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itinerary advice for 3 weeks in Thailand

Posted by jendo on 10/10/2009 at 20:04

Hello there, I am a 25 year old female backpacker about to embark solo on a RTW trip. I will be in SEA for 7 weeks (arrive Bankok 2nd November, depart Singapore 24th December), and wish to spend 3 weeks in Thailand, 1 in Cambodia, 1 in Laos and the remaining 2 back in Thailand.

For the first 3 weeks, I am trying to think of a wee route that will allow me to avoid being in heavily touristed areas too much, allow me to see both natural and manmade/cultural beauty (temples, art, history and preserved communities) but I am aware that im very much a newbie and so advice and unput as to a good route would be most appreciated.

I wanted to travel anti-clockwise from Bankok, so I can see a variety of places in the main regions...I was thinking as a rough idea:

Khao Yai National Park
Khon Kaen
Nam Nao/Phi Kradung Nat Park
Nan Province
Sukhothai (for historical park)
Nakhon Sawan (or Chainat or Singburi maybe..?)
Back to Bankok

When I come back to Thailand after having been in Cam and Laos, I want to spend most time in Southern Thailand (Im thinking mainly on/around Ko Phi Phi), but its just how best to get there; I will be going through Laos South to North, and so I dont know if I am better entering Thailand overland and coming down south via chiang mai/rai (although these sound like places I may want to avoid?! if I've already been to Nan?) or get a flight from Laos (maybe from Louang Phanang?) to somewhere southern (Krabi?)

I havent looked at flights between these yet so this particular choice might not be possible, but you get the idea :)

I need to go to the south anyway as my onward flight leaves from Singapore.

Any suggestions about what to skip/see, transport advice, bearing in mind Im a newbie female soloist :) etc would be most valued.

I have seen Somtam2000 reccommending often that it is best to travel less and see more, and I think perhaps I might be doing the opposite lol - its hard when you start reading about Thailand as you just want to do and see everything!! so advice on how to maximise my time would be great,

Thank you for your time and apologies for the length of this post! jen

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Posted by jendo on 14/10/2009 at 01:30

thought I might have got one wee reply to this lol, no-one got any words of wisdom...:) ?

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Posted by Tilapia on 14/10/2009 at 08:01

Hi Jen,

You probably will not be avoiding the heavily touristed areas by going to Koh Phi Phi. If you want to avoid crowds, you should probably look to other areas around Phi Phi and Krabi. In fact, for that time of the year, I can't think of a busier area to go to other than Phuket.

Khao Yai is nice. You can do some really cool walks around there. It's a beautiful area that becomes PACKED with Thai tourists on weekends and holidays. The park is only about 2-2 1/2 hours from Morchit (the northern bus terminal in Bangkok) so you could come straight back to the bus terminal, or to the train station in Bangkok, and then head north after a night or two in the park (towards Phitsanulok .) It is also possible to go to Ayuthaya from Prachinburi, but it's not too easy/frequent.

Khon Kaen is a busy, unattractive city with a superb food scene at night. I have only spent a small amount of time there. Personally, apart from the evenings when the main streets come alive, I thought that there was not much to see or do there. Considering how little time you have, your age, and the things you say your are interested in, I would think about giving KK a miss. If you want to see a big Issan city with a large ex-pat community, then you might enjoy it. Gotta say that I was truly impressed by the food scene there.

You may want to consider skipping Phitsanulok (but do take an hour or two to see Wat Yai next to the river) and head straight to Sukhothai . Phitsanulok is alright (at night again), especially along the river. But, Sukhothai is the real draw for that area.

From Sukhothai/Phitsanulok you can head north to Nan. Nan province is gorgeous. If you plan to do some trekking around there, you may want to skip Khao Yai and spend more time in Nan. It's far more isolated and unvisited, and there is more to do.

You might want to make Ayuthaya a day-trip from Bangkok, or an overnighter. It's a cheap, fast 3rd. class train trip to the city. There are a lot of gorgeous temples, but it's also a bustling city. If time is of the essence, you might want to skip it if you got your fill of temples in Sukhothai. It's really easy to get to Ayuthaya from Bangkok.

The Kanchanaburi area is busy, but beautiful. Further west is Sangkhlaburi, a very Burmese area with gorgeous scenery and fewer people than in K-buri. I think that either of these places would be a far better choice to spend time in than Singburi. Having said that, if you want to spend time in Singburi, you can almost guarantee that you will be one of a small handful of foreigners hanging around there. Not much to see or do but experience a typical mid-sized Thai town, and that can be a very good thing. Night markets are usually excellent. It is something that I think visitors should do in the country at least once, time-permitting.

Both Chiangrai and Chiangmai are good places. I like CR more than CM, but that's just me. I'd just head to Nan all things considered.

One week in Laos is nowhere near enough time to go from the south to the north, or vice versa. You'll be better off choosing a part of the country and checking it out. If you are talking about traveling between Vientiane and Luang Prabang, you may want to take the train from Bangkok to Nong Khai, then cross into Vientiane and go north by bus. You can then make your way to Huay Xai by bus or boat, then cross into Chiang Khong and then make your way to Nan, Sukhothai, and south. Or, you could go to Chiang Khong from Nan, then head to Huay Xai, LP, then Vientiane then back to Bangkok from Nong Khai. Just something else to consider, as if you didn't have enough to think about.

But, hey, you asked for it.

Happy Planning.

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Posted by somtam2000 on 14/10/2009 at 08:06 admin

Sorry - I missed this one!

Interesting route.

My first thought, is that three weeks to cover your Thailand loop is going to be pretty tight. I say this mainly because of the National Parks -- Khao Yai and Phu Kradung/Nam Nao are a bit time consuming to get into and you'll need a few days in each for it to be worthwhile -- same goes for Nan (which has six national parks). I'd be inclined to drop Nakhon Sawan/Chainat to allow more time in the parks -- and perhaps even drop Phitsanulok and just transit from Loei through to Nan (that will still take you through Phitsanulok but I'd just transit there).

If you've one week for Laos I'd suggest going north OR south -- otherwise you'll be just moving all the time -- either could work well with your Thailand segment, but the south fits better with Cambodia. For example, you could do your Thailand loop counter clockwise, then, after Khao Yai head east through Isann to sat Nakhon Phanom or Mukdahan and cross into southern Laos, head south, enter Cambodia and hop skip and jump through there before exiting towards Bkk and south to the silly islands.

Hope that helps & apols for the tardy reply, I missed this one -- sounds like it will be an interesting trip!

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Posted by jendo on 14/10/2009 at 09:02

wow! ok, thanks guys! wasnt expecting so much great info, a great big thank you to you both for your time and level of input, really detailed and most helpful!

Bear with me a moment please!

Yes, I have since realised that southern thailand will be mobbed at the time I'll be travelling, and especially Kho Phi Phi...guess I could get a flight/train to Krabi and just potter around that area out of the way of the hotspots, heading towards singapore(where my onward flight departs from).

having said this I'm a bit tempted to skip the south altogether and just spend more time above Bankok and in Laos/Cam, cutting through/flying over the south to Singapore, 1) because its high season by the time I get there and thus overpriced, crowded, less availability of places to stay, etc ....and 2) - this is totally unfounded and mere guesswork - but possibly slightly less safe than the more rural spots, due to the volume of tourists and the thiefs etc etc this attracts? Maybe this is first-time traveller paranoia I don't know?! I would love to see the beaches but would I be dissapointed at that time of year?

Thanks for both of your input on the things to see and skip - what you both say is quite congruent (ie, to skip Phitsanulok)and so I can take on the suggestions, although am now a bit puggled as to how to do the cam/laos bit - I knew I wouldnt have time to do both north and south, I just meant that was the direction I would head in...

I think I like what you're saying Somatam2000 about sticking to the south...although can I get a Laos Visa in or around Nakon Phanom/Mukdahan? Maybe in Bankok before I head off anti clockwise.. If I did travel that way, would it be less touristy to see the beaches at trat before going back to bankok, and then not worrying so much about the southern thai beaches, or will this region be mobbed too?

One important point though, I thought I should fly after 3 weeks (my initial plan was to fly to Phon Phemh - was cheapest and fitted the route, not as well as Siem Reap but sadly I don't have that much spare cash!?)in order to have proof of an outward flight, so I wasnt outstaying my 4 week limit in Thailand...It sounds as if they arent always stringent about this, but it would just be my luck to get pulled up :)

So any idea of the best way to get round that...all other thai to cam/laos flights seem to be really can be seen on my RTW e-ticket that I'm only in SEA for 7 weeks, but maybe not wise to assume they'll take your word that you're not going to be in Thailand the whole time!

Finally, tell me I'm going to be fine on my own as I'm getting really nervous lol! Just hope this isn't a route I will find too daunting, given my inexperience :(

Sorry for prattling on again, but thanks again for your help guys!


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Posted by jendo on 14/10/2009 at 09:34

still havent worked out the edit function to fix the post itself, so will say that I can see that my last 2 main paragraphs above seem rather contradictory: ie I want to cross overland to southern laos but I also to fly to phon phemh - I was trying to say that the former is what I would really rather do, for simplicity and a smooth journey, and the latter is what I felt I should do, basically as an arse covering exercise re visa rules :)

Somatam2000, did you mistakenly type "anti clockwise" but meant clockwise, meaning I would leave Khao Yai till last and go to Laos after it, or was it right the first time and so I would head back out towards Khao Yai from bankok again after I'd done the anti clockwise circuit? Just wasn't sure and so I wanted it clear in me head! thanks jen

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Posted by MADMAC on 14/10/2009 at 11:07

"I think I like what you're saying Somatam2000 about sticking to the south...although can I get a Laos Visa in or around Nakon Phanom/Mukdahan?"

You can cross into southern Laos at Ubon Rathathani and Mukdahan. As far as I know, not at NKP.

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Posted by RenoBill on 14/10/2009 at 11:22

As you plan your time in different places, I suggest you keep in mind that Laos and Cambodia are much less developed than Thailand, and you will find that transportation and lodging are more difficult - slower and more primitive. Language is also a consideration, as English is much more widely spoken in Thailand than in Laos or Cambodia.

So I would endorse suggestions to narrow your focus in Laos and Cambodia, and plan to see less because it will take longer to get to various places.

Northern and southern Laos are quite different culturally an geographically. In the north, Luang Prabang is the historic capital of Laos, and an interesting city. Lots of hill tribes in the north, but if you visit them in Thailand, then perhaps not necessary to repeat the experience in Laos.

You will probably find different experiences in southern Laos, from your other destinations. Fewer tourists, relatively undeveloped, but interesting in its own way. Perhaps someone else can comment on transport from the southern Lao Mekong River towns such as Pakse into Cambodia, presumably to Angkor Wat, a destination that should not be missed.

You are putting a lot into a relatively short time period, and the suggestion to spend more time in fewer places is one that I agree with. Hopefully, this will not be your one and only trip to this area, and you can visit other places in the future. BTW, you should enjoy excellent weather at this time of year. Hope the above is helpful.

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Posted by somtam2000 on 14/10/2009 at 15:19 admin

Jendo: Yes I should learn which way the clock goes round -- I meant finishing in Khao Yai and heading east to Mukdahan or Nakhon Phanom (you can cross into Laos at the latter -- to Tha Khaek -- which is convenient to Konglor Cave and other stuff, also can cross near Ubon as mentioned by MadMac) At all three crossings there is Lao visa on arrival, so no need to grab one beforehand.

If you do head out that way, That Phanom (between Mukdahan and Nakhon Phanom) is well worth a diversion for a night or two.

For flights -- look into AirAsia -- they fly all over the shop and prob have some very cheap flights that would work with your trip.

If you're not all that fussed about the islands, I'd skip them and spread out your existing trip a bit more -- save the islands for next year ;-)


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Posted by jendo on 14/10/2009 at 22:20

I am thinking I could:

Amend the original route as proposed by somatam2000 and Tilapia, reducing the amount of places in Thailand I will see, and either :

1) go anti clockwise in Thailand for just over 3 weeks, get back to Bankok, fly to Phon Pemh (under £30 squid at last check), spend 2 weeks there getting from PP - SR - Stung Treng for Laos border (is this do-able Renobill or anyone else with the knowledge?) , then spend a week in Laos (my malerone script is only for a week so canny really stay longer :) ), exit Laos at Pakse and that gives me a week to get from Chong Mek to Singapore, skipping the islands and just hoofing it (could head back to Bankok and get flight to Singapore, or take some buses/trains)

2) go clockwise for a few weeks in Thailand, go through to southern Laos at one of the 3 crossings as proposed by Somatam2000, continue south to Cambodia and probably spend the 2 weeks mainly in SR/Ankor Wat and Battamang, then exit overland via Aranyapraphet, head to Bankok and get to Singapore from there.

If I buy the AirAsia flight to Phon Pemh anyway, I have both options as I don't actually have to use it, but will have the security of having it there if asked for proof of onward flight, and it doesnt cost too much. Plan 2 sounds a bit simpler, BUT it would be nice to use the PP flight as I have a friend wanting to go from Bankok-Cambodia at around the same time... key questions - is it possible to get overland from PP - SR/Ankor - Stung Treng-Laos in around 2 weeks (if I do option 1) ?

is it comfortably possible to overland from Chong Mek or Aranyapraphet to Singapore in around a week (need to know this for either option - would imagine its much quicker from the latter, given its proximity to Bankok?)

I promise I'll shut up after someone can help with this :)

so much thanks to everyone who has shared their knowledge with me in this thread!! jen

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Posted by RenoBill on 15/10/2009 at 00:02

Some years ago I took a train from Singapore to Bangkok, stopping to visit interesting towns along the way, and staying overnight in some of them, then resuming the train trip the next day. It was a pleasant way to see places I otherwise would have missed. You might check and see if such an arrangement is still available, for your journey from BKK to SIN, if this idea interests you.

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Posted by jendo on 15/10/2009 at 00:07

know what, I might just take that flight to PP, then spend about 3 weeks in Cambodia and skip Laos altogether, instead of passing through just the hotspots of both and rushing around. Then leave myself a week to get from aran to singapore.

I'm pretty sure I'll be back in the future, no need to try and see everything and end up seeing nothing! laos looks so great it really does, but I just think a week would be a bit brief and I couldnt really give it much more.

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Posted by somtam2000 on 15/10/2009 at 07:06 admin

jendo -- you keep changing your mind! LOL

I'd say option 2 is the better of the two (before you decided to skip Laos altogether!)

For Chong Mek or Aran to Singapore -- yes -- do it by train via Bangkok and stop off at a couple of places -- I'd suggest Penang and KL for starters.

You mention malarials -- you may want to give this a read:


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Posted by jendo on 15/10/2009 at 07:47

haha such is me, subject to change :) its also alot to do with me mate whoinformed me yesterday they will be arriving in Bankok on the 25th November, and wants to go to southwest cambodia(sihanoukville) for diving..

so I thought if I spent the 2nd-26th in Thailand, another 3 weeks cutting about Cambodia (26 - 16th) then get the train from Bankok to Singapore from 16th till 23rd, I would be able to go at a nice pace, see more of Cambodia and get to see a mate from home (will be great to see a familiar face after a couple of months of going it alone! plus me birthdays on the 28th so wont be celebrating on ma tod!).

so some logic to the madness :) , a combination of trying to take on the see less=experience more advice given by alot of you guys in this thread, and accommodating personal factors!

If didnt have thai visa concerns and a mate coming through at an awkward stage of me journey, then I would also have gone for option 2....mibbes next time, or someone else can try it!

I will definitely be taking on what you and others have said about the thai leg of my journey, and I thank you for helping me to perfect it! And also will take the train from bankok to singapore - thanks for the reccommendation, Penang looks great! By KL did you mean Kuala Lumpur? just checking!

thanks again, jen

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