Ultimate Thailand Itinerary – First Time Thailand With Affordable Luxury Accommodations

Thailand Itinerary

Thailand is one of the top destinations for tourism and undoubtedly one of the best places for affordable luxury. Popular amongst luxury travelers and backpackers alike, for a country so swarmed with tourism, Thailand has still been able to maintain much of its cultural charm. Add that it is one of the most affordable countries to travel to, and you’ve found yourself one of the best places to have a luxury experience without the high price tag.

During low season (May through October), 5 star accommodations can cost under $100.00 USD a night. Even better, with the average massage costing around $15.00 USD, you can’t afford NOT to get one every day, especially when the average meal price can be as little as a couple dollars for the best Thai food you’ll ever taste. A country so rich in culture and natural beauty, paired with year-round warm weather, it is no wonder why many expats choose to make Thailand their home. My 10 day – 2 week itinerary will show you the most popular cities and islands for the ultimate first-time trip to the country who’s nicknamed “The Land of Smiles.”
 Chiang Mai

3-5 nights in Chiang Mai

Begin your trip in the northern city of Chiang Mai to enjoy a fully immersive cultural experience. Experience authentic Thailand at its best from the city to the jungle, to temples and night markets. Some must-dos of Chiang Mai include:
  • Take a half day cooking class to learn how to make (and get to eat) all your favorite Thai dishes. This will easily be one of the best and your most favorite meal had in Thailand.

    may kaidees
    Vegan Cooking Class
  • Volunteer a day or half day at Elephant Nature Park – one of the few true and ethical elephant sanctuaries in Thailand where elephant riding is NOT allowed. At ENP you will get to feed, bathe, and play with these amazing gentle giants all while learning about the awful elephant tourism industry of Southeast Asia and how ENP help to rehabilitate the elephants after mistreatment and abuse. (Please never ride elephants!)

    Top things to do in Chiang Mai
    Elephant Nature Park
  •  Take a visit to the sacred sites and temples, such as Chiang Mai’s most famous temple, Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. At another popular temple, Wat Suan Dok you can even sit and chat with a monk to help them practice their English!

    Wat Phra That Doi Suthep Chiang Mai
    Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
  • Plan a day or over-night trip to a neighboring northern city such as Pai or Chiang Rai to explore more of northern Thailand’s culture and natural beauty.
  • Zipline through the jungle for the longest zip line in Asia at Flight of the Gibbon.
  • Receive as many massages as your body can handle. Don’t bother with fancy hotel spa massages that charge western spa prices. There are so many incredible spas in Thailand where a traditional Thai massage will cost anywhere from 200 – 700 BAHT. My favorite in Chiang Mai was at Makkha Spa, where each massage is accompanied by a cup of tea and the most delicious mango sticky rice.
  • Shop, eat, and wander the night bazaar, and especially do not miss the Sunday Night Market, the biggest night market in all of Asia. Be sure to get there as early as they open (around 5:00PM) as crowds will heavily build later in the evening making it more difficult to navigate.

Recommended accommodations from ultra luxe to affordable luxe – Four Seasons, Shangri-La, Anatara, Le Meridien, or if you prefer Airbnb, the Astra Condos are nice and modern with a rooftop infinity pool that has spectacular views. (Condos at the Astra can be found on Airbnb, expedia.com, hotels.com, and booking.com.) There are also no shortages of boutique hotels that offer nice accommodations for every budget.

 Koh Samui Beach

3 – 4 nights Koh Samui  

Next, make your way down south to the island of Koh Samui. Situated on the gulf side of Thailand, this larger-sized island has a lot to see. Some highlights for Koh Samui include:
  • Relaxing on one of the many white sand and clear blue water beaches such as the Koh Samui’s longest beach, Mae Nam.
  • Party and enjoy the bustling nightlife in the beach of Chaweng.
  • Receive an ocean view massage at Cyan spa, then walk the streets of Bophut AKA the Fisherman’s Village, and enjoy sunset on one of the many beachside bars and restaurants.
  • Visit the famous site of Samui Big Buddha.

    Big Buddha Samui
    Big Buddha of Koh Samui
  • Take a day or overnight trip to a nearby smaller island of your choice, such as Ko Pha-ngan (famous for their wild full moon parties) or Ang Thong National Marine Park.

Recommended luxury accommodations from ultra luxe to affordable luxe: Four Seasons, Banyan Tree, Le Meridien, Sheraton Samui Resort

Phuket Luxury

3 -5 nights in Phuket/Krabi/Koh Phi Phi  

Jump to the Admanean sea side island of the Phuket/Krabi region. Spend a few nights in Phuket for the bustling, quintessential touristy Thailand experience where a mix of beaches, city life, and cultural sites will make you experience all Thailand has to offer at once. For a more luxurious experience, stay in a private pool villa at a resort such as The Westin in the serene and tranquil Siray bay, away from main Phuket Town, or any of these hotels depending on your budget. Phuket has the most options for luxury accommodations at every price point, so it won’t be difficult to find something that is perfect for you. Some highlights of Phuket include:
  • Have an insane nightlife experience on Bangla Street in Patong beach, complete with infamous Ping Pong shows and ladyboy dancers.
  • Witness excellent views of the city from the Big Buddha statue.

    big buddha
    Phuket Big Buddha
  • Spend a night or two in Railay Beach in Krabi for the unforgettable pristine beaches.
  • From either Phuket or Krabi, take a day or overnight trip and tour the Phi Phi islands, where you can snorkel/dive, and visit other famous islands such as the stunning Maya Bay (where the movie the Beach was filmed), kayak through the caves of James Bond Island, and witness the wild monkeys of Monkey Beach.
Koh phi phi
Koh Phi Phi Islands / Maya Bay

FAQ: Getting Around

The best way to explore the cities and islands of Thailand is by motorbike/scooter and should cost no more than around 250 BAHT (~$8.00 USD) a day. If a motorbike is not for you, taxis are very cheap but be be sure to negotiate. Negotiate everything in Thailand! There are many tourist traps. Be especially aware of Tuk Tuk rides, they shouldn’t be more than a couple hundred BAHT and do not allow them to take you anywhere other than your agreed upon destination.

Getting from one city to the next is most efficiently reached by short plane rides and usually costs no more than $100 USD. For a more economical route, an overnight sleeper train is a good option.

The only way to get to the islands is by boat. A speedboat is the quickest but also most expensive. You may take a ferry for a cheap option but it will take a bit longer to reach your destination.

Best Beaches in Thailand

With a country that has so much to see and do, a couple weeks in Thailand is not nearly enough time. I can’t wait to come back to explore the more remote and off-the-beaten-path parts, and especially explore more of the more untouched and secluded islands. If you’ve been to Thailand, which city or island is your favorite?

For more adventures, follow @monacorona on Instagram



4 thoughts on “Ultimate Thailand Itinerary – First Time Thailand With Affordable Luxury Accommodations

  1. Really enjoyed your post and your itenary will help me plan for my next visit. The photos just say it all. Thanks for sharing and inspiring.


  2. This is super helpful for trip planning! The vegan cooking class in Chiang Mai is a great idea. I didn’t realize Thai food and veganism went together that well 🙂


    1. It is actually super easy to eat vegan/vegetarian in Thailand! Especially in Chiang Mai – they have tons of vegan cafes and many restaurants offer a vegan menu. Just remember to ask for “no fish sauce” whenever ordering out because they use it in everything!


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