We love writing about Southeast Asia in the Flashpacker Travel Blog and no country is closer to our hearts than Thailand. We recently spent over 2 months in Thailand as part of a 7 month trip across Southeast Asia. We loved the country and the people, and although 2 months isn’t nearly enough time to truly experience the whole country we were fortunate to see a lot of it. Here are our top 10 in Thailand.
10. BKK - Bangkok Suvarnabhumi International Airport
Despite multiple visits (including one sleepover) to Singapore’s world famous airport we loved Bangkok’s main airport; Suvarnabhumi. If you’re only flying discount carriers you probably won't get a chance to see it but we were extremely impressed with how modern, clean, and efficient it was. It’s easy to get to and from the city using the clean, air conditioned subway system at BKK. Whereas at DMK, the smaller airport, you’ll need to take a bus then a subway to get to the city. We visited a couple different lounges and they were among the best we’ve experienced in the world (and far better than the 3 we tried in Singapore).
9. Pier 21 Food Court at Terminal 21 Mall
It certainly doesn't compare to some of the local street food and restaurants you can find in Thailand but every time we were in Bangkok, stopping in at the famous Terminal 21 food court felt like coming home. Its huge, extremely inexpensive (we’re told the government makes them keep the prices down), and the perfect place to try every Thai dish you can imagine because worst case, you’re only out a dollar or two if you don’t like it.
8. Krabi and Railay
Those iconic Thailand beach images you see, there’s a good chance they’re from this region. We loved exploring the Krabi area and checking out some of the smaller, less populated islands. Rock climbing in Railay is hugely popular and the best place for some outdoor exercise.
7. Pad Thai & Smoothies
Get as much pad thai as possible while in Thailand. There are certainly tons of other amazing dishes available but somehow we never got tired of this staple. Don’t forget to try their fruit smoothies as well, ask for it unsweetened or without sugar/ syrup. Thailand has some of the best fresh fruit in the world, we recommend combining banana with either pineapple or mango (or both). All they add is water & ice and it’s amazing.
6. Northern Thailand
We loved how incredibly diverse the people, culture, and landscape are in the different regions of Thailand. The north really brings out the history of the country and has beautiful scenery. The food in the north was the best and we loved seeing the old cities like Chaing Mai, but equally enjoyed checking out some of the smaller ones like Phitsanulok.
The south definitely caters to a different type of traveler with resort cities like Phuket so it can feel less authentic and more commercialized but it’s surprisingly easy to avoid those places. Even on well known islands like Koh Samui a few minutes of research to see what the different cities are like will significantly change your experience. For example, check out smaller Lamai on Koh Samui island for a considerably more laid back version of the more popular Chewang. The food is a little spicier and the air is a little saltier but the Thai islands are one of the most beautiful regions on earth.
Even if you’re not a budget traveler it's worth eating in the markets. Some cities like Chiang Mai have massive one-night-a-week markets that take up miles of city streets. Others like Hua Hin have dedicated markets in parks every night that are typically more expensive. Either way, they’re always worth a visit - ask around and find out what markets are going on in each city you stop in for amazing food and atmosphere.
3. The Thai People
In all of Southeast Asia we never felt more welcome and safe than in Thailand. There’s a reason Thailand is known as the land of a thousand smiles: the people are incredibly generous and seem to consistently have a positive attitude. Even in smaller towns basic English is common which helps as well.
2. Scuba Diving
Like many Thailand travelers we got our scuba certifications in Koh Tao, one of the most popular places in the world for it. The prices are standardized across the island (and very affordable) so do some research online for companies with good reviews and then go meet the instructor to make sure you feel comfortable with them. A lot of the nearby dive sites aren't as great as they used to be and dead coral is pretty common but there are still some great sites within an hour or two and it’s a perfect place to learn to dive.
1. Muay Thai
We joined a Muay Thai gym for a week on Koh Samui island and for anyone who enjoys physical activity this is a must (and no experience is necessary!). We trained every morning from 7-9, had breakfast at our hotel, hit the beach, had a massive lunch (typically pad thai), spent a few hours by the pool, then trained from 5:30-8, and either went to the night market or a restaurant for dinner. Every muscle will be on fire and some days you’ll struggle out of bed but it was by far the most enjoyable and memorable experience during our 2+ months in Thailand.
Whether it’s a short vacation or an extended trip, going to Thailand is absolutely worth a visit (and probably more than one). An incredibly diverse country that has so much to see, do, and experience, you really can’t go wrong but keep these experiences in mind to get the most out of your time in the land of a thousand smiles.