Thailand 3 week itinerary

A complete Thailand 3 week itinerary

Planning a Thailand 3 week itinerary is not an easy task. The country is quite large and there is a lot to see and do no matter what you’re interested in.

After lots of thought and months of planning, the following is an actual itinerary I took for a three-week trip to Thailand and Cambodia over the New Year’s holidays of 2018.

This trip includes:

  • the hustle and bustle of world-class Bangkok
  • the hills and jungles of the North
  • the heartland of historic Thailand
  • the beauty of the beaches and islands
  • With a bonus side trip to bucket list destination Angkor Wat (time permitting)
backpack photographer icon

My 3.5 week Thailand (+ Cambodia) itinerary

Day 1-2 flight
Day 3-5 Bangkok
Day 6 fly early to Siem Reap
Day 7-8 Siem Reap
Day 9 late flight to Bangkok – taxi to Ayutthaya
Day 10 Ayutthaya
Day 11 bus to Sukhothai
Day 12 Sukhothai
Day 13 bus to Chiang Mai
Day 14-16 Chiang Mai
Day 17 fly to Krabi – taxi to Railay Beach
Day 18-20 Railay Beach
Day 21 ferry to Ko Phi Phi
Day 22 Ko Phi Phi
Day 23 ferry to Phuket
Day 24 Phuket
Day 25 flight home

The above is my actual itinerary. As you can see it is over 3 weeks long but 4 of those days were spent in Cambodia in Siem Reap.

Remove these 4 days and you have a 3 week Thailand itinerary that includes 3 days travelling to and from Canada.

If traveling only to Thailand, a 3 week itinerary would look like this (see map below):

  • Bangkok (3 days)
  • Ayutthaya (1 day)
  • Sukhothai (2 days)
  • Chiang Mai (4 days)
  • Krabi area (4 days)
  • Ko Phi Phi (2 days)
  • Phuket (2 days)

 

The above itinerary still allows for three days travel to and from home. If your location is closer add a day to either Bangkok or Phuket depending upon your preferences.

While I believe this itinerary gives the visitor quite a good look at what Thailand has to offer, spending only three weeks in this south Asian gem really only gives one a small glimpse.

There are many other places worthy of a visit not included on my above route, some of which I will discuss later.

Please Note: this itinerary includes arriving and departing from different airport.

For a preview of these destinations here is a video I uploaded onto my Backpack Photographer YouTube Channel:

backpack photographer icon
thailand-3-week-itinerary-map2
Thailand 3 week itinerary map

Getting to Thailand

We left for Thailand mid-afternoon on Christmas Day. It was a long flight, the longest flight I’ve ever had so far! It was 15 hours before we got to Shanghai and boy was I relieved get off the plane.

We arrived at Shanghai airport at about 7:30 PM on December 26 and were shocked to find out that not only had most stores closed, the stores that were open only accepted Chinese money (RMB).

Only one store in the entire international airport; namely Starbucks, accepted anything other than Chinese (RMB) and that was only US dollars. That wasn’t an issue, but it also meant that Starbucks was packed with tourists looking not only to get a quick coffee, but also to grab something to eat. 

A blueberry muffin went a long way after a 15 hour flight.

After a three hour layover we hopped back on the plane for the flight to Bangkok, still five hours away.

Total cost of flights from Toronto to Bangkok and return from Phuket to Toronto was $1324 CAD per person ($30,410 THB).

Getting from Bangkok Airport to the city

We landed at Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok at about 2 AM on December 27. 

This turned out perfect because after picking up our luggage and clearing customs we hopped in a taxi to journey downtown.

The cab was easy to book by following signs to between gates 4 and 7. 

Drivers use a meter, and at that time of the morning traffic was virtually nonexistent. You hear horror stories about Bangkok traffic and I was expecting the drive to take about 2 hours but it really only took about 40 minutes.

Total cost was about $17.50 CAD ($400 THB)

Other transport options into Bangkok from Suvarnabumi Airport

Rail: This is normally the fastest option at about 25-30 minutes total trip time at a cost of $2 CAD (45 THB) each but at this time of night the service wasn’t running and the taxi was just as quick.

Public Van: Makes numerous stops and takes longer than a cab but costs only $1.95 CAD (40 THB) each however wasn’t running at this time of night.

We arrived at our hotel in downtown Bangkok at about 3:30 AM. As I had booked the hotel room from December 26 we were allowed to check-in right away. 

We were both exhausted and hungry after our 23 hour journey, but there was little in the way of anything open at that time of day except for the omnipresent 24 hour 7-Eleven a few doors down from the hotel. We ran over, grabbed some munchies, came back to our room, had a quick bite to eat, then passed out.

backpack photographer icon

Bangkok (3 Days)

Bangkok Grand Palace

I’ve met a few people who traveled to Bangkok and really had nothing good to say about it. Sure it’s a big city, congested and full of pollution, but personally I really liked what I saw and could have easily spent a few more days visiting the different areas of the city.

Grand Palace

Day 1 in Bangkok

I had planned on visiting a few sites on the 1st day but after such a long flight there wasn’t much time to see anything by the time we woke up. Our hotel however was a short walk from Khao San Road (one of the most popular destinations in the city) so we ended up heading out for dinner at one of the large pubs on the main strip. 

A light drizzle accompanied us at all times so I really couldn’t pull up my camera and snap as many shots as I wanted.

Depending on the length of your trip getting here, you may or may not have more time on your 1st day seeing some Bangkok sights.

 Initially my plan was to:

  • take a khlong tour in the morning
  • sleep,
  • river cruise in the evening
  • SKY BAR at night.

Maybe you can scratch 1 or 2 off your list on the 1st day, I know I couldn’t.

Where to stay in Bangkok

Banglampu/Khao San Road

As most of the attractions in Bangkok that I was interested in seeing were in the old city by the river this is where I decided to stay. We were thus within walking distance of most places.

One drawback was that it wasn’t easy access to the Skytrain or Subway so we were limited into how far we could travel within the city. It is however easy access to the Chao Phraya Express boats that provide great access to areas along the riverside.

I stayed at the New Siam Palace Ville, located on a side street close to the base of the Phra Pin Klao Bridge. A really convenient spot just a couple of blocks over from Khao San Road and across the street from the must visit National Museum.

Reasonable at approx. $315 CAD ($7200 THB) for 4 nights. Cheaper accommodations can easily be found in the Khao San Road area.

This is the area I would again stay if I ever get the chance to return to Bangkok.

Other areas in Bangkok to stay in

Being close to the Skytrain or Subway may be important to a lot of visitors as Bangkok has much to see but the city is simply huge. 

Sukhumvit: For visitors more into the party scene. Restaurants, bars galore as well as the Soi Nana and Soi Cowboy adult areas and  Khlong Toei Market. Well connected to mass transit.

Silom: This infamous area is both at the financial heart of the city by day and at the center of its notorious Patpong red light district by night. With side streets packed with small vendors of all types this well connected area is a favorite place to stay for many.

Siam Square: Bangkok’s shopping district is full of malls and food courts. Well connected to the rest of the city and less busy at night.

Chinatown: One of the oldest areas of the city it does not have Skytrain service but is connected to Bangkok’s mass transit system. Quickly becoming one of the more popular places in the city to stay, especially amongst budget travellers.

Riverside: The Chao Phraya River splits the old part of city in two and both sides have been developed recently and have become increasingly popular with tourists. Not connected to the city’s mass transit systems except via the Chao Phraya Express boats. 

Survarnabamhumi Airport: Located outside Bangkok proper this area is generally only visited by those with layovers or to catch a flight. Connected to other parts of the city via the airport rail link

Day 2 in Bangkok

Bangkok has a ton to see but there are a few must see attractions.

  1. The Grand Palace and the temple of Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Kaeo)
  2. A visit Wat Pho and the Temple of Reclining Buddha next door
  3. Take a short hike to the Chao Phraya river and catch a ferry to the other side to visit Bangkok’s other must-see attraction: Wat Arun

After visiting the temple I had planned to walk around the Thornburi district but now picked up one of the activities I couldn’t do yesterday; a Khlong (canal) bour tour. 

Catching a boat for the khlong tour was very easy as all the hawkers are setup along the waterfront just below Wat Arun.  They’re also located right next to the place where you catch the ferry back to the other side of the river.

After the boat tour we came back across the river we walked along the waterfront towards our hotel through a local university grounds until coming up to the National Museum. 

Plan to spend at minimum one hour or two walking through the museum’s extensive grounds.

Spend the night Bangkok

Other places worth visiting in Bangkok

  • Wat Saket and the Golden Mount
  • Wat Traimit (housing the world’s largest solid gold Buddha)
  • Wat Samphran
  • Jim Thompson house
  • National Gallery (Thailand’s main art gallery)
  • Wat Suthat and the Giant Swing
  • Yaowarat Road in Chinatown
  • Chitlada Palace (not open to public)
  • Dusit Park with Vimanmek Mansion and park zoo
  • Patpong red light district
  • Mandarin Oriental Hotel (historic luxury hotel)
  • Royal Barge Museum
Bangkok floating market

Day 3 in Bangkok

Head out early and go to one of the local floating markets. 

I chose Damnoen Market as it is probably the largest and most famous but other choices include:

  • Amphawa floating market
  • Railroad market
  • Bang Krachao Park

Now all these attractions are located outside of Bangkok so to visit any of them is at least a ½ day trip.

After getting back into Bangkok mid afternoon, the rest of the day and evening was spent walking the Khao San Road area again.

Spend the night Bangkok.

Other places worth visiting near Bangkok

  • Nakhon Pathom with the world’s tallest Buddhist monument
  • Chatuchak Market (Thailand’s largest market held each weekend) 
  • Kanchanaburi (WW2 – Bridge on the River Kwai)
  • Nonthaburi (small quiet town just up the river from Bangkok)
  • Ayutthaya (see below)
backpack photographer icon

Ayutthaya (1 day)

Ayutthaya is one of the most historic sites in Thailand. Destroyed by the Burmese in 1767 it was at that time among the largest and richest cities in the world.

This UNESCO World Heritage Site, located within easy visiting distance of Bangkok is in my opinion one of the must see places of Thailand. 

NOTE: My itinerary differs from a 3 week route in Thailand only as I actually came back to Bangkok from Cambodia on this day and caught a taxi from the airport to Ayutthaya. Cost was $57 CAD ($1300 THB) for the 2 hour journey.

Getting to Ayutthaya

For those coming straight from Bangkok, buses leave the northern Moh Chit station daily at many times for the short 2 hour ride. 

Taking the train is also a popular way of reaching Ayutthaya. Leaving Bangkok’s Hualamphong Station frequently throughout the day the journey also takes approximately 2 hours.

Ayutthaya is a very easy day trip from Bangkok.

We stayed at the Slip-Pa Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya, a small apartment hotel located on the island in the old city near the historical park. We rented a couple of bikes and spent the day cycling to the various sites.

Cost was approx. $58 CAD ($1350 THB) per night.

Located on an island at the confluence of 3 rivers it’s almost impossible to get lost. Most of the former capital’s main sights are located within a large, pedestrian friendly historical park that made cycling a great choice.

Some Ayutthaya must see sights we visited included:

  • Stone Buddha head that a tree has grown around (Wat Phra Mahatat)
  •  Wat Phra Si Sanphet (Ayutthaya’s largest temple)
  • Wat Ratchaburano (frescoes in crypt)
  • Palace ruins
Some sights we missed included:
 
  •  Wat Phanan Choeng (huge Buddha just off island)
  • St. Joseph’s Church
  • Japanese settlement ruins

Spend the night Ayutthaya.

Where to stay in Ayutthaya

Visitors wishing to spend the night in Ayutthaya really have 2 options.

  1. Stay on the island and the old city
  2.  Stay in the new city

The main reason for staying in the old city is that you are close to all the main sights. You then also have the option of renting a bike to visit them. 

The old city is filled with small guesthouses, AirBnB’s and a few small hotels. 

All of the larger and more luxurious hotels are located in the new city across the river. A tuk-tuk is then usually required to get around.

backpack photographer icon

Sukhothai (2 days)

Sukhotai

Day 1 in Sukhothai

Thailand is quite a large country, especially from north to south. Today is a travel day so we hopped on a bus to our next location, north to the ancient city of Sukhothai.

The bus ride itself is approximately six hours. 

(Note: there are no bathroom facilities on the bus and the driver will not stop except for one scheduled pit stop about halfway into the trip.

Travelling through the countryside of this beautiful Southeast Asian country was awesome. Seeing how the landscape changed the further north we traveled gave me a good idea as to how vast and varied Thailand actually is.

We arrived in Sukhothai in the afternoon. Hopped in a songteaw (truck taxi) at the bus station in “new” Sukhothai. Cost $3.50 CAD ($80 THB) each. 

It dropped us off at the Scent of Sukhothai Resort, which is located quite close to the historical park in “old” Sukhothai. Cost was $59 CAD ($1350 THB) per night.

This gave us just enough time to explore the area around our accommodations.

Spend the night Sukhothai

How to get to Sukhothai

Bus: As noted above this is how I reached Sukhothai travelling from Ayutthaya. Fairly inexpensive point to point transfer, but it is somewhat long. Cost approx. $13 CAD ($300 THB) per person.

Train: The more popular option is to travel by rail from Ayutthaya to the City of Phitsanulok, then transfer to bus for the trip to Sukhothai. This takes about the same amount of time as above but it is slightly more expensive. However it is a more comfortable and relaxed way of travelling. Cost approx. $19.50 + $3 CAD ($450 + $70 THB) per person.

Burnt temple at Sukhotai

Day 2 in Sukhothai

Old Sukhothai is the ancient capital of the country and is really the heart and soul of every Thai. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is now left in ruins as it gradually declined in importance after being absorbed by the rising Ayutthaya Kingdom in 1438 but its splendour is still evident in its remaining temples and complexes. 

I was told prior to visiting by a former long time resident of Thailand that:

if you visit Ayutthaya there really is no need to visit Sukhothai

I totally disagree.

We again rented a couple of bikes and spent the day cycling through the Sukhothai Historical Park.

Must see Sukhothai sights we visited include:

  • The Royal City
  • Wat Mahathat with its Lotus Bud Chedi
  • Wat Sorasak
  • Wat Si Sawaii
Sights near Sukhothai we missed:
 
  • Chedi at Wat Chang Lom just east of the royal city
  • Si Satchanalai-Chalieng Historical Park 67 kilometers north of Sukhothai

Spend the night Sukhothai.

Where to stay in Sukhothai

Just as in Ayutthaya the choice in where to stay in Sukhothai is between the old and new city.

In Old Sukhothai near the historical park at the center of the ancient city you will find some nice quaint hotels, luxury resorts and a few restaurants geared towards tourists. While very quiet at night it is  near the main attractions. A bike rental is the best way of getting around.

The “new” city of Sukhothai, while old in itself is located 12 kilometers from the ancient city and the Sukhothai Historical Park. With more choice of accommodations at a variety of costs it also has a more vibrant nightlife.

A taxi of tuk-tuk will then be required to travel to the ancient city center.

backpack photographer icon

Chiang Mai (4 days)

Day 1 in Chiang Mai

Another travel day by bus, five hours north to Thailand’s second city Chiang Mai. 

The countryside vastly changes the further north you travel. From the breadbasket flat fields through the centre of the country to the rugged foothills of the Himalayas in the area around Chiang Mai.

We arrived in Chiang Mai mid-afternoon. Checked into the At Chiang Mai Hotel and spent the rest of the day exploring the general area around the hotel in the historic centre.

Cost was $328 CAD ($7535 THB) for 4 nights.

Spend the night Chiang Mai.

How to get to Chiang Mai

Bus: As noted above. This is how I travelled from Sukhothai to Chiang Mai. Seems to be the most efficient way of travelling and cost approximately $11 CAD ($250 THB) each.

Train: I know people insist on taking the train but I just don’t get it in this case.

First you have to take a bus back to Phitsanulok the hop on a train for the 7-8 hour train ride. This will cost approx. $37 CAD ($850 THB) per person all told.

Plane: The most expensive option at over $131 CAD ($3000 THB) per person it will also probably be the longest as there are no direct flights between Sukhothai and Chiang Mai. All flights will have a layover in Bangkok. In my opinion, not really a feasible option.

Temple complex Chiang Mai

Day 2 in Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai while being a large city is totally different than Bangkok. 

Placed in a beautiful setting surrounded by hills and jungles you can easily spend a week exploring its historic old city and the surrounding countryside.

We had three full days in the city so it gave me enough time to explore it in depth. We stayed in the historic center and explored various temples and Chiang Mai must see attractions including: 

  • Wat Phra Sing
  • Wat Chedi Luang
  • Wat Muen Ngon Kong
  • Tha Phae Gate

The highlight of the day however was spent at the Sunday night market. All the guidebooks say the market is the best in the North and while I haven’t visited any others the Chiang Mai Sunday night market was fantastic. One of the few times I have eaten street food while in a foreign country Angie and I tried a few different things and loved it all.

One thing I particularly remember trying was a homemade ice cream that they shave really thin right in front of you. Full of fruits of your choice it was delicious.

Spend the night Chiang Mai.

Where to stay in Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai is well developed for the tourist industry and there are many areas to stay in and around the city.

Old City: Near many temples, historic sites and full of restaurants, bars, shops and hotels. Very busy and lots of traffic but most things within walking distance.

Night Bazaar: One of Chiang Mai’s most crowded areas it lays between the old city and riverside. Full of pubs, bars restaurants and one of the city’s must see attractions there are accommodations to be found to suit any budget.

Riverside: Most hotels are located on the bank of the Ping River across from the old city. A little more upscale and expensive it’s also full of restaurants and shops but is also a little quieter.

Niman Road: Located just outside the city near the airport this has become one of the most popular areas of Chiang Mai. Plenty of nightlife and shopping with modern accommodations that are relatively inexpensive. Trendy amongst younger travellers.

Outside the city: Many visitors prefer to stay outside the city and away from the crowds. The hills and surrounding communities are full of hotels and resorts.

Me with giant tiger

Day 3 in Chiang Mai

Today was one of the highlights of my trip to Thailand as we headed out of the city and visited a few hill tribes including the Karen (Padaung) tribe with their ringed, longneck women. Something I never thought I’d see in my lifetime it was definitely a highlight and some of the photos I’ve captured have been included in my portfolio.

We then headed to an elephant nature camp where we were treated to a show. We then hopped on the back of the humongous beasts for a ride through the jungle and fording a river. While unethical to many I must say I did enjoy the whole experience.

The Chiang Mai area is full of elephant camps of various types.

For those that thought the above was unethical my next stop will truly disgust you as I visited the Tiger kingdom and stepped in the cage with the biggest Bengal Tiger they offered. The adrenaline was rushing, it was so exhilarating. While I’m sure many will frown on this attraction it was a moment in my trip and life I will remember forever.

We finished the day with a trip to the Chiang Mai zoo. I have visited many zoos around the world and this was one of the most disappointing. 

Set in a very hilly landscape with exhibits far apart the enter exhibit transport was virtually nonexistent. We ended up walking long distances up and down hills in extreme heat to the various exhibits only to find most were either closed, under repair, or the animals had been removed and were nowhere to be found. 

As I said disappointing.

Spend the night Chiang Mai.

Other places worth visiting in Chiang Mai

While there are many other places to visit in Chiang Mai one of the main attractions of the city is a temple I actually missed: Doi Suthep.

Set on a mountain top 16 kilometers outside the city in Doi Suthep – Doi Pui National Park the Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is one of the holiest Buddhist sites in Thailand. Transport is required to get there and is easily attainable. Group tours also run daily and there are numerous operators.

I consider this a Chiang Mai must see sight but I just didn’t have time to squeeze it into my schedule. I instead chose to see the White Temple in Chiang Rai on my last day in Chiang Mai.

A difficult choice as a trip to Doi Suthep is only a 1/2 day!

Other sights in Chiang Mai worth visiting include:

  • Chiang Mai National Museum
  • Soan Dok Gate
  • Tribal research Institute
  • Too many temples to name
White Temple at Chiang Rai

Day 4 in Chiang Mai

Today we had many choices as to what we could to and we ended up booking a full day tour to head out of the city and see a few attractions including:

  • The White Temple in Chiang Rai
  • The Golden Triangle
  • A quick trip over the Mekong River into Laos
  • Hot Springs

Overall it was nice but a very long day. The Wat Rang Khun (White Temple) was magnificent and unlike anything else in the country. I would have like to stay in this area for a few days as there is a lot to see and do in the Chiang Rai region.

By the time we arrived back to our hotel from the tour it was about 11:00 PM. Bushed, we grabbed a quick bite to eat and headed straight to bed as tomorrow was a travel day.

Spend the night Chiang Mai.

Places worth visiting near Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai really is the gateway to the northern hinterlands of Thailand and you can easily spend a couple of weeks enjoying the various sights and attractions of the region including:

Doi Inthanon National Park: Doi Inthanon, Thailand’s highest mountain is located only 58 kilometers from Chiang Mai. With beautiful chedis at its top, hill tribes and abundant wildlife it makes for a popular day trip from the city. 

Pai: One of the most popular destinations in northern Thailand for backpackers and trekkers this small town is located approx. 128 kilometers north west of Chiang Mai.

Of Shan heritage it is populated by various hill tribes. Rafting on the Pai River is also a popular activity.

Mae Hong Son: Quiet a distance at 234 kilometers north west of Chiang Mai thisrelatively modern small city was cit off from the rest of the world until a road was built in 1965.

At the heart of hill tribe country it reflects a more Burmese (Myanmar) tradition with its teak architecture.

Sights to see in and around Mae Hong Son include:

  • Chong Kham lake (can’t miss it as old city surrounds it)
  • Wat Hua Wiang (Burmese styled teak temple)
  • Wat Chong Kham
  • Wat Doi Kong Mu (great views from its hilltop location)
  • Khumlum Phraphat Road (marketplace for hill tribe wares)
  • Hill tribal villages

Lampang: One of the largest town’s in northern Thailand it is fairly reminiscent of Chiang Mai located 107 kilometers southeast but on a smaller, quieter scale.

Sights to see in and around Lampang include:

  • Wat Phra That Lampang Luang (one of the must see attractions in norther Thailand)
  • Wat Phra Kaeo Don Tao (once housed the Emerald Buddha)
  • Lanna Museum
  • Traditiona; teak architecture

Chiang Rai: This ancient city is the second largest in Thailand’s far north. Located approx. 190 kilometers northeast of Chiang Mai it has many temples both in and outside the city itself.

Sights to see in and around Chiang Rai include:

  • Wat Pra Kaeo
  • Wat Rong Suea Ten (the Blue Temple)
  • Hill tribe Museum

Nan: Now a small city in the country’s far north until recent modern history Nan controlled a small kingdom in its own right. Located 220 kilometers south east of Chiang Mai the area is no longer isolated and is well worth the journey.

Sights to see in and around Nan include:

  • Wat Phumin (the city’s main attraction)
  • Nan National Museum (located in a former royal palace)
  • Wat Phra That Chae Haeng
  • Hill tribe villages
  • Sao Din (weird rock formations)

Phrae: Also a remote and  longtime independent kingdom located about 206 kilometers south east of Chiang Mai it contains many ancient temples and historic teak buildings.

Sights to see in and around Phrae include:

  • Wat Luang (largest Wat in the city)
  • Wat Phra Ruang
  • Ban Prathup Chai (one of the largest teak houses in Thailand
  • Phea Muang Phi (weird rock pillars)

Mae Salong: Located around 62 kilometers north west of Chiang Rai this small town is visited for both its beautiful mountain scenery and ethnic diversity. 

Full of old Chinese KMT soldiers and their descendants as well as a variety of local hill tribes it makes for a colorful destination.

backpack photographer icon

Krabi area(4 days)

Railey Beach Thailand

Day 1 at Railay Beach

Today was a travel day but I did have enough time to spend the morning and early afternoon again exploring the historic center. 

Chiang Mai turned out to be a beautiful place and a backpacker’s paradise fully set up for the busy Thailand tourism business. Lots of restaurants, pubs, small shops and temples set amongst a beautiful landscape, definitely worth a visit.

Mid-afternoon headed to the airport for a short flight to Krabi in southern Thailand. The flight was quick but by the time we hopped in a cab, cost $18 CAD ($400 THB), and took a trip to Krabi town to catch a long tail boat to our next destination Railay (or Rai Leh) Beach, we arrived after the last scheduled run out to the isolated beach. 

We either had to wait until the minimum eight passenger boat load or book the boat for the trip myself. Neither Angie or I wanted to wait so we took the expensive route and booked the trip to leave immediately. Cost was $35 CAD ($800 THB). 

We were glad we did as during the 25 to 30 minute trip it was lightning just offshore and you could see a violent storm was coming in. While we travelled only through a light drizzle it was extremely dark and just after we offloaded at the Rai Leh pier the rain started coming down harder.

We struggled somewhat to find our hotel, the Sand Sea Resort, but eventually found it and checked in pretty late at night.

Cost was $340 CAD ($7800 THB) for 4 nights.

Spend the night Rai Leh

How to get to Krabi

Following my itinerary it only made sense to fly from Chiang Mai to Krabi. 

It was a direct flight and fairly quick at about 2 hours. Cost $135 CAD ($3100 THB) per person.

For those on a limited budget it is possible to travel between the two communities by:

Rail: This will be a long journey.

  1. Train Chiang Mai to Bangkok (approx. 13 hours)
  2. Transfer to southbound train at Hua Lamphong Station in Bangkok
  3. Take train to Surat Thani Station (approx. 10 hours)
  4. Take bus to Krabi (approx. 2 hours)
Total: minimum 25 hours
Cost: Will be minimum $100 CAD ($2300 THB) each.
 
Bus: The journey is also possible by bus but will be a little quicker. 
 
  1. Take bus to Bangkok (min. 10 hours depending upon stops)
  2. Transfer to Krabi bound bus at Mochit bus terminal in Bangkok
  3. Take bus to Krabi bus station (min. 10 hours depending upon stops)
Total: minimum 23.5 hours
Cost: approx. $60 CAD ($1380 THB) each.
Railay Beach Thailand at night

Day 2 at Rai Leh Beach

Today I booked a tour to what I knew would be another one of the highlights of my trip; a boat ride to Phang Nga Bay.

Pretty well a full day tour it also included lunch at a floating village. While the weather never cooperated as well as I would’ve liked I nevertheless captured some nice photos as the Bay was as beautiful as expected. 

After the tour, spent the rest of the day on the sands of beautiful Rai Leh.

Spend the night Rai Leh.

Where to stay in Krabi

The Krabi area is one of the most popular destinations in the entire country. A little pricier than the far north it’s still very cheap compared to North American or European standards.

I chose to stay on Railay Beach and while very beautiful it is also isolated. I think you should choose the location of your lodgings based on what you want to see and do in the area.

Ao Nang:  At the center of all the action, Ao Nang is a hub in the area. Here you will find the biggest choice of accommodations, many restaurants and most of the nightlife in the general region.

Railay Area: Isolated and much quieter than Ao Nang it is also a little pricier. East Railay Beach and West Railay Beach are separated by a large cavern.

While a “must see” on any visit to the area, many visitors prefer to stay elsewhere.

Krabi Town: The other main hub in the area is this small city on the banks of the Krabi River.

With plenty of shops, bars, restaurants and lodgings of all sizes many visitors base themselves here so they can explore the area further.

Nopparat Thara: Located further afield from Krabi Town next to Ao Nang is this much quieter beach. With a few resorts, restaurants and small hotels it is a preferred choice by many seeking a relaxing holiday on a beautiful Thai beach.

Ko Lanta: For many this island 2 hours south of the Krabi International Airport is the idyllic Thailand destination. Relatively quiet, beautiful beaches with soft sands and warm emerald waters.

The island has built up in recent years, because of this popularity visitors now have a range of lodging options to suit any budget.

Phang Nga Bay Thailand

Day 3 at Railay Beach

Decided to spend the day relaxing and enjoy the beautiful scenery at Rai Leh. The beach is actually very isolated at the end of a peninsula and can only be reached by boat. 

There is however an East and West Rai Leh Beach. East Rai Leh is somewhat accessible from the peninsula via a trail. East and West Rai Leh are also connected by a short trail that passes through a large open cavern.

Walked the trail to East Railay Beach and were surprised that while not as beautiful the swimming was better, the sand was softer, and it was the place where all the long tail boat restaurants were located. We ended up spending the bulk of the day hanging about on East Rai Leh Beach.

Spend the night Rai Leh.

What to see in Krabi

Khao Khanab Nam: The two karst hills at the mouth of the Krabi River are the symbols of Krabi town.

Ao Nang Beach: Krabi town’s main beach Ao Nang is a very nice beach in its own right. 

While not as beautiful as some beaches in the area it is the center of nightlife and restaurants in the area.

Railay Beach: Considered one of the best beaches in Thailand and regularly featured as one of the most beautiful in the world.

I was lucky enough to stay at Rai Leh but for those in the Krabi Town area that aren’t, a day trip to this isolated beach only accessible by boat is a must.

Phra Nang Beach: Another isolated beach that can only be reached by long tail boat from Krabi town. It is another beautiful Thailand beach with soft white sand.

Tonsai Beach: Almost as beautiful as Railay but much quieter. As of now the big resorts haven’t taken over and it’s still possible to relax on some golden Thai sands at Tonsai.

Tiger Cave Temple: Located 5 kilometres from Krabi Town, Wat Tham Sua is a must see for visitors to the area.

This Buddhist temple is located inside a karst mountain in a labyrinth of natural caves. It also contains a set of staircases with 1237 steps leading to the top.

Visitors that make the journey to the top are rewarded with one of the most spectacular views in the area.

Wat Kaew Korawaram: This large Buddhist temple sits atop a hill just outside Krabi Town. Another nice vantage point overlooking the area.

Longtail boats moored at Railay Beach Thailand

Day 4 at Rai leh Beach

Our resort at Railay Beach was really nice so while we had originally planned to take a long tail boat to Krabi town and explore the area we decided instead to just hang around the pool, head down to the beach, and do some hiking in the general area. 

A nice relaxing day on Rai Leh Beach.

Spend the night Rai Leh.

What to see near Krabi

Phangnga Bay: A beautiful bay filled with giant karst mountains protruding from its emerald waters. One of Thailand’s highlights a boat tour to this world famous Bay is a must on any visit to the area.

Note: Tours to the Bay with an included stop at James Bond Island are easily booked pretty much everywhere in the area. 

Emerald Pond: One of the must see attractions when visiting the Krabi area it’s also known as the crystal pool. Located about 40 minutes away in Thung Teao Forest Natural Park its warm crystal clear waters make for a perfect swimming spot but its natural beauty is stunning to photograph.

Khao Ngon Nak Viewpoint: Dragon Crest Mountain is located about 30 kilometres from Krabi. Visitors must hike about 4 kilometres to the top but those that do are rewarded with one of the best views in Thailand.

Ko Phi Phi Islands: Considered amongst the most beautiful islands in the country.

Located approx. 2 hours from Krabi. See my itinerary below as they are my next stop.

Ko Lanta Island: Located approx. 2 hours from Krabi this beautiful island is full of resorts and stunning beaches. 

Much quieter than Ko Phi Phi or Phuket.

backpack photographer icon

Ko Phi Phi (2 days)

Ko Phi Phi Islands Thailand

Day 1 on Ko Phi Phi Don

There is a ferry that stops right at Railay Beach and travels to the Ko Phi Phi Islands. The boat itself is pretty large and there is no pier at West Railay Beach so travellers are shuttled out to the ferry via longtail boats.

The ride on the ferry itself is a treat as you are travelling across the beautiful Andaman Sea. Just a little over two hours long it was a nice way to spend the morning and the day was simply beautiful.

Arrived on Ko Phi Phi Don just around lunchtime. It is the largest of the Ko Phi Phi Islands and is the destination for all tourists. We checked into our hotel, the Bay View Resort and headed out for a quick bite to eat.

Hotel cost was $189 CAD ($4342 THB) for 2 nights.

The rest of the day we spent exploring the main tourist area of Ko Phi Phi Don. For sunset we headed up to the top of the island for a spectacular view.

Spend the night Ko Phi Phi.

How to get to Ko Phi Phi Islands

The only way to get to these picture perfect islands located in the Andaman Sea is by ferry or chartered speedboat.

Ferries leave daily at regular times to and from Phuket and Krabi. A stop at Ko Pho Phi Don is on the itinerary.

Cost from Krabi is approx $15.25 CAD ($350 THB) each one-way. 

Cost from Phuket is approx $20.50 CAD ($470 THB) each one-way. 

I didn’t enquire about the cost of hiring a speedboat as I thought the ferry cost was quite reasonable and was just long enough to really enjoy the beautiful weather on the waters of the Andaman Sea.

Turquoise waters of Ko Phi Phi islands

Day 2 on Ko Phi Phi

Arranged a boat tour to explore the beauty around the Ko Phi Phi islands. In particular monkey Beach and the world-famous Maya Bay on Ko Phi Phi Leh Island.

The tour of this uninhabited island was pretty much full day so by the time we got back to the main town we spent the rest of the day just checking out the various local sites.

Spend the night Ko Phi Phi.

Where to stay on Ko Phi Phi Islands

All visitors stay on the large Ko Phi Phi Don Island. While there are resorts, hotels and AirBnB’s scattered all over the island the following are the main tourist areas with lodgings.

Tonsai Beach: The main center of the island is at Tonsai Beach near the pier where the ferry docks. The main drag is the pedestrianized Chaokoh Road, home to a multitude of hotels, shops, restaurants and bars.

Here is where you will find the most options for accommodations. Note however that Ko Phi Phi is known as a party center and Tonsai Beach and neighbour Lo Dalum Bay are at the center of it all.

Note: As you move further away from the Tonsai Beach area the noise rapidly decreases.

Loh Ba Kao Bay: Located on the other side of the island from the pier you will have to catch a longtail boat from Tonsai to reach this beautiful isolated bay.

More upscale, it also holds the majority of the limited restaurants and bars on the east side of the island.

Laem Tong Bay: The farthest of the resort areas on the east side of Ko Phi Phi Don the only way to reach it is by long tail boat.

This is a luxury resort area. They usually provide access to and from the isolated resort back to the Tonsai Pier. Quiet, secluded and fronted by the beautiful white sand Laem Tong Beach.

Long Beach: Stretching for almost 3 kilometres along the southeast coast of Ko Phi Phi Don this is one of the nicest beaches on the island.

A longtail boat is required to reach it and accommodations and amenities are quite limited.

Lae Hin Beach: Located right across the Bay from the Tonsai Pier this nice stretch of sand is easily accessible from Tonsaii Beach.

Note: Noise does carry over the open waters of the day and sometimes the partying can go on into the late night hours.

backpack photographer icon

Phuket (2 days)

Beach on Phuket

Day 1 on Phuket

Hopped on an early morning ferry for the second trip across the Adamanan Sea to Phuket, the largest island in Thailand. The length of the ferry ride was about the same as the first one and we arrived at the Phuket pier at about lunchtime, the only difference this time is that our hotel was booked on the other side of the island near the airport so we had to book a taxi to make the journey.

Cost of the taxi was fairly high at $50 CAD ($1355 THB).

The trip was however longer than I expected as traffic was bad and the driver couldn’t find our hotel which was located at the edge of Sirinat National Park right near the Phuket International Airport. We did however eventually find our way and checked in late afternoon.

Our hotel, the Naiyang Discovery Beach Resort was located right Naiyang Beach and I couldn’t believe how lucky we were. The beach was beautiful and deserted. A beautiful spot spend the last couple of days in Thailand.

Cost was $61 CAD ($1400 THB) per night.

Spend the night Phuket.

Where to stay on Phuket

Phuket is the largest island in the country so there are many different areas to stay in.

With beautiful beaches all along the west coast your final choice as to where to stay will be dependant on the type of holiday you desire.

Patong Beach: Patong and Bangla Road is the center of all the action on the island. World famous, the beach, although now over developed, is still picture perfect (after they clean up the mess). 

Sex, drugs and rock n roll as well as shops, restaurants and a wide array of resorts. The number 1 destination for most tourists staying on Phuket.

Karon, Kata Beaches: Located south of Patong these 3 beaches north to south are:

  1. Karon Beach
  2. Kata Yai Beach
  3. Kata Noi Beach

All 3 are amongst the finest beaches in Thailand. Much quieter than Patong although accommodations will generally also be costlier.

Bangtao Beach: This huge stretch of sand is located just north of Surin Beach. With a great range of lodging choices for any budget and many restaurants including a few famous ones.

Pretty much devoid of nightlife the Bangtao Beach area makes for a great place to spend some relaxing vacation time.

Rawai Beach: With cheaper accommodations than the above mentioned areas, this was the first resort area developed on the island. Rawai Beach is nice but not amongst the best beaches on Phuket.

Close to the Phuket – Krabi ferry pier. One of the main departure points for excursions to the various sights in the region this area remains extremely popular amongst visitors.

Phuket Town: Very interesting (if somewhat, run-down) architecture of a bygone era, and generally one of the least expensive places to stay on the island.

Close to the ferry service out to the Ko Phi Phi Islands and all the charter tours to the various sights and attractions make this an increasing popular choice for many travellers.

Mai Khao Beach: The largest beach on Phuket. Located north of the Phuket airport it is also the most northern beach on this list.

Stunning and very quiet it makes for a great place to get away from it all. Only a few resorts dot this long protected coastline.

Surin Beach: The playground of the rich and famous. Fairly exclusive and generally higher end on the budget scale.

Beautiful and extremely quiet it is a choice for many that can afford it but it is however fairly far from getting to a departure point for tours to other sights in the region.

Nai Ham Beach: Located at the extreme southern tip of the island it is quiet and very beautiful but fairly far from attractions and sights. Restaurant and lodging choices are also limited.

Nai Yang Beach: This is the area I stayed in. In the far north of the Island close to the Phuket International Airport.

Quiet and very inexpensive I found this beach simply stunning. Definitely a great place to unwind for a few days.

Sunset on Phuket Thailand

Day 2 on Phuket

Our last day in Thailand and it’s a full one. Our flight doesn’t actually leave till 3:15 AM on the next day so I’ve actually booked our hotel for an extra day so we can stay right in it until we leave for the airport at about midnight tonight.

Plan on spending the whole day on the beach doing nothing but lazing around. I’ve checked the weather report back home and were going home to blizzard, here it’s over 80°F and sunny. I’m going to enjoy the last day of my three week Thailand itinerary soaking up the sun at one of the best beaches I’ve ever been to in my life and it’s only twenty minutes away from the airport.

Spend the whole day in Phuket.

Catch a cab for short ride to airport at midnight.

What to see and do on Phuket Island

Phuket Island is quite large and many people are just content to visit the various world class beaches along the west coast. 

For those that aren’t:

  • There’s Patong & Bangla Street for for the party crowd!
  • Phuket Town (Historic old town, temples)
  • Cape Promthep (Beautiful sunsets at the island’s most southern point)
  • Wat Chalong (Buddhist temple is largest on Phuket)
  •  The Big Buddha (panoramic views)
Phuket is also a jumping off point to many of the various islands in the area either as excursions, day trips or for extended stays.
 
Popular destinations include:
  • Phang Nga Bay (see above)
  • Ko Phi Phi Islands (see above)
  • Ko Yao Yai
  • Ko Yao Noi
  • Similan Islands
  • Ko Racha Islands

Summary

So there you have it, a full 21 Days in Thailand that pretty well covers the whole country from north to south. 

Time permitting,  it can also include a short journey outside the country into Cambodia. 

If I was to stay in Thailand completely I would’ve added the days as follows:

  • Bangkok one more day to explore the city further
  • Chiang Mai add two days to explore outside the city
  • Phuket one more day to laze on the beach

I do not however regret my decision as if not for Angkor Wat I probably wouldn’t have visited Thailand in the first place. I am glad I did and do plan on visiting again to check out some areas I missed including:

  • a few more islands in the Andaman Sea
  • a few islands in the Gulf of Thailand
  • explore the area around Krabi town as I was isolated on Railay Peninsula
  • at least three or four more days on Phuket to explore the island further
  • one or two more days in Bangkok
  • Kanchanaburi to check out the bridge over the river Kwai from World War II lore
  • four or five more days in the Chiang Mai area
  • Khao Yai National Park for the day

As you can see from the list above while three weeks is a long enough time for you to discover Thailand, to really see it in depth you need at least another month. 

Even though it takes a full day to reach, I still highly recommend a trip to this beautiful country and my above Thailand 3 week itinerary is a great introduction to this great winter getaway destination.

Other Thailand destinations worthy of a visit depending upon your interests include:

  • Si Satchanalai-Chalieng Historical Park
  • Kamphaeng Phet
  • Lop Buri
  • Wat Phra That Lampang Luang
  • Prasat Him Phimai 
  • Prasat Hin Kha Phnom Rung
  • Wat Phra That Phanom
  • Phetchaburi
  • Pattaya
  • Ko Samui
  • Ko Pha Ngan
  • Ko Tao
  • Ko Chang
  • Ko Samet
Thailand-3-week-itinerary
Thailand 3 week itinerary

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

3 Shares
Pin3
Share
Tweet
Share