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Need help with Thailand itinerary (Apr 25-May10)

Need help with Thailand itinerary (Apr 25-May10)

Old Apr 3rd, 2007, 07:09 AM
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Need help with Thailand itinerary (Apr 25-May10)

Hi All-

My wife and I are leaving for Thailand for our first trip to SE Asia. We are celebrating my wife's graduation from college and our 7 yr anniversary! This is a milestone marker for us and our marriage so I would like to make the trip something to remember.

I tend to overplan and wear us out on vacations, although we always end up doing amazing things. This trip I want to make sure we have a little adventure, culture, and romance but also some quality downtime where we can relax and soak up the beauty of the land and sea together. Ok, I know I sound like a major cheeseball but I'm just being honest We need a vacation BIG TIME.
---
Week 1
So we arrive in BKK about midnight on Thursday, Apr 26. We were thinking of spending no more than 2-3 nights there because so many have warned us that there are many better places to spend our time. We were thinking of staying at the Shanti Lodge because we have friends that have recommended it. (Keep in mind we are a young couple on a budget. We would like unique, charming accomodations with AC but can't afford high-end hotels for 2 weeks.)

From BKK we were thinking of heading north to Chang Mai for a few nights. We haven't made any accomodation reservations or plans yet. We would like to do some day hikes and perhaps some exploration by car through the countryside. My wife also really wants to ride an elephant. If we do this I want to make sure it is a reputable establishment that treats the animals well. Advice for Chang Mai?

I have heard good things about Pai and was thinking maybe we would spend a couple nights there after Chang Mai. I am an artist/designer and heard there is a nice bohemian type atmosphere there. Anyone been there? If so let me know what places would be good to stay at and what we could do with our stay there.
This could possibly burn up week 1, leaving us the remaining week to go south and spend some time on the islands.

Week 2
I've been doing lots of reading in a couple guidebooks and I am thoroughly overwhelmed with the number of options we have! It is hard for me to know where to plan on going. We don't want to be in super-touristed areas like Pattaya or Samui but we also don't want to be in the middle of nowhere.

What islands/areas will be nice this time of year. We would like pristine beaches not infiltrated by garbage and disrespectful tourists. Some good authentic restaraunts and bars would be good to have nearby though. I can't imagine lazing around without the availabilty of cold beer

We would also like to do some snorkelling, sea kayaking, and day hikes to swimmable waterfalls if possible.

Would it be worth sticking to just 2 areas for this last week or could we fit in 3? Any advice on where we could accomplish our vacation goals would be much appreciated. We used this forum a couple years ago when we went on a 3 week trip through Italy and over to Greece. It helped make our trip amazing. Hopefully this time will be as well.
Thanks in advance!
SS
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Old Apr 3rd, 2007, 07:46 AM
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I'm not a huge help, as my and my H's trip to Thailand isn't until the end of May. (We're going as our one year anniversary trip and to celebrate his graduation from grad school!)

I can say that in regards to the elephants, we decided to take a major splurge and go to Anantara in Chang Rai. It's a huge chunk of our budget, but we think it will definitely be worth it for this once in a lifetime opportunity. And, the elephants you deal with there are all rescued elephants and I have every confidence they are treated well, humane conditions, etc.

We'll be in Thailand for three weeks, and our rough plan is BKK for five, six days. Anantara (Chang Rai) for five days, Chang Mai for three days, then the beach (we still haven't picked a place for sure yet, but we're leaning toward Samui or Pha-ngan) for the remainder of the time.

Hope this is of some help!
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Old Apr 3rd, 2007, 07:55 AM
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I'm someone who will say spend your two weeks in Bangkok and Northern thailand and skip the beaches which while lovely could be virtually anywhere in the world. You can have the romance, relaxation and gorgeous scenery in the golden triangle, Pai or Mae Hong Son areas and for a LOT less money. You can also experience some of the unique aspects of thai culture.

Also, while some don't like bangkok others (like me) think it is one of the greatest destinations in the world.

If I were you I would go do the following:
Bangkok - 3-4 days
Chiang Mai - 3 days
more rural northern thailand - 4-5 days
Bangkok - 3-4 day
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Old Apr 3rd, 2007, 08:18 AM
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gloria has some good points....we are also bangkok lovers and on our last trip spent 18 nites there...some of the best hotel bargains are in bkk....

remember that you will be quite tired upon arrival so will need a day or two to unwind and adjust...it will be quite hot and humid in april/may... for this reason i would choose a hotel with a nice pool to unwind at and adjust your bodies to the new atmosphere...i like the marriott resort and spa because of its pool and oasis type location and feel....the nei lert is another option....the majestic grande is another possibility...i personally would start out with a nicer hotel so as to give yourselves a good vibe about thailand early on...

samui is not as touristed as some other places... look at bophut beach....we stayed at peace resort and it was perfect....stay clear of phuket based on your likes and dislikes....

koh chang might be another good possibility for you....lots of options there....i used the barali, but paradise is nice too with very good food...all levels of accomodations are nice there....

and yes i agree totally with the anantara at chiang saen....its fantastic, but pricey....contact them directly to see if you can get a may bargain...many rates drop in mid-april or early may...good place to do the elephants too....

food is generally very inexpensive in thailand, so you can save there....
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Old Apr 3rd, 2007, 08:22 AM
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For rural northern thailand, outside of Chiang Mai check out Baan Rai Lanna.

The rates are great for the quality of accomodation (beautiful pool and rooms) at around 2200 baht and it gets great reviews on trip advisor.

www.baanrailanna.com
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Old Apr 3rd, 2007, 08:23 AM
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Oh, and congrats on the graduation and anniversary.
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Old Apr 3rd, 2007, 10:08 AM
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Congratulations!!!

You're going to have a wonderful trip!

In Bangkok, we stayed at the Bhiman Inn in Banglampu (~1400 Baht w/breakfast) and really liked it because it was walking distance to pretty much everything, but a couple of blocks off the beaten path so we could sleep at night. Plus, Banglampu is very artsy, and we enjoyed hanging out at the cafes at night, listening to music with lots of local students.

If you want to explore CM and surrounds by car, you might want to drive the Mae Hong Son loop (http://www.budget.co.th/diversions/mae_eng.pdf) This was one of the highlights of our trip - lots to see along the way (caves, hikes, hot springs, little towns, Doi Inthanon). I would definitely recommend spending no more than a night in Pai, I think the atmosphere in Mae Hong Son probably better fits the bohemian, relaxed feel you're going for. I wished we had had more time in MHS. We stayed at the Muang Pai resort in Pai - nice grounds, clean cabins, good price (http://muangpai.infothai.com/).

If you're looking for really special, romantic things to do without breaking the budget (know what that's like!), while in CM, have lunch at the Four Seasons, take a cooking class in the GARDEN location of the Chiang Mai cookery school (http://www.thaicookeryschool.com/), in BKK have a drink on the roof top at Vertigo, and soak in the Pong Duet hot springs.

We had a very similar trip planned here's my trip report if it helps: http://www.fodors.com/forums/pgMessa...t=mae+hong+son

Hope you have a great time! Cheers, Carrie
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Old Apr 3rd, 2007, 10:09 AM
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Thanks for the advice guys. I appreciate the opinions on BKK. Maybe you can give me some ideas as to how to stay comfortable in a super hot city for 2 weeks. Restaurants, Bars, must see sights, Parks, etc...
I feel you are right about finding comfortable accomodations for our arrival. The W will appreciate that I'm sure.

I still want to spend some time on the ocean. We live in Minnesota after all

Also, at this time of year am I going to need to book our accomodations ahead of time or should we be ok?

For international flights and trains...We were going to take a night train from BKK to Chang Mai and probably a flight from the north to the islands whenever we go. Does that need to be arranged ahead of time?

Sometimes it's nice to have a loose itinerary in case we would want to stay in one area longer, but it isn't fun being stranded at an airport or train station either. Ideas?

SS
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Old Apr 3rd, 2007, 10:35 AM
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There have been some very similar questions today/yesterday regarding the beach/island side, if you go down some posts you will find.

From Northern Thailand to beaches - Thai only has a non stop Chiang Mai to Phuket once a day, Bangkok Airways once per day to Samui ( that one I am not sure if seasonal or not and you would need to check that ).
Both routes are relatively expensive.
You can use budget airlines to Chiang mai/Chiang rai and return to bangkok.

before suggesting islands/beaches tell us how you want to spend that time, is it lazing by the pool or beach or do you want snorkeling and other activieies ?

Evenings are you happy with a nice Thai dinner and a few cold beers orand perhaps a little music in the background or are you after a wchoice of restuanrasnts, evening shopping, bars and perhaps clubs?

There are budget airlines, low-cost airlines, full service airlines, also trains and express buses. With the budget airlines cheapest fares go first and the fares then go up, but you are not in a busy time so that should not be a problem if you avaoid the busy times of the week.

Do tell us as there are so many different places. Browse down the mesages and you will spot them, comments on Koh Chang and also Koh Tao. There are also plenty of off the beaten track places, be as decriptive as you want, helps narrow down the options.
May you are into low season and quieter time, do note of course though that Firday and Sunday nights can still be busy for trains/budget flights as people move around for weekens a lot.
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Old Apr 3rd, 2007, 10:55 AM
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Look at the post:

"Bought tickets to Thailand! Itinerary below" it may include some ideas of help.
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Old Apr 3rd, 2007, 01:45 PM
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Thanks Cruisinred on the CM resort. Looks great, and fairly affordable!

James, in response to:
"before suggesting islands/beaches tell us how you want to spend that time, is it lazing by the pool or beach or do you want snorkeling and other activieies ?

Evenings are you happy with a nice Thai dinner and a few cold beers orand perhaps a little music in the background or are you after a wchoice of restuanrasnts, evening shopping, bars and perhaps clubs?"

All of the above We are pretty versatile. During the day we would like to lay around on some days and also some snorkelling. Some day maybe some hiking and swimming. Some days just laying out, sipping drinks.

At night we would like some quiet evenings over dinner I'm sure. We also like to go out dancing on other nights. This does bring up one specific question. Ko Pha-ngan and the full moon party? Is this a terrible idea? Sounds kind of fun but is possibly too crazy for us at this point in our lives. Is the island itself a nice place to go to when the party is not under way?

This is why I wasn't overly specific. We like to do different things depending on the day. All in all, once we hit southern Thailand we would like good weather, beautiful scenery, nice people, fair accomodations and fun. Fun might mean relaxing by the pool one day and it may mean snorkelling the next.
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Old Apr 4th, 2007, 02:30 AM
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I'm going on my second trip to Bangkok. A couple of suggestions--I agree with a previous post--you can see gorgeous beaches anywhere--while in Asia, see what is unique here.

Asiarooms.com is the BEST website for rooms; taxes and breakfast are included.Check to see if the place your friends recommended is there, or if something else is affordable.

For Chang Mai, a friend has recommended Jaiya Mongkol Bed & Breakfast; website should be http://jaiya.infothai.com or google it if that doesn't work. There is an elephant conservation park there that has an excellent reputation.

April is reputed to be the hottest month in Thailand; right now Tokyo is freezing so it might be a welcome change.

You mention you tend to overplan, but need down time, the resorts in Thailand with their spas and very affordable massages will be perfect.

Congratulations and have a wonderful trip!

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Old Apr 4th, 2007, 02:56 AM
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Taxes, service and breakfast are included by almost 'every' hotel booking website, those others of course do not want full payment upfront !!!!
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Old Apr 4th, 2007, 03:03 AM
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I would put a deffinate line thru Full Moon on Koh Phangan at the moment unless you are really into crazy raves !
Snorkeling is off island on Samui and Phuket unless you count some very basic looking under the water near rocks, you really need Koh tao etc from Samui or the Similans / Phi Phi / Coral island etc off Phuket.

Ok so if you want to go out at night, some dancing/clubs etc and lively but laze in the day plus those snorkeling trips and perhaps a whole day soft adventure (elephants etc ) then Phuket does edge it's way up the rankings a lot.
Patong is the nightlife/busiest area, Karon and Kata south, Kamala north, so getting to and from Patong for the evening is easy.

So Kata area probably now moves ahead as an option.
So now budget ? And is absolute beachfront essential or not ( like most places further back from beach cheaper ), Central Resort at Kata is a walk to the beach, restaurants and some bars along that road, so you can still have a drink and listen to music ithout going into Patong, but certainly no ways as lively as Patong where the clubs etc are.

So tell us your budget.
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Old Apr 4th, 2007, 10:56 AM
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Hi James, Carrie and others-

I got a couple minutes over lunch break to type. Ok so in response to your last response James, from what I have read it seems like Phuket is too tourist oriented for us. We would like our trip to be somewhat authentic, allowing us to partake in real Thai culture rather than just tourist culture.

Our budget: It isn't something I have completely figured out yet but I will say that our round trip airfare was the biggest expense that I was planning on. To be honest we only have a couple grand for the entire trip (airfare is already paid for) at this point. There is no gaurantee that we will have more by departure date but I am hoping to scrounge up something extra through some freelance work, etc.

I talked with my wife more last night and asked her more specifics about her expectations. She is similar to me in that we don't want to be in a Cancun type atmosphere (No authenticity/culture) but would like to have the options of good food, drinks and AC at night.

This is maybe a bad example and possibly unfamiliar to you but our last warm weather vacation was to St. John -Virgin Islands. We loved it because 3/4 of the island was Nature Reserve so there were plenty of pristine beaches, snorkelling and jungle trails. There is one major town that caters to the tourists on the island but is also the town of the locals. So we could come back to town at night, have a great dinner at an affordable price and sip cocktails on the beach amidst REAL people. Our guesthouse had modern conveniences like AC and was very comfortable and clean. Nothing ultra posh, but seemingly authentic and enjoyable. Maybe that helps some.

So this is where I am at with a rough itinerary after a few more days of reading and info from fellow Fodorites:
---
Day 1-2
Bangkok

Night train from BKK to CM

Day 3-5
Chang Mai

Fly or drive from CM (The wife gets car sick and I heard this drive can be pretty wild)

Day 6-7
Mae Hong Son or Pai
(Depending on what this is like we may stay an extra day or so. Sounds wonderful.)

I heard there may be a flight from MHS to BKK during high season. Does early May qualify?? I could use some help with the quickest way to get from the north to the south.

Day 8-13
Ko Samui > Pha-ngan > Tao
or
Phuket > Ko Lanta > Phi Phi
or
Ko Chang > Outlying islands

Day 14
Bangkok- then home at 11:45pm
---

Obviously, the issue to be resolved is where to spend the 2nd week. Based on what I have described, which of 3 island scenarios sounds the most enjoyable? AND, are the scenarios practical in themselves? ie. Would it be possible to enjoy 6-7 days hopping around on Ko Samui > Pha-ngan > Tao?

Looking forward to your ideas James, Dr.Carrie and others.

Thanks
SS
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Old Apr 4th, 2007, 11:19 AM
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For budget purposes, the beaches in Phuket/ Ko Samui and Ko Lanta are likely to have more expensive hotels. They will be cheaper in Ko Chang. Also you can get very reasonable prices in Northern Thailand. I suggest that for the 2 days in BKK, you splurge a little and go with a 3 or 4 star hotel. It's great to have an oasis in the midst of BKK's frenetic energy.
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Old Apr 4th, 2007, 11:25 AM
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As ever I will be the 'fly in the ointment'.
Your original plan of 2-3 nights in Bangkok is perfect. As much as I love this city, it doesn't take long for the pollution to take effect. Bangkok is one of the most polluted cities in the world. It's quite rare to see the horizon, and you can have a wonderful room in one of the fabulous river hotels,but you won't see much clear sky.

So, that's one of the reasons I limit my time in Bangkok.

glorialf, says that Thai beaches could be any other place in the world,,,,,Oh, No If you choose wisely you will find beach locations that will NOT be matched anywhere, certainly not in the USA or nearby destinations. I have spent quite some time looking for somewhere to compare with my favourite Thai destination and some considerable cash, but have yet to find anywhere to compare. And that covers every continent!

My advise is make sure you get some time at a beach(my preference is well known on this site, so I wont repeat it), Bangkok is great, but definitely in small doses, and avoid the big chain hotels,take a look at Old Bangkok Inn. We loved it there, as we have the the run of the mill marriott, ros,etc, but then, we've stayed in that type of hotel in many places. Try to make your stay like nothing you've done before.


Lang may yer lum reek!!
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Old Apr 4th, 2007, 06:10 PM
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let me start by saying that i have yet to see a 'pristine' beach in thailand and i have been to many of them....they are just ordinary, at best, and often crowded with people, animals, vendors, restaurants, chairs for rent, etc...

from your write up you do not belong in phuket at all, or in chiang mai.....both are overrun by tourists and shops, etc...

northern thailand would be good for you....koh chang might please you as well....

certain parts of samui might work too...the side opposite from the main tourist towns....

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Old Apr 5th, 2007, 12:23 PM
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The easy question is about getting to the North... check out the discount carriers - 1,2, Go; Nok Air; Air Asia - you can get very reasonable flights from BKK to CM and they're not as scary as the term 'discount air' might lead you to believe! We had great experiences with them! As far as I know, only Thai Airways flies direct to MHS from BKK, there might be more option from CM.

If your wife gets carsick, do NOT attempt to drive the MHS loop!! It is the most carsick inducing trip I've ever taken, and I'm not really prone to it... There's something like 1,500 tight curves, rough roads and many hills!

Now about beaches, I found this was the toughest part of the trip to plan, because everyone has very different ideas of what the 'perfect beach' or 'beach vaction' is like...

If you really want to avoid tourists, you will definitely want to avoid Phuket, although we stayed a ways from Pattong Beach (think Atlantic City crossed with Bourbon Street crossed with Fort Lauderdale - ick!) and found that Phuket was a good base from which to do other things (i.e. - snorkeling, sea kayaking, hiking). We stayed on Surin beach, which was very quiet. After all, if you're on a boat snorkeling or scuba diving all day, what does it matter where your suitcase is? We also liked that we could drive to other places from Phuket - we had some great experiences hiking in the parks North of there, that I don't think we would have experienced on the other islands. But the beaches of Phuket certainly couldn't match the beauty of the Phi Phi islands or our friends' pictures of Koh Tao!

I'd say it depends on what you're looking for, not only in terms of atmosphere, but for activities. If you're looking for a more isolated beach, our friends who live in Thailand tell us that that Phi Phu or Koh Tao is what you're looking for - Tao is marvelous if you're scuba divers, too, easy and amazing shore diving. But it's a pain to get to (from what I recall, it'll pretty much take a full day), and there's not much to do there, beyond relaxing on the beach. Same is true of Phi Phi - it is one of the most gorgeous beaches I've ever been to, but personally, I can only take a day or two of just hanging out at the beach.

I haven't been there personally, but I know folks who have good experiences in Koh Lanta - might be the best balance in terms of culture, beach and accessibility to other islands / activities. I think it'll also take you a while to get there, by the time you fly and take the ferry, and my impression is that the accomodations are a bit on the pricey side, but if you have 6-7 days, it'll certainly be doable.

So the question for you is: what are you looking to do at the beach? Hang out by the ocean and relax, drinking fruity drinks served in coconuts? Snorkel, scuba, sea kayak? Hike? Hang out in a fishing village? Feel like you're in an undiscovered tropical paradise?

That might help focus the advice you'll be getting!

All of this is making me crave a trip to Thailand, especially since it is freezing in DC today!!

Cheers, Carrie
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Old Apr 5th, 2007, 12:59 PM
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I'll throw out another option in the Phuket vs. Samui vs. other islands debate.

Take a closer look at some of the smaller, less touristy islands near phuket. For example, I really like the look of some the places on Koh Yao island, about a 1hr boat road from Phuket.
http://www.koyao.com
www.koyaobay.com

If you're doing the beach portion of your trip in May, the prices should be substaintially less for many places.

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