“I only have two weeks in Thailand, where should I go?”
I’m a cheerleader for Thailand; what can I say, once upon a time I spent 45 days there. It wasn’t enough.
Of all the countries, I’m most frequently asked by friends and family about Thailand. The number one question is, “Where should I go?”
It’s an easy enough question to answer…when time and money aren’t a consideration. However, most travellers don’t have that luxury. With precious few weeks of paid annual holiday, we must make concessions. Compromise can be a bitter pill to swallow when the destination is as distant as Thailand. Admittedly, it is disappointing to travel so far and see so little of a destination, but an overzealous itinerary can ruin a trip. To answer the question, here are three itineraries for a two week trip to Thailand.
Northern Thailand or Southern Thailand?
Most international travellers arrive in Thailand by way of Suvarnabhumi Airport, a.k.a. Bangkok International Airport. Located smack in the middle of the country, it’s practical for traveller on a two week holiday to explore this metropolitan city and then head either north or south. The north offers a jungle and temple experience while the south is all about islands, beaches and lady boys.
Go North: The Jungle Experience
If you’re after temples, highlands, hill tribes and jungle, you’ll be heading north. Fly into Chiang Mai, Thailand’s second most populous city following Bangkok. Alternatively, overnight trains depart the capital daily. Spend four to five days in this ancient walled city. The best away to explore Chiang Mai is on the back of a motorbike. Must see highlights include the mountain top temple Doi Suthep, a jungle trek, catching a Muay Thai match and the Chiang Mai Night Market. Skip Tiger Kingdom. From Chiang Mai, take a multi-day excursion to idyllic Pai, a true gypset enclave. Chiang Rai’s impressive Wat Rong Khun (or White Temple) is also a must-see highlight.
Go South: The Beach Experience
Travel by air or train south down the Malay Peninsula. There are two distinct experiences I recommend: the islands of the Gulf of Thailand or island hopping in the Andaman Sea.
Option I: Gulf of Thailand
Many people start on the largest island of the three: Koh Samui. It’s home to a regional airport, luxury resort properties, high end spas and golf courses. It’s significantly more developed and touristic than Koh Phangan and Koh Tao. Koh Phangan of course is famous the world over for its full moon parties. Each month it swells with party-goers and backpackers. If you can manage to venture to the north end of the island you’ll be rewarded in spades. Tiny Koh Tao is a diving mecca. The reefs enveloping the island are the best in Thailand. It’s permeated by a laid back attitude and the main beach is lined with chilled out lounges and resident fire dancers.
Option II: Andaman Sea
This is the Thailand you see on postcards; limestone cliffs falling straight into turquoise seas. Longtail boats beached on white sand of blue lagoons. Be ready to share it with a lot of other travellers. Phuket offers the quintessential and extremely touristic – and oftentimes scam riddled – Thai island experience. Raleigh Beach is a siren’s call for rock climbing and Koh Phi Phi is the crowning gem of the region.
Andaman Sea: ★★★
I’ve never ventured as far as the Andaman Sea destinations. I get the sense these beach towns distill some of the worst elements of Thailand. It’s not to say I wouldn’t go there but it’s incredibly commercial, scammy and hectic. If you want to raving beach party head here.
Gulf of Thailand: ★★★★
Read more about my adventures in Koh Phangan and Koh Tao here
Northern Thailand: ★★★★★
Read more about my adventures in northern Thailand here
One Last Word
Debating islands and the north? I don’t blame you. If you really want to visit both, spend 4-5 days in Chiang Mai, a couple of nights in Bangkok and then settle on the islands of the gulf or Andaman. You certainly won’t regret this itinerary.