Disembarking a plane in Bangkok has you starting your journey in the hearth of Thailand. While conveniently located in the middle, it does raise the question where to go next. Is it better to go North, East, South, West, stay in Central Thailand? What is the best route to take to get the most complete picture of the country? Getting from point A to point B in Thailand can easily take hours, and that is just in Bangkok. You don’t want to waste time traveling in this hot and humid country and hours of backtracking is a big no no. Everyone has their own traveling style and expectations on a holiday of course, but we can tell you what in our opinion is the best route to take to see the famous cultural highlights of Thailand which takes just 10 days. In Thailand, 10 days is a short time.
Day 1: Your first day in Bangkok might have you broken already from a long flight and late arrival, but if you have time to spare then start exploring the city. The most famous Bangkok attractions that every travel agency will tell you about, are the Grand Palace and the temples Wat Phra Kaew and Wat Po. You cannot actually go inside the Grand Palace, you just have to look at it from the outside. The Grand Palace is located at the same area of Wat Phra Kaew and included in your ticket to enter the temple grounds. Wat Phra Kaew is the most holy temple in Thailand so everyone wants to visit it which makes it often crowded.
The temple grounds of Wat Phra Kaew is a large area containing several other holy buildings and are all beautifully decorated. If you rather see temples in a less glamorous but more relaxed atmosphere you might be better off visiting Wat Pho and maybe Wat Arun by crossing the river with a ferry. It is possible to visit the temples Wat Phra Kaew, Wat Pho and Wat Arun on the same day, as they are located at short distances from each other. In the evening you can then visit any night market of which there are many.
Day 2: On the second day take the early morning train from Thonburi station in Bangkok to travel to Nam Tok station far to the West of Bangkok. The train ride will give you some spectacular views on the landscape that becomes more greener and more hilly the further you travel away from Bangkok. The ride will take you across the infamous Bridge on the River Kwai, along the beautiful river and along small mountains. Once arrived at Nam Tok station you can ask a taxi to take you to Hellfire Pass, the passageway cut trough the mountains by the prisoners of war to make way for the train tracks. The area now serves as a memorial site. Another option would be to go to Erawan national park, where you can do some light trekking and visit the waterfalls in the park for some swimming. Let the taxi driver wait for you to bring you to Kanchanburi to spend the night.
Day 3: In the next morning explore the small town Kanchanaburi a bit. There is the war cemetery for the fallen soldiers who were forced to work on the train tracks or you can go back to the river to relax a bit. It is also possible to walk over the Bridge on the River Kwai, but the bridge has lost a lot of authenticity. Most of the original wooden structure has been renovated with metal, and the bridge is usually packed with tourists making selfies. If you wake up early and haven’t gone to Erawan National Park yet, then you could go there by taxi and then be back in Kanchanaburi to take the afternoon minibus to Ayutthaya.
Ayutthaya is a small town listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of the many ancient ruins and temples in the area. Most of the temples are within short distances from each other and the best way to explore them would be by bicycle. If you arrive in the late afternoon or early evening, you can rent a bicycle or perhaps a scooter for a day. Many of the temples and ruins are publicly open all day and free to explore without entrance fees. Spend the night in Ayutthaya to rest and enjoy the slow life atmosphere in this town. Ask your hotel staff to help you with booking a train ticket for the next day.
Day 4: On the fourth day travel early in the morning by train to Phitsanulok (5 to 6 hours) and from there take the bus to Sukhothai. In the afternoon you can then visit the Ramkhamaeng National Museum at the Sukhothai Historical Park, to see its impressive collection of artifacts. Just like Ayutthaya, Sukhothai is famous for the many temples in the area and the best way to explore them is again by bicycle.
Day 5: The next day make your way to Chiang Mai by bus. This part of the trip is popular and so there are many buses and times to choose from. Buses start as early as 2am and the ride will take another 5 to 6 hours. In Chiang Mai the most popular attractions are: Doi Suthep, a temple on top of a 1,676-metre high mountain peak that offers an impressive view on the city, and the Night Bazaar, a true shopper’s paradise and a great chance to practice your bargaining skills. Depending on the time you have left during the day, you can opt to continue from Doi Suthep to Doi Pui, which is a Hmong village where the villagers wear traditional clothing (although now more to attract tourists than as tradition).
The surroundings of Doi Pui are scenic and there is a market where you can buy Thai candy, desserts and fruit.
Day 6: Chiang Mai itself is a great place to hang out for a while, just walking the streets, eating at the many restaurants, and visiting pubs and markets. It is less hectic than Bangkok while still providing the conveniences and entertainment of a large city.
There are several daytrips that you can book at the many travel agencies in Chiang Mai. The popular activities are visiting an elephant camp, short bamboo raft trip, Elephant dung paper factory, snake farm, monkey show, butterfly farm. The travel agencies offer a large variety of combinations that you can do within a day. Or just relax for one more day.
Day 7: Make Pai your next stop on day seven. Pai is a small village to the west of Chiang Mai. This small settlement is a popular backpacker destination because of the stunning location between mountainous hills, forests and farmland. Hire a minivan to take you there so you can stop on the way to visit Pong Deuid Hotspring inside Huai Nam Dang National Park. It has an average temperature of 80 degrees celcius. A cheaper way would be to go by public minivan but that one will not stop at the hot spring.
At arrival in Pai enjoy the scenery. The village is touristy with tourists being half the population there. It is easy to make new backpack friends there. If bars ain’t your thing, you can stay at one of the many bungalows just outside the village. Hire a scooter to explore the small surrounding villages or visit some of the waterfalls.
Day 8: Up next is Mae Hong Son located at 2-3 hours driving by minivan from Pai. This town is close to the Myanmar border and the area is home to several ethnic groups living in small communities on the mountains including the famous long-necks. It is possible to hire a scooter and travel around the area but the mountainous area makes driving here more difficult so we recommend to hire a car with experienced driver.
Day 9 and 10 are spend to travel back. Traveling back from Mae Hong Son to Chiang Mai by car will take you along the same road back for many many hours which is a waste of time so the more efficient way is to go by plane. There is an airport in Mae Hong Son, but no direct flights to Bangkok so you would have to change planes in Chiang Mai. If you are back in Chiang Mai anyway, why not spend another day there.
On day 10 you can take the flight from Chiang Mai back to Bangkok and you are ready for your next trip.
This itinerary is our suggested trip to explore Thai culture in just 10 days. We would like it if you can send us some suggestions on how to improve the itinerary.