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Your ultimate Thailand travel guide (2024)

Updated: 2 days ago

This is a background blog for a 3-series ultimate Thailand trip planning blog:

The Basics: General Info to Know When Planning Your Trip to Thailand


for your ultimate 3-week itinerary see these blogs:


overwayer bungalow in Thailand with lanterns on the dock and a Thai restaurant on the beach
Koh Chang

So you're going to the Land of Smiles! The jewel in Southeast Asia, where street food is Michelin-star worthy, the people are legitimately always happy, everywhere you go is on the beach, and your money takes you a lot further than it does at home. 


On a typical day in Thailand you're exploring ancient temples, lounging on pristine beaches with crystal-clear waters, getting $30 massages, and eating the bold flavors of authentic Thai street food. Adventure seekers, history buffs, and food enthusiasts all find their bag in this archipelago country.  



After doing a ton of research and planning, and then spending a combined 2 months in Thailand, I wanted to pass my knowledge off about Thailand trip costs and planning to anyone planning to come visit this beautiful country. 


This blog is about 3-part series about luxe Thailand travel at affordable prices, particularly using credit card rewards to pay for hotels and flights, which offsets the trip substantially. I'll give you the breakdown of how to do that, but before we get into the itinerary this blog will cover some basics:


TLDR:


What is Thailand known for?

Thailand is known for its rich culture, stunning natural beauty, and vibrant city life. But what I think of is inexpensive paradise, drunk backpackers, fuck-it buckets, elephants, night market, monks, temples, and a little bit of European sex tourism. to be honest.


Thailand is home to thousands of temples, with notable ones including Wat Phra Kaew, Wat Pho, and Wat Arun in Bangkok.


orange Thai temple at sunrise with blue and purple sky
Thai temple at sunrise

The street food in Thailand is world-renowned, and its night markets and floating markets are amazing cultural experiences for people from the West.


small street food stall in Koh Phi Phi with people sitting down eating
street food stall in Koh Phi Phi

freshly caught fish on a green astroturf display
freshly caught fish at a night market in Krabi

Thai man wearing red selling alligator to eat
alligator, casually being sold at the Asiatique night market in Bangkok


Phuket, Koh Samui, and Krabi are known for being some of the most beautiful beaches in the world with clear waters, and the snorkeling and diving it out of the world.


turquoise blue beach with huts around at Sai Daeng Resort in Koh Tao
the beach at Sai Daeng Resort in Koh Tao

colorful Thai boats in the crystal clear blue waters
Thai boats in the crystal clear waters

National Parks like Khao Sok offers other-worldly landscapes.


Khao Sok steep mountains at night with jungle
Khao Sok mountains at night

Khao Sok limestone steep cliffs outside of the Panvaree overwater hotelt
Khao Sok limestone cliffs outside of the Panvaree overwater hotelt

Tourists come from all over the world for the elephant sanctuaries, which often sadly harm the very animals that they came to see.


Bangkok is known for its night life and Phuket is a haven for sex tourists.


Fuck-it buckets are everywhere. They're a mix of whatever alcohol with whatever 'mixer' gets thrown into and drank out of a child's sand pale. They're disgusting and may or may not have amphetamines in them, but you have to get one if you're in Thailand. More if you're a backpacker in Thailand.


Fuck-It Bucket stand in Koh Tao with neon lighting and random drinks in sand buckets and a sign that says 150 bhat
Fuck-It Bucket stand in Koh Tao - $4 per drink

What’s the best time to visit Thailand?

The best months to visit Thailand are between November and April, for the weather, and the opposite for the crowds. The North American summer months are hot. And the fall is wet. Like monsoon season wet, which can actually cause you to lose out on your entire vacation if you’re stuck in your hotel room the whole time. On the flip side, everything is really cheap during monsoon season. 


Prices during high season are obviously more expensive, but Thailand is always cheap outside of peak season, which is during Christmas and New Year's and when I did my last trip. I don’t recommend going during peak season because prices are at least 2x (sometimes like 4x, no joke) and hotels are sold out way in advance.


How is the weather in Thailand by month?

Thailand has a tropical climate with temperatures ranging from nice to hot and precipitation from wet to monsoon. It can characterized by three main seasons: hot, cool, and rainy.


Hot Season (March to May)

Temperature: Average temperatures range from 30°C to 40°C (86°F to 104°F).


Weather: Very hot and humid, particularly in central and northern regions. Coastal areas like the islands and beaches can be slightly cooler due to sea breezes.


Rainy Season (June to October)

Temperature: Average temperatures range from 25°C to 32°C (77°F to 90°F).


Weather: Characterized by heavy but short-lived rain showers, often in the afternoons. The rain can be intense but usually doesn't last long, with plenty of sunshine in between. Flooding can occur in some areas, especially in Bangkok and northern regions.

 

Monsoon Variations: The southwest monsoon affects the Andaman Sea coast (including Phuket and Krabi) from May to October, while the southeast monsoon affects the Gulf of Thailand coast (including Koh Samui and Koh Tao) from November to January.


Cool Season (November to February)

Temperature: Average temperatures range from 20°C to 30°C (68°F to 86°F).


Weather: The most pleasant time of the year, with cooler temperatures and lower humidity. Ideal for travel and outdoor activities. Northern regions can be quite cool in the evenings, particularly in the mountains.


Here are the average temperatures and rainfall in Koh Phangan by month:

graph of average temperatures and rainfall of Koh Phangan Thailand in Celsius
average temperatures and rainfall in Celsius

graph of average temperatures and rainfall in Kph Phangan Fahrenheit
graph of average temperatures and rainfall in Fahrenheit

How much does a trip to Thailand cost?

Prices in Thailand are cheap. They always have been, on the international scale. However, as with much of the world, prices of goods have increased substantially over the last few years. Whereas 10 years ago you could get a nice hotel for $20/ night, now you’re looking at closer to $100. 


For food, you can eat for $1 per meal if you’re eating street food, which you should be. But you should also go to really fancy restaurants, where you’ll pay more like $30 per meal. The food won’t necessarily be better (just because Thai street food is superior to fancy food anywhere else in the world), but the ambiance and experience can be enchanting, and a dining experience like this would be much more expensive back home. 


The Thai currency is the Bhat and the Bhat-to-USD ratio has been pretty stable at around 35:1 for the last 10 years:

Data Source: Bank of Thailand
Chart of USD to Thai Baht Exchange Rate (2013-2023)

On our trip, when we did the 3-week itinerary that I lay out in parts 2 and 3 of this blog - after paying for our flights and some hotels with points, we spent $5,000 in cash for 2 people, taking private buses everywhere and staying in really nice accomodations. We ate a lot, drank a lot, and got massages 1-2x/ day. I saved all my receipts and I add every price into the Ultimate 3-week itinerary blog.


What are the best flights to Thailand from the USA?

If you're new to Thailand, all flights are going to go through Bangkok, so just search BKK as your hub.


We flew SFO-Bangkok on Delta for 105,000 sky miles and $36.70 USD each.


The route was First Class SFO to Seattle, Delta Premium Select to Seoul, and then Economy to Bangkok. Can't complain, it was a great flight. And we got the flight pretty late in the game so we were lucky to get mostly non-economy.


If you're thinking of going to Thailand you should open a Delta card now.


The flight back was less luxurious, although we stopped in Singapore, which was awesome. We went Bangkok to Singapore (2.5 hours), stayed overnight in Singapore, then Singapore to SFO, which was 14.5 hours. All in economy! We paid 140,000 Singapore points and $232 USD for each ticket.


We got these tickets by transferring AmEx points to Singapore - this is the card you want to open to do the same.


You can do much better with your points than we did if you plan ahead and don't go during peak season.



Search for flights to Thailand:



How is Thailand's transportation?

The transportation system in Thailand is always a little confusing, so let me help you out.


Overland

As far as price, overland transportation runs along the same large spread as everything else, with Tuk-tuk and taxi rides costing between $1 and $5 for short distances, buses and trains often less than $1, and motorbike rentals around $5 to $10 per day. If you’re a fancy pants and you want a private bus to yourself you’ll pay $50 for the whole day. 


2 people in an empty large bus
$50 per day private bus

None of these options are that safe, but you’re in Thailand, so it's a risk you're willing to take. 


Overwater

When it comes to overwater transfers in Thailand, you have three main options: speedboats, speed ferries, and regular ferries. Each mode of transport varies in terms of duration, safety, comfort, and price. Here’s a comparison:


Speedboats

Speedboats are the fastest option. They’re safeish but can be bumpy in rough seas and sometimes they capsize during Full Moon Party. They’re not super comfortable, and they’re usually more expensive than regular ferries due to their speed and smaller capacity. The most important thing to know about speedboats is that you don’t want to take them around the party islands because - while you will be sitting next to someone who is puking on both the speedboats and the fast ferries - on the speedboat you’ll be getting thrown around by the waves so you’ll all up in it. 


crowded speedboat with everyone crammed together wearing orange life vests
speedboat from Phuket to Yona Beach Club

Speed Ferries

Speed ferries are faster than regular ferries but slower than speedboats, safer with better stability, more comfortable than speedboats, with more seating space, AC, and onboard amenities like snacks and drinks. You’ll find mid-range pricing, more affordable than speedboats but pricier than regular ferries.


Regular Ferries

Regular ferries take the longest time, designed for leisurely slow travel. They’re very safe and comfortable, and actually the most affordable option.


back deck of the ferry from Koh Tao to Koh Samui backpackers sitting down
back deck of the ferry from Koh Tao to Koh Samui

Lomprayah seems to be a main, reliable company for ferries. You can book ferries through them here.


How many days do you need in Thailand? 

If you’re American, Thailand is far and cheap, which is a recipe for making it a longer trip. I don’t think 2 weeks is too short to make it worth your while, and I think a month can get a little exhausting. So the sweet spot is in between.


I also really love the 3-week Thailand itinerary because you can do basically the whole country overland. In Thailand, this means going by private bus, since they’re so cheap, and ferry, which is a quintessential Thailand experience and the most comfortable mode of overwater transport.


Should I do a Thailand tour holiday package or all-inclusive tours or resorts?

This one’s easy - no.


Thailand is a safe and comfortable country, where everyone speaks English. This means there is no reason you shouldn't be out, exploring on your own, meeting locals, and contributing to the local economy. 


All-inclusive resorts are designed to pump out large volumes of trashy food, to route tourist money right back out of the country and into multinational companies' pockets, and keep you insulated from the culture that you came to visit. This can be understandable dangerous places (although why are you going if you’re too scared to leave the resort?) but Thailand is your chance to overcome this fear and laziness and experience another place.


So no, do not book anything that's all-inclusive.


Hotels or Airbnbs?

It seems like these days, we travelers are tapping out of the Airbnb honeymoon period, frustrated by fees and cleanup demands. And for Thailand, I'm actually going to encourage you to do hotels whenever you can.


Gone are the days when Airbnb meant that you would have an ultra-authentic experience, staying with and becoming besties with locals. Now, the Airbnbs are all owned by foreigners, but the primary reason I encourage hotels in Thailand is because it's super helpful to have the concierge to facilitate the confusing transportation of this country where you probably don't speak and can't read any of the language.




Is Thailand better for groups or couples?  

Thailand is a group trip. We lamented being alone on this last trip, as we were always in a place where we could have added 2-6 more people for no extra cost. For example, every time we moved cities we took a private bus for $50 for the whole day and there were about 10 seats. In some instances, as you'll see in Phuket, we even had to just flat-out pay for 4 people. 


That being said, this last trip I did was just my husband and me, and we had a great time. We’re both very social and we met a lot of people. I was hesitant because last time I went I was 25 years old with 4 girls and we partied - always in large groups. I thought Thailand was going to be super lame as a couple but it was amazing and we met people everywhere we went. 


So if you can get friends to come with, do it. And if you’re solo or a couple, just find new friends in Thailand.


What are the best elephant sanctuaries?

I hate to break this to you because I was so sad when someone else broke it to me, but there is very little ethical elephant tourism in Thailand. If you’re doing elephant tourism in Thailand then there’s a good chance you’re doing something wrong. 


Elephant tourism in Thailand is a major attraction, but it has a dark past, and an unfortunately even darker present. 


Elephants have been used in logging and transportation in Thailand for centuries. With the decline of logging, many elephants were transitioned to the tourism industry, which involves activities like riding and performances. In order to get the elephants to allow this activity, they need to be trained in a way that will ‘break their spirit.’ Methods include severe physical and psychological punishment and restrictive living conditions, both which lead to major distress for the elephants. 


While there are places that bill themselves as ‘ethical Sanctuaries,’ these are hard to vet, and many unethical places are going to advertise ‘ethical’ to get tourists in the door. Basically the rule is that if you’re riding or bathing the elephants then it’s not ethical. Ethical tourism activities include feeding, walking with elephants, and observing them in their natural behavior. I personally don't feel like bathing an elephant can be harmful but then again I know literally nothing about elephant tourism.


Before you sign up to do elephant stuff watch this video

Is Thailand safe?

Yes, it is. It has a similar incidence of violent crime as the greater USA (not like, just American cities).


There is not a ton of crime in Thailand against tourists but petty theft is definitely present, and if you leave low-hanging fruit it will get stolen. 


Here’s a chart of various crime rates in Thailand compared to those of the United States:

comparison graph of Thailand and USA crime rates

Pro Tips

  • Dont wait to book your Thailand trip. Thailand only opened up post-COVID in December 2023 so it's still in the middle of the vengeance vacation wave and you will pay more if you wait to book until everyone else is booking. I know it’s cool to be whimsical but it’s also really fucking expensive.

  • Bring the right electrical attachment for your hair dryer!!! I cannot stress this enough. I found it so incredibly odd but no one in Thailand knew what I was looking for - it's like I was the first woman, emotionally attached to her blowdryer to travel to Thailand. 


What is the ultimate 3-week Thailand itinerary?

Here is a Thailand trip map for your ultimate 3-week itinerary:

map of your 3-week, 9 city Thailand itinerary
map of your 3-week, 9 city Thailand itinerary

and for ultimate Thailand travel guide - 3 week itinerary, see these blogs:




and book your trip to Thailand!




 

as always, if you have any questions or want specific recommendations leave them in the comments and I’ll respond.



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