Hello! I will be travelling in Thailand in January 2007 and was wondering if I could get some advice regarding where to go and how organised I should be. It's my first time travelling independently and I'm a bit of an organised freak. I've read a lot of the suggestions in this forum and found it quite helpful, though there are so many things I'd like to find out! Here are my questions:
1) most people have suggested to me to not book hotels in advance so as to be flexible re: length of stay. However, I'm a bit worried that once I get to a city I'll be wasting precious time trying to find a hotel that fits my budget. What do most people suggest/prefer?
2) some of you have suggested pre-booking over-night sleeper trains well in advance, especially in peak periods - how advance should this be? Should this be done before departing my home country, Australia, or can I wait till I get to Bangkok, etc to book them?
3) regarding how much money to budget for a day, I'm looking at staying at basic clean places, with my own shower, and perhaps some day tours - not too picky as to food. Is budgeting for A$30 a day enough or should I allow more? Also, how much am I looking at re: cost of overnight trains from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, or to Samui?
4) I've allowed for about 3 weeks for the trip - about 5 days in Bangkok, 1 in Ayutthaya, maybe one in Sukhothai, about 4 days in Chiang Mai and then 4 days in Chiang Rai, then coming back down to relax in the Southern Thailand beaches for the remaining week. Does that sound about right? Do people recommend going to Chiang Rai? Also for the island beaches, I'm thinking of staying put in one place for the week, rather than island hopping - what do you think?
Your opinion is much appreciated. Thanks in advance.
#1 tennie has been a member since 6/4/2006. Posts: 17
Welcome to Travelfish!
1) If you're planning on staying in cheap guesthouses, then just sort it out as you go. If you want to book anything, I'd suggest maybe your first night in Bangkok.
2) hmmm depends, if you're a little flexible in your time, then getting the ticket a day or two before is normally ok.
3) A$30 (about 900B) should be ok -- maybe a little bit tight in Bangkok, but in the rest of the country it should be ok. Train tickets vary a lot depending on the class you take.
4) Why are you spending 4 days in Chiang Mai and four days in Chiang Rai? If you're after a second northern destination, I'd suggest Pai or Mae Hong Son over Chiang Rai. I'm a big fan of picking one island and sticking to it -- you've just got to pick the right one! Have you read our What is the best island in Thailand story?
Thanks for your tips Somtam! Will definitely do some reading on Pai and Mae Hong Son.
Could I also ask, besides the general necessities of accommodation and food - how many Bahts should I budget for for spending money, in terms of general sightseeing? I know there are small entrance fees to the temples.
#3 tennie has been a member since 6/4/2006. Posts: 17
Cheers, thanks. I have also found a good breakdown of how the fares in Thailand work in http://travel-online.to/srt/fares.htm
#5 tennie has been a member since 6/4/2006. Posts: 17
This is a second attempt to respond, since my first post got eaten.
1. I wouldn't worry about booking hotels ahead of time except for that first night you arrive in Bangkok. A good strategy is to decide in which part of town you'd like to stay (or which beach on an island, etc.), and then pick two or three promising looking places from the listings that are in that area. That way, if the first one doesn't look as good in person as it did on paper, it will only cost you a few extra minutes to walk over to your second pick.
2. I've never figured out how to make reservations on the State Railway of Thailand from overseas, and would love to know if anyone else knows how to do that. In any case, you shouldn't have too much trouble getting a train to Chiang Mai or down to Surat Thani, particularly if you are a bit flexible on when you travel and as long as you are not travelling on a major Thai holiday. I'd make sure to sort out my train tickets as soon as I arrived in Bangkok of course.
Expect to pay about 800 baht for an A/C second class sleeper from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, or 600 baht for a fan second class sleeper. Prices from Bangkok to Surat Thani are maybe 5% less. I usually go with the fan option by the way, since I've been frozen out one too many times in the aircon sleepers.
For a real treat, think about taking the 1st class sleeper compartment if available. They sleep two, and the compartment has a sink, comfy beds, adjustable aircon and a locking door. The cost is about 1200 baht or so per person, with an approx 300 baht surcharge if you are travelling alone (to hire the entire compartment). I recommend it.
3. Your A$30 per day might be a bit tight, particularly in Bangkok and Chiang Mai. Hopefully you can have a little extra available just in case. I figure you've already paid a fair amount for your air ticket. It would be a shame to miss out on some great things for lack of a few dollars.
4. I think your itin looks great. One way to save time during your relatively short time is to take the overnight sleeper train to Chiang Mai out of Ayutthaya instead of out of Bangkok. The train doesn't arrive in Ayutthaya until fairly late, giving you the entire day to tour the World Heritage area and even see the temples at night under the lights, while still arriving in Chiang Mai the next morning.
I agree with Somtam that Mae Hong Son and Pai would be better than Chiang Rai for your extra few days. The flight to Mae Hong Son from Chiang Mai is short. Perhaps you could fly one way, and take the bus the other, stopping off for a night or two in Pai.
The only reason I would go to Chiang Rai is as a base for a few great motorcyle or jeep drives up in the mountains. One of my favorites is a long loop from Chiang Rai to Chiang Saen, up to the Golden Triangle, then along the border over to Mae Sai, before heading back to Chiang Rai. That's a long drive, and might be worth an overnight along the route. The other drive is a loop up through Fang.
I wouldn't recommend renting a motorcycle or scooter in Thailand unless you are an experienced rider however. I've seen too many folks ruin the rest of their holiday with a crash.
I hope this helps. Cheers.
I looked into this a little more because I'm liking the idea of popping over to Mae Hong Son and busing it back to Chiang Mai via Pai myself now. Thai Airways has 3 flights per day to/from Chiang Mai/Mae Hong Son on ATR-72s. The fare I got on the web was 1170 baht, a bit more than I expected but still not too expensive all things considered.
Thanks to you both for your advice. It's helped me immensely. Exacto, just a question re: your comment about Ayutthaya -- if I don't spend a night there, and instead go there early in the morning, and catch the late train out to Chiang Mai, what happens with luggage? Are there big lockers at the train station? The reason I ask this is that I have a small build, so would be unlikely to last the day lugging my 60L backpack around the city. If there's no place to store luggage, I'd rather spend an extra night there so I can explore the city easier.
#8 tennie has been a member since 6/4/2006. Posts: 17
What I usually do is just get a room for the day at any of the guest houses where I might normally stay. That gives you a place to store your luggage, shower and freshen up as needed, and even take a nap if you want. Often when you tell the guest house that you are not overnighting, you'll get a bit of a discount on the room. But even if you pay full price, it won't be all that much and will be money well spent.
You could try to store your luggage at the train station too, but with the train arriving so late at night, I'd be a bit worried about someone actually being there for you to pick it up when you needed. Hope that helps.