Ever since I came back from my trip I've been getting the most questions about Thailand! It was the number one destination I planned/researched before I went, and I knew I would spend the most time there to cover all that I wanted to see.I spent about 2 months here, and although I didn't see everythingggg (gotta give yourself a reason to come back!), I came pretty damn close. I saw/did all the main things I planned as well as a few unexpected things as well. Many people have been asking me where to go in Thailand and what they should do so I am writing this to highlight some of my favorites and offer recommendations for building your own itinerary!
Bangkok: Probably the best and most common place to start your journey. Flights come and go out of their 2 airports making it a great first(and last) stop for your time in Thailand. Also if you want to fly to other destinations in Thailand(as I did), this makes it so convenient. This city has SO much to see it's almost overwhelming. I spent my first day exploring the Grand Palace(which is a must, although try going early to avoid the crowds and hot sun), Wat Pho, and Khao San Road. The next few days were spent exploring, shopping, and eating deliciously for cheap(hello, street food!). I highly recommend getting on one of the river boats(kind of like a public bus) and exploring different neighborhoods at each stop or just enjoying the view on the water! Depending how much you like big cities I think you could spend 1-4 days in Bangkok(depending on your time allowance and budget, the bigger cities will be more expensive).
Chiang Mai: This was my next destination from Bangkok(1 hour by plane, approx. 8-12 by train?). It was such a peaceful transition from big city to sprawling countryside and jungle. Everything is so lush and green! If you stay in Chiang Mai, I recommend staying inside the old city(its shaped like a square). Rent a bike or motor scooter to get around. I loved all the street markets here, probably the best I experienced anywhere in Thailand! The Saturday & Sunday Night Market as well as the Night Bazaar were my favorites. Highly recommend these for souvenirs, gifts, and especially street food(come hungry and make a meal of it). I found these markets had way more variety than the typical elephant pants & buddha statues at most Thai markets, I was so impressed with the wide variety of handmade goods! My favorite activity I did here was visiting an elephant sanctuary and bathing/feeding elephants. Please don't support cruel elephant riding practices! I also did a day trip to Chiang Rai(3 hour drive) to see the White Temple which was high on my list to do for Thailand, and totally met and exceeded my expectations. I would recommend staying 2-4 days in Chiang Mai. Don't leave without going to one of the markets, and biking around the old city.
Pai: Ahh, Pai. This place is about to blow up. It has become a hub for backpackers and modern day hippies. With beautiful scenery, and a small, slow paced town, you can't deny Pai is easy living. This was definitely a relaxing stop for me, full of memories. This is the place in Thailand where I learned to ride a scooter and spent a lot of time scootering around to check out the valley. I hiked to the big White Buddha on the hilltop. You can rent a bungalow for cheap here, making it easy to have a little place to yourself. The evening street food along the main strip at night makes it easy to eat a variety of food every night! I think some of the best food I had in Thailand was in Pai(vegetarian heaven!). I met a lot of backpackers that were in Pai "indefinitely" so it's easy to fall in love with living there...but I'd say plan atleast 3 days minimum if you plan on stopping in Pai.
Phuket: Phuket was probably the most touristy place I went and to be honest probably my least favorite place in Thailand. The beaches here can be really nice provided the weather is good, but they will be pretty crowded as well! Kata Noi was my favorite, further away and smaller than the two main Beaches Kata and Karon. I wouldn't say Phuket is a must for a Thailand trip, except that it can be easy to get to Koh Phi Phi from here. Maybe 1-2 days.
Koh Phi Phi: Ahhh I loved Koh Phi Phi! Definitely a big party scene here. We did a booze cruise here and I really recommend it(you're not forced to drink if you don't want, but if you do it's endless!). They took us on the wildest boat ride to a snorkel location, a cove with monkeys, and a beautiful lagoon. Worth it just for the beautiful places they take you to and the friends you'll meet. The next day we were wanting to relax so we hungout at the beach by our resort, and we were surprised how much of a ghost town it is during the day, while all the backpackers are out on booze cruises! The town gets wild again at night when the bars open. I really enjoyed the beach bars and fire shows. Probably the most beautiful island too, I think. If you don't make it to any other Thai islands, stop here. I would recommend spending 2-4 days here.
Koh Samui: I only spent one day/night and then a morning on Koh Samui, but I easily could've spent more time there. This was our chill out time before heading to Koh Phangan for Full Moon. This one has a family friendly/honeymooner vibe, but also some backpackers too. It is one of the only islands with an airport which makes it a great landing place to the islands on the east coast. Spend atleast 1-2 days here.
Koh Phangan: Yup, we came for the Full Moon Party! It was pretty much what I expected, crowded, drunk and wild. We had our fun night but didn't go overboard. My best suggestion is pregame beforehand-the cheap buckets on the beach are great and all, but just watch how they make them. Aside from the party, the island itself is beautiful. Lush and green all over! I recommend getting a scooter here too, or hop on a songthaew(shared taxi, one of the open air vans) for getting around the island for cheap. The beaches here aren't as great as some of the other islands, but theres tons of good hiking and nature oppurtunities. I stayed here a day after the full moon party, and it was like the town went from capacity to ghost town overnight. If you aren't into partying, plan your trip not around the Full Moon. If you do plan on staying for Full Moon, book your accomodations as far in advance as possible. We booked ours about 3-4 months just to be safe. It will fill up! I would say 2-3 days is good here, maybe less if you skip the Full moon.
Koh Tao: My last Thailand stop, and one of my favorites. I came here solo after the Full Moon Party. This island is known for scuba diving, and on a whim I signed myself up for an Open Water Certification course. I fell in love after the first day! There's nothing quite like being underwater, especially where the water is warm and clear visibility! If you are interested in scuba or even snorkeling(many companies do day tours) make Koh Tao a stop on your trip. It is one of the cheapest places in the world to get your certification in any course, and that's why many backpackers flock here. The island itself is very small and I found myself able to walk around but scootering is very popular. I wouldn't recommend it as the roads aren't very well maintained and the island is notorious for scooter accidents by tourists. The beach and "downtown" central area are fantastic. I found myself coming here everynight to sit and watch the sunset by myself. The bars along the beach are a fun time too, although it seems very similar to the Full Moon Party on a smaller scale. I would come back to Koh Tao in a heartbeat. I spent 5 days here(4 days for the scuba course). If you plan on scuba-ing, 4 days minimum. Without, 2 days is great for this small island.
There you have it! This post is done in order of the way I traveled, minus exiting the country once to go to Cambodia/Vietnam(to extend my visa when I came back). You may find it easier to work north to south or vice versa. Thailand is a truly beautiful country with friendly locals, and I would say it's really safe if you are aware of your surroundings and your belongings and use a lil street smarts/common sense. I know that the country itself is massive and this post only scratched the surface of what is out there to explore. I hope it is a good jumping off point for planning your own travels!