Thailand is the land of incredible nature with a fun outgoing twist. Rocks rising from the turquoise water, jungle, and cocktails on the beach all belong to Thailand. The people are amicable, and the food will overwhelm your taste buds. Because Thailand has so much to offer, this 3-week route guide will help you plan your trip so that you won’t miss anything!
This trip will start in Bangkok. Followed by the North of Thailand to see gorgeous temples, a large artificial lake, and many rice fields. The North of Thailand is amazing for those people who love green surroundings. After this, we will travel to the South of Thailand to see the 50 shades of blue this country offers.
Table of contents
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Bangkok (2 days)
Bangkok is the largest city in Thailand. Many airlines fly from all over the world to Bangkok. So, this is where this route guide to Thailand will begin. Bangkok is a very cultural and busy city. There are many incredible temples, more than you could have ever guessed before-hand. Two days in Bangkok will give you a good impression of this massive city. Make sure you book a hotel/hostel close to the old center; this area is filled with temples and beautiful sights. From here, it’s easy to get around.
Day 1 The Grand Palace and Wat Arun
On the first day of this route guide to Thailand, we’ll set an alarm clock early in the morning to visit the Grand Palace. The royal family, the government, and their servants have lived in this palace from 1782 till 1925. Nowadays, the Grand Palace is only used for ceremonies.
The Grand Palace is an awe-inspiring place to visit, as it is wildly decorated with gold and statues. The architecture of the Grand Palace shows a lot of the Thai culture. The palace consists of a large collection of beautiful buildings—each of these buildings having its own unique features. You’ll recognize many of these features in other temples in Thailand.
The Palace is a very popular and touristy place to visit. Go as early in the day as possible to avoid hundreds of people blocking your view. To enter the Grand Palace, you need to buy a ticket for 500 Bath at the entrance and wear appropriate clothes. Cover your shoulders, ankles, and feet. A shirt with short sleeves, long pants, and shoes would suffice. The restrictions on this dress code are strict, so don’t forget.
Learn more about the Grand Palace ➳ here
After exploring the Grand Palace, it’s 5 to 10 minutes to the Chao Phraya river. A ferry transports you for 15 Bath from one side of the water (the old city) to the other side, where temple Wat Arun is located. Entering Wat Arun costs 50 Bath (Approximately 3 euros), and again you need to dress accordingly.
In my eyes, Wat Arun is the most beautiful temple in Bangkok. The entire temple is covered with colorful mosaic, which shimmers in the sun. The mosaic is made from Chinese porcelain pieces, brought to Bangkok by ship in the 19th century.
In Bangkok, the Wat Arun this temple is a well-known landmark. You can see this special temple from afar, as it is 70 m high and located on the edge of the water.
Tip ➳ Check out the Backpacker Packing Checklist For Thailand
Learn more about Wat Arun ➳ here
Day 2 – China Town and a Rooftop Bar
After a fun day of temples, it’s time to dive into the lively streets of Bangkok. In Bangkok, there is a neighborhood completely transformed into a miniature version of China, hence the name China town. There are loads of little Chinese shops, signs, and food stands. You’ll also notice most in this area is red, the color of good fortune in China. China town is one of Bangkok’s more busy areas, and it really feels like you are suddenly transported to another country. I suggest you go here around lunchtime, have fun in all the shops and taste the weird street-food.
In the evening it’s time for some drinks with a view! There are many rooftop bars all over Bangkok where you can enjoy the magical nighttime view over the city. The many lights will astonish you. However, one thing to keep in mind is the formal dress code at many of these bars. If you plan to visit a rooftop bar, make sure you know the dress code. They will not let you in if you go to a black-tie bar in your flip-flops and shorts.
After spending 2 days in Bangkok, I recommend taking the night train to Chiang Mai. Every day, multiple night-trains leave from Bangkok central station to Chiang Mai station. Book your train tickets in 2 minutes on 12Go.Asia.
Check out our first days in Bangkok in this vlog ↡
Chiang Mai (2 days)
Chiang Mai is the largest city in the North of Thailand and home to many elephants, special temples, and fun markets. We’ll stay in this city for 2 days. The first day will be quite relaxed (after a night on the train) visiting some temples and the night market. The second day will be the highlight of Chiang Mai in this route guide to Thailand and an experience you’ll never forget!
Day 1 – Temples in city plus night market
After a night of traveling, it’s time to relax and get to know the city a little better. Depending on where you stay, you can take a grab taxi or walk to Chiang Mai’s center. This area is easily recognizable as it is a square on the map. Within this square, you’ll find many shops, hotels, restaurants, and bars. Also, you’ll discover that there are many special temples hidden in this city.
For the first day in Chiang Mai, I would advise you to walk around the old center and discover the temples. In the evening, the center is transformed into a large market. The many stands with all kinds of products and the relaxed vibe make this market a great place to wander around.
Day 2 – Elephant Sanctuary
Visiting an elephant sanctuary is a must! Seeing, feeding, and bathing those incredible animals is an unforgettable experience. The elephant sanctuaries in Chiang Mai have recused elephants from working camps, the circus, and many other institutions that mistreat these animals. In an elephant sanctuary, the elephants are given a new chance at life.
There are a few ethical elephant sanctuaries in Chiang Mai. You can book a trip to an elephant sanctuary online on the sanctuary website, but keep in mind that more people want to do this. So book your elephant experience in advance. You can book a half-a-day or full-day experience.
Also Read ➳ Fun Things To Do In Chiang Mai
Pai (2 days)
Pai is the cutest little hippy village you’ll find in the North of Thailand. There are many wonderful places like the walking streets, the waterfalls, the canyon, and the bamboo bridge.
From Chiang Mai, you can take a bus to Pai. I recommend you stay in or close to the village’s center and rent a motorbike to get around.
Day 1 – Bamboo Bridge and Waterfall
From Pai, take a motorbike to the bamboo bridge. This is a long bridge made completely out of bamboo, which creates a path over the rice fields. This is a wonderful and unique feature! I’ve never seen anything like it. In total, this bridge is 1 km long.
From Pai, it’s about a 20 minutes drive to the bamboo bridge. When you arrive, you’ll immediately notice the rice field and see bisons walking around. You’ll have to pay a small fee of 20 Bath per person to enter the rice field.
I would advise visiting the bamboo bridge in the morning, as it’s a little bit cooler. After exploring the bamboo bridge, you can drink a smoothy and enjoy the view of this beautiful rice field in between the mountains. There is a little restaurant on the bridge, and there even is a swing for a nice photo.
After this, it’s time to jump on your motorbike and drive to the Pam Bok waterfall. From the bamboo bridge, this is only a 5-minute drive. The waterfall is the perfect spot to cool off and have a swim. Or just enjoy the shade and the sound of the running water.
Day 2 – Canyon and Walking Street
On the second day, we’ll explore a bit more of the landscape and visit Pai Canyon. Who would expect that a canyon has formed out there?! When you arrive at Pai canyon, you can park your bike at the entrance and walk up a steep path. After a few minutes, you’ll arrive at the viewpoint over the canyon.
It is incredibly cool to see how unusual this landscape is compared to the rest of Thailand. The view of this place is breathtaking during sunrise and sunset. But I would recommend sunrise as there are fewer people.
After a visit to Pai Canyon, it’s time for lunch and to relax in this cute village. In the evening, this village really comes alive, as all the backpackers arrive from their day-trips. The walking street will be occupied with loads of food stands, creating a walking street-food buffet. Bars, drinks, food, and music fill the streets of Pai. So, be prepared for a fun night out.
Watch our experience in Pai in this short vlog ? ↡
Chiang Rai (2 days)
The second biggest city in the North of Thailand is Chiang Rai. You probably have already seen some photos of the incredibly cool temples. And I can tell you from my own experience they are definitely worth a visit.
Day 1 – White Temple and Street-Food Market
First, we’ll visit the white temple, which is a representation of hell and heaven. There is a pool with hands and sculls reaching up to show what hell looks like in front of the temple. From the entrance and hell, there is a bridge that leads into the heaven part of the temple; this area is meant for prayer. The entire temple is white, hence the name “white temple.” And as decoration, the bridge and the heaven itself are totally covered with silver glitters. It’s a treat for the eyes and, therefore, my favorite temple in this Thailand route guide!
This white temple is very popular, so make sure you go there early in the morning (before 10 am, as most tour busses drive then). An easy way to get there is by grab-taxi.
In the evening an enjoyable place to eat is the food market. It is a big food court with all kinds of little booths where you can order food. There is a stage where people perform, and there are loads of seats, so you can sit down to enjoy your food. This food court is a place where the local people from Chiang Rai go to eat dinner. It was so much fun, delicious and very cheap.
Want to know what Chiang Rai is really like? Watch this fun vlog ↡
Day 2 – Blue Temple and Big White Buddha
On the second day, we’ll visit the Blue Temple and the Big White Buddha. This day will be filled with a mix of white and blue colors.
The Blue Temple or Was Rong Suea Tenis a smaller temple, and as the name states, it is entirely blue. The blue color represents Buddha’s teachings, and moral codes called the Dharma. There are many statues of dragons rising in the sky surrounding this temple and loads of gold decorations.
When you enter the temple, you’ll find a huge blue altar covered with gold and glitter. On top of this altar sits a large white Buddha statue. This altar represents the spirits. It is really something special to see, as the white Buddha statue stands out among all the blue colors.
After the blue temple, you can order a grab taxi to visit the Big White Buddha. This is a huge, and I really mean HUGE white buddha statue. When you drive toward this place, you can already see the statue from afar as it is about 25 stories high.
There is a large set of stairs that lead up to the Buddha, decorated with dragons. In the buddha statue, there is a lift that takes you up to the top to enjoy the magical view over Chiang Rai’s landscape. The best time to visit the Big White Buddha is during sunset.
You can visit both the Blue Temple and the Big White Buddha for free.
Surin Islands (3 days)
After many beautiful temples, elephants, and waterfalls, it’s time to explore the South of Thailand! And we’ll start with an incredible snorkeling adventure. Expect to see bright blue water, gorgeous corals, and loads of marine life.
From Khao Lak, there 2 kinds of live-aboard experiences, one to the Similan Islands and one to the Surin Islands. The Similan islands are more popular these days, so I would advise you to go to the Surin Islands to see the best corals. The Mu Koh Surin National Park is about 60 km from the mainland and has a surface area of 141 km2.
Take a plane from Chiang Rai to Phuket, and from Phuket, a bus to Khao Lak. Here I recommend you stay for 1 night to go on the live-aboard boat the next morning. We stayed in one of the really cool bungalows in the jungle with a private beach called Poseidon Bungalows. And we booked our Surin trip at https://surintours.com, and it was literally the best snorkeling days of my life. (If you are a water rat like me, this will become the brightest blue highlight during your route guide to Thailand).
On this 3-day snorkeling liveaboard tour, you sail over the most beautiful waters and come across paradise-like islands. The coral is in great shape, and there is a wide variety of colorful fish. You’ll even swim with sharks and turtles. This live-aboard experience is very well-arranged, the food is great, and the crew on board is super friendly and helpful.
In total, these 3 days cost 10.900 Bath, which is about 315 euros. This seems like much, but the food, boat, accommodation, snorkeling materials, and crew are all included. If you love snorkeling, it’s definitely worth it!
You do need to keep the seasons in mind when you plan your adventure to Thailand. This trip to the Surin islands is only offered during the dry season, between October and April. The reason is that the sea gets rougher because of the storms in the rain season.
Get an impression of a Surin Island tour ↡
Khao Sok (2-days)
From the Surin Islands, you’ll go to another waterbody, the Lake in Khao Sok National Park. This park is so beautiful it’s even on the UNESCO World Heritage list. The karats-studded formations that rise to 960 meters in the air and the abundance of wildlife characterize this park. The lake is artificially made and is used as water storage for the farmlands. The lake, greenery, and rock formations make this landscape very dramatic and picturesque.
From Khao Lak, you can take a bus or taxi to Khao Sok. In Khao Sok, you can join a 2-day trip on the lake in the nature reserve. During these 2 days, you are going to explore caves, the jungle and the lake itself. You’ll be shown all the different sides of this nature reserve, and you’ll even sleep literally on the lake itself. Because of the wide variety of activities you can do during these 2 days, this gives a unique perspective on the nature area and makes this definitely worth your while!
Many companies offer these trips, varying in price and level of luxury. We stayed at the basic camp that was managed by the nature reserve itself. When you arrive at Khao Sok, you can book a trip at-the-spot at almost every hotel. When you go on this trip, don’t forget to bring: loads of mosquito spray, a water-resistant bag, a rain poncho, and a long pair of pants.
Khao Sok is a destination you will never forget! Sleeping on the lake and seeing the karats studded formation are real bucket list experiences (and that’s the reason it’s in this route guide to Thailand).
Railay beach (2 days)
One of my favorite places in the South of Thailand is Railay Beach, and it is a little remote village close to Krabi. The vibe in Railay is very relaxed, and you can do many things, like rock climbing, canoeing, and chilling at the beach.
We stayed here a full week to really enjoy this village! But, as we need to keep it within the 3-week route for this guide to Thailand, I would advise you to stay here for 2 days.
From Khao Sok, you can book a taxi-van to bring you to Krabi, and from there, you can step on a long tail boat to Railay. Read a full guide to Railay beach with information on things to do, how to get there etc.
Tip ➳ Best Budget Hostel On Railay Beach
Day 1- Climbing and Beach chill
Railay is one of the best places in the world to go rock climbing! Many companies offer climbing experiences with private guides. All climbing levels are widely accommodated, so it’s for everyone and loads of fun. It might be a little scary at first, but you’ll get used to the heights quickly, and then you can enjoy this impressive view over Railay.
We did a half-a-day climbing experience, and we learned a lot. Because this is something you don’t do every day, it’s even more special, and it’ll stay with you for the rest of your life. Learn more about rock climbing in Railay here.
In the afternoon, it’s time to relax on the beach and recap what you’ve just done. There are 2 gorgeous beaches on Railay. You can also rent a sup or a canoe, for even more fun.
Day 2 – 4-island tour and walking street
There are 4 beautiful islands located in front of the coast of Railay Beach. On your second day in Railay, I recommend renting a private longtail boat and explore these little islands. It’s about 30 minutes by longtail boat to reach the islands.
When you’re there, you can jump into the crystal blue water, do some snorkeling, walk along the white beaches, and spot monkeys. Sailing from island to island is a really cool way to explore the nature around Railay Beach.
Let me show you why you NEED to rent a private longtail boat inside of an organized tour. ↡
After a day on the water, you are going to be hungry. So, let’s go towards the walking street. This street is the central and main street on Railay. There are many restaurants and bars with amazing food. The walking street is a fun place to have a little cocktail, play some pool, and enjoy the food.
Ko Tao (2 days)
As the last real destination in this route guide, we’ll visit the island, Ko Tao, in the South of Thailand. This island offers gorgeous beaches and snorkeling fun! Ko Tao is a small island, but there are loads to discover. I recommend renting a motorbike to get around.
From Railay, you can book transportation to Ko Tao. This trip takes 1 full day of traveling.
Day 1 – Shark Bay, Viewpoint, and Dinner at the Harbour
The first stop is Shark Bay. Take your motorbike and drive to the hotel, Villas Del Sol. There is a path that leads down to the beach. The bay has a beautiful white sand beach and many palm trees. On the sides of the bay, there are larger rocks in the water, creating the perfect spot to swim with blacktip reef sharks. You’ll have the opportunity to see both baby sharks and adult sharks. It is really cool to see those kings of the sea swim around in their natural habit. If you spot a shark, don’t swim towards the sharks; just let them be, stay calm and enjoy!
After a swim with the sharks, it’s time to see this bay from a different perspective and visit the John-Suwan Viewpoint. This is only a 10-minute drive from Shark Bay. When you arrive at the entrance point you will be asked to pay 100 Bath per person. You can enter multiple beaches, a restaurant with a view, and the viewpoint itself from this point. Wear decent shoes when you go to the viewpoint, as it is a little bit of a climb to get up there. When you’ve reached the highest point you’ll feel like you’re on top of the world. And you get to enjoy a spectacular view over the island of Ko Tao.
In the harbor, there are many nice restaurants with a view of the water. A dinner in this harbor is a great way to conclude the first day on this island. Watch the sunset while you enjoy a cocktail and some nice food.
Our favorite restaurant of this entire route guide is definitely the Bro & Sis bar in the north of Ko Tao, Thailand. The food is relatively cheap and delicious! Try the hamburger when you’re there. Besides the great food, the view is great, there are a pool table and live music.
Day 2- Koh Nangyuan and Snorkelling in the Japanese Garden
On the north-west side of Ko Tao, there are three very small islands called Koh Nangyuan. These little islands are known for their blue water and white beaches and don’t forget the viewpoint. You can get to these islands by longtail boat, which departs for the harbour. A trip to these islands costs 200 Bath per person. Bring your goggles and flippers, to snorkel in the Japanese garden. And expect to see many colourful fish!
Back to Bangkok
After Ko Tao, it’s time to travel back to Bangkok and head home. This is the end of this route guide to Thailand and it’s time to say goodbye to this magical country. During this 3-week route, you see the core of Thailand and the many different landscapes. From temples, rice fields, and street-food, to white beach, sharks, and bright blue water.
To summarise and clarify this travel guide to Thailand I’ve listed a rough overview of the different destinations:
- Week 1
- Day 1 – The Grand Palace and Wat Arun
- Day 2- China Town, Rooftop Bar and Night train to Chiang Mai
- Chiang Mai
- Day 1 – Temples in city plus night market
- Day 2 – Elephant Sanctuary and bus to Pai
- Day 1 – Bamboo Bridge and Waterfall
- Day 2 – Canyon and Walking Street
- Day 3 – Bus to Chiang Rai
- Week 2
- Chiang Rai
- Day 1 – White temple and Street-Food Market
- Day 2 – Blue temple and Big White Buddha
- Day 3 – Travel to Khao Lak
- Surin Islands
- 3 Days snorkelling
- Day 4 – Travel to Khao Sok
- Chiang Rai
- Week 3
- Khoa Sok
- 2 days Exploring the national park
- Railay Beach
- Day 1- Climbing and Beach chill
- Day 2 – 4-island tour, walking street catch the boat to Ko Tao
- Ko Tao
- Day 1 – Shark Bay, viewpoint and dinner at the harbour
- Day 2- Koh Nangyuan and Snorkelling in the Japanese Garden
- Day 3- Back to Bangkok
- Khoa Sok
Finish this route guide with a bang! Watch this 1-minute video of seeing Thailand from a bird-eye perspective!
Thank you for reading this Route Guide to Thailand blog! I hope it helped you plan your trip to Thailand. Have fun exploring! 😊
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