We actually only went to two areas – Bangkok and Krabi area beaches! Our initial plan was to only stay in Bangkok for 2 days and we ended up spending nearly 2 weeks there and almost 3 at the beaches. Thailand is amazing! If you’re limited in time though, I think at least 4 days in Bangkok is good so that you can check out some of the sights and not feel too rushed.
In Bangkok we stayed at a place called iSanook which we found through Airbnb, but I believe you can book directly from their site. It is an apartment which people can rent for long or short term rentals. The place was clean, good price, and comfortable. We were really happy there. The only one issue was that sometimes not all cab drivers knew where it was (it’s in a back alley) so we had to show our maps or direct them. Other than that, we had no complaints.
As for what to do in Bangkok, your number one thing to do is EAT! Instead of buying a guide book of things to do, we bought a street food guide and followed that – haha! Definitely plan to eat lots of food and eat from the street! For sights, I would say you must go to Wat Pho which has the reclining Buddha (our favourite) and also the massage school. The massages are definitely a little more expensive than you can get elsewhere but so worth it. There are a couple of other temples that are pretty popular to visit (Grand Palace with the emerland Buddha and Wat Arun), but we had both already seen them on a previous trip so we didn’t do those again. If you have time though, try to go.
Aside from temples, I’d say you have to go to a night market or a weekend market. We went to the large weekend market Chatuchak and it was amazing! You can find absolutely everything and anything there. It’s very busy and lots of chaos so just be prepared for that, but it’s something to see, especially if you want to shop. If you feel overwhelmed (or even if you don’t), go find the Paella guy and sit and have a drink and a plate of paella (there’s usually pork in it, but he made a special paella without pork when we asked – try it!). Things that I bought at the market were: cheap knock-off t-shirts, cool jewellery, souvenirs, leather bag, etc.
We also went to see Koh San Road (it was ok – very backpacker touristy), different night markets, and, of course, the malls! The malls are very modern with LOTS of shops (different ones and familiar ones). MBK is like a huge market, but indoors, while the others (Paragon) are more luxury malls. We liked going to Paragon for the food court and sometimes grabbing lunch there.
Ok so now to the beaches! We bought flight tickets from Bangkok to Krabi (so cheap!) and then took a taxi from Krabi airport to Ao Nang. In Ao Nang we stayed at an Airbnb place which was great, but there are also a few resorts and larger name hotels in the city too. Ao Nang beach is ok, but that’s not where you should spend your time. Basically, every morning after breakfast, we would go to the pier and take a longtail boat for 100bhat (or 200 round trip) and in 5 minutes you are at Railay beach. It is amazing! We just spent our days at the beach there and for lunch/snacks, there is one street in the middle of the beach that has a few restos and shops. Other beaches in the area that you can also access via longtail boat (and should) are Phra Nang Cave beach (this one is best in the morning as by the afternoon there is very little water!) and Poda beach (this one is AMAZING for snorkeling). Note that poda does not have food/shops, so take your own. Phra Nang Cave beach has ‘restaurant’ boats that dock on the side so you are literally ordering food from a boat while standing in the water. It’s so cool. (see below for more detailed Krabi/AoNang tips)
From Krabi (actually from Railay because we didn’t want to miss any time at the beach) we then took a ferry to Phuket. You can buy tickets from any travel agent along the Ao Nang main strip. We spent about 4 days at Patong beach (the middle part sucks, but if you stay on the edges, it is amazing!), then 3 days at Kata and Karon beaches. They all have their own vibes and it just depends on what you want because they are all beautiful. If you’ve never seen it, I’d recommend going to Patong area, but then spending time at some of the other beaches that are less busy.
From Phuket we took a ferry to Koh Lanta and spent a few days there. (Again, you can buy this easily from travel agents/hotels around the main areas). The beaches were beautiful here – really stunning – but there were so many jellyfish in the water! I was bummed because I was too scared to go into the water, but apparently this only happens a few times a year so it may be ok by the time you guys go if you want to.
After Koh Lanta we went back to Ao Nang and spent another week there before flying back to Bangkok.
Things we did not get to do: go to the beaches on the other side (i.e. Koh Samui) or visit Koh Phangan (full moon party beach) or some of the other popular beaches. Everyone was talking about Koh Tao and Koh Lipe, especially for snorkeling, but we just didn’t want to rush where we were and also we were happy with the beaches we were at! Plus when we were there it was rainy season on the other coast so we didn’t want to get stuck in the rain. We also did not do any diving or rock climbing at Railay but it is known for that and if you’re into it, it’s apparently a great spot to do it. If you do any of these – please share your tips!
Things we did that we would do again: Railay beach for sure ! And the overnight camping trip we did in Koh Phi Phi. We were initially not going to go here because it is very touristy and crowded and everyone says that taking a tour just to see “the beach” beach is not worth it because of the amount of people, but we found a tour that takes you to that beach (at Koh Phi Phi Don I believe) and lets you camp on the beach overnight! That was cool because we basically had the place to ourselves. (there were 20 people that stayed overnight). The tour was fun too and it was something different. Here is the link in case you are interested. We literally took a boat in from Phuket in the morning and then did this tour and the next day took a boat out to Koh Lanta. Some people on the tour were spending a few nights at Koh Phi Phi but most did the same thing as us. http://www.mayabaytours.com — NOTE: They have extra sleeping bags – take one because it can sometimes get a bit windy. Not really cold, just windy.
- Krabi Airport to Ao Nang: When you arrive go to the taxi counter in the airport to book taxi – should be a flat rate to anywhere in Ao Nang town. I believe it was about 600 bhat per taxi. Just to be sure, have the address written down and say the name of the hotel and the address.
- Shuttles: Usually your hotel gives a shuttle down to the port (basically the end of the main street just in front of the beach). Or you can walk. Then on the way back you might want to walk just to get food along the way otherwise take a tuktuk and from what I remember the price SHOULD be 50 bhat per person but they may try to overcharge.
- Where to buy Longtail boat Tickets: When you get to the dock there is an office where you can buy tickets for the boats to go to all of the islands. You would buy a one-way or return ticket to Railay beach. It should be 100bhat each way per person. There is a set time that the last boat returns from Railay beach so be aware of that. If you miss it then you will have to haggle with someone on that side to come back and it will usually be expensive or not possible if the tide is too high/low. We usually bought the return ticket so on our way back we would show our ticket (there is a hut near the “walking street” where the ticket sellers hang out and you make sure you tell them that you are waiting to take the boat back and they will tell you which one to take). Reasons why you wouldn’t ‘pre-buy’ the ticket is if you decided that you wanted to take another boat from Railay to another beach etc. But really that’s not likely.
- The beaches are all different. The ticket you buy for Railay will likely stop at three stops: Ao Ton Sai, Railay West, and Phra Nang Cave beach. I don’t know the order they will go in but usually the first stop is Ao Ton Sai where you will see lots of rocks and nobody gets off, then the real Railay beach (where you will see lots of people and a big sign that says “walking street” in the middle and all the hotels etc.) This is where you want to get off! the last stop is Phra Nang Cave beach (this one is best in the morning as by the afternoon there is very little water and only rocks!). But it has more shaded areas and is a bit more secluded.
- If you go to Railay beach there is obviously food/drink at the beach because of the “walking street”. However, the prices will be higher than in town so sometimes we bought a bottle of water and some snacks from the shops in front of the dock before we left. If you go to Phra Nang Cave Beach then they had ‘restaurant boats’ that docked on the beach – so much fun! There was only one beach that didn’t have food, see below…
- Poda beach – SO BEAUTIFUL for the crystal clear water. SO many fish and you don’t even need snorkels to see them. But if you have any snorkeling equipment or want to buy goggles, this would be the place to use it. To get to Poda you have to buy a separate ticket from the dock to go straight there and there is only ONE boat that returns in the afternoon. It’s best to go in the morning so that you don’t have to wait (boats only go out once they are full and most people don’t go here) so go early-ish and then be prepared to stay all day. there is no food or amenities on the island so take some stuff with you (unless that’s changed) like cookies, crackers, bananas, etc.
- Taking the long tail boats: you literally have to take your shoes off and walk through water to get to the boat and then climb in and vice versa to get out – we had water shoes but it surprising to see how many people wore runners and ruined them completely. Some boats have these mini ladders that you can use. If you’re having trouble, ask them to put it for you if they have it. Remember, capri pants or shorts are the best to wear as you will get wet and have to lift your leg over (or I guess you can have your swim trunks/bikini on and not care as some people do!)
- Things to take: towel, we had a sadree mat that we put down first that we bought off the main street area, sarong or cover-up, sunscreen (many islands have no shade), mosquito repellent (just in case we were going to stay late into the night – but not a spray can because it will be in heat all day), some money, camera, book, tissue, hair tie, snacking food
- Things to buy/do on the beach: there are people coming around offering massages – do it once (i did feet only). they are good but not great and they oil you up a lot so i didn’t like that but it was fun. if it’s hot outside then buy a fresh coconut and enjoy! on the walking street there are lots of smoothie places with fresh juices – SO good – (make sure they use BOTTLED WATER – which they should) and fresh fruit (bob asks that you take a picture ofmini pineapples for him and send it to him – such a geek). We bought a bag and feasted on them throughout the day!
- Dinner – ok so now you’ve had your day on the beach and you take the long tail back to Ao Nang beach. Likely it will be about 6/7 and the sun will be setting. sometimes we hung out on the beach to watch the sun set or sometimes left. usually we walked over to get food and drinks and then made our way home for the night. To get food you can either go straight back up the street (perpendicular to the beach) towards the big mosque at the top of the hill or in the other direction parallel of the main street (towards the Holiday inn). the restaurants around the port are not really any good – we didn’t like any of them right there.
- the best and cheapest food was the street vendors in front of the mosque and some vendors along the way there. If you imagine you are walking from the beach to the mosque, on your LEFT hand side, about half way through (in front of the 7/11) there is a guy who has a soup/noodle cart who Bob loved (spicy) and then after him there is a lady who has a cart who makes the most awesome phad tai. She sets up a little table beside her cart and there are always lots of people. We can’t remember names. this part looks a little sketchy but it isn’t at all. If you miss it, it’s ok, you end up in front of the mosque.
- Going the opposite way towards Holiday Inn, there are lots and lots of souvenir shops and restaurants. We didn’t personally like any of them too much. Some of the souvenir shops are fun to walk through and look at. In front of Holiday Inn (which would be on your right side if you were walking from the beach to the Holiday Inn) is a little collection of permanent street vendors. Not great, but Ok food. On the left side of the street (I think after the Holiday Inn) is a whole row of street vendors which is more authentic. Personally we preferred the mosque side. We got a whole bbq fish from one of them near the beginning of the row and it was good. then bob bought a whole bunch of fresh fruit. to get to these street food vendors, I would just hop on a tuktuk from the port and tell them straight in direction of Holiday Inn or say to go straight and they’ll understand and then on your left hand side you will see a whole row of street vendors. (disclaimer: i’m not 100% sure that the street vendors are across from the Holiday Inn or much further past it, but it’s basically that direction and you can’t miss it so just keep looking out to the left and tell the guy to stop when you see the vendors.)
- Food to get: phad thai (tell them no nuts if you’re allergic), green curry, fish, mango and sticky rice, etc. We ate lots of fruit but we had taken Dukoral vaccine and our stomachs were immune at this point. ALWAYS drink from a clean straw that you take out of the wrapper. ALWAYS drink bottled water (even brush with it).
- Have lots of fun. don’t go too far out in the water. and take lots of pictures. there is only wifi at the sea sand hotel i think and you have to kind of hover or eat there to get access. there’s a risk your phone may get wet from the boat ride.