Thailand is a hugely popular destination that never loses its appeal! Its beauty, affordability and culture all keep people going back and even after spending a combined total of four weeks backpacking there, I know there’s so much more to explore. While it’s famed for long-term traveller appeal, today I’m going to explore how to see Thailand’s highlights in a shorter holiday.
How to Spend Two Weeks in Thailand
Bangkok – 3 nights
As Thailand’s biggest international transport hub, Bangkok will almost definitely be the starting point for your adventures! It’s made up of many distinct districts from cosmopolitan Sukhumvit and Siam loaded with mega malls to the backpacker haven of Old City. Staying in the Old City is definitely the most budget friendly option and it’s in walking distance to the most famous temples.
Khao San Road
It’s a little trashy, full of touristy shops, salespeople and cheap bars, but it’s got to be seen. It’s a renowned place to party so if you want any sleep, stay on a surrounding street not the road itself. Here, enjoy the cheapest street food in Thailand – 30 baht (70p) for Pad Thai – and take in the action!
In comparison to the other temples in Thailand, the Grand Palace entry fee is extortionate at 500 baht (£10) each! But it’s a stunning complex filled with incredibly grand, detailed buildings so it’s definitely worth a look around.
Inside the grounds, Wat Phra Kaew is seen as the most important Buddhist temple in Thailand. Translated as ‘Temple of the Emerald Buddha’, it contains a beautiful Buddha statue carved from a single block of jade.
Wat Pho and Wat Arun
Two more famous temples in the area are Wat Pho – Temple of the Reclining Buddha – and Wat Arun – Temple of Dawn. You’ll have to cross the river if you want to visit Wat Arun but looking across when it’s lit up at night is an amazing sight. Or at least, when it’s not covered in scaffolding like when we visited!
If you’re all templed out within a couple of days, head to Siam Square and experience the huge mega malls. It’s really interesting to look around such a different part of the city and the area’s cafes are notoriously fantastic.
In need of more inspiration? Pick out the best bits from Nomadic Matt’s Guide to 4 Days in Bangkok.
Next stop: Bangkok to Kanchanaburi. 3 hour train, 100 baht (£2.30) per person.
Kanchanaburi – 1 night
On a train with wooden seats and wide open doors, the journey to Kanchanaburi was the first time I felt like I was experiencing ‘real’ Thailand. Most people visit this city because of the history regarding the Thai-Burmese ‘Death Railway’, built by British, American and European prisoners of war in WWII.
Bridge over the River Kwai
Hellfire Pass and Memorial Museum
During the building of the Death Railway hundreds of prisoners died at the Hellfire Pass, a 500m section of rock that was dug out by hand. You can visit the museum to learn more and walk down the section of railway still visible in the Earth.
Other attractions commemorating the POWs include the Jeath War Museum and Dok-Rak War Cemetery.
We caught the train back to Bangkok and took a night train to Chiang Mai but apparently it is now possible to take a night bus straight to Chiang Mai! I can’t vouch for its comfort in comparison to the night train but it’s one to keep in mind if you’re doing a similar journey.
Next stop: Kanchanaburi to Bangkok. 3 hour train, 100 baht (£2.30) per person.
Next stop: Bangkok to Chiang Mai. Overnight 2nd class A/C train, 1,100 baht (£24) per person.
Chiang Mai – 3 nights
I LOVE Chiang Mai. In a country so different to the UK, I instantly managed to feel at home in the relaxed atmosphere of this Northern city. If you want to chill out, do some trekking and eat amazing food, this is the spot for you. We actually stayed here for 10 days! Here are some of the most-loved activities:
Animal tourism is very much a big part of the industry in Thailand and unfortunately, much of it is still horrifically cruel. I’ve written a whole blog post about my experience visiting an ethical elephant sanctuary.
Shop in the night markets
We stayed right next to the Chiang Mai night markets and had a fantastic time exploring and eating there most evenings. It’s the place to go to get your souvenirs, elephant pants and enjoy the variety of food stalls. Think fruit smoothies, fresh noodles and international cuisine too! We also spent a lot of time at Boy Blues Bar, a brilliant little place above the market with the most adorable owner.
Visiting the Sunday walking street on Thanon Ratchadamnoen is also a worthwhile experience. You can often find goods here that are more authentic than at other markets but it also gets seriously packed!
Temples, temples, temples!
There are a ton of stunning temples in Chiang Mai – way too many for me to describe here! For a pick of the best, check out this article: 10 Must See Temples in Chiang Mai.
Take a cooking class
The foodie scene in Chiang Mai is amazing and there’s an abundance of vegan and vegetarian cafes throughout the city. There are also a huge number of cooking classes on offer so explore your options for a really fun afternoon. Read my review of May Kaidee vegetarian cooking school.
Next stop: Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai. 3 hour bus, 184 baht (around £4)
Chiang Rai – 1 night
I knew that I couldn’t leave Thailand without seeing the White Temple and it’s 100% worth the visit. There’s not a huge amount going on in the town but one night is definitely enough to catch the main attractions. Read my full blog post on seeing the White Temple in Chiang Rai.
Travelling for longer? Add Pai to your itinerary! It’s got a reputation for amazing vegan food in a stunning countryside setting and if I was to go back to northern Thailand, it’d definitely be on my list of places to visit.
Next stop: Chiang Mai to Phuket. Flights from £40.
Note: Chiang Rai does have an airport too but flights are often way more expensive from here!
Phuket – 2 nights
Phuket is a different kettle of fish altogether from Bangkok and it might be a bit of a culture shock coming here from Chiang Mai! Patong Beach is the main tourist spot here and if I’m honest, it felt soulless compared to the rest of Thailand. The beach is full of litter and overrun with guys trying to sell you trips and watersports. I have heard however that staying in other areas is much nicer though so don’t completely write it off! Stay a night or two to experience the following then move on:
What I was expecting from Khao San Road came to life here on Bangla Road in Phuket. Let’s put it this way, it made Khao San look like a classy, sedate street! It’s filled with pumping music, pole dancers and tons selling the infamous ping pong / sex shows. If you’re looking for a party, you’ll find it here!
You’ll find more ladyboy shows in Phuket than anywhere else in Thailand catering for all tastes, including the free cabaret-style show we went to at Cocktails & Dreams! It’s definitely a typical Phuket tourist experience but check out the reviews online so you know what you’re getting beforehand.
If you’re desperately in need of some culture, head out of town up to the iconic Big Buddha statue. It’s incredibly peaceful up there with the sounds of chanting monks inside and tinkling bells.
Next stop: Phuket to Krabi. Bus transfers around 350 baht (£8) per person
Krabi – 3 nights
Krabi is another kettle of fish to Phuket altogether. While Ao Nang is still lined with similar restaurants and touristy stalls, the beach is absolutely stunning and the water is amazingly warm!
Krabi is the perfect place to relax and spend a few days on the beach. You can also take tons of trips out and about – whether it’s the Four Islands or a longtail boat around to Railay Beach. We did a kayaking trip as well as spending a day on Phi Phi island!
Next stop: Krabi to Koh Phi Phi. Return ferry transfers around 500 baht (£10) per person
Koh Phi Phi – 1 night
We only took a day trip to Koh Phi Phi but most people will come and spend a night partying on the beach! In all honesty, it made me a bit sad to wander around a beautiful island that has been so built up. Between old hotels and new ones springing up everywhere, it had completely lost that authentic island feel and if that’s what you like, I’d recommend maybe checking out a different island.
Phi Phi Viewpoint
The walk was hot, sweaty and totally worth it. The view from the top was unbelievable and I’ll never forget being surrounded by such blue water. There are even monkeys at the top sometimes, although I was embarrassingly too busy posing to see one!
While I was gutted that we didn’t have enough time to visit any of the other islands, I’ve summarised a few of the most popular ones here:
Koh Tao – Head here for some of the best diving in Thailand – it’s one of the world’s cheapest places to get your PADI.
Koh Pha Ngan – Home to the Full Moon Party, this island gets packed out with thousand of party animals once a month.
Koh Lanta – It’s got a reputation for the best of both worlds: great beaches and plenty of activities with a fun beach bar scene.
Koh Samui – This sounds like one of the most Westernised islands with plenty of luxury resorts and spas.
And there you have it, my guide to seeing as much of Thailand as possible in just two short weeks! As you can see, it’s definitely possible cover the country’s main highlights on a holiday but beware of fitting in too much because tons of travelling about can take away from your experience.
I’ll be writing a post soon about budgeting in different parts of Thailand so if you’ve enjoyed this one, follow me on social media to keep up to date with my latest posts!