Thailand Backpacking Route | 4 – 8 Week Thailand Itinerary

Thailand, the land of smiles, is usually the place where first-time backpacker start their trip in Southeast Asia. To help you get started here’s the ultimate ideal first-timers backpacking Thailand route. This itinerary takes in the best highlights that the country has to offer. This itinerary can easily take 4 to 8 weeks to complete, depending on your travel pace.

A temple in Thailand

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Getting to Thailand

Not everyone needs a visa to visit Thailand. However, travellers who do, need to be updated on the entry policies. UK citizens are granted a 30-day free visa upon arrival, both via air and land. We entered Thailand 3 times on our trip; once by air and twice overland. Each time we were granted a free 30-day visa.

Thailand is well-connected with other countries in Southeast Asia. Many travellers often start their journey in Thailand, as Bangkok is the international hub of the region. Also, flights into Bangkok from Europe are often cheaper than those flying into neighbouring countries. Bangkok is where we started our journey. We managed to bag a flight for just £305 one way from Manchester, England, with a layover in Qatar.

If you’re entering Thailand overland, you can enter from Laos, Cambodia or Myanmar. The bus is the cheapest option. You won’t find it too difficult to book a bus to Thailand as it’s easily accessible. You can book both tourist buses and local buses from all the above countries. If you want to book your bus beforehand, you can book online through Bookaway.

Once in Thailand you can also utilize the bus transit system to get around. To properly navigate Thailand’s bus system, it is best to at least speak a little Thai. This way, you may question and check with locals about local bus timetables and the best routes in case any internet information is unclear. To do this, you can learn Thai free by using a language learning application, and you should make sure you at least have a basic understanding of certain Thai words so you can get around with ease.

Looking for what to pack? Check out this essential Southeast Asia packing list

Hiring a scooter on Koh Phangan, Thailand
Jake filling up the scooter with petrol

Backpacking Thailand itinerary

A Thailand backpacking route can be broken up into the north and south. The north of the country is very cultural and scenic, whilst the south boasts many beautiful beaches for relaxing in the day and partying in the night. You’re probably wondering how long does it take to backpack through Thailand? Well, depending on your travel pace, we recommend anything from 4 – 8 weeks. 4 weeks would be an ideal time to spend in the North of Thailand, whilst 2 – 4 weeks would be great for relaxing on the beaches in the South of Thailand. First, let’s start this backpacking Thailand route in the north.

Bangkok itinerary – Backpacking Thailand route stop 1

Bangkok is usually the first stop when backpacking in Thailand. Thailand’s capital is a busy place with plenty to see and do. It’s a great introduction to the chaotic cities of Southeast Asia. Here are a few unmissable attractions!

Koh San Road

Here is where many backpackers stay and party in the early hours of the morning. Koh San Road is packed with all kinds of bars, clubs, street food and hostels. Use this opportunity to have a few drinks. After having a few too many beers, dare yourself to tuck into a crunchy creepy crawly on a stick.

Eating scorpion on Koh San road - Bangkok, Thailand
Jake tucking into a scorpion on Koh San Road

Wat Phra Kaew

This temple is situated on the grounds of the Grand Palace. This is the most famous temple in Bangkok and attracts many visitors. The temple looks extremely magical and pretty from the outside, but we decided not to go inside as we felt the cost was too high at 500 Baht ($16.55) per person.

Wat Pho

Wat Pho is one of the oldest temples in Bangkok. Here you can see the famous reclining Buddha. The entrance fee is 100 Baht ($3.31)  per person and you also get a free bottle of water.

Reclining Buddha in Bangkok, Thailand
Reclining Buddha in Bangkok, Thailand

Wat Arun

War Arun is also known as the temple of the dawn. You may need to cross a river to get to this one. The journey across the river takes less than 5 minutes and costs just 2 Baht ($0.06). The price to get into Wat Arun is 50 Baht ($1.65) per person.

Wat Arun in Bangkok, Thailand
Wat Arun under construction in 2016

Explore other temples

If you like to look at temples, there are plenty more across Bangkok to admire. The ones we have mentioned above are just the most well-known and visited ones. If you’re looking for more off-the-beaten-track secrets, make sure to check out these top 3 secret things to do in Bangkok!

If you have extra time, consider a side trip to Khao Sam Rot Yot National Park for some awesome outdoor adventures.

Bangkok to Ayutthaya

It is time to move on from Thailand’s bustlin’ capital and head to the quieter, ancient city of Ayutthaya. The fastest way to get to Ayutthaya is by taking a mini-van from Moh Chit BTS station. Mini-vans leave regularly throughout the day and cost just 50 Baht ($1.65). The journey takes less than 2 hours. Alternatively, if you’re not ready to navigate the bustlin’ bus station, you can always book a private transfer. Or, if you’re on a super tight budget, hitchhiking in Thailand is easy too.

Places to visit in Ayutthaya – Backpacking Thailand route stop 2

Old temple ruins

There are many old temples in Ayutthaya to see. Take a tuk-tuk around the old city and explore. Try to team up with other people in your accommodation so you can share the cost of the tuk-tuk. Alternatively, you can rent a bicycle, which is a great way to get around at your own pace.

Buddha head in a tree in Ayutthaya, Thailand
Buddha head in a tree in Ayutthaya, Thailand

Ayutthaya to Phitsanulok

After a relaxing few days in Ayutthaya, get ready for the ultimate Thai experience by taking the rickety train to Phitsanulok. The journey takes between 3-5 hours, depending on which train you choose and costs 350 Baht ($11.58).

Phitsanulok – Backpacking Thailand route stop 3

Phitsanulok Night Market

A stop in Phitsanulok is just a quick one to break up the journey to Chiang Mai. There is a large night market where you can satisfy your inner foodie needs and experience some new flavours. After taking the time to stroll down the night market, you can visit a few temples in the area.

Phitsanulok to Sukhothai

Sukhothai is a nice little stop if you’re not quite ready for a long journey to Chiang Mai. Just a one-hour drive from Phitsanulok, Sukothai can easily be reached by one of the many mini-buses that leave daily from Phitsanulok bus station. Public buses cost between 28-50 Baht ($0.93 – $1.65).

Sukothai – Backpacking Thailand route stop 4

Temple tour of Sukhothai

A trip to Thailand wouldn’t be complete without a whiz around on a tuk-tuk. Sukhothai is a great place to snag your chance and hire a tuk-tuk for a few hours to take you around all the temples. The cost of a tuk-tuk tour is just 200 Baht ($6.62) each.

Ancient temples of Sukothai, Thailand
Ancient temples of Sukhothai

Sukothai to Chiang Mai

To get to Chiang Mai, you will need to take the 1-hour bus back to Phitsanulok. From there you can either take the train or bus directly to Chiang Mai. The bus is the quickest and cheapest option. The bus costs between 220 – 330 Baht ($7.28 – $10.92) and takes a little over 5 hours. The train takes around 8 hours and costs almost double the amount of the bus.

Chiang Mai – Backpacking Thailand route stop 5

Songkran festival in Chiang Mai

Next up is Chaing Mai, one of the most beautiful places in Thailand. There are many attractions in Chiang Mai, such as temples, hill tribe villages, the 3D Art Museum, a zoo, and tons of shopping malls. However, whilst on our trip to Chiang Mai, we didn’t manage to explore any of the above, due to enjoying firing water guns and chucking buckets of water for the Songkran Festival.

We spent our days in Chiang Mai loading up water guns and spraying the hundreds of partakers in the streets. Chiang Mai is a great place to be for the annual Songkran Festival which takes place on the 13th of April every year.

Songkran in Thailand
The streets of Chiang Mai at Songkran in Thailand

Whilst we didn’t get the chance to thoroughly see Chiang Mai, there is plenty of things to do there. Make sure to check out this comprehensive 6-day Chiang Mai guide for more ideas.

See also  The Best Cambodia Backpacking Route for First-Timers

Chiang Mai to Pai

To get from Chaing Mai to Pai, you have a couple of options. From Chiang Mai, minivans run regularly throughout the day and take 3 hours to reach Pai. The cost of the mini-van is 150 Baht ($4.96) per person. Beware though, the roads on this route are very windy and those prone to travel sickness will probably need to bring along a plastic bag. Alternatively, you can drive the popular Mae Hong Son Loop by scooter. Be careful! It’s not for inexperienced drivers and you should only do this if you feel confident enough and are used to driving scooters or motorbikes.

What to do in Pai – Thailand backpacking route stop 6

Explore by scooter

The best way to get around Pai is by scooter. Finding the main attractions is very easy, as they are well signposted. We recommend just driving around, getting lost and going on an adventure. Don’t worry, you will see plenty of signs directing you to the many viewpoints anyway. Here are some of the amazing sights you will come across (most are FREE):

Pai Canyon

Pai Canyon, Thailand
Jake looking out from Pai Canyon in Pai, Thailand

Pam Bok Waterfall

Pam Bok Waterfall - Pai, Thailand
The top of Pam Bok Waterfall

Love Strawberry Farm

Love strawberry farm - Pai, Thailand
Jake sitting on a giant strawberry at Love Strawberry Farm

Back garden pool

The heat in April is just so unbearable, and sometimes you just need to take a break in a pool to cool down. We came across a pool in someone’s back garden that the owners allow tourists to use for 20 Baht ($0.66) each.

Pool - Pai, Thailand
The secret pool in a back garden

Land Split

The Land Split is exactly what it says on the tin…a split in the land. Accordingly, the farmer woke up one day to find a split in his land. Since that day, the split has grown bigger. When you arrive at the Land Split the owners welcome you with a drink and fruit. There is no cost to see the split, but donations are welcomed.

Land split - Pai, Thailand
The mysterious land split

Cross the Bamboo Bridge

Most accommodation is located on one side of the Bamboo Bridge, whilst the other side boats plenty of eateries and bars. Spend a night on the strip trying different foods and chilling out on a bean bag with a bottle of Chang.

Bamboo Bridge in Pai, Thailand
The Bamboo Bridge in Pai

Pai to Chiang Rai

To get to Chiang Rai from Pai, you will need to take a minivan back to Chiang Mai. From Chiang Mai take a 3-hour bus journey to Chiang Rai. The cost of the bus ranges from 150 Baht ($4.96) to 300 Baht ($9.93) depending on which bus you choose. We recommend shopping around at the different desks at the bus stations for the cheapest bus.

Chiang Rai things to do – Backpacking Thailand route stop 7

There are many things to see in and around Chiang Rai, many people seem to just pass through Chiang Rai on their way to Laos, but trust us, it has a lot to offer!

We partnered up with another couple for the day and hired a car and driver, to take us around the sights. You can easily find tour packages in the many tourist shops along the main strip. The tour costs 600 Baht ($19.86) per person for a full day. Here are a few stops we made whilst on the tour.

White Temple

A new and unique temple that represents walking through the two realms; heaven and hell. The cost to enter is free. Visitors are required to cover their knees and shoulders. If you are wearing shorts, then you can rent a long skirt for 20 Baht ($0.66) from a stall just before entering the temple grounds.

The White Temple in Chiang Rai, Thailand
The stunning White Temple in Chiang Rai

Black House

The temple has a very different spin from the rest. Aside from the oddly unique design, everything inside is Gothic-like. The cost to go inside the grounds and the main house is 80 Baht ($2.65) per person.

Black House in Chiang Rai, Thailand
The Black House in Chiang Rai

Tea Plantations

Watch how tea is created whilst admiring the rolling, lush green tea fields.

Tea plantations in Chiang Rai, Thailand
Tea plantations in Chiang Rai

Doi Tung Villa

Doi Tung Villa is the house and the gardens of the Princess Mother. You can go inside and take a headphone-guided tour through the house before relaxing in the lush gardens. The cost to enter is 90 Baht ($2.98) and includes the headphone guide.

Doi Tung Villa in Chiang Rai, Thailand
The outside of Doi Tung Villa

Golden Triangle and House of Opium

On our trip we drove up to the golden triangle; where Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar meet. The golden triangle is also well-known for the wide distribution of opium. The admission fee to the House of Opium is 50 Baht ($1.65) per person.

Golden Triangle in Thailand
The lookout spot of the Golden Triangle

Getting from the north of Thailand down to the southern islands

After travelling to the North of Thailand, many people who are continuing their travels around Southeast Asia cross the border into Laos, either via bus or slow boat into Luang Prabang. After completing the banana backpacking trail through Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia it’s common for backpackers to head for some beach time in Bali or to loop back into Thailand and head South to the Thai islands. Given the choice though, we fully recommend beach time in Thailand over Bali. Find out why here!

For those who are just travelling to Thailand, you would need to take an overnight bus to Bangkok, or a flight to your destination in the South, before continuing your journey. If you’re travelling overland, once you reach Bangkok, there are plenty of transport options for the islands. Check out the journey from Bangkok to Koh Phangan here.

Hammock in Koh Tao, Thailand
Relaxing on the beach in a hammock on Koh Tao

South of Thailand and the Islands – Backpacking Thailand route stop 8

After a whirlwind of time exploring the north, you may be ready for some relaxing time on the stunning beaches in the south. There are many islands in the South of Thailand, so you may find it difficult to choose which ones you would like to visit. It could take years to fully explore all the islands, so we had no choice but to choose just a few. We chose to spend our beach time in Phuket, Krabi, Koh Samui, Koh Phangan and Koh Tao, all of which we believe are the perfect spots for first-timers to Thailand. Each place is blessed with ocean waves, diving opportunities, magical sunsets, and late-night parties. We spent most of our time on the islands scooting around on a motorbike and relaxing by the pool or in the sea.

A beach on Koh Phangan, Thailand
A beautiful beach on Koh Phangan

Looking for day trips to take from Phuket? Check out these 6-day trips here.

The above itinerary is best for those that have 6 to 8 weeks, but we know that some people can only take 2 weeks off work. Thailand has so much to offer and it can be difficult to choose where to go. Check out this 2-week itinerary to get the most out of your time.

Getting around the Thai Islands

Phuket – Krabi: Public buses run regularly, cost 150 Baht ($4.96) and take just under 3 hours. There is also the option to take a ferry, but the bus is the cheapest option for those on a budget.

Krabi – Koh Samui: Along the strip in Krabi many tourist shops sell packages to get to Koh Samui. We paid 800 Baht ($26.47) each for the package which consisted of the bus travel and ferry. The total length of the journey is around 12 hours, despite the estimated time of 8 hours. This was due to having to change the bus 3 times.

Koh Samui – Koh Phangan: Ferries run regularly between the two islands. Prices range from 200-250 Baht ($6.22 – $8.27) and take between 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Koh Phangan – Koh Tao: Ferries run regularly and take 1 hour and 30 minutes to reach Koh Tao. The cost of the ferry ranges from 350 baht – 500 Baht ($11.58 – $16.55).

All of the above journeys can now be booked through Bookaway, a website to help you get around overland easily. All you need to do is open up your phone or laptop and select your journey. No need to go to the ticket office the day before to book your place!

If you need more information on getting around Thailand, make sure to check out this awesome comprehensive guide to transport in Thailand!

The Lomprayah ferry from Chumpon to Koh Phangan
Ferry service around the Thai islands

How much does it cost to backpack in Thailand?

Overall, Thailand is a cheap country in Asia to travel to. Below is a breakdown of costs for backpackers.

Currency: The local currency is the Thai Baht. At the time of writing the exchange rate is 33 Baht to $1.

Daily budget: Thailand is extremely cheap, particularly in the North. For the North of the country, we budgeted 750 Baht ($20) per day, per person. As the South is more touristy, prices of hotels, food, and drink are a lot more, so we budgeted 1,000 Baht ($33) per day, per person.

See also  The Best Southeast Asia Packing List for a Carry-On

Accommodation: Hotels/ hostels in the north of Thailand ranged from 250 Baht ($8.27) to 500 Baht ($16.55), for a double room with a private bathroom. In the South, accommodation costs between 600 Baht ($19.86) to 800 Baht ($26.47) for a double room.

Food and drink: Local Thai food costs around 50 Baht ($1.65) per meal in the north. In the South and on the Islands, local food ranges from 80 Baht ($2.65) to 150 Baht ($4.96). The local beer, Chang, costs 50 Baht ($1.65) in the north and 100 Baht ($3.31) in the south.

Motorbike rental: The cost to rent a motorbike for the day ranges from 150 Baht ($4.96) to 200 Baht ($6.62).

For a more detailed breakdown of costs, make sure to check out this in-depth post on how much it costs to travel to Thailand.

Where to stay in Thailand for budget travellers

Charan 41 Hotel, Bangkok A cosy hostel in a quiet area just outside Koh San Road. The hostel is run by a sweet woman who is very helpful. Every morning she cooked us a delicious breakfast before we started our day. On occasions, she even took us around the city, and to the hospital to help us get our jabs. It was the perfect place to stay for starting our Thailand travel route.

Ayutthaya Riverside House, Ayutthaya  – Located right on the river bank. The rooms are clean and there is a social space downstairs with hammocks to relax in. Perfect for those who want a tranquil stay.

Red Brick Guesthouse, Chiang MaiA Very popular hostel for young backpackers. The hostel has a swimming pool!

Pai Loess Resort, Pai – One of the cheapest accommodations with air conditioning. The little huts are very clean and well-decorated. There are also hammocks on the balconies to relax whilst surrounded by beautiful scenery.

Busket Hostel, Chiang RaiModern and cosy hostel that is excellently located in the centre of town, and close to transport links. Beds also have curtains for added privacy.

Bed Hostel, PhuketA modern and clean hostel! It provides dorm rooms and private twin rooms. It’s perfect for the social butterfly.

J Hotel, KrabiLarge, cosy clean rooms with double beds, a TV, and a private bathroom. Some rooms have balconies that overlook the sea. Great views!

Backpackers Hacienda, Koh Phangan – Located in the quieter area of Koh Phangan, near Thong Sala Night Market. The rooms are basic, but the pool is amazing. The pool overlooks the beach and there is a pool bar as well.

Looking for party hostels in Chiang Mai? Check out these top 4 places to stay and party!

A tuk-tuk in Thailand
A tuk-tuk in Thailand

Backpacking Thailand travel tips

Bangkok tuk-tuk scam – Whilst walking around Bangkok you may be approached by tuk-tuk drivers offering to give you a free tour of the city, providing you enter a few shops so they can get free petrol. This does take up a lot of your time, but if you are just hanging around waiting for a flight like we were, then it’s not too bad. If you do decide to do this, then make sure NOT to buy anything from the shops as you are likely to be overcharged.

Far away drop-offs – Beware that when you book a bus you may be dropped off a few kilometres outside of your destination. You will then be greeted by many tuk-tuk drivers, whom you will have to pay to get to where you should’ve been dropped off in the first place. Annoying, we know! Our most memorable bus drop off was at 5.30 am at a petrol station a couple of miles out from Chiang Mai Bus Station.

Temple clothing – On this backpacking Thailand route you visit many temples. When you enter the temples, you will need to cover your shoulders and knees. If you forget to take suitable clothing with you, then don’t worry. You can always rent them from a stall. But try to save your money and remember to bring a sarong.

Expensive south – For those of you who are travelling to the south of Thailand from the north, don’t expect to budget the same amount of money. The south is a lot more touristy, making the prices of accommodation and food more expensive. Even the cost of coffee and toasties in 7Eleven is slightly more expensive.

Couples avoid Pattaya – We would not recommend Pattaya as a beach place for couples and families; the tourism here is mainly aimed at single men. And we all know what we mean by that!

Always agree on a price – When taking a tuk-tuk, taking a tour, or even buying things from the market, always agree on a price first. By agreeing on a price first, you lower the risk of overspending, and both you and the seller know what to expect.

Mosquito bites – Everywhere we went, we were bitten by mosquitoes. We think partly because Thailand was our first destination and we had not yet acclimatized to this part of the world. We were also told that the types of food you eat can also cause more bites. For example, if you eat foods with a lot of oil you are more likely to be bitten. Make sure you get a good repellent and use it twice a day to reduce the risk of those pesky critters eating away at you.

Is Thailand safe for tourists? – All in all, Thailand is super safe for tourists who use their common sense. Just like in any country, don’t take any substances from strangers and always keep your eye on your belongings.

Essential resources for this Thailand travel route

Travel Insurance – No matter where you’re travelling to, it’s a good idea to make sure you’re covered for any accidents or losses. We spent days and weeks searching for insurance, but most insurers would not allow us to take out a policy as we were already abroad. Our personal choice is Safteywing. You can opt for automatic monthly payments, just like a subscription. More importantly, it is available in 180 countries and can be purchased whilst already travelling. There is no cap on the duration of travel.

Visa – Before you travel to any country, make sure to check if you need a visa. iVisa is a fantastic website that is super easy and quick to use. Just type in where you are from. and where you are going. to check if you need a visa. If you do, you can quickly make an application online.

AccommodationBooking.com is our go-to when looking to pre-book accommodation online. Booking.com tend to almost always have the best rates and a FREE cancellation policy for most properties.

Overland transport – Our go-to website for overland transport is Bookaway. Bookaway offers multiple forms of transport, from buses, mini-vans, trains, and ferries. The routes on offer are extensive and certainly cover most of the backpacker trails. Bookaway works a little like Skyscanner but for overland transport. You will find plenty of transport options from a range of companies. All you simply need to do is book online and receive your ticket by email. The email will contain essential information, such as where the bus leaves from and departure and arrival times.

Tours & Activities – If you want to book tours and activities online, make sure to check out Get Your Guide. Get Your Guide takes the stress out of booking activities abroad. You will also find a range of benefits, such as skip-the-line passes, lunch included in your tours, and so much more.

Travel tips ebook -Before you head off on your adventure, make sure to download our free ebook. It has a whopping 109 budget travel tips to help you make your hard-earned cash go further. Click here to download your FREE ebook.

We hope this backpacking Thailand route will help you plan your exciting adventure. Of course, this backpacking Thailand route is not fully comprehensive of all the destinations and places to visit in Thailand, but we believe this is a great introduction for first-timers to the country.

Where’s your next destination? Maybe you are crossing over into Laos! Check out our backpacking Laos guide.

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The Ultimate Thailand Travel Guide of Places to Visit

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