I'm a woman in my 50s planning a month-long solo trip to Thailand and a little worried about feeling out of place. I've happily traveled solo before, but this will be my first trip to Asia. I'm probably somewhere between flashpacker and backpacker, preferring low-key, friendly, characterful places that are a little off the beaten path. I like meeting people but am also very comfortable alone. Not looking for romance or night life -- just want to soak up Thailand's natural beauty and "real" culture. Here's my concern: I'd feel like a complete misfit in places dominated by partying backpackers, but don't want to be surrounded by families with screaming children either. Any suggestions to help me plan an itinerary and generally feel less like a sore thumb?
To give you a sense of my priorities ... right now I'm drawn to the national parks and the more laid-back islands. Would also love to explore some lesser-visited temples and towns. I need to avoid the north because of the smoke, and will probably skip crazy Bangkok except to recover from jet lag. In general, my lodging has a big influence on the quality of my experience. I've been known to choose a destination largely because it offers a tempting place to stay.
The trip will be late Feb/early March of 2014. Thanks!
Khao San Road, full moon parties on Ko Pha Ngan and Ko Phi Phi aside, Thailand is much more than just a "party backpacker" destination. I see plenty of people of all ages traveling alone -- wouldn't worry too much about feeling out of place.
With that said, here are a few places you might enjoy given what you wrote:
Depending on the smoke situation of course, it sounds like you would like Chiang Mai. Chiang Rai and other northern mountain towns like Mae Salong might also be perfect for you. Lamphun and Lampang make great day trips.
If you're into ruins and history, I really enjoyed Sukhothai -- the town and the ruins are far more relaxing than Ayutthaya.
You might also consider a trip into Isaan. Phimai is a charming little town and a good spot to get a feel for northeastern Thai country life. You could do a tour of Khao Yai National Park on the way.
In terms of natural beauty, Kanchanaburi province has a ton to offer, though I'm not a fan of the town itself -- lots of crummy guesthouses and tacky bars. Further up towards Burma in Kanchanaburi province, Sangkhlaburi is one of my favorites and it sounds like you might enjoy it as well. Don't miss a sunrise boat trip if you go there.
Personally I wouldn't write off Bangkok so fast. A walk through Banglamphu / Rattanakosin / Chinatown is a must for any first-timer to Thailand. Yes, Bangkok is a little crazy in terms of traffic, but it has a reputation of being this hedonistic party city; sure, it has that element, but it's rather hidden away and you most likely won't see it if you don't go looking for it. Bangkok is a huge city and the cultural center of Thai civilization. Lots of outstanding art galleries, museums, markets, restaurants, temples etc. And just seeing how life unfolds in the little alleyways is fascinating. In the general Bangkok vicinity, you might also appreciate Phra Phradaeng and Amphawa.
Chanthaburi is another favorite of mine, mainly for its relaxed riverside old town and temples. It's a fun place to wander around, and it strikes a good balance in that it's not at all touristy but it's not so off-the-beaten-track that locals will be surprised to see you. Some good national parks are also found around there and even some beaches.
As for islands, you might really dig a stay at Wally's Paradise Lost on Ko Kradan, which is one of the top 5 most beautiful islands I've been to. An overnight on Ko Surin could be a good idea if you don't mind roughing it (that's #1 most beautiful for me), and someplace like Ko Phra Thong or Ko Sukorn could be good if you want to get off the beaten track.
Finally, Khao Sok National Park -- oldest tropical rainforest in the world -- need I say more?
Mmm, guess so.... Some of my favorite experiences in Thailand have been boat trips; I thought the Sangkhlaburi sunrise ride was the best one yet, but Ao Phang Nga National Park (aka Phang Nga Bay) and Chiew Lan Lake in Khao Sok NP are also outstanding.
Sorry I don't have time to add links to all of the above, hopefully Travelfish's auto-link thing will work. Otherwise just type the names into the search bar for more info (always a good idea as that way you can see related blog posts and forum threads as well).
Koh Chang and Krabi don't have the big party scene and are suitable for middle aged people. Some real nice scenary around both locations.
Families tend to go to Phuket/Samui on package tours while the youn g party crowd goes to Phi Phi, Koh Pha Ngan.
#4 LeonardCohen1 has been a member since 24/7/2012. Posts: 2,148
"You might also consider a trip into Isaan. Phimai is a charming little town and a good spot to get a feel for northeastern Thai country life. You could do a tour of Khao Yai National Park on the way."
I wouldn't consider those locations great for a solo person. Not so easy to get to without a car. Phimai ruins are good but the town itself isn't that good and the hotels are terrible. Stayed in the best one on the edge of town and even that one had a bad smell about it. Ones in town are worse.
#5 LeonardCohen1 has been a member since 24/7/2012. Posts: 2,148
I disagree on all the Phimai accommodation being terrible. Several nights at the Paradise during a couple trips and I've found it solid -- 600 baht rooms are big and clean and the building/appliances are only about five years old. I haven't stayed at Boonsiri but it looks like a good, well-kept guesthouse and it's gotten good reviews. Phimai isn't difficult to get to by bus as long as you get to Khorat before the last bus leaves. Personally I like Phimai town... It's just a quiet little Isaan town with a good night market, the Mun river runs right through it, and it happens to have great Khmer ruins in the center of it. A bicycle ride to Sai Ngam is also a good way to spend an afternoon. True Khao Yai only really doable independently if you've got your own wheels, but if pre-booking a tour and place to stay it's totally doable for a solo traveler (although possibly on the expensive side). It also attracts a mix of older and younger travelers.
Wow -- thanks for all the great suggestions! Feeling better already!
To clarify, I won't be renting a car (not confident driving there), though I haven't ruled out possibly splurging on a private driver once or twice if that's necessary for an experience I don't want to miss. I'm not painfully squeezed for money, just want to reserve what I have for the things that matter most to me.
Khao Yai and Khao Sok are high on my priority list (partly because I'm something of a birder). Would I really need my own wheels to visit Khao Yai? I was thinking of booking a Greenleaf tour and staying at their guesthouse, in which case they'd take me to and from the Pak Chong bus station. Is that a bad idea? At Khao Sok, I'd also book a tour with my guesthouse. I'm totally open to small tours like that if they're the best option -- just don't plan to combine large chunks of my trip into a package.
Northern and northeastern Thailand really appeal to me, but so far I've avoided thinking about them because I keep reading that the smoke can get bad starting in late Feb or early March. I'll post a separate question on that to get further input.
I realize it may seem crazy to think about all this a year before the trip! But I'm hoping to get a frequent flyer ticket 11 months in advance (ie next month), so I need to nail down my arrival and departure cities. Also, I've never been comfortable leaving lodging decisions to the spur of the moment when I'm alone in a new place, though I realize that in Thailand this works well for many travelers. Instead I like to figure out a plan that allows some flexibility. This is pretty much the trip of a lifetime for me, so I want to consider things carefully. Thanks again!
Khao Yai hard to do without your own car. As I said on the other topic you started feb/march isn't a good time to go. Dry waterfalls and getting hot so wild Elephants hard to spot.
I visited Phimai about 6 years ago so maybe they have built a new guesthouse because before they were all old. The night market is ok but small. The museum is good though. Still it's only a small town so 1-2 nights is enough if you did go. Much better with a car though. Otherwise you'd be getting a bus to Khorat and then another bus to Phimai which is a lot of hassle for 1-2 nights.
IMO you should be looking at the south - krabi, trang, lipe. Best time of year for those areas and the party crowd is at Phi Phi away from there.
#8 LeonardCohen1 has been a member since 24/7/2012. Posts: 2,148
I see Boonsiri GH gets good comments on tripadvisor but not sure why. The photos make it look bad.
#9 LeonardCohen1 has been a member since 24/7/2012. Posts: 2,148
Yes, Khao Yai hard to do without a car but not if you're booking a tour. I've heard great things about Greenleaf from people who've stayed/toured with them and I know they're very good about picking up guests in Pak Chong . I met the owner and she seemed super sweet and helpful. Note that it's also possible to hire a private car/driver for a day out of Pak Chong... Not a bad idea, especially if you like wine tasting. Check this and this for more on the Pak Chong area.
Good point by Leonard on south Thailand. Many beautiful places down there and March/April are good times to go.
As for the smoke, it might be an issue up in northern Thailand (it might not be too) but it's never a problem in the northeast. At that time of year it will just be really hot in Isaan, but that's true for everywhere in Thailand in March. I'll also reiterate that Sangkhlaburi is a special place, and it would be a good alternative if you don't make it up north.
Thai wine is rather awful. I don't think there's any other country that does a worse job. You need cold climates and the right soil for good wine.
#11 LeonardCohen1 has been a member since 24/7/2012. Posts: 2,148
Thanks again to all of you! To clarify, I do plan to go south for the second half of my trip. Right now I'm mainly trying to figure out the best international airports to fly into and out of, since I hope to lock in my frequent flyer tickets in a few weeks.
I came across a guesthouse in Mae Wang (an hour from Chiang Mai) that sounds just right for a solo traveler like me: chailaiorchid.com. At their elevation, they claim there's no problem with smog and high heat.
So, if I don't need to rule out the north due to haze, maybe I should try to fly into Chiang Mai?
From Mae Wong I might take a day trip or two and then work my way down to places like Sukotthai, Kanchanaburi/Sangklaburi, Khao Yai. I might consider Isaan if time permits. All of that would be in the last 2 weeks of February.
Then I'd head south for 2 weeks -- either to the Andaman area or to the East Gulf. If Andaman, I'd fly home from Phuket. If the East Gulf, I'd fly home from Bangkok.
Any thoughts on which direction to go? I really, really want to visit Khao Sok NP! Does that mean I should stick entirely with the Andaman side? If so, I'd choose 1 or 2 islands from the following: Ko Ra , Ko Lanta, Ko Jum, Ko Kradan. Really like the sound of Ko Ra Eco Lodge, kohraecolodge.com, if it's true to the website. Another tempting place (as you suggested) is Paradise Lost on Kradan. Lanta appeals because of its overall variety and infrastructure, Jum for the opposite reason.
If I went to the East Gulf instead, it would be specifically because I love the sound of a certain guesthouse on Ko Chang: Baan Rim Naan (iamkohchang.com/kohchang-guest-house). Maybe I'd visit Ko Kut as well for its better beaches. I might try to stay in Chanthaburi on the way to Trat.
Fyi, I'm a "slow" traveler who prefers to savor a few destinations instead of racing from sight to sight. And crowds bug me. All my ideas about Thailand have come from studying Travelfish and its forum. You are the best!
If you are a slow traveller then I suggest you drop half of those plans. Bangkok might well be the best airport for you but I'm not sure what airlines you want to use. There are 2 airports in Bangkok with the major airlines using the bigger newer airport while the discount airlines like air asia/nok using the older one. They are a good 45-60 mins apart.
Mae Wang looks good but it would be rather isolated out there without a car.
Koh Chang is a lovely island and it's easy to spend a week there and yes you could also visit Kood.
I would pick Lanta over Jum. Lanta offers tours to the Trang islands while Jum I dont think does and Lanta's beaches would be better.
Krabi is a nice area with many things to do.
Phuket I don't like so much.
Have a look at air asia/nok air flights to Krabi, Trat and Trang.
#13 LeonardCohen1 has been a member since 24/7/2012. Posts: 2,148
My guess is that buying direct tickets to Chiang Mai / from Phuket on a major international airline will be more expensive than buying a round trip to/from Bangkok on the major airline and then using cheap regional flights (Air Asia / Nok Air as Leonard mentioned) to get to/from Chiang Mai and Phuket. A bit more hassle as you'd need to change airports in Bangkok but I'm guessing it would save significant funds.
I've stayed at Ko Ra Ecolodge and thoroughly enjoyed it - sounds like it would be a great fit for you. They offer all sorts of activities during the day and there are always a bunch of volunteers (with the lodge itself and a sea turtle conservation project) hanging around so it's basically a bunch of 'solo travelers' staying together. The atmosphere is laid back and it feels sort of like a big family. I was there solo and the people were super kind and friendly - I even made a couple of friends that I kept in touch with a little afterwards.
If you do go to Ko Ra I would highly suggest going the extra distance out to Ko Surin , which is also accessed from Khuraburi . Just go for a night - it's sooooo beautiful - and you'd be crazy not to if you go to Ko Ra anyway. (Ko Ra is very pretty and very lush as well but it doesn't quite have that quintessential white sand / turquoise water of places like Ko Surin and Ko Kradan).
After Ko Ra, it wouldn't be difficult to catch a bus from Khuraburi to Takua Pa and then another to Khao Sok. It would only be a 2-3 hour trip in all. However, if you decide to go to the eastern Gulf coast first, it's also easy to get from Surat Thani to Khao Sok, and then continue towards the Andaman side from there. Personally I'd stick to the Andaman side (sans Phuket the tourist trap).
I haven't been to Ko Jum or Ko Chang (well, I've been to little Ko Chang so can't comment on those, but Ko Lanta is a good medium between all of these islands - lots of activities, comfortable accommodation (with 24 hour electricity), great beaches etc.
I also agree with Leonard that it's unwise to try to do too much. One month isn't a ton of time and Thailand is a big place. I'd pick 4 or 5 destinations that you absolutely can't miss and plan perhaps on making a few overnight stops on the way to those. For example, Kanchanaburi province alone is massive and it's a fairly long ride to get to Sangkhlaburi. If you want to do a tour and/or hit some of the national parks out of Kanchanaburi town, visit some of the museums, and spend a few days in Sangkhlaburi, that will take up a solid six or seven days including travel time.
Yes, I see now that I need to drastically streamline my itinerary as Leonard suggests! There's plenty of time for that. But what I do need to decide soon is where I want to arrive and depart on my international flights -- because I need to use frequent flyer miles for those and ideally should do that 11 months in advance.
So ... my international flights will in fact be nearly free, whereas those within Thailand will carry some (albeit limited) cost. That's why I want to choose my arrival and departure cities strategically. Maybe it would be simplest though just to fly into Bangkok and out of Phuket and figure the rest out later. Fyi my miles are with Alaska, which partners with several airlines that fly to Thailand.
Thrilled to hear that DLuek had a great solo experience on Ko Ra! You've all given me great advice -- thanks.
International flights will have about $200 tax on them. Local flights in Thailand are often around $50 one way.
Kradan I didn't think was all that good. The beach didn't strike me as anything amazing and there's so little to do there I wouldn't recommend it.
Ko Mook is a better option around that area or even just stay in Trang town which has a very good night market and a local atmosphere away from tourists.
Krabi Town also has a good local vibe with good Thai food and the small number of tourists who stay there don't spoil the place.
#16 LeonardCohen1 has been a member since 24/7/2012. Posts: 2,148
Really, you didn't think Kradan's beach was that good? That's a big surprise as I found it to be one of the most beautiful I've seen, and ten times better than Ko Muk. I thought it was also better than Ko Ngai or Ko Lipe. Ko Surin and the Similans were the only beaches I saw in the Andaman that I felt compared. The sand and sea was incredible when I went to Kradan. I was there in late October; I'm wondering if maybe the main (east facing) beach becomes less idyllic once the monsoon winds change in December, which would also mean that Hat Farang on Muk would be better at that point as it faces the west. Agreed there's not much to do on Kradan. It makes a good day trip from Muk if nothing else, but Paradise Lost makes an overnight on Kradan worth it for me. Had a good time chatting with Wally and some other random travelers.
Kradan has a narrow strip of sand and the snorkelling is average. You can find better beaches on Phuket, Samui and lots of other places. Kradan would only appeal if you want a real quiet island to lay around reading books and working on your sun tan. When I visited Wally's place had no guests and Wally looked like he needs some exercise.
The upmarket resort was the only resort with guests but it's overpriced.
#19 LeonardCohen1 has been a member since 24/7/2012. Posts: 2,148
You can't compare Kradan with Phuket and Samui - they are completely different experiences. I get the impression that karibou would be leaning more towards something like Kradan than Phuket.
You can compare any beach. Phuket and Samui both have quiet beaches away from the mass tourism. I would rate the beach on Ko Wai near Ko Chang better than Kradan as well. Phra Nang beach at Krabi is also better and there's plenty of things to do nearby.
Lanta's beaches are pretty quiet and reasonable too. There's some decent restaurants there and you aren't totally stranded with limited options like on Kradan.
#21 LeonardCohen1 has been a member since 24/7/2012. Posts: 2,148
Just for the record, the Thai wine industry is developing and producing some very reasonable wine these days. Quite a few experienced internationals are working and/or consulting there, bringing expertise and thought that is marrying nicely with contemporary production techniques.
Not according to people who live near Loei where they grow a lot of it. You need old vines, the right soil and the right climate to make good wine. Flying in a few consultants isn't going to fix that. Thai wines are worse than the average cask wine that you would get from the Barossa or Mclaren Vale.
Thailand is normally way too hot to drink wine anyway.
#23 LeonardCohen1 has been a member since 24/7/2012. Posts: 2,148
I've visited the vineyard at Chateau Loei and a few others in LOS as well.
I don't want to drag the thread too far off topic, but most cask wine comes from the Riverland and Riverina wine growing regions and my experience is that your claim about 'worse than the average cask wine' is just not true.
Your suggestion that it is too hot to drink wine up there has some merit.
Have you never been to the Barossa or Mclaren Vale? If you had you wouldn't be talking up wine from Thailand. It's awful in comparison.
#25 LeonardCohen1 has been a member since 24/7/2012. Posts: 2,148
I think you will be fine, there are so many middle aged travelers in Thailand you wont feel too out of place. Granted if you go to Khaosarn road a lot of youngsters are there too. But there are also mature people too. You will ofcourse only feel as old as you think you are. My advise go a little crazy and let your hair down and you will forget your 50 and it really doesn't matter....
#26 Maryanne has been a member since 19/6/2013. Posts: 17
If in Isan. Try Nong Khai. Day trips can be made Check out Mut Mee guest house,you can rent bicycles and pick up a. Lot of good information about the region from the owner
Or. Maybe think about Pratchap Khiri Khan. About 1.5 hours south of Hua Hin
Or I can recomend Chiayaphum not to much to do but stunning scenery. I was traveling up there a few years ago. I met a German tourist who turned his back on me and ignored me ?
I disagree that Thailand is too hot to drink wine. I love to drink wine and my wife drinks it almost exclusively here. But I do agree they can't make it for crap and they tax the **** out of it so it's hard to get at a reasonable price. Our close proximity to Laos and some friends who bring some over for us helps alleviate that problem, so we do have some access to cheap imports. But in the aggregate, it's one of the things that they should allow in without a serious tax. Oh well.
#28 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957