Thailand holidays can be customized to fit virtually any traveler’s budget and personal tastes. Because tourism is such a vital part of the Thai economy (representing a larger percentage of Thailand’s GDP than that of any other Asian nation), almost every part of the country is equipped with food and lodging catered toward foreign visitors. Furthermore, the nation’s amazingly diverse geography offers a wide range of activities to choose from. No matter what it is that you’d like to do on your holiday, there are surely several, easily-accessible places in Thailand that offer it at a price that fits your budget.
Planning Your Thailand Holiday
For most of us, the first steps in planning any holiday include setting a budget, determining how long our holiday will last, and deciding when we can go. As you walk through these steps in planning your Thailand holiday, here are a few important points to consider:
- The price of lodging in Thailand runs the gamut from as low as around £8 GBP per day (about $5 AUD/USD) for a bed in a hostel, all the way up to hundreds of pounds per night for five-star accommodations at world-class, international hotels
- In my personal opinion (and this is shared by a great number of foreign travelers I’ve met over the years), you should plan on spending a minimum of 10-14 days in Thailand during your holiday if you want to visit the country’s major attractions without being rushed
- Because Thailand’s tropical climate is hot, humid, and rainy for much of the year, the country’s “high season” for tourism is during the comparatively drier, cooler months of November through February
Some additional thoughts on these points…
With regards to prices for food and lodging, while it is accurate to say that daily rates cover quite a wide spectrum, it is also true that you can find many incredible deals throughout the country if you know when and where to look. For example, in September 2010 I was able to book four nights at a legitimate, five-star luxury hotel in one of the most-popular sections of Bangkok (Thailand’s most-expensive city) for just under £90 GBP per night (that’s approximately $60 AUD/USD). In an upcoming article, I’ll discuss some of the most-effective strategies for finding bargains that maximize your holiday budget.
When determining how much time to spend in Thailand, it’s important to remember that, for those of us traveling from an English-speaking country, our holiday will include at least two very long airplane flights (on the way there, and the return trip), and adjusting our body clocks to a significant time difference. For me, this leads to a feeling that jetlag and travel always shortens my actual time in-country by two days. I’ll pad the amount of time I expect to spend seeing the sights, or relaxing by two extra days for this reason.
As for choosing a time of year to visit, avoiding the hot, humid Thai summer and autumn monsoon is a valid consideration for many travelers. Temperatures often approach 40° C during those months which, coupled with the tropical humidity and almost-daily thunderstorms, can be a bit overwhelming for some visitors. The flipside of this equation is that airfares and lodging are dramatically cheaper during this so-called “Low Season”. If you’re on a tight budget, and don’t mind a little heat and rain, you’ll find that your hard-earned money stretches a lot further at this time of year.
The Five Regions of Thailand – Where Should I Go?
To see the remarkable amount of geographic and cultural diversity that exists within Thailand, all you have to do is compare the country’s five unique regions: the Central, East, North, Northeast, and South. Depending on how much time you’re able to spend in-country, you may be able to visit all five during one stay (personally, I wouldn’t try this unless I had a whole month to spend on holiday). If your time is more limited, you should probably focus on no more than two or three areas, and leave the others for future Thai holidays.
Because the vast majority of foreign tourists arrive, and depart, from Suvarnabhumi International Airport in Bangkok, it’s highly likely that your visit to Thailand will include a stay in the nation’s capital. A bustling city of 11 million (most Bangkok residents will tell you that this official estimate is probably low by as much as 50%) and the heart of Central Thailand, Bangkok offers its visitors a fascinating cross-section of the nation’s past, present and future. Here you’ll find everything from the historic Royal Palace (dating back to the Kingdom of Siam), to ultra-modern shopping malls, vibrant entertainment districts, and a thriving business center that is quickly becoming the largest in Southeast Asia.
Central Thailand’s other primary attractions include the historic city of Ayutthaya (Siam’s ancient capital), and the western coast of the Gulf of Thailand. This part of the gulf coast is especially popular with Thai families and honeymooners thanks to its quiet, clean beaches, abundance of affordable hotels and resorts, gorgeous golf courses, and relative proximity to Bangkok (about two-and-a-half hours by car). If you’re looking for a quiet beach getaway, that’s close enough to Bangkok that you won’t need an airplane or boat to get there, the gulf towns of Hua Hin and Phetchaburi are perfect for you.
The region generally considered as Eastern Thailand lies to the southeast of Bangkok, and is bordered by the Gulf of Thailand to the west, and Cambodia to the east. Home to the growing coastal city of Chonburi and the popular tourist destination of Pattaya, the main attraction of this area is the proximity of its beaches to Bangkok (less than a two-hour drive).
Whereas western gulf resorts like Hua Hin tend to primarily attract Thai nationals, the eastern gulf is a magnet for western tourists thanks to Pattaya’s notoriety as one of the world’s wildest party towns. This bawdy image has been slowly changing in recent years, however, as developers have opened a string of new family-oriented resorts and attractions along Pattaya Beach and its surrounding areas.
Northern Thailand is distinctly different from the rest of the country in terrain, climate, and culture. Bordering Myanmar (Burma) and Laos to its north, the region is mountainous, heavily-forested, and noticeably cooler than anywhere else in the country (particularly in the High Season). The Lana culture (a hybrid between Thai, Burmese and Laotian influences) prevails throughout the region, and can be seen in the décor, dress, and food offerings in cities like Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai.
The principal city in the north, Chiang Mai, is Thailand’s second-largest and an absolute must for any visitor to the country. The heart of Chiang Mai is still surrounded by a moat and 1,000-year-old fortifications that protect some of Southeast Asia’s oldest, and most-important, temples, while the rest of the city is dotted with universities, art galleries, and enough lodging and entertainment options to satisfy any type of traveler.
Chiang Mai is also the jumping off point for backpackers to explore the area’s famous mountain trails, as well as anyone who is looking for outdoor adventure activities like white water rafting, elephant safaris (i.e., riding an elephant off into the jungle for day or two), and otherwise getting up close to the region’s wildlife (including monkeys and tigers). There are so many exhilarating things to do in this part of the country that you’re guaranteed to enjoy yourself.
Thailand’s northeast (dominated by the province of Isaan) is a heavily agricultural region that borders both Laos and Cambodia along the Mekong River. Khmer culture (i.e., ethnic Cambodian) is the prevailing influence on Isaan’s people and the majority speak the Khmer language, in addition to Thai and several other regional dialects. This influence is also seen in Isaan cuisine, which is distinct from traditional Thai food for its heavy use of sticky rice, and extremely spicy chilies.
While this relatively undeveloped part of the country has not been a traditional tourist destination, recent government projects (notably the restoration of numerous ancient, Khmer archaeological sites) and the rapid economic growth of Isaan’s major cities Buriram and Khon Kaen have begun to draw more visitors over the past decade. The city of Khon Kaen is of particular interest to anyone interested in making a land crossing into Cambodia.
When talking about the south of Thailand, the first names that come to mind are Phuket, Koh Samui, and Koh Phi Phi (better known to foreigners as the Phi Phi Islands). White, sandy beaches, sky-blue water, and idyllic settings that look like they’re straight out of a Hollywood movie set (mostly because they are, but that’s for a later article) are what define this region of the country. In short, it’s your run-of-the-mill tropical paradise.
The south of Thailand is generally considered to be the thin peninsula that separates the Gulf of Thailand from the Andaman Sea, and extends all the way south to the border with Malaysia. This stretch of land, and the islands that skirt both of its coasts, are home to some of the best snorkeling and scuba diving in the world, as well as world-class facilities for every other water sport imaginable. That’s all in addition to the incredible beaches, lagoons, and panoramas that the area is so famous for. With that said, I’m sure that it comes as no surprise that I highly recommend you include at least one of this region’s fantastic resorts in your Thailand holiday.
The Hardest Part of Your Thailand Holiday – Getting There
Well, it may not be entirely accurate to say that the hardest part of your Thai holiday will be finding a way to get there. It’s more likely to be forcing yourself to board the plane home at the end of your stay. I once heard it said that the only place in the Land of Smiles where you don’t see happy people is the international departure lounge at the airport. More often than not, that seems to be true.
In all seriousness though, finding an affordable airfare has usually been the most difficult piece to put in place when I’ve planned my holidays to Thailand. With the price of jet fuel continuing to soar, this has become even more difficult over the last couple of years. In many cases, I find that I wind up spending as much on my airline ticket as I do on the entire rest of the holiday combined.
Nonetheless, there are a few helpful techniques I’ve acquired over the years that generally lead me to the lowest available prices at the time of my departure. They require a great deal of flexibility with regards to departure days and times (and you won’t be getting any non-stop flights to Bangkok), but I do feel confident that they save me money in the end. I’ll delve into this subject in detail in the near future.
As for now though, please peruse the rest of the site and be sure to leave any comments or suggestions you may have beneath the appropriate article. You can access the article directory by going to our main Holidays in Thailand page.