We're a Brooklyn, NY couple in our 30s heading to Thailand for the first time for 3 weeks in February. We'd love your thoughts on our proposed itinerary! Questions are in bold. We're into nature, culture, adventure stuff, relaxation and not so much sightseeing. We'd like to avoid big crowds, chains, etc.. especially at the beach. We want to get a real feel for Thailand and also veg out in huts on the most beautiful beach possible. This is a very delayed honeymoon trip and we're going mid-budget (up to 50/night in N. Thailand, up to 100/night at the beach). Thanks!!!
2/7 land in Chiang Mai in the morning
2/7-10 Chiang Mai
Activities: massages, relax, yoga, Thai Chi, cooking class
2/10 Take off on the Mae Hong Song Loop (What type of transport is best? And do we need to book transport now or handle in Chiang Mai?)
2/10-2/12 Pai -
Stay at Pai Treehouse http://paitreehouse.com
Activities: Tha Pai hot springs
Thom’s Pai Elephant camp - elephant ride in the water
Stay at Cave Lodge http://cavelodge.com/
Activities: caves, rafting
2/14-17 Mae Hong Song
Activities? Home stay?
2/17 Mae Hong Song to Chiang Mai
2/18- Chinag Mai to Bangkok, Bangkok to Krabi (flights)
2/18- Krabi to more remote Andaman island (1 or 2 islands?, maybe Koh Ngai?)
2/18-2/25 island beach
2/25 Krabi to Bangkok (flight)
Activities: Markets, ?
2/27 Bangkok to home evening (flight)
#1 garnetbk has been a member since 8/1/2012. Posts: 5
Hey, hope I can be of some help because I'm a Chiang Mai resident. I am a personal friend of the owners at Baan BooLoo, so I always recommend them in Chiang Mai for mid-range travelers.
They also do a cooking class there that's fantastic.
For getting to Pai, there's 2 (well, 3) options. The minivan takes 3 hours, but they drive at breakneck speeds and it makes me carsick because of all the curves. I usually do this because I just want to get there, and it's not unsafe relative to other forms of transport in Thailand. The minibus is cramped, but a bit slower. If you're above 5'9, you're knees are going to be jammed into the seat in front of you. The government bus is sloooooow and oversold on most occasions. Last time we used it, we were forced to do 3 to a seat. Not the norm, but that's why I usually take the van. Guaranteed seat, and you get there quickly. The prices are low, from 150 baht for the van to the bus for 80 something, or in that range. No need to book ahead, maybe a day or 2 just to be safe but for the most part that's not needed.
Soppong is rad, you'll really like that place. One of the most natural places I've been in Thailand. Cave Lodge is awesome, do the kayaking.
For Mae Hong Son, I can't recommend much there. I didn't really like MHS that much compared to other towns on the loop. A bit boring, not too much to see or do. Outside of town there are some great motorbike trips, waterfalls, caves, etc. If I were you, I'd break up your MHS leg and spend time in Mae Sariang instead. It's a small town with not much going on in terms of tourism, but very lovely and some great bicycle or motorbike trips close by. Super friendly people, really cheap, and a vast cultural mix. A trip to Mae Sam Laep, 2 hours on a truck, on the Burmese border is unlike any market town I've been to. People come over via boat to sell their wares on the Thai side. Very remote.
If you want to stay on Koh Ngai, you will be very isolated. It's pretty, but expensive. Nothing there but resorts and sand. From there, don't miss going to Emerald Cove. I've never seen anything like it before. You have to swim 80 meters thru a tiny cave opening to a beautiful white sandy cove. With a guide and flashlight of course.
In Bangkok, there's tons of hotels. Pick one that suits your taste. I liked All Season in the midrange category, but that's just one of many. Since you'll be in Bangkok over a weekend, you've got to see Chatuchak or JJ market. It's huge, over 30 acres and 5,000 stalls. It can be a bit overwhelming, but jump in for as long as you can stand and you'll see quite the site. Everything you could possibly think of is inside. You'll want to do the standard temple tour. I recommend Wat Pho, the home of Thai massage, the Grand Palace is a must, and Wat Arun (my personal favorite). Around those temples are some markets that you can wander around to as well. Maybe you'd like to see the Golden Mount, it's pretty nice. The flower market is amazing, I've never seen so many flowers. 100 roses for under $2.50 USD.
Hope that helps! If you have any specific questions, feel free to ask.
#2 whardy has been a member since 14/11/2011. Posts: 66
Thanks Whardy for these really helpful details! I do have a few follow up questions:
1) Is there an island (or 2) that you recommend over Koh Ngai for quiet, beauty, snorkeling, beach hut style lodging? Ideally we'd love to find one as beautiful as Koh Ngai with small crowds but that also has locals living there and has more affordable beach huts. We're really open to anywhere but don't want chains, noise, partying. 2) The info on Mae Hong Song transport is really valuable. I notice you didn't mention renting a car or motorbike. Do you have an opinion on that? 3) Thanks for the recommendation to Mae Sariang. I looked it up and it seems like it's a good place to do hilltribe tours. Would you recommend that? Is there a specific tour or lodging that you recommend? Thanks again for taking the time - really making a difference.
#3 garnetbk has been a member since 8/1/2012. Posts: 5
For an island, my personal recommendation for you would be to check out the Koh Yao islands, Koh Yao Yai and Koh Yao Noi. While here 2 Octobers ago, there was no crowd. On Koh Yao Yai we only saw 2 other foreigners the whole time we were there. We were alone on every beach we went to, because the locals don't venture into the water and there really isn't any tourism infrastructure. The reason they populated these islands is to have isolation and quiet, not to build resorts. The accommodation here is well within your range. If you want no noise (except wildlife), partying (dry, muslim island), or chains, this is my best advice for you. Koh Yao Yai (a bit more than Noi) will have you feeling like you're in another world. The beaches are uncombed and untamed, and the locals are shy, but curious and warm. If you're looking to have 2-3 mile stretches of beautiful white sand to yourself, this place is worth checking out. There are some great day trips you can take to neighboring islands as well. Koh Hong was one of the prettiest islands I've been to in Thailand, and the water was super clear in a cove with many colorful fish that swim right around your ankles.
Renting a car or motorbike is quite easy from Chiang Mai. You should give a day's notice on a car, but the motorbikes sit out front of the shops from morning to dusk just waiting to be rented. There are several in the Tha Pae gate area of the old city, and your guesthouse can recommend a place for you. I think motorbike is the best way to get around the loop because it gives you the freedom to venture down every small road to your heart's content. Most places, a car will be ok as well, but it can be a bit of a hassle because of its size. I prefer a bike for the fun of it. The loop is completely safe to drive if you take it slow and be aware that this is a developing country. There might be landslides or a herd of cattle around the next corner, so just take it easy and enjoy the scenery. It's beautiful out there!
I would absolutely recommend hill-tribe tours in Mae Sariang. From friends who did a tour out there, it was what most people are expecting as an "authentic" experience. i.e. not just a tourist trap or a human zoo. It's people living traditionally and welcoming small groups of tourists to experience their way of life. The more authentic your trip, the more likely you'll be away from western comforts, so be aware of that. The company I recommend over all others is Pooh eco-trekking. Take a look at their website and let me know what you think.
They operate an office in Chiang Mai, but take groups out to Mae Sariang. If you stay independently in Mae Sariang, I recommend staying at Northwest Guesthouse. The owner, Tukta is a doll (Tukta means doll in Thai). It's a very simple, family run place, but it has air-con and hot water and a great restaurant right across from the river.
Hope this helps! Any more questions, keep asking. I'll be here!
#4 whardy has been a member since 14/11/2011. Posts: 66