Thailand: Route and Tips

Thailand is such a big country, with so many places to visit, and it can be quite intimidating knowing where to go and what to do. So, this blog aims to make it a little less scary and give you the information simply.

What Route Should I Do Around Thailand?

This completely depends on the amount of time you have, what the goal of your trip is, and where you are heading after Thailand. If you just want beautiful beaches then the south is for you. If you want a bit of greenery and culture, then head north. If you have time for both, I’d recommend it. If you are crossing the border to Laos via bus or slow boat after Thailand then I would recommend finishing in the north, if you are heading to Cambodia or Malaysia by bus, then the south. If you are flying elsewhere or back to the UK, then your order shouldn’t matter too much, it is completely up to you. To be honest, Thailand was probably the easiest country to get around in South East Asia, and whilst it might not feel organised, it was probably the smoothest running operation of them all. So, no matter what route you decide, it will be pretty easy to get around. Also, just to caveat, these are completely subjective opinions based off my experience, I’m sure there are some places that if I went at a different time, stayed in a different place, was with different people, I’d of enjoyed certain places more or less.

Two girls dancing on a beach at sunset
Phi Phi Island

My Route

I personally would change my route a little bit if I were to do it again, which I will go into below, but overall it was fine and didn’t impact my time.

Khao Sok

I landed in Bangkok and spent one night before flying to Surat Thani the next morning to get a transfer to Khao Sok. This is one thing I personally would change if I went back as a backpacker. Most backpackers do this as a midway point between north and south and if you’re solo, would be hard to meet people here. I do think it is worth the trip and money as it is very beautiful and we saw elephants in the wild multiple times – a truly beautiful moment.


We then got a bus to Phuket. Phuket was probably one of my least favourite places on my entire travels. We stayed in Patong which is very tacky, overpriced, touristy, dirty and has a strip like you’d find in Magaluf. We didn’t go to the Old Town which is another popular place for backpackers to stay, I heard it is a bit nicer, but then I’ve also heard it isn’t. I’m sure if you go to Phuket on a luxury holiday and stay in a beautiful hotel or villa nowhere near Patong you might have a different experience but to be honest I think you can stay in much better places, with restaurants that do actually good Thai food for much cheaper. The one good thing about Phuket, is it is a good starting point to access the southern islands, although you can probably access them just as easily from Krabi. Freedom beach was also nice to spend the day.

A beach at sunset
Freedom Beach, Phuket

Phi Phi

From Phuket we headed to Phi Phi. If you have time, the Ko Yao islands are meant to be extremely beautiful and very much like paradise, these are only a 30 minute boat from Phuket so could do after instead. They are more quiet and holiday vibes. We stayed on the main Phi Phi island which is a very love it or hate it place. I personally loved Phi Phi, but it is definitely a party island and can feel a bit dirty or touristy in places. The accommodation options for backpackers are notoriously not great, and around when I went, a lot of people were sick on the island. However, I had a lot of fun here and ate some great food for very cheap. Alcohol is also extremely cheap here too. The island is motor vehicle free too so be prepared to walk everywhere but it is so small you would walk everywhere anyway, and it is nice to be somewhere where there is no traffic and pollution. We weren’t on the island for very long so didn’t get to explore the other Phi Phi islands which I would happily go back and do, we did the classic your everyone does where you visit Maya Bay (the famous beach from the Leo DiCaprio film, The Beach).

Railay and Ao Nang

Our next stop was Railay and Ao Nang. We did one night in Railay first, then a couple nights in Ao Nang to follow. People typically do Ao Nang first which I would do if I went back, I’d also like to of spent more time in Railay and explored it more as it is a gorgeous place and one of my favourites in Thailand. To be honest Ao Nang (Krabi), isn’t anything special, but it is a very social place and one of my favourite hostels, Nomads, was here. There are lots of tours, island hopping and places to see here, a sunset beach BBQ on a beautiful island was another highlight. Again, it is a great place to get to the other islands from.

Koh Lanta

From Ao Nang we went to Koh Lanta. I absolutely loved Koh Lanta. It is a very calm place that has less of a backpacker feel, and more of a holiday vibe. Again, there is lots of tours you can do from here, we decided to just chill and explore the islands. There are lots of beaches to go to and the old town has lots of lovely little shops. I got one of my favourite souvenirs from here, a pair of handpainted chopsticks where the lady will paint your name on for free. On one of the days, one of the girls I travelled with and I, decided to do a walk from Khong Klong beach back to our hostel, Blancos, stopping for dinner at Up To You restaurant half way, for sunset. This evening will be a core memory for me for the rest of my life. We ignored the map and walked along all the beaches and cliffs along the way, ending up on empty and secret beaches and coves, it was truly magical. The dinner we had at the restaurant was amazing and the owners were the absolute sweetest.

A beach at sunset
A random, empty beach we came across on our walk to Koh Lanta

Koh Tao

We the headed to the islands on the other side, Koh Tao, Koh Phangan and Koh Samui. I’m sure if you talk to anyone about Thailand or have researched where to go, then you have more than likely heard of Koh Tao, this was our next stop. It is definitely a crowd favourite, and probably the favourite of most backpackers. For me, it didn’t live up to the hype because people had bigged it up so much. However, I did still love the island and really want to go back to have a different experience. This is where most people do their diving certification which I decided not to do (which I do regret not doing), so that may have impacted my decision. I think we also could’ve stayed in a better location. This is a very social island if you are a backpacker, with great nightlife and a drag show (which is amazing!).

Koh Phangan

Up next was Koh Phangan, the island famous for the Full Moon Party. However, it is very beautiful outside of the chaos of the iconic party. I loved the Full Moon party (despite someone trying to mug me after), but there is lots of other things to do from beaches to waterfalls. However, a lot of the things to do are in the north of the island and taxis are expensive, so if you don’t drive a bike, then it is hard to get around. Another of my favourite memories is watching the sunset at Zen Beach, it is such a vibe! There’s lots of hippies, people doing acrobatics and yoga, live music, the sun sets over the sea – stunning!

Two girls in the sea at sunset
Zen Beach, Koh Phangan

Koh Samui

The final island in the south we visited was Koh Samui. I only had one night here because we didn’t have much time and needed to fly back to Bangkok, so I can’t say I can judge the island fairly. I personally didn’t really like it, it is expensive and extremely touristy. However, I have some people on proper holidays staying in gorgeous villas and hotels, there is also a really good night market. Due to my restricted time, I would’ve preferred to have spent the time elsewhere, or had enough time to explore it properly.


We then flew to the capital, Bangkok. Again, due to time constraints didn’t have long in Bangkok. It is a city I would like to explore more from chatuchak market to all the incredible food. We did get to go to a floating market and our first temple, but to be honest the floating market was underwhelming, I’d make the effort of the trip for the proper one next time, and I’d want to see Wat Pho next time.

A girl sat on a rooftop bar at night with the city skyline behind her
Sky Bar, Bangkok


After a 12 hour train journey to Chiang Mai, we then ended up having to get a Grab to Pai as we stupidly didn’t pre-book a van and all the morning ones were booked. However, it wasn’t actually that expensive. Pai has a very special place in my heart and I really wish I could’ve spent longer there. After my first run in with a bed bug, we ended up staying in a gorgeous hotel for one night, it was definitely a lovely treat. Pai is so beautiful, lots of greenery, nature, things to do, cool bars, a chilled, hippy vibe. I did a cooking class here which I really enjoyed and the tipsy tubing is soooo fun too.

A view of a canyon with lots of trees
Pai Canyon

Chaing Mai

The final stop, Chiang Mai. Again, I really, really wish I had more time here. We did an elephant sanctuary, the sticky waterfall and the Saturday night market – make sure you are here on a Saturday, it is huuuugeeee. The vendors go on and on and on, so many souvenirs and food. We didn’t really get to explore much of the city or go on a night out, so I would definitely love to go back here.

Other Islands I Want To Visit

I really wanted to be able to visit Koh Lipe, all I’ve heard is good things about how stunning it is. If you are going to Malaysia you can also access it from Langkawi at peak season.

Closer to Cambodia, there are a few islands. One in particular I’m dying to visit is Koh Kood. It is in one of my travel books, it looks absolutely beautiful and hasn’t been discovered by lots of tourists, so hasn’t become too busy and overly westernised. Nearby is also Koh Chang which I would visit too.

A white sand beach
Shark Bay, Koh Tao

Some Key Tips For Thailand

Book transport in person at tourist stands and not on 12Go where you can. This is because you can often get a better price, and they often pick you up from where you’re staying rather than you having to go to the tour company’s shop.

Get bug spray when you get there. It is so cheap in 7/11 and the local ones work better.

Bring enough sunscreen, skincare, moisturiser, aftersun, etc. with you. They can be really expensive when you get there, especially sunscreen and aftersun, and they often have whitening in.

Don’t be scared to eat at the local restaurants, markets and street food. They often do the best and most affordable food. Make a judgement call on whether you think it is safe. They honestly usually are, I would just watch out for how they prep the food, how long it could’ve been sat out, etc. I didn’t actually get sick from the food or water once in my eight months and I definitely do not have a strong stomach.

Don’t be scared to go solo. Thailand is probably the easiest country to go solo in along with Indonesia, and maybe Vietnam. I was in a group of girls so I can’t speak to the experience but it is such a social country, hostels are often very social (island and hostel dependant), and I met lots of solo travellers. I would actually go back with only one or two other people max if I went back because I found we didn’t really meet many people as they didn’t approach us as much and we didn’t have as much of a need to approach others. However, when it was just Gee and I, we met so many people.

If you don’t like drinking and want the cultural experience, don’t plan to spend much time in the south. To be honest, I was quite happy to leave the south by the time we did as I was beginning my travels and wanted to do some more cultura stuff. The south is a lot of party, beaches, boat trip, sunbathe, repeat.

Really consider the place you stay. Don’t just pick anywhere or where looks the best or where is cheapest. In my opinion, where you stay makes or breaks your experience. I would speak to people you know that have been, look at reviews and consider your budget. There are times I loved a place purely because of the hostel, how social and fun it was, they put on trips and events, in a really good location, etc. Whereas, on the other hand, I have had places I went that I didn’t enjoy as much as I could’ve because we picked the wrong hostel.

Try and avoid wet season. We went in April so it was just before wet season, meaning it was busy wasn’t at its peak. I know people that went in wet season and smack in the middle of low season and they didn’t feel they had the full experience as it was so quiet. Also in Asia, when it rains, it pours – and it can ruin the experience if you’re hoping to go beaches or do trips and excursions. November – early May is considered dry season. Around December time is often peak of tourists due to the christmas holidays.

Research elephant sanctuaries before going. I’m sure most people know this of Thailand, but after people realised that elephant riding and using elephants as a tourist attraction isn’t ethical, a lot of unethical places labeled themselves as rescues and sanctuaries. I did so much research and really wanted to go somewhere super ethical – here is a source for what to look for. The place I found was Elephant Nature Park, which is a hands-off experience, this doesn’t mean you don’t get to see or interact with the elephants, it means there is no riding, not bathing (which is actually quite stressful for the elephants), no overfeeding, etc. However, we panicked when booking as we couldn’t afford that one, and ended up going to a different one which I really regretted. When I go back to Thailand, I will be going to a fully ethical one. I am so glad I got to see them in the wild in Khao Sok.

Check the dates of things you want to do. Some things are only on certain days of the week such as Tipsy Tubing in Pai is only on (I think) Tuesdays and Fridays, or night markets are often only on certain days like the Chiang Mai one.

Don’t try and fit everything in to one trip. I am glad I got to see so many places in Thailand, but they changed the visa from 45 days to 30 days just before we arrived, so everywhere we had planned to see, we had to cram a lot in to less time. This meant there was a couple places we only had one night in or I wish we had more time in.

Have cash. If you don’t get it out before you go, you can easily get it out at ATMs (although they charge a £5 fee every time so make sure you’re getting out big amounts rather than lots of little ones).

Get a local sim card. You can get these at the airport, you will pay a little more but is worth at least one person in your group getting one from here. A lot of people get their sims from 7/11 which is a good and easy option but you might not get the best service as it is definitely more aimed at tourists. I got my sim from a little tour stand in Phuket in the end. It was a carrier company that is really good and covers all of Thailand, and was much cheaper than the airport.

Thailand is such an amazing country to visit, with beautiful beaches, breathtaking landscapes, lots of things to do, very social, and amazing food. I definitely recommend visiting and is somewhere I will visit again throughout my life.

A girl holding a plate of food