Now that you know how much we spent on our 15-day tour around Northern Thailand, let’s talk about where we went.
Thailand is a big country, one that we struggled to plan out properly. We didn’t really know what we wanted to see and we hadn’t done much research before arriving.
We knew we wanted to go North, but we weren’t really sure where to stop or how to get around cheaply. There’s almost TOO MUCH information out there about Thailand. We used this Lonely Planet guidebook, but it gives such a small amount of information about Thailand, that we felt a little bit lost.
We only had 15-days to plan, travel, and see all we wanted to see before we wanted to be crossing into Laos. Here’s how we ended up spending those two weeks in Northern Thailand.
Bangkok – 2 Days
We arrived in Bangkok on a bus from Cambodia just as dusk was settling. We were only a block away from Koh San Road and despite our initial thoughts about wanting to stay anywhere but there, we went in search of a nearby cheap place to rest our heads. About two blocks away we found a quiet little guesthouse with rooms for 300 Baht (about $8.50). The woman who owned it was really nice and the rooms were clean. It was a motel style with fast wifi and a big courtyard with seats to sit with a beer in the sun.
We didn’t do much these two days except try and figure out what to do for the next two weeks. We did a lot of research, went to see Terminator Genisys in theaters, and ate a lot of Tom Yum.
On the morning of the third day we caught the bus from Mo Chit Northern Bus Station to Sukhothai. It took about 6 hours, but the bus was air conditioned and we got an onboard snack and drink. I think bus travel in Thailand is excellent value for money.
Sukhothai – 2 Days
Sukhothai was one of the best stops we made in Thailand. It’s full of history and relatively easy to explore. The hostel area in Sukhothai has tons of options. We stayed in a small hostel in the “new city”. There was a great night market nearby, plenty of restaurants, and a big 7-11.
We spent one whole day here to see the main attraction, the “old city.” We caught a songthaew (shared taxi) that morning which was really cheap and leaves every half an hour or so. When we got to the historical park we rented bicycles and bought our park tickets. From there we cycled around for most of the day. There are restaurants and shops scattered around the park entrance so you can get food, snacks, and water throughout the day quite easily.
The ruins are incredibly well preserved and cycling is a really fun way to explore them. Start at the far end of the park if you want to avoid the tour buses that work there way from the entrance inward.
You could definitely split this into two days if you don’t want to try and squeeze it all in at once. There’s a lot to see. We only spent one whole day at the park before moving further North again and were exhausted after that single day of touring.
Chiang Mai – 3 Days
We spent a few days in Chiang Mai eating all kinds of delights and exploring the local temples, of which there are many. It’s a really easy place to travel by foot and each evening we sampled a different night market. I got most of my information on what to do and where to eat from Paper Planes Blog. Chiang Mai remains one of the best foodie cities we visited in all of South East Asia (I know, BIG claim).
Pai – 4 Days
It’s funny actually, if you had asked me if I liked Pai just after I left I probably would have bitten your head off. It was so full of 19 year old tourists, so packed with newbie motorbike riders, organic cafes, and over-priced bars I really regretted putting this on our itinerary at all.
But now, almost a year later, I can be a little more diplomatic. Pai is a beautiful place. We stayed in our own private bungalow with a little balcony right along the river for less than $8 a night (280 Baht).
We ate well in Pai. Every night there’s a market with tons of stalls selling cheap and delicious food and drinks. We had fresh juice from a local shop every morning and walked for hours through the town and along jungle-esque paths. There were a few cool bars and cheap restaurants with plenty of Thai favorites to dine on.
We definitely wouldn’t have spent four days here if Luke hadn’t gotten sick, but it ended up being the perfect place to rest up and recharge our batteries.
Chiang Mai – 2 Days
We headed back to Chiang Mai to explore a temple a little further outside the city called Doi Suthep. Everything we read about Chiang Mai recommended a visit to this holy place. A few tuk-tuk rides later and we were climbing the dragon steps to the entrance.
As with all Thai temples, but this one in particular, be sure to cover up. Women should wear full length trousers or skirts and cover their arms and chest.
Chiang Rai – 2 Days
Chiang Rai is a great little city and one I’m so glad we got to explore. It has a few cheap hostels, a top notch night market, and some of my favorite sights in Northern Thailand.
On our only full day in the city we drank tons of Thai milk tea (oh, how I miss you) and then hired a tuk-tuk for the afternoon. For 350 Baht he took us to the White Temple and the Black House.
The White Temple is incredible. On a sunny day it’s nearly blinding. The whole structure: the temple, the museum, the surrounding park, is the masterpiece of Thai artist Chalermchai Kositpipat. If it rains they close the entrance to the temple, so try to go on a dry day!
The Black House is similarly one huge art display after another. It’s certainly controversial with animal skins and skeletons in different rooms, as well as huge paintings and moss covered statues. The scale of some of the work is immense and I really enjoyed exploring it.
Things I Would Have Done Differently
Where do I start?
- I would have actually planned a little bit in advance and done some research.
- I would have skipped Pai entirely.
- I would have hired a motorbike in Chiang Mai and probably done the Mai Hon Son Loop or this one to far Northern Thailand. Both take you down seriously scenic roads, through small towns, past rivers and caves. I really regret not doing at least some of this loop.
- We skipped both Ayutthaya and Lampang and I think we really would have loved their history.
Overall, I still enjoyed my time in Northern Thailand. It really is as beautiful as they say it is and the food was nourishing in every sense of the word. There’s simply so much to see it’s hard to know what to pack into your short itinerary. This “mistake” taught us a lot and ended up giving us the kick up the butt that we needed to plan Laos properly.
If you’re planning a future trip to South East Asia, keep your eyes peeled for the possibility of a railway connecting all the countries. How could would that be??