If you are planning on going to Southeast Asia, we can highly recommend Thailand. This country has everything; nice cities, lush jungles, tropical beaches, the best diving sites, great food, friendly people and above all, it’s cheap, very cheap!
At first I had my reservations, because I thought it would be too touristy, but I can assure you there still are pretty undiscovered places in Thailand.
We like to explore as much as we can when we go on holidays, so our travel routes are quite strict and we don’t stay too long at places. That is why we always end our trips with a longer stay at a beach, so we can relax before going back home.
This was our 3-week tour in Thailand and a small piece of Cambodia:
STOP 1: Bangkok (2 nights)
After two exhausting flights and 16 hours since our takeoff in Belgium, we finally arrived in the big city, Bangkok. After a quick powernap we were ready to explore the city. This city is quite overwhelming at first. There live about 11 million people (that is as much as the whole Belgian population together), so the streets are busy, but there is also a lot to see, smell and discover. Because we are not so much city people, we have decided to only stay here for a short 3 days before going to our next stop. Read the full guide to Bangkok here: 3 days in the vibrant city of Bangkok
Our top visits in Bangkok:
Chatuchak Market: If you can’t find what you want to buy here, you will never find it… The market is open on Saturday and Sunday only and you can spend a whole day here. Just get lost in this huge market and find the perfect souvenirs.
Grand Palace & Wat Phra Kaew: You can’t come to Bangkok and not see this site. It is the number 1 tourist attraction in Bangkok, so expect a big crowd there. Some websites will tell you that the entrance is free, but you have to buy a ticket (500 THB) to get in. The Wat Phra Kaew is probably the most sacred Buddhist temple in Thailand and the primary attraction is the Emerald Buddha. Next to the Wat Phra Kaew you will find the Grand Palace. This was the former residence of the Thai monarch, but is now only used at special events.
Wat Pho: Not far from the Grand Palace & Wat Phra Kaew you will find the less busy site of Wat Pho (admission: 100 THB). It is the biggest and oldest temple of Bangkok (and for us the most beautiful too), but also a big relief when coming here after you visited the busy (almost chaotic) Grand Palace & Wat Phra Kaew. We barely ran into other tourists. Definitely our favorite temple in Bangkok!
Wat Arun: This temple is named after the Indian God Aruna and is also called the temple of Dawn. Not only is it located on a lovely spot next to the river, but it is also an impressive white temple with beautiful decorations. The ticket is only 50 THB and totally worth paying for. Unfortunately when we were there, the tower was under construction, so we weren’t able to go to the top.
STOP 2: Kanchanaburi (2 nights)
After three days in the busy Bangkok we were ready to go somewhere less crowded. Our next stop was Kanchanaburi, which is mainly known because of the notorious Bridge over the river Kwai. The main reason why we came here is because of the Erawan National Park (admission 300 THB). We have read so many good things about the waterfall of seven stages, that we had to see them! You have to see them too, because it is absolutely gorgeous. We arranged a scooter (a 65 kilometer drive), so that we were not dependent on other people for only 200 THB (the whole day).
The climb is not easy, but the higher you will go, the less people in the water. You will be amazed by every stage you will encounter. The best thing is that the water is clear and warm, so you could swim there. Downside: there are fish in the water and they come close and tickle, but luckily they don’t bite :). At the third stage, there is a big rock in the water, but it is slippery, so you could use it as a slide (so much fun!).
After our day at the waterfall we also drove to the bridge over the river Kwai. We won’t bore you with the historical details of it, but it is a site with a lot of history (WOII). Trains still drive there, but you can walk over the bridge and it gives you a nice sight over the river.
STOP 4: Ayutthaya
Before taking the night train to Chiang Mai we decided to visit the old ruins of Ayutthaya. This was once the world’s wealthiest city and Asian’s major trading port. From Bangkok it is only a 1 à 2 hour drive (by train, car or bus). If you come from Kanchanaburi the easiest way to get there is by taxi (2 hour drive, we paid 2 000 THB for a minivan – we were with 4 people). The best way to get around in the city is by tuktuk or by bike. Make sure you bring plenty of water, because there are a lot of open spaces and it is freaking hot there!
If you like culture, this is for sure a MUST SEE! After the fall of the empire in 1767 the city was abandoned for decades and the restoration only began in 1969. Now it is an UNESCO World Heritage site. We were only there for a day, but actually you will need two days to see everything. There are more then 400 temples to see, but only a few of them were restored.
Wat Mahathat (admission 50 THB): This is the most popular and most visited temple in the city, but it is also impressively beautiful. The ruins will leave you speechless. Here you will find yourself taking a lot of pictures with the sandstone Buddha head that is confounded with the roots of the tree. Probably the most photographed place in Ayutthaya.
Wat Ratchaburana (admission 50 THB): You will find Wat Ratchaburana, also known as the temple of Royal Restoration, next to Wat Mahathat in the center of the city. The tall prang is very well preserved and you can climb inside to visit the painted crypt. When we were there, there were not that many people, so it was a great place to enjoy the ruins and relax under some trees.
STOP 5: Chiang Mai (5 nights)
Chiang Mai is a big city, but while Bangkok is busy and loud, Chiang Mai is more laid-back. There is so much to do here you could easily spend your entire 3-week holiday here. It is located in the North of Thailand, which is more mountainous. The old center is cozy and you will find a lot of nice shops and restaurants there.
What we did during our stay in Chiang Mai:
Elephant Care: If you go to Chiang Mai, the first thing most tourist do, is going to an Elephant Camp. So did we. After some research and with the help of the hotel we decided to spend the day with Johny Boy Elephant Care (https://www.facebook.com/Johnnyboytreks/). We were very picky, because we didn’t want to go to a place where they mistreated the animals. They picked us up at the hotel and drove to a place in the mountains where they took care of the elephants. They had only 3 elephants; a mommy, daddy and their little baby (who was unbearably cute and wanted to play with us the whole time) and we could feed them with a lot of bananas and bamboo. After a delicious lunch, we gave them a mud bath and washed them in the river. Overall it was an awesome day. This experience is a once in a lifetime so if you’re there, we recommend you to book a tour!
Sunday Walking Street: In the center of Chiang Mai the streets will be filled with little stalls where you can find all sorts of souvenirs and food. Yes, you will even find a food truck that sells fried insects. We weren’t brave enough to try, but they say it tastes delicious. There will be streets artist, little kids that sing and dance for you, great food and cheap souvenirs. Definitely a must do when you are in Chiang Mai on a Sunday.
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep (admission 30 THB): This is for sure the top attraction in Chiang Mai. We rented a scooter and went up the mountain to visit the temple. The route to the top is magnificent. The hairpin curves make it little bit scary if you’re not used to ride a scooter, but on the way up you will have some viewpoints over Chiang Mai. From the temple you have an amazing overview over the city, but you can only get there by taking the 306-step staircase to the top. Believe us, when it is 35 degrees, this is no fun, but the view makes up for the sweat!
Chiang Mai Canyon (admission 350 THB): Not far from Chiang Mai you can find the so-called ‘Grand Canyon’. Well, it is not really as spectacular as the Grand Canyon, but it is still beautiful. The Canyon is filled with water, so they made a water park with cool attractions. If you are a daredevil, there is the possibility to do some Cliff Diving (the highest one is about 9 meters). For some reason, not many tourists have heard from it therefore it is most of the time very quiet.
Ziplining: Another amazing activity to do there is Ziplining through the jungle. Although one of us is terrified of heights, she decided to conquer her fears. Guess what, she didn’t regret going there. Okay, the first ziplines were scary, but once you’re used to the heights and you’ve seen that the equipment is fine, it is awesome! The views are spectacular and you are literally flying through the jungle.
STOP 6: Siem Reap, Cambodia (3 nights)
After a stay full of adventure in Chiang Mai it was time for some culture in Siem Reap, Cambodia. We took a plane to Bangkok and then another one to Siem Reap. As happy and friendly Thai people are, Cambodian people were truly the opposite. At the airport you were lucky if they didn’t throw your passport to your head… Despite the unfriendly people in Siem Reap, the city has a lot to offer. The historical site of Angkor Wat is a very impressive place to see. This should be on everyone’s bucketlist! Angkor Wat stood very high on our to do list and it didn’t disappoint. We were a little bit scared that the mass tourism would ruin the site, but it really didn’t!!!
To get around, we rented a scooter for 2 days, so we were free to go where we wanted to go. Don’t make the mistake to take the bike, because it is freaking hot there and the distances are quite big too.
These are the most impressive temple’s we’ve seen:
Angkor Wat: Obviously, this is the first temple you want to see there. It is big and it is pretty extraordinary. It is difficult to image that they were able to build such a massive place so long ago… Till the smallest detail, it is dazzling. Angkor Wat has 5 towers and you can climb up the biggest one. It gives you a great view of the surroundings.
TIP: Close to the temple you have this small food trucks.. Picknick with a view on Angkor Wat… It can’t get any better, right?
Angkor Thom: After we spent a few hours at Angkor Wat, we went to Angkor Thom. This is the old capital city of Angkor (there lived almost 1 million people back then). The biggest and most important temple of that city is the Bayon temple.
Bayon temple: This temple is known for the big stone Buddha faces. There used to be more then 50 towers, but now only 37 are left over. It is massive and the architecture is astounding. A big plus; there are fewer tourists here!
Phnom Bakheng: If you want to see a beautiful sunset, you can go to Phnom Bakheng. Be aware that there will be a lot of other people there too. They only let 300 people up, so you have to be there early to get a spot in the temple. When we were there it got a little bit crazy, because a lot of tourist think they don’t have to wait in line, so they start arguing with the guards… But the view is gorgeous, so you should definitely go up there.
Ta Prohm: This temple is known for the movie Tomb Raider with Angelina Jolie. It is located in the jungle and the temple is largely unreconstructed. It is surrounded by huge trees and the big roots are growing through the walls. For us, this temple left us speechless by its beauty!
Want to read our full guide of Siem Reap? Siem Reap in 3 days
STOP 7: Khao Sok National Park (2 nights)
For us, Khao Sok was the highlight of our three-week travel through Thailand. It is a true paradise. Although it was raining a lot, but yes we were there during the rainy season, this was one of our best experiences ever! For some reason (We really don’t know why) this is not on the radar of mass tourism… but hey, this gives you the opportunity to go there and be alone in the nature!
Together with an agency, we booked a one-night trek there (it was not long enough). They picked us up at the hotel and brought us to the pier. From there the guide took us with a longtail boat on the lake. We were amazed by the beauty of nature!
We stayed the night in a small hut with only two matrasses and that’s it. No electricity (the generator is on from 6 p.m. till the sun rises), no service, no wifi! This is heaven! There are kayaks you can use all the time, so you can explore the lake yourself. The water is clear and really warm, so when it rains and gets a little bit cold, just jump into the water and warm yourself.
After a great and delicious lunch and some relaxing, our guide took us to a waterfall in the jungle. It was raining very hard and we got soaking wet by climbing up to the waterfall, but it was awesome! Never got to experience the rainforest in that way. We had a blast!
It was the birthday of one of our travel buddies and we had an incredible night celebrating her 25th birthday! We got a lovely meal, candles on a cake and a karaoke and dance party with the local people. One of the best night ever, if you ask us!
Falling asleep with the sounds of the jungle is so wonderful! In the morning we got a big breakfast and went out with the boat to see some wildlife. Unfortunately, because the weather was so bad, that the animals all went into the jungle and we couldn’t see them around the water. We only saw some monkeys and a few birds.
If you go to Thailand, don’t skip on this national park!!! Click here for 9 reasons why you MUST go to Khao Sok National Park
STOP 8: Koh Phangan (6 nights)
After a rewarding but exhausting trip through Thailand and Cambodia we took time to relax on the beautiful island that Koh Phangan is.
We took the budget options in the previous weeks, but on the island we decided that we could use some more luxury. Thanks to a great deal online, we could afford to stay in a very over the top hotel.
What can you do during your stay at Koh Phangan:
Off course there are the full moon, half moon, quarter moon,… parties, but we are not really party people while traveling. We like to explore the island, have a good dinner, drink something at a local bar and then head to bed. Luckily, the island has a lot more to offer!
Diving: A year ago we got our Padi Open Water, so that we could enjoy the underwater life while traveling. I’ve never seen so many fish and corals in my entire life! We were on the east coast of Koh Phangan and we found an amazing diving company, called ‘Dreamland Divers’. We went on four dives with them. Two were at Sail Rock (Koh Phangan), then there was one at Share Island in Koh Tao (unfortunately we didn’t see any sharks) and the last one was at Ao Leuk (Koh Tao). The instructors were very helpful and explained everything very well. During the trips they provided plenty of drinks and delicious homemade food. You should definitely go diving with them (http://www.dreamland-diver.de), because they deliver excellent quality for a very very reasonable price!
Hire a scooter: Because Koh Phangan is much more than just a party island; there is a lot to discover. The easiest way to get around is by scooter and in this way go can get to the prettiest places of the island. For only 250 THB you can have a scooter for 24 hours.
The Challenge: This is one for the daredevils! It is a small lake (the water is really hot, feels like a bad) with floating obstacles that you have to conquer. To enter it will cost you 500 THB and you can stay as long as you like. We can tell you, it looks easier then it is. They have a leaderboard, so if you think you can make it up to the board you can ask for a challenge. Finish the obstacles as fast as you can and you can get on the leaderboard! Gilles actually made it in the top 3, YAY!
Local market: In the south of Koh Phangan at the Thang Sala pier you can find a small local night market where they serve delicious Thai food. Food trucks and street food are what Thailand is famous for, so make sure you get to experience this! Wander the stalls and just taste all this tasty food.
Enjoy the beaches and get a tan: Off course, Koh Phangan is a tropical island with the nicest climate ever. Get relaxed on the many beautiful beaches!
Koh Mae: This is a small, deserted island that is only attached to Koh Phangan with a sand bank. It is a great place to swim, snorkel and relax.
Overview of the main costs:
- Plane ticket (Brussels – Abu Dhabi – Bangkok): 500 euro
- Hotels (comfort, 2pers. bedrooms): 400 euro
- Domestic flights (3 in total): 270 euro
- Dive (4 times): 150 euro
- 2 day, 1 night in Khao Sok: 86 euro
- Entrance Angkor Wat (3 days): 53 euro
In total this trip has cost us around 1 800 euros per person. This is almost 85 euros per person per day. We never chose for the real budget option, so it is easy to do this a lot cheaper than we have!
Hope you enjoyed reading about our fantastic Thailand trip. If you have any questions, please let us know, maybe we can help you!
Please follow us on instagram (@belgian.travelcouple) to join our adventures!
And many more stories will come… so stay tuned!
Inne & Gilles