Dear Travelfish Friends,
Please can you help me with my itinerary? I'm male, 35, and will be travelling solo in Thailand (first trip to SE Asia) for 25 days: arrive BKK on 23 December and depart BKK 17 January. I know it's very little time, and so am looking for quality rather than quantity. Your advice in other posts has already been hugely helpful (my original plan also included Southern Vietnam and Cambodia). I've already done a fair bit of research but would greatly appreciate tapping into the wealth of experience here. I have a healthy budget.
My interests: I'm an active guy and am looking forward to hiking, kayaking, motorbiking, snorkling and perhaps also some diving. Tour groups and popular tourist locations are definitely not my thing, and I'm probably not going to pay for entrance to stand behind a barrier at a waterfall. I'm also not keen on bars, clubbing and walking through red-light districts. Looking forward to exploring a few Thai islands but but lying on a beach in one location for long periods as well as resorts frequented by families and young party-goers really don't appeal to me. I'm very excited about Thai food and plan to stay away from Western food as well as a la carte restaurants. Yes to a national park but no more than one or two temples. In sum, I'm looking for some quality off-the-beaten-path adventure.
This is where my planning has taken me so far, but apart from the first three nights in Bangkok I really am very flexible:
- Three nights in Bangkok
- Fly or train to Chang Mai and spend one night there
- Mae Hong Son loop by moped 3 / 4 nights
- Travel to Kha Sok National Park and spend 3 / 4 nights there
In particular, I'd appreciate your help with the following:
1) Places to visit / stay during the MHS loop
2) Travel from Chang Mai to Kha Sok
3) Recommendations for Kha Sok
4) Suggestions for around 13 nights after Kha Sok
Thank you so much for your help and your wonderful contributions that make this website such an excellent resource :)
Man I wish I could help you, but you are going to all the places I don't. I'm an Issan guy and not a sight seeing type. Not that there's anything wrong with that, it's just not my thing.
The only piece of advice I can give is if you ride a bike with a clutch, try and get something north of 125 ccs. Something with a comfortable saddle. Riding a Honda wave over long stretches is hard on the ass.
Off the beaten path is great but you're going during one of the peak tourism periods. Up north it's not so much western tourists who tend to prefer the southern beaches at this time, but tons of Thai tourists doing the "cold season" thing up here, and then there's the Chinese who are flocking to Chiang Mai and surrounds in double/triple numbers the past couple years. Just saying it can be quite busy, even on the MHS circuit. Anyway, yes rent a scooter and do the loop, best time of year for it. Pack light, leave your main baggage in CM at a guset house where you stay before and after. As an alternative to Pai and MHS check out Soppong and specifically Cave Lodge. Another alternative town Khun Yuam has a few simple guest houses and relatively few toruists. Also consider to hit Doi Inthanon (highest point in Thailand) on the way.
Getting to Khao Sok with limited time book a flight to Surat Thani then get a minivan or bus to the park. Recommend you stay at least 3 days including a night on one of the lake raft houses. It's not very cheap but worth the exclusivity of being in a magic location. Stay a night near the park headquarters then get a ride to the dam and boat to raft houses (several choices). Hopefully you'll avoid the Thai-style karaoke crowd in favor of some quiet kayaking, trekking, caving, etc. I've stayed at "Ton Toey" raft house a few times and it's fairly awesome. Probably need to pre-book at peak season.
After that, 13 days, so many options. For diving best bet is Khao Lak and live aboard 3-4 days at the Similan/Surin Islands, best diving in SE Asia. Again very busy so pre-book that as well (and get out your wallet). Otherwise maybe head down to Ko Lanta and stay on one of the southern-end beaches which are less touristy, e.g. Khlong Jak or Ao Mai Phai. Lanta is a good island to rent a scooter and explore. I would even rent one straight off the boat then go find a place to stay and take it from there. Some good dives ex-Lanta too - Ko Ha, Bida Nok, Hin Daeng/Muang. Or do a snorkel trip to small islands Ko Rok, Ko Kradan, Ko Muk, Ko Ngai. For a quieter vibe take boat to Ko Jum (aka Ko Pu) just north of Lanta, some simple beach bungalows, no cars, way less tourists.
Thanks a lot for the tips Captain Bob! I am, indeed, going to be there at the busiest time so guess will have to just take a few things on the chin. Will definitely go for at least three nights in Khao Sok. Ton Toey's raft houses look great - I may give them a try - but I've also heard about a certain Mr Toy who provides a pretty awesome tour, apparently, so will probably look him up first. Ko Jum looks awesome as do your other suggestions. Do you have any thoughts on Krabi?
MADMAC, thanks for the tip about the bike and saddle. If I was thinking about doing a rental bike loop in the Issan region instead of the MHS loop, might you have any suggestions then?
Thanks a lot chaps :)
Connected to Khao Sok is Khlong Saeng Wildlife Sanctuary and there's more wildlife there. Many tour operators sell "Khao Sok" trips and actually do take you into Khlong Saeng. Ask to stay at the Khlong Ya floating bungalows. Those are the most remote and you can kayak and trek there. I've never heard more gibbons and hornbills in my life than there. 3 Swiss tourists who stayed there before us saw a young elephant come down to the shore 3 consecutive mornings. We didn't get so lucky. Click on the link above to see photos, including a photo of the floating bungalows at Khlong Ya.
Hi Greg, thanks for the tip. I just saw a copy of your book in Amazon "Called Away by a Mountain Spirit" - looks good dude :) Really looking forward to the floating bungalows. How was the trekking? I heard there are leeches .... Did you visit any other similarly awesome destinations while in Thailand?
I've trekked Khao Sok a few times, and also Khao Phanom Bencha, Kaeng Krachan, Thap Lan, Pang Sida, Khao Luang, Sri Phang Nga, and several smaller forest parks. Khlong Saeng and Thap Lan were the best. We heard a tiger roaring about 150 meters from where we were camped. It is not easy to arrange a trip to Thap Lan, but if you rent a motorbike you might be able to do it. An NGO brought me in there to learn about camera-trapping, and that's when we heard the roaring -happened 3 times for about 20 seconds each time, and found his footprints all over the place the following morning. If you can somehow get there (Thap Lan is about 3.5 hours north of Bangkok), you want to ask the park staff if a ranger can take you to stay in the "ranger sub-station" deep inside the park. Nearly the entire front face of the bungalow has been smashed in by wild elephants. Hornbills everywhere, pileated gibbons whooping up a storm in the morning, elephant footprints and dung along the trails. That's as wild as I've ever seen in Thailand, and Thap Lan is part of a much larger forest complex -the Dong Phayayen-Khao Yai Forest Complex, which is something like 6,000 sq. kilometers in total.
But Khong Saeng is awesome too. Leeches -yes, but despite their #s I only suffered 3 bites. Keep in mind I was there in mid-Juy when there is a lot of rain.
Greg, I just now spoke with Mr Toy and afterwards made a reservation via text message! I asked to stay on the floating bungalows on Khlong Saeng, and he was fine with it. I also asked about whether he knew anyone at Thap Lan, and he is going to try get me someone's number. I will let you know how things pan out.
I'm also thinking about doing a motorbike loop for around 3/4 nights in the Issan region. Originally I was thinking about the MHS loop but the more I read into it the more I'm drawn to the Issan region, in particular the Mekong, which looks more interesting and probably a little less touristic. If you have any tips for an Issan rental bike loop, that, too, would be much appreciated.
Thank you all so much for your help :)
"If I was thinking about doing a rental bike loop in the Issan region instead of the MHS loop, might you have any suggestions then?"
Absolutely. I love the Thai side of the Mekong. It's a bit tricky on the language side, but not insurmountable. You probably won't see more than a few tourists your whole trip. PM me if you interested. I've ridden the entire stretch from Ubon to Nong Khai.