We all know someone who’s been to Thailand. Even my mom has been to Thailand! But there’s a big difference between spending two weeks in a state of semi-conscious drunkenness on a party island (not what my mom did, just for the record), and really experiencing Thailand.
Instead of regaling your friends with stories of when you drank five buckets of red bull and vodka while a fire dancer almost lit you ablaze, wouldn’t you rather have some more unique tales?
What about telling them about the time you went cliff jumping, or hiked through remote villages in the hills of Northern Thailand?
Sure, indulge in a couple of Chang beers as the sun sets or treat yourself to a bucket of poison at the Full Moon Party. But, if you want to really experience Thailand, then you need to avoid the daily hangovers and seek out adventure.
Form the concrete jungles to the actual jungles to the beautiful beaches, there is always something on offer that will get your adrenaline pumping.
So, you’ve got one month to explore. Spontaneity is a key ingredient. But if you go to Thailand without any kind of plan, you can easily get sucked into watching locals box each other into oblivion in Koh Phi Phi bars every night, getting lazy with Thai massages in Chiang Mai or making one too many questionable decisions on Bangkok’s famed Khao San Road.
What you need is a Thailand itinerary to gently guide you, while leaving room for Tom Kha Kai coconut soup runs and those times you’re convinced to hop on the back of a motorbike for a party.
And that’s exactly what I’ve made for you. Get ready for seriously legendary one month in Thailand.
Thailand Itinerary Day 1-3: Bangkok
Your first stop on your Thailand itinerary will be Bangkok. As you leave the arrivals section of the Suvarnabhumi Airport, the cheapest airport and largest hub for flight into Thailand, and step into the tropical heat, you will be instantly immersed in a whirlwind of color and sound. Welcome to Thailand.
Bangkok is a big city and, for first-timers, it can be pretty intimidating. Taxis jostle each other to navigate the dizzying traffic (don’t fall any scams!). Glittering temples like Wat Arun and Wat Pho (home to a 151-foot-tall reclining, gold-leaf Buddha), the ornate Grand Palace, and towering mega malls line the streets.
Sprawling markets like the Chatuchak Market, crawling with people shopping for food, clothes and artisan-made trinkets, stretch endlessly.
You will find a lot to love in Bangkok, but it will take you a day or two to get an idea of how the city operates before you’re ready for some adventures.
There’s a lot more to the Thai capital than just street food and shopping, of course. Right in the heart of the city is Siam Paragon, a mall with an aquarium. Sure, looking at fish isn’t that adventurous, but what if I told you that you can jump into the shark tank and dive among these fearsome creatures? Suddenly, the aquarium doesn’t look so pedestrian, eh?
Alternatively, you could try your hand at wakeboarding at either Taco Lake or Thai Wake Park. The former is the cheaper, easier option, while the latter is more geared towards those with some wakeboarding experience.
When night falls, pick your poison. Soi 11 is the main nightlife neighborhood with bars and clubs galore. Khao San Road, Thong Lor and Ekkamai also boast some of the craziest night spots in Southeast Asia. Meanwhile, over in Soi Cowboy, you’ll be able to find something a little naughty.
Just two hours from the capital, Kanchanaburi might as well be on a different planet. Boasting seven national parks, the province is brimming with adventures. You could probably spend your whole month in Thailand enjoying the natural beauty of the region. But, I’m only giving you two days, so let’s make them count.
There’s not much adventure to be found in Kanchanaburi Town, as this part of the province is reserved for historical sites. After all, the town is well known for its role in World War II. It’s the site of the Death Railway, a railroad that prisoners of war and civilian laborers built under Japanese orders in hellish conditions to connect Thailand and Burma.
You can ride along the railway from Kanchanaburi to Nam Tok these days, but just outside of the city are some seriously impressive waterfalls that you shouldn’t miss
One popular day trip is the Erawan National Park to see its eponymous Erawan Falls. The Khao Hin Lan Pee Nature Trail leads from the park HQ to the fifth tier of the seven-tier waterfall and takes around two hours to walk each way.
The park is also home to various caves, such as the closest and most accessible Phra That Cave, which has stalactites and stalagmites galore, and Ta Duang Cave, which features a number of rock paintings. Note that the Erawan Park is often fairly crowded. For a more secluded trip, I recommend visiting the Huay Mae Khamin falls, which are just as beautiful.
There are two clusters of Thai islands. Those in the Gulf of Thailand (east of the mainland) and those in the Andaman Sea (west of the mainland). While it’d be ideal if you had the time to visit both clusters in one trip, there’s too much to see in a single month—and the weather tends to play favorites depending on the season.
Both sets of islands are warm and sunny all year round, with the temperature ranging between 85 and 95 degrees Fahrenheit. However, what differs between the clusters is the rainfall. The rain is heaviest on the Andaman Islands from May to October and on the Gulf Islands from October to January. You may want to use this to help you decide which side to visit.
Fortunately, whichever side you choose, we have the perfect itinerary for your trip.
From Kanchanaburi, head back to Bangkok and beeline straight for the train station. From there, take a night train down to Suratthani, a port city in the south of Thailand, where you can embark for Koh Phangan in the Gulf.
Book yourself into first class on the train. It’s worth paying a bit extra for this, and you’ll get your own bed and a curtain for privacy. The train will have a restaurant carriage. Vendors regularly wander through the aisles selling cookies, fruit, soft drinks and other treats.
It’ll be like living in luxury—well, kind of. Night trains in Thailand are an adventure in and of themselves. And they are far cleaner and more comfortable than anywhere else in Southeast Asia. (I’m looking at you, Vietnam!)
Once you’ve gotten to Suratthani, hop on a ferry (be sure to get to the port early because they don’t run too late) to Koh Phangan. Despite its fame as home to the Full Moon Party, which attracts upwards of 30,000 people, there’s far more than just partying here.
My first port of call in Koh Phangan is always the total wipeout course, The Challenge Phangan, on Laem Son Lake. This obstacle course consists of inflatable balls, climbing walls, monkey bars and a trapeze. You might as well get used to getting your butt kicked for the Thai boxing class you’re taking later on… Yea, we’ll get there.
Once you’ve acted like a big kid, enjoy the island’s nature by trekking to Bottle Beach. This jungle trail takes about an hour and a half and leads from Coconut Beach all the way to Bottle Beach. If that isn’t enough for you, you can also hike up Khao Ra, the highest peak on Koh Phangan, which is a three-hour round trip journey.
If you opt for Phuket on the Andaman side, the first thing you need to do is take the night train from Bangkok to Suratthani. From there you can hop on a bus that will take you across the Sarasin Bridge, which connects the mainland to Phuket.
Once you’ve arrived on Phuket, checked into your accommodation and you’ve taken a second to drink in your surroundings (and maybe a banana shake), it’s time for some adventure. If you’re comfortable on a surfboard, head over to Kata or Kalim beach. The waves here are fast and can get pretty big—hence why the island is a mecca for surfers from all over the world.
If you would rather be under the water than on it, there are plenty of dive shops in Phuket. The diving here is a little more expensive than in Koh Tao, but the beauty of the underwater scenery more than makes up for the extra few dollars. Popular dive sites in Phuket include Racha Noi, Racha Yai and Shark Point, which is home to leopard sharks, blacktip reef sharks and turtles.
Those seeking a real adrenaline rush can hop on an ATV and race around the circuit located just outside of Phuket’s main town. The route runs past tiny waterfalls and under the warm canopy of the jungle. You’ll take in some fantastic sights and get your heart racing – what else could you ask from an adventure activity?
Koh Phangan’s smaller, quieter neighbor Koh Tao has a lot going for it. The ferry between the islands only takes one hour and 15 minutes, so you could feasibly visit as a day trip. I recommend giving this island a lot more love, though.
Koh Tao is renowned as being the cheapest place in the world to get your PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) or SSI (Scuba Schools International) diving licenses (along with Utila in Honduras). With this in mind, it would be a shame not to go diving at least once while you’re there.
The PADI and SSI Open Water courses take three days to complete and, whaddya know, you’ve got three days here!
There’s a reason why Koh Tao is such a popular place to learn to dive—and it’s not just because it’s so cheap. The coral reefs that ring the island are sublime, and abundant with visitors like angelfish, butterflyfish, bannerfish and stingrays.
Chumphon is one of the best dive sites and barracudas, mackerels, big eyed jacks and, if you’re lucky, whale sharks frequent it, too.
Koh Phi Phi
From Phuket, Koh Phi Phi is just a short ferry ride. This island gained international acclaim when it starred in The Beach with Leonardo DiCaprio. Maya Bay was chosen for the main filming location and one of the top activities to do on the island is to visit said bay. It is outstandingly beautiful, if a little crowded with starstruck tourists.
You can also explore Phi Phi Le National Park, in which the bay is located. This is a top spot for snorkeling, diving or just chilling out in the sunshine. Craggy cliffs loom over dazzlingly turquoise water and the whole place feels like paradise on earth.
For adventure mixed with history, hope in a boat and head tothe Viking Caves at the northeastern end of the island. Not only are the caves themselves magnificent to behold, but the interior is covered in colorful chalk. Legend has it that the drawings were done by pirates over one thousand years ago. The caves are totally free to visit, but you’ll need to pay around $5 for boat transport.
Alternatively, hop in a kayak and float around Koh Phi Phi’s islands. You’ll get front row views of the islands’ iconic limestone cliffs. Be sure to take a snorkel and mask with you so you can jump in the water and watch the fish when you need to cool off.
Koh Samet, one of the eastern seaboard islands of Thailand, sits just off the coastline of the province of Rayong. It’s just three hours southwest of Bangkok, and it offers quite the respite from the hustle and bustle of the city.
The unique factor about Koh Samet is that most of the island is a national park. The island has only three roads, so cars are few and far between. You’ll get around the park easiest by foot and by motorbike.
You might also choose water sports at one of the 14 beaches like Hat Sai Kaeso and Ao Hin Khok while you’re there. You can rent water sports equipment most of the beaches to try out jet-skiing, wakeboarding or even parasailing.
Koh Lanta is an island in the Krabi Province known for coral-fringed beaches, mangroves and rainforests—as well as for its super chilled out culture of semi-nomadic sea people known as the Chao Leh. Don’t let the relaxed atmosphere fool you though; there’s tons of adventure to find on Koh Lanta.
Mu Ko Lanta National Park spans several islands, including Koh Lanta. You can explore the Khao Mai Kaew cave network by kayak and hike over to the Khlong Chak Waterfall, about a 30-minute trek into the rainforest.
Koh Lanta is also known for snorkeling and scuba diving thanks to its abundance of coral reefs and crystal clear waters, home to manta rays and whales.
Of course, you don’t need to spend all of your time in the water just because you’re on an island. Koh Lanta is also home to a population of dogs who need care. You can walk some rescued stray pups around the island by visiting the Lanta Animal Welfare center.
The center only releases that animals back to where they were found when it’s safe for them; if they need more care, however, they help find the dogs forever homes.
The second largest island after Phuket, Koh Samui is the perfect mix of nature, nightlife and never-ending thrills. If you want to live large, look into one of the many holiday villas in Koh Samui. Otherwise, there are hostels and guesthouses all over the island.
The number one adventure in Koh Samui is a trip to the Ang Thong National Park. Your one month in Thailand won’t be complete without witnessing the green islands with craggy cliff faces that plunge out of the water within the boundaries of this park.
Boat trips are easy to do and take you around the islands, stopping frequently so you can swim, snorkel and kayak. You can also go on diving excursions within the park.
For those who want to keep their feet on terra firma, you can hike to the spectacular lookout point on Ang Thong’s main island Koh Wua Talap. The hike to the top takes around 45 minutes but, given the many lookout points, you may end up taking over an hour. From the top, you will see coconut palms shading pearly white sand that runs into turquoise waters.
Back on Koh Samui, waterfall treks are abundant. Two favorites that both lead to great swimming spots are the Hin Lat and Na Muang Falls treks. Hin Lat is the more challenging hike of the two as it requires some scrambling over boulders and steep ascents. Na Muang is usually more crowded, though, so pick your poison.
While not technically an island itself, the province of Krabi has all the hallmarks of an idyllic Thai island. Think white sand beaches, electric blue water and plenty of adventure activities.
If your kayaking in Koh Phi Phi left you hungry for more, kayaking through the Than Bok Khorani National Park will fix that. These peaceful mangroves are home to monkeys and birds and encompass secret caves and lagoons.
Over at Railay Beach, you’ll find some serious adventure. Those chalky cliffs you’ve been admiring from afar are now going to be your playground. Climbing these rocks may look intimidating, but it is easier than you might think. And, if you miss your footing, you’ll simply fall into beautiful, refreshing water.
Once you’re done with the water, explore Krabi’s lush landscapes by walking one of its many hiking routes. The trail that leads to Hang Nak Mountain is a favorite with visitors, thanks to the stunning photo ops from the top of vivid green jungle and undulating hills. The route is just under two and a half miles each way and takes about two hours to complete.
Thailand Itinerary Day 19-23: Chiang Mai
It’s time to say goodbye to the islands and brace yourself for slightly cooler weather as you head north. You’ll want to find the closest airport from you to fly to Chiang Mai (for example, there are direct flights from Koh Samui). I highly recommend flying, unless you want to spend 36 hours on trains across the country.
You’ll arrive in Chiang Mai, which boasts a blissful change from the sweltering heat and non-stop energy of the islands. Things move slower up there, but Chiang Mai is a hub of adventure activities.
Do you want to admire Chiang Mai’s gorgeous natural scenery and get your heart racing at the same time? Ziplining through the jungle that surrounds the city is a must. The Flight of the Gibbon is an established zipline operator that offers two and a half hour’s worth of ziplines and hanging bridges. The company also pours money into conservation so it gets a thumbs up from me.
Thailand’s tallest mountain, Doi Inthanon at 8,415 feet, also sits just outside of the city in the Chom Thong District. You can rent a motorbike to drive to the base and hike up. Or there are plenty of tours to guide your trek and teach you about the trees, mosses and plants in the area that change as you climb altitudes.
Elephant Sanctuaries in Chiang Mai
You can also get out of the city by venturing out to spend the day with Thailand’s national animal, the elephant. Just be warned: If you want to spend time with elephants in Chiang Mai, do your research. There are some legitimate sanctuaries, but there are also sham sanctuaries.
Elephant Nature Park
is the only rescue center that I can comfortably recommend. Experts recommend it for its ethics.
Once you’ve had your fun on land, it’s time to get wet. The Mae Teng River, which flows past stunning hilltop forests, is the perfect place for whitewater rafting (from June to January). Here, you’ll find rapids suitable for beginners, pros and everyone in between.
If you’re the sporty type and don’t mind the risk of getting your ass kicked, I also recommend trying out a Muay Thai boxing class. But, I warn you, these classes can be pretty brutal, and Muay Thai is notoriously hard to master. Nevertheless, it’s a fun and unique experience. Alternatively, watch the pros do it from the sidelines at the Kawila Boxing Stadium.
Chiang Mai by Night
In the evenings, there is nowhere else worth being other than the city’s famous night bazaar. No matter how well you’ve been avoiding buying yourself trinkets you really don’t need, this market will crack you.
Clothes, jewelry, stationery, boxing shorts, delicate candles shaped like flowers, handmade soaps, hammocks—you name it, you’ll find it here. Plus, there’s a huge food court, selling every fragrant Thai delicacy you ever dreamed of. Yes, you will be here every night. And yes, you will end up buying more than you can realistically fit in your backpack.
Chiang Mai has lots of markets, though! Click here for a list of some other notable markets in one of Thailand’s best cities.
Thailand Itinerary Day 24-27: Pai
As we prepare for your final week of our month adventuring in Thailand, we move to the sleepy town of Pai. Pai is a hippy paradise in the middle of the spectacular hills of northern Thailand.
If you aren’t sick of waterfalls, there are some more to see in Pai. (Let’s be honest—no one ever gets sick of waterfalls.)
The Mor Paeng waterfall is not the most beautiful waterfall you ever visit, but it might be the most fun. Huge faces of stone, worn almost smooth by the running water, rise up from the water at an angle. These, my friends, are Mother Nature’s very own water slides. Spend some time sliding and splashing before walking the three-minute path back to the car park.
Another adventure for your Thailand itinerary is the supremely impressive Pai Canyon, which is located just five miles from the town. OK, it’s not quite the Grand Canyon, but it is well worth a visit nonetheless. There is one hiking path that runs through the canyon.
It comprises narrow paths with treacherous 100-feet drops on either side. This is more than a casual stroll and requires a good level of fitness and proper shoes.
When you’re done, the Tha Pai Hot Springs are located just four miles from town. They’re perfect for a soak, especially if your muscles are sore from your canyon hike.
Thailand Itinerary Day 28-31: Chiang Rai
Finally, you’re heading to Chiang Rai, the last stop on our Thailand itinerary. Chiang Rai sits just north of Chiang Mai, and it’s not far from the borders of Myanmar and Laos. It is less crowded than Chiang Mai and just as beautiful, if not more.
The first thing I recommend doing is hiring a bike for a few dollars per day. Head to the Chiang Saen District where you will see verdant rice paddies, ruins and daily local life.
Make sure you take the time to visit Chiang Rai’s most spectacular temple Wat Rong Khun (the White Temple). It features jagged sculptures that stick out of its external facades. These make it the most recognizable temple in the country. Admission is 50 baht ($1.50).
For a more arduous adventure, check out Lanna Trek. This tour company organizes single and multi-day treks through the region. Opt for the three days/two nights option. Your guides will take you on a rather bumpy off-roading experience. You’ll go through jungles, past waterfalls and down a steep dirt track. Eventually, you’ll reach the hilltop village of Ban Yafu.
You won’t find any welcome signs or villagers donning traditional garb to pose for photos when you arrive. No, this is an authentic hilltop village that’s a tiny piece of the past.
Traditional ways of life reign supreme here so you won’t see kids with iPads either—talk about culture shock. Instead, you’ll get a glimpse of what Thai life was like 100 years ago. You’ll enjoy traditionally cooked foods and cultural practices with just the handful of families from the Lahu tribe.
For another kind of adventure, you can zipline more in the Mae Fah Luang Gardens in Doi Tung. Roughly an hour by taxi from Chiang Rai, it hangs 100 feet above beautiful tea plantations.
There’s plenty to see in Chiang Rai but if you’re low on time you can pack a lot of it into one day. Book this day tour to see the highlights.
Goodbye Thailand, Hello the Rest of Southeast Asia
And so your one month in Thailand adventure has come to an end. But, that doesn’t mean you need to come home. Instead of hopping a flight from Chiang Rai back to Bangkok, why not carry on into Laos? You could easily spend three months traveling in Southeast Asia—or more!
Don’t think that just because Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar are so close they are anything alike. Each country has a completely unique culture and history, and all of them are well worth exploring.
Let your Thailand trip inspire you to keep going. I mean, you’re already at the border—you might as well just hop across, right? You don’t really need to go back to work, do you?
So where in Thailand are you most stoked about? Let us know in the comments!