Hopping from country to country throughout Southeast Asia can be fun, but if you’re looking to stay in one place a little longer, Thailand north to south offers everything from rural village serenity to full-moon parties on the beach.
With TEAN and the ISEAA academic program here in Chiang Mai, we’ve been lucky enough to see just about every aspect of Thai life. Here’s a possible travel itinerary, if you feel so inclined to stay awhile (which you should!).
Chiang Rai & The Golden Triangle
Home to the House of Opium Museum and a view of Thailand, Burma and Laos all at the same time, The Golden Triangle offers history, culture and shopping, being touristy but still quiet. Chiang Rai is more of your typical Thai city, with a small night market, little shops and restaurants, and a uniquely Thai charm.
Chiang Dao is one of my favorite spots in Northern Thailand. Nestled in the mountains, an early morning fog sets in, making it an ideal location for meditation practice or just enjoying a little peace of mind. Local guesthouses and bungalows provide the perfect getaway just several hours north of the busier Chiang Mai. Chiang Dao is great for those looking for a nice vacation without the heat that comes with being at the beach. It’s also close to many of the popular elephant excursions.
Equally far north, but a little further west is Pai, a haven for hippies and backpackers. The town of Pai is tiny, home to Rasta bars, incredible street food, beautiful handcrafted jewelry and hostels with a whole lotta hammocks. The general vibe in Pai perfectly embodies the Thai phrase, “Mai pben rai,” meaning, “no worries.”
Chiang Mai will always have a special place in my heart, as it has been my home now for almost five months. Chiang Mai is the best of both worlds, offering the hustle and bustle of urban life curled up alongside Suthep Mountain. Chiang Mai offers trendy restaurants and bars, great nightlife, and malls with shopping similar to what you might find in Bangkok without being quite as overwhelming as Bangkok can be. One minute you can be sipping wine at an Italian restaurant on Nimmanheiman Road, the next you can be meditating in a forest temple. Check out my post about life in Chiang Mai to learn more!
For the travelers unable to make it to Angkor Wat in Cambodia, Sukhothai is a must-see destination, housing temple ruins built by the same civilization as Angkor Wat, but much more beautiful, in my humble opinion. Sukhothai holds the promise of history and grandiose ancient ruins but without the throngs of tourists. It’s hot as heck in Sukhothai, though, so I recommend going before the hot season begins.
Nostalgic for the concrete jungle? Head to Bangkok, where you’re sure to get your big-city fix in no time. Full of fun backpacker hostels, nice hotels, umpteen restaurants and delectable street food, you’ll still feel like you’re in Thailand, but more people will speak English. With more cultural amenities like art museums, chic rooftop bars and enormous shopping malls, you’ll certainly get your fill of Thai city living.
Krabi is just one of a plethora of Thai beach towns and islands you can find for some fun in the sun. Stunning ocean views make Krabi a top vacation destination for travelers from around the world, though you can scuba, snorkel and island-hop just about anywhere in the southern Thai islands. For more on Krabi, click here.
There are certainly incredible places in other Southeast Asian countries, but if you’re looking to spend a little more time in the Land of Smiles, I don’t think you’ll regret it.