Thailand itineraries

Thailand map & itineraries


Make the most of your time

Thailand’s popularity as a tourist destination makes it seem like an easy place to get around – and it is. However, if you want to see more than the usual tourist traps of Bangkok, Chiang Mai and an island or six, you’ll need to plan your Thailand itinerary a bit more carefully. Lesser visited islands have less frequent ferry departures; remote national parks will need booked guides and accommodation; and hopping on a last minute coach tour to a hill tribe may not be the authentic cultural experience you were looking for – so our advice is to plan ahead! Click on the blue map points for more information about each location; below the map are our top Thailand itineraries, incorporating our favourite highlights.
Bangkok Kanchanaburi Town Koh Chang Khao Sok National Park Koh Phi Phi Chaiya Chiang Mai Pai Koh Samet Khao Yai National Park Sukhothai Elephant Nature Park Doi Angkhang Golden Triangle Khao Luang Chao Mai

Bangkok

Thailand’s crazy capital is a bustling blend of ancient and modern, traditional and cosmopolitan. Take a tour on foot, tuk tuk, riverboat or Skytrain; discover the floating markets, temples, Buddhas and palaces, have dinner in a floating restaurant, or escape across the river to the lush jungle to the secret Bang Krao Jao gardens. Don’t forget your street food fix – and try recreating it yourself in a cooking class.

Chaiya

Dating back over a thousand years, Chaiya is a break from the relentless tourist bustle, and a chance to explore lost temples, archaeological sites and local night markets. It’s also an ideal base for daytrips to Mu Ko Chumporn National Park, local fishing villages, nearby hot springs and silk mills. There are also hidden beaches to relax on.

Chao Mai

With their limestone karsts and mangrove swamps, the beaches of Chao Mai National Park are some of the most picturesque in Thailand – while being just a little too far south for the majority of tourists. Visit tiny fishing villages, canoe through surreal limestone tunnels, explore sacred caves and cool off in the clear waters of Hat Yao.

Chiang Mai

Founded 800 years ago at the foot of a mountain, Chiang Mai is a welcome retreat from the southern heat. The city itself has temples to explore and a wonderful elephant sanctuary, as well as Thai cookery classes and a fascinating night bazaar. It is also a convenient base for adventure sports including hiking, biking and rafting. Alternatively, head into the mountains to visit the region’s many hill tribes.

Doi Angkhang

Escape the lowland heat in the mountain scenery of Thailand’s “Little Switzerland” – which even has the occasional snowfall. Situated on the Burmese border, Doi Angkhang offers a cultural glimpse of its neighbour, with hill tribe visits, flower and fruit farms and even Yunnan villages. Trek with local guides, or get on your bike to tour the King’s royal agriculture projects – a wonderful addition to your Thailand itinerary.

Elephant Nature Park

Elephant Nature Foundation campaigns for elephant rights; this is their key project. Here, elephants do not work for people – the people work for them, ensuring they are cared for full time. All are either retired working elephants, or rescued from abuse or neglect, and cannot be returned to the wild. See them interacting and grazing as they would in their natural homes - there are no shows or rides here.

Golden Triangle

At the confluence of the Ruak and Mekong Rivers, where the verdant valleys of Northern Thailand give way to the mountains of Burma and Laos, the Golden Triangle is a chance to meet isolated tribes in colourful traditional dress, explore Chinese temples and local markets, and visit the Hall of Opium Museum to learn more about the illicit trade that grew from the region’s blanket of poppy fields. Chiang Rai is the gateway.

Kanchanaburi Town

Home of the famous Bridge on the River Kwai, this little town is surrounded by waterfall-filled jungle, with pools and rivers to bathe in. Take a cycle tour of the town, visit the War Museum and spend the night bobbing in a floating rafthouse on the river. You can also hike the scenic tracks of the so-called “Death Railway” – named after the number of workers and POWs who were killed during its wartime construction.

Khao Luang

Named after the 1,835m peak that it surrounds, Khao Luang National Park is an Asian Eden of tropical rainforest, fruiting trees, indigenous orchids and multi-tiered waterfalls, hosting over 200 bird species, macaques and deer. Elusive big cats – including the tiger and clouded leopard also inhabit this park. As well as trekking and rafting, you can explore the stalacmite-and-stalactite-filled Hong Cave.

Khao Sok National Park

Wilderness lovers should pack their walking shoes and bug spray and head to one of Thailand’s most stunning national parks – a wonderland of limestone karsts, lakes, waterfalls, rainforests and treehouses. Kaho Sok is for the intrepid explorer, you can sleep in a rafthouse, surrounded by jungle, travel by longtail boat, hike in the forests and canoe or tube along the river.

Khao Yai National Park

Thailand’s oldest reserve is a UNESCO World Heritage Site encompassing rainforest and savannah with all the wildlife to match, including tigers, elephants, gibbons and hornbills. The 2,000 plant species create fairytale scenes of lianas and spiny palms, and over 320 species of birds live here. Night safaris are one of the most thrilling ways to wildlife, or trek to waterfalls and bat-filled caves.

Koh Chang

This national marine park feels a million miles from the chaotic beaches of Koh Samui or Phuket. The little archipelago has plenty of little islands to explore, including tiny, tranquil Koh Maak; the powdery beaches of Rayang; Koh Rang – the best place for snorkelling and diving, and Koh Chang itself. Canoe through mangroves, swim beneath waterfalls and discover local fishing villages – this is the Thailand that people dream of.

Koh Phi Phi

“The Beach” was filmed partly in this archipelago – and sadly Koh Phi Phi seems to be following the same script. Though the islands remain ridiculously beautiful, this is precipitating their downfall, as rapid development continues. You can trek, view prehistoric cave paintings, climb the cliffs, snorkel, dive, spot birds – and run away from the fierce monkeys. Just be sure you’re not part of the problem, and travel respectfully.

Koh Samet

Some of Thailand’s most idyllic beaches can be found on this island, just 6km long, and surrounded by clear water and coral reefs. Tourism has increased – thanks to its proximity to Bangkok – but not to the crazy extent found elsewhere. There are dozens of beaches, from the busy to the secluded, depending on whether you want easy access to bars, diving, local villages or wildlife – including sea turtles.

Pai

Thailand’s hill tribe heartland, the region of Pai is home to several colourfully dressed tribes, with even more colourful cultures – including the Lahu; former crossbow hunters with their respected shamans, as well as Karen and Shan communities. Trek the hills, stay in communal village houses sleeping on rattan mats and learn how to cultivate rice. You can also explore the vast Tham Lod cave network.

Sukhothai

A historical addition to your Thailand itinerary. This UNESCO World Heritage Site, whose name means “the dawn of happiness”, dates back to the 13th century, when it was the capital of Siam. Many of the ancient Buddhas and temples have now been restored, but venturing out to the unrestored areas give
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Thailand itineraries


Northern mountains, southern beaches (21 days)

Bangkok ► Sukhothai ► Pai ► Chiang Rai ► Chiang Mai ► (flight) Bangkok ► Khao Luang National Park ► Chao Mai National Park ► Bangkok

Thailand discovery tour (10 days)

Bangkok ► Kanchanaburi ► Sukhothai ► Chiang Mai ► Lampang Elephant Conservation Centre ► Bangkok

Jungles & islands

Bangkok ► Kanchanaburi & River Kwai ► Khao Sok ► Krabi & Andaman Sea ► Koh Phi Phi ► Krabi ► Bangkok

Thailand travel times


The following times give you a rough idea of the driving, flight and sailing times between the main Thailand highlights.
  • Chiang Mai – Sukhothai: 5.5 hours by road
  • Bangkok – Chiang Mai: 14 hours by train
  • Bangkok – Kanchanaburi: 2 hours by road
  • Krabi – Khao Sok: 2.5 hours by road
  • Phuket – Khao Sok: 4 hours by road
  • Bangkok – Koh Chang: 1 hour by road +45 mins boat
  • Chiang Mai – Pai: 3 hours by road
  • Chiang Mai – Chiang Rai: 3 hours by road
  • Bangkok – Koh Samet: 2.5 hours bus + 20 mins boat
  • Phuket – Koh Phi Phi: 1 hour 45 mins
Photo credits: [Top box - tuk tuk travel: lynhdan] [Bangkok: Prachanart Viriyaraks] [Kanchanaburi Town: David McKelvey] [Koh Chang National Marine Park: Photodiary of an Endless Summer] [Khao Sok National Park: Jeff Gunn] [Koh Phi Phi: Eulinky] [Chaiya: Ahoerstemeier] [Chiang Mai: Evo Flash] [Pai: David Bueso] [Koh Samet: Jude Adamson] [Khao Yai National Park: Rushen] [Sukhothai: reibai] [Elephant Nature Park: Madeleine Holland] [Doi Angkhang: Takeaway] [Golden Triangle: Zyance] [Khao Luang: Daniel Peherstorfer] [Chao Mai: 7 july :-)]
Written by Vicki Brown
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