Planning your first time visit to Thailand can be a daunting task. Believe me, I know!
When to go? For how long? Which places to see? What to do in each place? Where to stay? The list goes on.
So after spending two amazing weeks in the land of smiles, I decided to put together a series of articles that will answer all these questions, and some more, starting with choosing your perfect itinerary.
Two weeks is what most people have for a vacation. It may seem like a short period of time, but if you use it wisely you’ll get to see and enjoy different sides of Thailand. For us it definitely felt like a month!
But before we dive into the details of our itinerary, and why I think you should follow it, let me address two things you may have in your mind right now:
When to visit Thailand
This was one of my main concerns when planning our trip to Thailand. At the end, I realized there was nothing to worry about.
We traveled in July, during the inland rainy season (May to October), and the rain didn’t bother us at all. It usually happened only once a day for an hour or two in the evening, when we were relaxing, having a massage, or preparing to go out for dinner.
Rainy season also means less tourists, and cheaper prices.
In the south, Thailand’s west and east coasts have different rainy seasons (May to October on the west coast, and October to December on the east coast), offering sunny islands and beaches almost all year round.
How to travel inside Thailand
Since we only had two weeks to explore and we wanted to make the most of our time, we took domestic flights between each stop of our itinerary. It’s relatively cheap to fly inside Thailand and it means you won’t have to lose a whole day (or night) to get from one point to the other.
So without further ado, here’s my two-week Thailand itinerary for first timers:
Bangkok – 4 days
We arrived in Thailand through Bangkok, so our two week itinerary started with four days in the biggest city and capital of the country.
Most guides and blogs I read prior to my departure recommended two, maximum three, days in the city of angels. Allegedly there’s not so much to do and see in Bangkok, and two days are enough to visit the tourist sites before setting off to a Thai island.
Well, I beg to disagree. Bangkok is a fascinating city, full of mesmerizing contrasts. Peaceful Buddhist temples and congested roads, street markets and luxurious shopping centers, crazy open-air nightlife and sophisticated bars and rooftops are all part of its charm.
But Bangkok can also be a hard place for first time visitors. It’s hot (it’s actually rated as one of the hottest cities in the world!), and humid, and dirty, and smelly. And that’s why, if you don’t give it enough time, you risk leaving with a bad taste in your mouth.
Bangkok is a city to enjoy slowly, preferably with many cold drinks and air-conditioned pauses.
Top things to do in Bangkok:
#1 Visit the temples
Start at Bangkok’s major tourist attractions: Wat Phra Kaew, also known as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha and the country’s most sacred site, and the Grand Palace, the former residence of the King of Thailand.
Just a short walk away, admire the famous reclining Budha and the biggest collection of Budha images in Thailand at Wat Pho.
On the other bank of the Chao Phraya River, the stunning Wat Arun, or Temple of the Dawn, is one of the most emblematic buildings of Bangkok’s skyline and also worthy of a visit.
But our favorite temple in Bangkok was Wat Saket, the Golden Mount. Not so much for the temple itself, but for the stunning 360 degree view of the city.
#2 Take a tuk-tuk ride
You can’t possible visit Bangkok without taking at least one tuk-tuk ride and experiencing the city’s chaotic traffic in this popular mean of transportation around Thailand.
#3 Cruise the Chao Phraya River
Another great away to discover Bangkok is by taking a boat and admiring the city from Chao Praya River. Buy a day ticket for the tourist boat and hop on and off as many times as you want between the old city and the business district.
#4 Get lost in Chinatown
Chinatown is one of the most fascinating areas of Bangkok. Bursting with traffic and people, narrow market streets, food stalls and gold shops, a visit to Chinatown is an experience you should not miss.
#5 Shop at the malls
There’s no better place to see the modern and luxurious side of Bangkok than at the malls, most of which are located in the Siam and Sukhumvit districts. Our favorites are Central World (the largest mall in Thailand), Central Embassy, and Terminal 21.
#6 Experience the nightlife
Get contaged by the crazy party vibe on famous Khao San Road, where young backpackers from all over the world come together to drink, dance, sing, and even have a massage on the street.
Or have a drink at the highest rooftop bar in the world, in an exclusive and sophisticated atmosphere.
Bangkok’s nightlife is as eclectic as the city itself, catering for all ages, tastes, and purses.
Recommended places to eat in Bangkok:
Located on a quiet area near Khao San Road, we found this place on our first night in Bangkok. We liked it so much that we had dinner here twice, and visited a third time just for drinks. Good northern Thai food, great cocktails, a cozy and laid-back atmosphere, and cheap prices. What else can one ask for?
If you’re visiting Bangkok, do yourself a favor and enjoy a meal at Mazzaro. Located in Silom, a 2-minute walk from Lebua State Tower and the Sky Bar, Mazzaro is the perfect place to have dinner before a night out in the highest open-air bar in the world. That was exactly what we did, and we couldn’t be happier with our choice. The food was delicious, in fact one of the best meals we had in two weeks in Thailand, and the space beautiful, with a great decor and atmosphere. Highly recommended!
This is a small but very cool cafe on Phra Athit Road. On our last day in Bangkok, we skipped breakfast at the hotel and had brunch here instead. What a treat! I had the avocado toast with poached egg and a fresh fruit juice, and everything was just perfect. They also serve lunch and dinner.
If you’d like to enjoy a dinner by the river without breaking the bank, The Garden at Riva Surya Hotel is certainly a great choice. Good food, superior service and elegant ambiance, a great view over the Chao Phraya River, and a chilled-out vibe, all for a very reasonable price.
Where to stay in Bangkok:
We stayed at New Siam Riverside for our 5 nights in Bangkok. The best thing about this hotel is its great location right in the heart of the old city, close to all the major tourist attractions and nightlife. Our room was spacious, with AC, safe box, and a comfy bed. The hotel has also a swimming pool and a nice terrace overlooking the river, where breakfast was served every morning. Breakfast was buffet – food was ok but not great. Staff was friendly and helpful. All in all, this is a good budget hotel with a great location.
If you don’t mind paying a little more for extra comfort and elegance, Riva Surya might just be the right place for you. We stayed right next door and visited their restaurant one night for dinner (see above), and really liked what we saw. Riva Surya offers a great location in the old city and on the riverside, with all the luxury of a 4 star boutique hotel.
Chiang Mai – 4 days
The second stop of our 2 week itinerary through Thailand was Chiang Mai. Located in the north of the country, Chiang Mai is the second biggest city in Thailand, although much smaller than Bangkok.
Surrounded by forested mountains and lush countryside, the former capital of the Lanna Kingdom is the hub of northern Thailand, making it a great starting point for day trips to national parks, adventure activities or relaxing hot springs.
Chiang Mai is also a popular destination among expats of all ages and digital nomads, who choose the city as their permanent or temporary home in Southeast Asia, so we wanted to see what the fuzz is all about.
We found a cheap and pleasant city, with friendly people and plenty of opportunities for an interesting cultural and social life, but a world apart from the chaos and stress of Bangkok.
Top things to do in Chiang Mai:
#1 Stroll through the old city
Start by wandering around the historic centre, taking in all the charm of ancient Chiang Mai. The old city is surrounded by a moat and a defensive fortress, and it’s easy to explore by foot.
#2 Tour the temples
Chiang Mai has some of the most beautiful Buddhist temples we’ve seen in Thailand.
Wat Phra Singh, Wat Chedi Luang (our favorite), and Wat Phra That Doi Suthep are some of the most impressive. But there are many more to explore: over 300 wats in and around Chiang Mai – a record among Thailand’s provinces.
Some temples also offer monk chats, where you can talk with a monk about his life and experiences, and in return they get to practice their English.
#3 Visit Elephant Nature Park
Our day at Elephant Nature Park was one of the highlights of our trip to Thailand and I can’t recommend it enough!
Elephant Nature Park is a sanctuary for rescued elephants, located 60 km from Chiang Mai. Here we got to learn about these beautiful giants and interact with them in an ethical way.
Most of the elephants at the park suffer from severe injuries due to years of abuse at the hands of humans in circus, trekking, shows, etc.
Please, don’t support elephant tourism, in Thailand or any other country. Don’t ride elephants, don’t watch elephant shows, and don’t buy paintings made by elephants. All the animals involved in these activities are kept in captivity, abused and exploited during their whole lives.
If you want to get close to elephants, visit an ethical sanctuary like Elephant Nature Park, where you’ll have a much more meaningful experience.
#4 Shop at the Sunday night market
You can’t miss Sunday night market if you find yourself in Chiang Mai during the weekend.
From Sunday afternoon until midnight, the old city’s main streets become a giant open-air market, where you can find all sorts of bargains, from hand-made souvenirs, to clothes, food stalls, and even massages (I don’t recommend having a massage here though, since we had a bad experience with some vendors/“masseurs” who really didn’t know what they were doing).
Plan to come early in the evening, when the fun is at its height.
#5 Have fun after dark
From the backpacker party scene in the old city to the more elegant bars of the riverside district, Chiang Mai nightlife has something for everyone, usually accompanied by live music and a laid-back atmosphere.
Recommended places to eat in Chiang Mai:
We had dinner at the UN Irish Pub on our first night in Chiang Mai and really enjoyed the food (the green curry was delicious!) and the friendly and international atmosphere.
We run into Fern Forest Cafe one afternoon by chance and immediately fell in love with its beautiful garden. We felt like we were entering a secret oasis in the middle of the city. We stopped only for a coffee, so we didn’t actually eat here, but they also serve food and are the perfect place to relax from all the sightseeing and touring of the city.
Located close to the Tha Phae Gate, GINGER & Kafe is part of a bigger complex called The House by Ginger, which also includes a shop and a food and kitchen bar.
The restaurant serves delicious Thai and international food and is beautifully decorated with articles from the nearby shop. Definitely one of the coolest restaurants we ate in during our two weeks in Thailand!
A personal favorite of ours(we ate here three times while in Chiang Mai), Simple is a small, cozy restaurant in the heart of the old city, with good Thai and western food, friendly staff, cheap prices and, last but not least, AC.
This is one of the most popular restaurants of the Riverside district, and justifiably so. We had dinner on the terrace overlooking the Ping River on our last night in Chiang Mai, and regretted we haven’t been here before. The food and the view were good, although not extraordinary, but what makes this place so special is its atmosphere: a chill-out riverside vibe meets a classic rock cafe with live music.
Where to stay in Chiang Mai:
This was without any doubt the best hotel we stayed in Thailand. Rich Lanna House is a small boutique hotel close to the north gate of the city. The hotel is a classic Lanna house, decorated in a Lanna-Colonial style, but with all the modern amenities. We stayed in a huge deluxe room, and I can tell you we didn’t want to leave, ever. Rich Lanna House offers also a beautiful swimming pool area, a great breakfast buffet, and a cozy coffee house right next door.
Koh Samui – 6 days
We decided to end our two week itinerary in an idyllic Thai island. While Thailand has no shortage of incredible islands, our choice was to visit Koh Samui, in the Lower Gulf, where the monsoon season occurs only from October to December.
While the rain didn’t bother us in Bangkok and Chiang Mai, here we were planning to spend some time on the beach, so we wanted to be sure the weather would be on our side.
Besides, Koh Samui is considered one of the most beautiful islands in Thailand, and known for its stunning white sand beaches and emerald waters.
Top things to do in Koh Samui:
#1 Take a tour around the island
The best way to see Koh Samui is to rent a scooter or a car, or hire a driver, and take a tour around the island. The main ring road is around 50 km, so this is easy to do in one day.
Some of the main sights are the impressive Temple of the Big Budha, picturesque Bo Phut’s Fisherman’s Village, Na Muang Waterfall, the tallest waterfall on Samui, and Hin-Ta and Hin-Yai, also known as Grandfather and Grandmother Rocks.
Make sure to also enjoy the stunning viewpoints along the way.
#2 Take a day trip to Angthong National Marine Park
Another highlight of our trip to Thailand, a day trip to Angthong National Marine Park will make you feel you’ve escaped reality and entered the set of The Beach – these dreamy inhabited islands were in fact the inspiration for Alex Garland’s novel.
There are more than 40 virgin islands in the Angthong archipelago, but tours usually stop in only two: Ko Wua Talap, the largest island, with a jaw-dropping viewpoint over the park, and Ko Mae Ko, where you can admire the hidden Emerald Sea, a dramatic lagoon in the middle of the island (swimming in the lagoon is forbidden though).
Kayaking and snorkeling are also included in most of the tours to the park.
#3 Relax on the beach
Spending some time on the beach is mandatory on a Thai island.
If sipping coconut water while lying on a palm-fringed beach of soft white sand and warm turquoise waters is your idea of paradise, then look no further.
If you enjoy a bit more activity, then rent a kayak, a SUP board or a water bike, and go explore (some beach resorts even offer complimentary kayaks or paddle boards for their guests).
In both cases, don’t forget to try a massage on the beach. I promise you won’t regret it.
#4 Explore the Nightlife
As with most Thai islands, Ko Samui won’t disappoint you in terms of nightlife.
Party animal? Head to Chaweng or Lamai, Samui’s biggest and most popular beach towns and nightlife spots. Looking for a more laid-back and friendly atmosphere? Bophut is the trendiest place to be after sunset.
Recommended places to eat in Koh Samui:
SALA Samui offers the perfect setting for a romantic dinner on the beach: dining under the stars, with your feet on the sand, and the dim light of torches and the relaxing sounds of the Pacific as background. Add the delicious Thai and western food and the superior service, and you’ll enjoy the perfect island dining experience. Sala Samui is a luxury 5 star resort on Choeng Mon beach, so it’s definitely not cheap for Thailand’s standards, but it’s certainly worthwhile.
On the other end of the spectrum, Kirati Beach Resort, on Choeng Mon beach, allows for a nice dinner on the beach at a much more affordable price. This is a laid-back beach resort, with good Thai and western food, and live music every evening.
Located on Choeng Mon main road, The Mother’s big terrace definitely catches the eye. And although the food is good, what really makes the difference here is the amazing staff: super helpful and going out of their way to make sure you’re having a good time. They even offered us a complementary dessert, after our meal, so I can’t recommend this place highly enough.
I’m not even exaggerating, when I say Karma Sutra was our favorite restaurant in two weeks in Thailand. Located in hip Bophut, this place has it all: the most instagrammable decoration, the coolest vibe, the friendliest staff, and the best food!
Where to stay in Koh Samui:
We stayed for five nights at PS Thana Resort, on Choeng Mon beach, considered by many as the most beautiful beach in all Koh Samui. PS Thana Resorst enjoys a great location right on the beach and on the main road. Our room was wonderful, very big and clean, with a shower and a bathtub, WC, and a private balcony. They also have a beautiful garden and swimming pool area. Breakfast was ok, but with limited options. We tried their restaurant once for lunch – again, food was ok but not great. All in all, PS Thana Resort is a good choice if you’re on a budget but still want to stay in a waterfront beach resort.
SALA Samui, on Choeng Mon beach, is everything you can wish for in a 5 star beach resort. Featuring luxury suites and villas with private pools, spa, restaurant, beachfront, and two oceanfront swimming pools, Sala Samui is the top choice in terms of accommodation on Choeng Mon beach. We visited it once for dinner and I wished I could live here!
Of course this two-week Thailand itinerary is not written in stone. You can change and adapt it to better suit your travel goals. There are other cities in the north of the country also worthy of a visit (Chiang Rai is another good option) and more Thai islands than you can count.
But if this is your first time in Thailand, I would definitely recommend starting with Bangkok, then heading north, and finally ending your trip on an island, so you can get a good feel of the country.
If you decide to follow my proposed itinerary through the Land of Smiles, brace yourself for remarkable cities, stunning landscapes, inspiring temples, paradisiac beaches, and an overall unforgettable experience!
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