A Two-Week Thailand Itinerary for First Timers
After multiple holidays to Australia, the USA, and across Europe, my partner and I were left with the conundrum of taking a two-week holiday to somewhere that would be easy on our wallets. Thailand, of course, was the first destination my colleagues suggested to me, and as it would be my first time in the Land of Smiles, I was advised by our Asia Experts to follow the below Thailand itinerary. With accommodation, flights, transfers and experiences all pre-booked, my first-time Thailand holiday was an absolute dream. The tailor-made Journey offered equal parts culture, adventure and relaxation and, even still, proved easy on our budget. It was the best of both worlds and I can't recommend it enough. Here's how I did it:
Bangkok for 3 nights
It’s busy and loud and noisy, and at times, a bit smelly, but such is the eccentric charm of Thailand’s capital and largest city, Bangkok. Many people tend to only fly into Bangkok before heading straight to the islands, but I chose to stay a little longer, and I’m so glad I did! My favourite part of Bangkok was how unexpected it was. Down one street you'll find luxury boutiques, but make a left turn and you'll be met with a cheerful food market, and then a glistening temple just around the corner. Heading out each day felt like a little adventure.
- Visit the famous Wat Pho and the Grand Palace (pictured above)
- Explore the exotic streets of Chinatown
- Shop at the city's malls and markets
- Visit Jim Thompson House
- My favourite: Take the Street Eats tour by tuk-tuk, included in our Bangkok, Angkor Wat & Phuket Journey. It was a great way to try dishes I'd be too scared to normally (sweets that looked like chillis for example), as well as learn about local food, culture and history from our guide Neng. The tour even visited the flower markets, which was on my list, Wat Pho, and ended at a rooftop bar overlooking the river and skyline. The tuk-tuks are also an addictive way to travel!
Stay: I stayed at Pathumwan Princess Hotel, which I loved for its location near Bangkok’s main shopping malls and within a short taxi ride of the Grand Palace. The hotel also has a spectacular pool and an impressive fitness area which includes over 100 different workout stations including rooftop tennis courts, indoor cycling room, gym, steam room and sauna, and even a jogging track.
Eat: Bangkok may be one of the world’s best cities for street food, but if you’d prefer to dine at a restaurant, I highly recommend Issaya Siamese Club. Set within an impeccable colonial-style house, the restaurant’s chef Pongtawat “Ian” Chalermkittichai is considered to be Thailand’s first international celebrity chef, while the restaurant is often listed as one of the best in Thailand. The bill will be similar to what you'd expect to pay in London, but it's worth it. Be sure to try the massaman curry lamb shank – it’s incredible!
Drink: If you’re looking for somewhere scenic to drink, Bangkok is home to plenty of rooftop bars. The most famous is Vertigo and Moon Bar (pictured), located on the 61st floor of the Banyan Tree. You can dine at the rooftop restaurant too, but if you just want to take in the view you don’t have to book to have a drink at the bar.
Getting around: Taxis are the easiest way to get around, as they’re much more common and surprisingly cheaper than tuk tuks. Just be wary of peak hour traffic!
Top tip: If you’re staying at Pathumwan Princess Hotel, don’t miss happy hour at the resident bar located on a mezzanine rooftop. It’s a great way to start a night.
Chiang Mai for 3 nights
Located in the north of Thailand, Chiang Mai is a laid-back town often referred to as ‘the real Thailand’. Once the capital of the independent Lanna Kingdom until 1558, Chiang Mai has a fantastic old city worth exploring, along with many Buddhist temples. My favourite thing about Chiang Mai was that it was just so easy and relaxing to explore, and the people were incredibly friendly.
- Wander the night bazaar
- Indulge in an incredibly cheap Thai massage (think £17 for two hours)
- Explore the temples
- My favourite: Take part in a Thai cooking class. The half-day experience begins with meeting local cooking teacher Air Charat Karatna before being guided through the city’s largest produce market. After picking up ingredients it's then back to Air’s impressive open-air kitchen (pictured above) to learn how to cook three signature Thai dishes; tom yum soup, green curry and of course, pad Thai. Delicious! This experience can be added to any of our Chiang Mai holidays and is included in our Temple, Palaces & Villages Journey.
Stay: I stayed at the tranquil Tamarind Village, a boutique hotel located in Chiang Mai’s old town. The hotel features a number of low-set buildings and courtyards laid out around a magnificent 20-year-old tamarind tree. The inside is just as chic, with guestrooms featuring a mix of modern furniture with hilltribe textiles and design touches. And I loved enjoying breakfast outside by the pool. Tamarind Village also offers free, daily cultural walks to the temples nearby which I highly recommend joining.
Eat: My favourite find in Chiang Mai was Ginger & Kafe, a sophisticated café serving local Thai dishes surrounded by eclectic, colourful décor.
Getting Around: It’s very easy to walk around Chiang Mai, particularly the old town. When you grow tired, tuk tuks are wonderfully cheap and fun to get around in.
Top tip: Whether you opt to stay at Tamarind Village or not, I highly recommend having dinner at the on-site restaurant Ruen Tamarind. The food is fantastic, but it was the location and ambience – dining alfresco by the pool while a musical act performed – that made it really stand out.
Elephant Hills for 2 nights
One of our favourite things to recommend here at Flight Centre, Elephant Hills is a luxury eco-camp located in Khao Sok National Park, around a three- hour drive from Phuket. As the name suggestions, the camp is home to a plethora of elephants, as well as a floating lake camp. There are a number of ways you can experience the camp. I opted for the most popular – the three-day/two-night Jungle Lake Safari, which is included in our Bangkok, Beach & Elephants Journey.
Stay: The accommodation at Elephant Hills includes one night at the jungle camp and one night at the lake camp (pictured above). While the spectacular surroundings differ at each camp, the hotel-style accommodation is similar: a private and spacious tent featuring a proper (and very comfortable) bed, wooden floors, electricity and ensuite bathroom with hot shower and flushing toilet. Wi-Fi is available at the jungle camp but not at the lake camp, which is actually a great excuse to switch off and enjoy the spectacular scenery.
Do: There’s certainly plenty to do at Elephant Hills with your time at the camp split between organised activities and free time. Highlights of my stay included:
- Washing and feeding the resident elephants
- Kayaking down a river with a staff member paddling for us, and pointing out wildlife
- A guided jungle trek up a mountain and into a bat cave
- A guided kayak tour where we spotted a family of gibbons.
Eat: During your stay, all food is included which involves a buffet breakfast, lunch and dinner featuring a mix of Thai and western dishes. Alcohol is also available but costs extra and is served from a cash-only bar.
Top tip: If you plan on staying at the lake camp, which you really should, you’ll need to pack strategically. Travel to the lake camp takes place via boat, so you’ll be unable to bring a large suitcase for this part of your stay. Instead, it’s recommended to pack an overnight bag with light layers, a swimsuit, hiking shoes, hiking clothes, sun cream, bug spray, and cash – the lake camp bar is cash only.
Krabi for 4 nights
From Elephant Hills, the transfers included can take you to nearby Phuket and Krabi. If you’re looking for a livelier beach stay, then potentially Phuket is your better option. On the other hand, I was looking for a much more relaxed and secluded experience, so opted to stay in Krabi instead.
Stay: My dream for seclusion was taken a step even further when I opted to stay at the picturesque Centara Grand Beach Resort & Villas Krabi, which is idyllically located on its own private beach only accessible by boat. With sprawling grounds featuring everything from a private beach to multiple pools, a gym, restaurants and even a waterfall, the resort felt very much like a tropical holiday oasis where we were free to do as little or as much as we wanted. Our spacious lodgings, a Deluxe Ocean-Facing Room, continued that vibe with a wraparound balcony, plush bed and a bathroom that felt bigger than my flat in London.
- Relax by the beach and pool (you could easily just do this all week)
- Take part in a range of water sports
- Use the gym or take part in active classes such as yoga or water aerobics
- Take the hourly ferry to Railay Beach nearby (go early to have the place to yourself)
- Walk through the monkey trail around to Ao Nang
Eat and drink: Centara has four restaurants on site, including one dedicated to Thai cuisine. My personal favourite was the café located by the beach, perfect for enjoying a casual lunch or cocktail during happy hour.