Thinking of escaping cold winter blues anyone? Considering a trip to Thailand in the near future? You’re in luck because I just returned from a fabulous 3-week trip and have lots of info and thoughts to share with you!
While Thailand is not a new destination spot for me (I have family there and have been many times over the years – and also lived there for a short year and a half as a teenage), I always try to visit new places and discover new things on every trip. The content of this post will focus primarily on my most recent trip: Bangkok, the province of Petchaburi (Hua-hin specifically), and the islands and beaches on the west: Krabi and Koh Phi Phi. (Some of you may have read – or might be interested in reading a previous post I wrote titled “Thailand Travel: Summer Tips, Maps & Photos” that focuses more on the islands on the east: Koh Tao, Koh Phangan and Koh Samui depending on your intended travel period). When are you traveling? Thailand’s weather is generally hot and humid (with a long monsoon season) and can be broken down into 3 main categories: hot, cool (relatively) and wet.
- March-May (sometimes June) is generally the hottest part of the year (April & May are the most extreme).
- June-September (sometimes October) is the monsoon season (islands on the east are better).
- November-February is high-season, and also the coolest season, although still plenty warm for tourists who are looking to escape the cold winters of North America and Europe and enjoy time at the beach (islands on the west are better).
Bangkok: We started off in Bangkok after arriving on January 1st and spent 3 days there (which in my opinion is plenty). It’s a crazy chaotic city, but there are beautiful sites to see, delicious food to eat and glamorous malls scattered around the city for anyone looking to escape the heat and noise for a brief period of time.
For accommodations near the main international Suvarnabhumi airport (BKK) upon arrival or departure, there’s a Novotel super close by, and we found a great spot about 5-10 minutes away called The Cottage Suvarnabhumi, which was very reasonably priced, provided a shuttle for pick-up and drop off, had a swimming pool, very clean rooms and was within walking distance of a shopping center, Starbucks, restaurants, Thai massage places and lots of street food vendors. (Book online as it’s about 30% cheaper than walk-in price). We booked a room there the night before flying out.
For our weekend in Bangkok, we stayed at a guesthouse near Sukhumvit Soi 13 (central area) and there were lots of great street food spots and places to check out at night (there are also tons of European restaurants, American and Irish style pubs, a French bakery, Mexican restaurants, night life spots … and plenty of Starbucks for anyone interested). In that general area you’ll also find a Westin Hotel, the Sheraton and other beautiful accommodations. Of course, in Bangkok you’ll find a wide selection of *budget* friendly guesthouses and small hotels as well as ultra-glamorous/luxurious options like the Shangri-La, the Oriental, The Marriott Resort & Spa (awesome place I stayed at in the past) along the famous Chao Phraya River.
I recommend taking a riverboat ride down the Chao Phraya River and visiting the Temples & Grand Palace (also the Emerald Buddha and the reclining Buddha at Wat Pho located in the same area as the Grand Palace). The street food is great and I would highly recommend trying it (I know many people are often hesitant to do so – this was my husband’s 4th trip to Thailand – and his first time trying it. He finally decided to try with the influence of my family and said he couldn’t believe how much he was missing out on all those previous trips!) Noodle soup is always safe as it’s boiling and made fresh (I generally get chicken), grilled, satayed and stir-fried foods are usually cooked right in front of you… In the morning dishes sitting out will be fresh – I’d only say beware of food sitting out all day in the sun like around late afternoon/evening. Be sure to find chicken satay with peanut sauce during your stay!! It’s one of my favorites. The fresh fruit stands are amazing too and make a great snack throughout the day.
You can do a day trip from Bangkok to one of the 5 floating markets in the surrounding areas which is a pretty unique experience. The main one is Damnoen Saduak Floating Market – you’ll find tourist buses and private vans everywhere offering deals to check out surrounding sites.
Hua-Hin (Petchaburi Province): After leaving Bangkok we headed to the province where my dad is from: Phetchaburi. It’s the province that’s famous for it’s cuisine and specifically traditional Thai desserts. Lucky us. 🙂 We stayed at the Novotel Resort in Hua-Hin/Cha-Am which is right on the beach and about 20 minutes by car/taxi to the Hua-Hin city center. If you’re into big international buffet breakfasts, huge swimming pools, the gym and childcare facilities, restaurants onsite, a coffee bar and pool bar, and don’t mind being a bit out of the main “city” area, it’s a great spot. They also provide a free shuttle service to and from Cha-Am or Hua-Hin that runs throughout the day. Just down the street you’ll find street food and massage shops too.
We stayed there because it was ideal being with family and small children for the first half of our trip, but if you prefer being directly in the center by the beach, then I can recommend the City Beach Resort and the Chalelarn Hotel Hua Hin (which is where my brother and his girlfriend stayed a few nights). It’s a great spot, right in the center, a couple minutes walk from yes, a Starbucks… there’s also street food right out the main door, it’s short walk from the beach and the main night market that starts every evening around 5:30pm. Prices at both of those central hotels run about $40-75 for a two person room depending on the season. For those traveling with a bigger budget, there’s a Hilton in the same general area right on the beach that will run upwards of $300 per night. There are also guesthouses and hostels for those interested (one hostel is right in the middle of the big night market). In Hua-Hin you can also check out Dream Cones for Italian gelato which is very close to a (non-shady) Thai massage place called Good Health Massage where you can get an hour Thai massage for under $10. All of these places are in central Hua-Hin and across the street from the big night market area. I would suggest renting a scooter and riding around through all of the cute side streets in central Hua-Hin as there is so much activity to see, and cool spots to discover. Definitely a highlight!
Things to see in this area:
- Phra Nakhon Khiri or Khao Wang, the old palace of King Rama IV which is also known to many as “Monkey Hill.” Make sure if you ask to see monkeys they take to to this spot because it’s the most beautiful one. The architecture and decor is a combination of Thai, Chinese and European styles and the final construction was finished in 1858. You’ll want to keep your belongings and bags carefully tucked away as the monkeys love stealing from unsuspecting tourists. 🙂 In the same general area you’ll find a cave called the “Khao Luang Cave” which is home to 170 Buddha statues.
- The Night Market: make sure you check out the cool night market that starts around 5:30pm every evening. Tons of seafood, other street food, clothes, trinkets and my husband’s favorite new discovery: Khanom Krok (little desserts made from coconut milk on the grill).
- The Beach: while it’s not as gorgeous as the islands, it’s still beautiful for swimming and relaxing.
- I saw that there are also trips available to a zoo, elephant riding, a waterfall and cooking courses etc, but I haven’t personally experienced those activities in the region.
Krabi: After spending a week in Hua-Hin, we took a van to the Don Muang airport in Bangkok. (Private vans that hold up to 10 people are reasonable: about $75-85 for a 2.5 hour, one-way trip from Hua-Hin to one of the Bangkok airports. They’ll typically charge about 3000 baht). I think if you are looking for less expensive options there are buses available that you can coordinate with your hotel. Probably more likely in the city center and not in the more remote areas like the Novotel resort.
From Bangkok we took an hour and a half flight to Krabi (flights from Bangkok to Krabi or Phuket usually range between $60-130 roundtrip and don’t change much if/when booked in advance vs. last minute). Once you’re in Krabi you have to decide whether to stay in Ao Nang or Railay Beach – we choose Ao Nang as it’s known for having more hotel accommodations (I saw everything from beautiful resorts, to the Holiday Inn right on the beach, to guesthouses, small private hotels and hostels) and food and restaurant options as opposed to Railay Beach, is which more famous for “beach” but has less hotel/restaurants and so it’s less competitively priced. We stayed at a place called the Ao Nang Eco Inn which was quiet, nice and clean, had an elevator and very friendly staff. You could also rent scooters from them directly. The rate was about 2000 baht per night so around $60 or so. There are also less expensive options directly next door in both directions.
It’s walking distance from the beach, the pier where you hop on a long tail boat ride to the famous Railay Beach, or James Bond island, walking distance from a Starbucks, McDonald’s, markets, and lots of street food and bars.
Koh Phi Phi Islands: From Krabi we took an hour and a half ferry boat ride to Koh Phi Phi Don (I believe it was around $10), which is the larger of the Phi Phi islands, and the only one where you can sleep or find restaurants. Koh Phi Phi Lay is just a long tail boat ride away and is a protected national park – so no sleeping or restaurants allowed. Pack a lunch for sure! Our group of seven included my husband, two sisters, my brother and his girlfriend and one of my good friends (all between the ages of 21 – 31 years) so we were a pretty mixed group but with similar interests: relaxing, soaking up some sun, swimming, snorkeling and a little bit of night life. We decided to stay in Bungalows on Phi Phi Don which turned out to be great. We stayed at the Phi Phi Beach Front, which was as you would guess, directly on the beach (10 mins walk from the main “center” area) – it also included breakfast, wifi and they have kayaks you can rent directly from the owners. It’s nothing fancy at all, but comfortable and clean … although since they’re doing construction at the moment (construction that would never meet the requirements or safety standards of the western world) it’s a bit sketch looking but should be done in the next month they told us. The owners are super friendly and try to be very accommodating… you can have your laundry done there … there were rooms for 2 people around for about $45-50 (1,700 baht), 4-person family rooms for about $55-60 a night, and dorm rooms for about $10 a night. My advice would be to book one night in advance just to secure the spot, but then make sure you like the place – and book the next few nights in person at a discounted rate. (Pretty much works every time).
The day trips to the Koh Phi Phi Lay where you can visit the famous Maya Bay from the movie “The Beach,” Vikings Cave, and our favorite, Phi Ley Lagoon are fabulous. It was the best swimming spot we’ve ever experienced in Thailand! Phi Phi is also great for scuba diving if you’re interested in getting certified. The courses take a few days though, so give yourself enough time. Koh Tao (on the east side) tends to be pretty famous for diving schools but I found out that it’s because the rates are much cheaper … the water is clearer on the Phi Phi side and the certification is more widely recognized internationally. The only issue with Phi Phi Don is that it has turned pretty “partyish” (much more so than when I was there about 5-6 years ago) and so music blasts and fire dancers perform until early hours of the morning making it hard to get a good nights’ sleep. You might be better off checking out more remote parts of the island if the noise factor is an issue for you.
Also, on one of my previous trips to Phi Phi I stayed in a great hotel right near the main Ton Sai pier with a beautiful swimming pool right on the beach (much quieter too based on it’s location I think) called the Phi Phi Island Cabana Hotel which runs about $150+ per night. For backpackers and people on more of a budget you’ll find hostels, dorm rooms and inexpensive spots – although Phi Phi tends to be the most expensive of the islands. We will probably check out Koh Lanta or Koh Lak on one of our future visits to see if they are maybe more quiet and less touristy.
We ended our trip with the Phi Phi islands and spent one last night in Bangkok before flying back to Milan. It was awesome. I hope this post has been helpful to any of you planning trips to Thailand in the near future. You can also check out: “Thai Summer Palace“, “Monkey Hill Thailand” and “Sweet Sticky Rice in Bamboo” for more info. 🙂
Just a few things to remember:
- Always drink bottled water. You can easily find it everywhere – especially in all the 7-11’s you’ll see on every block.
- Bring lots mosquito repellant (mosquitos are less aggressive during the cooler November – February months, but still alive and well, unfortunately). Most work well, but especially the ones from REI if you’re in USA.
- You’ll end up taking taxis, ferries and shuttle buses everywhere and while they’re not expensive, they’ll add up.
- Tipping is appreciated (in nice sit-down restaurants, long taxi or private van transport, hotels/bell staff, etc)
- You can generally bargain in most cases (always at night markets and street shop vendors) – but generally not with food, in restaurants or high-end hotels.
- Cooking courses can be found in Hua-Hin, Ao Nang (Krabi) and most cities you visit, so check them out if interested.
- Booking in advance isn’t usually necessary: we wanted to wing things and not be tied to a strict schedule. I’ve never had an issue with it in Thailand. I’d suggest booking nice/higher-end hotels in advance, but not really guesthouses, hostels, general hotels. We also booked ferries last minute – even at the pier upon departure – and usually just walked up to hotels to ask for availability. It’s pretty common there.
- Watch out for the tuk-tuks: although they’re a fun “Bangkok” adventure, they will want to take you on random rides throughout the city and have you stop at various shops and jewelry places because they get commission if you buy.
- It’s not necessary to be vaccinated before going (I’ve never been and neither have most of my friends) but it’s up to your personal preference.