For many backpackers the first destination that pops in mind when they think of backpacking is Thailand, and no wonder. The country is probably the cheapest flying option to Asia from Europe, there are loads of backpackers, and Bangkok is an easy hub for almost any regional form of transportation in Asia. I have been twice in Thailand so far, where I have started in Bangkok and made my way around in the country. I absolutely love the country and I can highly recommend anybody to go there as well, so hereby my favorite spots.
Cities & Culture
Bangkok is probably the first place you will enter the country and the city can be slightly intimidating. However, once you get used to the bustling, hustling, and the loads of tourists the city is actually really nice. Most backpackers opt for accommodation around Kao San Road, a central meeting place for backpackers. I always prefer a hostel in one of the side streets rather than the real deal, since the street literally never sleeps. My favorite hostel is NapPark, a designer hostel for 10 euros a night, and probably the best hostel I have ever slept in.
Next to being a good starting point of your trip, Bangkok is also the ideal place to end, because it boasts one of the best markets in the world, and the ideal place to shop souvenirs: Chatuchak Weekend Market. As the name suggests the markets is only open in the weekends, but offers literally everything you can think off. If you want to do a walk of the beaten track try out Chinatown. This part of Bangkok relatively non-touristic and thereby offering you a glimpse in their daily lives. Finally a tip I got myself but was unfortunately not able to do so far is a bike tour through the city. I have heard only good stories about is, especially about Co van Kessel and Grasshopper adventures appear to offer excellent tours.
Bangkok is an interesting place in Thailand to start or end your trip (if you need a Thai food break at the end of your trip try out the food court and sushi restaurant in Siam Paragon shopping centre) but it should certainly be said not to spend too much time in this city. There are greater places to visit.
The second city in Thailand is definitely one of my favorite cities in the country: Chiang Mai just feels like the ultimately relaxed city up north. The city does not necessarily boost a lot of variety (the main cultural attraction are the temples) but proves plenty of nice coffee places, restaurants, and nice walks. It is recommended to rent a scooter (about 5 euros a day) to go up to the temple slightly outside town. We stayed in a cute and central budget hotel called Junior House for about 7,50 euros a night for two persons, so a pretty good deal! One of the best places to have breakfast in the morning was a little bar on the local market, Tip’s best fruit smoothies, run by an energetic woman called Tip with amazing shakes and yoghurt with fresh fruit for about a euro at the Somphet market. If you want to wind down from Bangkok for a bit, Chiang Mai is definitely a good city alternative.
Islands and beaches
The most important reason why Thailand is such a popular place is of course the islands and the beaches. And it’s true, Thailand probably has the prettiest beaches I have ever seen in my life.
Do you know those standard pictures of Thailand with the wooden boats, the blue sea, and the white sand? Well that’s Railay beach! This small peninsula has two stretches of white sand, a jungle as backland, and nearly vertical drop rocks in the ocean. I was here in the pre-season (June) which meant it was pretty quiet and we had the beach nearly to ourselves! You can only reach Railay by beach from Krabi or by ferry from Ko Phi Phi, which means that big groups of tourists skip the destination.
We stayed in the Railay Garden View resort, which is a collection of cute, simple bungalows at the end of the hotel strip. In the pre-season you pay about 15 euros a night, which can double in the high season. You can make some amazing snorkel trips from Railay to several small uninhabited islands around.
Most of these trips include a bbq on a deserted beach with freshly caught fish. We did one of these excursions, which ended up with two drunk guides, who happened to forget the tides, resulting in our boat stuck on the low tide on the beach. After some group effort and some good laughs we were back on our way to Railay for our last snorkel session in the dark to see the glow in the dark plankton. That is one of the excursions I won’t forget easily!
If you want to get your diving certificate Ko Tao is probably the place to go to. The whole island is geared towards diving. There are heaps of dive schools offering certificates with free accommodation. I have dived with Buddha View and Big Blue diving. Both schools offer all certificates, basic free accommodation, and a bar on the beach. Don’t expect a wild crazy night life, but there are plenty of nice bars on the beach with a good atmosphere. The island itself is nice, but renting a scooter yourself is not really recommended; the roads are in such poor condition that there is a term for it: the Ko Tao tattoo.
There are of course many more islands to go to: Ko Phi Phi, Phuket, Ko Lanta, Ko Chiang and a whole other set I am not even aware of. I tried to share my favorite spots, but I am always open to suggestions for new places, so all tips are welcome!