Backpacking through Thailand has been discussed to death.
It’s been discussed on practically every travel blog, vlog, and has thousands of photos of it uploaded to Instagram daily so whatever I can add to the discussion isn’t going to be ground-breaking but I can share my own authentic boots-on-the-ground experience.
Everybody has their own style of backpacking and every traveler has a different timeline for their holiday. The times when I was unhappiest was when I tried to see too many sights too quickly, it quickly leads to burnout. As an American I understand this all too well. In our country, 10 days of vacation is a standard amount of time off* and it’s not likely to be granted if you ask for more during employment contract negotiations. Trying to get it all done as quickly as possible is the easiest way to burnout so I suggest to take it at your own pace. There’s so much to see in Thailand so just embrace the slow travel life.
I took the midnight train going ANYWHERE! no I took the night train from Bangkok to Surat Thani on our way to Koh Samui. A detailed experience of the train journey is documented here
After the train ride and waking up tired from the lack of sleep, we then got on a bus that took us to the jet ferry that brought us to Koh Samui, the biggest island in the Gulf of Thailand, where we spent the next few nights in a super-nice resort. We only spent 3 days and 2 nights on the island as the weather was shite the whole time. There was a week of serious downpour in the gulf that ruined almost our entire time so we didn’t get to do much here. In between the rainfall we did go to a cool restaurant called The Jungle Club with an awesome view of the beach from the mountain-side. I’ve only heard good things about the southern islands of Thailand, so I would like to come back here at some point and get an open-water PADI on Koh Pha Ngan.
We then took a bus down to Krabi where the weather was slightly better. Ao Nang beach was nice but Railay beach was better. A short little longboat ride from Ao Nang will take you there. The Phi Phi islands are another popular tourist spot as with Koh Lanta but we did not go to those places. Recently I heard about Koh Lanta National Park on a YouTube vlog and it looked amazing, I have to say, next time I’m in Krabi, I will be visiting the places that I didn’t get a chance to see the first time. One of those days I did actually manage to go to the gym.
After a few more days lounging around the beaches in Krabi we eventually left on a bus to go to Phuket, Thailand’s largest island. We ended up booking a random hotel near Patong Beach but found the area extremely busy with tourists. We considered Krabi a little too touristy for our liking but we were OK with it, but when we arrived in Patong and it was overwhelming. Now, I’m not complaining that a place is so popular that people from around the globe want to visit, the part that I find overwhelming is the barrage of massage parlours, Tuk Tuk drivers harassing you for rides and tailors offering cheap suits. It’s a little bothersome sometimes but I guess that comes with the fact that Patong beach is an extremely popular destination for holidays. Only a small personal gripe but nonetheless it is what it is. We spent about a day on the beach and the other day we took a day trip to see Big Buddha, which was a great view and also free.
From Phuket we flew up to Chiang Mai on the first night of Songkran, Thailand’s 3-day “water festival.” It’s supposed to be about more than water fights but whatever, it was a life changing experience and I recommend being in Thailand for Songkran to all my friends (it was also recommended to me by a friend). Other than Songkran in Chiang Mai, I met a few other travellers in the hostel and spent the next few days hanging out with my new group of friends. I enjoyed Chiang Mai as a city in which expats live, it was very walkable, but couldn’t see myself living there for an extended period of time. I did a range of activities in the city, including seeing my first live Muay Thai fight, fed and bathed elephants at a sanctuary. I can’t remember the name of the place (one of the top-rated on TripAdvisor) or else I’d plug it here but I would definitely recommend it. From what I could tell, there was no elephant riding or mistreatment of the animals, which is something to look out for if going to Thailand. The price was around $20USD which is a lot in Thailand but was well worth it. I spent a lot of time in Chiang Mai (over 8 days in total) but eventually left to go to Pai, which has a bit of a reputation for being a hippy town.
Pai is also located in northern Thailand and is a much different vibe than Southern Thailand. I would describe Pai as a hippy town where apparently you can buy psilocybin mushrooms and find some broccoli to smoke. Normally I would partake and get a little wild if I was doing that at home but I have an irrational fear of getting thrown in a foreign jail so no thanks! Other than the hippy drug culture here there’s still plenty of drinking, which I enjoy a lot more than drugs. After talking with some of the expats in Pai I began to really enjoy the chill hippy lifestyle and could see why they refer to it as the “Pai-hole”. This term “Pai-hole” comes from the fact that many of the expats living here don’t ever really leave. They often have to make visa runs in and out of the country but they keep coming back to the chill atmosphere of Pai. Honestly, I can see why people like it here, It’s chill and relaxing, low stress. There’s plenty to do here like visiting the Pai Canyon for a hike (like the Grand Canyon but shitty, jk don’t fall tho), Kho-Ku-So Bamboo Bridge was a cool sight, Lod Cave, White Buddha for sunset, the list goes on, worth a visit. I didn’t get stuck in the Pai-hole and about 6 days after arriving I went back to Chiang Mai where I took a night train back to Bangkok because by this point I nearly used up my entire 30-day visa!
I spent the next few days getting my visa to Cambodia.
*In my first grocery store job at age 16 (contract bargained by a Workers Union), we did not get any vacation time during our first year, the second year we got 5 days, third and fourth year we got 10 days and in the fifth year we received 15 days. We continued to receive 15 days of vacation until our tenth year of service which we received 20 days and finally at 15 years of service you would achieve the maximum of 25 days off. This paid holiday scheme was considered pretty good at the time.