Asia, Travels

Solo Adventures: How to Thailand for Two Weeks

Feeling touristy in my sarong at Wat Pho, Thailand

Disclaimer: this may be a minor long read.

Thailand, a country where you can do just about everything. From beaches to mountains, to jungles, to cooking with locals, to spending days and nights with elephants, to drinking out of buckets (if you fancied) to paying minimal prices for luxurious hotel rooms while overlooking beautiful landscapes. It is a place for escape, especially if you’re like me, frequently craving an exotic adventure away from the office, the emails, and often lacklustre lunch options.

For years, all I heard about Thailand was this strange reputation it had built in the backpacking circle. It was often a feature on many people’s Gap Year adventures, part of their trail as they first ventured through the countries of South East Asia.

I was uninterested, for the most part, due to countless stories and mentions of the Full Moon Party, where if you don’t know what it is, is an all-night beach party that originated on the island of Ko Pha Ngan on the night of, before or after every full moon. Picture this: packs of youths getting leathered every night in their bar crawl vests with neon paint smeared across their faces on a foreign island… hmm.

I will go as far as to say, I did eventually give in and joined in with the relentlessly drinking, involving not just classic cocktails, but bucketfuls of alcoholic concoctions – they were too cheap to resist. I unashamedly wore matching vests with my fellow travellers and had unforgettable nights fuelled by unknown brands of Thai vodka and tequila and Red Bull. Admittedly, it was great and I have no regrets.

Besides all the drinking, I also ate to my heart’s content on all of Thailand’s amazing food, including 4am ventures into 7-11 for some incredible late night snacks.

During my time here, I almost never ate at a proper restaurant, purely because night markets offered more than enough great food and I was more than happy to eat my way through them from start to end.

Street food can be taken very literally here. Many times I found myself sat on the side of the street, digging into my piping hot Pad Thais and pork skewers, and on few occasions, eating durian directly at the fruit stall with a plastic glove given to me by the vendors. And no, I never once got food poisoning, and yes, I’m almost certain I was at my happiest during those moments.

If you love being at one with the sea, Thailand is also one of the best places for snorkelling and scuba diving. I saw some incredible tropical sea creatures, including finding Nemo, during my short snorkelling attempt. That alone is enough of a reason for me to keep coming back for more adventures at sea.

My Route, Tried and Tested

Route wise, for my first visit to Thailand, I did the opposite of most people and started in Phuket instead of Bangkok, and I also avoided any overnight trains since domestic flights were cheap and efficient. So, my two-week solo trip looked like this:

  • Fly into Phuket;
  • 5 days in Phuket & surrounding areas;
  • Fly to Chiang Mai;
  • 5 days in Chiang Mai, with a day excursion to elephant sanctuaries;
  • Fly to Bangkok;
  • 5 days in Bangkok, with a day trip to Ayutthaya;
  • Cry as you depart from Bangkok.

Perhaps a little longer than most travellers’ suggestions, but then again I was travelling with a suitcase to be exact, the five days in each location meant I didn’t have to unpack so many times.

Upon reflection, I feel this is actually a pretty good way to go about Thailand. Start off chilling and recovering from jetlag on beautiful islands, hike through the mountainous and peaceful regions of Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand, and end your trip in that crazy hectic city of Bangkok, swerving in an out of traffic on the back of a motorbike, with the wind blowing through your hair as skyscrapers disappear around you.

On my return trip to Thailand, on top of revisiting Bangkok, I decided to also visit Kanchanaburi, making my way there immediately after landing at Don Mueang International Airport. K’buri was a little more off the beaten path and offered another totally different feel to everything I experienced the first time around.

But anyway, without further ado, let’s begin with the capital of Thailand – Bangkok.

Long Stay Locations

Bangkok

Recommended stay length – 4 days

Bangkok gets such mixed reviews. For me, I love it and I can’t get enough.

I love that it is crazy and full of life. I love the traces of history dotted around the city. I love that you can splash the cash if that’s what your heart desired. I love that it offers literally everything and anything. The only thing I didn’t love was the insane traffic, but then again nothing is perfect.

Whatever you do, do not skip Bangkok. Instead, spend at least three days here. This city is big, and getting from one side to another can sometimes take an hour. Don’t bank on taxis making your life any easier either – the traffic is as bad as the tales you’ve heard and trying to land a Grab (the Uber of South East Asia) may take ages, so walking is often the faster option.

Example 3-day Bangkok Itinerary:

Regardless of where you stay in Bangkok, spend one day in the old part of town and hop on down to visit Wat Pho. Get a massage at the Massage School there – this is known to be the birthplace of traditional Thai massages and it is still taught here every day. For me, Wat Pho was an incredible temple, and I very much recommend it over the Grand Palace next door.

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Golden Buddhas spotted at Wat Pho

Wander your way through the streets of the old town and climb up to the top of the Golden Mountain Temple, for some contrasting views of both traditional buildings and also the modern. Like Tokyo, this is a place where centuries of architectures merge, and the old and new blend to form a different kind of skyline.

Stroll along to the riverside near sunset and ferry yourself across the river to the magnificent Wat Arun. This is another not-to-be-missed temple in Bangkok and you’ll soon find yourself struggling to decide which of these Bangkok temples is your favourite.

Spend another day in the modern part of Bangkok, and immerse yourself in skyscrapers in the Siam and Sukhumvit areas. This part of the city is very contrasting to the rest of Thailand and the buzz is irreplicable.

While you’re here, get lost, and I mean very very lost, in crazy big malls like MBK and Siam Square One and shop till you drop on myriads of counterfeit goods, but don’t forget to haggle! If you encounter a tropical thunderstorm, dive into one of these gigantic malls and you won’t even realise, or care about, what goes on outside.

At night, check out one of the city’s many great cocktail bars around Silom, including Revoluccion, Vertigo Too, and inevitably the infamous Hangover bar – the Sky Bar. Dress codes apply so do not attempt to wander in with flip-flops, or you’ll be feeling sorry for yourself at the doors.

If fancy bars are not your thing, there is an abundance of cheap night markets to eat and drink the night away.

Move aside, New York, because Bangkok is the real city that never sleeps.

Personally, I loved the Ratchada Train Night Market for the vibrant energy, as well as Chinatown Yaowarat for the never-ending selection of delicious Chinese food. And if you’re up for some extra crazy, venture to Khao San Road for the ultimate backpacker night, though it paled for me in comparison to Patong Beach.

Another unmissable item on your itinerary should be the Chatuchak Weekend Market. It is my absolute favourite weekend activity for Bangkok, so much that the first time here I spent almost the entire day here (and I mean from 10am – 8pm) winding in and out of the nooks and crannies of this market. By no way of exaggeration, this market literally sells everything and anything, from pets to leather goods, to luggage, to clothes, to herbs and spices, to haircuts, to temporary tattoos, and unsurprisingly lots and lots of delicious food.

My top tip for Chatuchak – buy a piece of luggage first and then begin your day here. You’ll thank me later for not having to carry around a gazillion shopping bags, and the planet will also thank you for attempting to reduce waste.

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Boat traffic, traditional Thai-style

If spending money isn’t your thing, considering doing a morning tour of a traditional floating market. There are numerous scattered around Bangkok, but the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market is a good one for tourists, though it would probably be a good idea to avoid actually buying anything as prices seem particularly inflated, so just sit back and enjoy the experience.

Chances are, you won’t get through the above in just three days. Don’t attempt to rush it, because Bangkok is worth the time if you want the full Thailand experience.

But, if you do end up with more than a few days in Bangkok, read on below for a suggested day trip to Ayutthaya.

Chiang Mai

Recommended stay length – 4/5 days

If you go to Thailand and decide to skip Chiang Mai, I would very much be disappointed for you. You simply cannot skip that place. It is, for lack of a better word, beautiful. True, it is no city for access to beaches and islands, but being surrounded by nearby mountains and jungles, you’ll very much enjoy the refreshing climate and serenity that contrasts so strongly to Bangkok.

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Prepare to be stunned by all the gold basking in glorious sunlight

The historical Old Town is dotted with temples everywhere you go as if it were all the Starbucks you ever saw in London. I spent one afternoon wandering in and around the city walls and aside from getting seriously tanned, I was very templed-out by sunset. Temple run, or stroll, is a thing here. Bring suncream and enjoy being blinded by all the golden statues and decorative details glistening in the sun.

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Wat Chedi Luang, Chiang Mai

My favourite of all temples in Chiang Mai was, unsurprisingly, the Wat Chedi Luang. Apart from the usual grand golden structures, there is a temple complex with a partially crumbled chedi and a pillar dating back to the 15th century. Visit on a good day at sunset and catch it in front of a glorious backdrop of the mountains of Northern Thailand.

My other favourite was Doi Suthep located just outside of the city. Through the evergreen forests, make your way up the dragon staircase, and you will find yourself on the hilltop overlooking Chiang Mai in the shadows of a picturesque and golden temple. A visit during the day was apparently hot, crowded and very much not recommended, so I opted for a visit around sunset. At dusk, the temple was almost empty and the hilltop breeze was much welcomed after a small hike up the mountain.

Do not miss this place, as well as the underground temple – Wat Umong, nearby. I covered both in one trip with a local tour guide, and the venture through the forests surrounding these temples opened my eyes to many astonishing tropical insects and living creatures. Probably best to take insect repellent with you though, and also prepare yourself for many many creepy crawlies at arm’s length.

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Ridiculously ornate temples everywhere

If you can, try to include the weekend in your Chiang Mai itinerary, because every Sunday evening the Old Town turns into a giant walking night market that you do not want to miss. Massages here are stupidly cheap, I once paid 150 baht (~£3) for a 45-minute foot massage, but then again everything in the North was cheaper, so make the most of it.

The nature that surrounds this city is also something that should be taken into a full advantage while you are here.

One must-do activity is to spend a day at an elephant sanctuary – this was hands down my fondest memory of 2018. Never did I imagine I’d be in the middle of nowhere in the Thai mountains, bathing a group of rescued elephants with mud in my bikini.

Another activity I absolutely loved was doing a cooking course with a local and learning how to rustle up some of my favourite Thai dishes. Many of these courses start off in a local market, and they are a great way to make friends while sharing your love for Thai food, and bonding over how not to cook.

Last but not least, and purely because I loved this so so much – the not-to-be-missed dish of Chiang Mai is Khao Soi, a tangy curry based noodle dish often served with chicken or beef. The soup base is creamy with coconut milk and the soft egg noodles are topped with fried noodles to enhance the texture of the dish. I enjoyed this almost every day during my stay here, and am salivating as I write this…

Phuket, or other islands

Recommended stay length – 4/5 days

Phuket offers two very contrasting experiences – a luxury getaway or a crazy wild drunken ride. I expect similar offerings for most islands in Thailand.

When it comes to visiting islands, most people I know opt for island hopping over the course of a week. For me, I struggled so much with deciding which islands to visit and how long to stay, so instead, I based myself in Phuket and toured the surrounding areas from there, including a day-tour of nearby islands like Koh Phi Phi and Krabi.

Do not, I repeat, do not stay anywhere near Patong Beach unless you’re interested in the notoriously chaotic nightlife and the abundance of tattoo parlours and bars. Karon Beach is a much better location for any non-party goers, with scenic beaches and beautiful resort hotels for families and honeymooners, and for its close proximity to Phuket Old Town if that’s where you’d prefer to explore.

Personally, however, I very much enjoyed Patong Beach. It was wild but absolutely worth it. It was ridiculous but I expected nothing less.

I will also confess here that I went to see a Ping Pong show and saw more than what I bargained for, and then some. For the innocent minded, it is not a show where people play ping pong back and forth and I watch them bat a plastic ball around. It is absolutely nothing like you’ve ever imagined. Just enter with an open mind and absorb some outrageous but once-in-a-lifetime entertainment. You’re in Thailand, it’s all good.

Riding through Phuket at sunset

On a more vanilla level, renting a motorbike and riding around Phuket is also a good way to tour the island, reaching the Southern parts and up the hills to see the Big Buddha and the scenic hilltop views. Unlike Patong, Phuket Old Town has lots of character due to the historic Chinese style shopfronts mixed with European architectures that decorate the town, similar to the vibes of Melaka, in Malaysia.

If you’re a fan of monkeys, which I discovered here that I was not, Monkey Hill may be up your street. Bring lots of bananas and a sound exit strategy, because those monkeys are aggressive and ruthless, and I for one do not ever want to have a monkey yank at my dress ever again, nor do I want to witness live monkeys procreating again. No thank you.

Island hopping tours, both day trips and multi-day trips, are offered a plethora here. If your trip sees you visiting during the dry season, hop on any tour and you’re guaranteed an awesome time. Speedboating in this part of the world is a joy, despite however turbulent the journey may be. Whatever island you pick, you’re bound to be rewarded with insane views of nature.

Get your Insta shot here with these boats on Krabi island

Short Stay Locations

Kanchanaburi

Recommended stay length – at least overnight

Away from other popular cities on the backpacker’s trail, and a 2-hour bus ride away from Bangkok, Kanchanaburi is a popular destination for families. This quaint town in western Thailand is known for some dark histories and it does well in paying tributes to its past with various memorials and museums spread around town.

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Late afternoon sun at Kanchanaburi War Cemetary

During my visit in December, the weather was perfect and I very much relished the fresh air and the river views that this place offered. It was unbelievably picturesque and probably one of the most naturally beautiful places I’ve ever visited.

Stroll along the River Kwai and soak in the beautiful natural surroundings over the river at sunset, and if you’re lucky enough, watch the slow passenger train crawl its way across the Death Railway/ Burma Railway twice a day. Whatever you do, just don’t do what I did and get in the way of the train and hold up the entire bridge. That was pretty embarrassing but hey it made a great story that I still laugh about.

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Sunset on the Burma Railway. Too beautiful for words
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Catching waterfalls in Erawan National Park

Two hours away from K’buri is Erawan National Park – known for the 7-tiered waterfalls that reside in this place. For the cheapest travel option, catch an eccentric hourly shuttle bus from the main bus terminal to make your way there, and spend a few hours hiking to see each layer of the waterfalls. The trail is easy to follow and rewarding, and many tourists strip off for a dip to cool off as the hike can be hot and humid.

It may be best to visit during the dry season (December being one of these months), as otherwise, the waters can often become murky due to the frequent rain and look nothing like the turquoise shades here.

There isn’t much here at night, but there is always an abundance of massage parlours around, so that’s how I passed time in the evening while recovering from a day of hiking and walking, and I have absolutely zero complaints about that.

Ayutthaya

Recommended stay length – day trip

If, like me, you find yourself with ample of time while in Bangkok, take a day trip out and venture into the ancient city of Ayutthaya – roughly a 2-hour bus journey away. It’s a trip worth making as you will soon find yourself rewarded with crumbling temples and head-less Buddhas, in Thailand’s answer to Cambodia’s Angkor Wat.

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Rare Buddha still intact with its head

The most convenient way to navigate Ayutthaya is by hiring either a motorbike or bicycle for the day, and follow the trail of ruins at your own leisurely pace. Both bike hire (yes I was a pussy and couldn’t face riding a motorbike by myself) and entry fees are cheap so I managed to visit all six temple ruins in one afternoon. It was one hell of a leg-day and I also breathed in lots of exhaust fumes. And because this place is almost entirely without shade since it is essentially vast areas of land covered in ruins, not only did I return to Bangkok having lost my voice, I was also a few shades darker.

But, despite the struggle of navigating through traffic on a bike and cursing endlessly while pedalling uphill, it was arguably one of the best days soloing around Thailand. I saw some incredible centuries-old temples and also the famous Buddha head intertwined between the roots of a Banyan tree. This place should totally be on everyone’s list when planning an itinerary for Thailand.

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Mother nature at its best

And that’s that! A round-up of just about everything I did in Thailand, for a total of three weeks.

It is impossible to cover everything in one go, and the chance are you will discover more and more things to do and places to see as you explore this wonderful kaleidoscope of a country.

Most importantly, stay safe and eat everything in sight, and you will undoubtedly have a whale of a time!

Verna x

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