Hey Travelfish Friends!
I've seen some itinerary critiques before and I was hoping you guys could do it for me? I'll be traveling in SE Asia for the first time next year with my girlfriend. We plan on being in Thailand for 3 weeks.
Psychology of the trip: we'll be coming right out of our Peace Corps services, so there will probably be conflicts between wanting to experience "genuine" Thailand and wanting to experience "vacation" Thailand after having been genuine for two years. Hence I think I made the itinerary a bit more mainstream than I would normally have liked. Also, the two of us have different priorities- she's more into beaches and nature tours, while I want to explore the history, architecture, and culture a bit more. So let me know if you think of a better way to accommodate us both!
I was thinking of spending the first two weeks at the three major islands around Ko Samui . Personally, I'd love to spend some time on a bungalow by the beach, undisturbed by modernity and drunkenness. I'm hoping to find some of that on Ko Samui and Ko Tao- good expectation or unrealistic? We also want to get into the party scene a little bit, so we were hoping on being at Ko Phangnan for a half moon party (we'd rather skip the full one). So here's the island "itinerary."
Bangkok: 1 night
Travel to islands: Overnight
Ko Pha Ngan: 5 days
Ko Samui/Ko Tao: 7 days
Travel to Bangkok: Overnight
Bangkok: 1 day/night
That would bring us up to 2 weeks, leaving 1 week for the more historical side of Thailand. I really want to see Ayutthaya and Sukhothai . I was thinking at least two full days at Ayutthaya, then at least another full day at Sukhothai. Would you guys recommend spending longer at these sites? The reviews for Kanchanaburi on travelfish were pretty exuberant, and if I rush through the two ancient capitals I was thinking of maybe swinging down to that province. It seems like there's some good trekking to be done at Kanchanaburi, which is the last part of the equation. The WWII history is also pretty attractive to me personally- so it seems like a good compromise between my history buffness and my girlfriend's desire to see some wilderness. Do you think I'd be better off getting some national park/wilderness tours near Sukhothai and spending more time there? What about near Ayutthaya? I guess the key here is, how can I work some national park magic into the mix without cheating the week of its history fun? More time at those two sites (Ayutthaya & Sukhothai), or go skeleton on them and go over to a third site?
Last thing to mention, if two days for Ayutthaya and one for Sukhothai really is sufficient (which I'm guessing it's not but I don't want to bore my partner unless you guys think it really is worth staying, or there's nature stuff to keep her interested) I was thinking of being in Ko Samet for a couple of days, since it's near Bangkok, to round off the beach. Another option is cutting the first two weeks at the islands short a bit in order to see Ko Samet- worth it? Or are there any small islands around Ko Samui that you'd really recommend in order to get that bungalow on the beach, unspoiled feel?
PS: I don't mind going heavy on the beach and light on history because we'll be over in Angkor Wat for a week after Thailand!
Plus or minus a day or two for travel isn't a big deal by the way. Recommendations to round this itinerary off, or suggestions to change things in ways that still correspond to the themes we want, would be greatly appreciated!!
Also- can you get cooking classes in any of these places? I really want to do some cooking classes! That and see/ride elephants, which it seems Ayutthaya should have covered.
Thanks a bunch TravelFish!
If you're interested in history and architecture, how come so little time in Bangkok? Koh Ratanakosin where the Royal Palace, Wat Phra Kaew, Wat Suthat, Wat Pho, and others are, the "old" Bangkok along the river, is great but will require more than a morning and afternoon to see. Wat Arun across the river is worth visiting, as is Wat Traimit in Chinatown (even though it's pretty new) for the Golden Buddha.
You might want to think about sticking a day onto Sukhothai , renting a scooter, and heading up to Si Satchanalai Historical Park. In my opinion, it is superior to Sukhothai. The easiest way to get there is with your own transport, and getting there and back is easy, and enjoyable. Great riding along quiet roads through fields of rice and sugar cane.
For Sukhothai Historical Park, rent a couple of bicycles and tour the area. You'll be able to see the whole place, as well as some of the countryside, in a day.
I think that squeezing Ayuthaya, Sukhothai and Kanchanaburi (and area) into a week is a really tall order. Frankly, I'd skip Samui and add that time to your upcountry travel time.
You don't say when you plan to be there. Depending on when that is, weather may determine where you go and what you do, especially as far as the islands go.
I found 2 hours in Ayuthaya to be enough. The ruins aren't impressive and it's a really hot area. If you are going to do Suk, I'd skip Ayuthaya altogether.
Samet is lame and Samui is really touristy. I'd recommend the Trang area, Krabi or Koh Chang.
Tilapia- Thanks for the response! I'll keep that in mind. Maybe do a few more days in Bangkok instead of going to Ko Samet at the end. If we were to drop Samui I'd want to add another beach in there and keep that time at 2 weeks. Maybe just drop Kanchanaburi altogether? Is there anything truly fantastic must-do there (besides the WWII history)?
Unfortunately I don't exactly know the time, but it'll probably be late-September or early-October. Rainy season right? Which islands would be least pleasant to visit due to that spin on things?
LeonardCohen1- I'll keep that in mind, maybe two days at Suk and one at Ayutthaya? I do want to spend a little time there, form my own opinion of a UNESCO site and ride an elephant. As far as Krabi, would you have to go to the islands or does the mainland have really beautiful beaches as well? Are there any other islands close to Samui you'd recommend as a couple-y bungalow-y getaway? If we don't like Samui I'd like to have a couple backup places we can just jet over to (Krabi seems near enough that it wouldn't be too bad).
PS- any recommendations on good cooking classes in Bangkok on backpacker prices?
Phra Nang beach in Krabi is really nice. To get there catch a longtail boat from Ao Nang and you get off at Railay. Railay is nice enough but if you walk 5 mins thru the jungle and turn right you will come to Phra Nang which is better.
Other than that Phi Phi and Ko Hong have stunning beaches and you can visit on a day tour.
Some real good kakaying tours to do as well.
rain = overhyped. August is the wettest month normally for that side.
Kanch is real nice beside the river but center of town is fairly touristy. Erawan waterfalls is real good with multiple levels but it's 60km from tour so you need transport or a tour.
Actually I would recommend 2 nights in Kanch and just do Ayuthaya on a day tour.
Cohen- Yeah I took a closer look at Krabi /Lanta/Railay on travelfish, looks like what we want after we're done partying at phangan. Thanks for the heads up. Thnk I'll cut Samui then. Is Ko Tao really that interesting if you're not into diving or would you be better off near Krabi? Because if it's not I could just go straight from Phangan to Krabi and spend a week down there. Looks like Lanta has cool elephant stuff too.
You're really tempting me with Kanchanaburi. Especially since there will be Angkor Wat later, and Sukhothai too. You're probably right, better to get some diversity in. Girlfriend loves the river too.
Someone give me an argument as to why I should stay in Ayuthaya longer?
Kanch has river rafting and elephant rides if you're into that.
Tao - never been. Mostly diving from reviews and lots of people complain about over priced hotels.
Phang Nga bay area near Krabi has incredible views so any boat tour from Krabi will be good. Have a look at some of the photos of it on the web.
My no 1 beach in Thailand is on Ko Hong. Nat Park so no rooms but day trip is so worth it.
Since you are already spending two weeks in either the Gulf of Thailand or Andaman Sea area, I'd skip Samet. Personally, I really like it there, but it was more of a weekend getaway from Bangkok spot, and if I had more time, I'd go to Chang or Samui or Krabi or Trang instead.
Like Tilapia says, doing Kanchanaburi, Ayutthaya , and Sukhothai all in one week is stretching it. If I were you, I'd either do Kanachanaburi and Ayutthaya, since they are close together, or Sukhothai. I think Ayutthaya is wonderful and often under-rated. There is a decent backpacker scene there to enjoy some of the vacation stuff you say you are seeking. I think the best time in Ayutthaya is in the later afternoons, when the day trips have all left to head back to Bangkok. You can get great shadows for photos, and sometimes can find yourself all alone in some of the larger ruins. I also think evenings and nighttime can be magic when the ruins are all lit up.
Much of that is also true about Sukhothai, however, which I think has an even better backpacker/vacation scene. Those ruins are every bit as good as Ayutthaya, and Si Satchanalai is just as good as Tilapia suggests. I rented a motor scooter with some friends and drove over from Sukhothai at his suggestion. We had a wonderful day.
If you wind up in Sukhothai, you can always add Phitsanulok or Kamphaeng Phet to round out your week. Just a day in P-lok on your way to Sukhothai would be enough. There are lots of fish restaurants there on or near the river worth a look. Kamphaeng Phet is a bit more off the beaten track, but has a vibrant night market and a few good live music venues.
I'd be interested to hear what you decide and how it turns out. I'd like to hear more about the Peace Corps gig sometime too when you have a moment. Cheers.
Exacto- Thanks for the advice! I think we will keep Samet as a "backup" option in case we get tired of Angkor Wat early, in which case we can fall back to Bangkok and do a weekend trip to Samet like you said.
I think a couple factors, one of them being your post, has swayed me to go to Ayutthaya . Maybe it's good that the cities are amongst the ruins- think the girlfriend would get tired of just touring ruins for an entire day (I'll save that for Cambodia). And you're right, it'd be too much travel time to go all the way up to Sukhothai and then get back down to Kanchanaburi. It's too greedy/optimistic. Your description of Ayutthaya at night and during the evening is pretty captivating too! I'll have to see Sukhothai next time around- I guess their conquerors will do for now!
What do you think about the revised island plan by the way? I'm now thinking spend a week at Ko Phangnan to get the partying out of the way, then Krabi and Ko Lanta to get more of a tranquil/private beach experience. The 3-5 hour bus ride shouldn't mess the time schedule up too badly.
As far as Peace Corps goes- ask away! I'm an Education Volunteer in West Africa, teaching physics in high school. There's lots of rice, fish, and heat and a terrible, terrible transportation system. Makes it easy to take the variable travel time warnings in stride. There aren't any scam buses though (no tourists) so I might end up a little too trusting...there's practically no such thing as an ill-intentioned local where I am, at least not during the daytime and outside of the urban areas. I'm a year done, one more year to go, but I'm on vacation right now and easy internet access means I'm doing all the research I'll need in a year right now.
By the way, random question- I know the hotel question has been answered and it's mostly "show up and look around." Does that work with trains? Except for overnighters should most of them have empty seats so long as you show up, say, half an hour before the train departs? We are thinking of going 2nd class most of the way, is it really that much more comfortable than 3rd class? Or can we just save the money and go 3rd class?
Thanks again Travelfish friends!
Cohen- thanks for the heads up! I've read that if you're making it to the FMP you should try and show up like 4 days ahead of time so you get a hotel, is that true for the HMP as well? That's the only real reason I wanted to make an extended stay on phangan, to make sure we didn't get left sans accommodation. If you don't need as much time before the HMP then I see no reason why we wouldn't hop on over to Samui that week.
Thanks for the deails on the Peace Corps assignment.
My favorite ruin site in Ayutthaya is Wat Chai Wattanaram. It is on the west bank of the river, just off the island. Try visiting in the later afternoon, before it closes but after the tour group buses have returned to Bangkok. Ayutthaya town is just okay, but between the ruins and the riverside restaurants, you should have a wonderful time.
3rd class for short train rides should be fine, like from Bangkok to Ayutthaya. You should be able to just show up. But remember that a ticket doesn't necessarily guarantee you a seat! I definitely recommend the special train from the Bangkok Noi station in Thonburi to Kanchanaburi , because it passes over a portion of the death railway tracks from WWII. They'll charge you a bit more as a tourist, but it isn't that much more and is a great ride.
If you go to Kanchanaburi first, you can take the bus to Ayutthaya by a back route, changing buses in Suphanburi. There may be special tourist minivans making that run too. It costs more but is convenient.
Have a great trip. Regards.
Exacto- thanks a lot! I will absolutely make sure to see Wat Chai Wattanaram.
Could you elaborate on what you mean when you say that tickets do not guarantee you a seat? I think I missed that part during my readings. Do you mean a ticket booked in advance? Like say a day in advance? Or can you book a ticket 30 minutes before the train leaves and still somehow not be guaranteed a seat? Is it just because they overbook? What is the best methodology to employ to make sure you get your seat?
Thanks for all your advice!
in my experience, with a first or second class train car, your ticket would have a seat number on it and be for an assigned seat. but with third class, you usually won't have an assigned seat - you are only booking space. all that means is that if the particular car is crowded, you might wind up standing for part of the trip, just like you might on a bangkok city bus. i haven't had to stand all that much on third class trains, but i thought it was worth mentioning so you'd know. also, from what i can remember, the trains from bangkok noi station in thonburi to kanchanaburi are only third class, but there will be all kinds of options from bangkok to ayutthaya or reverse, since so many trains pass that route on their way to and from other destinations.
how is it in west africa, anyway? does the cheapest train ticket get you an assigned seat?
I've only really been in my assigned country, Guinea. I've heard rumors that there does exist a train, but nobody I know has used it =) there used to be a functioning train system in colonial times but the train stations are just pretty ruins now.
Most travel is by mini-buses/share-taxis, although you can do a lot of hitchhiking (I would recommend it!). Hitchhiking is the norm and it's very safe so long as it's during the day. You can usually tell by the crowd that's riding in the car- rich people, or a very old man or an at ease woman? Probably quite safe.
Thanks for the explanation of the trains btw! Sounds like we'll just 3rd class it except for the overnight train down to the islands.
Just for my two sense worth - My wife loves Koh Samet. She's had a bungalow on the beach and she and my daughter found it to be really pleasant. Now, she's Thai, and her tastes and preferences aren't always in line with western tastes. So that's a caveat. She liked Krabi, but enjoyed Koh Samet more. I know her preference here isn't typical of travelfishers though.