From the jungle-clad mountains in the north to the beach-lined islands in the south, Thailand is just filled with wonderful places. It’s quite a big country though, so if you want to sample all it has to offer within a few weeks, you’ll want to follow a good route.
In this example itinerary, I’ll run you through some of the popular destinations in Thailand. It’s a classic Thailand itinerary combining cultural, nature, and beach highlights.
This itinerary is ideal for backpackers or anyone traveling independently and looking for a mix of adventure/culture and relaxation.
I encourage using it as a starting point and making your own adjustments based on your interests and time available.
Plan your Thailand trip
Part I: Bangkok to northern Thailand
Suggested itinerary outline (Part I):
|Day 1||Tour of Bangkok||COZ Ratchathewi Hotel, Bangkok|
|Day 2||Exploring the temples||Tharaburi Resort, Sukhothai|
|Day 3||Bicycle tour||Rachamankha Boutique Hotel, Chiang Mai|
|Day 4||Ethical elephant sanctuary||Rachamankha Boutique Hotel, Chiang Mai|
|Day 5||Thai cooking class||Rachamankha Boutique Hotel, Chiang Mai|
|Day 6||Tham Lod cave trip||Pai Homey Bungalows, Pai|
|Day 7||Relaxing||Pai Homey Bungalows, Pai|
1. Bangkok (half or 1 day)
Since most visitors fly into Bangkok, it’s the obvious starting point.
Just one warning: if you haven’t been to a city quite like Bangkok before, it can be a bit of a shock to the senses!
It’s very chaotic with a lot of traffic — and a lot of smells and sounds. Bangkok is not always love at first sight, especially when travelers have just suffered a long international flight.
I actually think Bangkok is amazing, but you may find it easier to appreciate on a second visit. That’s why I recommend making a brief initial stop, then exploring it more fully at the end of your Thailand trip.
Use your first (half) day to get through your jet lag, acclimatize to the hot weather, and to take your first dive into the incredible Thai cuisine.
Check out a few sights like the temples of Wat Phra Kaew and Wat Pho, or visit the tourist district around Khao San Road (it’s tacky but fun).
On my first ever Bangkok visit I went on a fantastic bicycle and boat tour. This was a very relaxed way to see the local and unique side of Bangkok. I’m Dutch and we love riding bicycles… but I know that we’re weird like that, so alternatively here’s a recommended tuk-tuk tour that will take you to several local markets and temples.
If you prefer to see Bangkok turned up to 11, go to Chinatown. It’s a hugely vibrant place and amazing for photography and random exploration. Or keep it for later if you prefer to ease into things a little.
2. Bangkok > Sukhothai (1 day)
It’s time to see some ancient temples!
There are two big complexes of temple ruins in Thailand: Ayutthaya and Sukhothai.
Ayutthaya is conveniently only 2 hours from Bangkok. However, it will be busier with day-trippers and it’s also inside a city. I like Sukhothai a bit more as it’s in a more open space.
From Bangkok, take a bus or train to Sukhothai (about 8 hours). I quite like taking the train as it’s nice to watch the landscapes through the window and you’ll get a nice preview of rural Thailand.
Spend a day exploring the temple ruins of Sukhothai, then stay the night there or head on straight to Chiang Mai.
Alternatively, take a day trip from Bangkok to Ayutthaya and then take the 12+ hour overnight train to Chiang Mai. You save time by traveling mostly at night, and the sleeper train counts as a fun travel experience as well.
Book transportation for this itinerary
- All options from Bangkok to Sukhothai
- Private transfers from Sukhothai to Chiang Mai (or take the bus which costs about £8 / $10 but can’t be booked online)
- Buses and minivans from Chiang Mai to Pai
3. Sukhothai > Chiang Mai (3+ days)
Chiang Mai may be Thailand’s second-biggest city, but it’s way more relaxed than Bangkok. It’s also very cheap, with some of the best-value accommodation around.
You can see how to get to Chiang Mai here.
You probably won’t struggle to fill your time, as there are plenty of things to do in Chiang Mai. Be sure to stroll the night markets, go on day trips in the area, visit the Elephant Nature Park, go on a Thai cooking course, or go on a hill tribe trek (these are usually 1 or 2 days but can be longer).
Chiang Mai is very easygoing and there is so much to do here, which is why I think it’s nice to dedicate at least a few days here.
Nearly all travellers I meet in Thailand love Chiang Mai. It’s a perfect springboard for exploring the north of Thailand.
4. Chiang Mai > Pai or Chiang Dao (3+ days)
Where to go next from Chiang Mai?
Well, there are several options.
If you are a backpacker looking to have some fun, consider a stop in the small mountain town of Pai. It’s a funky little town among the rice fields and forest hills, and it’s filled with cozy hipster cafés and restaurants.
The hostels in Pai are good fun, though if you’re more into nature, then may take a liking to its many riverside bungalows and boutique guesthouses. Pai is a touristy place, so not the best if you’re determined to ‘see the real Thailand’, but it’s an easy place to be. Pai has hot springs, waterfalls, and a small canyon nearby.
If you’re looking for somewhere more secluded, then the town of Chiang Dao makes for a good alternative. It has a quieter atmosphere and various small-scale attractions. It’s a lovely place to experience some jungle and mountain scenery.
Another fun adventure is to rent motorbikes and ride a loop through the thinly populated Mae Hong Son area. Along the way, you can visit the epic Tham Lod Cave, or stay the night in the Cave Lodge where local spelunkers will show you many secret caves.
5. (Optional) Chiang Rai (2 days)
Chiang Rai is a smaller city than Chiang Mai and makes for another good base for temple visits, trekking, and bicycle rides around the area. It’s a nice add-on if you have some time available! There are some good things to do in Chiang Rai province, such as making a day-trip to the hilltop town of Mae Salong.
Part II: Bangkok & Andaman Coast
This itinerary is all about beaches, islands, and national parks. You can do it on its own or tack it onto the previous northern Thailand itinerary.
6. Northern Thailand > back to Bangkok (2 days)
If you’re coming from the north, dip back down into central Thailand. You could take the train back down, or if you want to speed things up a bit, take a domestic flight with a budget carrier such as AirAsia.
After so many relaxing days in Chiang Mai and Pai, you’re in a better state to dive deeper into chaotic Bangkok. You could visit the floating markets, see a Muay Thai fight, explore Chatuchak Weekend Market, or take a food tour.
And now that you’re no longer jet-lagged and still fresh off the plane, you might want to investigate the Bangkok nightlife more closely as well.
7. Bangkok > Krabi (2 days)
It’s time to go to the beach! Take a train to Surat Thani, and from there travel onwards to Krabi.
Alternatively, you can fly to Surat Thani with AirAsia, which also offers all-in-one tickets with ground transfer services to Krabi or the islands.
You can stay in Krabi town, but better yet, stay in Ao Nang as this will put you right along (or very near) the beach. While increasingly busy and pricey, you may want to go to nearby Railay Beach as well. It’s the famous Thai beach that has tall karst cliffs on either side. Speaking of cliffs: Krabi is famed for rock climbing, so if you’ve always wanted to take a rock climbing course, now is your chance.
By the way, the local authorities have begun using a ticketing system to control visitor numbers to Railay, and longtail boats are also now only allowed to dock in one area (this is a good thing). Again, Krabi can get very crowded, especially in high season, but a lot of people do love the scenery a lot. If you feel it’s too busy around these parts, consider escaping to the islands like Koh Lanta, Koh Ngai, Koh Jum, etc.
8. Krabi > Khao Sok National Park (3 days)
Wean yourself off the beach (there’ll be more of that soon!) for an exhilarating jungle tour.
While most things in these itineraries can be done independently, it is best to visit Khao Sok National Park on an organized tour. You will go into the jungle accompanied by a guide who can point out the wildlife and other interesting things, and you’ll be able to go on a boat ride deep into the park.
I think it’s a waste to book complete Thailand holiday tours where everything is organized for you because it’s so much easier (and usually) cheaper to plan everything yourself. But even as an independent traveller I think Khao Sok is something that is worth the money as it’s packed with experiences and something you can’t get on your own.
Khao Sok National Park tours
You can choose from various 2- and 3-day adventures. View Khao Sok tours at GetYourGuide or see Khao Sok tour options on Viator.
I don’t recommend only doing a day trip, which will only get you to the outer edge of the park, but I suggest going for 3 days to do it properly. This 3-day Khao Sok trip includes an overnight stay in a jungle treehut, a longtail boat cruise on Cheow Lan Lake, a cave visit, lunch at a bamboo raft house, and an ethical elephant experience.
9. Krabi > Koh Lanta (3 days)
While the island of Koh Phi Phi is the most famous on the Andaman coast, it’s also easily the busiest and most expensive. It also has a reputation for over-the-top-parties which, while not inescapable, do give the island a different vibe than others.
You could still make a quick stop there, but I recommend going to Koh Lanta instead for a more relaxed atmosphere. Koh Phi Phi has maybe gotten a bit too popular, while Koh Lanta has more space and more things to see around the island.
Since the construction of a bridge, you can easily reach Koh Lanta by minivan from Krabi. You can also take a ferry from Krabi, which is a little slower, but also a little more scenic.
If you’re looking for a great boutique resorts on Koh Lanta, check out Bambie Boutique Home & Resort. Check prices at Expedia or at Hotels.com.
Alternatively, you could go to one of the less-visited smaller islands like Koh Kradan, Koh Jum or Koh Lipe, though some of these are a bit further away.
Book transportation for this itinerary
- All options from Bangkok to Surat Thani
- Ferries from Surat Thani to Koh Phangan or to Koh Tao
- All options from Surat Thani to Krabi
- All options from Krabi to Koh Lanta
Part III: The Gulf Coast
10. Krabi > Koh Phangan (2 days)
Famed for the Full Moon Party, Koh Phangan is the biggest party island in Thailand. Not to be pigeonholed, it also has a wonderful quiet side that’s much less known. It’s another great island to spend a few days.
11. Koh Phangan > Koh Tao (2 days)
Koh Tao is not only a beautiful island in its own right, but it also happens to be the scuba diving capital of Thailand.
If you’ve ever wanted to give it a try (or do the 4-day Open Water certification course), you couldn’t ask for a better place to do it. It’s a relatively small island, and while very developed, it has maintained a cozy atmosphere.
12. Koh Tao > Bangkok (remaining days)
Take the ferry from Koh Tao to Koh Samui, from where you can get a quick flight back to Bangkok. If you have time left (and didn’t extend your stay at any of the stops, which chances are you did), you can then continue to explore Bangkok or take day trips in the area. Consider going to Kanchanaburi or Khao Yai National Park to cap off your Thailand itinerary.
Alternatively, you could skip the Gulf Coast and head east instead. From Bangkok pop down to the small town of Trat, then take a ferry to Koh Chang or Koh Kood. These islands are (still) somewhat less densely developed and make for an interesting alternative option.
Itinerary planning tips
How to shorten the route
The above itinerary is intended for 4 weeks if you want to do it all. I think a month is actually the perfect amount of time for exploring all the major sights in Thailand.
If you have 3 weeks, then follow the sections on Bangkok and northern Thailand, but then pick either the Andaman or the Gulf Coast for your last week on the beaches and islands.
If you have 2 weeks, then do Bangkok, Sukhothai and Chiang Mai in week one. From there, fly down to one of the southern coasts for a week of nature and beaches.
How can you plan your own itinerary?
Thailand has so much to offer that you can easily make your own plans and even improvise during your trip. Since transportation in Thailand is so easy and accommodation so available, it’s easy to decide to stay longer, take side excursions, or even totally alter your plans.
Still, it’s good to have at least a rough plan, especially if it’s your first time in Thailand or you’re new to traveling in this part of the world.
I recommend checking out several Thailand itineraries such as the ones presented here and using them as a template. Research different places, see how various destinations connect on the map, and create a route based on what places seem to interest you most.
When I first travelled in Thailand, I followed a standard itinerary pretty much 70% of the way, but made various tweaks based on my own travel goals.
How can you plan a one-week trip in Thailand?
Is one week enough to see Thailand? To be honest, I don’t know!
I get a lot of emails from people attempting to craft a perfect 6-day whirlwind Thailand itinerary, but I haven’t traveled in this way myself.
I’ve spent at least a couple of weeks on each of my trips to Thailand, so I was not in the mindset that I had to see as much as possible within just a few days. The logistics of a one-week trip also get a lot more precious with less room for mistakes or delays, making it more challenging to recommend a ‘perfect’ route.
If you feel there is a lot of pressure on your one-week Thailand trip to see or do as much as you can, then it may make sense to book an organized tour.
What is the best time to travel in Thailand?
If you are in Thailand for a short time and need the weather to be ‘perfect,’ you may wish to go in the tourist high season of November to February. But outside of these months, you’ll have other advantages such as lower costs, more available accommodation, and fewer crowds.
Keep in mind there is a rainy season in Thailand. Broadly speaking, the rainiest months are from September to October. The monsoon has a different length on each coast though: roughly May to October on the west coast and September until December on the east coast.
How can you get around in Thailand?
Don’t worry too much about travel logistics as there are always plenty of options. Essentially all places you’d ever want to visit as a tourist are connected by public bus, train, or convenient local tours.
To know how to get from A to B in Thailand (and to book bus or train tickets online), I recommend using the local booking platform 12Go Asia.
What are the best places for first-timers?
Honestly, there are so many places in Thailand that are great whether it’s your first visit or your tenth. But Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Kanchanaburi, Ayutthaya islands like Koh Phangan, and the resorts on Phuket are highly popular destinations. You can read more about Thailand travel destinations here.
Planning to travel the wider Southeast Asia region?
If you follow the first parts of this route, you can connect this seamlessly to Laos via Chiang Rai and the border at Huay Xai. You can enter Laos either by bus or the so-called slow boat.
Will you end up in the south of Thailand? Then you can easily extend your trip to Malaysia or Indonesia.
Some travelers skip Ayutthaya and Sukhothai and instead travel from Bangkok to Siem Reap in Cambodia to see the temples of Angkor Wat.
If you’re planning a trip through Southeast Asia, be sure to see my Southeast Asia itinerary advice.
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Thank you so much for an amazing itinerary and callouts to avoid the tourist traps! We are planning a 2 week trip to Thailand and are debating on going to Siem Reip. We fly into Bangkok and we are thinking about flying to Siem Reip for a day or two then flying to Chiang Mai for a couple of days then flying down to the gulf coast. Any advice?
If this is your only chance to see Angkor Wat, I think it’s a great idea! It’s quite a spectacular site so if you’re going there, I would cut any other archaeological sites from your time in Thailand. It’s nice to have 2 days for Angkor Wat as it’s a big place.
Hi, thanks so much for all of the above. I am planning my trip now and will be doing 15 days total. This includes a long (9 hr layover) in Tokyo on my way to Bangkok. I am wondering if I do the 2 weeks your recommend above, should I fly back home to NY from Bangkok or is there another option so I don’t have to go back through Bangkok.
thanks so much!
Hmm basically all direct flights to NYC and other major international destinations go through Bangkok. So your only option may be to take a domestic flight to Bangkok before flying home. Or maybe there’s something out of Phuket airport, though it’ll probably involved a stopover somewhere.
this itinerary proved to be life saver for me and my brother recently, as we were planning for our parents trip for their 25th anniversary. Thailand is a place that i didn’t knew anything about but my dad wanted to visit this place since forever i have heard him talk about his one of the many dream destinations. thank you so much
Hi we are think thinking of 31 Oct to 14 nov but struggling to out an itinery together could you help please we don’t want a lot of travel so it would be Bangkok 3 days them fancy Phuket for 6 then somewhere else and fly back to uk from Phuket thanks
My husband and I are traveling to Thailand 3/17. We plan to spend several days in the Khao Lak area do some diving and than head to Chiang Rai and spend two weeks cruising around. CM is definitely a stop for 3-4 days. Considering Chiang Dao and Pai. Would you suggest one over the other? Looking to also do a 1-2 trek perhaps out of Chiang Mai any suggestions there?. Also, want to make it to Sukhothai and perhaps Lampang before making our way back to Bangkok on the 12th to head home on the 14th.
We are both active and love to hike, bird watch, bicycle, etc.
Trying not to pack too much in and having to pack and unpack the whole time.
Any suggestions and comments would be appreciated!!
Not been to Chiang Dao yet though one of my contributors is writing a guide for it right now. Pai is very fun and vibrant but also very touristy and not very ‘Thai’. Chiang Dao is not so discovered yet. Based on what I know, it’s personally where I’d choose to go if planning another trip now.
Not done trekking out of Chiang Mai so don’t have a good lead for you sorry!
Hello! What a great blog post and itinerary propositions. I would love to know if the wifi is good and fast enough on Islands to work remotely easily without slowing down to much. Thank you! John
Hey John. That highly depends on which islands! On some of the remote islands you might have difficulty, but any of the popular ones mentioned here will have good internet for sure. (Some islands like Koh Phangan are even known hotspots for remote workers and nomads.)
Love your blog, I can’t get enough!
I’m heading to Bangkok in September for 4 days and then getting the train to Chiang Mai – staying for 5-7 days (unsure!). Would love to visit Pai, Chiang Rai and then on to Laos. How do you think I should do this route? I’m a one-way traveller so I’m not stuck for time. Love your idea of getting motorbikes and travelling to Pai – may sound silly but if I rent a m/bike from Chiang Mai, how do I give it back if I’m going on to Pai!?
You can rent a bike in Chiang Mai and take it to Pai and back. You have to backtrack to Chiang Mai anyway if you then want to go to Chiang Rai 🙂
Sounds like booking hostels on the fly is quite easy… travelling there in May – Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Pai, and islands which are still TBD. Likely looking to stay at nicer/higher end places ($70-$200 CDN range). Would you recommend booking these on the the fly as well or do you risk paying more when you book there or not having availability??
Hey Kelsey. To be honest, I have no clue! I normally stay in low budget or mid-range places only. Though whenever I search on booking sites for next-day bookings, I do regularly see lots of higher-end places on offer.
Is it better to book ahead of pay as you go throughout thailand and just plan hostels day by day sort of thing?
Hey Paul. I think it’s better to do it day by day. That keeps things flexible, and it’s easy to book a guesthouse or hostel just the day before.
I have a quick question any ideas on tour operators in the region?
Hmm can’t really help with that… I just travel independently and if I need a tour (for a day trip or activity) I look for it locally. They are everywhere in Thailand.
Thank you so much for this itinerary, my room mate and I are travelling to Thailand for the month of May and are beyond excited for our trip. We are very interested in travelling to Khao Sok National Park and taking the 3-day nature tour as mentioned in your article. Is there any more information that you can tell us about it? We would love to hear from someone who has done it before.
Hey Julia, I did this before I had this blog, so I don’t have a post on it. 🙂 The experience usually involves some trekking, kayaking, and staying in a bungalow by a lake in the jungle. Some tours put you on a raft house on the lake. The scenery is great with lots of beautiful karst mountains.
Hi marek, I’m planning on travelling in about a year and a half so I have a lot of time to plan. At the moment I am thinking of flying to Bangkok, doing Northern Thailand, into Laos, then vietnam, down vietnam, into Cambodia then back to Bangkok. However, I only have 4 to 5 weeks and I think this is unrealistic. If this is unrealistic, where should I miss out and what should I definitely see? Also how long do you think I’d need to do this.
Hi Joe. I just spent 5 weeks travelling around this region again myself, and it reaffirmed my belief that it’s better to focus on fewer countries. Maybe pick 2 or 3 at most. You’ll end up doing and seeing more (and can go beyond the most obvious/touristy sites) and you’ll be in transit less.
I was just in Northern Laos and it’s my new favorite highlight of the region. I highly recommend it if you like nature, trekking, culture, etc. I feel southern Vietnam is somewhat less compelling than the north/center, and Laos tends to be more scenic than Cambodia (there’s more mountains). But then again, Cambodia has the islands and Angkor Wat. Ultimately it’s difficult to give advice without knowing what you like to see or do! 🙂
But yes I’d either try to slow down, or try to have at least 8 weeks (but ideally even more) to do the full loop without rushing.
hi Marek thank you so much for all your info!. My husband and I are going to Bangkok the 21 jan 2018 and are leaving the 25 of march backpacking but we are also doing a 2 week cruise the 28 feb/14 mach starting in Singapore and ending in hong kong I’m trying to figure out what would be the easiest way to g…. in the cruise were doing ko Samui 1 day , Bangkok 2 days , Sihanoukville 1 day, pho my, nha trang , Hue, Halong bay, and Hong Kong any suggestion?
Hi Anne. It all depends on what you’re interested in! But with a month until the start of your cruise I’d maybe spend 1,5 weeks in northern Thailand, then 2,5 weeks on the western Thai coast and then going down through Malaysia. That should connect well to your trip from Singapore.
Hi! The budget at the top of the post – what does it include? accommodation and food? or is do those figures include flights and everything else?
Hey Ingrid! That estimate includes accommodation, food, and local transportation/activities (assuming a backpacker or budget travel style). It doesn’t include flights or any other pre-trip costs.
Hi I am visiting Thailand twice for two-two weeks.
I plan to cover north in my first two week trip and south in second two week trip.
can you suggest me with what shall i see.
I’m flying from London into Bangkok on Dec 22nd and spending 5 days around NYE in HK where I’ll be flying back from.
I’m not sure where best to spend Christmas in SEA- ideally looking for 5 nights or so on an island before I fly into HK. Lot of the flights look expensive and I don’t want too many flights. I did Koh Samui in Sep and want somewhere else in Thailand or nearby countries that connects easily to HK and good for relaxing/ partying too.
Hi Anney. There are so many options it’s hard to recommend just one! Friends of mine are doing xmas in Koh Lanta, which is a nice island although not that huge on partying (there are some nice bars though). Koh Phangang (particularly the far side) is great too. I’d expect getting to the eastern or western Thai islands shouldn’t be too pricey if you take a budget carrier like AirAsia.
I am travelling around SE Asia for the first time next week. We are starting at Bangkok, doing Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia then Bali. Would you suggest going from Bangkok up north then Vietnam, Cambodia then back to Thailand to do the south and beaches before Malaysia?
Yeah that sounds like a nice route! You’ll be able to make a full circle and then split your remaining time between Malaysia and Bali, makes sense to me 🙂
Khao Sok National park sounds amazing. I am looking into it right now. I’m taking a trip in December and was wondering if you knew how easy it is to get into these group 3 day tours on site? I know December is the beginning of the high season; I am a bit concerned it may be fully booked.
I haven’t been there in December but I’ve heard during this time it’s advisable to have a booking. Sometimes booking online can be a lot more expensive than finding something locally though. Maybe you can find something with a cancellation policy so you can still change stuff around if needed.