Thailand is a fairly large country with many different cultures, scenery and attractions. If you plan your schedule carefully you can cover most of these on your first visit to the Kingdom. The main question is how?
Although a lot of this depends on how much time you have, there are many mistakes people make on planning their visit so they miss out on experiencing the real culture and natural beauty of Thailand.
I have written many Thailand travel Blogs, journals and posted on several travel forums. I receive lots of email from visitors to these web sites asking about the Kingdom, culture, history, what to see, when, where and how. In almost every case it is impossible for them to enjoy the rich culture and natural beauty of Thailand away from the normal tourist crowds. Most have contacted me too late.
They have made several errors when planning their holiday/vacation so now they are limited to doing the normal canned tour offered by most tour operators. They could have enjoyed a wonderful experience that will be remembered for a lifetime if they made the correct decisions in the proper order during their planning, here's how.
DO NOT book your hotels or transportation inside Thailand until you have decided what you want to see, do and enjoy!!! This is the biggest mistake you can make. Lets start with visiting north Thailand first.
Most of the email I receive is like this; "We have booked our flights Bangkok Chiang Mai - Bangkok and 5 nights in a hotel in Chiang Mai. We want to go elephant riding, visit hill tribe villages, take a long tail boat ride, visit the Golden Triangle, Night Bazaar and Doi Inthanon National Park, is this possible in the time I have?" Because they already have their flights and hotels booked they are limited to day trips from Chiang Mai. They will spend more time riding in a vehicle than enjoying the attractions. Just to get to the Golden Triangle and return it will take 7 hours or more just riding in a vehicle. For Doi Inthanon they have just enough time to ride to the summit of the mountain, take a 20-minute trail walk, have lunch at a touristy restaurant, visit a few waterfalls and return to Chiang Mai.
For the long tail boat ride they will be limited to riding on the Ping River in town. If they choose to ride through the mountains it will be a 3 and 1/2 hour journey by vehicle, 3 hours in the boat and another 3 to 4 hours in a vehicle to return to Chiang Mai. Again, too much time in a vehicle. The elephant riding and hill tribe villages they visit will be close to town filled with tourists with not much real culture or natural beauty if any. There is a much better way. Decide on what you would like to see and do along with how much time you have first before booking your flights and hotel. Now if the same person asked me; "I will be visiting Chiang Mai from Bangkok for 5 days, I want to go elephant riding, visit hill tribe villages, take a long tail boat ride, visit the Golden Triangle, Night Bazaar and Doi Inthanon National Park, is this possible in the time I have? We have not booked our hotels or flights inside Thailand yet".
Wow are they going to have a good time!!!
First thing is deciding how you are going to get to Chiang Mai. There are many options for traveling inside Thailand. Your travel agent or airline Internet booking sites are limited in their knowledge on what is available or they just don't offer all possibilities.
Most will point you to Thai Airways however there are now a few excellent budget airlines where you can book directly over the Internet and save loads of cash. Nok Air for example has excellent service and cheaper, Air Asia is the cheapest but no assigned seating on their 737 aircraft. You can save as much as 70% when flying Air Asia if you book on their web site a few months in advance.
Another option is the train. The great thing about the overnight train that it is cheaper than flying (except with Air Asia at times) and you won't need to spend money on overnight accommodations. The 2nd class berths are fine but 1st class is the way to go. In 1st class you will have your own private cabin with 2 berths in each cabin. There are two bathrooms to share with only 20 people. In 2nd class you will need to share the small toilet space and sink area with more than 40 persons. Also you will need to keep an eye on your baggage as everyone in the 2nd class car has their luggage exposed to others. Not much room for your bags either. The 1st class cabins are connecting so if you are a family you have a door you can open to the joining cabin. The porter is always cleaning the bathrooms and available during the complete trip to meet you needs. There is plenty of room to put your baggage in your cabin where it is not exposed to others. The 1st class car is locked at night securing it from the other train cars. Food from the dining car will be brought to your room. A waiter or waitress will come to your berth for you to order. You can even request what time you would like to eat dinner and breakfast. The porter will have hot water, coffee or tea ready for you when you wake up in his service area of the 1st class car.The train is clean, safe, comfortable and fun. For 1st class there are two trains. The first one departs Bangkok at 6 PM arriving in Chiang Mai around 7:10 AM. The second train is for those who want to enjoy the beautiful north Thailand mountain countryside in the morning. That train departs Bangkok at 7:20 PM arriving in Chiang Mai around 9:40 AM. Now lets talk about accommodations. Most people do not know that there are excellent places to stay in the smallest towns and villages in North Thailand. These include everything from beautiful 5 star garden resorts in the forested mountains to clean bamboo bungalows in hill tribe villages with toilets and cold showers for guests only. To stay at anyone of these will enhance your Thailand Experience.
Spending an evening in a hill tribe village is an excellent way to learn about the culture of the people in the village. A good hill tribe village to spend your evening in should have a separate bamboo home, toilets and showers for their guests. Excellent Thai meals will be prepared by your guide or delivered fresh from a clean nearby restaurant.Spending an evening with a family in a hill tribe village has many problems. Here is why. First if there is a toilet and shower it is shared with everyone in the village if there is one at all. You will then have to wait your turn to go to the bathroom what ever your need. Most are very dirty and some with no running water. Second the cooking utensils; plates, spoon etc. are not at all clean. Many who spend an evening with a hill tribe family in a village become ill because of poor hygiene by the villages that handle and prepare the food, dirty dishes and eating utensils. Third is you are constantly bothered by the family trying to sell you something or to pay for a massage. They will invite neighbors into the home to do the same.When you stay in your own bamboo home or bungalow in a hill tribe village they know that is your space. They will not bother you or burst into your home. You can visit them at your leisure and enjoy your privacy at the same time. The villagers are much happier as you are respecting their privacy also. The village headman or someone in the village will probably invite you into their home for a cup of tea. If you would like to see the inside of a hill tribe home always ask your guide first. The tour guide usually arranges visiting a hill tribe home in advance. The folks in the village know you are coming and a designated home is planned for your visit.
This type of hill tribe village stay promotes harmony in the village. The culture is not disrupted, everyone's privacy is respected and you are treated like a friend rather than a source of income as a tourist. The building of the home is paid for by the tour operator to the villagers and a fee is charged for the overnight stay to be shared by all the villagers.For those looking for comfort and scenic beauty, visiting hill tribe villages but not wishing to stay in one, there are many options. Excellent fully furnished bungalows with air conditioning in a small town on the banks of a beautiful river surround with mountains in a fruit orchard is just one of the choices.
For bird lovers there are wonderful resorts that cater to the birds along with the guests in total comfort. Many of these hotel/bungalow resorts are on large garden laden grounds with hike and bike trails. Bikes are available to take a leisurely ride through forest and small villages. They all have excellent restaurants serving Thai and Western food and yes a Jacuzzi and/or swimming pool.What ever your inside Thailand travel or accommodations needs there is the transport and place for you. Check around and find a good flexible tour operator that will give you many choices of transport, accommodations and tours to meet your needs and expectations. No need to reserve your hotel or resort for every night in one place. Many operators will say you can't do this or that, take this package tour, stay at this hotel, take this flight, etc. If you do, you might miss out on a wonderful experience to remember for a lifetime.
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