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8 days in Thailand-Dec 2016

I just purchased flights for my four children (ages 24-33) and me to Thailand from early 12/21 until early 12/29. I want to book hotels but need help allocating our time and would appreciate travel tips. One son needs internet to study (med student). Otherwise, we like nature, cuisine and culture plus some chill time. In general, we can get two hotel rooms or rent a house. Don't think we have enough time to get to Pai or northern border. Here's what I was thinking ...

12/21 Wednesday we arrive at 2:00 AM and will need to check into a hotel to sleep a little then enjoy Bangkok and then sleep there again Wednesday night (we will probably pay for two nights at the hotel) , take a tour of the canals and floating market, visit some of the famous temples

12/22 Thursday afternoon we can fly (or take train) to Chiangmai

12/23 Chiangmai and area

12/24 Chiangmai and area

12/25 fly to Phuket (or train?)

12/26 enjoy the beach & islands

12/27 enjoy the beach & islands

12/28 fly back to Bangkok

12/29 depart very early Thursday morning 12/29 (about 4:00 AM)

Thanks for any advice, Kate

Posted by
5010 posts

It's not clear to me if you have ever been to Thailand (or Asia) before - that would be helpful in calibrating responses. Based on your post, I'm going to guess "no". I will offer a few tips here, take them or leave them as you see fit. FWIW, I've been to Thailand many times, was just there about 2 weeks ago, my wife is Thai, we have lots of family there...and I was just there so have some fresh news...

First of all, stop deluding yourself. You do not have 8 days in Thailand, you have 6 at best, and the first day after arrival you're probably going to be pretty wiped out by jetlag and the fatigue of flying half way around the world. On top of that (with your 6 usable days), you're talking about flying domestically twice (Bangkok to Chiangmai and back; Bangkok to Phuket and back). Even if you're skilled and experienced, those (four) days when you're flying are going to be mostly consumed by travel, too - so now you're down to, what 2 or 3 days when you're not arriving or departing on a plane?

I know this isn't what you want to hear, but your plan seems totally unrealistic to me.

I just got back from a very, very short trip to Thailand. I was there for about 9 days, not including my arrival or departure days. I think it's generally pretty crazy to go from North America to Thailand for that short a time, but I had some unique circumstances that allowed me to justify it this time. I also flew in First Class (lucky me, it was awesome), so I was able to get really wonderful, solid, restful sleep (perfect conditions), all along the way, so upon arrival I felt 100% great. If was trying to tough it out in coach, I would expect to completely write off the next day as needed time to recover form the miserable flight. I'm also super-lucky that all I need to do is get there and step outside the airport - then I'm met by family (locals) who whisk me away and take care of every possible thing I might need or want, as long as I'm there and until they drop me off at the airport to leave - and I mean that literally. I do not need to worry about anything, just east, drink, sleep, and everything is done for me. Zero language barrier. No challenges navigating, I never have to even think about how to get from point A to point B. No worries about cultural leaps (they know I'm a clueless foreigner, so they tell me what to do, how to act at temples, when there's a monk sitting in front of me, etc.). For me, it's easier than being at home.

If you have not been to Thailand before, or another "very foreign" country where the language, written script, culture, local customs, etc, are completely alien, you may find that very simple things (finding your hotel, a place to eat, getting somewhere) will take longer and require more thought/effort than you expect. It's also stunningly hot and humid there - don't discount how much this can impact your efficiency. If you're familiar with Thailand, then ignore some of the above.

Now, I would not want to discourage anyone from visiting there - tourism is a major industry, things are very well set up for foreign visitors, Thais are wonderfully gracious and welcoming to guests, etc - I'd say Thailand is one of (if not the) easiest Asian country for first-time visitors. But if it's your first time, don't expect everything to go quickly, easily and efficiently.

All that said, I still think your schedule is completely unrealistic.

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Posted by
5010 posts

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One other thing you should be aware of: the King of Thailand died a few weeks ago (happened while I was there). You need to understand that this may impact your trip. The country is in mourning and will be for a full year. You will see everyone wearing black and shades of grey. It is considered impolite to be wearing bright, colorful clothes - not a problem at beach resorts, in Bangkok itself the public mourning is everywhere and obvious. All "entertainment" has been canceled - all TV stations have been playing recorded loops about the king's life. All radio is doing the same. All public-sector workers must dress in black/gray (for a year). Some of these restrictions will loosen up soon (they just started airing news broadcasts on TV, before that, it was all about the king 24/7). There have been no restrictions on the internet, but there have been no movies, no plays, no live music, etc. for weeks. In December, things will have returned somewhat to normal, but you will see memorials everywhere. As a foreigner, they will cut you a lot of slack, but you will be viewed more favorably if you show respect. As an example, I was introduced to a family friend, and after exchanging the usual pleasantries, the woman I just met turned to me and quietly said she would appreciate it if I expressed my condolences to her country. I was surprised, and did. Basically, treat it as if there was a death in the family - everyone's family. It's still OK to have fun, just be aware of the context. The king's passing is a huge event in the country, hard for most of us to relate to.

OK, so about your specific questions. As to allocating your time, I think you have time for Bangkok, and one other location. Pick either Chiangmai, or an island/beach destination - you do not have time for both. Even if you're efficient, you will only have a little time in each place.

Phuket is a mass tourism destination. That makes it easy, but it's also somewhat over-developed and crass. If you like party central, head for Phuket. If you prefer something a bit less hectic and crass, you might want to look elsewhere - either fly into Phuket and get away from the center (there are plenty of nicer places once you move away), or fly to some other island/beach place. Lots of choices, be aware that Thailand's beach resorts have been highly popularized, so calibrate your expectations. Getting off the beaten track helps, but is time consuming, and you do not have much time. IMHO the islands/beaches on the Andaman Sea side (Indian Ocean) are generally much, much nicer than those on the Gulf of Thailand side. Expect plenty of other tourists (lots of Chinese). Around Christmas, I'd expect everything to be very crowded - you will want to book ASAP.

One son needs internet to study

Internet is widely available one way or another, like in any other developing country. Major hotels and many smaller boutique places will have wifi, usually free/included. Speeds will vary widely. Don't count on super-fast connectivity everywhere. Cellular service is available everywhere but you'll need a local SIM or an international plan.

Don't think we have enough time to get to Pai

What's "Pai"? I don't know what you're referring to here.

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Posted by
5010 posts

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...take a tour of the canals and floating market, visit some of the famous temples

There are several floating markets. They are often pretty touristy. The one at Damnoen Dasuak is the most popular (and very touristy. Consider others if you can (depends where you are staying - getting around Bangkok can be a nightmare with incredible gridlock).

Important! The biggest temple complex is the Grand Palace, and is definitely worth a visit. Alas, right now the king's body is laying in state there. Thousands of Thais line up every day to file past and pay respects. This may complicate things for a casual tourist (don't forget to wear black or at least buy a little black ribbon pin to show respect - these are sold everywhere). You will need to find out how complicated once you are there - ask your hotel.

Thursday afternoon we can fly (or take train) to Chiangmai

Pick either Chiangmai or a beach place, not both. You simply do not have enough time. Forget the train. Flying domestically is cheap - but regardless, going from BKK to either Chiangmai or an island will consume most of a day. I know, I just did it (with the assistance of my local "handlers and fixers" who do everything for me - it still took almost all day).

fly to Phuket (or train?)

Phuket is an island. There is no train. It's crazy not to fly (especially on a very short trip, like yours).

we like nature, cuisine and culture...

Plenty of all three anywhere you go. Bangkok is a huge, dense, intense city, with lots to offer (well, nature has been tamed there for a long time...). If you have never been to SE Asia before, expect some culture shock. You also didn't say where you were coming from, I assume North America. Do not underestimate the effects (on both body and mind) of flying to the other side of the planet (from a cold place) and stepping out into 90/90 heat/humidity, a very alien culture and all the stress that change will produce in you. Start off slow, take it easy, be prepared to be flexible, and keep an open mind about how things should be.

Thailand is amazing. I hope some of the above is helpful and hope you have a wonderful trip.

Posted by
14225 posts

David has generously given you lots of very sound advice. Beaches don't call to me, so I've spent almost no time in the south. Chiang Mai is in the mountains so humidity is lower than Bangkok. It does cool off overnight, so the mornings are delightfully crisp. There's plenty to see and do - visit an elephant refuge, take a cooking class . . .

Posted by
2 posts

Dave & Chani,

Wow, thank you both for your thoughts and time. I sincerely appreciate the advice. So good to know about the passing of the king as we will want to show respect. Two sons will fly (via Korea) from LAX and the other three of us will fly from NY. We are all seasoned travelers throughout the world. I am the only one who has been to Thailand but the others have been to many places such as China, Venezuela, Kenya, and Peru. Based on your comments, we will def schedule flights and rule out trains. Also, I'll reserve a room on the Andaman Sea (Indian Ocean). I'd like to minimize our time in BKK except to make necessary flights and rest time upon arrival. Not that it isn't worthy, just that we have so little time and don't typically enjoy big cities as much as less developed areas. Otherwise, don't see how I can eliminate either Chiang Mai or Phuket. We will visit a dear friend in Chiang Mai (local) and the kids are def expecting to see the beach. I currently have 3 nights in Chaing Mai and 3 nights in Phuket planned but I haven't booked the rooms, waiting for feedback regarding the soundness of the itinerary. One of my concerns regarding reserving rooms is that most everything I see online looks so western and lacks local culture/style.

If anything else comes to your mind, I would sincerely appreciate your sharing with me as this is an important time for my children and me to be together enjoying family, travel, and life.

Side note: Chani, I see you are in Tel Aviv. I recently spent 16 days in Israel and Jordan. Such a great trip! If you're interested, you can see my travel notes at kbylerblog.com

Kate