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A First Time Thailand Itinerary

I’ll be honest: Before I went to Thailand, I just kind of imagined it as one big beach. The reality is that Thailand is just about as diverse as a country can get. The beaches have very little in common with the big cities and likewise, the rural towns also feel like a completely different world entirely. This first-time itinerary begins in Bangkok and moves more-or-less south to Railay. From there, you can likely fly out of the airports in either Krabi or Phuket, or easily grab a cheap flight or bus back to Bangkok.

Bangkok: 2 days

For most travelers, Bangkok is the wild, brash, out-my-god-I’m-can’t-believe-I’m-in-Thailand introduction to the country. It’s dirty and gritty around some corners, and extremely modern and sophisticated around others. There are plenty of temples and other attractions to see in Bangkok, but I’ve always preferred to just wander around and eat street food. Particularly when you first arrive, there’s no better way to get acclimatized to Thailand.

Ayutthaya: 1 day

It’s easy to visit Ayutthaya as a day-trip from Bangkok or, of course, you can stay overnight too. The city was an ancient Thai capital between the 14th and 18th centuries, and its Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya Historical Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Personally, I’m more enthralled with historic religious monuments than modern ones, so Ayutthaya was the perfect place for me to experience the more cultural side of Thailand. For a few dollars, you can rent a bike and then ride around and explore the ruins at your own pace.

Kanchanaburi: 3 days

Kanchanaburi is a chilled-out little riverside town, probably best known for its association with the book and movie the Bridge Over the River Kwai. The town is home to a number of memorials and attractions, including the infamous bridge, connected to the dark events that took place here during WWII. On a lighter note, the surrounding province (also called Kanchanburi) has over seven national parks, so the city is a great base for trekking to jungles, rivers, waterfalls, and lakes. Although Kanchanaburi is not exactly off-the-beaten track, it does give you a small taste of what Thailand looks like outside the big cities and beach resorts.

Koh Chang: 3 days

Koh Chang is one of my favorite Thai islands. The colors of the water and sand aren’t as dramatic as you’ll see on the islands further south, but the beaches are still beautiful nonetheless. There’s no denying that development is happening quickly here – I saw construction almost everywhere I went and new hotels seem to be opening every day – but it’s still much more relaxed than tourist-tired islands like Phuket and Koh Samui. On the east coast of the island, you can still find traditional fishing villages where locals continue on with their way of life in spite of the backpackers drinking Chang beers on the beaches nearby. Plus, the interior of this large island is still mostly dense rainforest, so you can mix a few hikes in with your beachside time.

Koh Phangan: 3 days

Koh Phangan is most often associated with the Full Moon Party, but there’s a lot more to this island than buckets and body paint. Of course, that’s not to say you shouldn’t go to the legendary party – I definitely needed to experience it just once – but it’s definitely worth hanging around the island for a few days before or after to see Koh Phangan in its less-frenzied form. There are more than a dozen beaches scattered around the island, many of which live up to all those tropical beach fantasies of pearly white sands and turquoise waters. The island is relatively small and the roads are decent, so you can base yourself on one beach, and then rent a bike or motorbike to explore the rest of the island. Another option is to split your time between here and Koh Tao, which is only a short boat ride away.

Railay: 2 days

Railay feels like an island, but it’s actually just separated from the Krabi mainland by a stretch of massive limestone cliffs. If you’ve ever spent time day-dreaming over Google images of Thailand, you’ve probably seen Railay’s iconic Phra Nang Bay. Aside from being really darn pretty, Railay is one of the world’s top rock climbing destinations and, in the evening, you can watch groups of wild monkeys descend from the trees and make their way down to the beach. It’s as good a place as any to finish a trip; or, if you have more time, you can reach a number of islands within a few hours by boat from here, including Ko Phi Phi, Ko Lanta and Phuket.

19 Responses to A First Time Thailand Itinerary

  1. Paula of Paula Through the Looking Glass October 21, 2014 at 3:18 PM #

    OMG Koh Chang & Railey are my favourite places in Thailand! sooo amazing 🙂

  2. Justine October 21, 2014 at 9:55 PM #

    How have I been to Thailand 3 times and still not been to Koh Chang? I agree that Railay is a must see. It’s one of the most stunning coastlines I’ve ever seen. And I also fell a little in love with the town of Kanchanaburi. A day trip to Erawan falls is a must-do for anyone who’s going there!

    • Jessica Dawdy October 22, 2014 at 10:04 AM #

      Agreed – Erawan Falls is just magical! And you should definitely check out Koh Chang next time.

  3. Laura October 22, 2014 at 1:13 AM #

    Thanks for doing this post Jessica! I am just starting to plan my trip to South East Asia and there is so much information it’s hard to know where to start! I’ll definitely be doing some research on these places. I’ve never heard of Railay or Kanchanaburi but both look and soun like awesome spots.

  4. Katie October 22, 2014 at 10:45 AM #

    Great itinerary, although I would spend more time in Bangkok (my favorite city, so I admit I’m biased). Railay is definitely at the top of my list for my next trip to Thailand – you just can’t fit everything that amazing country has to offer in one trip!

  5. Carmen October 22, 2014 at 11:14 AM #

    These itinerary guides are really helpful, especially considering I’m going to many of them for the first time next year. Thanks for the tips. I’m really liking the sound of Kanchanaburi – we’re keen hikers so that’s going to be a highlight I think!

  6. Christopher October 22, 2014 at 12:31 PM #

    Totally agree with this list, especially Railay, my personal fave! Great post

  7. Escape Hunter October 23, 2014 at 2:07 PM #

    Lovely suggestions for an enjoyable trip in Thailand.
    I think many can find inspiration in your post.

  8. Along Came Polly Louise October 25, 2014 at 12:30 PM #

    I’m considering travelling alone to Thailand. Do you or anybody else who reads this have any tips for travelling alone? I’m a little nervous about it!

    • Laura October 26, 2014 at 12:53 PM #

      Just go! You’ll find Thai people extremely courteous and friendly and as long as you observe their cultural customs (no bikinis in temples, no aggressive behaviour etc) then you’ll be absolutely fine. I’d say it’s one of the best places for solo travellers to start out, purely because there are so many others out there you’ll be hard pressed to not make friends along the way!

  9. Laura October 26, 2014 at 12:51 PM #

    I loved all these places! My favourite of your list was Koh Chang. Just seemed that little bit more Thai than Samui/Tao etc. Another amazing place to head to is Koh Lipe. A fair bit of boat hopping is needed but it’s beautiful!

  10. Elissa October 27, 2014 at 11:01 PM #

    In Kanchanaburi you mention national parks, they are really underestimated. There are some amazing wildlife on those parks. Erawan is recommended;

    https://www.thainationalparks.com/erawan-national-park

  11. Rebekah Voss October 31, 2014 at 1:20 PM #

    I LOVE the photo gallery. Such incredible sites, doesn’t even look real! I’ve been spending a lot of time in Southeast Asia and am continuously amazed by my surroundings. Great stuff, Jessica!

  12. Sammi Wanderlustin' November 12, 2014 at 10:59 AM #

    Interesting. I have only just started thinking about SEA recently….. I didn’t know much about Thailand except that I don’t want to spend a huge chunk of time there.

    • Steph November 12, 2014 at 7:30 PM #

      Thailand is great and there is a reason it is so popular, there is a lot else to explore too though.

  13. Sarah Attaway January 19, 2015 at 12:44 PM #

    You’re so right! Thailand is such a diverse country. I went there last summer and had a different itinerary than yours…because there’s so much to see, how can you choose! If you are planning another trip add Khoa Sok National Park to your list. There’s a giant lake in the center and the only accommodations are floating “bungalows” on the lake. Spend your days snorkeling, kayaking and cliff jumping. One of my favorite Thailand destinations.

    Also wishing I’d made it to Koh Chang!

  14. Michelle January 15, 2016 at 11:08 AM #

    This is good. But I feel like 3 days for kanchanaburi is a bit long. And you forgot chiang Mai!

  15. Carlo April 10, 2016 at 4:32 AM #

    Thanks for sharing this article… I know there are lot of places left to visit but this is a good start.. thanks again…

  16. travel fairy June 3, 2016 at 5:30 AM #

    Good guide for those who want to visit Thailand for the first time. Cheers!

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