I’ve been slacking on the blog, but my friend Nikki and I have been planning a Thailand trip for awhile now. It’s probably been the most difficult time I’ve ever had planning an itinerary, but now that we’ve more or less nailed it down, I thought it was time to share.
The first key lesson we learned: One week is not nearly long enough to do northern Thailand, let alone northern AND southern. When we first booked our round-trip tickets from New York to Bangkok (sub-$700 through United, operated by LAN–I know), we hadn’t talked about which places we were going to visit, but I’d just assumed we’d do Bangkok, Chiang Mai and then Phuket and maybe an island. So, so wrong. The southern half of Thailand is long and skinny, so that would have involved at least three domestic flights, plus hours of transferring.
I felt pressured to choose between the north and the south–where the beaches are–and while I’m not exactly a beach bum, the idea of striking paradise from the itinerary was kind of soul-crushing. For awhile I held out, trying to find a flight that would take us directly from Chiang Mai to a non-Phuket island (too touristy, upon further review) so that we could cut down travel time and sneak in two beach days at the end.
I found one–from Chiang Mai to Koh Samui–that I thought would be perfect. Getting to the beach on Koh Samui is a matter of travelling a few kilometers, rather than hours on a ferry from Phuket or elsewhere. Also, the island has beautiful national marine parks and is striking distance from the gorgeous Koh Tao, a diver’s paradise (not that we dive–irrelevant).
There was only one problem, which was that November is monsoon season for the islands in the Gulf of Thailand, and that brings me to the second key lesson we learned: Monsoon season is different for different parts of the country.
When Nikki first clued me in to the November weather conditions, I was indignant. I had already looked up monsoon season, and it wasn’t in November. Thai islands were supposed to be lovely that time of year.
I was correct about Thai islands…but only those on the Andaman sea side. Because of its shape, the country is subject to a host of different weather patterns, bringing completely different experiences to its opposite sides.
I briefly tried to find an Andaman-side beach to visit–we’d heard great things about Krabi and places nearby–but ultimately they would have just made for too much travel. One day I’ll drink from a coconut on an Asian island. One day.
I thought things would get easier once we narrowed things down to the north, but that was another misconception. There are so many places of interest, and mountainous terrain can make for tricky travel and lengthy drive times. We wanted to go to Pai, for example–from what I understand, a chilled-out hippie enclave in the mountains surrounded by hot springs–but we just couldn’t work it in, what with it being a three-hour drive each way from Chiang Mai. While we were trying, though, we cut out Bangkok–a weird move, I know, but one meant to maximize our time in the north. And, as I figure, I’m gonna have to fly back into Bangkok to get to my island next time, right?
Here’s where we currently stand:
Day 1: Ayutthaya ruins (day trip from Bangkok), flight from Bangkok to Chiang Mai to catch the Sunday night market
Day 2: Chiang Mai
Day 3: Chiang Mai (day trip to Elephant Nature Park)
Day 4: Maeteang
Day 5: Maeteang
Day 6: Drive to Tha Ton, boat to Chiang Rai
Day 7: Golden Triangle day trip, flight from Chiang Rai to Bangkok
One more note, for those who are planning a November trip: Keep the dates for Loi Krathong, the Thai lantern festival, in mind. It looks absolutely incredible, but we’re leaving just before it begins. And while I’d love to catch it next time, now that I know November is monsoon season in parts of the south, might be picking a different month to go… Damn it.