Planning a trip to Thailand isn’t easy, and some of the world’s most seasoned travelers crack under the pressure of creating the perfect itinerary. The marvelous Southeast Asian country packs a lot of punch – the vibrant cities, lush rainforest and a handful of unique islands that flaunt their own personalities can take months to explore (and you likely have less than two weeks to spare).
Throw in ancient attractions, lively markets, picture-perfect beaches, wild nightlife and incredible Thai cuisine and you have a world-class destination best toured without any hiccups. Planning a trip to Thailand can be intimidating, so we’ve pulled together our best tips to help you curate an unforgettable vacation in one of the world’s most visited destinations.
1. Visit October to March
Any local will be quick to argue there’s never a bad time to visit Thailand, but the summer months between October to March are unbeatable. The weather is cool and dry with comfortable temperatures, and you just dodged monsoon season (July to October). The dives are also optimal, and some of the most popular festivals run in peak season. If you can’t vacation during these prime months, don’t let monsoon season deter you from visiting. Sure there’s rain but they’re generally short bursts rather than all-day affairs. Additionally, prices (like airfare and villa rates) are cheaper around this time.
2. Arrive in Style
After one of the longest flights in the world (approximately 16-19 hours from Los Angeles and New York City), the last thing you want to do is spend hours at customs and immigration at Bangkok International Airport, the gateway to the country. We recommend taking advantage of Bangkok’s VIP Fast Track Service. An airport official will not only meet you at your arriving gate but they also escort you through the fast-track lane of immigration and customs (no lines!) and finally whisk you away in your own private limousine to your destination. There’s no other way to feel like a celebrity, and the convenience saves you hours. The biggest perk? It’s only $30.
3. Planes, Trains or Automobiles?
An allure of Thailand is that it’s an all-in-one destination: visitors have the advantage of thriving cosmopolitan cities, picturesque beaches, lush rain forests and authentic villages all in one trip! A general rule of thumb when planning your first trip to Thailand is to visit at least two regions (i.e.: Bangkok and Northern Thailand if you’re not a beach lover or Bangkok and the Andaman Islands if you’re not a fan of jungles). The most common trip will include Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phuket and/or Koh Samui, all of which highlight the best of the destination— though they seriously sprawl throughout the country. While travelers can spend hours researching transportation among the regions, flying is the most convenient option and highly recommended. A train ride is notoriously cheap, even on long distances like Chiang Mai to Phuket, but you end up wasting an entire day. Chiang Mai to Bangkok, for instance, will cost a mere $10 but it averages 14 hours. Only use trains or taxis when traveling short distances. If you’re concerned with breaking the bank on flights, keep in mind there are a number of reputable budget airlines (like Nok Air, City Airways and Air Asia) where round-trip tickets can be as little as $70.
4. Always Carry Cash
In a generation ruled by debit and ApplePay, most travelers rarely carry cash—but they make an exception in Thailand. Some businesses and attractions are strictly cash-only, like the tuk tuks, legendary street-side massage places, temples and bustling markets. It’s best to take out one lump sum from the getgo rather than racking up ATM fees and running around to find an ATM when you’re in the mood for that blissful $8 full-body Thai massage. We recommend leaving most of your cash in your safe and only take with you what you think you might spend that day (remember Thailand is one of the cheapest destinations in the world, so you won’t ever really need more than $20-$40 a day for transportation, food and, naturally, a nice foot massage). Lastly: don’t forget to haggle on merchandise at markets! Bargaining is a way of life in Thailand.
5. Go High
By all means, immerse in the wonderful street scene, plunge in the dazzling sea and explore the captivating attractions. But don’t forget the views. The topography of Thailand’s major cities is magnificent, so make sure you get to higher ground for breathtaking vistas. In Bangkok, the enthralling city sprawls from the al fresco Sky Bar, a stunning “floating” bar 65 floors high, most impressive at night. Sit on the balcony at Palaad Tawanron in Chiang Mai and you’ll be seized with a staggering countryside panorama. Phromthep Cape in Phuket has stunning island views and is one of the best spots to capture the sinking sunset. There are dozens of vantage points destined to make your Instagram a hit (and provoke vacation envy!).
Where to stay in Thailand