There are a million which ways to do Thailand and so many places to go, so we barely scratched the surface. In 12 days we were able to visit Chiang Mai in the north, a few islands, and Bangkok.
After 12 days in the pure chaos (& fun) of Vietnam (& a quick few days in Siem Reap, Cambodia in between), landing in Chiang Mai felt like a huge exhale. Suddenly our taxi was yielding to pedestrians, and motorcyclists weren’t beeping at us for…walking on a literal sidewalk(?). I literally thought something was wrong haha. Chang Mai was a super charming city & I could see how it could be somewhere you’d want to setlte in for a bit longer.
Nine Hotel Chiang Mai – comfiest. bed. ever. This hotel was also in a great location, cutely decorated, and had a pool. The breakfast didn’t look great so we opted out of paying extra for it, and instead took advantage of Chiang Mai’s cute brunchy-breakfast spots.
Visit the Elephant Nature Park – this was one of the sanctuaries that came recommended because of the experience they provide and their ethical treatment of the animals. We did the single day pass and it was great. Book ahead!
Cooking class at Thai Farm Cooking School – also came recommended by multiple people and it was awesome. They provide transportation to their farm outside the city and we stopped at a market on the way. We made so much food and it was all delish.
Check out the Night market (or the Sunday market on Sundays) – fun way to shop and get souviners. The Night market happens nightly, the Sunday market happens in a different part of town if you happen to be there on a Sunday.
Get lots of Thai massages – duh!!!!! The better places book out, so make appointments. DeepSense Massage was lovely.
There were lots of other things to do in Chiang Mai but I had to work so those are the big things!
Sooo much good food in Chiang Mai and this short list barely scratches the surface! For breakfast, there were tons of brunchy / Western spots (which I loved), and for lunch and dinner, no frills spots and street food were the way to go. Here are some favs!
It’s Good Kitchen → Delicious, no frills Thai spot
SP Chicken → Super popular place for… chicken
Chang Phueak Pork Leg Rice → OOOMG. If you go anywhere, go here. This street food spot is not just known for their life altering pork leg and rice dish, but also for the woman who runs it, who is there cooking every night wearing a cowboy hat. The line gets long, but you can actually sit behind the stand and get table service, which is what we did!
Kati Breakfast & Brunch → We stumbled upon this super cute spot one morning and the breakfast was great. After a few weeks of hotel breakfasts in Vietnam and Cambodia, I have to admit I was happy to see some more western breakfast food out on the town!
Sunday Baker → Another cute, yummy breakfast spot.
Island time! There are SO many options for islands and we were a bit overwhelmed planning. This is what we went with.
We used credit card points to stay at the Banyan Tree and ohhh my god it was fabulous. Our villa was like nothing I’ve ever seen before—our bedroom door slid open to our own private pool, which was super private and surrounded by lush greenery. There was a huge tub and a luxurious rainshower. I basically never wanted to leave the villa.
BUT when we did leave the room, it kept getting better. Breakfast was an amazing buffet that had an amazing view of the turquoise ocean, and there’s a little nook of beach on the property just for hotel guests.
After weeks of exploring, this hotel was good for just staying put for a few days—we only left the resort a couple of times. I spent the mornings doing work at the breakfast buffet, then would log off in the afternoon to lounge by our pool or at the beach with my book. There were a few different restaurants on the property for us to choose from for lunch & dinner; I’ll say that the food wasn’t necessarily the highlight (we had been eating SUCH good food that this just felt like overpriced hotel food), but it was still okay.
One night we took a taxi to Fisherman’s Village, a touristy town which is basically just vendors selling souviners & food. After having lots of “fancy” resort food, I was hellbent on finding a good street food-type place for some authentic cuisine. I found Ban Thai, run by this sweet old lady right outside her house, and it was SO GOOD. The rest of the town was meh but it was still nice to get off the resort for a change of pace!
Another night we took a taxi into Lamai Beach, basically the closest “town” to the hotel, and honestly it was like… the worst beach town in the US, with lots of skeevy-feeling sex tourism. I insisted on going to an oyster bar and it turned out they were imported from Europe and more expensive than any oysters I’ve ever had hahaha. We got some more average food, then walked into a bar and had to awkwardly leave when we realized the only other people hanging out there were sex workers. SO THAT WAS FUN…
But there is one spot off the resort that knocked my socks off: Kawin’s Kitchen. This was basically the only restaurant walking distance from the resort and the reviews were great, so we gave it a try. Sooo good.
I would say while I wasn’t *blown away* by the things to do in Koh Samui because everything just felt veryyy touristy and a bit skeevy, our experience at the Banyan Tree was NEXT LEVEL. This was a great point of the trip to kick back and relax at the resort, so being on the island was still an incredible experience.
After a few days in Koh Samui, it was time for our next island – the muuuch smaller Koh Tao to the north. To get there we booked ferry tickets through Lomprayah, the main ferry operator between the islands, which also included shared transportation to the dock which was about a half hour from our hotel. Hot tip: spend the equivalent of a few USD for the VIP room on the ferry, which is air conditioned, spacious, and quiet.
Spoiler alert: we got food poisoning in Koh Tao which is devastating because we were only there for a couple of days, and the island was suchhhh good vibes. But here’s what we did before all that went down:
We stayed in Blue Tao Beach Hotel, which was no frills but right on the beach; like our balcony overlooked the beach. Immediately when we got there I was basically obsessed. It’s definitely a touristy spot but it just felt so serene. The beach was gorgeous, and there were tons of trendy and no-frills restaurants.
Right when we got there I had to get work done, so I went to Café Culture for some food, coffee, wifi, and perfect views of the beach, and ended up going back there multiple times. While I was loooving all the Asian cuisine over the past few weeks, I have to admit it was nice to have some good Western options.
That night for dinner we went to Mama tam, also known as Mama’s, for deeeeelish authentic Thai cuisine. It was packed and the food was made completely fresh to order.
The next day, we set off on a snorkeling boat day booked with Oxygen. We had a fun group of other travelers and stopped at several places to snorkel. Some of the water was a bit cloudy becuase of recent rain, but we still saw some great stuff and had a nice day on the water! Ryan even saw a giant sea turtle (of course that was the stop that I decided to stay on the boat and read my book…).
Unfortunately, by the time the boat trip ended I was feeling really off, and by the time we got back to our hotel room I wanted to curl up and die. A few hours later, Ryan got hit with it too. I was so bummed to be feeling so sick, but by the next morning, knowing we had exactly 24 hours to recover before a travel day, I was in full-blown survival mode. We loaded up on the Thai equivalent of Pedialyte and liters & liters of water, got back in bed, and hydrated the living daylights out of ourselves while catching up on Handmaid’s Tale. Our trip had gone pretty seamlessly up until this point, so something was bound to happen. I do wish it didn’t happen in one of my favorite places haha.
But alas… we recovered! We managed to get our ferry back to Koh Samui and our flight to Bangkok, and within no time at all we were on a tour eating street food as if we weren’t dying of food poisoning 48 hours prior.
I hated Bangkok 🙂
It was sooo big and busy, traffic was crazy, and the air pollution made my eyes and throat burn.
BUT it’s known for its street food scene, and this tuk tuk street food tour was actually amazing.
We also did this bike tour, which was a nice way to see and learn about the city, because if I was left to my own devices, I probably would’ve just sat in the hotel to hide from the chaos.
We stayed at the Ascott Sathorn which I actually really liked—we had a 2 bedroom apartment which we didn’t need but it was nice to have extra space for working, a rooftop pool, and restaurant.
Bangkok on a Southeast Asian adventure is inevitable because it’s a huge hub for flights, but honestly I hope I never have to go back hahaha.
Visas – U.S. citizens do not need a visa to go to Thailand. Just make sure your passport is valid for 6 months from the date you’re going!
Traveling between cities – Traveling domestically was pretty easy, whether it was flying or by ferry. Just make sure to have the proper amount of baggage purchased before heading to the airport! We ended up checking our carry-on bags every time because most airlines only allow 7kg, and they will weigh them at the check-in desk. Traveling domestically was pretty easy, whether it was flying or by ferry. Just make sure to have the proper amount of baggage purchased before heading to the airport! We ended up checking our carry-on bags every time because most airlines only allow 7kg, and they will weigh them at the check-in desk. We always had our hotel arrange for airport pickup – it made things a lot easier to have someone waiting when we arrived.
Money – A lot of places in Thailand favors cash, other than your hotel or some larger businesses. Even restaurants in the airport were sometimes cash only. ATMs were easy to find everywhere we were, and we’d take out like 3000 THB ($88 USD) at a time, which would get us very far.
The Grab app – Southeast Asia’s version of Uber (which also includes a moped option, where you can hop on the back of a strangers moped. Yay!). It’s worth creating an account to have on hand.
Water – Don’t drink it.
Safety – I always felt really safe, even when I did something solo without Ryan. (I was also always in bed by 10pm. Practice your usual precautions).
Cell phone plan – I used my AT&T International Passport, which is $10/day to keep the same phone plan at home so that, in theory, I had unlimited data. But the cell phone service wasn’t great in Thailand. Most places had Wifi and were more than happy to share their password when I needed it.
Laundry – We inevitably had to do laundry throughout our time in Southeast Asia – we just found wash & fold places near our hotels when we needed to.