As a traveler, it is completely normal to try and fit everything imaginable into an already jam-packed itinerary. This is the only way to see as many natural wonders, cool neighborhoods, and authentic street markets as humanly possible, even with only one week of vacation time. Most destinations around the world cannot be fully experienced in just one week, but it is still important to do your best to experience as much as possible while on the road.
Thailand is one of those places in the world that could keep a backpacker entertained for years. Unfortunately, most of us don’t have years – let alone weeks – available to explore the world. One week, maybe two is a typical period of time for vacation, so it’s important to do your best to see what you can during your weeklong backpacking trip through Thailand.
Days 1 & 2: Bangkok
No matter what country you’re coming from, there’s a good chance you’ll find the cheapest flights when flying into one of the Bangkok international airports. For example, a flight from LA in the US to Bangkok will set you back only a few hundred bucks if you book it far in advance. Once in Thailand, transportation is just as cheap. Getting from Bangkok to Koh Phangan – a full day trip – costs about $30.
But to start off on the right note, giving your full attention to Bangkok is a great idea. The first two days should be spent exploring all that Bangkok has to offer, craziness included. You can simply wander around, but it is recommended that you make a stop at these hotspots near and in the city: Wat Arun, Khao San Road, and Wat Pho.
Day 3: Kanchanaburi
Bangkok will serve as the perfect base for exploring all of the nearby surrounding sites, including Kanchanaburi. Kanchanaburi is a western province of Thailand and it takes only about two hours as long as traffic isn’t too bad. There are quite a few must-see sights throughout the area, including the famous Bridge on the River Kwai. Yes, this is the bridge that was featured in the 1957 film.
After seeing the bridge, take in some Thai history with a stop at The Jeath War Museum and War Cemetery. If visiting historical sights aren’t your think, you might choose to visit a Kanchanaburi elephant sanctuary instead. Just be sure to find one that utilizes sustainable practices by not allowing tourists to ride on the elephants backs. Once the day is over, it is time to return back to your accommodations in the city.
Day 4: Ayutthaya
The next stop on the itinerary is Ayutthaya, the province that is home to the ancient town of Siam. Siam is home to numerous temple ruins, so if the weather is nice you could spend the entire day exploring these ancient sites. For something more extravagant, check out Bang Pa-In Palace, the summer home of two Thai kings in the past.
After exploring Ayutthaya, you won’t be heading back to Bangkok. Instead, it is time to head up north to the city of Chiang Mai. Similar to Bangkok, Chiang Mai is one of the larger cities of the country. However, if offers a completely different vibe than the hecticness of the capital. You’ll board an overnight train in Ayutthaya that will arrive in Chiang Mai by morning.
Days 5 & 6: Chiang Mai
Once in Chiang Mai, you might notice that many of the trendy cafes and coffee shops are filled with foreigners. Part of the reason for this is that Chiang Mai is considered to be one of the top destinations in the world for digital nomads. Many individuals working from their laptops have moved here, partly for the affordable living, but mostly for the authentic Thai culture.
You have tons of options for activities in and near Chiang Mai to fully experience the culture of the area. Wander around the night markets for cheap pad Thai, tom yam, and green papaya salad. Don’t forget to find a street vendor selling the traditional Thai dessert, mango sticky rice. Like Kanchanaburi, Chiang Mai is a great place to sign up for an elephant sanctuary tour. If you didn’t already to that on Day 3, consider participating in an elephant tour here.
Day 7: Fly Home
Most international flights will be departing from Bangkok, so on day 7 you’ll probably have to take the short flight from Chiang Mai to the capital. From there, it is time to fly home or onto the next Southeast Asia destination.