I will be in SE Asia for 21 days this June, stopping off on my way from Ireland to Australia and New Zealand. I will be travelling with my girlfriend and we are both in our late 20s. We will be arriving in Bangkok and leaving from Bangkok and hope to spend approximately 8 days in Vietnam, visiting Hanoi, Halong Bay and Hoi An. We may not be in this part of the world for a long time, which is why we are trying to fit in a bit of Vietnam as well. This leaves us 12 days in Thailand and I am thinking of the following itinerary:
1: Arrive Bangkok 12:30pm
3: Bangkok and night train to Chiang Mai
4, 5, 6, 7: Chiang Mai
8: Fly Chiang Mai to Bangkok in afternoon and get night train/bus/ferry combo to Koh Samui
9,10,11,12: Koh Samui
13: Fly to Bangkok in afternoon with Bangkok Airways to get flight to from Bangkok at 18:30
We are interested in nice scenery, nice buildings/history, experiencing the Thai culture and trying to fit in some nice beaches. We hope to fit in a 2 day/1 night trek in Chiang Mai as well as some zip lining through the jungles. I appreciate flying direct from Chiang Mai to Koh Samui would save a bit of time but these flights are very expensive. I have a few queries:
- Would you cut a day off Bangkok and add it to Chiang Mai or Koh Samui? We are in Bangkok almost 3 days (getting night train on 3rd night) but want to accommodate some jet lag coming from Ireland
- Would you recommend Koh Samui over Koh Phangan/Koh Tao? I simply picked Koh Samui as we have only 4.5 days there, and it seems quicker to get to and from than the other 2 islands.
- Any area of the island in particular you would recommend to stay in? We would likes somewhere with nice beaches and a bit of nightlife (doesn't need to be too mad), although not somewhere that is badly overbuilt or tacky
- Does anyone know much about using the Bangkok Airways pass? I would consider using this to fly Bangkok > Chiang Mai > Koh Samui > Bangkok if it wasn't considerably more expensive than using night trains/budget airlines to get between the three (we already plan to use Bangkok Airways to go back to Bangkok from Koh Samui).
Any comments or advice would be greatly appreciated.
#1 Poyntzpass has been a member since 17/2/2013. Posts: 4
2) No. Personally I prefer Ko Pha Ngan -- but it depends a lot on what your interests are. I find Ko Samui to be too developed for my own taste.
4) The Bangkok Airways Pass isn't the good deal it used to be mainly due to the other Low cost airlines. If you book well in advance you'll get very cheap fares with other airlines. While the other airlines don't fly to Samui, you could fly CHiang Mai to Bangkok to Surat Thani with Nok Air or Air Asia
#2 somtam2000 has been a member since 21/1/2004. Location: Indonesia. Posts: 7,652
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1 Bangkok is a more fascinating city than CM but you need to like big cities to appreciate it. CM is nothing special, it's mainly a base to explore the north which takes time. I would recommend Bangkok/Kanchanaburi and skip CM.
2 I prefer Krabi or Chang. Better scenary and less tourists.
4 Bangkok owns the Samui airport hence the higher prices as they can get away with it. Air Asia and Nok have flights to Krabi and Trat (near Chang). Otherwise you can get a 4 hour bus and a short ferry to Chang.
Note: overnight buses are considered dangerous. Lots of bad drivers in Thailand and there has been a few crashes on the route from Bangkok to the south.
I think your choice of the southern Gulf islands that time of year is a good one - that area has a different wet season, normally Oct into Jan, and will usually have better June weather than other beach areas.
I too prefer Tao and Phangan over Samui, although the latter still has a beach and a resort for all budgets and wants.
The quickest to reach from Bangkok off the night train would marginally be Tao via Chumpon. Lomprayah run an oft-praised ovenight bus which connects with their fast cagamaran service. This runs on to Phangan and Samui after Tao.
If coming from the Don Sak pier near Surathani, ferries to Phangan normally take maybe 40 minutes longer to Phangan than to Samui.
Of course nothing beats the time saved flying directly into Samui if you plan to stay on that island.
Your question about lopping a day off Bangkok depends largely on if you are a big city person. I personally am not and would always spend as little time as possible there, but other people take up their whole holiday period in the place.
sounds like a reasonable plan. i vote to abandon bangkok asap as well.
#5 Drew84 has been a member since 6/7/2011. Posts: 36
Thanks for the advice. Seems like everyone is recommending to spend time on Koh Tao or Koh Phangan rather than Koh Samui. I like the idea of being on one of the more 'unspoilt' islands. I would be interested in spending time on the island with the nicest beaches and scenery. Would I be correct in saying that Koh Phangan is the better island for nice beaches? Does Koh Tao have nice beaches as well i.e. is it not all just geared towards diving? I must do a bit more reading up on the differences between the 3 islands.
I had originally ruled out going to Koh Tao as it looked like it would take ages to get there using the night train to Surat Thani and then ferry. However now that i know about the night train to Chumpton and ferry from there it looks much easier to get to. I could then either get the night train back to Bangkok or get a ferry to Koh Samui and fly to Bangkok.
If i were to cut a day from Bangkok that could leave 5.5 days on the islands. If that were the case would you still stick to one island or try to fit two in?
#6 Poyntzpass has been a member since 17/2/2013. Posts: 4
Phangan has the better beaches but Tao still has some nice uncrowded compact strips of sand such as Jun Jea/Gul Jea and Sai Nuan in the south-west and Ao Leuk in the south-east. And it doesn't get too much more laid back than Hing Wong Bay in the north-west although there is very little sand there. Some great budget joints to stay and some of the better off-the-resort snorkelling in Thailand last time I was there.
Phangan has a bunch of nice not too busy beaches. Bottle Beach in the north gets my vote as one of the best in Thailand. Any beach on the east coast north of Had Rin fits the definition of nice and not too busy. Tiny, one (budget) resort Had Wai Nam is a gem, neighbouring Had Tien not much busier. Than Sadet is a bit busier again but still laid back and very scenice. Had Yuan near Had Tien (and Had Rin) is similar to Thong Nai Pan in the north - more variety and action but not over the top. There are others around the island.
Leonard's mention of the Nok Air flight into Chumpon is useful - note that nearly all the ferry services from Chumpon to Tao push on to Phangan so if you want to stay at the latter you would be talking in terms of an extra hour or so.
2 islands in 5.5 days? Well I'm expert of spending minimum time at places and often get by with 2 full days but I run around like a madman to try and see as much as possible - however I kinda think if it was a first time visit I might be more interested in 3 days minimum or even a bit more to relax and drink in the scene.
I often think, particularly when staying on a bigger island, that switching beaches is just like switching islands - except it usually takes way less time. The Phangan east coast ferry which starts at Thong Nai Pan each morning and beach-hops down to Had Rin and then across to northern Samui, returning each afternoon, facilitates this.