Thailand. Pristine beaches, lush jungles, mouth-watering street food and beautiful temples; it’s not hard to see why this country has been dubbed “The Land of Smiles.”
On top of this, Thailand is one of the best places in the world to go backpacking. It’s cheap, the infrastructure is very well set up for tourists, and it’s packed full of things to see and do. As such, many people choose Thailand as their first backpacking adventure.
The north and south of the country are very different from one another, so this 1 month Thailand itinerary will include both ends to enable you to experience its diversity. You’ll find lush, emerald jungles in the north and pristine, idyllic beaches in the south.
Of course, everyone has their own travel styles and preferences so feel free to chop and change this itinerary as much as you like. For most first-time visitors though, this 1 month Thailand itinerary should make for a good rough guide on how to spend your time.
1 MONTH THAILAND ITINERARY OVERVIEW
Bangkok: 3 days
Where to stay in Bangkok: Diff Hostel
Most people travelling to Thailand will likely arrive into Bangkok — the hectic capital city.
As you step out into Bangkok, you’ll quickly find yourself surrounded by a hive of activity. Markets which hawker handmade trinkets and textiles sprawl endlessly; colossal skyscrapers tower over ornate temples; the scent of delicious street food hangs in the air; tuk-tuks and mopeds race along the streets. Welcome to Thailand.
Bangkok is a large city and can be somewhat intimidating at first. As such, many backpackers leave immediately for the jungles of the north or the beaches in the south. However, I urge you to give Bangkok a chance because if you look beneath the chaos, you’ll find that this vibrant city really does have a lot to offer.
The Grand Palace is arguably the most major attraction in Bangkok. The former home of royalty in Thailand since 1782, The Grand Palace contains more than 100 buildings, all decorated exquisitely in gold. You’ll find intricately carved statues of elephants, dragons and Buddha, all embellished with colourful jewels. While it is always very busy, it is an impressive place and completely worth the visit. It’s best to go early in the day to avoid as much tourist traffic as possible.
Lumpini Park is Bangkok’s very own Central Park — a beautiful piece of green surrounded by skyscrapers, where you can spend a good few hours walking and enjoying a picnic in the sun. The MBK centre is a huge mall consisting of about 2,000 shops, and while many of the products sold here are of questionable designer origin, it’s a great place to shop.
Bangkok also boasts some of the best nightlife in Southeast Asia. Khao San Road, Soi 11 and Thong Lor are three of the best districts to find restaurants, bars and clubs.
Ayutthaya: 1-2 days
Where to stay in Ayutthaya: Plus Hostel
While it’s hard to imagine now, the city of Ayutthaya was once the largest city in the world. Home to over a million people in the 1700s, it was a huge trading hub that drew in merchants from the world over. During a time when The United States was just a colonial outpost, Ayutthaya was bursting with trade and activity, and reigned as the capital of Siam.
Sadly, the city was destroyed by the Burmese in 1767. A new city has since risen from the ashes, and these ruins are now preserved and recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Many of the key sites are within the city centre, so I suggest hiring a bicycle to explore Ayutthaya’s old temples and ruins.
Ayutthaya is a short train journey from Bangkok, so you could either visit as a day trip, or spend the night there on route to Chiang Mai. I recommend the latter, as Ayutthaya deserves a full day to explore its ancient city ruins.
Chiang Mai: 3-4 days
Where to stay in Chiang Mai: Family Home Chiang Mai
After spending time exploring Ayutthaya’s city ruins, catch a bus or train north to Chiang Mai. It takes roughly 12 hours to get to Chiang Mai, so you can either opt to travel overnight on a sleeper train/bus, or during the day.
Chiang Mai really captured my heart. This beautiful city is surrounded by lush jungles, which I think is what enticed me there so much in the first place. It’s also a hub for outdoor and adrenaline activities such as ziplining, kayaking, caving and hiking. You could opt to go hiking in Doi Inthanon National Park, which is home to Thailand’s tallest mountain, Doi Inthanon, at 2565 metres.
The highlight of Chiang Mai, though, is the elephants. The mountainous jungle surrounding the city is home to a range of elephant sanctuaries which work to rescue and rehabilitate elephants. Thailand’s tourism industry has been known to treat elephants poorly, so please ensure you do your homework and choose an ethical elephant encounter.
You can read more about the dark side of elephant tourism in my blog post here, but essentially, please do not ride elephants and instead visit a sanctuary where you can see them in a more natural setting. Elephant Nature Park is an excellent choice.
I would also recommend you tour Chiang Mai’s Old City, which is full of beautiful temple complexes and markets.
Pai: 2-3 days
Where to stay in Pai: UP2U Guesthouse
From Chiang Mai, head north to Pai, a small hippie town full of reggae bars, beautiful scenery and chilled, laid-back vibes. Tucked away in the top left-hand corner of Thailand, Pai has only recently entered the backpacker scene.
If you’re confident on a moped/motorbike, you could rent one and ride from Chiang Mai to Pai through the mountain passes. The road is notorious for its harsh bends and isn’t a ride for the faint-hearted. The alternative is to hop on a four-hour bus journey. I should note, however, that many travellers experience car sickness on this journey, due to the twists and turns of the mountain pass.
The journey is worth it, though, as Pai is surrounded by waterfalls, mountains and jungles, making it the perfect location for fans of the outdoors. Hostels and bars here are relaxed, where you’ll likely find live music and arty entertainment. Be sure to spend an evening or two exploring Walking Street, where you’ll find stall upon stall of delicious street food. Oh, and head up to Pai Canyon at sunset to watch the evening rays set over the canyon.
Krabi: 4-5 days
Where to stay in Krabi (Ao Nang): K Bunk
After having spent some time in the north, it’s now time to head south for some of those pristine beaches that Thailand is famous for. From Pai, you’ll need to head back to Chiang Mai to catch a flight to Krabi. Usually, I would advise against flying (I’m all about sustainability), but the bus would take a gruelling 36 hours.
Thailand’s Krabi Province has all the ingredients needed for a postcard-perfect paradise. Here, you’ll find white sand beaches, bright blue waters and limestone karst cliffs covered in lush foliage.
The towns of Krabi Town and Ao Nang are the two best launching pads to explore Krabi’s beaches and islands, but I preferred Ao Nang by miles. Ao Nang is lively, with great nightlife, lots of bars and restaurants to enjoy, and a lovely 1-kilometre long beach.
I’d suggest spending your time in Ao Nang to explore the beaches of Krabi Province; Railay Beach, Tonsai Beach and Pra Nang Cave Beach are just three examples of the most beautiful beaches in Thailand.
Throughout Ao Nang town, you’ll find tons of booking agents waiting to whisk you away on a longtail boat to visit these beaches. It’s all very easy to arrange, making Ao Nang an easy place from which to explore Krabi’s best beaches.
From Ao Nang, you can also access lots of different islands, such as Koh Lanta, Koh Lipe or Koh Phi Phi. You may want to do your own research on which islands you want to visit — there are LOTS — but I personally suggest Koh Lanta and Koh Tao.
Koh Lanta: 4 days
Where to stay in Koh Lanta: Hub of Joys — the BEST hostel I’ve ever stayed in!
Ah, what can I say about this idyllic island? Whenever I think of those pristine Thai beaches, the imagery is pretty close to that of Koh Lanta. Coral-fringed beaches, relaxed bars and wildlife-rich rainforests; Koh Lanta makes for one hell of a destination.
Koh Lanta is actually made up of two main islands — the one I recommend is Koh Lanta Yai. Here, you’ll find nature reserves and beaches where you won’t see another soul, world-class diving, fun beach bars and more.
I recommend renting a motorbike to explore the many beaches on the island, drinking copious amounts of mango smoothie and hiking in the national park, Mu Ko Lanta, where you’ll encounter a ton of macaque monkeys. Be warned, though, these guys are seasoned pickpockets and will snatch anything that resembles food.
If you love animals, I also recommend making a visit to Lanta Animal Welfare. This sanctuary rescues stray dogs and cats from the island and provides them with much-needed veterinary care. You can visit the sanctuary to meet the resident animals and can even opt to take a pup for a walk!
Koh Tao: 4-5 days
Where to stay in Koh Tao: The Dearly Koh Tao Hostel
Koh Tao, also known as “Turtle Island,” is sprinkled with sandy coves and lantern-lit restaurants. The biggest draw, though, is the scuba diving. Koh Tao is one of the best places in the world to learn how to dive, and the competition between the large amount of dive shops has also made it one of the cheapest.
Given this, Koh Tao is one of the most popular places for travellers to get their PADI or SSI Open Water Certification. The course usually takes 4 days, and includes 4 ocean dives. However, if you’re not keen on committing to a full course, most dive schools also offer Discovery Dives, where you can spend a day diving down to 12 metres, without the need for a diving license.
It would be a shame not to go diving while in Koh Tao, but if it really isn’t your thing, the island also boasts great nightlife, fun boat trips, good hiking to viewpoints and so much more.
Additions and alterations to your Thailand itinerary
If some of the above places aren’t right for you, or if you have more time, consider adding the following destinations to your Thailand itinerary.
Sukhothai: Sukhothai was the capital of Thailand during the 13th century and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site thanks to the historical ruins of this once-thriving city.
Koh Lipe: Sometimes referred to as the Maldives of Thailand, Koh Lipe boasts crystal clear waters, spectacular beaches and a relaxed island vibe.
Koh Phangan: I left Koh Phangan off the main itinerary because it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. But if you love to party, then you may just want to head to Koh Phangan for its infamous Full Moon Party.
Planning your trip to Thailand
I hope my 1 month Thailand itinerary has given you some idea of how you might like to spend your time in the country. Keep reading for my travel tips on what it’s like to travel in Thailand, including budgets, cuisine, visas, getting around, and more.
Currency: The currency in Thailand is Thai Baht (THB). At the time of writing, 1 USD = 31.70 THB.
Capital: The capital city of Thailand is Bangkok.
Voltage: The voltage used in Thailand is 220V.
Language: The language spoken in Thailand is Thai. English is spoken well by those in the tourism industry and by locals in tourist hubs like Bangkok or Chiang Mai.
Do you need a visa for Thailand?
Many nationalities can visit Thailand visa-free for up to 30 days, as part of the Tourist Visa Exemption Scheme. This includes most countries in Western Europe, including the UK, as well as the USA, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Turkey, UAE and many more. If you end up needing to stay longer, you can apply to extend your visa for another 30 days while in the country, for a fee of around 60 USD.
If you intend to stay in Thailand for longer than 30 days, you’ll need to apply for a tourist visa before arrival. These visas allow you to stay in Thailand for 60 days and cost 30 USD.
Some nationalities must apply for a visa on arrival, and cannot stay for more than 15 days.
Thailand seems to change its visa regulations quite frequently, so I recommend checking on the official government website prior to your departure.
When is the best time to visit Thailand?
The high season (November to February) is the best time of year to visit Thailand, as the weather will be cooler and dry. The monsoon will have passed, leaving a lush landscape behind.
Thailand’s rainy season lasts from June to October. While it generally won’t rain all day, there are frequent bursts of torrential downpour lasting from a few minutes to a few hours. I personally hate the rain, so prefer to avoid rainy seasons. However, the rainy season does bring lower tourism prices.
April to June is Thailand’s shoulder season. It can be very dry and uncomfortably hot during these months, but will be a little cheaper than high season.
Costs of backpacking in Thailand
Thailand is a pretty cheap country to travel in – especially if you choose to stay in backpacker hostels and eat local food. Costs have definitely gone up in recent years, but it’s still possible to have a budget-friendly trip to Thailand.
Accommodation: The price of hostels varies according to where you are in Thailand. The north is generally much cheaper, where you can find hostels for as low as 127 THB (4 USD) per night. Bangkok is slightly more expensive at 220-250 THB (7-8 USD) a night on average, and the islands in the south are more expensive still at 250 THB + (8 USD +). If you’re looking to stay in a hotel, you can spend as much as you like, starting from about 20 USD to 1,000 USD.
Food: Food can be incredibly cheap in Thailand, with street food costing as little as 30 THB (1 USD) for a huge plate of noodles. If you eat locally, you can easily get by on 125-160 THB (4-5 USD) a day. A meal at an inexpensive restaurant may cost around 125 THB (4 USD), and a meal at a mid-range restaurant could set you back by 320 THB (10 USD).
Transport: Transport within Thailand is cheap – provided you don’t let yourself get ripped off. Intercity buses and trains are inexpensive – for example, Bangkok to Chiang Mai (a 12-hour journey) costs between 445 and 950 THB (14 and 30 USD), depending on the class of transport. Public city buses are very inexpensive, with buses in Bangkok costing about 7 THB (25 cents).
Activities: Thailand is home to a ton of amazing, free activities. However, it’s likely that you’ll want to do some activities which cost. Scuba diving can set you back by as much as 3100 THB (100 USD), while elephant sanctuary visits or trekking with a guide could cost between 1200-2500 THB (40-80 USD) a day.
Thailand daily budget breakdown
I would recommend allowing about 800-1100 THB (25-35 USD) a day for backpacking in Thailand. This will see you through hostel accommodation, street food, transport, and general sightseeing quite comfortably.
If you’re planning on spending a lot of time in the south or on the islands, you’ll probably need to add another 320 THB (10 USD) or so a day to your budget, as things are generally more expensive.
Also, if you’re going to be indulging in lots of expensive activities, such as scuba diving, trekking with guides and elephant sanctuary visits, you’ll need to add a significant amount more to your budget.
Food & drink in Thailand
Thailand is home to some of the best food in Asia. Luckily, eating in Thailand is incredibly cheap! Here are some local dishes you simply must try.
Pad thai: This noodle dish is full of nut and citrus flavours.
Green curry: Packed full of vegetables and a coconut milk sauce, this spicy curry is simply delicious.
Sticky mango rice: This dessert dish comprises rice soaked in coconut milk and palm sugar, all served with fresh mango.
Tom yum soup: Thailand’s most famous soup, tom yum is both hot and sour.
Massaman curry: Rich and creamy, massaman curry is delicious and relatively mild.
- Knowing that their target market is primarily Western tourists, restaurants selling Western food, such as pizza or pasta, will be very pricey in comparison to local Thai food.
- You can’t drink from the tap in Thailand, so always be sure to drink bottled water. A litre of bottled water should cost between 7 and 14 THB (20-40 cents) from shops.
- Thailand has 3 local beers: Chang, Leo and Singha. These beers cost between 40 and 50 THB (1.26-1.58 USD) from shops, and between 50 and 120 THB (1.58-3.79 USD) at bars.
Getting around in Thailand
Like most things in Thailand, getting around within the country is cheap. Thailand has an excellent network of buses and trains, so it’s very easy to get from place to place.
Thailand even makes it super easy to get to the islands from the mainland. You can book a single ticket which will include all the buses and boats that may be required to get from A to B, so you don’t have to book every leg of the journey individually.
Public city buses are very inexpensive, with buses in Bangkok costing 7 THB (25 cents) on average.
For getting around the country, coach buses are a good option. They’re pretty inexpensive – the bus journey from Bangkok to Chiang Mai should cost 550-700 THB (16-21 USD).
Trains are often quite slow, but are inexpensive and much more comfortable than coach buses, in my opinion. Expect to pay about 570 THB (18 USD) for a long-distance train journey.
For travel within cities, I recommend using Grab. It’s an app similar to Uber, so the price is locked and you can’t be ripped off. It always works out cheaper than a taxi or a tuk-tuk and is hands down the best way to travel within a city. If Grab isn’t available, as it likely won’t be outside of cities, then always try to get a metered taxi. Drivers are usually friendly, but can sniff out a naive tourist from a mile off, and may attempt to over-charge you.
Thailand is a pretty big country, so there may be times when you’ll want to take a flight. I took a flight from Bangkok to Krabi, for example, as the bus would have taken over 12 hours. AirAsia is pretty low cost and good for internal flights.
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