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Thailand forum

First trip to Thailand - would love help on day budgeting

Posted by scythemk on 5/9/2010 at 16:44

Hello everyone,
I'm planning my first trip to southeast Asia, starting with Thailand, this coming November. I arrive in Bangkok on Nov. 14th and have until Dec. 4th for my trip. My plan was to do 8 days in Thailand at the beginning, maybe 4 days in Cambodia (split among Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, although Singapore seems like an appealing substitute to Cambodia as it seems it's quite difficult finding flights into and out of Cambodia) and the rest in Vietnam, finishing with another last day in Bangkok before my return flight to Los Angeles from there. In any case, I wanted some help on figuring out where to go on how long to stay in places in Thailand.
I am a young single male in my early 20s travelling with a friend. I guess I'm looking for a bit of everything during my trip in Thailand - I'd like to experience a little bit of nightlife, but my priority is just experiencing the country, the people, the cuisine (Thai is by far my favorite cuisine in the world). I love outdoors stuff too so I would love to do at least a day of hiking or elephant riding in the jungles, and would definitely want to try scuba diving (it'd be my first time, but I'm considering getting certified in the U.S. before coming). I would also like to spend a day or two at the beach, but I prefer active beach life such as water sports, diving, exploring beach towns, etc, I wouldn’t be happy lying in the sun doing nothing for more than a day. I'd be quite willing to fly between cities to save on travel time and have more time on the ground. I’d like to experience a bit of northern Thailand, Bangkok, and the southern beach islands.
Yes, I realize I'm packing a huge deal into a short time frame. I would love to have a few months in Thailand alone, but am forced to manage with these puny U.S. vacations. I've read the lonely planet guide for Thailand and came up with a shortlist of places I'd like to see:


Chiang Mai

Southern Islands (I guess given my travel timeframe I should choose between Ko Phi Phi and Phuket (could I do both?), as Ko Phangan/Ko Samui/Ko Tao will be experiencing monsoons?)

Places I’d like to see if there’s time:
Phitsanulok (Sukhothai)

I was thinking two initial days in Bangkok, followed by a flight to Chiang Mai for 2-3 days, and then a flight down to Phuket as a base for 2-3 days, and then a flight back to Bangkok and on to Cambodia. Any personal opinions, advice, itinerary suggestions or feedback whatsoever would be extremely welcome and appreciated. Thank you so much!

#1 scythemk has been a member since 3/9/2010. Posts: 23

Posted by mikethediver on 6/9/2010 at 15:43

As you say, you are packing too much into it!
8 days in Thailand and you want to go to 4 places!
Don't know why you are experiencing problems with flights to Cambodia, it should be easy to get there from Bangkok; try Airasia or Jet star and remember Siam Reap (for Angkor) has an international airport.
I would pick the destinations you really want and do 5 days in each place, I realise you want to see as much as you can, but how mauch of Phuket or Siam Reap can you see in 2/3 days?
Have fun.

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Posted by scythemk on 6/9/2010 at 16:57

Thanks for the feedback, Mike. That's my problem, I don't know how much of Phuket or Siem Reap I can see in 2/3 days. Obviously more time in a place is always better, but since this is my first trip to SE Asia and I might not be back for 2 years or more (want to see other regions of the world before repeating a place), I would like to have at least an intro "sampler" to several places in the country that I could then come back to for a more targeted vacation.
I would definitely appreciate pointers on "must-do/must-see" locations and how much time to budget as a minimum for them.
For Cambodia, Air Asia has flights from Bangkok, and Cambodia Angkor Air has flights onwards to Vietnam, I guess I just expected more competition on the routes and cheaper prices ($250+ from Phnom Penh to HCMC one way, that's a quarter of my round trip airfare LAX-BKK!).

#3 scythemk has been a member since 3/9/2010. Posts: 23

Posted by Captain_Bob on 6/9/2010 at 17:21

Nov-14 to Dec-4 is basically a 3-week trip. Just enough time for Bangkok, a couple other spots in Thailand ( Chiang Mai , Phuket) and a hop through SR & PP in Cambodia to Ho Chi Minh, flight up to Hanoi and back to BK. It's tempting to try to see as much as possible but constantly moving on can be a real drag. You'll definitely want to fly point-to-point with this kind of itinerary though, and as Mike says Air Asia and Jetstar are the budget carriers to look at, while flying into Siem Reap is expensive (Bangkok Airways the only choice). Avoid hunting down these fares on the likes of Kayak, Orbitz, etc. as it won't find the local budget carriers. Go to the airline websites with your credit card.

I'd also say do fewer places and spend more time in each, but I know where you're coming from with the limited US vacation allowance. Used to do that too before moving to Chiang Mai ;-)

#4 Captain_Bob has been a member since 27/5/2006. Location: Thailand. Posts: 1,944

Posted by CrankyCarrot on 7/9/2010 at 00:22

I've been here for a mont, just in Phuket, and although I plan to venture further afield soon I can tell you I haven't gotten bored once. It's very easy to lose yourself in a new culture without racking up heaps of frequent flyer miles. I've got a little more time up my sleeve than you though, but I'd spend at least 5 days here, rent a bike and just drive all over the island. Tell big budda I said 'hi'.

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Posted by scythemk on 15/9/2010 at 08:52

Thanks all for all the excellent feedback. How many days would you say are a minimum for Bangkok? I have read in a few places that Bangkok is busy, dirty, etc. and that I would spend my time better in either the north or the south to get a taste for real Thailand. I also wanted to get some custom clothes made and was wondering if Bangkok would be a good spot for that? I know Vietnam is more famous for that, but I might not be there for enough days to allow them enough time to finish the clothes.
My friend is pushing for the following itinerary:
Sun, Nov 14th: Arrive in BKK 10:30. Spend day in BKK.
Mon, Nov 15th: Stay in BKK.
Tues, Nov 16th: Air Asia flight to Chiang Mai (6:40-7:50). Stay in Chiang Mai.
Wed,17th: Chiang Mai, maybe trek or day trip.
Thurs, 18th: Chiang Mai, same as above.
Fri, 19th: Air Asia flight to Phuket (13:00-15:05 or 21:45-23:50). Stay in Phuket.
Sat, 20th: Phuket.
Sun, 21st: Phuket.
Mon, 22nd: Air Asia flight PKT-BKK (12:50-14:10). Then BKK-Phnom Penh (15:15-16:20). Spend night in Phnom Penh.
Tues, 23rd: Afternoon bus to Siem reap?
Wed, 24th: Siem Reap .
Thurs, 25th: Fly Siem Reap - HCMC (10:30-11:50). Stay in HCMC.
Fri, 26th: HCMC
Sat, 27th: Fly HCMC- Hue (7:00-8:20). Spend day in Hue.
Sun, 28th: Take bus Hue - Hoi An in the morning. Day in Hoi an.
Mon, 29th: Day in Hoi An.
Tues, 30th: Fly Da Nang - Ha Noi (6:05-7:15). Day in Ha Noi.
Wed, Dec 1st: Go out to Ha Long bay.
Thurs, 2nd: Either another day in Ha Long bay or back to Hanoi.
Fri, 3rd: Rent motorcycles with Easy Riders and go for a day ride in the Ha Noi surroundings.
Sat, 4th: Fly Hanoi-BKK (9:10 - 11:10). Fly BKK-LAX (departs at 17:50).
What do you guys think? Still too much? Would you recommend more of Southern or Nothern Thailand? Recommended adjustments?

#6 scythemk has been a member since 3/9/2010. Posts: 23

Posted by neosho on 15/9/2010 at 17:54

Whew! Then go back to work so you can get some rest. Read the posts above a little more slowly.

#7 neosho has been a member since 13/8/2008. Posts: 386

Posted by busylizzy on 16/9/2010 at 07:41

OK, here's my input.

Personally, I think you've allowed enough time in BKK.

Cut at least one country. I suggest either cutting:
- Cambodia: You've only allowed one day in Siem Reap. That's a waste of time and visa money.
- Vietnam: It's worthy of a trip on it it's own.

I would either focus on:
- Thailand, with a week in Cambodia (Siem Reap and Phnom Penh)
- Vietnam (with a few days with beachtime in Hoi An/Danang, Nha Trang and/or Phu Quoc)

You will regret only spending 1-2 days in each place. The biggest expense of your trip will be the travelling days. You'll spend less if you base yourself in fewer places, and more importantly you will have a better 'experience' in each place. How much of your time do you want to spend on and waiting for buses and planes? Work it out as a percentage of your total time away.

If you race through, it's all a blur.

Just focus on Vietnam (with maybe a few days in Phuket at the end for some beach time.. although I DO question why Phuket?!)

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Posted by busylizzy on 16/9/2010 at 07:44

Oops - excuse the last line in above post. I re-wrote parts and it got left behind.
Also, don't underestimate the travelling times. Travel time between places can eat into most of your day by the time you travel to/from bus station/airport, check in, wait around, wait for the bus to leave, travel to the hotel at the next location, etc, etc.

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Posted by CrankyCarrot on 16/9/2010 at 10:39

"Just focus on Vietnam (with maybe a few days in Phuket at the end for some beach time.. although I DO question why Phuket?!)"

Why Phuket? Why Phuket?!?! Are you telling me the rest of the country is even better?

Maybe it's time I got my lazy Ferang backside moving...

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Posted by busylizzy on 16/9/2010 at 11:47

Cranky - OK, I confess Ihaven't actually been to Phuket ..... but based on what I have heard,and how people compare it to areas that I HAVE been to, I believe there aremany more areas that are so much more interesting.
But I guess itdepends on what pushes your buttons.... :-D The frenzied, pulsating, party-town atmosphere doesn’t interest me as arule, other than a passing nosey interest for a day or two. And then I’m outta’ there.
Some of my favouriteplaces in Thailand have been a just a littlebit off the beaten track, and don’t necessarily offer anything in the realtourist sense. But they are towns whereI had nice, warm-fuzzy type experiences, usually because I was able to justexperience the town vibe without the touristic commotion.
Other favourites havebeen the quieter islands with good snorkelling, swimming and a handful of nicelittle restaurants where I can just chill out.
I decided to edit outthat sentence in my original post because it was a subjective comment and givenmy assumption that the original poster is a bit younger than my ‘geriatric’years, there is a good chance that it will be just the place that they arelooking for. But I stuffed that up byleaving it in!
(I know you were justwinding me up... didn’t mean to ramble on so much in this post. That just goes to show what another boringday in the office cube can do to you!)
But yes, time to getyour lazy farang butt moving :-P. Getover to Koh Pha Nang and Koh Tao, for startrs. Ithink you will like it there. The roads are so bad in the northern area of KPN that you will have awesome fun on a motorbike. (I hired a 4WD to get around and loved it!)

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Posted by scythemk on 16/9/2010 at 12:22

You guys are getting me super excited just reading your comments.

Thanks for your detailed and constructive feedback, busylizzy, I really appreciate it.
I'm kind of coming to the conclusion of dropping Cambodia as well, like you recommended. Just a little saddened by the thought, as I was really looking forwarding to seeing Angkor Wat. Cambodia also seems like the most dodgy/undeveloped/adventurous of the three countries, which makes me somewhat curious to see it. But it is expensive to get there and 3 days is admittedly barely a glance into the place. Dropping it would certainly give me more time in each location in Thailand and Vietnam, which seems to be increasingly more appealing.

As far as choosing Phuket , first, I knew I had to pick a spot on the Andaman coast, as in November I understand the Gulf of Thailand gets the nasty monsoon rains. I was very intrigued by Koh Phi Phi, but remember reading a recommendation somewhere that for a short visit to south Thailand, Phuket is good because it has good air connections and has plenty to do. I'm very open to changing it and would love to hear of any alternate recommendations you might have =]

Nightlife is definitely not my top priority on this trip, even though it'd be nice to have some at least in some of the locations I'm visiting, I'm more interested in seeing the natural beauty and cultural experiences.

busylizzy, the towns you mention that are just a tad of the beaten track sound extremely appealing. Any particular recommendations? The thought of tourists trying to escape places with lots of tourists is a tad funny and paradoxical , but I try to do that whenever possible. When I was backpacking through Europe last year, some places (Venice, Florence), while extremely picturesque and pleasant, left me feeling like I was in Disneyland, hearing more English than Italian spoken and seeing people make fools of themselves. In that sense Rome or Paris seemed more like real cities, because despite the tourists the cities were so big you could feel there was actually real life going on outside of tourism. Anyway, I digress... would love to hear of some of the "quieter" islands you've visited on the Andaman coast!


#12 scythemk has been a member since 3/9/2010. Posts: 23

Posted by CrankyCarrot on 16/9/2010 at 12:23


I admit I really have no basis for comparison... yet. But I can tell you that you don't have to drive to far out of Patong to have those kinds of experiences you mention. It's like all the tourists and sleaze all collect in the basin of Patong and, for the most part, leave the rest of the island alone. There's expats peppering the place everywhere, but as you radiate out from the central hub, they're fewer and farther between. Plus it's nice to have a fluent chat in your native tongue every now and then anyway, so I like it fine.

Still, I'd kick myself if I didn't do some more exploring before settling in one spot for a month or two, just so I know I've got the best deal. So it'll be off to Ko Samui over the next week - might amble slowly across the mainland to break up the 6 hours of travel time. I've got a week to lazily mosey over there for the next FMP on the 23rd. And best of all - this time, no cold! (touch wood - and touch Tiffy)

Hey OP! Skythemp or whatever - pay attention to the above. Sometimes it's best to take your time with a place, soak it in, enjoy it. Too much too quick and you won't appreciate the details.

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Posted by busylizzy on 17/9/2010 at 04:19

"busylizzy, thetowns you mention that are just a tad of the beaten track sound extremelyappealing. Any particular recommendations?"

The one that I wouldrecommend as a 'destination' is Amphawa - a really cool area to go for aweekend, and is just an hour or two out of Bangkok, including a 'localstyle' afternoon floating market. There have been several discussions inTravelfish where I have mentioned this - do a search. More info is alsofound here:

I would maybe suggestconsider 2-3 nights in Railay (fly into Krabi then a short long-boat ride toget there) and maybe a night or two on Koh Phi Phi or one of the other nearbyislands. I think as a first-timer you wouldenjoy it there, and it won’t be too busy at the time that you are going. This area some stunning scenery, you can do abit of kayaking around the coastline, etc. There is an awesome beach just a few minutes walk from Railay where youcan just float on your back in the crystal clear water and gaze at the hugekaarst rocks looming overhead. There isjust enough nightlife in Railay to make it interesting without being obnoxious. Snorkelling is also reasonably good aroundPhi Phi.

The other places thatcame to mind as I wrote my earlier post were essentially 'transit' towns ratherthan destinations in their own right. In other words, we were just passingthrough on a way to somewhere else. Insome cases, I enjoyed the town ‘vibe’ so much that we stayed for another night.

- - Tak(on the drive from Chiang Mai heading south). After an enjoyable eveningmeeting some nice locals, a great food market for dinner and a nice walkaround, we decided to stay an extra night. Went for an exploration drive to the Burma border the next day as aunplanned side trip.
- Trang(on the way to Koh Kradan) - Again, just got a good vibe walking around andexploring on some of the back streets, meeting some lovely older Thais werejust hanging out on their porches.

- Trat(on the way to Koh Chang and Koh Mak in easternThailand) - another one that I thoughtwas really interesting. No real reasonwhy... just kinda liked it.

Maybe it’s an agething. If you’re in your 20’s oryounger, you might find these towns quite boring! I found them interesting for a slice of relatively ‘normal’ Thai town life.

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Posted by scythemk on 18/9/2010 at 08:49

Thanks for your response, busylizzy. Does Railay have any good diving? That is something I'm definitely looking forward to doing during my visit to south Thailand. I'm definitely liking the sound of Ko Phi Phi. Is it fairly easy to get there from Phuket?
I managed to eek out an extra 2 days of vacation and so extended my stay in Chiang Mai for another night, and extended Cambodia to 2 days in Phnom Penh and 2 days in Siem Reap. I have a 3rd free day to move around, as I decided I don't really NEED a rest day before coming back to work, and am debating whether to spend it on an extra day in Hoi An (currently 2 nights), an extra day in Saigon (only staying 1.5 days right now) or an extra day in south Thailand (currently 3 nights). Suggestions?

#15 scythemk has been a member since 3/9/2010. Posts: 23

Posted by MADMAC on 18/9/2010 at 18:05

That looks like a Japanese tourist schedule. We used to get them all the time when I lived in Augsburg. The buses would pull up, they would pour out like paratroopers coming out of an aircraft, cameras at the ready. Then they'd fan out rapidly, posing for happy snaps all over the city center. One, or sometimes two, hours latter they'd be back in the bus an on the move. They could knock out two or three cities in this fashion in a day.

I like to get to know people a place, and that takes at least a week. If I have my own wheels or am going for a specific purpose, or on my way somewhere and it's just a stop-over, fine. But I am under no illusion that I would be "getting to know" a place if I went there for two days.

If this were my vacation, and knowing what I know about this place and a little bit about what I know about yourself (as you've described), I would spend a week in BKK, lots of tourist stuff to see and plenty of good nightlife. Depending on cash limitations, I would then kick it down to Phuket or maybe Ko Samui or someplace in that vain and spend the rest of my time there.

Every day you travel is, for the most part, a wasted day. So the more destinations you add, the more time you end up in a bus or plane - which in the case of planes really eats budget and in the case of buses really eats time.

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