The Best Thailand Travel Itinerary for Backpackers

Planning your Thailand travel itinerary can be difficult- there’s so much to see and do, yet usually very little time.

Adam and Ann on Hong Island

When we arrived in Thailand for the first time, we’d done very little planning and had no idea where to go once we landed in Bangkok. The trip very much became a case of trial and error, but it was an adventure we’ll never forget.

Thanks to our mistakes, we now have a pretty good idea of what a good Thailand itinerary for backpackers looks like. This covers the capital city, the north, and the islands over a one-month period. You can, of course, shorten your time in each place to fit your own travel schedule.

We actually took two months to explore Thailand as we moved slowly through each destination. To do this, you can either extend your 30-day visa at the embassy or cross the border into another country for a week or so. We took two weeks to explore Vietnam in between. Before you set off, make sure your documents are in check using our handy passport guide.

Here’s our perfect Thailand travel itinerary!

Adam getting a haircut at Chatuchak Market

Bangkok – 3 to 4 nights

Bangkok is the easiest place in Thailand to fly into, and a great place to start your Thai adventure. Combine the vibrant street life with gorgeous hotels at cheap prices, and you’re off to a good start. We stayed four nights in the capital city, which we could have probably shortened to three. Here’s an idea of how to spend your time:

  • Day One: Arrive at Bangkok International Airport, get a Grab taxi to your hotel, settle in, and go for a wander!
  • Day Two: Get the metro to Chatuchak Market (this is open at the weekend, so plan accordingly) and take a few hours to explore the hundreds of stalls. Enjoy the food, chat to the locals, and maybe even get a haircut like Adam did!!
  • Day Three: Head to Wat Pho to see the famous reclining Buddha. This is also a great time to visit the Grand Palace should you wish. 
  • Day Four: Hit up the huge malls in the day, then a rooftop bar at night. We’re gutted we missed out on Bangkok’s rooftop bars, but we hear the Speakeasy Rooftop Bar is a pretty good shout.

Chiang Mai – 7 nights

Seven nights in the north of Thailand is probably a little more than what you’d expect, but you’ll understand when you arrive. Take the night bus from Bangkok to get there – you can fly, but the bus is a much better experience in our opinion. Bus operators say the trip takes between 9 and 10 hours, though plan to arrive a couple of hours earlier – some Thai bus drivers really know how to put their foot down!!

We don’t recommend planning your entire visit to Chiang Mai- we wouldn’t recommend that in any Thailand itinerary for backpackers. Rule three in our backpacking tips is to allow for spontaneity. Use your time to explore and eat great food at your own pace. The city is gorgeous and well worth taking your time. We’d suggest moving hotels a couple of times to spend some time in different parts of the city. Here are a few things you may want to work into your Thailand travel itinerary while you’re in Chiang Mai:

  • Visit Doi Suthep: Get a songthaew (see also: big red bus) to Doi Suthep, and take in the magic of one of the holiest places in Thailand. You can also head back down the road to get away from the tourists take a hike through the national park. You’ll find gorgeous 360-degree views and even a hidden temple of two – we filmed it all to share with you below.
  • Eat EVERYTHING. We mean it: Chiang Mai is home to some of the best food we’ve ever eaten. Whether you’re looking for the best Thai curry or pages and pages of breakfast options- this city has it all. I wrote a Chiang Mai food guide for the FarFromHolmes site which you should definitely check out for our full list of recommendations.
  • Go to the Sunday market: It’s busy, but you’ll love it. You can quite literally spend hours browsing the stalls, eating street food, and enjoying the entertainment on offer. The Sunday market runs between 4 pm and midnight- most of the locals start heading out around 9/10 pm. Don’t forget the mosquito spray!!

Chiang Rai – 3 nights

Chiang Rai is the lesser-known city in the north of Thailand, just a 3-4 hour bus journey from Chiang Mai. This is a perfect addition to your Thailand travel itinerary if you have the time. Chiang Rai is known by backpackers for its beautiful temples and artistic, laid-back atmosphere. Here’s an idea of how to spend your time in the city.

  • Day One: Arrive in Chiang Rai, check into your hotel, enjoy some great food, and take the day to walk around and explore at your own pace.
  • Day Two: Visit the White Temple. Also known as Wat Rong Khun, this temple is one of the most popular places to visit in Chiang Rai due to its elegance and unusual touches. Visit early to avoid the rush.
  • Day Three: Visit the Blue Temple. Yes, there seems to be quite the colour theme going on here- as Chiang Rai is also home to the Black House if you’d like to see that, too. The Blue Temple is a vibrant attraction recently completed in 2016, and free to explore.

Phuket – 1 to 2 nights

As far as we’re concerned, Phuket is a tick-box destination on your Thailand travel itinerary. Though it may not be top of your bucket list, it’s one of the easiest and cheapest ways to make your way through to the islands. Take the night bus from the north into Phucket, or fly if time’s an issue. 

Watch the video below for an idea of how to spend 24 hours in Phuket. Monkey Hill and Phuket Walking Street are both worth a visit.

Phi Phi Island – 3+ nights

The reason we haven’t included an exact night count for Phi Phi Island is that it’s very much a Marmite destination – you either love it or you hate it. Phi Phi is a very party-heavy place, so if you’re not looking to go clubbing into the early hours every night, it might not be the place for you.

We stayed on Phi Phi for a week or so. While we didn’t like the overall vibe, I loved getting up super early every day to watch the sunrise on the beach as everyone else was just about off to bed. 

Dog on Phi Phi beach

Koh Lanta – 4 to 5 nights

Koh Lanta is a gorgeous, laid back island. Though you won’t find much on offer in terms of activities, it’s a great place to spend a few days chilling on the beach – especially if you’ve just come from the hustle and bustle of Phi Phi. 

Make sure to enjoy the beautiful cafes and restaurants on the beach during your visit. You can also learn to dive in Koh Lanta too, should you wish.

Long Beach, Koh Lanta

Krabi – 4 to 5 nights

Jump on a bus to head from Koh Lanta to Krabi. Most bus services will take you the full way using the Krabi car ferry, so you won’t need to transfer to go across the waters. We recommend spending a couple of nights in Railay Beach to enjoy day trips, snorkelling, and great food, then going into Krabi Town. We strongly recommend staying at Well Timed Hotel – the staff members were all so lovely and happy to help us arrange any day trips or transport we wanted to take.

During our time in Krabi, we paid for an island-hopping day trip with Barracuda Tours. This set us back around £35, which we probably could have bartered down a little more if we’d wanted. We took the Hong Islands tour – consisting of: 

  • Snorkelling around Daeng Island
  • Enjoying the beauty of Hong Island
  • Boat trip around Hong Lagoon
  • Lunch and swimming at Pakia Island
  • Exploring Paradise Island

We’d definitely recommended taking the trip – though make sure to pay the little extra to go by speed boat! The time you’ll save getting between each island is well worth it. 

Paradise Island, Thailand

Krabi to…?

The reason our Thailand travel itinerary finishes in Krabi is that you’ll then be able to use the airport to fly to pretty much wherever you’d like to go. We travelled onto Malaysia, but you can also fly into Bangkok to then head back to your home country nice and easily. 

Too Long, Didn’t Read?

  • Bangkok: 3-4 nights
  • Chiang Mai: 7 nights
  • Chiang Rai: 3 nights
  • Phuket: 1-2 nights
  • Ko Phi Phi: 3+ nights
  • Koh Lanta: 4-5 nights
  • Krabi: 4-5 nights

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