Thailand is an overstimulation of your senses. From the never-ending noise of traffic and horns honking, to your nose being taken over by smells of garbage, pad thai, coconuts and the ocean, to your eyes not being abl eot believe what they are seeing: crowded cities, lush landscapes, beautiful beaches and oceans...and one of my favorites: Elephants!!! I spent several weeks backpacking, rock climbing, and adventuring through Thailand and here are some of my favorite things:
Food: Street Food! My advice? Get over that very strong fear of getting food poisoning and try everything. From street meat to noodle dishes to bugs to things in pots that are unidentifiable. You wont regret it.
A big part of culture and religion in Thailand are the temples, and I would recommend stopping by a few if they are on your way. (Too many temples can result in Temple Overload; where they all start to look the same. Dont let this happen! You want to appreciate them...so add a few on your way to other destinations.) Here are a few of my favorites:
Food: Street smoothies. I cant stress this enough. for 20-30baht, you can have a FRESH smoothie. My favorites are avocado, pineapple coconut, or dragon fruit. Experiment and have fun! In addition, I would go to the big night market in Chiang Mai. It's amazing and had weird food I hadn't seen yet in Thailand. Food that I am still unsure of what it was!!!
Chiang Mai has probably over 100 temples. I would rent a motorbike and spend one day exploring the temples. You'll probably spend about 100baht for the day on entry fees...and maybe a few donations if you are about that. A lot of temples are very touristy, but you can move away from that and find some real hidden gems.
Activities: There is a lot to do in Chiang Mai: The art museum (highly recommend), hikes, Doi Inthanon National Park, a man-made grand canyon, temples and sightseeing, and ELEPHANTS. I was torn about going on something so touristy, partly because you pay a lot of money. The conclusion I came to is that Elephants are costly animals...so shelling out $35 dollars (expensive for Thailand) for a day or two is fine. I went to an elephant sanctuary where I got to personally interact with Elephants, and it was absolutely wonderful. If you get a chance, go volunteer for a few days and really get to know these gentle giants.
Food: My favorite thing about Chiang Rai and visiting the temples here was the coconut ice-cream found on the street carts. Homemade, and wonderful. If you are smart, you can get a few scoops for 10Baht. ($0.33). And when it's hot and humid...its worth it...multiple times. I gorged on ice cream (in fact, it was my main food source in Chiang Rai...and I'm not ashamed.)
The big temple to go to in Chiang Rai is the White Temple. I admit, it was REALLY touristy. However, the architecture was realllyyyyyy cool, which is why I enjoyed it. But, you are definitely going to be bumped around, and wait in a few long lines to get around this place. An added bonus that no one seemed to do: The museum and the art gallery.
THE ISLANDS OF THAILAND
Picking your island: Picking what Island is best for you can be quite the task. To be honest, before I went, I really had no clue where to go. After I've been, I can honestly say that no matter what island you choose, you will have an adventure, you'll be able to find an abandoned beach or stay resort side, and it will be beautiful. However, I've broken down some of the best Islands and why they are good, popular, or virtually unknown:
- Phuket - This is probably the most popular island is Thailand. Be prepared for tourists, a lot of lady boys, and some amazing activities and food. Deep sea diving, rock climbing and hiking are all options off this Island, plus...it has access to other great islands as well.
- Koh Phi Phi - There is some serene swimming in some very crystal-clear water (Head to Pileh Lagoon) and other small Islands around.
- Ko Pha Ngan - This is where the most epic FULL MOON PARTY goes down! It's a riot, and happens every month. Head here for at least three days if your planning on attending, a night before and a night after to recover.
- Koh Samui - A great island for yoga lovers...this island houses some pretty amazing yoga retreats.
- Similian Islands - The Similian Islands Marine National Park is here...and you can spend several days getting lost in the jungle, camping on tiny remote beaches, and doing some deep sea diving.
- Krabi - A rock climbers paradise...you can climb anything from easy to mega difficult...and several climbs have the luxury of deep water overhangs so if you mess up...you just take a swim in the wonderful sea.
- Koh Tao - A great island for scuba diving!
- Koh Yao - If you're looking to party...this is a less touristy option than Phuket but still has a great atmosphere.
- Koh Lanta - One of the best islands for an all-around experience. This island has resorts, private beaches, waterfalls and plenty of day excursions to make the most of your time in Thailand.
- Koh Kut - If you want to do nothing but laying on a beach and relaxing...this is your island! Not much to do except beach dwelling and some swimming. It's remote, and there isn't even an ATM on the island...so bring extra cash.
- Koh Chang - This is a great all-around island as well, but less touristy than the others. It has a few resort options and a lot of hostels for younger travelers. Day excursions are available, lots of waterfalls and hikes. Rent a motorbike here. (If you are staying here...triple check your hostel and several are closed and dont say...and you can arrive with no place to stay if you aren't careful.)
- Koh Lipe - A very unknown island, Koh Lipe is becoming the next Koh Phi Phi. It's known for it's beautiful white sand beaches.
ALL PHOTOS ON THIS PAGE BY: KELLI SPENCER