Hedonist or hermit? Are you seeking a spiritual experience or knock-off clothing? City lights or off-the-beaten-track simplicity? Confounding and confronting, the Land of Smiles is a full-on cultural onslaught from that first hit of humid air. But far from frightening newbies, beguiling Thailand has many repeat customers. And you’ll be one of their loyalty cardholders.
Thailand is a choose-your-own-adventure vacay. Want sun-drenched shores and balmy seas? Jungle trekking and wildlife spotting? Party hotspots in 24/7 cities and hedonistic resort towns? Or maybe cultural immersion and spa-hopping sojourns? Whether you’re here to go hard or go everywhere, Thailand is a multi-faceted holiday destination that’s super kind to budget travellers.
You can easily see the sights and stay in decent accommodation and have plenty of change for cheap cocktails, Chang singlets and pad thai. Eating is a major pastime in Thailand and the delicate balance of sweet, sour, salty and hella hot is even more delicious when you can dine like a Kardashian for next to nix. This is the spiritual home of Sriracha garlic chilli sauce, after all.
So while you’re diving in some of the world’s best scuba spots, catching the rays on peach-hued sand, shopping up a storm and perfecting your sun salute at a hillside retreat, Thailand is slowly but surely getting under your skin. This is one tropical affliction you won’t mind catching!
Best time to visit: The dry or cool season is regarded as the best time to visit Thailand; however it’s also high season. From November to February, it rains the least with pleasant temps and less humidity so you won’t stick to the seat of your tuk-tuk or need to seek air-con. Sunseekers heading to the islands and the southern provinces can enjoy pretty even temps all year round, while the northern hilly areas offer respite from the heat during the wet and hot seasons too. The least crowded months are April to June, September and October.
Know: No doubt you know about the May 22 military coup in Thailand, so what does that mean for travellers? After martial law was imposed (all while Student Flights was shooting our new Staff Picks hotel reviews in Bangkok and Phuket!), the latest curfew is in place between midnight and 4am (excluding Phuket province, Samui district, Pattaya City, Krabi, Phang Nga, Hua Hin, Cha-am, Ko Chang, Hat Yai and Ko Pha-ngan), however visitors can travel to and from the airport during this time. Some areas of central Bangkok may also have restrictions to stop demonstrators from gathering around the main shopping and hotel districts and public transport may be affected too.
Places to go:
Bangkok – The Thai capital pulses with nonstop energy. Sky-high bars, massive megaclubs, slick clubs and subterranean haunts get the party going 7 nights a week. Bags your bottle of whisky and make the latest venue your base for the night. Shopping here is similarly stimulating with megamalls, multi-storey shopping centres and sprawling markets all vying for your Baht. Balance all the excess with a foot massage (you’ll need it after pounding the pavement), take in the wats, and chow down with street eats.
Ko Samui – Less commercialised than Phuket but not as hippie than Ko Pha-ngan (outside of the full moon parties, that is), Ko Samui rocks a laidback vibe with chilled-out beachside bars, secluded wats and a mix of luxe and backpacker accommodation. The high-low mix means you can be saluting the sun at a yoga retreat or doing a cleanse at a no-frills spa. Then throwing down in town and detoxing all over again.
Ko Phi Phi Don – You’ve heard of The Beach? Now go and see Ao Maya – the stunning cove that’s the physical embodiment of the utopian paradise in the book. Tick. Now spend a few days on this downtempo isle where azure seas lap golden beaches by day and hedonism comes to the fore at night.
Chiang Mai – Ziplining in the jungle, petting tigers, visiting an elephant sanctuary – Chiang Mai may be in the north of Thailand but you can still get your tourist on here. Away from the sun-drenched shore of the islands, Chiang Mai province is a haven of green – verdant mountains, fertile valleys and dense jungle. A fusion of cultures and traditions awaits.
Ko Pha-ngan – Haad Rin is the site of the infamous full moon (and half moon and quarter moon) parties. Time your trip just right and you can be making shapes on the beach and throwing down a bucket drink at this must-do event. Outside of the monthly madness, Haad Rin is a stunning crescent beach and the relatively untouched island is a great place to hang out.
Ko Tao – “Are you for scuba?” While we can’t guarantee you’ll have Along Came Polly’s Scuba Claude as an instructor (and that can only be a good thing!), teeny tiny Ko Tao is the Thai diving destination of choice. Fin your way around amazing dive sites with whale sharks and manta rays and then soak up the backpacker party scene after hours.
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