Thailand Vacation: Early Planning Stage
August 24, 2006 6:52 PM   Subscribe

After two years of saving, I’m planning my first Asian vacation (!) and will be off to Thailand in approximately six months. I'm feeling a little overwhelmed by the planning- please help!

-My friends and I are thinking of spending two weeks traveling in Bangkok, one of the islands (Koh Samuai?), and Chiang Mai. Any thoughts on this itenerary, or alternative suggestions? We're budgeting about $2,500 a person, not including airfare.

-I’d love to hear about anyone’s experiences traveling in Thailand: what to eat/ see/ do and what *not* to.

-Should I use a travel agent? How much do they usually charge and how might I find one who specializes in Southeast Asia or Thailand (Google kind of failed me here)?

-Can anyone recommend any online international travel planning resources?
posted by chickletworks to Travel & Transportation around Thailand (19 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
budgeting about $2,500 a person: $2500 is a lot of money for only two weeks in Thailand, if you are excluding airfare. A decent hotel room (not the Sofitel, but nothing sketchy) is no more than $20/night. Food is really cheap. Everything is affordable. Last summer, 10 days of vacation time for me was $1500 airfare + $40/day at most. This did not include a lot of long-distance traveling or alcohol, but that might push you to $60/day.

experiences traveling in Thailand: I've spent nearly five weeks there, and have a few really long emails I wrote out for others I knew who went after me. I'd be happy to email them to you if you want - my email is in my profile. They're long, so I won't post them here, but if you find them useful feel free to add them later.

Should I use a travel agent? For what? You should have no problem using the ones that are located in Thailand, and will probably get better prices, as well. Use guide books or online forums to get a recommendation.

online international travel planning resources? For recommendations like travel agents, try lonelyplanet's throntree forums. Are you looking for more of a scheduler or... ? AskMe is a great travel planning resource too, and there's a couple people here living in Thailand who will surely be very helpful...
posted by whatzit at 7:09 PM on August 24, 2006

Two weeks in Bangkok!? Stay a few days go to the weekend market, then get out. It's just a big city. I guess while your there you could do the temple thing (Wat Pho - & get a Thai Massage), the Weekend market is the best, but the night markets are cool too. Maybe a Sex Show??? Time to leave...

If you want the hit an island.. go Krabi/ Relaigh Beach. You can go rock climbing (some of the worlds best), and hit up Ko-Phi Phi (you know, from 'the beach').

Chang Mai is cool up north, but there's not too much to do unless you want to go trekking or see some tribes (which is quite touristy).

Travel Agent.. depends on how much you've traveled before... If you comfortable making your own plans - do it yourself. But you can always pay someone to do it for you; of course for a fee.

As for food... get and try everything!! Don't be afraid of the street vendors, and just pointing at something. Many times it's better than 'restaurant' food and much cheaper too!

I've spent some time there, and if you can fit it Laos and Malaysia are quite an experience too. Malaysia more for the sights and beaches (better than Thailand), while Laos has good people (the nicest is S.A.) and culture.
posted by savagecorp at 7:10 PM on August 24, 2006 is one of the best guides to the area, written by a guy who's been living in the region and writing about it for over a decade.

Don't bother with the travel agent, just book your tickets there and sort out everything else yourself. It's extremely easy to travel in Thailand because tourism is such a huge industry. Once you get there you'll meet plenty of people who have been around who can tell you how to get to where you want to go.

If you think you have time, I'd recommend three or four days in Angkor Wat, in Cambodia. It's just a 45 minute flight from Bangkok and it's mind blowing.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 7:37 PM on August 24, 2006

If you're shopping in Bangkok, don't go to the tourist places like the night market in Patpong, go to the Chatuchak market that the actual Thais go to themselves. It's enormous (overwhelmingly so) and a lot cheaper. Some things were literally a tenth of the price they were in touristy places, and haggling is fine.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 7:39 PM on August 24, 2006

Two weeks sounds good, but a few days in Bangkok is enough for most people. It's crowded, expensive and noisy. Ayyuthaya might be worth a visit. The Chatachuk market is a must, as are the street vendors. Just exploring different neighborhoods is pretty interesting by itself - check out the night market, the girlie bars, Little India, even a quick walk through the mall. All of this should be no more than a few days... after that you'll be ready to head out.

The islands are wonderful - I went to Ko Samet for a couple days and stayed a week. The luxury of being able to get their "best room" for $25 a night was wonderful. The best part of traveling outside Bangkok for me was how inexpensive things were. Lunches for $3, thai iced tea for $.50, snacks on the street for $.50, a decent hotel room for $25, etc.

I have lots of photos of my experiences in Thailand here, and I'd be happy to answer any questions over e-mail (see my profile). Have fun.
posted by kdern at 8:02 PM on August 24, 2006

I took a cooking class when I stayed at Gaps House in Chiang Mai, and I found that a lot of fun. I then rented a car and drove around the area (easier because my companion was used to the steering on the right-hand side - that definitely gave me problems), went to a village market, some underground caves - it was all really lovely, especially after feeling a bit clausterphobic in Bangkok.

If at the end of your trip you want to get out of the guest house mode, I recommend using priceline to get a hotel in Bangkok. If you hit up Bidding For Travel, they have a ton of tips about how to get the Shangri-La hotel for quite cheap (I stayed there for $80). If you do go that route, sign up for the Golden Circle Club, which is free and gets you (atleast when I was there) a free breakfast that is, without question, the greatest breakfast buffet I have ever enjoyed. I mean, seriously, words can't describe -- 30 cooks or so, 15 different stations, any type of food you could possibly want --

The rest of Thailand is of course great, but man, that breakfast at the Shangri-La...made quite an impression
posted by buddha9090 at 8:12 PM on August 24, 2006

Can anyone recommend any online international travel planning resources?

ITA Software will display most any airfare to any place, on most any airline - often beating out places like Travelocity and Expedia. They'll show you a fare and how to contact the airline directly(usually a phone number) to book it with what's called a "fare basis code," so you get the exact fare displayed. Maybe the whole telephone thing sounds sketchy, but it works, but its various search tools are great.

Air Asia, Nok Air, and One-Two-Go are all low-cost airlines operating in Thailand.

This guy has the lowdown on trains in Thailand (and everywhere else).

Have a great time!
posted by mdonley at 8:41 PM on August 24, 2006 [2 favorites]

I went in 2001, here's my "blog" before blogs were cool about it.


We went to Koh Samui and I loved it.
posted by thilmony at 9:00 PM on August 24, 2006

Make sure that you and your friends don't fall for the infamous gem scam.

And if you go to Lao through Chiang Khong (where you catch the 'slow boat' down the Mekhong), spend the night at the Bamboo Riverside Guest House on the Thai side - Jib and Taew serve the tastiest food in town.
posted by blueberry at 9:29 PM on August 24, 2006

take immodium or similar. Saved my life after eating at a "cholera cart". Never known anything like it. Spent 4 days of a 5 day trip in the bathroom. However, a week afterwards I went back for 3 more weeks and loved it with not a minute of illness. But seriously, you do not ever, ever want to face 24 hours of travelling in taxis, buses, planes when moving 10 feet from the toilet scares the (literally) crap out of you.

If you can find the 7 storey, half mile long bootleg market in Bangkok with about 100 million sq feet of "shops" entirely selling copies of everything, you'll be there all day.
posted by daveyt at 1:22 AM on August 25, 2006

That's a lot of cash for a holiday; I lived for 4 years like a well-off business man on $1500/ month.

Bangkok: DO NOT stay on the Koh San Road. It's Western-town. Stay in Pratunam, or Thonburi. Grand Palace, Wat Pho, Wat Arun, Thonburi canal trip from Wat Pho pier. Communter boat to Nontaburi and back is good.

Near BKK: Ayutthaya is a must. Kanchanaburi; Sugar Cane Guest House on Soi Pakistan is my recommendation. Beware room A2; my daughter and a friends' child were conceived in that room (not simulataneously!).

Chiang Mai: Go to Doi Suthep. Get a boat up the River Kok to Chiang Rai. Visit Moo Baan Ruamitt (a village of mixed hill-tribes where you can ride elephants). Go to the Golden Triangle.

Further afield: visit Isaan.

Do *NOT* do all the stupid full moon parties, stay in Banglamphu, go to Samuii, all the Lonely Planet bullshit. I met so many "travellers" (=tourists) who treated Thailand as a giant theme park, only hung with other backpackers and whose only intercourse with Thais was to order food, bargain for silverware, or in a brothel.
posted by Pericles at 2:53 AM on August 25, 2006

(I mean don't go to Samuii or do any of the Lonely Planet bullshit.
posted by Pericles at 3:25 AM on August 25, 2006

If you are interested in diving or snorkelling, then you might want to think about Koh Tao. I went to Koh Samui, Koh Lanta and Krabi as well, Koh Tao was my favorite.

As others have said, you don't need a travel agent. It is very easy to travel in Thailand.

You may not want to stay on Khao San road, but I would check it out. It is a tourist attraction in and of itself. I third going to Chatuchak. I loved Bangkok but found Chang Mai less interesting. If you have the time (it seems you have the money!) I would recommend substituting a trip to Angkor Wat in place of this.
posted by Cuke at 6:02 AM on August 25, 2006

I would stay away from Ko Samui - I found it to be pretty much Ibiza (Florida if yopu're american?) with nicer beaches. There are some good places to eat but apart from that its full of irish and brits drinking themselves silly. Theres a long strip by the beach, and not a lot else.

Ko Phi Phi is fantastic though, and Ko Samet.

Echoing other posters, don't spend too much time in Bangkok, but get yourself to Chiang Mai; when there do the one day cookery course here:

There are a lot of cookery schools in the city, but this one was the best I thought.

(and if you look closely at the pictures in the office thats me, cooking away :-) )

Also around Chiang Mai go up to Doi Inthanon national park and do some of the elephant tours; the best place we stayed in while there was here:

River View Lodge

...which has a swimming pool and art work scattered all around a garden terrace on the river. It cost us the equivalent of €13 a night (about $16). Thats expensive for that level of accomodation, but the pool is worth it and its very quiet and clean.

You can go drinking here: The Riverside.

I liked Chiang Mai :-)
posted by fintanc at 7:07 AM on August 25, 2006

My partner and I spent two weeks in Thailand and Cambodia. Here's a few suggestions. This wasn't a budget trip, but I'm sure we were under $2,500/person. We used miles to get to BKK and then spent around $450/person on internal flights. We never use a travel agent when we travel. Typically, we'll just pick up cheap local tours if we want to do something that requires local transport. All hotels sell them and while they're rarely a "National Geographic" experience, they're usually pretty cheap and can get you out of the city for a few hours.

We flew into BKK and overnighted by the airport and flew out the Krabi the next morning. We used several days relaxing by the beach to get over the jetlag. We just picked up a local boat trip for island hopping and snorkeling. It was a little crowded, but we met some fun folks.

Two full days in Chiang Mai were about right. Doi Suthep is worth the trip. Just get a cabbie and ask him to pick you up in an hour or two. Plan for lots of steps! I think the total cab fare was < $>
We flew from Chiang Mai to BKK to transfer to a flight to Siem Reap in Cambodia. If you like antiquities, I highly recommend taking the side trip to see Angkor Wat, etc. Just remember that Cambodia has some special requirements to enter (pictures, $20 for the visa at the airport). We hired a car, driver and guide for 2 days for around $200. Two full days really is the minimum.

Chatuchak is very cool. Incidentally, that cab ride was the only time we were seriously touted. A fun evening activity is taking a water taxi across the Chao Phraya and having dinner and cocktails at the Peninsula.

Pack light, as always. Laundary outside hotels is cheap, quick and for us was always good. If you want to load up on shopping, end your trip in BKK. Buy a large suitcase there and fill it with your purchases. Learn a couple words in Thai: please, thank you, etc. Politeness is very appreciated and important in Thai culture. Most shopkeepers will have a calculator around--use it to name your price and they'll do the same. Don't be afraid to haggle, but don't be unreasonable too. If you pay $5 instead of $3 for some trinket, it isn't going to kill you. I think people get to worried about being overcharged. As a westerner, you will be, that's life.

Have fun. I really loved the trip.
posted by robabroad at 8:43 AM on August 25, 2006 [2 favorites]

My opinion:

as robabroad says, pack light. unless you are enormous, you'll be able to get all the clothes you need in Thailand (and other gear) super cheap.

One week in Bangkok should be fine. I spent 4 days there and the air quality just killed me. Certainly Chatuchak market is amazing and worth going just for that, and the floating market(s) and plenty of neat wats, but I think you'll enjoy Chiang Mai even more.

Chiang Mai is a wonderful town and a great base for a short trek up into the hilltribe areas. Email me and I'll give you contact info for a fantastic, 80 yr old mountain guide who will take you up into Hmong villages and through some amazing bamboo forests.

Fintanc suggests the River View Lodge and I second that. It's hard to find, at the end of a weird and kind of sketchy alley, but the place is wonderful, the staff kind, the food good and the rooms cheap. I loved it and would certainly stay there again. The same as a $100 western hotel but a third the price, plus you get the nice garden on the water to hang out in. If you are lucky, the owner will take you for a spin in one of his vintage Bentleys, BMWs or Rolls-Royces.

And yes, that Thai Cooking School in Chiang Mai is terrific too!

Instead of heading south to the big resort islands, consider going east from BKK toward Koh Chiang, which is growing but still much less well known than the southern islands. Much of the island is rainforest - according to some people, the last big protected rainforest island in this part of southeast Asia - full of beautiful waterfalls. The beaches are dotted with supercheap backpacker huts, but if you go to the end of the south road, you can stay at Seaview Resort or its neighbor, where you can get a beautiful cliffside bougainvillea-encrusted bungalow with shower & AC (and amazing meals at their converted-Wat restaurant) for about $40 a night.

Email me if you want to talk about your trip a bit more.
posted by luriete at 9:39 AM on August 25, 2006 [1 favorite]

Wow! Thank you all so much! I'd mark best answers, but I'd have to mark every post. This is exactly the kind of information I needed (I'm especially excited about the cooking school recommendations!) and I truly appreciate those who offered advice via email. Kdern, Luriete, and Whatzit: I'll likely email you with further questions.

Thanks again, everybody!
posted by chickletworks at 12:51 PM on August 25, 2006

You absolutely must get on tripadvisor. It is one of the best collections of traveler reviews/suggestions, etc. around. I like tripadvisor's location-specific fora (I've linked you to the Thailand forum), but it's worth browsing the whole Thailand section.
posted by Amizu at 12:55 PM on August 25, 2006

I was in Bangkok last December and I had a great time. The food is cheap and plentiful. Eat from the street vendors but also indulge yourself at some fine restaurants as well. To get around take the subway and the water taxi - it's a beautiful way to see the city. Watch out for the touts who tell you that a particular tourist site is closed for the day and try to steer you to another location. They are out to hustle you. One more thing; watch out for the traffic. You take your chances when you cross the street.
posted by beatnik808 at 3:44 PM on August 25, 2006

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