When In Thailand
For most of our trips, we do a lot of research before we choose a location. We google weather patterns, look up restaurants, see what fruits will be in season and what activities are available. Thailand was a little different. Neither of us had really considered Thailand before. That’s not to say that we didn’t want to go, we just hadn’t had the idea yet. One of our closest friends (who actually studied abroad in Thailand) let us know she was interested to visit and we said, “sounds fun, we’d like to join!” And after the excitement of finally deciding on a location wore off (those of you who love to travel, but have a hard time making a choice will understand), we had to book a flight, arguably the hardest part of any trip.
It’s no secret that the flight to Thailand is long, especially when you partake in the cost-saving measures of a layover. We flew from Chicago (ORD) to Shanghai (PVG) to Bangkok (BKK) and it took almost a full 24 hours. Depending on where you are flying from and the amount you are willing to pay, the flight time will differ some. But be prepared for a trek regardless, we promise it is 100 percent worth it.
** Fun fact: After being on an airplane for more than 13 hours, Hannah’s feet swelled up three times their size. Remember your compression socks and don’t be afraid to walk those aisles! **
The good news is, flights to Thailand stay relatively cheap. And even when they may seem expensive, the rest of your trip can easily stick to a rigid budget. The months of May thru November make up the rainy season while December thru April have the best weather. Temperatures regularly reach into the 90s or 100s year round, and with nearly 100% humidity you’re guaranteed to sweat regardless of which month you go in.
Our trip began with a flight on China Eastern for $675 round trip. In hindsight, we have absolutely no idea how this deal came about, but we’re glad we jumped on it when we did. There’s little to be said of China Eastern. It was… a budget airline. Food, drinks and comfort were all what you’d expect from tickets under $700, sub-mediocre. Water was strangely rationed in the miniature Dixie cups your grandma uses in her bathroom, while food was served every half-meal. It’s a flight you’ll undoubtedly get off more bloated than when you got on. Regardless, the lesson learned was always fill your water bottle at the drinking fountain before getting on a flight. On flights this long, slowly dehydrating until a drink cart passes is less than ideal. Were we sleeping or just passed out from dehydration? We’ll never know.
ARRIVAL IN BANGKOK
One of the best parts about Thailand is the ability to hop between Bangkok and the other cities. You can easily fit a big city and tropical island fix into the same week, something that can be hard to come by elsewhere. While Bangkok has tons of cool things to do like visiting the Grand Palace (Wat Phra Kaew), shopping and eating on rooftops, the water temperature around Phuket is over 80°F year round providing the perfect opportunity for water activities.
We decided to split our week-long trip between Bangkok and Phuket. As a treat for our long travels, we booked Banyan Tree Bangkok for the first night of our journey, a place we would recommend to anyone. The rooms of this hotel are dreamy and the massive breakfast buffet will be a highlight of your stay. But whether you stay at Banyan Tree or not, you have to try out Moon Bar. This rooftop bar is set to impress and is often listed as one of the top ten rooftops in the world. The bar, located 64 floors up the Banyan Tree hotel, features local drinks and creative cocktails with breathtaking views of the city. A restaurant also sits atop the hotel, but we opted for something more traditionally Thai than its steakhouse-style menu.
**Fun Fact: At Banyan Tree Bangkok you choose your pillow type and can order custom baths (mud, tea, etc.) to the tubs in the rooms, amazing! **
We did a lot of searching to find a memorable food experience in Bangkok. Paste is a Michelin star Thai restaurant serving modern takes on historically-based Thai cuisine. Located on the upper floor of a shopping mall, they offer set tasting menus for dinner giving you a wide range of dishes to try. Dress up, skip lunch (trust us, you will be full after this meal) and give this place a try.
The next day, we visited the Grand Palace before catching our flight to Phuket. This historic complex is beautiful and incredibly intricate. Make sure to look at the little details when you walk through as there is a lot to see! Be aware that there is a strict dress code to enter the palace, so be sure to check the requirements before arriving. As the most sacred Buddhist temple in Thailand, you will also have to take off your shoes and turn off your cameras to enter the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. So make sure to wear shoes that come off easily.
The next leg of our journey included a trip to Phuket. Phuket might be one of the most picturesque, memorable places we have ever been. Our flight on Thai Airways was short and left us with no complaints. Although we mostly chose them because it was cheap, around $75 round trip, we would fly with them again!
Our stay in Phuket was at Lub D – Phuket Patong Hostel. This hostel had a restaurant, bar and expansive pool. It was also conveniently within walking distance of almost all Phuket had to offer. The rooms were small, but they were clean and fit the needs of our group of four perfectly! There was also air conditioning which was a much appreciated bonus. And at around $15 a night per person, the price can’t be beat.
While in Phuket, we took the opportunity to visit the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary. A driver picked us up from our hostel to take us to the sanctuary, an amenity we found commonly offered among excursions in Thailand. We were able to feed elephants sugar cane, take a mud bath/shower with them and learn about each elephant and how they came to the sanctuary. The trip also included a freshly prepared Thai lunch where you event get to learn some recipes!
The next day, we went scuba diving with Sharky Scuba. Our guides were amazing and patient as we were new divers. If you’re new to diving and have the time, we’d definitely recommend getting some scuba diving experience in a pool before heading out into the ocean for the first time. Most scuba companies will offer this option. But if all else fails, you’ll be free to snorkel above everyone else during the remainder of the scuba trip, an excursion still well worth the cost.
During our time on Phuket, we also booked a boat tour of the Phi Phi islands booked with The Beach Sea Trips (unfortunately, they seem to have since shut down). Our trip included breathtaking views of the Phi Phi islands, more fish than we could count and the warmest water we had ever been in. Seriously, we still think about that water. If you can swing it, we’ve had better success booking semi-private or fully private boat trips. This allows you to see more of your location without having to waste time accommodating too many others. You would be surprised how many people they’ll put on a boat if you book otherwise.
Other must dos in Phuket
- Get a massage. Massages are extremely low cost and thorough. Heck, get a massage every day if you can. And if you get a sun burn, ask for an aloe massage.
- Try The Club coffee, a chain with a location conveniently next door to Lub-D. They have a great selection of caffeinated and non caffeinated beverages as well as yummy desserts and snacks.
- Visit a street market. You’ll find fresh seafood as well as traditional Thai cuisine at a very low cost. Convincing knockoff goods can come pretty cheap as well if there’s something specific you’re looking for. Be prepared to haggle, Almost anything at these markets can be bargained for.
- Catch a sunset on the beach.
- Buy some fresh exotic fruit – mangosteen was our favorite.
** Fun Fact: If you decide that you want to try durian, be aware that you are not allowed to eat this fruit in many crowded places, including your hotel room at times, because of the overwhelming smell **
BACK TO BANGKOK
To finish out our trip, we returned to Bangkok for more city adventuring. We originally had another hostel booked for our arrival, however, we had such a good time at Banyan Tree we decided to try out another luxury hotel. As we got off the plane, the Bangkok Marriott Hotel Surawongse had an open room and fit the bill. This hotel features modern rooms, an infinity pool overlooking the city (another great photo opportunity) and an even more impressive breakfast buffet. While Banyan Tree will always hold a special place in our heart, the Marriott follows closely behind and was a relaxing, lovely way to end our trip.
Overall, a trip to Thailand can be catered to fit anyone’s budget. You can save money by staying in hostels and eating at small, local food stands/restaurants, or you can spend a little more and have a taste of luxury for a fraction of the cost. There are also a lot of free and low cost things to do (beaches, massages, window shopping, historic exploration, etc). In our opinion, the key to a great trip to Thailand, and honestly for any trip at all, is to make a list of your “must dos” and then base your trip around those key things, adding little adventures along the way. Before we travel anywhere where English us not the primary language, we also like to learn a couple key phrases out of respect for the locals we encounter, and as a way to make conversation easier. To us, there’s value in being able to thank someone in their native language. Even if you get it wrong, it’s the effort that counts.
So start pricing out tickets, looking up activities and packing for Thailand, you won’t regret it!