Tag Archives: travel thailand

Thailand Islands: The Best Islands To Visit

So how many islands does Thailand have? Nobody seems to know for sure but it’s safe to say that Thailand has hundreds of islands you can stay on and/or visit and it is my intention to visit them all! With so many island destinations, it can be difficult to choose which island to visit in Thailand. I often get asked many of the following questions by backpackers and tourists who are looking for Thailand’s best islands and beaches:

Which are the best party islands in Thailand? Where are quiet Thailand beaches? Where is the best place for Thailand island hopping? Which island to choose? Which islands have airports? Where is the best snorkeling in Thailand? The island for the best diving – I have a whole post dedicated to the best dive sites in Thailand here.

Hopefully this post will help you make the best decision about which islands to stay on. Even better, you can visit a few of the Thai islands on the same trip as they often have good transport links between them to make island hopping around Thailand accessible.

Here is a summary of all the ones I’ve been to so far and some brief information to help you decide on which paradise island to check out first including must-do activities and how to get to each Thai island. Read more about how to travel around Thailand on this post.

Thailand Island Hopping

I’ve grouped the islands as to where they are in Thailand which should give you and idea for the best island hopping routes around. The Gulf of Thailand refers to the islands South of Bangkok on the East of the mainland – mainly Koh Tao, Koh Phangan and Koh Samui. Then we have the Andaman islands on the West with connecting airports such as Krabi and Phuket. Then Southern islands like Koh Lipe and Koh Tarutao and Eastern islands towards the Cambodian border.

Best Islands in The Gulf of Thailand

Koh Tao

Koh Tao Thailand Islands
Learning to dive on Koh Tao

A backpacker island in the Gulf of Thailand. It has beautiful beaches and an obvious party scene but mostly it is known for cheap diving courses, and is often advertised as one of the cheapest places in the world to learn to scuba dive. I took my PADI Open Water Qualification here 4 years ago and the prices are still the same. Your Open Water diving certificate can start from around 9000 baht…try and get your accommodation thrown in too. If you turn up at the pier, you can often negotiate prices with the dive shops. Unfortunately Koh Tao is not without its problems and I suggest being careful here, not to get too drunk and never to cause problems with locals, such as getting into fights etc.

Best Thailand island for: learning to dive. Once you learn to dive, head to some of these places for the best dive sites in Thailand

Things to do on Koh Tao: get PADI certified for your Open Water dive course or advanced. Check out beautiful viewpoints and quiet beaches.

Cheapest way to get to Koh Tao: Sleeper train/night bus to Chumpon and then ferry. You can book tickets here

Fastest way to get to Koh Tao: Fly to Chumpon/Surat thani, bus to pier and take the ferry. Lomprayah have the fastest service. Alternative is to fly to Koh Samui and take a ferry from there.

Book your transport here with this useful website. The more you book the cheaper the tickets become…



Booking.com

Koh Phangan 

bottle beach 2
Bottle Beach on Koh Phangan

Home to the infamous Full Moon Party, this party island in Thailand remains one of my favourites. It’s party in the South and tranquil, quiet beaches in the North of Koh Phangan.  It is also one of the best islands for backpackers because it is both party and calm and you can find very cheap accommodation, particularly in the north. For the most beautiful beach in the Gulf of Thailand, visit Bottle Beach – a stunning Northern beach only accessible by boat so it’s very quiet. Diving in Koh Phangan here can be great although visibility is unpredictable. Sail Rock is one of Koh Phangan’s famous dive sites and whale sharks can be spotted here (just not by me…yet!). I love staying in the North and I discovered  these cute bungalows last time, right on a lovely stretch of beach. Check out Seaboard Bungalow’s reasonable rates here. The restaurant here did great food and there were more food options further down the beach too.  An even cheaper option with basic bungalows that also had a pool but not as a nice a beach was Lucky Resort. Compare their room rates here. The restaurant had great views of the ocean for sunsets too. Read here for Full Moon Party Tips..

Best Thailand island for: Dancing until sunrise. Even if you miss Full Moon there are Half Moon Parties, Jungle Parties, Waterfall parties…Read my post here for more Full Moon Party advice

Things to do on Koh Phangan: Party and the chill out on Bottle Beach (one of my favourites). Read more about Thailand’s quiet beaches here

Cheapest way to get to Koh Phangan Sleeper train/night bus to Chumpon and then ferry

Fastest way to get to Koh Phangan: Fly to Chumpon /Surat thani/Koh Samui and take the ferry. Lomprayah have the fastest service.



Booking.com

 

Thailand Islands to Visit: Koh Samui

Koh Samui Thailand Islands
Koh Samui during an island day tour I took to see temples, beaches, monkeys and waterfalls

Boasting one of coolest airports I’ve ever been to, Samui caters to holiday makers on a large scale. It is the only island in the Gulf of Thailand to have an airport

In all honesty, Koh Samui is probably my least favourite island as a result of this, it can get very crowded over peak season (December – when I went!) and I don’t think it is as idyllic looking as it’s Gulf counterparts.  That said, if you are on limited time it is one of only two island that you can fly direct to (the other being Phuket). I stayed in upmarket accommodation at Lamai Wanta Beach Resort (courtesy of my generous aunt!) but a friend recently stayed at budget friendly New Hut Bungalows and recommended them to me. They look like a great photo opportunity too!

One thing to be aware of in Koh Samui is that flights are generally expensive because the budget airlines cannot fly to Samui as it is owned by Bangkok Airways. However, the airport looks like the garden of a 5 star hotel and is worth seeing. Occasionally cheap flights with Thai Smile can be found.

Best Thailand Island for: resorts, families and couples

Things to do on Koh Samui: an all round island tour including temples and waterfall visits

Cheapest way to get to Koh Samui: Sleeper train/night bus to Surat thani, bus to pier and then ferry. You can buy all inclusive tickets from this website

Fastest way to get to Koh Samui: Fly direct from Bangkok



Booking.com

 

Best Thailand Islands: The Andaman

Phuket

phuket thailand islands
Stunning sunsets while surfing at Kata Beach, Phuket

Phuket is one of Thailand’s largest islands and is attached to the mainland by bridge. It has an international airport which can lead to extremely busy beaches and very high prices for taxis, which is why it has a bit of a bad reputation among those of us who live in Thailand. However, I don’t feel this is totally deserved and as it is such a huge island there are many less popular places to explore. The busiest area seems to be Patong beach which I have always been urged to avoid, mainly because of its multitude of gogo bars. I’ve mainly spent time in the South at Kata and Karon beaches for surfing during rainy season (June-October). I loved staying at this hostel, it was about 4 minute walk to the surfing beach, was good value and they had really nice facilities.

Things to do in Phuket:  learning to surf, you can hire an instructor and then you get the board for the rest of the day (rainy season only when the waves are bigger, July-October approx)

Cheapest way to get to Phuket:  Take a night bus to Phuket Town, then songtaew (local trucks) to the beach of your choice. You may need to take two, one from the bus station and then another from Phuket town to the beach. Approx 20 baht.

Fastest way to get to Phuket: Fly to Phuket from Bangkok or international airports and take the local bus further south.

Koh Yao Noi

koh yao noi thailand islands
Stunning Views of Phangna Bay from Koh Nok, a small island I kayaked to from Koh Yao Noi

This island has really chilled out vibes and zero party scene. It felt a little off the beaten track but still has hotels and restaurants around. The beaches are fairly thin strips of sand so there’s not all that much room for sunbathing. Swimming with the backdrop of Phangna Bay behind you felt pretty awesome though. I rented bicycles and cycled around the island – which has a couple of hills so be prepared! (or get off and walk like someone may have done…). This is a great place to rent kayaks from as well and I discovered the small empty island of Koh Nok which this amazing viewpoint. I loved the place I stayed at,  Sabai Corner Bungalows, it had tall wooden bungalows set back into the mountain with great views of the bay. It was also very affordable and the owners were helpful with renting kayaks and bicycles.

Best Thailand Island for: non-touristy places in Thailand

Things to do in Koh Yao Noi:  If you can’t afford to stay somewhere like the Six Senses Hotel (and I can’t!) then head there for a cocktail to enjoy sunset and the views at this exotic looking hotel.

Cheapest way to get to Koh Yao Noi: Night bus to Krabi, bus from bus station to pier and then long tail boat. Book tickets on this useful website…

Fastest way to get to Koh Yao Noi: Fly to Krabi, bus from airport to pier, speedboat to island.

Koh Phi Phi

Koh Phi Phi Thailand Islands
Views of the beach

Koh Phi Phi is the type of island that the first time I went there, I hated it. Lots of young backpackers falling drunk out of bars and overpacked long tail boats pouring into Maya Bay to see the beach from Dicaprio’s ‘The Beach’ movie. Now I’ve returned there a 2nd, 3rd and 4th time, I have to admit that Phi Phi is growing on me. I’ve accepted it for what it is : a party island and a great place to meet backpackers. Try taking a snorkelling trip to a few of the less crowded islands and definitely watch some of the fireshows. I personally feel they are the best in Thailand and even after watching a few I still think they are very impressive.

The diving around the marine park is generally of a very good standard for Thailand. I was lucky enough to see a turtle, black tip reef shark and a leopard shark all in one day. I also love that you can walk everywhere and there are no cars on the whole island, definitely a bonus if you’re living in Bangkok and sick of traffic jams.

Best Thailand island for: parties and beautiful beaches combined.

Things to do in Koh Phi Phi:  An island hopping trip to nearby islands

Cheapest way to get to Koh Phi Phi: Night bus to Krabi, bus from bus station to pier and then ferry. Book all your tickets together here

Fastest way to get to Koh Phi Phi: Fly to Krabi, bus from airport to pier, ferry to island

Koh Lanta

Koh Lanta Thailand Islands
Lunchtime with a view!

Serene and stunning, this is a quieter island for a relaxing time. Kantiang beach in the South is huge, wide and empty when I was there in April. There isn’t much of a party scene and not so many backpackers here. The snorkelling and island hopping trip was definitely a highlight for me as it took you to Koh Kradan, a stunning white beach uninhabited island. I went with my parents and we stayed at Alama Sea Village Resort which was incredible. It has a great view (so a short walk uphill), an infinity pool and monkeys who come and visit your balcony.

Best Thailand island for: relaxing, couples, families

Things to do in Koh Lanta:  The 4 Island Hopping Trip

Cheapest way to get to Koh Lanta: Night bus to Krabi, bus from bus station to pier and then ferry. Tickets can be booked via this website, including ferries

Fastest way to get to Koh Lanta: Fly to Krabi, bus from airport to pier, ferry to island

Koh Lipe

koh lipe
Mango smoothies and banana pancakes breakfast on the beach! Yes please!

This paradise island is home to white sand beaches, crystal clear waters, beautiful coral reefs and less tourists than many others! The main beach is kept extremely clean but unfortunately a lot of litter gets washed up around this island’s shores despite local efforts to consistently clear the trash. When I was there, the people were working every day but unfortunately they are fighting a losing battle with the currents. It also had some of the best sunsets I’ve seen in Thailand and the coral reefs were extremely colourful for snorkelling. (I’ve yet to dive here!) It’s close to Malaysia so can fill up if there are Thai and Malaysian coinciding holidays. I suggest you book in advance if this could be the case. I stayed at Gypsy Bungalows and loved these basic but cute bungalows with a garden walk to the beach.

Best Thailand Island for: white sand beaches

Things to do on Koh Lipe:  Walk around the corner from the main beach to Sunset beach for some of the most impressive sunsets in Thailand

Cheapest way to get to Koh Lipe: Night bus to Hat Yai, minivan to pier, 2 hour speedboat

Fastest way to get to Koh Lipe: Fly to Hat Yai, minivan to pier, 2 hour speedboat

This island can take a long time to get to. I think it’s definitely worth it but don’t try if you’re on limited time.

 

Koh Jum

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A lesser known island to both tourists and Thais, this is a rocky, wild island which still feels fairly untouched. However, this is not always a good thing as it was extremely expensive to get to from Koh Phi Phi and once on the island it was difficult to get around.  My sister and I stayed at the gorgeous Onlee bungalows – pricier than normal but amazing food as the couple who run it are Thai-French.  The stargazing was also incredible and so clear as there is not much light pollution nearby. I recommend settling into a resort as there are limited ways to visit other restaurants and if you want to hire a ‘taxi’ it won’t be at a cheap price.

Best Thailand Island: that people have never heard of

Things to do on Koh Jum: Star gazing

Cheapest way to get to Koh Jum: Night bus to Krabi, bus from bus station to pier and then ferry

Fastest way to get to Koh Jum: Fly to Krabi, bus from airport to pier, ferry to island

 

Railay

Railay Beach Thailand Islands
Swimming around limestone karsts in Railay

I’m including Railay in this island section as it is only accessible by boat. (And until very recently I thought it was an island!).  Lots of snorkelling day trips stop off here so it can get crowded during peak season (Nov-Dec) but you can jump on boats from Krabi to get here at any point during the day. Limited options at night where the boats can charge a much higher price.  Watch dusky langur monkeys climb in nearby trees, hike to the top for a sweaty but great view and visit the Buddhist shrine to the penis. This is one of the best islands in Thailand for outdoor adventures like rock-climbing and hikes to viewpoints.

Things to do on Railay: slip and slide your way up the viewpoint for a pretty view of both beaches

Island Hopping Tip: Many boats arrive on the not so nice beach area so walk through the jungle pathway to reach the prettier beach

Cheapest way to get to Railay: Night bus to Krabi, bus from bus station to Ao Nang and then longtail boat. Book your bus tickets here now. 

Fastest way to get to Railay: Fly to Krabi, bus from airport to Ao Nang ferry to island

 

Ao Nang

This is also not an island but as one of the easiest beach destinations to get to from Krabi I thought it was worth a mention. Ao Nang has two long, wide stretches of yellow sand beaches where a lot of long tail boats depart from, making for some pretty photos. It has a lot of choices of accommodation and restaurants and is a good jump off point to go island hopping to the nearby beach of Railay, and National Park island hopping to nearby uninhabited islands like Koh Poda, Koh Hong and many more.

Best Beach Destination for: breaking up the journey to nearby islands

Things to do in Ao Nang: sign up for some rock climbing nearby at Railay

Island Hopping Tip: Wait for the boat to fill up and take a 20 minute long tail boat to Railay when it’s quieter. At night time only private (read expensive) long tail boats will run

Cheapest way to get to Ao Nang Night bus to Krabi, local songtaew from bus station to Ao Nang  Book your night bus tickets here now. 

Fastest way to get to Ao Nang: Fly to Krabi, bus from airport to Ao Nang (approx 100 baht).

Best Thai Islands: The East

Koh Chang

koh chang Thailand Islands
Lonely Beach in Koh Chang

Koh Chang has a really chilled back vibe to it, a small party backpacker crowd and some okay diving. This is one of the first islands I travelled to alone and I immediately met backpackers as it has a more intimate feel to it than other islands like Koh Tao or Koh Phi Phi. Lonely Beach is the main backpacker area and White Sand beach is a little more upmarket. I have stayed at a few places but none to rave about. There is also one creepy bartender who has followed a few solo females home so be aware and try to always walk in groups or with someone late at night.

Best Thailand Island for: daytime chilling

Things to do on Koh Chang: enjoy the backpacking party scene

Cheapest way to get to Koh Chang: Big bus or minivan from Ekkamai, Bangkok, songtaew (truck) to the pier then ferry- often a car ferry. You can book your tickets here

Fastest way to get to Koh Chang: Fly to Trat then ferry

Read here for Bangkok’s closest islands and beaches 

More islands information about Koh Similan, one of Thailand’s most beautiful islands can be found here

 

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Best Thailand Islands Guide

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Activities To Avoid in Thailand

Is it possible to have ethical animal experiences in Thailand?

Thailand is a place of beauty, adventure and there are so many amazing activities to try here, that after three years of living here, I am still finding new activities and places to visit. Unfortunately there are also a number of activities that have given rise to exploitation, both in regard to wildlife and people. I believe that tourists do have the power to bring about positive change and, particularly in a country like Thailand, where many locals are keen to reap the benefits of tourism, I feel it is important for tourists to do their research into putting their money into ethical activities involving both people and wildlife.

For other  wild animal experiences in Thailand, read my blog post about how and where to see wild elephants, dolphins, monkeys, gibbons, whales, whale sharks, turtles and more

The truth about elephant riding in Thailand

Many tourists want to ride elephants when visiting Thailand but first hopefully they can ask the following questions and do some research into elephant abuse in Chiang Mai and Phuket. Is it ethical to ride an elephant in Thailand? Where can we ride rescue elephants in Thailand? Is riding an elephant bad for its back?

Riding an elephant is animal abuse. Tourists ask me where to ride an elephant in Thailand, where is the best place for elephant riding and about elephant riding costs and please just stop there. The truth about elephant riding is that it is animal abuse. All elephant riding with seats is a widespread form of animal abuse in Thailand, it deforms the back of the elephant and elephant riding is cruel.  Alternatives to elephant riding include visiting an ethical elephant sanctuary (my recommendations for no riding, ethical elephant sanctuaries are here)  

Ethical elephant sanctuaries in Thailand

When I first visited Thailand in 2013 I could only find 2 elephant sanctuaries that refused to offer elephant riding. Nowadays many sanctuaries are refusing to offer elephant riding and it is the tourist demand that has made this change. Your actions can make a difference so let’s make decisions that will help protect elephants rather than harm them. My favourite alternative to elephant riding, and I recommend as even better than a sanctuary is to see wild elephants in Thailand which is, after all, where they belong. Seeing wild elephants in the jungle is one of my bucket list experiences and you can see them in a national park just a few hours from Bangkok – Khao Yai National Park.  Read here for more details  about Khao Yai National park – one of my favourite national parks in Thailand that has a good chance of seeing wild elephants in the jungle.

elephants Thailand
Feeding the ellephants some sugarcane at Hug Elephant Sanctuary in Chiang Mai, Thailand   
The truth about tigers in Thailand

Is it ethical to visit Tiger Kingdom in Thailand?  Where can I take photos with tigers in Phuket or Chiang Mai? Are tigers drugged in Tiger Kingdom?

The cruel truth is that there is no such thing as an ethical tiger experience. Tigers are wild, dangerous animals and belong in the jungles of Thailand, not in some sort of petting zoo. Visit a tiger temple in Thailand or take pictures with tigers means you are participating in animal abuse.  The infamous tourist temple “Tiger Temple” fortunately has now been closed down but there are many other “sanctuaries” appearing. When Tiger Temple was investigated, they found dead tiger cubs in a freezer and allegations of missing adult tigers thought to have been sold on the black market to China for tiger bones. This scandal is on top of the commonly held assumption that these tigers are drugged in order for tourists to take photos with them. I personally feel that the claim that people can get close to them because they are domesticated tigers brought up around people does not have any ground.  Getting into a cage with a grown adult tiger is dangerous, no matter how the animal was raised and therefore I believe the drugging theory is likely. Read more about the truth about Thailand’s tiger temple on the BBC website.

 

The dark side of Thailand’s sex tourism industry

I strongly recommend avoiding going to a pingpong show, sex show or participate in any activities relating to the sex industry. Aside from my personal feelings about female exploitation, Thailand is a hub for human trafficking and there is no knowing how the women, men and even children in these industries are treated. 425,500 people are thought to be enslaved in modern day slavery in Thailand. (Source https://www.globalslaveryindex.org/country/thailand/ ) and some of these unpoliced, illegal industries have been found to ‘employ’ underage prostitutes, indicating child abuse and exploitation. Is this really where you want your money going?  This article is an interesting and eye-opening read from the BBC website.

 

Dos and Don’ts in Thailand: Respecting Thai culture should be an important consideration when visiting on vacation or backpacking. Sunbathing in the nude, women going topless on a beach and males riding around on scooters without shirts is not considered appropriate or respectful behaviour by the majority of Thai people. Spain this is not. Most of Thailand is fairly conservative, whether the locals are Buddhist or Muslim and getting your baps out on the beach is not acceptable here. I have always felt it is important to be respectful when visiting other countries where the culture is very different to our own.

 

activities to avoid Thailand
Enjoy beautiful beaches in Koh Lipe
  • Another important rule in Thailand is about being respectful to the ocean. Standing on coral reefs damages them and coral reefs are already under severe pressure from climate change and rising ocean temperatures. Coral is extremely fragile and if you touch it, not only could you end up injured, but you are killing this vital eco-system that the ocean relies upon. Please be extremely careful of where you are stepping in the sea and inform any other visitors of the same. I feel many tourists stand on coral because they are ignorant of the fact they are damaging it. Please spread the word and don’t be shy about letting other tourists know not to stand on coral! I also think tour operators should be informing tourists so make sure to include them if their boat of tourists are not behaving respectfully towards the ocean.

 

 

activities to avoid Thailand
Make sure you don’t touch control…but definitely take some snaps
  • Dos and Dont’s in Thailand: Touching wild animals- There are regular news stories in local papers here in Thailand about people touching turtles and I am frequently frustrated by the number of Instagram photos of people holding up a starfish. That is a wild animal and you are disturbing it. Remember to always be respectful of wildlife.

 

activities to avoid Thailand
Whale Watching in Thailand from a respectful distance
  • Taking photos in the markets or streets with ‘pet’ monkeys or gibbons. These are animals that belong in the wild and should not be used in the tourist industry in this way. Often teeth are painfully removed to ensure the animal does not bite people and they are often wearing nappies and chained up.

 

activities to avoid in Thailand
Spotting wild gibbons in Khao Yai National Park – they can be heard all around Thailand, especially at dawn and dusk

·         Fishing and squid fishing. This is more of a personal thing as I am super into scuba diving and would prefer to see the fish underwater rather than kill them. However, I think it is important to be aware that Thailand has a massive problem with over-fishing and unfortunately very little is done to stop this. As a result of corruption many fishing boats can still be seen in marine parks which are supposed to be protected and I often sea fishing nets while scuba diving in supposedly protected areas. Don’t add to this problem.

activities to avoid in Thailand
Every time I go snorkelling or diving I usually find Nemo, help protect him and his habitat

And for things NOT to miss in Thailand check out this blog post

For more information regarding Thai culture and how to be respectful read this post

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avoid thailand activities avoid thailand activities

The Best National Parks in Thailand

If you love adventure, the outdoors, hiking and wildlife then consider heading to the best National Parks in Thailand. For me these are Thailand’s best kept secrets as you can get off the tourist trail, stay away from the crowds and discover nature and wildlife in Thailand’s national parks. This is, by no means, a full list of National Parks in Thailand but the most impressive ones I have been to so far and would definitely recommend visiting. Read on for the best National Parks in Thailand for waterfalls, swimming, beauty, nature and wildlife.

If you love wild animals then check out my advice on where and how to see wild elephants, whales, dolphins, whale sharks, turtles, sharks, monkeys and gibbons here…

Best National Park for getting to from Bangkok: Sai Yok National Park

Out of all the national parks in Thailand that I have been to lately, this is the most recent. You can go to Sai Yok waterfalls as part of a day trip from Bangkok to Kanchanaburi which also includes a museum visit, visit to the town of Kanchanaburi and a world war cemetery. You can also organise your own transport to Kanchanaburi. The park is around 2 hours from Kanchanaburi town. It has an impressive waterfall, which was crowded when I was there as I visited on a public holiday but I believe it would generally be a quiet non-touristy area to visit in Thailand. For more quiet areas around Thailand, check out these off the beaten track beaches in Thailand. You can even stay overnight on floating bungalows in Sai Yok National Park.

How to get to Sai Yok National Park from Bangkok: I recommend a day trip from Bangkok. You can book with tour operators around Khao San Road. I recommend comparing prices to get the best deal.

Sai Yok National Park entrance fee: free but subject to change depending on the government

National Park Thailand
Everybody’s chasing waterfalls…

 

Best National Park for views: Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park

Found about 3-4 hours South of Bangkok in Prachuap Kiri Khan province, this stunning national park is home to 300 birds and the amazing Khao Sam Roi Yot mountains, meaning 300 peaks. For me, it is one of the best national parks in Thailand because it is a lesser known area and therefore not crowded and I didn’t see any other tourists on the hike and only a handful inside the huge Praya Nakhon cave. It’s an excellent place to rent a motorcycle for the first time in Thailand as the area is flat, quiet and it won’t be so easy to get around unless you have your own transport. I stayed at the small, cute and fairly cheap Namaste Resort, the owner June was very helpful with renting motorbikes and booking onward travel. There are quite a few different activities to do in this national park, from hiking to view points, visiting deserted beaches, to going to see the secret cave which was a definite highlight for me.

Visit Thailand National Parks Nature
Unseen Thailand: The Hike to Praya Nakhon Cave
Best National Park in undiscovered Thailand: Khao Sam Roi Yot

Praya Nakhon cave is one of the most famous areas inside the national park. Inside it has a small but striking blue shrine (which looks like a temple) inside an enormous cave. The hole in the roof of the cave allows the light to filter down where trees and plants are now growing. To get here you can hike about 30 minutes to the beach, and then another 30 minutes after that or take a boat around to the beach if you want to limit your hiking time. The views from the hike are definitely worth it as it goes all the way round the coastline, as you can see from the photo above. I think this is one of Thailand’s hidden gems and if you have time to spare I definitely recommend visiting this national park.

 

Thailand National Parks Nature Caves
Discover Thailand’s Praya Nakhon Cave

Sam Phraya beach is found just inside the national park. While not a beach for swimming, it’s worth a photo stop of the colourful fishing boats and to marvel at just how far the tide goes out – it seemed like it was on the horizon!

Thailand National Park Nature Beaches
Phraya Nakhon Beach inside Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park
Best Viewpoint in Thailand

Khao Daeng Viewpoint has been one of my favourite viewpoints in Thailand so far. It’s about a 30 minute hike up a fairly steep slope with rocks around, so I don’t recommend doing it in flipflops. The trail is only officially open from 8-3.30pm but some visitors risk it for a sunrise/sunset view which I am not sure I recommend but if you do decide to hike outside these hours then bring a flashlight for safety. I hiked during the afternoon and had these impressive views of both the mountains and the ocean.

thailand national park nature
Khao Daeng Viewpoint of the 300 Peak Mountains ‘Khao Sam Roi Yot’

Getting to Khao Sam Roi Yot from Bangkok: Take a minivan from the Southern Bus terminal in Bangkok to Pranburi and then motorcycle taxi into Khao Sam Roi Yot.

Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park Entrance Fee: 200 baht for foreigners

Best National Park for elephants: Khao Yai National Park

This is one of my favourite areas of jungle to visit. Visit the various waterfalls, do the visitor trail near the visitor office, keep your eyes peeled and ears open to see macaque monkeys, gibbons and there is a high chance of elephants, particularly in rainy season (June-Oct).  Most people in Thailand agree that this is the best place to see wild elephants in Thailand. Remember wild elephants are extremely territorial and dangerous so do not get too close! They are best to see from the road side or from the look-out point near the lake. It’s a great place to stop and chill for lunch too!

Getting to Khao Yai National Park: You can take a minivan about two hours from Bangkok from Ekkamai bus station to Pak Chong. I recommend Greenleaf Tours if you would like an incredible guide to find you lots of wildlife and help you spot elephants. If you are confident on scooters then rent a motorcycle in Pak Chong and head into Khao Yai itself for independent travel. I recommend taking a map from the visitor office as this shows the routes to the waterfalls (no swimming allowed due to the wildlife) and camping grounds. If you enjoy camping this is my favourite place to camp in Thailand as we saw fireflies and porcupines while camping here. You can rent tents from the campsite, basic toilets and showers are provided but make sure to bring your own food.

Khao Yai National Park Entrance Fee: 400 baht for foreigners

National Park Thailand
Khao Yai National Park – Amazing place for jungle trekking and wildlife

Camping in Khao Yai National Park: For the adventurous, ask the visitor office about camping. For around 250 baht you can rent a tent at one of a couple of camp sites and stay the night. Bring your own food and drink as there are no shops available in the park. The entrance fee is expensive so I recommend staying inside the park to make the most of your money.

Tours of Khao Yai National Park: Alternatively take a guided tour with Greenleaf tours, they will collect you from Pak Chong and take you into the park in songtaew trucks. Tour includes trekking, guide, lunch and transport and lasts the whole day!

National Parks Thailand
I was lucky enough to spot three wild elephants in Khao Yai National Park. This was an lone adult male.
Best National Park in Thailand for floating bungalows: Khao Sok National Park

Another area of astounding beauty, this park is about two hours north of Krabi. From your  accommodation you can arrange trekking, wildlife spotting with a guide and an overnight stay on the beautiful floating bungalows on the lake, which is definitely worth it. You can rent kayaks and kayak around  Chaew Lam Lake trying to spot monkeys, gibbons and even the odd elephant! (or so I’m told!). We saw fish eagles, dusky langur monkeys and gibbons on one of our boat trips around. If you want to visit I recommend arranging transport from Krabi and try booking into a treehouse! I usually use Agoda for hotel bookings in Thailand and compare with booking.com for the best rates.

Floating bungalows in Khao Sok National Park: arrange an overnight stay through your accommodation inside the park or from Krabi

Thailand beautiful destinations nature
Kayaking in Khao Sok National Park after staying in floating bungalows on the lake
Best National Park for mountain views: Doi Ithanon National Park

These mountains contain the highest peak in Thailand and they are the start of the foothills of the Himalayas. You can join a Doi Ithanon day tour from Chiang Mai which also includes waterfalls and a lunch stop. Book through a tour operator in Chiang Mai.

On a clear day you can see fairly far into the mountain ranges and the unusual temple pagodas are worth a look, like something out of Star Wars. The gardens are also stunning with so many different kinds of flowers and a riot of colour.

Thailand National Parks Nature
Gardens at the top of Doi Ithanon National Park, Thailand
Best National Park with a deserted beach: Khao Lak National Park

I only visited an extremely small area of this but it’s worth it if you find yourself in Khao Lak for a couple of days as I am not a big fan of the town itself. If you take a short hike into the national park then you can stumble across golden sand, deserted hidden beaches with no tourists  which is definitely worth it, in my opinion. There was a small entrance fee (I think around 40 baht). Most people are here as it is a jump off point for the dive sites around the Similan islands for divers or snorkelling trips to Koh Similan, one of Thailand’s most beautiful islands. 

Thailand National Park
Hiking around Khao Lak National Park, Thailand and waiting for the sunset
Best National Park for Thailand’s best waterfall: Erawan National Park

I’ve written about this place before but it is definitely worth a visit to see the impressive Erawan waterfalls – one of the best waterfalls in Thailand. You can spend the day hiking in the jungle and swimming in gorgeous blue pools of fresh cool water. The colours of the water appear bluer the higher you climb so be prepared to head up to the top most step, the 9th one. Bring your own food and water as there is little on offer here You will also find it quieter the higher up you go as the lower and closest steps are often full of local children playing! It’s about 45 minutes drive from Kanchanaburi town.

Erawan National Park entrance fee: 200-300 baht

Erawan National Park tour: book a day trip from Bangkok, many tour operators on Khao San road can offer this which also includes some history and museums in Kanchanaburi town first.

Thailand beautiful waterfall destination
Swimming in magical blue pools in the Erawan National Park

Don’t Forget to Take:

    • Insect Spray – National Parks in Thailand can be full of mosquitoes so make sure you take insect repellent with you. I recommend 50% DEET if you are prone to being bitten. Try this Repel DEET Pump Spray from Amazon
    • A practical bag – I’ve spent many a time faffing about with the wrong bag, it’s size or style and I’ve finally found that dry bags are the best way forward for any destinations in Thailand that will involve water or sand! Buy yours in all sorts of great colours from Amazon here: Water Proof Dry Bag

Book your travel to these amazing places here. Trains, buses, ferries and boats for Thailand and beyond…

For backpacking essentials that I actually use and are very practical check out my blog post here

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Backpacking Thailand on a Budget

So you wanna backpack Thailand on a budget? Here are some tricks to keeping things wallet friendly and as cheap as possible giving you more money to spend on activities and adventures in Thailand. The cost of living in Thailand is incredibly cheap and you can make your money go far by following my budget Thailand tips below. As I live in Bangkok, I’m a frequent backpacker and like to keep things cheap so I can travel as much as possible and spend my money on scuba diving and other awesome activities in Thailand.

How much is the cost of a holiday in Thailand? It completely depends on your lifestyle, your accommodation and the activities you choose to do. I have included general prices for things below so that you can get a gist of the cost of living or staying in Thailand.

How much is food in Thailand?

If you eat local you can eat extremely cheaply in Thailand. Thai street food is delicious and cheap. Most dishes will cost between 30-60 baht ($1-2 US dollars). When on the islands, the most expensive restaurants are normally on the beach front, so I’d avoid these touristy restaurants if travelling Thailand on a budget. Western dishes such as pizzas and burgers etc are generally made using imported items which means they are much more expensive. Stick to noodles, rice and soup if you want to eat cheap in Thailand.

Buying toiletries and goods in Thailand

7-11 convenience store is your new best friend. Snacks, alcohol, toiletries…there’s nothing you can’t do here. (You can even pay in cash for flights here with Air Asia or Nok Air). Beer is obviously much cheaper here than at a bar (approximately 50 baht per beer ($1)and a large bottle of water costs around 13 baht ($0.42)

Can I drink tap water in Thailand? How much is water?

No so unfortunately many tourist buy bottled water from convenience stores, adding to the plastic problem. Luckily there is a way to be environmentally friendly and drink water SUPER cheap in Thailand.  Bring your own reusable water bottle at a water filling machines. You can fill up ONE large bottle for ONE baht ($0.03)! You can find these machines all around the country, often at the side of roads, in condos and on the street. If you’re consuming around 5 bottles a day then that’s a serious saving and definite help for the environment. Consider buying a refillable bottle instead, like these from Amazon. I bought my mum this one for Christmas as I think it is a great size, contains a filter and is available in various colours. 

Haggling and negotiating in Thailand

Negotiate. Most prices in Thailand are up for negotiation, not only at the markets but also accommodation. If you have unlimited time then you can haggle with hostels and hotels and if you stay longer then they might give you a discount. Always haggle with patience and a smile! My advice is to get an idea of a reasonable price to pay for something, otherwise you can insult people if you are unsure of the price and suggest a price that is too low.

Having said that, you can find fantastic accommodation deals on both booking.com and Agoda. I usually compare both of them to find the best deal. Agoda also do ‘insider deals’ once you have an account with them which I find to be very reasonable rates. It also means you can be organised if you only have a short holiday in Thailand. Backpackers there for longer can afford timewise to just show up and negotiate.

What is the cost of alcohol in Thailand?

Drink local. Most travellers find that their biggest expense in Thailand is spending money on alcohol. While Thailand is generally cheap for alcohol, it can add up when people decide to drink every night. Thai beers are great – Leo and Singha (usually around 80-100baht in a cheap restaurant or bar ($2.5-4). Chang is always the cheapest beer but I can’t stomach it most of the time…it always leads to a “changover” for me – even if I only have two! Thai rum Sangsom is also delicious with coke and costs approximately 200 baht ($5-6) for a small bottle! Imported beers or wines are incredibly expensive so avoid these if you want to keep it cheap. Tax is high on most imported goods so drinking local beers and spirits is the best way to drink alcohol cheaply.

Cost of tours  and excursions in Thailand

Shop around different tour operators when booking snorkelling/island hopping/day excursion trips. I often find your guesthouse charges you more than buying a trip from a tour operator who has a stall on the street.  Snorkelling tours in a long tail boat are often cheaper than in a speedboat. For the cheap tours, the agencies will fill up the boat as much as possible so be prepared for the boat to be busy and to make some new friends. Make sure to enquire if National Park fees are included as I have been caught out many times. For example, I have previously booked a snorkelling trip for 400 baht ($13) which is a great price, only to find out the morning of the trip that National Park fees are an extra 400 baht, doubling the cost of my trip. These are fixed by the government and tour operators cannot reduce the cost of National Park fees. Many national parks are well worth the fee though! Read more about National Parks in Thailand here.

Cheap Shopping in Thailand

Thailand, in particular Bangkok, is my favourite place in the world to go shopping and find budget clothes. Shopping in markets is fantastic, so many interesting finds and all at a cheap price with money going straight to locals. I have discovered 100 baht ($3) dresses and bikinis at Thai markets. As a general rule, I find that if the price is written on the items then haggling is not possible. My haggling tip for Thailand is to negotiate the price down for one, and then consider buying two or more to make it even cheaper again.

Cheap Transport: Take the Night Bus

Travelling by night bus is not as comfortable as trains or planes but they are generally the cheapest way of travelling around Thailand. Package deals can often be booked which include ferries which I think is a good idea as they often take you all the way to the pier rather than dropping you in a town near the coast. You then would need to add in the cost of a taxi from the town to the ferry terminal. From Bangkok you can leave from Mochit 2 Terminal (to go North), Ekkamai or Sai Tai Mai/Southern Bus Terminal (to go South). Some tourist companies leave from Khao San road and these tend to be the more comfortable buses in my experience. A friend has a travel company and you can get great discounts by booking multiple tickets and group tickets as well, as each time you add a trip it decreases in price, saving you money. 

Travelling Thailand by Boat

For travelling to Thailand’s many islands there are often multiple options concerning boats. There are slower ferries, faster ferries, long tail boats and speed boats. The cheapest options are obviously the slower transport so if you aren’t in a hurry the always take the ferry or a long tail boat. Speedboats and catamarans are the fastest but always more expensive. Like with the snorkelling trips, get some quotes from different tour operators and see if you can get a pick up from your accommodation included.

Backpacking around Thailand cheaply

Taking public transport is the best idea when on a budget.  It’s an obvious one but taxis can be at least three times more expensive than local buses and songtaews (trucks) so stick to public transport to save a lot of money. If you’re in a group then a taxi might be worth sharing however as they still are very reasonably priced when on the meter. I try and avoid taxis in Phuket or other areas of the country as they will never go by meter and are very expensive.

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Best Weekend Getaways from Bangkok

Staying or living in Thailand and looking for the best weekend getaways from Bangkok? After living in Bangkok twice, both pre-covid and post covid I have visited many destinations near Bangkok and have done a lot of weekend trips outside of Bangkok.

Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links. If you click on a link and make a booking I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. 

Most Thailand visitors find themselves in Bangkok at some point during their trip. I find many people have a love/hate relationship with Bangkok and it’s my mission to try to convert tourists to loving this crazy city that I call home. If you love the beach, nature or history, read this Bangkok blog to find out where to visit for a weekend trip outside Bangkok.

Khao Yai National Park

One of my favourite short trips from Bangkok is to spend the weekend in the jungle. Khao Yai National Park is one of Thailand’s oldest national parks. If you love nature and the wilderness then, this is the best weekend trip from Bangkok. It takes approximately 2 hours to travel there from Bangkok. You can see wild elephants, monkeys, gibbons, snakes, porcupines, deer and many more inside Khao Yai National Park.

My top recommendations are to book a jungle day trip with Greenleaf Tours, who have awesome, knowledgeable tour guides and I have been with many times before.

The best budget place to stay near Khao Yai is Wynnhouse. I stayed here in 2022 and it was fairly accessible to head into the park from there although there are not that many restaurants around.

If you love camping, consider camping overnight in the park by renting motorbikes and heading into the park independently.

Please note there is a National Park entrance fee of 400 baht. Once you have entered you will be required to pay again if you leave and re-enter but not if you camp overnight (information accurate at time of writing in 2022)

How to get to Khao Yai National Park from Bangkok: Minivans from Ekkamai take about 2/3 hours and will drop you in Pak Chong.

Read here for more information about Thailand’s National Parks

Bangkok day trips
Get back to nature and spot wildlife in Khao Yai!

Best weekend getaways from Bangkok: Koh Samet

Koh Samet is one of the nearest islands to Bangkok and is therefore very popular with Bangkok residents. It has some lovely white sand beaches, particularly Ao Prao beach which boasts clear, turquoise water. At the weekends, it can become crowded and turns into more of a party island although it hasn’t yet returned to its pre-covid party glory.

I have stayed at two fantastic mid-range accommodation in Koh Samet and would recommend both. Pre-covid I stayed at the lovely Tubtim Resort which has spacious wooden bungalows bang on the beach, with green lily pads growing everywhere.

In 2021, post covid I enjoyed a very quiet beach on Koh Samet and loved staying at Silver Sands Koh Samet. 

How to get to Koh Samet from Bangkok?

Take a minivan ride to Rayong from Bangkok and then either take the local ferry or a shared speedboat. Both can be booked  when you arrive at the pier. Please note these boats do not run into the late evening.

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Koh Samet – Bangkok’s famous weekend trip island getaway

Weekend Trips from Bangkok to Lopburi

A few hours on the train from Bangkok (costing approximately 40 baht) you can find yourself in the ancient city of Lopburi, famous for its monkeys and temples. It’s all slightly off the tourist trail which might be a welcome sight for many. I recommend collecting a map of the different temples from the temple opposite the station and deciding on where to visit. All temples that I visited were walkable and there are certain ones that are home to huge families of macaques. Please be aware of not feeding the monkeys any food that is not natural for them. They also will grab your sunglasses or anything else in range so be careful.

If you feel like renting a scooter then you can access the gorgeous sunflower fields (seasonal around November- January) and the Peacock temple is worth a visit as well. Along with the birds there is also a great viewpoint if you feel like some exercise up many stairs.

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Monkeys in one of Lopburi’s temples
Whale Watching (seasonal Aug-Nov)

Only two hours from Bangkok, the enormous Bryde whales can be seen! Entering the Gulf of Thailand to feed on anchovies these gentle giants are incredible and one of the coolest experiences I’ve had in Thailand. Wildlife Encounters Thailand offer weekly trips for 2500 baht including transfer from Bangkok and lunch on the boat. An amazing day out and still possible post covid in 2022.

I have recently been on this trip twice to see both the Bryde whales and Irawaddy dolphins in Thailand and absolutely love this day trip from Bangkok.

I have a whole blog post dedicated to whale watching in Thailand so please read here for more information about seeing whales near Bangkok!

For more about other wildlife in Thailand, read this article

Bangkok day trips
A Bangkok day trip that was a whale of a time!

 

Another island near Bangkok: Koh Lan

One of my favourite weekend getaways from Bangkok is Koh Lan which is an island just off of Pattaya. Cheap accommodation and a couple of beautiful white sand beaches are there to welcome you. This used to get very busy (pre-covid) with huge tour groups. Jump in a songtaew (truck) or motorsi taxi for 20-30 baht and spend the day exploring lesser known beaches and taking in great views of the island! I really enjoyed my stay at Castello resort, it’s walkable to the pier. However, my last weekend trip top Koh Lan was pre-covid so I am looking forward to a Bangkok weekend getaway there soon!

Find out more about Thailand’s paradise islands and where to visit

Bangkok day trips
Monks on a beach in Koh Lan, Thailand. A lovely Bangkok weekend trip
A weekend trip from Bangkok to Ayutthaya

An interesting and cultural Bangkok day trip or weekend trip to experience some Thai history. Head to this ancient temple town, one hour by train or minivan from Bangkok. Rent bicycles cheaply and enjoy cycling around and soaking in the culture of these ancient temples and a former capital of Siam. Don’t forget to try my favourite dessert roti sai mai – kinda like a rolled up candyfloss.

Bangkok day trips
The ideal cultural Bangkok day trip: explore the ruins of Ayutthaya
Best Weekend Trips from Bangkok: Kanchanaburi

If you are interested in World War II history, then Kanchanaburi is a must visit as a weekend or slightly longer trip from Bangkok. Tourists come here to see the bridge over the River Kwai and understand more about the dark history of this area where prisoners of war were held by the Japanese during World War II. It is quite far for a Bangkok day trip but I have done it before in one day. I recommend staying one night though. Two hours by car/minivan or a little longer on the train.

Weekend Trips from Bangkok to Erawan Waterfall

You can combine this with a Bangkok day trip or overnight stay from Kanchanaburi. Visit these stunning, blue coloured waterfalls with 9 steps inside Erawan National Park. Around 45 minutes by car from Kanchanaburi, bring a picnic and spend the afternoon swimming in stunning pools, cliff jumping and getting back to nature.

Bangkok day trips
Bangkok Day trips: Swimming in blue waterfalls in Erawan National Park
Beaches near Bangkok – Hua Hin

One of Bangkok’s nearest beaches and very big for kite surfing, this is definitely possible as a Bangkok day trip or weekend getaway. A large stretch of yellow sand beach for hanging out on and a wide range of accommodation is on offer here. Swimming is not always recommended as there are jellyfish lurking! Cha-am is another beach stop just before Hua Hin. You can take minivans or the slow train to either place from Bangkok.

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View of Hua Hin from Takiap Beach, a good Bangkok day trip or weekend visit.
Bangkok Weekend Trips: Water Park

Water parks are a great Bangkok day trip and a fun day out. There are many both towards Pattaya or towards Hua Hin. I loved Splashdown, near Pattaya. It is more of an inflatable obstacle course, this brightly coloured water park will have you and your mates running around behaving like big kids, plus a few beers!

Bangkok day trips
Big Kids Day out in Splashdown – funnily enough no-one made it all the way across these giant floating obstacle courses!

Where are your favourite places for a Bangkok weekend getaway? I’m always looking for more inspiration!