I noticed a common dilemma among travelers which have short time in Thailand. North vs South Thailand? This is the question. Over 1600 km is quite long and time-consuming distance, and you don’t want to spend half of your trip in the buses, do you? On the other hand, those two parts are totally different from each other, so what should you do, if you have to choose? In this post I will tell you a bit about North and South of Thailand to make your decision easier.
North vs South Thailand
Where should you head having short time in Thailand? Undoubtedly, having one month in Thailand is perfect to see North and South. If you have 2 weeks you are more likely going to have a glimpse of both. However, it’s not going to be relaxing time, since you won’t spend much time in one place. If you prefer slow travel and settle in some places for a couple of days and not be too much in rush, I would rather suggest you to choose between North and South Thailand. Likewise, if your vacations are shorter than 2 weeks, I advise you to don’t try to see both sides of Thailand. In this case, it is better that you enjoy your time and have some rest. Thailand is the most touristic destination in the world. If you go there once, you will more likely come back, as I did and finally spent there 2 months. Therefore, no worries, if you have to choose, there will be a next time in Thailand.
I cannot say which one is better to visit South or North Thailand because it only depends of your preferences and what kind of places you enjoy more. Now, I will show you highlights of Thailand to help you to decide and choose the best option for yourself.
Capital of Thailand – Bangkok
First, let’s start from the middle. Bangkok is a capital city where most of the travelers start their adventure in Thailand. It has the biggest international airport so most probably you will land there. From Bangkok you can get all kinds of transport to all sides of the country. I assume you will need 2-4 days in the city to enjoy the ambient and see the most important sites. Bangkok has the most precious monuments in the country such as Golden Palace and dozens of beautiful temples. Lots of Bangkok hostels are walking distance from the royal palace, from which the most common place for backpackers is the Khaosan Road.
From the most beautiful temples I can recommend the Emerald Buddha temple near Grand Palace, Wat Pho with giant Buddha that sits at its core or Wat Arun with vibrant porcelain and colorful ceramic tiles. You can check Chatuchak weekend market for souvenirs and get lost in the labirynth of stalls. I loved the parks in Bangkok, like Lumphini, which was an escape from hustle and bustle of the city.
Bangkok is heaven the street markets and street foods. You will be best of the Thai cuisine as well as Chinatown and food from other Asian countries. Eating your first Thai soup on you will have to make up your mind between North and South of Thailand. And you know what? No matter what you choose, Thai people are extremely warm-hearted and smiling everywhere. The food as well is good elsewhere so no matter where, I bet you will enjoy your trip in Thailand.
North of Thailand
Briefly, North of Thailand is history, heritage, ruins but also mountains, national parks. Therefore, if you are moreculture culture and nature, you should head North.
On the way to Northern Thailand
On the way to the North of Thailand, you will find astonishing National Park Khao Yai. It’s the biggest and the oldest national park of the country. If you have planned to visit any national park during your trip, I think Khao Yai should be the one. Khao Yai has a variety of wildlife such as elephants, macaque, deer, gibbon or civet. People say that hidden cameras show sign of tigers in the park.
Heading farther, great stops are the most important ruins in Thailand. City of Ayutthaya – former capital of Siam, after Sukhothai. Impressive ruins of temples will let you see how powerful and rich was the kingdom before attack of the Burmese. Gigantic monasteries and prang towers stand since 14th centry, when the city flourished. The most famous monument is Buddha head nestled in tree roots which you can see almost on every postcard from Thailand.
Second, city of Sukhothai which was first capital of Siam, before Ayutthaya. It’s a large area where you can just rent a motorbike or bicycle and roam around ancient ruins. Temples belong to UNESCO World Heritage Historical Park. Sukhothai (Rising of Happiness) flourished from the mid-13th century to the late 14th century. The remains of the kingdom, feature around 45 sq km of amazing ruins considered to be the most classic Thai style.
You will see lots of temples in Thailand, sometimes feeling “Oh no, again temple”. Despite that, I want to mention temple in Phitsanulok as one of the most beautiful in Thailand. The reason for that is Buddha image representation which is unique.
Northern Thailand is mountains area famous for jungle trekking, elephant sanctuaries, meditation centers and many other activities. Going there you have a big choice of places to see, things to do and you need time to explore it. Generally speaking, North of Thailand is more calm, you will find there beautiful nature and landscapes. The biggest city and base for travelers is Chiang Mai. In fact, it’s a second biggest city of the country and doesn’t fit to the quiet ambient of the North. However, it’s just few minutes bike ride to be out of the hustle and enjoy the mountains.
A popular destination for backpackers is Pai – small town west from Chiang Mai. This little hippie village surround great waterfalls, hot springs, Tham Lod Cave or canyons. Lots of places to enjoy! Nearby, I can recommend a Buddhist monastery where I was attending Vipassana meditation retreat, if you into this king of experiences.
The very North of Thailand is Chiang Rai with the White Temple, famous piece of art. Yeah, I know what you are thinking: If I have seen thousands of temples and Buddhas going all the way to the North, why would I want to see that one? Believe me, it’s worth to travel there. It has a charm outside and crazy designs inside. More you can find in my article fully devoted for the White Temple. Moreover, surprising were also Blue Temple and Black Temple in the same region. Of course, those are not historical temples but art made to attract tourists. Still, I highly recommend seeing them as they are very original. Chiang Rai is also known for national parks with huge waterfalls. If you have more time, don’t hesitate to rent a bike and have a relaxing tour around.
At last, I want to mention Golden Triangle – land which is on the border of 3 countries: Thailand, Laos and Myanmar. Calm banks of Mekong River together with uniqueness of the place made me really happy discovering this site during one day trip!
South of Thailand
In contrary, South of Thailand is a paradise with turquoise waters, white sand beaches and stunning islands. If you are that kind of person who has been working hard for the whole year and just dream about chilling and frying ass on the beach – go South! The views are just unbelievable. Whenever I saw the adds about holidays in Thailand I thought, that the photos are Photoshoped and the colors unreal, until I saw it with my own eyes.
However, South of Thailand is much more than that! You will take a boat to dreamy lagoons, snorkel, dive and see waterfalls. When you will be bored with the beach, find some National Parks with hot springs and deep your ass in natural spa.
Islands of Southern Thailand
South of Thailand is definitely more touristic. Lots of people come for their dream vacations with a drink under the palm tree. The most popular are Phuket, Ko Samui, Ko Pha Ngan, Ko Phi Phi and Ko Tao. Those places area full of tourists but don’t ignore them as they are one of the most spectacular of Thailand’s scenery. If you are not fun of the crowds, you will be able to find less touristic spots with paradise views as well, as the coast has many islands.
Phuket is Thailand’s most popular island, with over a third of all tourists to Thailand. When I was coming to Thailand, few people recommended me to skip it, so I did. I am trying to stay away from mass tourism and didn’t like the idea of sharing beach with 85398 other people.
Many budget travellers head to backpacker-orientated islands like Ranong, Phang Nga, Krabi, Trang and Satun provinces. Krabi apart of the stunning beaches and towering limestone karsts is also famous for rock climbing. Heading up the west coast, you’ll find Khao Lak and millions-of-years-old rainforest in the spectacular Khao Sok National Park.
These east coast islands are all well-developed with regular ferry connections. Ko Samui has an international airport, large-scale shopping centres, hundreds of resorts and even three international hospitals. Ko Pha Ngan, infamous for its Full Moon Parties, and Ko Tao, famous for its diving, are both big drawcards.
If you’re headed out to one of these Gulf islands, you’ll be transitting through either Chumphon (for Ko Tao) or Surat Thani (for Ko Samui and Ko Pha Ngan). It’s a straightforward deal to get a through ticket to any one of these islands from Bangkok.
On the mainland, the east coast includes the popular resort towns of Hua Hin and Cha-am. Those are very easy to reach from Bangkok and attract dozen fo locals as well as western tourists.
What would you recommend for those who have short time in Thailand?