For the first time backpacker looking for a destination that is cheap, warm, and easy to travel, there are few better options than Thailand.
Thailand offers beautiful beaches, delicious food, cheap transport, cheap accommodation, and a fun backpacker atmosphere filled with both first time and experienced travelers.
There are copious amounts of detailed information available online about Thailand and the intention of this article is simply to provide my general recommendations and travel tips based on the ~6 months I have spent exploring the country. Hopefully this guide will give you a good sense of how and where you want to travel in Thailand and provide a basis for further research. There are many islands and destinations within Thailand worthy of exploration and I have just focused on a few of the most popular backpacker destinations. I would highly recommend putting in the effort to get off the beaten track and spend at least a few days in a remote town or island to get a feel for what Thailand is like without conspicuous tourist amenities.
Bangkok is the main hub of Thailand. Most international flights arrive and depart from Bangkok and its central location makes it a convenient starting point for trips around the country. Read my Backpacker Guide to Bangkok for more.
Chiang Mai and Pai are popular tourist destinations in Northern Thailand. These are the best places to head for jungle trekking, nature, and to just chill out. Read my Backpacker Guide to Northern Thailand for more.
The gulf islands of Ko Samui, Ko Pha Ngan and Ko Tao have it all. From the tranquil luxury resorts of Ko Samui to the insane full moon parties on Ko Pha Ngan, you can find just about anything in the gulf islands making it my favourite backpacker destination in Thailand. Read my Backpacker Guide to the Gulf of Thailand for more.
In the south of Thailand you will find the popular destinations of Krabi, Ko Phi Phi, Ko Lanta, and Phuket. These areas are well known among foreigners and convenient destinations to travel to given the number of both domestic and international flights Krabi and Phuket. If you are looking for a relatively developed destination that still offers beautiful scenery, great beaches, and a tough of Thai culture, this may be the region for you. Read my Backpacker Guide to the South of Thailand for more.
The below links to my Thailand Backpacker Guides provide an excellent starting point for planning your Thailand itinerary. For more specific details and research on each location I would highly recommend wikitravel.org, travelfish.org, and Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree forums.
Planning itineraries using these guides is easy.
A 1 week itinerary for Thailand should focus on only one of my guide areas of Northern Thailand, Southern Thailand, or the Gulf of Thailand. If your flights are into or out of Bangkok, consider spending 1 or 2 days at the end of your trip exploring the capital. Due to time limitations, I would strongly suggest flying to your chosen destination, although though overnight trains and buses may also be possible if you must.
In 2 weeks, you can either thoroughly experience one of my guide areas, or quickly explore 2 of them. My suggested 2 week itinerary would likely include 4-5 days in Northern Thailand, 1 week in the Gulf of Thailand, and 1 or 2 days in Bangkok.
In 3 weeks, you have a lot more options. You could experience all 3 of my guide areas, especially if you fly between each, but I would highly recommend only choosing 2 areas, plus a few days in Bangkok. My suggested 3 week itinerary would include 6-7 days in Northern Thailand, 10-12 days in the Gulf of Thailand, and 2-3 days in Bangkok.
If you have 3 or more weeks, I would not plan your trip in too much detail. It is so cheap and easy to get around Thailand that it is often best to just go with the flow and plan your trip on the ground so you can spend more time traveling with people you meet along the way or in the places that you enjoy most. You may also begin consider traveling to some of Thailand’s wonderful neighbour destinations including Cambodia, Burma, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Laos!
Make sure you also read my 8 Awesome Travel Tips for Backpacking Thailand to make the most of your adventure.