Few destinations can compare to Thailand and the enormous variety of attractions found in this enchanting part of the world.
Situated in the very heart of Southeast Asia, the capital city of Bangkok is perfectly located to explore everything this region has to offer. Among the variety of wonderful places to go in Thailand, you will find ancient Chiang Mai and the mountainous north, and an endless lineup of stunning islands in the south. Thailand truly has it all.
However, the secret to making the most of three weeks in this enchanted land is preparation. With a well-planned itinerary, you should be able to experience a little bit of everything in this generous period of time.
Planning a Three-Week Trip to Thailand
Aside from the many islands down south, there is no end of hidden treasures to uncover on the mainland. At the same time, it seems pointless to travel without really taking time to enjoy each location.
In this regard, the best way to organize a three-week itinerary of the best places to go in Thailand is to plan for less time traveling and more time in each destination. Whether you prefer beach time to culture or homestays to busy attractions, it is often best to pick out the most important places you wish to see. Then, allocate as much time as possible to each one.
For this reason, the following itinerary is not designed to keep you moving for twenty one days, but rather to give you enough time to fully experience every attraction and destination.
The Best Places to Go in Thailand: Where to Start
When it comes to flights, Bangkok is arguably the most convenient airport hub on the planet. With so many places to go in Thailand, it offers connections to just about every corner imaginable. At the same time, the capital is also an incredibly vibrant city and perfectly located to reach the most interesting places to see in Thailand. From here, you can take a flight to Koh Samui, jump on a bus to the coast or board an overnight train to Chiang Mai. An excellent tourism infrastructure ensures that of all the places to go in Thailand to begin a vacation, Bangkok is the perfect first stop.
In most cases, this is also the ideal place to end a trip in Southeast Asia. Therefore, a nice way to plan your itinerary is to allocate some time for Bangkok at the beginning and at the end of your journey.
Day 1 & 2 Bangkok
That being said, Bangkok itself is world famous for good reason, and you should absolutely take time to uncover the unique experiences it has to offer. Take a visit to Chatuchak for example, undoubtedly of the best places to go in Thailand, and the largest outdoor market in the world, it has a myriad of stalls with every item imaginable. You could easily spend an entire morning or afternoon strolling amidst the chickens, performers, crafts, and designer clothing. This is just one of many markets to encounter.
Khao San Road is more of a tourist hotspot than it is an insight into local living. This melting pot of international tourists makes it worthy of a one night stay. Then, the Grand Palace and the reclining Buddha at Wat Pho are spell binding landmarks to explore in between.
It is true that many tourists arrive in Bangkok for reasons of convenience. After a long flight, this is a nice place to unwind and deal with unwanted jetlag, while the vibrancy of the city ensures there is never a dull moment. You could spend two days checking out the sights, mixing with locals and sampling street food before picking up a ticket to Chiang Mai and heading for the train station.
Day 3 – Train to Chiang Mai
One of the great rewards in travel is often the opportunity to live like a local and gain insight into another part of the world. Stretching for more than seven hundred kilometers, the route from Bangkok to Chiang Mai is quite dusty and easily bypassed by using an airport. Yet, the option of taking a train is not one to be overlooked. Featuring a small restaurant, comfortable beds and plenty of security, the train itself is surprisingly nice and very smooth from start to finish. In some cases, tourists will take a train to keep costs down. Keep in mind that this affordable journey is full of experiences and a great way to mix with the locals.
Most travel agencies in Bangkok can organize this train ticket. Make sure to choose a lower bunk when possible as these have a lot more space than those up above.
Day 4 – 8 Chiang Mai, Doi Inthanon & Other Excursions
Unquestionably one of the best places to go in Thailand, Chiang Mai is a major city in the northern reaches of the country, and an ideal place from which to explore the nearby mountains. It is home to an ancient town, affordable accommodations, shining temples and a plethora of restaurants. The city is hugely popular with tourists but offers a low-key encounter in comparison with Bangkok.
You will find many temples scattered throughout Chiang Mai. The real beauty of a visit, however, can be found on the sleepy streets and small alleyways of the old town. Try the northern or southern gate of town for street food where everything from fried noodles, pad thai, pad see ew, and Kentucky fried chicken is on offer. Alternatively, you can choose from many charming eateries in a beautiful setting which can feel a million miles from civilization, never mind the city.
Wat Chedi Luang is one of the most spectacular structures in all of Asia and many more temples are free to explore. Yet, the true highlight in this part of Thailand is usually the rewarding day tours from Chiang Mai. With that said, a three-day stay in Chiang Mai will be an ideal period to immerse yourself in the city without feeling in any rush to move on elsewhere.
Doi Inthanon National Park
Of all the places to go in Thailand, be sure to visit Doi Inthanon. Renowned for being the tallest mountain in Thailand, Doi Inthanon is more than 2500 meters above sea level. Its base is easily reached from the city of Chiang Mai. However, this park is also luscious in every way and a natural haven for hiking. Doi Inthanon is a section of the Himalayan mountain range. Here, every hiker is rewarded with panoramic views of waterfalls, evergreen forests and sakura flowers bringing color to the region.
Named after the king Inthawichayanon, a previous king of Chiang Mai, the flora, and landscapes in this park make Doi Inthanon National Park an ideal spot for anyone yearning for an active adventure.
One Day Tours from Chiang Mai
One of the most popular places to go in Thailand is a day tour from Chiang Mai to one of the several elephant sanctuaries in the mountains. While some nonprofit organizations in Thailand have been criticized recently, local tour operators have gone to a great extent to ensure the elephant volunteer programs are operating with the best of intentions.
Hill Tribe Visit
Another one of the most popular places to go in Thailand is an excursion from Chiang Mai to visit the hill tribes in Northern Thailand. Isolated and still practicing ancient traditions, these tribes are a wonderful way to experience a more primitive lifestyle; one which existed here long before any civilization emerged.
Mountain Biking and Trekking
Featuring luscious terrain, exciting trails, and unrivaled vistas, the mountains are perfect for trekking. Mountain biking has also become increasingly popular in recent years. Suitable for beginners and advanced bikers, these trails are chosen based on the individual’s preference. Regardless, they are extremely enjoyable and fun.
Consisting of grade three and four rapids, the rivers in Thailand are well suited for whitewater rafting. They are actually suitable for every level of experience. Rafting beneath green canopies and surrounded by nature is also a great way to witness the local environment up close.
Ideally, the best way to experience Northern Thailand is to choose a base in Chiang Mai and opt for one or more of the above day tours. While every individual will have a preference, combining a hill tribe trek with a volunteer day at an elephant orphanage is often how many travelers will choose to spend their time away from the city.
Day 9 – 11 Pai & Mae Hong Son National Park
Many active travelers will arrive in Northern Thailand to meet the hill tribes or partake in the activities above. Relaxation should be just as high on your list of priorities to recharge in between. Located just two hours from Chiang Mai, the town of Pai is one of the more relaxing places to go in Thailand, and is famous for having a hippy culture. The quiet nature of this town make it enjoyable for just about anyone.
Another highlight of a trip to Pai is the beautiful accommodation options. If you don’t mind staying outside of the town itself, many of these are accompanied by incredible views and surrounded by nature.
If you do feel as though relaxation is the last thing on your mind, an excellent option is to rent a scooter and spend a few days driving between the towns in Mae Hong Son. This is a very popular circuit for exploring on a motorbike. The small towns are very hospitable to tourists, and offer a quick escape for anyone yearning for even more quiet or isolation.
Flying to the South of Thailand
After spending so much time soaking up the culture of the north and exploring the mountains, the white powdered sands and tropical nature of the south is usually a welcome change. Here you will discover various islands in two main archipelagos, the Andaman Islands and the Gulf of Thailand Islands. There are a large number of options and quite a few differences between each landmass.
However, the trip to many of these islands can be quite the adventure. Although it is possible to travel by bus, the absolute best way to reach this region is by taking a flight from Chiang Mai to Koh Samui. From here, you can easily make your way to Koh Tao. which is a much more impressive and attractive island. Unfortunately, there is no option to fly directly to this particular island, but a reasonably short ferry ride from Koh Samui is affordable and convenient.
Day 12 – 15 Koh Tao (The Gulf of Thailand)
It can make sense for some travelers to stay overnight on Koh Samui before moving onward by ferry a day or two later. Either way, the process of reaching Koh Tao in one day is straight forward.
Koh Tao is one of the smaller places to go in Thailand, but make no mistake: This stunning island has more attractions than one can even notice. While it is hugely popular with scuba diving, the endless beaches are equally as enticing for snorkeling and water sports. Simply put, the island is filled with exciting adventures.
As with the north of Thailand, scooters are a popular means of transport, but local bus or taxi make getting around a very convenient task. Sairee Beach is usually the first choice for travelers and rightly so. It offers a wide range of places to eat and bustling nightlife with ample entertainment.
Full Moon Party
At the end of each month, the infamous Full Moon Party on Koh Phangan takes place. While this is certainly not for everyone, the island is easily reached from either Koh Tao or Koh Samui.
Day 16 – 18 Krabi (Andaman Islands)
Given the amount of time available, it would be wise to spread your adventure across several destinations rather than staying in the one place. Krabi is also a very scenic town located in the midst of some beautiful limestone landscapes. It is absolutely worthy of a visit. The town has many eateries, bars, hotels, and guesthouses. It is also suited for tourism and offers a base to explore another popular coastal region, this time next to the Andaman Islands. That being said, it is also perfectly situated to visit the beach and travel to nearby Phuket.
Day trip to Koh Phi Phi
Made famous by the cult travel movie “The Beach” with Leonardo di Caprio, Koh Phi Phi is a location high on the priorities of most backpackers. In fact, this is often a very crowded part of Thailand to visit. The incredible beauty of the area, however, is more than worth the effort and confrontation with the tourist crowds.
Day 19 – 21 Phuket
Consisting of mountains and beautiful beaches, Phuket is another island in the Andaman Sea, and one of the most popular places to go in Thailand. This scenic place provides an ideal environment from which to appreciate the adventurous nature of Thailand in general.
Featuring a culturally rich capital in Patong, the island is probably most famous for the west-coast beaches, Karon and Kata. The National Parks up North are equally inviting for active adventurers.
Previously known as Nai Yang, Sirinat National Park is a marine reserve. Here, coral reefs and coniferous forests offer a beautiful setting to enjoy the outdoors. As with most places to go in Thailand, you will also find sublime street food everywhere you go. The laid-back feel and excellent tourism infrastructure make this an ideal place to unwind after a thoroughly memorable journey.
Fly Home via Bangkok
Thankfully, it is possible to fly from Phuket Island directly back to Bangkok. There are a large number of daily flights, making the cost very affordable.
As already mentioned, Bangkok is almost always the start and end point of every visit to Thailand. If time allows, arriving back in the capital one day early is another chance to explore whatever you missed before. This will also give you an opportunity to pack, and get ready for the onward trip home.
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