Thailand in 12 Days
Oh Thailand! Where to begin? I loved everything about Thailand, the food, the culture, the people. It is so easy to fall in love with Thailand. 12 days were definitely not enough and I left with a desire to see and experience more of this amazing country in Southeast Asia. This was our first stop of a 3 country adventure and I am so glad we planned it that way because visiting Thailand first was a fabulous introduction to this part of the world we didn’t know yet.
City Nights Hotel Highlights
Bangkok 3 Grande Centre Point Wat Pho Temple (includes one day trip to Ayutthaya and half-day trip (reclining Buddha) to the floating market) The Grand Palace
Wat Phra Kaew
Foodie walk in Chinatown
Dinner at Gaggan
Chiang Mai 4 Rustic River Boutique Night Bazaar
Rent a motorcycle and drive up to Wat Phra
Have a massage (or 10!)
Krabi 4 Lux Family Villas 4 or 7 Island boat tour Maya Bay
Phi Phi Don
Bangkok 1 Hotel Clover Asoke
Stuff worth knowing
When to go?
Thailand can be visited all year round. However, probably the best time to go is during cool and dry season (November-April) (we went in December), but this is also considered high season. Dry, sunny and warm weather attracts a flock of tourists escaping from colder countries which means the prices for everything increase, even the flights.Two years ago we almost went to Thailand during the same dates, and the price for the flights were around $1,500pp (from ZRH to BKK making one stop). This time we snatched a deal with Thai Air for $850pp-non stop which was pretty darn good considering we got to spend Christmas and New Year’s there.
Travel agency versus independent travel?
We were a party of 4 and planned everything independently, which means we didn’t use a travel agency. I hear from people who find great deals using a middle person but that has never been my case. I requested a few quotes and the prices they gave me were insane. To give an idea, one agency quoted me $6,180 for 2 people for 12 days (excluding international flights, some meals and personal expenses). Instead, we paid $5,442 in total, that’s including the international flights, all transportation, tips, souvenirs (we bought an expensive art) plus a couple of fancy meals, including Gaggan (and the two bottles of sparkling wine). That’s more than $2,500 in savings (per couple). Now, I had the time, and enjoy doing travel research, so I took the lead in our group and made the itinerary, work the budget and booked hotels and most of the activities. For someone who has the money but doesn’t have the time or finds travel planning stressful, maybe paying extra to a travel agent might be worth it.
Plan and book in advance
It was key to make reservations in advance. A few friends who have visited Thailand before during high season told us they started looking for hotels after September and couldn’t find nice but affordable places. So I followed their advice and booked the hotels months in advance (April-May). I used Booking.com as I like to take advantage of early deals plus the free cancellation policy of Booking.com is unbeatable. I was able to make some changes smoothly, but at the same time we secured nice places by booking in advance. Just out of curiosity, I checked the prices and availability of the hotels I booked again in September-October and sure enough, if they weren’t sold out they increased their price per night significantly. So yes, we did the right thing here.
There are two main airports in Bangkok. Most international flights will arrive/depart at/from Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK). However, most domestic flights will depart from Duong Mueang Airport (DKK). Some people don’t know this when booking their domestic flights and on the day of the flight they tell the driver to drop them at BKK to only realize too late they went to the wrong airport. Double check the email confirmation to ensure you go to the right airport.
It is always smart to carry cash as most places don’t take cards. ATM’s are easy to find, but they charge a foreign-transaction fee of 200B which is in addition to any fees your bank at home charges you. To save on transaction fees, withdraw as much as you feel comfortable carrying (it is possible to withdraw up to 20,000B at once). Also, shop around and look for banks that offer debit cards without charging international transaction fees. Same for credit cards, there are many travel credit cards with different perks. We have one with Capital One that don’t charge for international transaction fees plus gives us cash back.
Tuk-Tuks are fun but expensive plus it is always necessary to negotiate with the drivers. So I’ll say once or twice just for the experience was good enough. At the time of our visit, Uber worked in Bangkok and Chiang Mai. We only hailed a taxi once, the rest of the time we coordinated the transportation either using Uber or asking the hotel. Just make sure you agree on a price beforehand.
Making the most out of the little time
I have no doubt that Thailand would be much cheaper and could be enjoyed more if traveling slowly and using trains/car to move from one city to another. However, that works for those long-term travelers who can afford spending one month in the country. We only had 12 days, so we had to be more strategic. We booked our domestic flights using Kayak.com to compare prices. At the end AirAsia offered the best prices. We never had any issues with the airline. It was cheap because we traveled with a carry-on back backpack only and didn’t choose our own seats. We were seated separately in two occasions, but since the flight was less than 1.5 hours we didn’t care.
Thailand has something to offer for everyone. Whether you are a foodie, want to relax at the beach, go temple hoping, go shopping, etc. It all depends on the individual taste and preferences. For example, we had people telling us not to spend too much time in Bangkok, some even said to skip it completely. Still, I thought that we should spend 3 days in Bangkok and I LOVED. In fact, everyone in the group did. Honestly, I could have spent an entire week there without getting bored. Bangkok is freaking awesome. But again, we enjoy the hustle and bustle that some cities have to offer. For us one full day relaxing at the beach is more than enough. We are active travelers who want to get a taste of everything so we typically book a bike tour, go on a foodie walk, and enjoy learning about the culture and mingle with locals. We prefer some chaos mixed with markets, good food and restaurants. If you are the kind of person that wants to go to Thailand just for its beaches, then this sample itinerary won’t cut it for you.
Day 1: Bangkok-Introduction
Arrive in Bangkok
Check in at hotel Grande Centre Point
Vibrant Chinatown is a food heaven all day long. During the day is filled with vendors selling fruits and flowers and shops selling everything from jewelry to religious artifacts. But at night it transforms into the largest open-air food market I have ever seen. Pad Thai for $1? YAS! Fresh coconut for .50 cents? PLEASE! A beer for less than a dollar? No kidding. Mango sticky rice, fruit smoothies, seafood… (did I die and went to heaven?) And for the food adventurous, grilled insects. Food possibilities are endless here.
To go back to the hotel hop on a tuk tuk and enjoy the ride! Tuk tuks are a fun way to get around the city even when the traffic is really bad as they can squeeze in everywhere. It can be scary, but try to relax and have fun.
Day 2: Bangkok-Bike Tour and Cabaret Show
Morning to afternoon-Bike Tour
Bike Tour With Locals. There is no better and efficient way to explore a city than biking. We recommend looking for our tour guide, Artty. He is an experienced biker who took us through crannies and allies that we would have never been able to find on our own. We visited Wat Pho, The Grand Palace, Wat Phra Keaw. Biked over Memorial Bridge and stopped at the Flower Market, the Grand Postal Building, ad the Old Customs House by the riverside along the way. We had a feast at a local food stall (Artty’s favorite spot) for only $20 for 5 people y’all! I’m not even kidding. That’s beer included.
Evening-Lady Boy Show
Take the (free) Chao Praya Express Boat from the Sathon Pier to go to Asiatique The Riverfront. This is a very modern and trendy area filled with shops and modern restaurants. Here we bought tickets to see a ladyboy cabaret show (a must do) at Calypso Cabaret. After the show we took an Uber back to our hotel.
Day 3: Bangkok-Day trip to Ayutthaya
Morning-Day trip to Ayutthaya
We hired a car ($55 for a comfortable SUV that seats 5 people). The friendly driver took us to Ayutthaya, in theory about 2 hours from Bangkok but since traffic there is REALLY bad, it took us much more than that. And to return it was even worse, around 3.5 hours. But it was worth it. Ayutthaya is Thailand’s second capital and was founded in 1350. It flourished during the 14th and 18th centuries. However, after a Burmese attack in 1767, the city was completely destroyed and left in ruins. Nonetheless, the temples that survived are incredible and worth visiting.
We splurged in dinner and drinks with a view at Above Eleven Rooftop Bar. This place claims to be the first Peruvian Japanese rooftop bar and restaurant in South East Asia. The food was delicious and the cocktails creative. It is not cheap though, considering that with what we paid for a beer here, two people could have drinked and dined in Chinatown, but the view and the ambiance were great, so if not traveling on a tight budget, then check out this place. Also, FYI, there is a strictly enforced dress code.
Day 4: Bangkok- Floating Markets and fly to Chiang-Mai
Morning: Bangkok Floating Markets
We hired the same driver that took us to Ayutthaya and in the morning he drove us to the floating markets. This was so much fun! We arrived early which was great as there weren’t may boats and the vendors seemed to be eager to negotiate more as there weren’t many tourists buying stuff. We bought food from other vendors in boats (coconut pancakes were so delicious!). Our friends bought a beautiful canvas (you can see the artists painting them on site). It is definitely an experience and one of the must do in Bangkok I would say.
Evening-Chiang Mai Night Bazaar
After the market, our driver took us to the airport where we catched a flight to Chiang-Mai, Thailand’s second largest city. After checking in at the hotel Rustic River Boutique we headed to the night markets. Chiang-Mai Night Bazaar was probably my favorite market experience in the three countries we visited. We spent 4 nights in Chiang-Mai and went to the night markets every single one of them. I found the prices here to be much more cheaper than anywhere else in Thailand plus the vendors were willing to negotiate. Like I’ve said in previous posts, the prices here are already cheap but it is part of their culture to bargain with tourists. Just don’t be that jerk who tries to take advantage of the locals. Bargain, but be reasonable, OK? At the end of the day you are taking home a nice scarf for only $2 and a relaxing 60 minute massage for only $5-10.
Day 5: Chiang Mai-Temple and Khantoke Dinner
We rented a scooter to get around and our hotel helped us with that. After being on the road for less than half and hour we got a flat tire and had to wait to be rescued. With a new scooter, we headed to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, probably Chiang Mai’s most famous landmark. With 300 steps to climb, this temple takes your breath away. Literally. Once at the top, it feels one is closer to the sun. All the gold shining can be blinding but is so pretty! Probably one of my favorite temples from the ones we saw.
Every day, from 1pm-3pm it is possible to chat with the monks who welcome the chance to practice their English while sharing details about their culture and religion with visitors (donations accepted).
Try the smoothies: At the entrance at the bottom there are some markets selling food and souvenirs. The fruit smoothies from here were the BEST! I tried passion fruit, mango-passion and avocado. All three were delicious and a big cup only costed $1.
Evening: Khantoke Dinner
It was Christmas Eve and we booked a traditional Khantoke Dinner at Old Chiangmai Cultural Center. This dinner comes with a show. Dinner starts at 7pm. Show starts at 8:00 to 9:30pm.
Day 6: Chiang Mai-Elephant Park
It was Christmas Day and we got to spend it with the elephants at Elephant Nature Park. We booked this months in advance as this park is quite popular among visitors and volunteers. We did not spend the night here, instead we booked a single day visit. Pick up/drop off from/to hotel was included in the price. They picked us up in a comfortable caravan for about 8-10 people. On our way there they played a movie that shows the work they do and the importance of educating people about the exploitation of elephants. We learned that one should not ride an elephant as these are “trained” in the most cruel and inhumane way possible. The work this people do is incredible. We not only got to spend a day with the elephants, watching them thrive free, bathing them and feeding them, but it was an eye opening experience that taught us to appreciate and respect this animals so much.
Day 7: Chiang Mai-Lanna Cooking Class
We booked a cooking class with the Raunkaew-Yanon family. They live outside of the city. Joe picked us up from our hotel in the morning and drove us to his home where his family was waiting. Joe’s dad opened the doors of his home and talked to us about their way of living and the architecture of a traditional Thai house and rice barn. The family has an orchard with different fruits and vegetables, many of them we also have in Puerto Rico so I felt kind of at home. We picked some herbs that we later used for cooking. The grandma, almost 100, was there making tobacco cigars wrapped in banana leaves. Then we cooked traditional home-cooked recipes including Pad-Thai. It was an amazing experience!
Day 8: Chiang Mai to Krabi
We had a late flight so we got to sleep more. Then had late breakfast and walked through the markets for the last time. We arrived in Krabi by 7pm and arranged airport transportation directly with our hotel Lux Family Villas. More than a hotel, these are individual villas, perfect for groups and families. The location is a bit far from the beach, but they offer a free shuttle to downtown from 8am to 10pm which was very convenient. The villa had 2 bedrooms, each equipped with its own bathroom. Very comfortable. On-site amenities include a pool and a restaurant.
Day 8: Krabi-7 Island Tour
The reception at the hotel helped us book a boat-snorkeling tour that stopped in 7 islands ($60pp), including Maya Bay and Phi Phi. It was fun as it allowed us to taste the different islands so that we could choose which one to return later, but it felt rushed and packed with people. I would probably do this differently if there is a next time and will rent a private long-tail boat instead.
Day 9: Krabi-Diving Experience
This was a full-day experience. Our first time scuba diving but unfortunately Alexis got sick so he missed all the fun. Our friend Jose who is a licensed PADI diver made all the arrangements with Stingray Divers in Ao Nang. We had to go the night before for a fitting of the wetsuits and be ready to go on the day of. The tour includes transportation to/from the hotel, breakfast and lunch. The introductory scuba diving tour (4,600B per person) is good for someone without prior diving experience. Peter was my instructor, and since Alexis didn’t come it was a 1:1 experience. He is friendly, experienced and patient. I had a great time and enjoyed more than I thought I would.
Day 10: Krabi-Relax at Railay Beach
For about 200Bpp we took a long tail boat to Railay beach where we spent the day. It wasn’t a beautiful day as there was a typhoon happening near Vietnam that affected the weather in the area, so it was gray and it even rained at some point. There are long tail boats selling food along the beach which comes handy when hungry attacks and a picnic was not packed.
A personal note about Krabi: Overall I was not impressed by Krabi, in fact Krabi is the place I enjoyed the least. The beaches were nice and the diving experience probably my favorite part. But the area is super touristy. We decided to go to Krabi instead of Phuket because everyone we talked to told us that Phuket was extremely touristy and expensive. Yet, we found Krabi to be exactly that. Also, the food in Krabi was mediocre in comparison to the food we had in Bangkok and Chiang Mai. Most restaurants were selling western food (pizza, pasta, steak, etc). The pad thai we had here was mediocre and the drinks terrible. The only decent place we found was Tandoori Nights. Prices were higher and vendors were less willing to negotiate prices. In short, although I can’t wait to go back to Thailand, I don’t see myself returning to Krabi. I would probably look for a less known island instead.
Day 11: Krabi to Bangkok
It was New Years Eve so we boarded a flight back to Bangkok. We made reservations to eat at Gaggan. This restaurant was featured on Netflix’s original series Chef’s Table Season 2. This was one of the highlights of the trip. We made reservations for a 9pm dinner, only expecting a fancy dinner without any fanfare for a New Year’s celebration in particular. In fact, we were thinking about where to go to welcome the new year after dining there. But oh boy! Gaggan delivered. We had to wait over 30 minutes for our table, but it was absolutely worth the wait. Eating here has been one of the most amazing culinary experiences ever. I will probably write a blog just to talk about it, but in short. Not only the food was incredibly delicious (we had 25 courses), but Gaggan himself came to our table to tell us that we were going to have an interruption on the service to welcome 2018 together. Ten minutes before midnight we were called to another room and served champagne and welcomed 2018 with Chef Gaggan. We hugged and toasted with strangers that for a moment became like friends and family. It was incredible. After dinner, we stayed for the after party. Gaggan had drinks, fireworks, and more food prepared for his last diners. We party till 3am and only left because we had to catch a flight next morning, otherwise would have stayed there till Gaggan had to kick us out.
Day 12: Bangkok to Cambodia
Without much time to do/see more, we had our last breakfast together. For the last night we chose Hotel Clover Asoke, which conveniently located near the BTS Skytrain and Terminal 21 Shopping Mall. The best thing about this hotel was the breakfast. Nice buffet with everything from fried rice to egg dishes to waffles, which was perfect to cure a new year’s celebration hangover 🙂