way to stay there. We have friends who did this and said it was one of the coolest things they’ve ever done! Maybe consider the time of year you’re going in though– the sea got very rough during our trip in June.
Anyway, back to our tour:
The boatsmen were SO nice and accommodating! They played music and asked us what we wanted to listen to, lowered down freshly cut pineapple on a little lifejacket so we could eat as we snorkeled, and threw out a couple little fruit slices where we were swimming— the fish SWARMED us, which was so cool! AND the driver was basically a photographer– he took over my phone (with my permission, of course), and directed + snapped tons of photos for us, both candid and posed. He even took panoramics and a BOOMERANG of us jumping off the boat- his idea! 😂 We loved the crew so much and it really made for a great experience.
All of the stops were breathtaking! Our favorite was Pileh Lagoon, but Lo Sama Bay had the best snorkeling. If you go to Phi Phi, island hopping is a must! You can’t go all that way and not explore these beautiful spots!
The private speedboat was a splurge (about $60 per person), but we felt it was worth it because we had each location to ourselves (or almost to ourselves). The service and privacy on the boat was a huge plus! But you can totally find tours for cheaper, or even take a longtail boat for the day.
After the boat tour, we still had most of the day to relax on the beach, hit up happy hour at the sunset bar, and get another massage (I’m telling y’all, those cheap massages are incredible) before eating dinner at the hotel restaurant. Our favorite meal? Cashew chicken! And you’ve gotta try the mango sticky rice!
Stay: Holiday Inn Phi Phi
DAY 7: TRAVELING + BANGKOK
The hotel transferred us to the Krabi airport via speedboat then van. We spent most of the day traveling. After flying into Bangkok, I started to feel sick. Like really sick. And so did Stephen.
We took a taxi to our little hotel, and planned to spend the evening exploring Bangkok, but stayed in the bathroom all night instead. For me, I think all the boats and flights caught up to me and I got severe motion sickness. For Stephen, well, I will warn you on his behalf– avoid snow fish (aka escolar or butter fish). Just google the symptoms, I’ll spare you the details.
Stay: Baan Kachitpan
Things to do in Bangkok:
- Temples: Wat Arun, Wat Phra Kaew, Wat Benja, Wat Pho, Wat Suthat
- Raan Jay Fai Restaurant (watch “Somebody Feed Phil” on Netflix)
- Khao San Road Night Market
- Rooftop bars
DAY 8: TRAVEL
Start the trek home! We had a layover in Amsterdam overnight and then a short layover in Paris. The jet lag was real when we got home, but the trip was 1000% worth it.
THINGS TO DO IF YOU HAVE MORE TIME:
- Ko Lanta
- Khao Sok National Park
- Ko Samui
- Ko Tao
- Dragon Crest hike in Krabi
- Railay Beach in Krabi
- More island hopping Phi Phi: Bamboo Island, Chicken Island, Mosquito Island, etc.
- A full day in Bangkok (although this wouldn’t be my preference)
- Chiang Rai + the White Temple
- Maya Bay Sleep Aboard
- If you have a lot more time, consider hopping on a flight to Bali, Vietnam, or the Philippines.
NOTES + SUGGESTIONS:
- Our fave part was the elephant sanctuary, island hopping on Phi Phi Leh, and the Holiday Inn Hotel.
- Be very careful and aware when you’re near monkeys. I didn’t take it too seriously, but there’s a reason tourists are attacked.
- I love using hotels.com because every 10 nights you book, you get a night free.
- Avoid drinking the water and read a lot about what to avoid eating. It’s not hard to get sick there.
- Basically everything is super cheap in Thailand. Dinner averaged around $4-5 and there are cheaper options. Hotels averaged around $30-40 for a basic good hotel, but you can find some for cheaper or go higher for something very nice.
- Tuk tuks are a great way to get around. A lot of people suggested to avoid driving there. Tuk tuks and truck taxis are everywhere in the cities, so it’s not hard to flag one down. Just be sure to establish a price before getting in. Same with longtail boatsmen!
- We absolutely loved the islands in Phi Phi, but I recommend not spending the whole time in the main town. It was a very different vibe than what we expected, and we really enjoyed our time on Laemtong Beach on the less busy side of the island. It felt like a little private paradise!
- Don’t forget to get your vaccines! We got Hepatitis A, Tetanus, and Typhoid. You’re supposed to get these several weeks out, so make sure to plan ahead.
THINGS TO BRING TO THAILAND:
- Mosquito repellent / Incognito
- Mosquito bracelets / Kinven
- Incognito Mosquito Repellent Loofah Soap
- Sunscreen (don’t leave it in your carryon and be forced to throw it away like we did!)
- Foval voltage converter
- Unscented bathroom supplies + deodorant (floral scents and body odor attracts mosquitos)
- Dry bag
- Waterproof phone pouches
- 1Above Jet Lag Tablets
- Camera / GoPro and plenty of batteries + SD cards
- Ear plugs, sleep mask, pillow, compression socks, aspirin, and blanket or jacket for the plane. I was freezing even with a blanket on one long flight, so I would be prepared!
Southeast Asia is one of those places we’ll definitely be traveling back to someday. Chiang Mai was packed with culture, south Thailand was absolutely stunning, and we made so many memories we will never forget! Let me know if you have any questions about traveling there, I’ll do my best to answer them!
If this blog helped at all, please leave a comment and share! <3