same trip but different
April 18, 2014 9:57 AM   Subscribe

How should I spend my week alone in Thailand (or nearby)?

I'm doing a bit of backpacking in Southeast Asia next month, hooray! My partner and I will be flying into Singapore, then spending two weeks traveling to Bangkok via Kuala Lumpur, Krabi, etc. He'll fly out of Bangkok on June 1st, but I've extended my stay a week until June 8th. What shall I do?

I have backpacked in Thailand once before on a longer trip years ago, including Koh Chang, Koh Samui, Koh Tao, Phuket and Koh Phi Phi, along with Siem Reap/Angkor Wat in Cambodia. We'll be visiting Koh Lanta and Krabi on this trip. I'd rather see someplace new, although I guess any of those could be a fallback. I was thinking about staying in Chiang Mai, which I've never visited, but right now the heat's around 102-108 F – and with Thai humidity, that's prohibitively hot.

Qualifications: someplace reasonably safe for a solo female traveler; extremely walkable but not too tiny; has cafes or a hostel with a spacious common area where I can write on an iPad for hours; not a predominately early-twenties backpacker party scene (I'm 30). I'm pretty well-traveled, but I don't have extensive solo travel experience abroad, and when I'm alone I can get overwhelmed when infrastructure is hard to figure out (multiple transfers, or a bus station is hard to find).

Other than that, I'm down with villages, islands, beaches, whatever. I like hiking, taking endlessly long walks, meeting friendly people, most things. I'm also not against flying someplace nearby (like Laos?) for the week, since who knows when I'll be in the neighborhood again.

posted by changeling to Travel & Transportation (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
not a predominately early-twenties backpacker party scene

I should say, I realize "predominately" might be inescapable, but a good mix of ages would be preferable. thanks!
posted by changeling at 10:02 AM on April 18, 2014

This was over 10 years ago, but I had a nice few days by myself on Koh Samet. When I was there, there was one ferry landing, so the beaches near there were pretty crowded and commercial, but then they got quieter and more empty the farther down the island I went. I remember lots of white sand, blue water, and cool breezes. I believe there is even a beach with no electricity for a very nice quiet time.

On that same trip I also went to Ayuthaya, which is my favorite town in Thailand. The ruins are nice, but especially interesting because they're not separate from the rest of the city - they're just right there among the modern businesses and streets. And most tourists do it as a day trip from Bangkok, so it's pretty laid-back and friendly. The night market had great food.

You may also want to head up into the hills if it's so hot (I've been to Thailand in April and I know how bad it can get!). Mae Hong Song is really nice.

Of course, if you want a really fun adventure, you could head to Laos. With a week, you could easily enter at Chiang Kong, take the two-day river trip to Luang Prabang, spend a few really lovely days there, then take the bus to Vientiane and fly back to BKK. A lot of travel, but Laos is really fun and interesting, and it's all on a pretty well-trod route, so it's easy to navigate. You'll also meet a lot of other interesting travelers along the way, and there will be a good mix of ages.
posted by lunasol at 11:06 AM on April 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

oh, just caught your note about writing on your ipad, so the electricity-free beach is probably not for you. But still, Samet is lovely.
posted by lunasol at 11:10 AM on April 18, 2014

There are "mountains" near Chiang Mai, Doi Inthanon was nice, with beautiful waterfalls. I can't speak to the heat, though as I went in the cooler season. Chiang Mai itself is fairly modern and Westernized somewhat but just a short ride out of town it isn't, if that makes a difference.

I loved the place, would love to go back one day.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:29 PM on April 18, 2014

I was in Chiang Mai about six months ago - and I was a 28yr old single lady, so had a similar experience to that which you might.

I thought Chiang Mai had changed a lot and I'm really not sure I could have spent a week there. As St Alia says, it's incredibly Westernized and wasn't really my scene. It will be cooler than the beaches, however.

You can fly to Chiang Mai really easily, but if the night train is running again (it was out of service due to weather problems when I was there) then that's an amazing way to travel around. You can actually get all the way from the south (transitting via Bangkok of course) via train - it takes about a day, depending on connections, and is SUPER cheap.

I ended up travelling up (via minibus) to Pai and spending a few days there, rafting and ziplining. I found it much less backpacker-y than I'd expected but not far enough off the beaten path to be overwhelming. If you do it, buy some Dramamine from a pharmacy for the drive - Pai is famous for being up a mountain on a curving road. The travel sickness would have killed me otherwise!

If I did it again, I'd go all the way up to Mae Hong San and raft back down over the course of about four days to Chiang Mai via Pai - so that's what I think you should do. Throw in a couple of days of ziplining (nice and cool in the jungle!) and that sounds about perfect to me :)

Have fun, whatever you choose!
posted by citands at 8:55 AM on April 19, 2014

Luang Prabang. Fly there to save hassle and time. It fits all of your qualifications, is walkable, and is home to Ock Pop Tok, the single best art-related thing I have visited/experienced in all of Southeast Asia - it's a living crafts centre where you can learn how to make traditional Lao textiles.
posted by mdonley at 3:58 AM on April 23, 2014

so the coup happened between my asking this & going, but I flew on up to chiang mai anyway -- where I promptly came down with dengue fever, and had to take a cross-country train, navigate bangkok, and fly 20 hours home with it. on this side I feel kinda empowered but yeah, that was hell. loved chiang mai though, before the agony.
posted by changeling at 10:47 AM on June 17, 2014

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