The Perfect Thailand Itinerary (3 Weeks) For First Timers

If you’re dreaming of adventuring to a radiant country that pairs exceptionally-friendly people with an unforgettable landscape, Thailand may be just what the doctor ordered. From the beaches of Koh Tao to the opulent palaces in Bangkok, this jewel of the Southeast finds a way to effortlessly blend old-world charm with ultra-modern experiences, which makes it a must-visit destination for travellers from all around the world.

So, if you’re ready to take the leap and book your next trip to one of Asia’s highlight countries, use this helpful guide, inspired by our friends at Intrepid Travel, to plan the perfect three-week Thailand itinerary.

Tip: don’t have time to read the whole article? Bookmark it instead and watch the video now. 

Prepare yourself for an adventure through Thailand that you won’t forget | ⓒ Goh Rhy Yan/Unsplash

What city should you arrive into?

Suvarnabhumi International Airport in Bangkok is a hub for both domestic and international travellers arriving by air. Also referred to as Bangkok Airport, this bustling building is one of two international airports that serve Thailand’s capital. It’s located 30km from Bangkok’s city centre, and the average taxi ride will only cost approximately 120 Baht (or $4USD)

How can you get around?

However you choose to travel through Thailand is entirely up to you, but if you’re looking for a stress-free way to manoeuvre around this awe-inspiring destination, a tour is your best bet. Just remember, every tour operator worth their weight in brochures has built a name for themselves by crafting perfect itineraries filled with local secrets and unique experiences that you won’t find on your own.

While travelling solo in Thailand is certainly possible, public buses and trains can be challenging to navigate and they typically only connect you with major cities, which means you risk only getting a small taste of this incredible country. Of course, you can always rent taxis and arrange private transport for yourself, but these aren’t always cost-effective options, and you should always be wary of scams.

When should you visit?

The short answer is that Thailand is prime for a visit all year round! The long answer is that the climate varies throughout the country, and the effect of the seasonal rains differ from one region to another. For most of Thailand, the wettest months are usually from August to October, and the driest part of the year is between November and early April.

Where should you visit?

Now it’s time we answered the ultimate question: where should you go during this three week trip to Thailand? To make things easier, we’re breaking down each day and telling you the best food, sights, and experiences you absolutely can’t miss along the way to ensure your first time in Thailand is unforgettable.

Bangkok

How long to stay: 2-3 nights

Starting your adventure in Bangkok is an excellent way to kick things off in this impressive country. The metropolis of Bangkok is teeming with diverse experiences, ornate shrines, and vibrant street life that rivals the world’s most energetic cities. Dive right in by visiting the unofficial backpacking capital of the world, Khao San Road. Here you’ll be able to crunch on fried grasshoppers, shop at the market stalls, and hit up a bar to round off the night.

Once you’ve had your fill of this lively street, you can move on to Chinatown, where you’ll no doubt continue to indulge your taste buds with delicious seafood and behold the hundreds of paper lanterns that line the streets. But if you’re in search of a truly unique shopping experience, then check out the floating markets of Khlong Lat Mayom or Thaling Chan. Prioritize this as a morning activity, so you can avoid the crowds while basking in this truly unique experience. Keep your wallet close by so you can pick up some savoury or sweet treats from the shops that float by.

Enjoy a savoury snack in the city’s the floating markets | ⓒ Frida Aguilar Estrada/Unsplash

Of course, a visit to Bangkok wouldn’t be complete without visiting a few of the city’s iconic temples and palaces. Can’t-miss sites include the magnificent Grand Palace, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, and Wat Pho, where you can see both the famous reclining Buddha and the Golden Buddha. Visit a massage studio for a chance to rejuvenate after your time in this chaotic city, so you feel refreshed and ready for the rest of your trip.

Sukhothai

How long to stay: 3 nights

Next up, you can take a 6-hour train ride to the small city of Sukhothai. Established in the 13th century, the ancient kingdom of Sukhothai is famous for its UNESCO-designated historical park. We’d suggest spending a couple of nights or so in the surrounding area, unwinding from the hustle and bustle you just enjoyed in Bangkok. The park itself is an impressive celebration of the Golden Age of Thai civilisation, with the remains of 21 historic sites, dramatic depictions of Buddha’s image, and four large ponds, which are often filled with blooming lotus flowers.

Watch the sunset on the ancient Kingdom of Sukhothai | ⓒ Getty Images

The best way to experience the park is by hiring a bicycle and riding around the grounds at a relaxed pace for a few hours. Stop for a picnic lunch along the way, and if you have enough free time, visit a local ceramics factory to see this artwork in action.

And if you’re travelling with Intrepid, you’ll also get the chance to experience a homestay in a neighbouring village. Homestays are often a unique chance to get a glimpse into how locals live, as they provide a truly intimate perspective on their customs and traditions. Spend the night with a family and share in their daily activities to gain a little understanding of what it means to be Thai before carrying on to another of Thailand’s major cities, Chiang Mai.


Travel to: Thailand


Chiang Mai

How long to stay: 3 nights

Located in the mountainous region of Northern Thailand, this ancient city was originally founded in 1296, and its impressive visual history has stood the test of time for travellers to enjoy today.

The city is home to some of the best restaurants and cafes in the country, but the Buddhist temples shrouded in mist and fog from the nearby mountains are what make Chiang Mai truly shine. Make time over the next three days to visit these imposing temples, including Wat Doi Suthep, Wat Pan Tao, and Wat Phra Singh. Depending on the temple, you can participate in a monk chat and enjoy time speaking with the local monks about temple life and Buddhism, or complete a meditation course.

The archaeological site of Wiang Kim Kam in Chiang Mai | ⓒ Mathew Schwartz/Unsplash

Bonus: You may have heard about travellers commemorating their Thailand experience with a sak yant, or bamboo tattoo. If this is on your bucket list, then Chiang Mai is considered the place to do it. But it can be challenging to find a safe and clean place to get this kind of tattoo. Check out our article for more information.

Once you’ve had your fill of cultural experiences, take a walk down San Kamphaeng Road, also known as the Handicraft Highway, where you’ll find merchants selling things like handmade pottery, sculptures, and silkwear. When night falls, make your way over to Chang Klan Road to shop at the night market and put your bartering skills to practice. Make sure you arrive with an empty stomach because there will be plenty of treats to feast on throughout the evening!

Another bonus of travelling with Intrepid is the opportunity to partake in a Thai cooking class. Study the secrets of Thai cuisine and learn about the ingredients that form your favourite dishes and how to prepare them yourself. Or if you’re in the mood for an active adventure, rent a bike and cycle along the banks of the Ping River, past fruit orchards, down country roads, and into the villages that surround the outskirts of the city for a peaceful, quiet moment away from a busy city centre.

Bangkok (again!)

How long to stay: 1-2 nights (including a night train)

After Chiang Mai, it makes sense to return to Bangkok and cross off any experiences you missed the first time around before you continue your journey down south. Catch a longtail boat down the Chao Phraya River where you can escape the chaos of Bangkok’s busy streets canalside. You can also spend another day eating or shopping your way around the city by tuk-tuk, or if you need an adrenaline kick then watch a Muay Thai fight in the downtown core.

Explore Bangkok’s chaotic streets by tuk-tuk | ⓒ Ryan Tang/Unsplash

Next, it’s time to head down south to Koh Pitak. To accomplish this, you’ll be partaking in a signature experience: riding an overnight sleeper train.

A tip from the experts is that no matter how humid it is outside, you should anticipate freezing cold temperatures onboard. Pack a sweater and long pants to stay comfortable as you ride in one of the train’s many air-conditioned bunk beds for a surprisingly comfortable 12-hour train journey.

Koh Pitak

How long to stay: 1 night

You’ll arrive in the area surrounding Koh Pitak early in the morning, so of course, breakfast will be a priority. Head straight to the Luangsuan market and sit down to a local style breakfast of porridge or rice noodle soup with pork liver. Next, you can walk to the pier and take a 10-minute boat ride to the quaint little island of Koh Pitak.

Spend a night on the sleepy island of Koh Pitak | ⓒ Sam and Laura

This place is worthy of an overnight stay, and the island is especially memorable for the genuinely local experience it provides its visitors compared to other more touristy islands. The island and its population are modest, and most of the residents are either fishermen or farmers.

During your visit spend time with the local fisherman and observe how they construct their creative fish traps. Again, if you’re travelling with Intrepid, you’ll have another opportunity to do a homestay that will include a homemade lunch, dinner, and breakfast. It’s safe to say that fresh local seafood will play a significant role in all your culinary experience on Koh Pitak!

Chumphon

How long to stay: 2 nights

Come morning it’s time to leave Koh Pitak and travel back to the mainland for a 1-2 hour long journey to Chumphon. By this time you’ve earned some luxury, so choose from a few stunning resort-style places located along Thung Wua Lan Beach. Spend the afternoon strolling along the pristine beaches of this uncrowded piece of coast, grab a drink or visit the local lookout point, Kaho Matsee.

Unwind at a beachside resort in Chumphon  | ⓒ Sam and Laura

You can also enjoy a full day of snorkelling, visiting spots that offer a diverse variety of underwater wildlife.

Koh Tao

How long to stay: 2 nights

If picture-perfect beaches, spectacular coral reefs, and incredible diving opportunities are your thing, then you’ll love Koh Tao. You can reach this must-see island by ferry, which takes around two hours. But we’ll warn you: once you set foot on the island, you may never want to leave. You can while away the hours diving (or learning to dive), or perhaps by partaking in a cooking class, or with a spa visit. No matter what you decide, there are plenty of experiences that will keep you entertained. The best part is that while Koh Tao might look small, the nightlife is just as lively as the larger islands nearby. Enjoy a distinctly more intimate atmosphere while you dance the night away either on the beach or at a bar.

Embark on an underwater adventure through Koh Tao’s crystal clear waters  | ⓒ Sam and Laura

If you missed out on the chance to explore the marvellous coral reefs hiding below the surface, your second day could be spent on a snorkelling adventure. During this undersea adventure, you might be lucky enough to see a rare leopard shark, along with other colourful sea creatures or schools of fish. If you prefer to keep your head above water, you can still join the boat trip and relax on the deck with a beer in hand, or enjoy time lazing on the beach as you hop between multiple islands.

Discover diversity under the water’s surface | ⓒ James Thornton/Unsplash

Koh Samui

How long to stay: 3 nights

Considered one of the most iconic destinations in Thailand, Koh Samui is even more impressive in real life and lives up to the idyllic image of white sand beaches and soaring palm trees. Accessible only by boat from the mainland, the journey will take about 2-3 hours, depending on the weather and the conditions on the water. You might be surprised to learn that Koh Samui is the third largest island in Thailand, which means there’s something for everyone and you’re free to explore the area exactly the way you want to.

Take day one to join an optional cooking class and flex your skills and ability, or spend time on a sightseeing tour and visit the many markets, temples, impressive waterfalls, and vibrant stops along the way.

If you want to step away from Koh Samui and extend your travels further, why not explore the archipelago of Ang Thong Marine National Park? You’ll find over 40 islands in a small cluster just off Koh Samui. Travel by a speedboat and spend the day hopping between the islands of Ko Wao or Ko Tai Plow, and marvel at the steep limestone formations jutting out from the water.

 

Take your time to explore each corner of this tropical paradise | ⓒ Sam and Laura

Stop at the inland saltwater lagoon called Emerald Lake (Talay Nai), which is connected to an underground cave. From here you can reach a magnificent hilltop lake viewpoint and if you packed your lunch, this will be the best spot to eat and enjoy the scenery. By the time you are done exploring the lagoon and its surroundings, you can round off the day with a stop at one of the many bars that are only a short distance away.

As you finish up your days in Thailand you can rest assured knowing that with a 3-week itinerary like this one, you’ll have left few experiences undiscovered. Of course, one of the country’s strengths is that it’s so jam-packed with nature, culture, and activities that it requires multiple visits, perhaps over one’s lifetime, to truly be fully and entirely experienced. You can also take the hassle out of organizing your first trip yourself by booking one of Intrepid Travel’s many tours. Need more convincing? Watch our friends Sam and Laura take one of Intrepid’s very own tours through Thailand and put yourself in the shoes of a first-time visitor!

And don’t forget to tell us if we’ve missed any of the essential must-have experiences for a three-week trip through Thailand! Let us know your favourite things to do and we’ll add it to our itinerary.