My husband Brian and I got married on Sep 1, 2018 but put off our honeymoon to Thailand until “later”. One of my jobs in our relationship is to plan and book the travel, and I finally got around to doing it last month. Despite it being almost a week back to reality, I’m struggling with the transition and have spent the last 9 hours in bed reading a young adult fiction book about magicals trying to save the world from an evil witch. So I’m basically in denial, pretending that I’m still on the beach reaching mindless fiction.
We spent 16 nights in 5 different cities, our longest vacation we’ve ever taken, and it was a glorious escape from the last few months of Boston winter.
Here’s our itinerary, highlights, and general tips and recommendations:
We flew Cathay Pacific, Premium Economy class to Bangkok with a layover in Hong Kong. Easy flight with tons of leg room and neverending food. Highly recommend the airline. We have Priority Pass lounge access, which came in handy during our layover in Hong Kong. Despite not being hungry at all because of the meals on the flight, I couldn’t help stuffing my face in the Plaza Premium lounge at 5am.
DAY 1: BANGKOK
We only stayed in Bangkok for 1 night before heading to Chiang Mai. The city is huge and super crowded with tons of traffic. I don’t regret our time in Bangkok, but if you’re strapped for time and can go straight to Chiang Mai, I’d skip it.
Hotel: Adelphi Forty-Nine
- Affordable, clean, boutique hotel (~$100)
- Small rooftop pool
- Relatively close to the airport and the city (with all the traffic everything takes a long time to get to from the airport, but this was a good stop in between the main sites and the airport)
- Close to lots of restaurants, stores, massage places, etc.
- Includes free breakfast
- Wat Pho (Reclining Buddha Temple)
- Cost: 200 THB ($6)
- Interesting place to visit and explore. A bunch of temples with different buddhas, and one with the HUGE reclining buddha (>150 feet long).
- Ladies: make sure you bring something to cover your shoulders and legs
- Khao San Road
- Touristy place with a ton of people, bars, restaurants, hostels, and shops
- Hear it’s a good place for solo travelers to hang out
- We just had a beer and people watched.
- May Kaidee
- Vegetarian and a cooking school. Very tasty food! If you don't like the fish sauce in traditional pad thai, this place is for you. Right next to Khao San Road
- Saew Noodles
- Right down the street from our hotel
- Small restaurant filled with locals
- They don’t speak English but have English on their menu -- really good, cheap, noodles. Small sizes, so you can order a couple to try.
- We mainly took taxis (easier if we used Grab app to hail because most drivers we encountered didn't speak English) and tuktuks (these 3 wheeled open air vehicles that are cheap, kind of scary but fun).
DAYS 2-5: CHIANG MAI
We then flew to Chiang Mai with Bangkok Airways (1.5 hour flight). Really nice, local airline that even served a meal! In the US you’re lucky if you get water for free on a flight this short.
We loved Chiang Mai. It definitely felt more touristy in the Old City than Bangkok because there were so many non-Thai people walking around. It was slower paced and less crowded than Bangkok, and just a more manageable city. We spent 3 nights there but I could’ve spent a few more to visit the beautiful temples outside the city and the countryside as well. We took it easy because we were adjusting to the time zone and settling into vacation mode.
Hotel: 99 The Heritage Hotel
- I LOVED this hotel (see above 3 pics). It came with so much free stuff, I couldn’t resist loving it. Our welcome drink and snack were coconuts and mango sticky rice. A huge breakfast spread of Asian and Western food was included every day. Throughout the day they had unlimited free snacks (sandwiches, sweets, desserts), fruits, ice cream, and drinks. The minibar in the room was also included (Fantas, Cokes, waters, and beers).
- Great location, walking distance to all the sites in the Old City.
- We spent mornings eating breakfast at the hotel, and lounging and reading by the pool before heading out for the day.
- Would recommend and definitely stay here again if I go back!
- We didn’t really visit any of the most popular sites. We mainly walked around Old City, passed by some temples like Wat Phra Singh and Wat Chiang Man, and saw the Three Kings Monument and Tha Phae Gate. My friend who was there are at the same as I was went to the Elephant Rescue Park and recommends it!
- Lila Thai Massage
- Not a “site” but my first of many Thai massages! I like this place because it’s an ex-inmate employment and skill development center for women. It’s really clean and professional. They wash your feet first with orange peels, then you change into these cute outfits. After the massage they give you tea and a little goodie to take home in exchange for leaving a review. It’s a chain so you’ll find them all around Chiang Mai.
- Grasshopper Adventures Biking Food Tour
- 4 hour - 5-9pm
- 2100 THB per person (~$66)
- Fun, easy biking tour -- most of the rides were only a few minutes away from each other. The longest ride was ~20 minutes.
- The food was all really good - we were so full by the end! Ate at 3 restaurants, then dessert and fruit, before ending the night with a cocktail. It was great having a tour guide to tell us the history about the city, and about the food we were eating. If tours aren’t your thing, just check out the restaurants we went to below.
Restaurants/Bars (legally aren't allowed to sell alcohol between 2-5pm):
- Food tour:
- 1) Lert Ros
- Local place on a small side street. We had red tilapia grilled in the “open-air” kitchen in front of the restaurant, morning glory, banana leaf wrapped mince pork, Som Tam (papaya salad), pork larb, and sticky rice.
- 2) The Swan (Burmese Cuisine)
- We had two apps here: ner lung (these delicious chicken meatballs), and lar pat toke (green tea leaf salad).
- 3) 5 Flavors Pad Thai
- This place only serves pad thai, and they do it well! It’s a bit hard to find so I linked the latitude/longitude.
- 4) Chang Moi Sweets
- Shaved ice place with 30+ toppings. We tried a few different flavors. One of our favorites was with coconut milk and these pink jelly rose chestnut things.
- 5) Warorot Market
- Huge local market with all sorts of food and shopping. When we got there it was late so not everything was open, but would’ve liked to come back earlier if we had time. We just got some fruit here for more dessert.
- Tong Tem Toh
- We ate here for lunch, and it was Brian’s favorite meal of the entire trip. He loves spicy food, and he ordered a spicy minced pork dish over rice that he still can’t stop talking about. If you love spicy food this place is for you.
- Farm Story House
- Super cute and cozy restaurant and cafe, with a very small store that sells handmade natural products and other goodies. I had the chicken falafel pita sandwich, and it was surprisingly the best falafel sandwich I’ve ever had.
- Khao Soi Samer Jai
- We didn’t eat here but my friend did and loved it. Get the khao soi (obviously).
- We mainly walked or took songthaews (red converted pickup trucks with 2 benches inside that cost about 30 THB per person), though there are also tuk tuks and motorbike taxis.
DAYS 6-10: KOH LANTA
Next we flew to Krabi with Thai AirAsia (2 hour flight), which is one of the discount airlines. I paid extra to choose my seat, and you could pay for drinks and snacks on the flight. The plane was packed and had the least amount of legroom on any flight I’ve been on in awhile, but it got us to Krabi safely and for an affordable price. Upon landing, we made our way to Koh Lanta.
- Pimalai Resort
- $800/night (what?!)
- Our first hotel was a luxurious, BEAUTIFUL resort perched up on the hills.
- It came with free airport transportation -- someone greeted us in Krabi, then led us to a van that drove an hour to a jetty, where we got into another car that boarded a ferry, then drove for another hour until we got to the resort. They greeted us with leis, refreshing lemongrass drinks and cold towels. Our room also came with free fresh dragonfruits, lychees, longans, and Asian pears. The free breakfasts were enormous and delicious, with options that cater to everyone.
- Given it was our honeymoon, we splurged on this one room private pool villa, which was totally excessive for just the two of us but we treated ourselves. Because of how big the property was and all the hills, they had golf carts that you could call at any time to bring you places. All the service people were incredibly sweet and helpful (everywhere we went, not just this hotel). There were a couple infinity pools but we spent most of our time down at the beach, where they had beach lounge chairs for hotel guests. After you picked your spot, the workers would help set up your spot with towels and iced water, and continue to refill your water. They also had free stand up paddle boards, kayaks, snorkels, and more that you could borrow.
- If you are on your honeymoon, or just extremely baller, I highly recommend this hotel! They have cheaper rooms for ~$300/night that are also great.
- A big step down from the Pimalai, but I wanted to spend a couple nights in more of a beach shack. This was definitely that.
- We love staying in Airbnbs when we travel. This one was right on a rocky beach with direct views of the sunset from the porch. You could just lay in the hammock all night and listen to the waves. It was extremely no frills -- it was clean but the linens were old and kind of dingy. The bathroom was outdoors but covered -- so you can see the ocean while you’re showering, but the toilet is also outdoors. If you’re squirmy around those little wall geckos, then this may be a little too close for comfort for you, because you will probably be within 1-2 feet of one when going to the bathroom.
- Old Town
- Old Town is a small village on the east coast of the island. It’s got a tony of shops and restaurants, many of them are stilt houses that are over the water.
- Highly recommend checking this place out - great place to buy souvenirs, wasn’t very busy, just a chill place to walk around, shop and get food. Was an easy motorbike drive from Kan Tiang Bay area.
- Beaches: All the beaches are basically bays, so the water is calm with very small waves, if any, which is my ideal type of beach. The sand is HOT -- if you don’t wear shoes you will burn your feet walking on the beach.
- Kan Tiang Bay Beach - Recommend
- Where we hung out while at the Pimalai resort. It’s got a number of restaurants, bars and hotels on this beach that you can walk to, so it’s a great place to post up for the day.
- Nui Bay Beach - Recommend
- You have to park your motorbike on the side of the road, then walk down this trail to the beach. It’s a small beach with one bar, which also has some hammocks under a covered area for people to chill. Be careful of the monkeys! Apparently they’ll come down from the jungle area and steal all your stuff.
- Khlong Chak Beach - Recommend
- More commercial and bigger than Nui Bay and Bamboo Beach. There are a number of restaurants and bars side by side on the beach, including covered areas with hammocks to chill.
- Bamboo Beach - Don’t Recommend
- You have to drive down a steep hill to get here. It has one restaurant right at the bottom (Baan Phu Lae) that is not great. There weren’t covered areas to lay out on this beach so we just ate lunch and left. Wouldn’t recommend coming here.
Restaurants/Bars (huge Muslim population, so many restaurants don’t serve alcohol):
- Monkey Biziness Cafe
- Really cute cafe with a gift store. You can get coffee, breakfast, smoothies and smoothie bowls (after a certain time). I bought a few souvenirs from the shop.
- The Seven Seas Restaurant
- Part of the Pimalai resort. If you want a nice, fancier dinner (dress code) with Western food and a view, come here. We went here our first night there out of necessity (it was late when we got in). It was pretty expensive, but the food was tasty and the views during the day are unbelievable.
- Phu Pha View
- All the restaurants next to this one are perched up along a cliff over Kantiang Bay, so they have incredible views. Not super memorable food but good for a quick place to eat lunch. Dry restaurant, so we went to a place a couple doors down for a beer after.
- Kantiang Restaurant
- We didn’t go here, but our Airbnb host recommended it as the best restaurant in the area, popular among locals and tourists.
- Pinto Restaurant
- We ate dinner here in Old Town. Good food, service and views. On a stilt house with a dock where you can walk out more - good photo op.
- Why Not Bar
- Right on the beach, this bar has a fire show every night. There were always a decent amount of people here throughout the day and night. It has big bean bags on the beach where you can chill and drink.
- Aqua Bar
- Brian went to this bar a couple times during the day and it was basically empty. It’s outside, right at the end of the beach, super chill, good music, with a cool bartender who speaks really good English. He loved it.
- Blue Moon Bar
- We stopped here for drinks on our ride to Old Town. It’s on a busier, more touristy beach. We loved that most of the bar is on the beach -- there are mats and shade so you’re basically just lying on the beach ordering drinks and food. Don’t know about the food, but great place to chill, get drinks and people watch.
- We rented a motorbike for 3 days and cruised around the island. It only cost 500 THB for 3 days ($15) but we had to leave our passport as collateral. Definitely recommend renting one, as it allows you to see the island in the easiest way! Wear a helmet, drive slowly and stay close to the edge of the left side (they drive on the left side of the road there).
DAY 11: KRABI
We took a private car from Kantiang Bay to Ao Nang, Krabi, which was the easiest mode of transportation. It took us about 3 hours and cost 3000 THB total ($95), but it was worth not having to go through the hassle of a shared van, ferry, etc. Our Airbnb host helped us book it.
We only stayed in Krabi one night to meet up with my friend Bianca and her husband Rae, before we were off to our next island.
- Panan Krabi Resort
- Free breakfast included
- Super affordable, clean rooms and resort, family/kid friendly with two pools. Location is on a busy street with tons of bars and restaurants. It wasn’t really the type of place we’d normally stay at on vacation, but for one night as a pit stop on our way to the next place, it was perfect.
- Our friends stayed there for a few nights and enjoyed it. They basically used Krabi as a jumping off point for excursions, which worked well for them.
- Sukhothai Massage
- I got one of the most painful foot reflexology massages here. I think it hurt in a good way. Foot reflexology massages typically hurt, so if you’re into going through that type of pain, this is your place. It also came with a neck/shoulder/head massage at the end that was wonderful.
- Krabi Castaway Tours
- My friend and I booked this private longtail boat island tour with Krabi Castaway Tours, which was a highlight of our entire trip. The owner, Big, was super responsive to all our emails and questions prior to it. We ended up doing a Hong Islands tour, and he dropped us off at Koh Yao Noi where our next hotel was. The tour included pick-up/drop-off at your hotel, lunch, fruit, water/soda, snorkels, and beach mats. We brought our own beer (note: you can’t buy beer before 11am in Krabi), but if you tell Big how many beers you want, he’ll supply them for an additional charge. We also had all our luggage, which he helped us bring out to the boat.
- At each location, Big would set up the beach mats and bring out snorkels for us to use. He brought out a huge plate of fresh pineapple and watermelon, waters, beers, etc. The tour also included homemade lunch by Big -- a panan curry, shrimp, meat and vegetables, and rice. When we got to one of the islands, he set up the mat, a cute table and brought out all the food for us to eat.
- Total cost was 16,200 THB ($512) for 4 people ($128/person). Not cheap but not bad for a completely private, customized tour. We paid a little extra to get him to drop off us off on a different island instead of going back to Krabi. Highly recommend this tour!
- Hong Island Lagoon
- Amazing photo op. The lagoon is surrounded by these cliffs so you feel secluded, and the water is emerald green. Really crazy place because the water level changes drastically when it's low tide. Boats can only go in at mid-tide when the water is at chest level, but it quickly goes down to just a couple inches deep. We had to walk through the jungle a little to meet our boat on the other side of the cliff because he had to get out of the lagoon before the tide went down.
- Koh Nok
- The last island on our boat tour. We loved this one because there was a ton of space with a huge stretch of sand, and the location gave us a great view of the surrounding islands. You can hike up a trail 15 min to a viewpoint, but we didn’t do it.
- Ton Ma Yom
- We had dinner here. Good food, kind of slow service. Takes reservations, which was good because we had a group of 6. Order the spring rolls!
- On 4203 Tambon Ao Nang Road (Get Rads is right in the front), there’s a fun street of bars - LGBTQ friendly, free pool and games. My husband accidentally thought it was the red light district (it’s not, I don't think...). It’s just filled with bars with loud music, high energy, and a fun atmosphere!
DAYS 12-15: KOH YAO NOI
Our longtail boat tour guide dropped us off at Koh Yao Noi, where we got picked up by a taxi who took us to our Airbnb.
This island was the sleepiest of all the ones we stayed on. There are a bunch of resorts on one part of the island but not many people to be seen. Unfortunately while we were there, the tide was so low that it was basically impossible to go to the beach. Still, it was Brian’s favorite island because of how quiet and chill it was. We spent most of it at our Airbnb, chilling by the pool, and cruising around on our motorbike.
- $450/night (for 4 ppl)
- We rented this luxury pool villa on Airbnb. It’s technically for 6 people (3 bedrooms), but the price for 4 of us was the same as a nice hotel. The house is made for entertaining -- 2 huge outdoor lounge areas, infinity pool, outdoor speakers, and views of the ocean.
- The property manager, Mhee, was the best concierge service I’ve ever used. She helped with everything and anything we asked for, and responded almost immediately to any texts, emails or calls. She helped arrange pick up and drop off when we got there and left, she arranged a massage onsite for me, she got us motorbikes delivered to the villa to rent, and she even sent a bag of ice when we asked. She seemed to know everyone in town and could hook us up with anything we wanted.
- Includes free breakfast
- Cape Kudu Hotel
- We only stayed at this hotel for one night, but it was beautiful. I felt like we were in the Hamptons - the decor was all white and it had that dreamy, beachy feel to it. We spent most of our time here by the pool reading with a view of the ocean.
- Includes free breakfast (with champagne!)
- JJ Queen Spa
- I got a foot massage here for 450 THB (vs ~300 THB on Koh Lanta and ~250 THB in the city). Not a painful reflexology one, but the kind you want after a long day on your feet. The end included the best 10 min head and face massage I've ever received. You also have a view of the ocean the whole time. Highly recommend!
- Mina’s Cooking Class
- We booked a cooking class here, but unfortunately I messed up and put 3/8/19 as my reservation date, which they understood as August 3rd. Oops. It has great reviews though!
- Lek’s Restaurant (next to Extra Time bar)
- This was recommended to us as a great local spot, and it was the best food we had on the island. It seemed to always be empty, but the food was super fresh and tasty. The server doesn’t speak English but the menu is in English. It was so good we went back twice. Get the vegetarian spring rolls, chicken sate, panan curry, and morning glory!
- Ciao Bella
- We only tried the pizza here (not the Thai food) after reading good reviews of it. It wasn’t great. I wouldn’t waste a meal here unless you’re really craving pizza. It should hit the spot, but if you’re expecting really tasty pizza, you won’t get it here. Restaurant is right on the beach though.
- We had dinner here because it was down the street from Lek’s and Lek’s was closed. It wasn't great - I wouldn’t waste a meal here.
- Rice Paddy
- This place was recommended to us for dinner because of the view of the sunset. It’s perched up at the top of a hill, so the views were indeed amazing. But we only stayed for drinks during the sunset, no dinner. The owner was kind of weird, and service was very slow. So after the sun set we were out of there.
- Garden Cafe & Restaurant
- Cute, cozy cafe for lunch. Brian loved the spicy fish sauce with thai chilis there, so we asked the owner to buy some. She put some into a little container for us to go that we managed to bring all the way back to the U.S.!
- Chaba Cafe and Gallery
- We only had a beer here one afternoon. Kitchen was closed so we didn’t try the food (great reviews though). Super cute cafe that feels like a treehouse - it even has a hammock in it! Great place to just hang out. There’s a wine bar next door that looked cool and different than anything else on the island.
- Motorbike rental and taxi to/from the pier
DAY 16: BANGKOK
The trip from Kao Yao Noi to Bangkok included a taxi to the pier, a ferry to Krabi, a taxi to the airport, and a flight back to Bangkok (Thai Smile airways). To break up our travel, we spent one more night in Bangkok near the airport before heading back to Boston.
General travel tips and recommended products:
- Download the Grab app (like Uber)
- Get enough cash out -- most places you go to will be cash only
- Snapsmile eye mask for the long plane ride -- super comfy on your eyes/face
- Bose wireless, noise cancelling headphones - my husband bought these and used them on every flight. He loves them.
- trtl pillow - my sis bought this for my years ago and it works wonders. I used it on the flight. It’s way comfier than a typical travel pillow that goes around your neck. It’s like sleeping on someone’s shoulder that’s actually close enough to you and comfortable, where your head isn’t constantly falling off.
- Roll-up beach hat - I got this for this trip because I hate packing my floppy beach hat. It’s always deformed and ugly from travel. This roll-up beach hat was great!
- Sony wireless speaker - this little guy is wireless, water-resistant, has 16 hours a battery life, good sound, and travels well. You can add another speaker for more sound if you need (you don’t if you’re just using it at your hotel or on the beach). We just threw it in our beach bag every day.
- Livordo turkish beach towel - this towel is soft and comfy, folds up easily and dries quickly. As a girl, you can even make it into a makeshift sarong dress.
- Cell Phone / Data - sign up for an international travel pass before you go. With Verizon, it’s $10/day to use text and data, and you only get charged for the days you use it.
- Clothes - if you go in February, it’s hot. If you’re going to the islands, you’ll spend most of your time rewearing beach clothes. No need to pack jeans or other pants.
- Airport lounge - Bring your Priority Pass lounge card or download the app and login before you go on your trip. We made the mistake of forgetting ours, and these lounges and harder to get into than going through airport security or immigration.
- Foldable tote bag for the beach - bring a thin, foldable tote bag like this to use for your beach bag (note: I haven’t used that one but same gist). It’s easy to pack and clean when you get home.
- Restaurant Research - No Yelp in Thailand. We relied on Foursquare, Tripadvisor, and Google.
- Google Trips - I used this app for the first time to stay organized given all the flights and hotels we had, and it was super helpful. Great to have one place where things were accessible offline.