I’ve been asked by several different friends for our Thailand trip details, so today I’m sharing our itinerary, packing list, and travel tips for Thailand.
Garrett and I wanted to plan a big trip to celebrate our honeymoon after my contract in Houston was finished, since we could only take a short honeymoon right after our wedding in 2015. Thailand had been at the top of my list for a while, so we decided it would be perfect for a romantic and adventurous getaway.
We were lucky enough to both have a ton of points and miles saved up from our business travel (serious work perk!) – enough to book us both first class tickets roundtrip. Let me tell you…24 hours of travel in first class is not bad, not bad at all! Technically you travel for two days since it takes a day and there is a 12 hour time change. We flew:
Delta: Milwaukee to Detroit (1 hr), Detroit to Tokyo (14 hrs) to Bangkok (8 hrs)
United: Bangkok to Tokyo (8 hrs), Tokyo to Chicago O’Hare (14 hrs)
Day 3: (days 1 & 2 were spent traveling)
- Exploring – you have to walk around and try the “street meat” (street food vendors)
- Shopping – everything from department stores to Louis Vuitton
- Floating markets – hop on a river boat for a tour of the floating markets that sell everything from food to trinkets. This does require an ~1 hour cab ride from downtown Bangkok to the rivers.
- Songkran festival – Songkran is the Thailand New Year’s water festival, which is basically one big street party with EDM concerts, street vendors, and water gun fights. You seriously can’t walk down the street without being squirted with water (tip: don’t wear white). We were even squirted when in a taxi!
- Co Van Kessel Bike Tour – I highly recommend doing this! You bike around the city led by a tour guide and get to see so much more of the city than you would on foot. You ride through areas that only the locals know about, get samples of food at a few different stops, get to see Chinatown, and visit several temples. I think this was one of our favorite activities the whole trip.
- Dinner at Nahm – the restaurant at Hotel Metropolitan. We had an amazing seven course Thai tasting menu. Not only was the food amazing but the presentation was unreal. One word of warning – when they ask how spicy you want your food, take it down a few notches. I like really spicy food and I could barely eat one of the soups they gave us that was considered “mild”!
- Chef Leez cooking class – I absolutely loved this! For one, it helped me know what ingredients typically go into classic Thai dishes (to help with my gluten allergy the rest of the trip), and two, the food was SO good. The class started with a trip to the nearby market to buy our ingredients – talk about fresh! We then made everything from scratch, including squeezing our own coconut milk and making our own curry paste.
- Grand Palace & Wat Po, Temple of the Emerald Buddha – this is the largest and most well-known temple in Thailand. Definitely visit this temple – it is HUGE and absolutely incredible. When we went it was jam packed with people, which makes sense because it is the #1 tourist attraction. Make sure you dress modestly (long skirt/pants, shirt that covers your shoulders) as it is a religious site.
- Red light district – if you want to see lady boys or strippers, this is the place to go. I’m not gonna lie, it was fun because this is so much a part of the Thai culture, but I was a bit taken aback when I saw some of the girls. They seriously looked like they were 14! The sad part is that many girls become dancers to try to find American or European men to marry and take them out of Thailand. Like, even in our hotel we saw a man who brought a girl back and was taking her to the spa and everything at our really nice Marriott. She was asking him if she could get a manicure and go shopping and all this stuff! But I guess if they both had fun…
- Explore the city square – the city is surrounded by 4 walls (a square). We spent the first day in Chiang Mai walking around to get a feel for the town, find good restaurants, and sightsee.
- Visit local temples – every city has its own temple, if not multiple temples that are cool to walk through.
- Night bazaar – there is a huge night bazaar (market) with tons of shopping and food – definitely go here! We went to the night bazaar every night and listened to music, shopped (make sure you barter for the best price), and talked to other tourists.
- Spa day – our hotel had an awesome spa. We didn’t make any reservations ahead of time, but it did seem small, so I would recommend booking ahead of time if possible. We both had a flower milk bath, sauna, full body exfoliating scrub, 90 minute massage, and pedicures. We were literally there alllll day and it cost about $250 total for both of us!
- Night bazaar
- Sunrise hot air balloon ride – this was the most expensive excursion we booked during our trip, and it wasn’t my favorite, but it was still fun. You take a hot air balloon over Chiang Mai during sunrise and toast the captain with a glass of champagne afterwards. Unfortunately, the day we went it was pretty overcast and we didn’t have the best views from the air, but it was still really neat and I would do it again.
- Night bazaar
- Day trip to Elephant Nature Park – this was one of the coolest excursions we did. A van picked us up from our hotel and drove us about 1.5 hours out to the Elephant Nature Park, which is in the mountains. We got to feed and bathe the elephants, as well as learn about their rescue stories and how they are being rehabilitated. Each elephant has its own trainer called a Mahout that it spends 20 hours a day with, including sleeping! We were served an excellent lunch and were able to talk to tourists from other countries – there were a lot of people from the US, actually. At the end of the day, we were driven back to our hotel and we were pretty pooped, so we showered and walked to a restaurant near our hotel for dinner (a cool spot with rooftop dining).
- Flight of the Gibbons canopy zip line tour – this zip line tour is pretty similar to others, but it was fun because we wanted to do something more “active” other than walking. Also, you get to see the gibbons (monkeys) in their live habitat! We were on the excursion with a family originally from the US that is currently living in Japan (the dad works for the US Army and it stationed there) – they were sooo nice and it was fun to get to know them. We did the morning tour and were served a delicious traditional Thai lunch at the cafe across the street before leaving (included in the tour).
- Wat Doi Suthep temple – the largest and most famous temple in Chiang Mai. This was beautifulllll – definitely go! We spent about 4 hours there including the taxi ride up the mountain and back. You don’t need to pay for a guided tour through Trip Advisor, just go on your own.
A few other activity ideas that I had researched:
- Trip to the Golden Triangle
- Grab lunch by the pool and walk around the hotel
- Beachfront dinner and fire show at the hotel – this was something I had read about on an online review, so I asked about it when booking our stay. They were holding one our first night and I told them this trip was for our anniversary, so they gave us a complimentary bottle of champagne during the dinner. It was a huge Thai BBQ buffet on the beach that started at sunset and the food was SO good. Following dinner was a really cool fire show with music and stunts.
- Morning golf at Santiburi Country Club – I had researching golf courses in Thailand because I knew it was something that both of us (but Garrett especially) would enjoy. The round included pick up/drop off from the hotel, club rentals, carts, caddies, and beautiful scenic views.
- Hang by the pool
- Dinner at the hotel
- Hang by the beach
- Beachside Thai massages
- Half-day Communal Dining Experience – I had found this on Trip Advisor but don’t see it there right now. It was a fun group dinner in which we made our own Thai cocktails, shared small plates of many Thai dishes, and talked with tourists from all over the world. Our group was really fun so it was a cool family-style dining experience.
- Ang Thong Park Yacht Cruise and Snorkeling – this is another excursion I found on Trip Advisor but don’t see online right now either. It was probably my favorite activity in Koh Samui – a full day trip on a yacht to visit local islands, snorkel, boat jump, kayak, and hike. I would definitely recommend you do this! (try searching Trip Advisor for it)
- Dinner at the hotel
- Moped around island – we rented a moped from our hotel and rode around the island for a good chunk of the day. It was fun to drive on the left side of the road and we got to see a few more sights since we had spent most of the days by the pool and beach.
- Private beachfront sunset dinner at the hotel
- Dinner at a nearby sushi restaurant
- Drinks at Vertigo & Moon Bar: In the Banyan Tree Hotel Bangkok – I can’t remember how many stories it is, but it is one of the tallest buildings in the city and had awesome rooftop views. We enjoyed specialty cocktails, listened to the house music (it’s like a club scene), and talked about how awesome the trip was and how sad we were to go back to reality!
- Clothing – we both packed in carry ons and I honestly could’ve taken half the clothes I did. It was so hot and humid that we had the hotels do our laundry once in each city. I then basically re-wore the same outfits in each city, so I probably could’ve gone with 5 outfits total.
- Socks (and compression socks for the plane) – we mostly wore sandals but did wear shoes to the temples, on the bike tour, and on the zipline excursion.
- Sandals and closed toe shoes
- Lightweight jacket
- Backpacks – used on the planes with our carry ons
- First aid: Thermometer, Band-Aids, Neosporin, Ibuprofen, Sunscreen (face and body), Aloe, Tums, anti-diarrheal prescription (got from our doctor beforehand), Hand Sanitizer/wet wipes, Mosquito Repellant (30-40% deet–get from a sporting goods store), Condoms (need to be very careful of zika), Nuun tablets (to add to water)
- Water bottles with filtration system – we got this from REI and it really came in handy. We used it to filter the hotel water and fill our Camelback for all of our excursions.
- Power Converter – need if you want to use iPhones/iPads/cameras
- Portable USB Charger – definitely came in handy!
- Currency Exchange – we ordered the Thai currency from our bank ahead of time (took a few days for the money to arrive as the bank doesn’t keep it on hand).
- Small flashlight
- Copies of passports, drivers licenses, travel itinerary, excursion booking confirmations, etc.
- Pack light! It is HOT and humid so you will probably do laundry while there anyways. Packing cubes helped us fit everything into a carry on (including all toiletries) and we were fine with what we took for two and a half weeks.
- Trip Advisor is perfect for researching and booking excursions and restaurants. I was a little nervous about booking through them and pre-paying for excursions in a foreign country months in advance, but it all turned out just fine.
- Make sure you bring paper copies of your passports and all your reservations. The paper copies of hotel and activity reservations came in handy when we needed to show taxi drivers the Thai address of where we were going.
- Research travel insurance offered through your credit cards or buy additional travel insurance. We ended up just using the travel insurance offered through our credit cards. I also called our health insurer and made sure we were covered in case of any medical emergencies.
- Research the vaccinations you may need ahead of time. You can go to the CDC’s website to see what vaccines you may need and what serious health risks currently exist. We made an appointment at our Aurora Travel Clinic to get the additional vaccines – make sure you do this well ahead of time because some vaccines require multiple doses/shots a certain time period apart to be effective.
I hope this helps any of you looking to plan a trip to Thailand soon! It was an amazing experience and we couldn’t have done it so affordably without our travel points/miles. That being said, once you are in Thailand the cost of living is very cheap, so you can eat and travel without spending a lot of money. While I would love to go back, I think our next trip to Asia will be to Japan – we’ve heard amazing things and seen some beautiful pictures from friends. Time to save up!