top things to do in thailand

Thailand: Popular backpacker destination. Exotic island beaches. A land steeped in ancient history and tradition. A culinary playground. A country mired in controversy, political conflict and, at times, civil unrest. It’s also one of our next destinations.

Yes, it’s true, we were JUST there. At least, it feels like we were just there as it was only last October that we landed in Chiang Mai and began our 2 months of travel across the country. So why then are we returning a year later, in October of this year, to Thailand? There are several reasons for this.

1. We have arranged to go to a Travel Blogger Retreat and TBEX, a travel blogger convention

2. There were several things we didn’t do when we were last in Thailand and would like to check out at least some of them

and

3. We absolutely LOVE the country. We had such an amazing time when we were last there, it just made sense to seize the opportunity to go again!

What We Did in Thailand

If you read Carolann’s post on 8 things she didn’t do in Thailand, you may be asking what exactly we did do the last time around. Take a look at the video and read below as we shed some light on some of our major, and most memorable, experiences during our last trip to Thailand and what we think are the top things to do while there!

The Elephant Jungle Sanctuary and Hill Tribe

chiang mai elephant jungle sanctuary elephant interaction

We’ve mentioned that one of our reasons for choosing Thailand as one of our first destinations when we started full-time travel was to fulfill Carolann’s dream of seeing elephants. We ended up with much more than we could have expected with two full days interacting with, feeding and bathing three elephants, including a baby, and spending a night in a Karen Hill Tribe village, learning about their history and culture, eating some amazing food and experiencing a few days without electricity or internet. The Elephant Jungle Sanctuary in Chiang Mai provided one of our most memorable experiences in Thailand and put a smile on Carolann’s face that stayed for days!

Driving from Chiang Mai to Pai

drive to pai, getting to pai, road to pai, best way to get to pai

Intense, exhilarating and butt-bruising. That’s right – our butts were hurting by the end of this drive! We decided to make the harrowing scooter ride from Chiang Mai to Pai, navigating 762 turns up and down mountains, avoiding potholes and passing traffic and, at one time, shimmying our bums with the scooter, and crossing our fingers, in an effort to keep it going up a particularly steep climb. With several stops and a few detours, we arrived in Pai seven hours after we first left Chiang Mai, drenched by the rain, weary from the ride and with a slightly stilted walk due to the literal pain in our arses.

It was an amazing drive that took us to one tranquil and unique area of Thailand. We enjoyed it so much, we wrote several posts on getting to and exploring Pai as well as a Guide to Pai E-book with extra tips and suggestions! We also had one luxurious stay at Soi One, after a few weeks of cold showers with no pressure and a couple nights in a low-budget hostel.

Learning to Scuba Dive in Koh Tao

scuba diving in koh tao

When people ask us what is our favourite experience in our almost one year of travel, we can’t really offer one answer. It’s all been so amazing. Definitely in the running though, is our experience getting our open water scuba certification in Koh Tao. We had no plans to dive when we first arrived on the island, known for its amazing dive sites and affordable dive costs, but as we saw more and more dive shops, our interest was sparked. What ended up being a spur-of-the-moment decisions turned into an adventure into a whole other world under the water.

We absolutely loved being under the surface, seeing the beautiful and unique creatures under the water and learning to work together as dive-buddies. While we’re not sure we’ll get a chance to dive in Thailand this time around, we’re hoping to dive again real soon!

Experiencing Paradise on Koh Phangan

Koh Phangan Thailand Best Western Phanganburi

Another spontaneous decision was to attend the Travel Writer’s Workshop on Koh Phangan. This meant spending two weeks at Phananburi Resort (now Buri Resort) on a gorgeous beach and attending daily workshops. We ended up meeting some truly amazing people, learning a heck of a lot, watching some of the most beautiful and unique sunsets each evening and each getting an article published in Southeast Asia Backpacker Magazine – Carolann for burgers on the Koh Phangan and Macrae for places to watch the sunset while enjoying a drink on the island.

It seems as though we are coming full circle, not only ending up in Thailand a year later, but also attending a retreat, albeit a different one, on the island of Koh Phangan at, you guessed it, the same resort! Whether your visit is business, pleasure or a bit of both, this is one paradise island with some pristine beaches and spectacular sunsets!

Climbing Pu Chi Fa For The Sunrise

Thailand, Laos, Thai-Laos border, phu chi fa, thailand viewpoint

One thing we rarely travelled without in Thailand was a scooter. We used it to boot around the north and rented ones in the south on each island we visited. The only time we chose public transit over a scooter was in Bangkok, where it was quicker, cheaper and safer to ride trains and take cabs.

After our drive to Pai we knew we had to explore more of the north and decided to make our way to Pu Chi Fa from the city of Chiang Rai. Pu Chi Fa mountain lies on the eastern border where Thailand meets Laos and we were told that watching the sunrise from the top of the mountain is an experience not to be missed.

It took us another 7 hours of butt-numbing driving from Chiang Rai, through some amazing scenery before we reached a hotel at the base of the mountain. It probably would’ve taken half the time if we hadn’t gotten lost, er taken a detour, which had us stumbling on a waterfall, getting stuck in pouring rain and riding almost the entire way up the mountain in fog and drizzle before finally finding someone who suggested we head back down the mountain to one of the resorts. It. Was. Amazing.

Waking up the next morning at 3:30am, we headed back up the mountain barely able to see a foot in front of us. And if we thought the potholes on our way to Pai were big, boy did we get a surprise! We passed through clouds and found a parking spot before walking up the rest of the way to the top. Unfortunately it was too cloudy to watch the sunrise but it was still a beautiful place to visit. It was also an interesting experience seeing the Hmong people that live in the mountain and we are able to say we stood in Laos, even if it was only for a minute or two!

Dining at Rock Restaurant Bangkok

Rock Restaurant and Bar Whiskey, Rock Rstaurant and Bar bangkok, best restaurants in bangkok, best bars in bangkok, best cocktails in bangkok,

One of our favourite restaurants, anywhere, is Rock Restaurant in Bangkok. With an impressive menu of traditional Thai fusion, great original cocktails and a wonderful ambiance, we were hard pressed to forget our experience at Rock! We had some amazing pork buns and some delicious crab and cream cheese wafers. We’re really hoping we’ll have a chance to dine here again when we head back to Bangkok and try some of the new additions to their dinner and cocktail menus!

Having Ancient Ruins to Ourselves

Wat E-Kang, Wiang Kum Kam, Chiang Mai Ancient Ruins

In all our research we never came across anything telling us about Wiang Kum Kam or its ruins located in Chiang Mai. In fact, we still had a hard time finding much information once we were told about the area. Our Airbnb host recommended we drive our scooter to Wiang Kum Kam and explore the various ruins. While there were a few people who were travelling around each of the ruins via horse-drawn carriage or tour, we were pretty much the only two people at most of the sites. It allowed us to take our time, see as many of the ruins as we wanted and really get a feel for it without crowds or conversation. We’re not sure why it’s not more popular but we’re thankful we had it to ourselves.

We can’t wait to see what’s in store for us when we head to Thailand in October. We know we’ll be eating lots of the food we’ve missed, visiting the friends we made the first time around and looking to make amazing new memories while exploring some new, and some of the same, places throughout the country!

Have you been to Thailand? What was your favourite memory? If not, is there a place that seems to keep drawing you back? Comment below and let us know!

 

50 replies
    • onemoderncouple
      onemoderncouple says:

      We thought they were great finds! We’re looking forward to those pork buns and whatever else they’ve added to the menu when we are in Bangkok in October but unfortunately we won’t be able to return to try and catch a clear sunset on Pu Chi Fa!

      Reply
  1. Natalie Deduck
    Natalie Deduck says:

    Hey Guys!!!
    Finally I´m gonna meet you person!
    I´m going to the Travel Blogger Retreat and TBEX too!!! It will be awesome to finally be able to talk to you and listen to your amazing tales.
    As you, we came back to Thailand sooner than we expected. We were supposed to stay around Europe till October, but we couldn’t. Have already been a month that we are back in Bangkok. Ready to follow some of your tips and explore places in Thailand that we didn’t visit yet!
    Cheers,
    Nat
    Natalie Deduck recently posted…Powerful Lesson from 1 year travelling the worldMy Profile

    Reply
    • onemoderncouple
      onemoderncouple says:

      We’re really excited to meet you as well! And we’re REALLY looking forward to hearing what you have to say about working with brands – it’s a big focus of ours right now. It’s funny how travel plans can change so drastically! See you soon!

      Reply
  2. Chris
    Chris says:

    The thought of Thailand always makes me smile.

    It was in fact the first country abroad I ever visited.

    Great food, wonderful people, colour galore… oh, and damn cheap!!

    Glad you enjoyed the diving, that’s an activity we never got into there, but now that we’ve done our Open Water (as well as our advanced), it offers more potential options wherever we now go!
    Chris recently posted…Galapagos: Beneath the waves of Santa FeMy Profile

    Reply
  3. Natalie - From Tourist 2 Local
    Natalie - From Tourist 2 Local says:

    That looks like a great list, and I would love to do everything that you both did! Hanging out with elephants, climbing up to Pu Chi Fa to see the sunrise, scuba diving… all of it looks like so much fun! I hope you get into some new adventures this time as well 🙂

    Reply
  4. Elizabeth
    Elizabeth says:

    Nice post. Some great things to do. We really enjoyed the slow boat ride we took from Northern Thailand to Luang Prabang in Laos. It was so pleasant and relaxing. We saw the mahouts bring their elephants down to the river very early in the morning for a drink. There was still mist on the river. Magical. The stops along the way in the local villages were a good way to break up the journey and get off the boat.
    Elizabeth recently posted…Money Saving Tips for Traveling Around TurkeyMy Profile

    Reply
  5. Mel Jones
    Mel Jones says:

    What amazing memories you’ve created! Arse ache is the worse when you’re travelling LOL! Especially by scooter up lots of bumpy hills! What a fantastic trip, Elephants and Scuba looked particularly awesome. I went to an Elephant orphanage when I was little in Sri Lanka but our camera was stolen so I don’t have a lot of memories from it 🙁 when I go to Thailand I’ll check this sanctuary out for sure, thanks for the heads up 🙂
    Mel Jones recently posted…5 things that surprised me about BarcelonaMy Profile

    Reply
    • onemoderncouple
      onemoderncouple says:

      Oh yes! The bums were a-hurtin several times when we went on long road trips but Pu Chi Fa was completely worth it! So sad you got your camera stolen but at least you’ll have your own memories of interacting with those incredible creatures!

      Reply
  6. Jennifer Ryder Joslin
    Jennifer Ryder Joslin says:

    You guys had some awesome experiences in Thailand! I can echo what you said about how nice it is having ruins to yourself. In Sukhothai I woke up before sunrise one morning and explored the temples and ruins by bike. I didn’t see another person for a few hours, aside from the temple guards. It was such a serene and memorable experience! We recently visited Mae Salong, Thailand on the Myanmar border. A very interesting place! Thailand is such a diverse country-we love it!
    Jennifer Ryder Joslin recently posted…Maya Bay, Thailand: Living Life by a Bucket ListMy Profile

    Reply
  7. Carol Colborn
    Carol Colborn says:

    I have always wondered why Thailand does better in tourism than the Philippines. Your post shows some of the reasons! You have found special things-ruins all to yourselves, sunrise close to heaven, and wonderful pork buns!

    Reply
    • onemoderncouple
      onemoderncouple says:

      It may be the accessibility to those hidden gems as you don’t necessarily have to head to one of the islands in order to find so many great things. Philippines is so incredible in its own right though and I think it’ll be picking up in Tourism as more and more people see how wonderful it is. That being said, it may be the difficulty in getting from island to island (price, time, etc) that has slowed tourism in comparison until now 🙂

      Reply
  8. Gabby | The Globe Wanderers
    Gabby | The Globe Wanderers says:

    Wonderful post guys. Visiting the elephant sanctuary in Chang Mai is SO high up on my dream list. I think I would also have a smile on my face for days :). Your video is fantastic – what amazing experiences. Will look forward to reading about your experience at TBEX. We unfortunately couldn’t make this one but would love to do so in the future. Great post and I will keep my fingers crossed that you make it back to the Rock and feast on more pork buns again soon!

    Gabby
    Gabby | The Globe Wanderers recently posted…Why the Wild Ones are Richer than MostMy Profile

    Reply
    • onemoderncouple
      onemoderncouple says:

      Thanks!! We had an amazing time at TBEX but unfortunately got so wrapped up with conference events we weren’t able to get back to Rock restaurant! 🙁 We hope to meet you soon – at TBEX or just crossing paths!

      Reply
  9. Gemma Two Scots Abroad
    Gemma Two Scots Abroad says:

    Two of my favourite things up there – The Elephant Nature Park (so sad!) and the ride to Pai, unmissable! I am jealous that you dived in Koh Tao, we couldn’t justify the time so settled for Koh Samui (not Chewang, gads!) but would have loved to have partied and chilled there. Great post, brought back lovely memories!
    Gemma Two Scots Abroad recently posted…Deafying Stereotypes – Deaf TravelMy Profile

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  10. Sanket D.
    Sanket D. says:

    You know Thailand is such a short distance away from here, in India; but somehow I always seem to downplay the entire South-East as a destination. My parents have been to Thailand and keep telling me how brilliant it is, but I never really took them seriously. I think I might have to take some time off and explore all of the South East soon; starting of course with Thailand.
    Sanket D. recently posted…North Shore’s Kahuku – A Hawaiian ParadiseMy Profile

    Reply
    • onemoderncouple
      onemoderncouple says:

      We were just starting out when we went to Chiang Mai so we didn’t find out about all the digital nomads and bloggers there until we were leaving! There should be other Travel Blogger Retreats – Travel Dave did an amazing job and it was a huge success!

      Reply
  11. Stacey Valle
    Stacey Valle says:

    I only went for about two weeks last summer (which feels only recently!) and did my best to explore many things. I did the elephant sanctuary in Chiangmai too! It was so much fun and worth the experience 🙂 As for the our open water scuba certification, my travel partner wanted to do that! She said it’s one of the cheapest places to get the certification. I’m not ready for that though haha, I’m terrified of the sea! Hopefully one day I’ll overcome that 🙂
    Stacey Valle recently posted…Chichen Itza – One of the 7 world wondersMy Profile

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  12. Meg Jerrard
    Meg Jerrard says:

    Everything sounds amazing and I’m so glad you took in a responsible elephant sanctuary – far too many people head to Thailand not caring about supporting responsible tourism especially when it comes to wildlife. And OMG so psyched that you learnt how to Scuba dive! That’s on my list, and I havent yet managed to take a course, though I’m constantly being bombarded with everyones amazing photos and videos of their dives around the world and its inspiring some serious wanderlust for the sea!

    Will definitely try and take in similar experiences when I can get to Thailand. Thanks for the inspiration!

    Reply
  13. Lori Barber
    Lori Barber says:

    Enjoyed your post! My husband and I spent three weeks in Thailand at the start of our 8-month trip around the world in 2013. Some memorable experiences: meeting the elephants in Chiang Rai, exploring ruins in Chiang Sean (and having them to ourselves), Koh Phangan sunsets :), visiting Phangan Animal Care – they provide medical care to the street dogs. We hope to return to Thailand some day!

    Reply
  14. Tony the farang
    Tony the farang says:

    Hi I have a house in Thailand, a Thai wife and son and travelled the country extensively. I do not know if you have a motorcycle licence in your country but if you don’t then do not hire a scooter, motorcycle etc in Thailand. Firstly you will not be covered by your travel insurance if you are in an accident, in hospital or having to replace the Motorcycle. Secondly Thailand is the second highest country in the world for vehicle accidents. Many people get killed every year especially on Motorcycle scooters. It is NO place for inexperienced or non licenced riders. Hire a car if you need to travel. Here is what happened this year over Songran (7 days in April) Thailand is a fantastic place but keep safety first.

    “A total of 442 people were killed in road accidents across the country during the “seven dangerous days” of Songkran which ended on Sunday, up a huge 21.4% on last year despite the government’s intense road safety campaign.
    Four out of every five accidents involved motorcycles.”.

    Reply
    • onemoderncouple
      onemoderncouple says:

      Absolutely! nobody should hire a moped/motorcycle in Thailand without a motorcycle license and if you do please drive carefully and responsibly. We agree with Tony here. We don’t promote any one to rent bikes in Thailand and if you do, it’s your own choice. we can’t stress enough to please be careful!

      Reply

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