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As part of our travel hacker beginning guide, we show you how to travel the world on points. Today we want to show you how to plan a trip to Thailand. Thailand has long been on my list of trips to do and it did not disappoint! It is a magical land of temples, elephants, Thai food, longtail boat rides, and cheap massages. Like really cheap massages! I went with a friend and the massages ranged from $3 – $12 an hour. Naturally, we had one every day!
The first part of planning a trip to Thailand revolves around where to go. So many places, so much beauty! I knew I wanted to go to Bangkok just because it is the main city and I wanted to go see the temples there. I also wanted to go to Chaing Mai and the elephant sanctuaries. Then I needed to go to an island. Koh Samui? Phuket? Krabi Town? Phi Phi Island? We finally decided on this itinerary: 2 nights in Bangkok, 3 nights in Chaing Mai, 3 nights in Phuket, and 2 in Krabi Town and it was perfect for us. My son went to Koh Samui and Phi Phi Island and loved those too. Just read about the different islands and decide – I don’t think you can make a bad choice.
I went this time as a girl’s trip to Thailand but it is a popular couple’s destination and even families with children love a visit to Thailand! It literally has something for everyone!
Because I was flying with a friend who hadn’t started travel hacking yet (can you believe that?), I actually flew economy class with her on the way over. This was her first intercontinental trip so I wanted to give her moral support. I knew I wanted to fly business class at least one way though so I used ThankYou Points I had from my husband and I each having the Citi Premier Credit Card and transferred them to EVA airlines for my flight back. This cost me 125,000 ThankYou points for both of my flights. Currently, the signup bonus on this card is 60,000 after a $4000 minimum spend.
As a travel hacker, I would save my points and only travel that far in business class for both flights. It was 13 hours from San Francisco to Taipei with a 2-hour layover and 4 more hours to Bangkok. Luckily, we managed to sleep okay on the way over and had lounge access thanks to my Priority Pass cards so we ate and rested in Taipei. We should have taken a shower there but didn’t realize that was an option until it was too late. Try and get a credit card with lounge access if you plan a trip to Thailand as it is a long haul!
Once in Thailand, flights are cheap. We flew from Bangkok to Chiang Mai and Chiang Mai to Phuket on AirAsia Thai Airways. From Phuket, we took a ferry that stopped at Phi Phi Islands for a quick look and on to Krabi Town.
Our first stop was in Bangkok where we stayed at the Sheraton Royal Orchid Hotel. It is a Marriott branded hotel and is 17,500 points per night at the standard rate. There are a variety of Marriott cards that you can open to earn points to stay here. Because I had elite status with them, we also got club lounge access which gave us nightly appetizers and free breakfast. When it comes to hotel status, membership has its privileges!! We also got a room upgrade, but to be honest, it wasn’t the best upgrade.
The hotel, however, is in a great location. It was adjacent to a mall with massages and eating places and best of all, a hop-on, hop-off boat that allowed us to get to most of our activities. It was super cheap and the best way to get around. More about our activities later on though.
Chiang Mai found us in another Marriott branded hotel, the Le Meridien. This is a category 5 hotel and goes for 35,000 points per night at standard pricing. It was in a great location too and we could walk all around from this location. Most hotels in Thailand and most of Asia are really cheap. Sometimes I prefer to just pay for the room and save my points for a more expensive stay. Additionally, if you stay at an off-peak time, you can pay less in points.
We stayed in Phuket at the Hyatt Regency Phuket. This stay cost 12,000 Hyatt points a night. When you sign up for the Chase World of Hyatt Credit Card you get 50,000 points. We used points to stay three nights for free. The infinity pool was amazing and the location was easy to walk to the beach from.
Finally, in Krabi Town we stayed at a hotel I didn’t really like so no recommendations there. There aren’t many branded hotels in Krabi so I would probably book one on hotels.com or booking.com. When planning your trip to Thailand, you may decide to use points for all your lodging or pay for some because they are so cheap.
The currency in Thailand is the Thai Baht. At the time of this writing 100 Bahts is worth about $3.29 in USD. It’s a little crazy to walk around with 6,000 Bahts and have it only be worth $200 American dollars. I don’t know about you, but foreign currency feels like monopoly money to me and I have to remind myself to take good care of it.
One of the fun things in Thailand is transportation! I loved riding the tuk-tuks, the modern-day successor to rickshaws. They are three-wheeled tiny vehicles all over Thailand.
In Chiang Mai, they had Songtaews that would pick up as many people as they could carry and drop you off at various destinations. These looked like paddy wagons to me and were very unique. They are small pickups with benches on each side and they pack them in! Of course, there are taxis but who wants to travel around in such a boring fashion?
We went to several temples from our hop-on, hop-off boat on the Chao Phraya River. I have to admit, the first time I stepped off the boat at our first temple, Wat Aron, I got teary-eyed. It was such a surreal experience to finally be in Thailand. I love that travel can produce unexpected emotions and you will always remember that moment! Remember to dress modestly to gain entrance to the temples in Thailand. No short shorts or sleeveless tops. There are vendors by the temples who are always willing to sell you a scarf and some temples have complimentary coverings.
We also went to the Grand Palace in Bangkok, the official residence of the kings of Siam from 1782-1925. We were lucky to be there as the changing of the guards took place. This site is very, very busy during the day so I would get there early or go later in the day.
Floating markets are a great activity in Thailand and Bangkok has several. If you want a unique shopping experience and some great, fresh produce, be sure and head to one. Some of the best are the Amphawa Floating Market which opens in the afternoon, the Taling Chan Floating Market which is most central to downtown Bangkok and the Bang Phil Floating Market which is one of the oldest. The easiest way to go to one of these is as part of a tour. Viator has several and I highly recommend one.
We had our first Thai massages in Bangkok at the mall adjacent to our hotel. It wasn’t our cheapest massage but it was my most memorable. I am used to massages in the US and was completely unprepared to have the Thai girl jump on the bed with me, straddling me and use her elbows and knees to massage me!
To be honest, I had a hard time relaxing with that first massage but, luckily, got used to the differences quickly. Being stretched and manipulated in ways I had never been with my traditional massage, also took getting used to. I am happy to report I got used to it pretty quickly, especially because they were so cheap, and had one almost every single day of our trip!
The highlight of our trip to this city was going to an elephant sanctuary. Here we learned about the animals, fed them, and watched them bathe. Getting very up close and personal to these majestic creatures was a thrill! We learned how abused many are because of being ridden so opted out of trying to do that on our trip.
Taking a bike tour of a city is always a fun thing to do. On our tour, there was only my friend and I and a fellow from Estonia. It was a little crazy biking through the old part of Chiang Mai and I just concentrated on the person in front of me. We tasted some street food, went to a market and tried exotic fruit, saw a couple of temples, met with a monk, and had a delicious smoothie. It was a great way to see more of the city!
Visiting the Sunday Market in Chiang Mai was a fun way to pick up some souvenirs for cheap. We had foot massages for $3 and enjoyed some good entertainment too. My friend, Deanna, loves the smoothies in Thailand so we had some of them too! It starts at Tha Phae Gate and extends about 1 km. We walked to it from our hotel and took a tuk-tuk back. It opens around 4:00 each Sunday and closes at midnight. Don’t miss it! Plan your trip to Chiang Mai, Thailand to be there on a Sunday so you can go to it.
If a Sunday just doesn’t work for you, you can go to the nightly Night Bazaar that opens 6:00-10:30 pm each night. It is fun too and a great place for souvenirs. It is located at the intersection of Chang Khlan Road and Loi Khor Road.
Phuket was all about relaxing. Whether we were hanging around our pool, looking at the beach in front of us and ordering food, or renting chairs at the beach, we were relaxing. Each night we went to Andaman Massage and had the BEST massages. We had read about them on trip advisor and they did not disappoint. I think the hour-long massages were about $12.00.
Taking a cooking class in the city you are visiting is always fun. Thai food is much beloved and one of the best places to find a good cooking class is Cookly. I think taking a cooking class gives you so much insight into the country, its foods, and its people.
We only saw the Phi Phi islands from our ferry to Krabi Town but it is a popular day trip from Phuket. I wish we had planned a tour there but we were just too busy relaxing.
To get from Phuket to Krabi Town we went by ferry. We took a taxi to Rassada Pier to catch the ferry. We had booked it online here. Honestly, this was the part of the trip we were most unsure of but when we got to the pier we were able to ask people where to go for our ferry and got good directions. We loaded all our luggage into the pit that holds luggage, hoping it would be reunited with us, and took our seats inside.
The scenery was gorgeous and we would go on the deck for the cool breezes and enjoy it. Once we got to the Phi Phi islands we had to grab our luggage and transfer to our next ferry. I have to admit, it was slightly confusing, and we sprinted to that ferry. Overall, it was a four-hour transfer and cost us each $60 and was a very interesting experience!
Arriving from the ferry in Krabi town, we took a cab to our hotel. It was here that I made a rookie mistake – I left a small travel backpack on the floor of the cab. It had new earbuds, water shoes and maybe $20. We had no idea how to contact the cab and unfortunately, he didn’t contact us or bring it back to the hotel. Guess he got a good tip that day!
One of the best tours I have ever taken was a longtail boat tour to Hong Island with Andaman Camp and Cruise. It was just my friend and me and the cute tour lady named Shelly. We snorkeled, swam, and went to three different islands. On one of them, she prepared an authentic Thai meal for us. Amazingly, I thoroughly enjoyed it too! (I am known as a picky eater in foreign countries, much to my embarrassment). This tour cost us about $100 each but it was spectacular and one of the most amazingly gorgeous beaches and water I have ever seen. Worth. Every. Penny. When you plan your trip to Thailand, spend a little money and book this tour!
Because we were leaving here, we spent a lot of the rest of our time swimming at the beach, Ao Nang Beach, or the pool. We continued with cheap massages, got pedicures, and just relaxed. I have to admit we were pretty tired from all our activities.
Thailand is a dream destination. The people are lovely, always bowing to you and so kind. The limestone rocks towering from the blue-green sea are majestic. The colorful longtail boats are a dream to ride and see. The massages are cheap and amazing. The elephants of Thailand are amazing up close. Thailand is worth the visit. Every beginner travel hacker should put it on their list of places to travel too. Plan your trip to Thailand with award points. It will not disappoint!
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