Imagine yourself in a tropical paradise where the sand is white, the water is clear, your dollar will stretch for weeks and your cares will melt away.
Now picture yourself navigating a bustling metropolis, crowded with people, food, culture, and monuments. Visualize yourself perched on top of an elephant, traveling through the jungles, rivers, and mountains of an exotic land.
You can find it all in Thailand, the wonderful country that my roommate and I visited this past February. It’s an ideal destination if you are looking to travel to Southeast Asia because there are so many things to do in Thailand. It’s a diverse and exotic destination with a little bit of everything. You can visit floating markets in Thailand. You can learn about Buddhism in Thailand and visit the country’s beautiful wats, or temples. Thailand also has a long tradition of tourism, and well developed tourist infrastructure, which facilitates a short, efficient trip for those with limited time to travel. In this two-part series, I’ll provide a detailed suggested itinerary for how time-crunched travelers can experience a fun-filled adventure in Thailand in just two weeks and then offer insight into the resources you will need to efficiently plan and prepare for your trip.
If you find yourself limited to just two weeks of vacation a year, the following two week itinerary will help you make the most of your time in Thailand.
Day One: Fly into Bangkok
Depending on what part of the world you’re coming from, a flight to Thailand is likely to be a long one. For me, it took 20 hours or so from NYC, so it’s a good idea to bring books. Also note that you will lose a day due to the time change. Don’t worry; you’ll get it back when you return. Once you arrive, try to sleep; it will be difficult, as Thailand Time is 12 hours ahead of US Eastern Time.
Day 2: Spend some time acquainting yourself with your neighborhood.
We stayed in Sukhumvit, the business district, because of its upscale location, easy access to transportation and nice hotels. Khao San Road is also a popular location, especially for backpackers looking to get cheap food and beer in Thailand. I recommend either place, depending on your taste for accommodation. Learn to use the Skytrain, which is an excellent elevated metro system, and perhaps take one of the ferries up and down the Chao Praya River. We hired a longtail boat, and the pilot took us on a tour of the Chao Praya River and the canal communities. It’s a relaxing and beautiful way to enjoy your first view of the city on the river.
Eat well and often in the delicious restaurants or street vendors. Especially on your first day, tread carefully if you have a sensitive constitution. I find that new countries tend to wreak havoc on my digestion, but on this trip, probiotic supplements worked well as a way to mitigate the worst of any gastrointestinal culture shock
Day 3: Wake up early and hit the city sights.
If you love temples, feel free to find them all, but for the casual tourist, I recommend checking out the Grand Palace, Wat Pho, Wat Arun, and temple of the Emerald Buddha. When at Wat Pho, visit the massage school and get a traditional Thai massage. Thai Massage appears to be based on yoga stretches, and through the course of the treatment, you will find your limbs contorted in many unique positions. As the sex industry is unfortunately thriving in Thailand, use care and common sense to pick a massage establishment so that you may avoid getting more than you bargained for.
Day 4: Depending on your date of arrival, go to the weekend market (if it is a weekend day) or the river market.
We did not see this market but it is supposed to be splendid, filled with animals, foods, goods, and unique items that you won’t see that many other places. There are so many great markets to visit in Thailand, you should try to check out at least one while you are there.
Day 5: Go to Ayutthaya, the ancient capital of Thailand, which is a short train ride away.
To get there, take the Skytrain to the metro to the train station, and buy either 2nd or 3rd class tickets to your destination. Second class tickets will run you about 10 dollars, but include air conditioned cars, reclining seats and a meal. 3rd class tickets cost about 50 cents, and buy a seat in hot, crowded compartments (fine for a short two hour trip to Ayutthaya, but a bit uncomfortable over longer distances). Ayutthaya is the perfect place to rent bicycles and explore the island, which is full of ancient ruins. Don’t miss Wat Lokaya Sutha, which contains a 60 foot tall seated golden Buddha.
Day 6: Fly to Chiang Mai.
The trip itself is pretty short but I recommend you designate Day 6 as a chill travel day, because each new city brings new challenges. Call your hotel ahead of time to see what kind of activities you would like to sign up for once you are in Chiang Mai. Chiang Mai is a large city located in the dense jungles, perfect for the avid outdoorsman or elephant lover. There are also excellent Thai cooking classes in town.
Day 7: Take advantage of the numerous opportunities for outdoor adventure and excursions.
Wake up early and a bus will pick you up at your hotel and take you to wherever you have signed up to go. We went whitewater rafting and ziplining in the jungle our first full day in Chiang Mai.
Day 8: Visit an elephant park.
We tried to find a preserve that treated its elephants well, because elephants do not all get treated humanely in Thailand. We visited the Baanchang Elephant Park, and enjoyed a full day of feeding elephants, riding elephants, and bathing elephants. This site also recommends the eco-friendly Elephant Nature Park. Elephants are beautiful creatures, but are also quite big and are still wild, so treat them with the respect and caution that you would any wild animal.
Day 9: Fly to Phuket.
Welcome to an island paradise! Taxis from the airport to your hotel are going to be comparatively expensive compared to your experience in Thailand so far. Phuket does not have extensive public transportation infrastructure, so expect to pay a bit more to get around. Taxis from the airport to your hotel are going to be comparatively expensive compared to your experience in Thailand so far.
Day 10: Explore Phuket.
Transportation is difficult in phuket if you are on the quieter west side of the island (where we stayed), so hire a car and driver to take you around to the various beaches and sites on the island. My roommate and I wanted to avoid the seedy areas, so we steered clear of the Patong beach area at night, although the beaches are nice. Spend a day enjoying the beauty of the island, visit the big white Buddha on a hill in central Phuket, then enjoy the breathtaking sunset on the southern tip of the island at Rawai. You may also want to visit the famous Koh Phi Phi island, with its beautiful long tail boats and turquoise waters.
There are enough things to see and do on Thailand’s islands, that you could easily just spend your full two weeks there, relaxing and enjoying the sun and marine wildlife.
Day 12: Take in a spectacular sunrise.
If you are on the west side of the island, wake up to witness a transcendent sunrise. Relax on the beach and count your blessings.
Day 13: Fly Back to Bangkok.
You can depart for home on this day, or wait until the morning. Keep in mind, if you are strictly limited to a fourteen day trip, you will want to head home today as your flight will not likely arrive home until tomorrow. It’s also important to consider the impact jet lag could have on your preparation to re-enter the real world.
Day 14: Welcome home!
There are so many wonderful things to see and do in Thailand, that it’s difficult to fit them all into just two weeks. This itinerary provides a good, but quick, introduction to the diversity of Thailand. If you have the chance, I (Ellen) highly recommend concentrating your trip into just one or two areas of Thailand. For example, you could spend a few days in Bangkok and then head to the northern part of the country to really immerse yourself there for a week or so. Or, likewise, you could spend a few days visiting temples in Bangkok before heading down to southern Thailand to spend the rest of your trip relaxing on the beach. Hopefully your first trip to Thailand will help make the case for you to start planning your second!
Resources to help you plan your trip to Thailand:
Guidebooks: As great as travel blogs are, I (Ellen) still never leave home without a guidebook. My guidebook of choice is Lonely Planet, and that’s why I recommend them to you. They’ve never let me down.
Joe Antelmi is an avid traveller, musician, and gourmand. He speaks English, Spanish, and Italian, and so far has had the good fortune to visit Europe, the United States, Asia and South America. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics from the University of Connecticut. Minor revisions were made to this article by editor.
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