Thailand Holiday Planning Advice.
Thailand is a fairly large country with different cultures, scenery and attractions. If you plan your schedule carefully you can cover most of these on a single visit to the Kingdom.
With the Internet you can find loads of information on Thailand but learning how to use this information is critical. It is easy to be overwhelmed with facts, suggestions, tour itineraries, hotel decisions, and ideas from others on where to go and what to do. All this information is great and of immense value if you can just sort it all out. I will try to help you do that here.
Living in Thailand for more than 30 years I have written many Thailand travel Blogs, journals and posted on several travel forums. I receive lots of email from visitors to these web sites asking about the Kingdom, culture, history, what to see, when, where and how. In almost every case it is impossible for them to enjoy the rich culture and natural beauty of Thailand away from the normal tourist crowds. Most have contacted me too late.
IMPORTANT – DO NOT book your hotels or transportation inside Thailand until you have decided what you want to see, do and enjoy. PLAN YOUR ITINERARY FIRST !!!
Many have made several errors when planning their holiday/vacation so now they are limited to doing the normal canned tours offered by most tour operators. They could have enjoyed a wonderful experience that will be remembered for a lifetime if they made the correct decisions in the proper order during their planning, here’s how.
Booking hotels and transportation inside the Kingdom first is the biggest mistake you can make. Lets start with visiting north Thailand first.
Most of the email I receive is like this; “We have booked our flights Bangkok – Chiang Mai – Bangkok and 5 nights in a hotel in Chiang Mai. We want to go elephant riding, visit hill tribe villages, take a long tail boat ride, visit the Golden Triangle, Night Bazaar and, is this possible in the time I have?”
Because they already have their transportation and hotels booked they are limited to day trips from Chiang Mai. When visiting many areas they will spend more time riding in a vehicle from and to their hotel rather than enjoying the experience.
EXAMPLE – Starting in Chiang Mai, Just to get to Chiang Rai and the Golden Triangle and return it will take 7 hours or more just riding in a vehicle. For Doi Inthanon National Park they have just enough time to ride to the summit of the mountain, take a 20-minute trail walk, have lunch at a touristy restaurant, visit a few waterfalls and return to Chiang Mai.
For the long tail boat ride they will be limited to riding on the Ping River in town. If they choose to ride through the mountains between Chiang Rai and Thaton it will be a 3 and 1/2 hour journey by vehicle, 3 hours in the boat and another 3 to 4 hours in a vehicle to return to Chiang Mai. Again, too much time in a vehicle. Elephants and hill tribe villages they visit will be close to town filled with tourists with not much real culture or natural beauty if any.
There is a much better way
Decide on what you would like to see and do along with how much time you have first before booking your flights and hotel.
Now if the same person asked me; “I will be visiting Chiang Mai from Bangkok for 5 days, is this possible in the time I have? We have not booked our hotels or flights inside Thailand yet”
Wow are they going to have a good time.
First thing is deciding how you are going to get to Chiang Mai. There are many options for traveling inside Thailand. Your travel agent or airline Internet booking sites are limited in their knowledge on what is available or they just don’t offer all possibilities.
Most will point you to Thai Airways however there are now a few excellent budget airlines where you can book directly over the Internet and save loads of cash. Nok Air and Air Asia for example have excellent service and cheaper, Air Asia is the cheapest but no assigned seating on their 737 aircraft. You can save as much as 70% when flying Air Asia if you book on their web site a few months in advance.
Another option is the train. The great thing about the overnight train that it is cheaper than flying (except with Air Asia at times) and you won’t need to spend money on overnight accommodations. The 2nd class berths are fine but 1st class is the way to go. In 1st class you will have your own private cabin with 2 berths in each cabin. There are two bathrooms to share with only 20 people. In 2nd class you will need to share the small toilet space and sink area with more than 40 persons. Also you will need to keep an eye on your baggage as everyone in the 2nd class car has their luggage exposed to others. Not much room for your bags either.
The 1st class cabins are connecting so if you are a family you have a door you can open to the joining cabin. The porter is always cleaning the bathrooms and available during the complete trip to meet you needs. There is plenty of room to put your baggage in your cabin where it is not exposed to others. The 1st class car is locked at night securing it from the other train cars.
Food from the dining car will be brought to your room. A waiter or waitress will come to your berth for you to order. You can even request what time you would like to eat dinner and breakfast. The porter will have hot water, coffee or tea ready for you when you wake up in his service area of the 1st class car.
The train is clean, safe, comfortable and fun. For 1st class there are two trains. The first one departs Bangkok at 6 PM arriving in Chiang Mai around 7:10 AM. The second train is for those who want to enjoy the beautiful north Thailand mountain countryside in the morning. That train departs Bangkok at 7:20 PM arriving in Chiang Mai around 9:40 AM.
Now lets talk about accommodations.
Booking accommodations might be the biggest decision you will make while visiting Chiang Mai. I hear many visitors saying “Chiang Mai has no real culture as there are too many tourists”. If you stay in the city center inside the moat and city walls, tourists is all you will see. The Chiang Mai locals call this area “Tourist Town”
Since 2010 over 100 new guest houses, small boutique hotels, restaurants, tourist souvenir shops and pubs have been built within or near the moat and old city walls. The establishments have now claimed this area as “The Old City” which is far from the truth. The real “Old City” is the area of “Gatluang” near Wararot Market located along the Ping River where all the commerce, traders and craft persons worked and lived. Inside the city walls is where the Royal Family, temple monks, Royal staff and elite military resided. The citizens of Chiang Mai were only allowed inside the old city walls during festivals, Buddhist holidays and with Royal events. Today most of the business and residents inside the old city walls and moat are owned and operated by people from Bangkok and Expats. This area now is more like the heavy touristy Kaosan Road in Bangkok than the culturally rich Chiang Mai. Another popular place is Nimmanhemin road in The “Huay Khao” area. This part of the city is where most of the Expats live with condos, coffee shops and shopping malls catering to the western lifestyle. Again most shops owned and operated by those from Bangkok or Expats, not much Thai culture here and prices are rather high so most Thai people cannot afford to go there.
Go to Google Chiang Mai City Map
You can avoid the large number of tourists and experience the real charm of Chiang Mai by staying only 2 or 3 kilometers from the city walls and moat, not only that but at a lower price. There are wonderful communities where you can visit local markets, temples and talk with locals in their shops and restaurants. Experience real Thai food and daily life of local communities. The guest houses and small boutique hotels are far apart and you can get a ride by “Songtaow” (Two bench covered pick-up truck) into the city center within minutes.
Some of these areas are “Sanpakhoi” just across the Ping River on the Narawat Bridge. This is the home of the first Christian church in Chiang Mai, the lively Sanpakhoi market and Kawila Boxing Stadium. “Waulai” Area is across the street and moat from Chiang Mai gate and home of several small silversmiths, The silver temple at Wat Si Suphan and the Saturday night walking market are here.
Overnight Village Trek or Village Home Stay
Most people do not know that there are excellent places to stay in beautiful and friendly small towns and villages in North Thailand away from the normal tourist crowds. These include everything from beautiful 5 star garden resorts in the forested mountains to clean bamboo bungalows< close to hill tribe villages with toilets and hot showers for guests only. To stay at anyone of these will enhance your Thailand Experience.
Spending an evening in a hill tribe village during a Home Stay is an excellent way to learn about the culture of the people in the village. A good hill tribe village to spend your evening in your guide’s home with clean bathrooms and kitchen.. Excellent Thai meals will be prepared by your guide’s family with fresh ingredients from the market. You can join in making and preparing the meals.
For a wonderful experience making life long friendships and learning local culture and Hill Tribe Home Stay is a must. The best areas for a village home stay is Doi Inthanon National Park and the small village of Thaton, both away from the normal tourist crowds.
Although both are with Karen hill tribes they are much different in what is available to enjoy. At Doi Inthanon home stay you will experience hiking in the cloud forest, swim at the waterfalls, learn to roast coffee and enjoy village life. In the Thaton Home Stay You visit other hill tribe villages such as Lahu and Akha, learn to weave cotton, visit the local market, cook Thai food then a private long tail boat ride.
Both are at clean comfortable traditional homes in your own bedroom, clean toilets with showers and all bedding is provided. In both villages your guide speaks perfect English and in Thaton your guide speaks all the hill tribe languages. The village headman or someone in the village will probably invite you into their home for a cup of tea. If you would like to see the inside of a hill tribe home always ask your guide first. The tour guide usually arranges visiting a hill tribe home in advance. The folks in the village know you are coming and a designated home is planned for your visit.
If you enjoy hiking and the outdoors Doi Inthanon is the one. For a more culture experience the village in the Thaton area is best.
Spending an evening with a family during a group hill tribe village trek or tour has many problems. Here is why.
First if there is a toilet and shower it is shared with everyone in the village if there is one at all. You will then have to wait your turn to go to the bathroom what ever your need. Most are very dirty and some with no running water. Second the cooking utensils; plates, spoon etc. are not at all clean. Many who spend an evening with a hill tribe family in a village become ill because of poor hygiene by the villages that handle and prepare the food, dirty dishes and eating utensils. Third is you are constantly bothered by the family trying to sell you something or to pay for a massage. They will invite neighbors into the home to do the same. There is usually 12 to persons in the trekking group. The guide from Chiang Mai will split the group into 2 groups with up to 6 persons sleeping in a room.
Accommodations outside of the city
For those looking for comfort and scenic beauty, visiting hill tribe villages but not wishing to stay in one, there are many options. Excellent fully furnished bungalows with air conditioning on the banks of a beautiful river surround with mountains in a fruit orchard is just one of the choices. The beutiful town of Thaton on the Mae Kok River is one of these plces away from the normal tourist crowds.
For bird lovers there are wonderful resorts that cater to the birds along with the guests in total comfort. Many of these hotel/bungalow resorts are on large garden laden grounds with hike and bike trails. Bikes are available to take a leisurely ride through forest and small villages. They all have excellent restaurants serving delicious Thai food and some western dishes.
What ever your inside Thailand travel or accommodations needs there is the transport and place for you. Check around and find a good flexible tour operator that will give you many choices of transport, accommodations and tours to meet your needs and expectations. No need to reserve your hotel or resort for every night in one place. Many operators will say you can’t do this or that, take this package tour, stay at this hotel, take this flight, etc. If you do, you might miss out on a wonderful experience to remember for a lifetime.
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