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Thailand Travel Guide

Thailand is a country that stimulates and strains your senses. Everywhere you go, there’s a steady stream of sound, smell and sites that compete for your attention. You can’t passively explore the land of smiles. You’ll be jolted awake from the moment you arrive.

It’s exciting and invigorating. But, it can also be exhausting. As you cross moving traffic, dance over cockroach-crawling sidewalks, pass by stray dogs suffering from open wounds and take in the plastic-saturated waterways, you can only surrender to the glory and provocation that is Thailand.

In the end, there is so much to fall in love with. The food culture fascinates with its plentitude, preparation, and diversity. The best places to eat are on the street next to polluting traffic. As you sit on a curbside plastic stool next to locals, you’ll see motorbike drivers park and order. You’ll see cooks drain their excess cooking liquids into street gutters. You’ll see street kitchens concoct made-to-order dishes bursting with spice and flavor.

Equally impressive are the country’s many temples that glimmer during the day and light up at night. These architectural wonders delight with their color, ornamentation, sculptures, and many presentations of Buddha.

Orange-clad monks of all ages walk temple grounds, adding to the mysticism of the sacred spaces that characterize Thai culture.

But, the sacred realm isn’t just contained within temples and monasteries. It permeates all elements of life. There isn’t a clear delineation between the sacred and profane. You’ll see trees wrapped in sacred cloth, spirit houses erected on private as well as business properties, and sacred amulets worn as necklaces.

Taling Chang Floating Market, Bangkok

Thailand Travel Map

Must-see cities, islands, and national parks in Thailand.

THAILAND DESTINATIONS

Chiang Mai

Sukhothai

Lopburi

Ayutthaya

Bangkok

Ko Phra Thong

Khao Sok National Park

Koh Jum

Koh Mook

Koh Lipe

Monkeys in Lopburi, Thailand

Getting Around Thailand


Metered cab

Metered cabs are the most comfortable and efficient way of getting around Thailand.

From our experience, cab drivers won’t put on their meter unless you ask them to. Just gesture and point to the meter to ensure that it’s turned on.

When communicating your destination, it’s best to show them the address in Thai (not Roman-script letters).


Tuk Tuk

Tuk Tuks are three-wheeled motorized vehicles.

Make sure to negotiate the price with the driver before getting in. It’s worth riding in a Tuk Tuk once. Tuk Tuks are especially common in Bangkok.


Songthaew

These are modified pick-up trucks with bench seating. They can generally fit 8 to 10 people. They operate like shared taxis. It’s important to know how much certain distances cost, so you don’t overpay. You’ll see a lot of these in Chiang Mai.


Train

Trains are by far the cheapest mode of transit. They’re slower and usually have delays, but they’re reliable. They also bring you closer to Thai life and a cross-section of Thai society.

Female and male monks, families, and military tangle together in bench-style seating arrangements. Food vendors walk the aisle selling their specialties: everything from hard-boiled eggs to green papaya and noodle soups. 


Public Bus

Public buses are a cheap (10-15 THB) way to navigate cities, especially Bangkok.

Note: public buses will only stop at a bus stop if someone waves the bus down. So, keep a lookout for your bus (the number is clearly written outside) and step (safely) onto the road and gesture by waving.

On each bus, there’s a driver and a bus attendant. When you enter the bus, you’ll pay the bus attendant (they’ll find you).

Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Best Things to Do in Thailand

Wat Ratchaburana (Wat Liab), Bangkok

Visit Bangkok

Some people describe Bangkok as an “assault on the senses.” We disagree. It’s more like a waking up of the senses. As you explore the capital city, you’ll dip into a continuous stream of movements, sounds and smells that all compete for your attention. The effect is mesmerizing. 

Perhaps the most thrilling aspect of Bangkok is the food: its plentitude, its taste, its preparation (street kitchens), its take-away and motorbike “drive-in” culture. Everywhere you go, you smell the making and eating of food. Everywhere else you go, you see the selling and offering of food (temples). It’s an endless feast that makes you question why you’ve settled for anything less than Thai food in Bangkok.

Look for accommodation in Bangkok.

Read Next: Bangkok Travel Guide

Taling Chang Floating Market

Taling Chan Floating Market in Thonburi, near Bangkok

The Taling Chan floating market, open on weekends (8 am – 4 pm), is easy to explore independently. To get to Taling Chan, take the skytrain to the station Wongwian. From there, grab a taxi to the market.

The market itself has a genuinely local vibe and is free to enter. It’s not a show market run for foreign tourists. Locals shop, eat and get massages here.

At the canal, there are several tied up wooden boats that function as kitchens. There are also several floating docks that serve as dining spaces. The atmosphere of the market is enriched by the swarming of catfish between the docks and the traditional live music. We wholeheartedly recommend trying the Somtam with mango, which is made on one of the boats. We also recommend getting an open-air foot massage under the trees.

After enjoying a meal or two at the market, you can ride along the Klong Bangkok Yai canal in a longtail boat back to Bangkok. We took the boat to China Town (Ratchawongse Pier). The canal itself is lined with stilt houses, people fishing, temples, and lush greenery. 

Wat Phra Si Sanphet, Ayuthaya, Thailand

Cycle Between Temple Ruins in Ayutthaya

Ayuthaya (also spelled Ayutthaya) was the capital of Siam between 1350 and 1767. In its glory days, the island city was one of Asia’s major trading ports. It was also home to over 400 temples. The city fell in 1767 when the invading Burmese army sacked the city, looted its treasures, and enslaved its citizens. That event marked the end of Ayutthaya and the imperial beginning of Bangkok.

The city is sprinkled with temple ruins, both on the Island and around it. The best way to visit the ruins is by cycling between them. We particularly liked visiting the ruins of Wat Phra Si Sanphet, which was built in the 15th century. The temple features three impressive stupas that collectively dwarf the surrounding area. Stupas are  Buddhist architectural structures that contain relics, or the possessions of a sacred person. Stray dogs are also particularly fond of the temples. We saw dogs roaming the streets and sleeping on the ruins everywhere.

After visiting Wat Mahathat (also spelled Wat Maha That) – the temple with the sandstone Buddha head tangled within a bodhi tree’s roots – we walked to the nearby Bang Ian Night market for dinner.

Look for accommodation in Ayutthaya.

Monkeys at Phra Prang Sam Yot, Lopburi, Thailand

Visit Lopburi, Monkey City

Lopburi is the capital city of Lopburi Province, located about 150 km northeast of Bangkok. The main attraction here are the mischievous monkeys that roam the streets, walk the power lines, and climb the city’s ruins. They even manage to sneak into shops, or charm their way in. Some stores display toy crocodiles inside their shops to keep these devious creatures out.

These little assailants are playful and will climb on you. If need be, locals will come to your rescue. The best place to monkey around is Phra Prang Sam Yot. Here, you’ll see impressive Khmer-style shrine towers (prangs). When we visited, we saw mothers nursing their young, monkeys performing full-body flea-inspections on their companions, and a whole lot of playing and mating. The most shocking and terrifying sight is what the baby macaques put in, or near their mouth: glass bottles, plastic bags, juice boxes.

Why are there so many monkeys in Lopburi? They are believed to be the disciples of the Hindu god Hanuman. Their holy status ensures their safety. You’ll see drivers take special precaution when approaching a crossing monkey.

We arrived in Lopburi by train from Ayutthaya and stayed at Noom Guesthouse.

Look for accommodation in Lop Buri.

Thailand Train, Third Class

Travel By Train

Traveling by train is a rewarding experience that brings you even closer to Thai life. As you ride in a train, you see a cross-section of Thai society: female and male monks, families, and military.

Food saleswomen and salesmen walk the aisle selling their specialty (noodles, soups, sticky rice with meat, hard-boiled eggs with a savory sauce, fish, green papaya with a sugar-chili-salt “dip,” iced drinks in plastic baggies and much more). They announce what they’re selling continuously as they make their way from one car to the next. The effect is almost sing-song-like.

When a train pulls into a station, new food vendors enter the train. The unwritten rule for disposing of your food waste and garbage is to tie it in a plastic bag and place it under your seat.

A few things we learned while traveling by train:

  • Train travel is the cheapest mode of transportation in Thailand. It’s also the slowest.
  • Trains rarely run on schedule. We experienced delays from 30 minutes to 45 minutes.
  • You can purchase tickets the same-day of departure. We typically bought tickets 30 minutes ahead of time.
  • 3rd class tickets are the cheapest. However, they don’t guarantee you a seat.
Koh Mook White Beach

Island Hop in the Andaman Sea

Thailand is blessed with hundreds of islands. The challenge is choosing which ones to visit. The first step is to define your interests and preferences. Do you like busy places with lots of eating options, or do you prefer more isolated locations with less development?

If you want to party, Koh Phi Phi should be at the top of your list. If you want to snorkel just off of the beach, Koh Lipe is a great option. If you’re seeking something altogether more remote, Koh Phra Thong might be the destination for you. And, if you’re looking for a beautiful island where tourism is light, but there’s a nice selection of eateries, Koh Mook promises just that.

It’s easy to navigate between islands. There’s usually a ferry, or speed boat connection (sometimes both). You should book your connections 1-2 days before departure. Speed boats are bumpier and more expensive than ferries, though they are faster. Before beginning each transit trip, it’s a good idea to communicate with your accommodation to figure out arrival logistics.

Read Next: Quiet Thai Islands

Floating Lantern at Yi Peng in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Celebrate Yi Peng in Chiang Mai

Yi Peng (lantern festival) is celebrated on the full moon of the twelfth lunar month every year. Yi Peng coincides with Loy Krathong in Chiang Mai, both of which focus on the releasing of hardships and misfortunes in favor of new beginnings. The release is embodied by unleashing lanterns into the night sky and floating krathongs in the Ping River.

As soon as the sky darkens, people begin to float lanterns into the full moon sky. There is a steady stream of flickering lanterns flying up for hours. From a distance, the stream of lights looks magical. It’s the embodiment of dreams and wishes being carried into the universe. But up close, the release is madness. Some lanterns burn up before they take flight. Others float, only to fall into a tree or close to someone’s head. When a lantern is successfully launched, people applaud. And all the while, the traffic never stops. There are continuous lines of motorbikes and cars struggling to wrap around the lantern gawkers. Adding to the chaos is the sound of firecrackers and fireworks. Eventually, the lanterns burn up like falling stars and return to earth.

Along the river bank, locals engage in the making and selling of krathongs (decorated baskets). Thai people buy krathongs, place 5 to 10 THB under the flowers, light them up (candle and incense), and launch them into the river, after making a wish (head touching the krathong). As we watched locals and tourists cast away their past, we also noticed several locals grab already floating krathongs and inspect them for money (which when successful they pocketed). Another part of this ceremonious festival is the releasing of fish into the river. We saw women selling baby turtles, eels, and fish in small plastic bags. Locals open the plastic bag and liberate the tiny animals into the river. And, without any concern for the environment, they also drop the plastic bags into the waterway. The festival’s origin is likely about showing respect to the river and the goddess of the river, Phra Mae Khongkha. So, that was shocking on more than one level.

Look for accommodation in Chiang Mai.

Wat Pha Lat Temple in Chiang Mai

Hike the Monk’s Trail to Wat Pha Lat in Chiang Mai

Wat Pha Lat (also spelled Wat Palat) is a temple in Chiang Mai. Given its almost hidden location in the jungle, Wat Pha Lat sees far less tourism than other temples in the city.

We hiked to the temple from Suthep Road (close to the University), but you can also take a songthaew (the red car shared “taxi”) to the end of the road. The “Monk’s Trail” begins close to the red and white television tower (near the Chiang Mai Zoo).

It’s a moderate 45-minute hike from the starting point. When you reach the serene environment of the temple, you’ll also have a view of the city. The most striking feature of the temple is the waterfall that gently cascades through the temple grounds. There are also majestic statues and stairways flanked with mystical creatures. Some of these mythical statues are draped in cloth, while others are wearing jewelry.

The hike was made even more beautiful by the vibrant, colorful, and larger-than-life butterflies. The diversity in color and shape was incredible. But, the wow-factor was their size.

After exploring this jungle oasis, we continued the trail for another 45 minutes to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. It’s a steep climb to the top. And given the nature of the trail, we’d only recommend doing this when it’s dry. This temple crowns the mountaintop and is a major destination for pilgrims as well as tourists. It houses a relic of the Lord Buddha.

Look for accommodation in Chiang Mai.

Open-air massage bungalow in Ko Phra Thong, Thailand

Get a Thai Massage

There is nothing more painfully sweet than a Thai massage. If you haven’t had one before, brace yourself. Your masseuse will stretch your limbs unsympathetically and apply a herculean amount of pressure to all areas of your body. At times, you might want to scream out.

You don’t have to spend a lot of money to get a great massage. We had an amazing one-hour massage for 150 BAHT ($4.50) and another one for 200 BAHT ($6). But, it can be hit or miss. We suggest doing some research, before heading into a parlor. As a general rule, avoid the places that try to beckon you in.

Most massage parlors are located in open-air pavilions. Typically, there are several mats lined up next to each other in one large space. It’s not a private experience. You’ll likely be getting a massage next to a stranger. But don’t worry, you’re fully clothed.

Nang Loeng Market, Bangkok, Thailand

What to Eat and Drink in Thailand

The best place to eat in Thailand is on the street, or at the local markets. Eat where the locals eat, and you’ll be rewarded with dishes bursting with rich flavor and spice. The restaurants that cater to westerners just don’t cut it. The cooking is muted down for the “western palate,” resulting in mediocre food that’s also four times as expensive as what you’d pay on the street.


Thai Salads

Somtam is a spicy green papaya salad. The dressing is composed of fish sauce, lime juice, chiles, garlic, and sugar. The standard somtam is served with dried shrimp. You can also order it with fermented crab or fish, mixed fruit, mango, or salty egg.


Thai Soups

Khao Soi is a noodle coconut curry soup from Northern Thailand. You can typically decide if you want the soup with chicken, pork, or eggs. The soup is topped with fried noodles. It’s served with a side of lime slices, raw red onion and a pickled leafy vegetable.

Tom Yum is a hot, sour, and creamy soup. This flavorful sinus-clearing soup is made with condensed milk, lemongrass, lime leaves and juice, fish sauce and chili. It’s typically serviced with prawns, but you can usually order it with chicken, pork, or other seafood.


Stir-Fried Thai Food

Morning Glory is stir-fried water spinach flavored with oyster sauce and chili. This is usually eaten as a side dish.

Pad Kra Pao is minced pork stir fried with basil and chilies. This dish is served over rice.


Thai Curry

Panaeng (Phanang) is a creamy coconut red curry with lots of lemongrass and lime. You can usually choose between chicken, pork, or prawns. 


Thai Dessert

Roti is fried dough stuffed with bananas and topped with sugar and condensed milk. You can usually find a street vendor selling roti at a market.

Mango Sticky Rice is fresh mango served next to sweetened sticky rice. The rice is sweetened by a coconut milk and sugar mixture.

Khanom Jaak is a Thai dessert made out of flour, white coconut flesh and palm sugar. It’s wrapped in a palm leaf (or banana leaf) and grilled.


Thai Snacks

Green Papaya with Chili-Sugar-Salt Dip. We’re not sure what the real name is, but if you see a sliced papaya in a bag, served with a small sack of pink sugar, grab it. When we were traveling by train, everyone around us was buying these fruit snacks. Encouraged by the locals, we bought it and devoured it quickly.

Sweet Rice Cake (Kanom Krok). Cooked in a Kanom Krok griddle, these mini plump pancakes are delicious.

Koh Mook Beach, Thailand

First Time in Thailand Travel Tips


Free visa-exempt stay in Thailand

Most foreign travelers are eligible for a free visa-exempt stay of 30 days.

As you get processed through immigration/customs, you’ll need your passport (with at least six months validity),  your filled-out arrival slip (you’ll get this during your flight), and the address of your accommodation. It’s a good idea to print proof of your accommodation and travel plans.

We didn’t need to show proof of onward travel during our first trip to Thailand. However, we did need it for our second trip.

At the check-in counter, the travelers next to us (who hadn’t booked onward travel) had to book a flight departing Thailand before they were checked into their Thailand-bound flight.

Visa rules often change in Thailand, so please research what the current rules are before your trip.


Water Safety in Thailand

Only drink sealed, bottled water. However, if you can find filtered water, opt for that. Some tour operators and guesthouses offer filtered water for a small fee. 

Brush your teeth with bottled water.

When you order iced drinks (cocktails, iced teas, iced coffees, etc…), make sure the ice was made with filtered water. If there’s a hole through the ice cube (shaped more like a cylinder), then it has been purified.


Food Safety in Thailand

Only eat fruits which can be peeled (mango, pineapple, coconut, etc…)

When eating street food, go to the stalls where locals are eating, and where there is a high turnover of food.

Wipe down your eating utensils with an antibacterial disinfection disposable tissue.


Stray Dogs in Thailand

There are a lot of stray dogs in Central Thailand. You’ll see dogs walking around train station platforms, wandering streets uninhibited, crossing highways and sleeping on temples.

It’s best to simply ignore them and avoid eye contact.


Toilets in Thailand

You’ll likely encounter both squat and western-style toilets in Thailand.

In the squat toilet stalls, you’ll see a bucket full of water, with a scoop, and sometimes a sprayer (hose). You’re supposed to use the water in the scoop (or the sprayer) for cleaning yourself. Because of this water-cleaning method, bathroom floors are almost always wet.

If you’re not too keen on this method, just remember to bring tissues or wipes with you into the bathroom. Dispose of your tissues in a wastebasket, after use.

Even if you’re using western-style toilets, toilet paper is never a guarantee. Carry tissues with you to be safe.


Voltage & Power Plug Adapters in Thailand

If you’re coming from North America or Europe, your plugs will work (fit into the socket) in Thailand. However, the voltage in Thailand is 220 volts, whereas in the U.S. it’s 110. Depending on your appliances, you may need to buy a voltage converter.

Your appliances should have a sticker that shows the voltage range they can handle. We checked all our appliances (computer, camera, and phone chargers) and all of them had a range between 100-240V, so we didn’t need to buy any converters.

Streetfood in Bangkok China Town, Thailand

Thailand Itinerary Suggestions 


12 Day Thailand Itinerary: Bangkok to Chiang Mai

  • 3 days in Bangkok
  • 1 day in Ayutthaya
  • 1 day in Lopburi
  • 1 day traveling to Sukhothai
  • 1 day in Sukhothai
  • 1 day traveling to Chiang Mai
  • 4 days in Chiang Mai

Read Next: 12 day itinerary – Bangkok to Chiang Mai


Quiet Thai Island Hopping Itinerary in the Andaman Sea

  • 3-4 days in Koh Phra Thong
  • 3-4 days in Koh Jum
  • 3-4 days in Koh Mook (Koh Muk)
  • 3-4 days in Koh Lipe

Read Next: Quiet Thai Island Hopping Itinerary

Ayutthaya Ruins, Thailand

Thailand Facts 

Official Name | Kingdom of Thailand

Capital | Bangkok

Government | Constitutional Monarchy

Regions | Thailand is normally split into 5 regions: North, North-East, Central, East, and South.

Population | 68.86 Million

Language | Thai

Currency | Thai Baht (THB)

Tipping Etiquette | Tipping is not a standard practice among Thai people. However, it’s appreciated.

Water Quality | Poor. Only drink bottled water. Also, remember to brush your teeth with bottled water. When ordering an iced drink, make sure the ice is filtered.

Something Interesting | It is against the law to criticize the monarchy.

Flower Market, Bangkok, Thailand

Moon & Honey Travel is an independent blog created by two passionate hikers. We are able to provide free content to you, because of ads and affiliate links. When you make a purchase using one of these links, we may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Happy travels and happy trails,

Sabrina & Kati