Thailand is a very popular destination among travelers. Both backpackers and other travelers find their ultimate destination here. Many starting backpackers choose Southeast Asia, and especially Thailand, to learn from their first “flying hours” as a self-sufficient backpacker. The country is friendly, attractive from a budgetary point of view and public transport is well organised. Add extraordinary beautiful beaches, tasty food, a nice temperature and many cool sights… and you understand why the country is so popular among travelers. The most tourist spots are the capital Bangkok, the southern islands and the Northern Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and Pai. These spots are fully equipped for tourism with excellent train, bus and flight connections. Almost all has been translated into English and there are plenty of bars and accommodations. Today, the internet is booming with blogs and advice about these well-known destinations in Thailand.. For this reason I will skip these destinations in this blog and focus on the less known, but oh so cool places in Thailand. At the end of 2019 I made a 3.5 week trip through Thailand in search of these less touristic gems.
Some random facs; Bangkok is the capital of Thailand, Chiang Mai is the second largest city of the country. The country has approx. 70 million inhabitants and has the Thai baht as means of payment. 1 euro = about 33.5 baht. The language is Thai, and in general, people in tourist cities speak very well English as a 2nd language.
A: Khon Kaen
B: Chiang Khan
E: Mae Hong Son
F: Chiang Mai
My travelroute through Thailand
“in the cosy little Slove U Coffee bar you’ll find the local coffee specialties.”
“who wouldn’t want to spend a few days here in peace and quiet?”
Climb all levels of the Phra Mahathat Temple in Khon Kaen
Khon Kaen is not a small town in itself but is massively skipped by Western tourists. If you are tired of mass tourism, then this is an ideal escape. An excellent train connection will take you from Bangkok to the north eastern city within a few hours.
Thailand is known for its many beautiful temples, but the Phra Mahathat temple is one of a different category. The temple is built in a pyramid-shaped structure and you can ascend the temple up to the top floor. Besides the beautiful details in, on and at the temple you will also have a great view over the city.
Tasting north oriental Thai dishes and ending with a special coffee
Hidden away in Khon Kaen, next to a railway line is a super retro restaurant full of cool furniture and even cooler retro items. Get advice on the spot or check out my food tips for deliciously refined North-Eastern Thai dishes that you’ll WANT to order here! 20 minutes further on, finish off with something Khon Kaen is famous for: special coffee. You can enjoy the best coffee in the small green coffee Bar & Hostel Slove U Coffee. Coconut or Orange specials? You’ll love it here.
“bonus point; you’ll have a fabulous view of the city from this temple…”
Immerse yourself in the old charming fishing village of Chiang Khan
In the northeastern province of Loei you will find the old fishing village Chiang Khan. The village borders the Mekong River which forms a natural border with Laos. It is somewhat known among Thai tourists but relatively unknown among Western tourists. So don’t be surprised if you get a little curious eyes here and there. The village is full of charming wooden houses and in the evening the lanterns light up the streets exactly the way you’d like them to. The walkingstreet in the evening is full of stands and good food. Stroll through the streets, have a beer at the adjacent river and then join in with the rhythm of the village: sleep early because at 6:00 in the morning you will sit down together with the villagers to offer food to the monks. Be sure to also have a morning drive to the top of the Phu Thok, about 20 minutes from Chiang Khan, to watch a phenomenal sunrise. If you want to experience the village to the fullest, book a “HomeStay” instead of a hotel or hostel. You will then stay at someone’s lovely house and you’ll have great conversations and find out more about the village. I stayed in a super nice wooden homestay with a spacious private room. It is located next to the walking street and is therefore also the ideal location.
Climbing the stairway to heaven at Wat Chalermprakiat in Lampang
Temples temples temples… so many temples in Thailand! Then why do I recommend a 2nd temple in this blog? Well: because you MUST see this one! The temple is actually divided over several temples and these are located on the top of a mountain. It is almost a mysterious experience when, after a pick-up truck has driven you up for 275baht, and after you have climbed the last few hundred steps yourself, you arrive at the 800 meters high summit. You look out over the green surroundings, you’ll hear bells ringing through the wind and if you’re lucky you’ll see the sun setting which gives the white roofs of the temples an orange glow. An absolute must see!
“You look out over the green surroundings, you hear bells ringing in the wind and you see if you’re lucky the sun’s setting”
From Chiang Mai to Pai or from Pai to Mae Hong Son you are forced to follow the 1095-road with endless hairpin bends. You have 2 options. 1: you book a bus ticket and bump through a mini-bus for a couple of hours and wonder when things will go wrong because the drivers, let’s say, have a sporty driving style. 2: you rent a good powerful motor scooter and you make the inconvenience an advantage. During the scooter ride you can enjoy the green surroundings and marvel at the views at the end of the bends. A moment later you wonder if your motor scooter is powerful enough to make the sudden steep climb and at the end of the climb you sigh in relieve at a viewpoint or make a stop at the Lod-Cave (on the road from Pai to Mae Hong Son) where you float on a bamboo raft through the cave. An experience in itself.
Note: some driving experience is a must on this route as well as having a powerful motor-scooter because of the sometimes steep climbs. Also an international driver’s license must be presented to the Thai police. Rent a 125cc+ for about 250baht per day and test it thoroughly before you hit the road! Especially check the brakes and tires!
If you ask travelers about the North of Thailand, their list of places to visit often stops at Chiang Mai and, if you are lucky, at Pai. A bit more west of Pai is the town of Mae Hong Son. A nice place to do a Yoga re-treatment or just to take a breath of fresh air. Surrounding the village you will find a National Park with waterfalls and a very nice quiet lake, called the Pang Oung lake, where you can camp. On the way to this lake, just before you get there, you drive through a very nice old village. you drive through a very nice old village. Stop here for a nice meal and walk through the winding roads. You will feel like you are in old Thailand! Back in Mae Hong Son the Night Market starts at 18:00 where you can taste even more delicious food at the many illuminated stalls. Don’t forget to take notice of the various cultural influences you will encounter in the stalls.
Early in the morning you really have to move to the top of the Wat Phrathat Doi Kongmu temple, which stands on top of the adjacent mountain of the town. At 05:30 a monk will prepare your coffee while you enjoy a sunrise like never before. With some luck, the town is covered with clouds which suddenly dissolve during the sunrise and the town emerges from the mist! Magical.
“you’ll travel through wonderfully green areas and drive through great villages.”
Visa – Residents of the Netherlands receive a visa on arrival for Thailand. Well, it is actually not a visa, but permission to visit the country. This visa is valid for 30 days. If you want to stay longer in Thailand you will need a real visa and you will need to apply for a visa in advance. If you have another nationality; check the up-to-date visa requirements at the Embassy or Consulate.
Accommodation – Cheap hostels can be found almost everywhere in Thailand. Prices start from about EUR5 a night for a mixed dorm and EUR20 a night for a double private room. Spending the night in, for example, the epicenter of nightlife area Koh San Road is of course a place where you’ll pay a higher price for the location.
Food & Drink – Thailand is a walhalla for food lovers. The cuisine of Thailand is known for its rich flavors and numerous dishes. It is generally safe to eat street food. Always remember the rule of thumb: go to a stall where there is a lot of walk-through and where the locals actually go. Eating on the street is done for 40baht, for example for a tasty Pad Thai Egg. If you go to restaurants, prices will go up a bit to around 200baht for a meal. Always let the cook know how spicy you want your food to be, and remember that “a little spicy” might be misinterpreted. Be sure to try the dishes below:
Some examples of prices:
Transportation – If you enter the country by plane, flying to Bangkok or Chiang Mai International Airport is often the cheapest. From these places, you can travel with acceptable travel time to the actual destination or take a cheap domestic flight to the final destination. A taxi from Bangkok International Airport to the city center is about 500Baht. If your hotel is located near Koh San Road (famous nightlife area) look for other backpackers and share a taxi. Chances are that they will go to that area as well. Train connections in Thailand are good and reliable. Book your tickets a few days in advance if you want to be sure of a place. If you want to book a ticket at the train station you will need your passport. Renting a car is not very common in Thailand. Almost everyone chooses to rent a scooter. Note: these scooters are almost always 80cc and therefore a lot spicier than you might be used to. Renting a scooter costs about 100-150Baht per day. It can, especially in the busy cities, sometimes be a hectic experience, so some driving experience is a must. Bring your international driver’s license to show it to the police. Thailand is known for its tuk-tuks. You should definitely take a round in them, but these often ask idiotic prices and are generally more expensive than a normal taxi. So negotiate hard with tuk-tuk drivers and start with ¼ of the asking price. Often you end up somewhere in the middle.
Climate & Season – Temperatures start to rise from 30 degrees in February to the warmest month in April where it averages 35 degrees. In May the monsoon period starts in a large part of Thailand and temperatures are tempered by clouds and rain. The best travel months for most places in Thailand are from mid-November until the end of March. If you go to the town of Pai, take into consideration the very cold nights in December and January.
“you’re witnessing centuries-old traditions in the village…”
Suggested daily budget – EUR30 per day (low budget) EUR55 per day (medium budget) EUR 55+ (high budget)