Thailand is a fairly big country, and a relatively far trip for many of the tourists landing there, so it’s no surprise that when people go, they want to see everything Thailand has to offer (we sure did).
The northern part of the country holds bustling Bangkok and beautiful Chiang Mai, which happen to be nowhere near the crystalline blue waters of the Thai Islands down south. So, how do you do it all? Well, we tried two different routes to see what was worth recommending for you guys.
If you’re a well planned traveller then flying is definitely your best bet. You can find tickets from Bangkok to Phuket for $50 if you buy early enough, which is comparable to what you’ll spend on the catamaran, bus and train combo on ground. We were a little nervous about flying a local airline, but after checking the online safety scores decided to book and had no problem. The flight was about an hour and the view was absolutely gorgeous. We spent $80 on our tickets, and we bought them fairly last minute, but it was worth the extra $40 in the amount of time and hassle it saved us.
If you need to save every penny or just want the on ground excursion we recommend taking a catamaran from whatever island you’re on to Chumporn.
The catamaran is a smooth ride, so it’s manageable even for those who get sea sick. Ours was very clean, air conditioned inside, and equipped with a TV (which for some reason was playing a Beyonce concert, haha). It was also undersold, we were each able to take our own rows and get comfortable. Since it’s a long ride there are bathrooms on board as well.
Once you land on the mainland a bus will pick you up and drive you about two hours into the town of Chumporn. Expect a Greyhound style bus in good condition. They’re not pristine but thankfully they also weren’t the sort of buses that look like they just finished a tour of the graveyard if you know what I mean. The seats were comfortable and reclined, there were curtains at the window, the entire coach was air conditioned (bring a sweater in with you since you won’t have individual control) and the ride was smooth. If you can, get a seat by the window. The landscape is stunning and we passed enough wildlife to earn “ooooh”s and “aaaaahh”s from the entire bus, making it feel like a sub-par safari.
The bus will drop you at the train station in Chumporn. There is ALWAYS a layover here while waiting for the train to Bangkok, so plan to check your bag in with the station attendant and explore. While there isn’t much to do there, just down the road there’s an outdoor market where you can find some pretty great local street food. We recommend doing the overnight train to Bangkok so you can eat a little, then board your car to sleep.
It doesn’t matter what class you buy on the train to Bangkok, it is NOT a European train, so set your expectations accordingly. Our bunks were clean enough to sleep and came with a pillow, a sheet, an outlet, an individual light, and a bottle of water. We propped our bags on our shelves and tucked in for the night for a pretty mundane ride. While train bathrooms are never anything boast-worthy, it probably should be said that this train’s bathroom is a hole in the floor with a bar for you to hold onto to stabilize yourself. Below you you can see the tracks whizzing by, and around your feet will likely be some bugs crawling about, so wear your sneakers, not your slippers. Some of our companions didn’t see the bathroom once on the trip, I, however, happened to be that person and had to pee every ten minutes.
The train will bring you to the central station in Bangkok at sunrise where you can easily transfer to the Sky Train to get around Bangkok, or grab a cab to the airport.
Overall this trek started in Koh Tao for us, took 14 hours, and cost us $40. If you like the scenic route I’d highly recommend it. We did it to end our trip, but if we could do it again we’d start our trip with the trek down when we had more energy, and then fly back up to Bangkok.
Either way, you’ll have a great time in Thailand, so journey on and have fun!