Thailand! Also known as our home away from home. We've spent lots of time in the Land of Smiles and love it there. There's just something about Thailand, a feeling, a sense, a joy - travel here and you'll see what we're talking about! Check out these articles for more information on this popular traveller destination.
While many travellers to Thailand focus their trip on visiting islands such as Koh Tao and cities like Chiang Mai, there are plenty of amazing national parks here as well.
The most popular Thailand is Khao Yai National Park. Just a few hours away from the bustling capital of Bangkok, Khao Yai provides a much-needed escape from the chaos of the big city.
Whether you visit on a day-trip or stick around for a few nights to camp, you’ll be rewarded with some breath-taking scenery and an abundance of wildlife. This amazing national park definitely earned its spot on our list of the best places to visit in Thailand.
If you’re interested in adding a trip to Khao Yai to your Thailand itinerary, read on for a comprehensive guide to the country’s most famous national park. We’ll take a look at some of the best things to do there and cover logistics such as how to get to Khao Yai and where to stay.
An Introduction to Khao Yai National Park
There are almost 150 national parks across Thailand, but the undisputed king of them is Khao Yai. For starters, it was the very first of its kind. A royal proclamation established Khao Yai as Thailand’s first national park back in 1962. It’s also part of a much larger forest complex that received UNESCO World Heritage status in 2005.
It may not be the largest in Thailand (it comes in #3 in that department), but Khao Yai National Park is definitely the best one to visit. Not only is it quite easy to travel to, but Khao Yai is also full of incredible flora and fauna. Plus, there are plenty of adventure activities on tap if you travel here.
Here are some stats on Khao Yai National Park to put things into perspective:
The park covers an area of 2,168 km², which is about three times the size of Singapore.
Elevation ranges from 400-1,000 meters mostly. The name Khao Yai actually means “Big Mountain” in Thai.
Khao Rom is the highest mountain in the park, at 1,351 meters.
The park has over 2,000 species of plants. About 80% of the park is forested.
There are over 300 species of birds, around 70 species of mammals, and another 70 of herptiles (reptiles/amphibians).
As you might imagine by now, Khao Yai National Park is a pretty amazing place! Oh yeah, and there are also plenty of caves and waterfalls to explore along the way.
Now that you know a little bit about the place, it’s time to dive into some of the best things to do in Khao Yai National Park.
People come to Khao Yai National Park to see the amazing scenery and wildlife. The best way to kill two birds with one stone is by doing a bit of trekking. Wait a minute, this is a national park! Let’s not kill any birds with any stones here…
Your options for hikes in the park vary from simple loop trails around the visitor centre to an 8km long trail to a waterfall. You can tackle the shorter trails on your own, but guides are either suggested or required for the longer trails.
Trust me when I say you’re far better off paying for a knowledgeable guide than you are trying to find your own way out of the Thai jungle! Prices for guides range from 500-1,000 Baht ($15.85 – $31.75) depending on the length of the trek.
Here’s a rundown of the six trails that the park is currently promoting:
Trail #1 (1.2 km): This quick and easy trail is a paved loop that goes around the visitor centre. It takes about an hour and only has a few steep sections.
Trail #2 (3 km): This trail should take about two hours and is also fairly easy. It connects two different waterfalls in the park, and you might spot some crocodiles in the river along the way. Guides are not needed for this trail.
Trail #3 (3.3 km): To access this trail, you’ll need to find the trailhead near the Km 33 marker on the main road. It takes you to the Nong Phak Chi observation tower, where you’ll get some great views. Guides are not necessary but recommended for 500 Baht ($15.85) per group.
Trail #4 (2.7 km): Despite being a very easy trail, this one is usually quite empty. It takes you to the Sai Sorn Reservoir and is a great option for bird watchers. Guides are also recommended here.
Trail #5 (5 km): An excellent trail for spotting wildlife, this one starts just south of the visitor centre and ends at the observation tower. You can combine it with Trail #3 or just try to hitchhike back once finished. Guides charge 700 Baht ($22.20) to do this hike and are recommended.
Trail #6 (8 km): This is the big one! This 5-hour hike takes you to the Haew Suwat waterfall and is a highlight of visiting Khao Yai National Park. After so many travellers got lost and ended up spending several nights in the jungle, park ranger guides are now required for a price of 1,000 Baht ($31.75) per group.
It’s totally possible to arrange all of your trekking in Khao Yai on your own. That being said, it’s not always easy getting yourself to and from the various trails. You need to have patience and be willing to do things like hitchhike if you want to DIY.
For those interested in a more comfortable Khao Yai experience, you can always just sign up for various tours of the park that include trekking. Here are a few of the best.
As I mentioned before, Khao Yai National Park is home to an abundance of wildlife. Check out the full list of species you can spot in the park, it’s pretty astounding.
Residents of the park include elephants, gibbons, barking deer, hornbills, Asian-fairy bluebirds (yes those are a real species of bird), reticulated pythons, and crested lizards, to name just a few. Bust your camera out, dust off your crappy David Attenborough impression, and make your own “Planet Earth” documentary when you visit this incredible place.
The best way to maximize your wildlife spotting in Khao Yai National Park is by trekking at dawn or dusk. Nobody wants to be out and about in that intense mid-day heat here – not even the animals!
While you very well might run into a ton of wildlife on your own, your best bet is definitely going with a knowledgeable guide. They know where and when to look for the animals and can teach you a lot about the park and its various inhabitants along the way.
One of the most fun things to do in Khao Yai National Park is taking a night safari. These are run by several companies and are included in most of the overnight tours of the park.
Basically, what you do on the night safari is pile into an open-sided truck with a group of fellow travellers. You then drive along the quiet roads of the park in search of wildlife.
Your guide for the tour is also the spotlight operator, and they’ll do their best to point out whatever wildlife they spot as you move along. Just don’t get your hopes up about seeing elephants on this tour, as that probably won’t happen.
While it’s possible to arrange a night safari on your own for a cost of 500 Baht ($15.85) per group, you’re much better off just joining a tour for this one. Even if you have your own vehicle, it can be tricky getting to the starting point at night unless you know the roads well. Better to just pay a little extra and let someone else handle all the logistics for you.
If you enjoy admiring a good waterfall from time to time, you’ve come to the right place. Khao Yai National Park is home to an impressive 44 different waterfalls, including one that you’ve probably seen in a movie.
The Haew Suwat waterfall is definitely the most popular among visitors, as it was made famous in the backpacker cult classic film The Beach, starring Leonardo DiCaprio. Unfortunately, you can’t jump into this 20m-high waterfall to try and recreate the scene. Actually, that’s probably a good thing.
Haew Suwat is easily accessible by car or motorbike, as it’s just a short walk from the parking area. Alternatively, you can take the aforementioned 8km hike through the jungle with a park ranger to reach the falls. It will certainly feel like much more of an accomplishment if you do it that way!
Another great choice is Haew Narok, the park’s largest waterfall. It’s actually a 3-tiered waterfall with a total height of around 150 meters. There’s a trail you can follow here to a viewpoint above the falls, which you won’t want to miss.
If you’re dead set on seeing elephants in the park, hopefully you spot them here as they’re known to hang out around here. You can reach Haew Narok via a 600m-trail that’s just off the main road (3077). Just make sure you fill up your tank if riding a scooter here so you don’t end up on empty in the middle of nowhere.
Now that we’ve gone over some of the best things to do in the park, it’s time to figure out all the logistics. Fun stuff first, important stuff later! One super important thing you’ll need to know is exactly how to get to Khao Yai National Park.
The park is located in the northeast region of Thailand that is collectively known as Isaan. It’s actually spread across two different provinces. The southern entrance is located in Prachin Buri, while the northern lies in Nakhon Ratchasima.
Although the southern entrance is technically closer to Bangkok, it’s of little use for travellers coming from the capital city. That’s because the visitor’s centre and campsites are still about 14km from the entrance and there is no public transportation running this route.
As such, your best bet is to head instead to the northern entrance. From Bangkok to Khao Yai National Park, you can easily catch a train or a bus that’s headed to Korat. The closest town to the entrance is Pak Chong, so that’s where you’ll buy a ticket to.
A lot guides to Khao Yai will tell you to avoid the train due to delays. I’m going to advise you otherwise and recommend the train over the bus if you’re travelling there independently. For one, train travel is just so much more enjoyable than bus travel. Also, this is Thailand – everything gets delayed.
Trains bound for Pak Chong depart from Bangkok’s Hualamphong Station. Here’s a look at the timetable and different types of trains available to you.
One reputable tour company recommends skipping the rapid or ordinary trains, as they are notorious for long delays. Your best bet is hopping on that first train at 5:45 in the morning. It’s an early wake up call, but it’s the train least likely to be delayed and you’ll arrive in Pak Chong nice and early.
I should note that the trains from Bangkok to Pak Chong also make a stop in the ancient city of Ayutthaya. Combine a trip to Khao Yai with a stop here for an incredible Thailand experience.
Bus or Mini-Van Travel
Another option for getting to Khao Yai is catching a bus or mini-van. These leave more frequently than trains, so there’s definitely less chance of a delay in departure. That being said, you never know what the traffic is going to be like getting out of Bangkok.
For buses, head to Bangkok’s Mo Chit terminal. Buses leave here very frequently starting as early as 4AM and should take about 3-3.5 hours if all goes well. Research shows current ticket prices somewhere between 150-180 Baht ($4.75-$5.70) for these trips.
An even quicker trip to Khao Yai can be done by jumping in a mini-van. They leave from the Victory Monument in Bangkok once full and only take about 2.5 hours. These cost a bit more, at around 250 Baht ($8) per person.
Car or Motorcycle Travel
Finally, you can get to Khao Yai National Park with a rented car or motorcycle. And by motorcycle I mean an actual, full-sized motorcycle. Please don’t try jumping on a 150cc scooter and riding through the chaos of Bangkok onto the highway. That’s a terrible, dangerous, and most definitely illegal idea.
A safer (and better) way to travel to the park from Bangkok is to use public transportation to reach Pak Chong, and then rent a bike there to explore the park. Expect to pay around 300 Baht ($9.50) per day for an automatic bike with one helmet.
One place that comes recommended for motorbike rentals in Pak Chong is the Honda shop, which is located at 734/1-4 Mittraphap Rd, Pak Chong. Just make sure you have travel insurance before you go jumping on a motorbike in Thailand.
If you’ve got the necessary documents and insurance – not to mention the bravery to drive in Thailand – you can try renting a car to reach Khao Yai. It might not be fun navigating the traffic of Bangkok, but it’ll be worth it when you have your own transportation in the park.
So you managed to get yourself to Pak Chong. That’s great, but you’ve still got a lot of work to do. It’s another 27km to the park’s northern gate, and from there another 14km to the visitor’s centre and the many trails that begin there.
From town, your best bet is to hop in a songthaew (public truck) to reach the northern gate. These should cost about 40-50 Baht ($1.25-$1.60) per person. From the gates, you’ll have to stick your finger out and hitch a ride to the visitor’s centre.
Thankfully, hitchhiking around here is quite easy, especially on weekends when the park is full of domestic tourists escaping the city. Alternatively, you can rent a motorbike in Pak Chong and get yourself there or just take a taxi all the way.
Getting Around Khao Yai National Park
Once you’ve made it to the park, you’ll need to figure out how to get around this massive place. Of course, the cheapest way is to rely on your own two feet and your thumb. A combination of hitchhiking and walking is free, but definitely the most time-consuming way to get around Khao Yai.
There are bicycles for rent around the visitor’s centre if you’d rather peddle around Khao Yai. They go for about 50-60 Baht ($1.60-$1.90) a day, so this is still a pretty cost-effective way of exploring the park.
If you’ve got a car or a motorbike, there are plenty of parking lots around the park from where you can easily access some of the best trails. Having your own vehicle is definitely the most convenient way of visiting the park, but it’s also the least environmentally friendly.
Khao Yai already struggles with the amount of traffic it gets, so I recommend not adding to it and taking a greener approach to your visit. Leave the traffic jams and exhaust fumes to the big cities.
SEE ALSO: Koh Lipe – a beautiful island in Southern Thailand
Where to Stay at Khao Yai National Park
The first thing you’ll need to decide when choosing where to stay is whether you want to be in or outside of the park. Both have their advantages and disadvantages, so let’s go over those real quick.
Staying Outside the Park
For staying outside of the park, you’ve got far more options. There’s a wide variety of accommodation along the main road between Pak Chong and the park’s northern entrance.
If you book a place outside of the park, it should be easy enough to come and go via the songthaew that regularly ply the route. Most places here also run their own tours of the park, which will obviously include transportation.
A major downside of staying outside of the park is that you’ll have to pay the entry fees each day you visit. You also won’t be able to access the trails very early in the morning or around sunset, which are peak times for wildlife spotting. Click here for accommodation options.
Staying in the Park: Camping
This requires a bit more effort, but the juice is worth the squeeze if you decide to stay inside the park. You have a few options, from pitching your own tent to renting out a bungalow for a large group.
There are two campsites within the park – Lam Takong and Pha Kluai Mai. The former has slightly better facilities as well as a nice riverside location. You can also find a coffee shop and bicycle rentals there. Just be warned that it tends to fill up with Thai students on the weekend, who come here to let loose and party.
Pha Kluai Mai has a more chilled out atmosphere and gives you better access to hiking trails. Both campgrounds have cold-water showers, bathrooms, convenience stores, and restaurants.
If you have your own tent, you’ll only have to pay 30 Baht ($0.95) per night to stay here. You can also rent 2-person tents for 150 or a larger tent that sleeps 3-4 for 225. They also have a variety of camping accessories available for rent (pillows, tarps, sleeping pads) for 20-50 Baht each.
Staying in the Park: Bungalows
Those seeking some more creature comforts for their stay in Khao Yai National Park will want to check out the bungalows here. Hooray for beds, hot showers, and a roof!
There are bungalows located in four different zones in Khao Yai. It’s important to note that Zones 3 and 4 are several kilometers away from the visitor’s centre and don’t have restaurants. As such, you shouldn’t stay in either one if you won’t have your own vehicle.
Zone 1 is closest to the visitor’s centre, while Zone 2 is just a few kilometers away. The bungalows come in a variety of sizes and can sleep anywhere from 2-30 people. Prices range from 800-9,000 Baht per night depending on the size.
Sounds great, right? Unfortunately, there’s some bad news. The bungalows tend to book up in advance, especially on weekends or holidays. There’s a website you can use to book bungalows up to 60 days in advance, but it’s only in Thai. Adding to the difficulty is the fact that you can only pay by bank transfer, which will be impossible for most travellers.
If you’re keen to stay in the bungalows, your best bet is to definitely just let a tour company take care of the logistics for you. It’s far more trouble than it’s worth trying to figure it out on your own, and all the stress it will cause will surely start your Khao Yai trip off on the wrong foot.
SEE ALSO: Koh Samui – a guide to being a digital nomad on a Thai island
Practical Information for Khao Yai
Both gates to Khao Yai are open daily from 6AM-6PM. Tickets cost 400 Baht ($12.70) for foreigners and 40 for Thais. Double-pricing is huge here, so get used to it. In addition, you’ll have to pay 50 Baht for a car or 20 for a motorbike to enter the park.
Your ticket to the park is good for the day that you bought it only. If you’re staying outside of the park, you can come and go as you please on that day, but you’ll need to buy another ticket if you return the next day. That’s a big advantage of staying in the park, as you’ll only pay the entrance fee once.
The visitor’s centre is a great source of information. They have staff who speak English and offer free maps, info on the trails and accommodation, a small museum, bike rentals, a gift shop, and more. It stays open from..
Thailand is one of the most popular countries in the world to travel to, and for good reason. The Kingdom of Smiles has bustling cities, awe-inspiring landscapes, a vibrant culture, and of course, idyllic islands. Thailand is a travel destination that truly has it all.
Those looking for an island getaway without the crowds that come along with Phuket may want to set their sights on Koh Lanta. You’ll find more Birkenstocks than billionaires on this laid-back Thai island. It’s the kind of place where you set up shop in a hammock while sipping on a fresh coconut and just laze the day away.
If that sounds good to you, read on for a list of the top things to do in Koh Lanta. We’ll explore the island’s beaches, mangrove forests, national park, and so much more.
1. Beach Bumming
Nobody knows for sure what the name Koh Lanta means, but its old Malay name Pulau Satak translates as “Long Beach Island.” It’s a fitting name, as this 30km-long island is home to quite a few long, white sand beaches.
For most visitors, some quality beach bumming is high atop the list of things to do in Koh Lanta. As such, we’re going to dedicate a good chunk of this guide to exploring the many beaches of Koh Lanta.
Big Four Beaches
From north to south, the four big beaches of Koh Lanta are: Klong Dao, Pra Ae (Long Beach), Klong Khong, and Klong Nin. In addition, the island boasts several more secluded beaches where you’ll find more local fishermen than tourists.
Of the main beaches, Klong Dao is the most developed and thus is usually the most crowded. Don’t worry, though — a “crowded” beach on Koh Lanta is nothing compared to other islands in Krabi such as Koh Phi Phi. Klong Dao is a popular place for families and those looking for more diverse options for eating out and shopping.
Next up is the aptly named Pra Ae (Long Beach). This 4km-long stretch of sand is indeed the longest beach on the island. There are lots of choices when it comes to accommodation here, from budget backpacker spots up to luxury resorts.
Continuing south, you arrive at Klong Khong. This area is a favourite of backpackers looking to let loose, as it’s home to quite a few beach bars that put on nightly fire shows and parties. If you’re travelling with kids, you probably don’t want to stay on this beach.
The last of the big four beaches is Klong Nin. This beach is an excellent happy medium. You can still find quite a few places to stay and eat here, but it’s far quieter and more peaceful than the others.
Other Beaches in Koh Lanta
In between these larger beaches as well as further south, you can find a handful of nearly deserted beaches. Some of the other beaches you can visit in the far south of the island include Bakantiang, Nui Bay, Klong Chak, and Bamboo Beach.
With a few days in Koh Lanta and a scooter, you can easily hit every single beach on the island and choose your favourite.
2. Go Scuba Diving
While scuba diving might be one of the top things to do in Koh Tao, Koh Lanta is still an excellent scuba diving destination. There aren’t any dive sites on the island, but some of the best in Thailand are located just a short boat trip away.
Hin Daeng (Red Rock) and Hin Muang (Purple Rock) boast over 200 hard corals and 100 types of reef fish between the two of them. The former actually has the deepest drop off in all of Thailand, going down to 50 meters. Thanks to the strong currents, these dive sites are only recommended for more advanced divers.
Beginners can head instead to Koh Haa (Five Islands). This area is highlighted by some amazing coral and a cavern called “the cathedral.” While diving around Koh Lanta, you might see manta rays, barracuda, turtles, and even whale sharks. Swimming with whale sharks has got to be one of the coolest things to do in Koh Lanta.
There are several different dive shops on Koh Lanta offering everything from half-day beginner lessons, to full PADI certification courses, to week-long liveaboard trips. Reputable shops include Blue Planet and Go Dive. Day trips with two dives range from 3,000-4,000 Baht ($95-$127) depending on the location.
3. Explore Mu Koh Lanta National Park
When you’re not relaxing on the beach or out diving, be sure to take the time to visit Mu Koh Lanta National Park. The park actually stretches far out into the Andaman Sea and contains several nearby islands, including the aforementioned Ko Haa.
On the actual island of Koh Lanta, you can access the national park by heading to the far southern point. When you enter the park, you’ll follow a 2km-long trail through the jungle. Chances are you’ll spot some cheeky monkeys along the way who are looking for something tasty.
You’re advised not to feed the monkeys, and also to be careful as they may try to search in your bag for a snack without invitation.
Eventually, you’ll arrive at the park’s twin beaches on either side of a cliff. Climb to the top to reach the old lighthouse and enjoy some incredible panoramic views. Don’t forget to bring your camera for this one!
Entrance to the Koh Lanta National Park costs 200 Baht ($6.35) for adults and 100 for children. It’s open daily from 8:30AM-5PM. You can even camp here (250 Baht/$8per night) or stay in some basic bungalows (1,000 Baht/$31.85) if you’re really looking to escape from it all.
4. Walk Around Lanta Old Town
While the west coast of the island is dominated by beaches and tourism, the east coast is home to Lanta Old Town. Here you’ll find an interesting mix of cultures. The town was originally founded by sea gypsies, who still live here to this day.
Lanta Old Town was once an important stop on the merchant route between Phuket and Penang, which drew many Chinese merchants. There’s still a Thai-Chinese population here, as evidenced by the red lanterns and active shrines.
On a day-trip to Lanta Old Town, you can walk around to admire the teak houses on stilts over the ocean. Some of them are even guesthouses where you can stay and fall asleep to the sounds of the ocean below.
While you’re here, you might as well enjoy a meal in one of the many restaurants and shop for local products like hammocks and batik art. Spending a few hours walking around Old Town is definitely one of the top things to do in Koh Lanta.
5. Visit the Lanta Animal Welfare Centre
If you’re looking to make a positive difference while you travel to the island, I highly recommend stopping by the Lanta Animal Welfare Centre. This great non-profit organization helps stray dogs and cats by providing sterilization, rabies vaccinations, and more.
Since the centre was founded in 2005, they have helped over 15,000 animals! There are many was you can help out, such as becoming a volunteer or sponsoring one of the animals in need.
Even just visiting the centre helps them out greatly. You can drop into their “Kitty City” to cuddle some cute felines, go for a walk with one of the dogs, or just sit down for a snack and drink in the Kitty Cafe, where all proceeds go towards helping the animals.
The animal welfare centre is located at 629 Moo 2, Haad Phra Ae. It’s open every day of the year from 9AM-5PM. Tours of the centre operate between the hours of 10-4.
6. Take a Snorkeling Tour
Diving isn’t the only way to spot marine life around here. Going on a snorkeling tour is also high on the list of the best things to do in Koh Lanta. Every single travel agent on the island can help you get set up on a snorkeling tour, and there are quite a few to choose from.
The twin islands of Koh Rok are a very popular place to go snorkeling from Koh Lanta. There’s some excellent snorkeling out here, and your tour should also include lunch and some time to chill out on the picturesque white-sand beaches.
Remember those Five Islands I mentioned in the section about diving? They are also a solid choice for a snorkeling tour. If you’ve got both divers and non-divers in your group, this is probably your best choice.
The cost of snorkeling tours depends on the method of transportation (longtail, slow, or speed boat) and the distance traveled. On the budget end, you can expect to pay around 1,000 Baht ($32) per person, while speed-boat tours go for around 1,800 ($57).
Without a doubt, the best way to explore Koh Lanta is with your own two wheels. The island really is quite long, so having a motorbike makes it much easier to skip between the various beaches and experience all the cool things to do in Koh Lanta.
Even if you’re not a pro on a motorbike, this is a pretty easy place to ride one. There’s really only one main road that goes around the island, and it’s mostly flat and paved. There are a few potholes and steep bits down south and on the side roads connecting the coasts, though, so be aware.
Renting a scooter costs around 200 Baht per day, but you can definitely bargain if renting for a week or a month. Little shops all over the island sell petrol out of old whiskey bottles for just 35-40 Baht, and a full tank will last you a couple of days.
If you’re going to be riding a motorbike around some remote island in the south of Thailand, make sure you’ve got adequate travel insurance. And, if you’re looking for a really epic motorbike trip, check out the Mae Hong Son Loop!
8. Practice Yoga
Yogis everywhere, rejoice — Koh Lanta is one of the top yoga destinations in all of Thailand. Whether you’re looking to just drop in for a calming yoga class on the beach or you want to sign up for a multi-day yoga retreat, Koh Lanta has you covered.
One place that comes highly recommended is Oasis Yoga. They have a variety of classes every day except Sunday, including Flow, Yin, and Ashtanga. They even do a sunset stretch in the evenings and free meditation classes in the morning a few days a week. Check their current schedule here.
Oasis Yoga is located at 215 Moo 3, Saladan next to the Cha-Ba Bungalows. Classes range from 400 Baht ($12.75) for a drop-in up to 4,500 ($143) for an unlimited month-long pass.
9. Feast on Seafood
On a Thai island full of fishermen, it should come as no surprise that the seafood here is top-notch. Many restaurants display the day’s catch, so take your pick from crab, lobster, oysters, squid, and more.
While you can find fresh seafood all over the island, your best bet is to head to the town of Baan Saladan. Just north of the ferry pier, there are several excellent restaurants cooking up tasty seafood at prices much lower than you’ll find in the beach side restaurants further south.
When I first moved abroad to teach English in China, my dad told me to always follow the locals to eat. It’s solid advice no matter where you are on the planet! In Koh Lanta, that means joining the crowds at Laanta Seafood, which has some spicy salads and curries in addition to all the grilled seafood.
Nothing says “I’m on vacation” like sipping a fruity cocktail while you watch sunset on a tropical island. As such, sundowners on the beach easily make our list of the best things to do in Koh Lanta.
The entire west coast of the island is perfect for watching the sun dip below the horizon. Grab a few beers from a local mini-market and plop down in the sand, or take a seat in one of the many bars and restaurants that line the big beaches.
Some of the most popular places to take in the sunset in Koh Lanta include Pangea Beach Bar, Majestic, and the aptly named Sunset Beach Bar. Best of all, most places run their Happy Hour around sunset, so you can have a couple of drinks without spending too much.
11. 4 Island Tour to the Emerald Cave
One of the most popular things to do in Koh Lanta is taking the four island tour. These tours visit Koh Chuak, Koh Mook, Koh Kradan, and Koh Ngai. They include plenty of snorkeling and swimming, as well as a visit to the stunning Emerald Cave on Koh Mook.
Swim through the pitch-black 80m-long passageway with the help of a flashlight and your tour guide. Once you make it through, you’re greeted by a secret lagoon and towering limestone cliffs. This is a travel experience you’ll be talking about for years to come!
Full-day tours of the islands and the cave cost around 1,200 Baht ($38) for adults or 600 for children. The tours include transfer to Old Town from anywhere on the island as well as a buffet lunch in addition to all the activities.
While you can book a tour with just about anybody once you’re on the island, the folks at the Four Islands come highly recommended.
A great way to give back to the island and leave a positive impact is becoming a Trash Hero for a day. This non-profit has chapters all over the world and it does some amazing work bringing communities together to clean and reduce waste.
The Koh Lanta Trash Heroes meet every Sunday at 4PM at the Long Beach Park. They provide cleaning materials, gloves, and refreshments. There’s no cost to get involved and you don’t even have to sign up in advance, just show up!
You can also help their cause and help protect the environment of this beautiful island by buying one of their refillable metal water bottles. Not only does this help reduce the plastic waste on the island, but the proceeds also go towards keeping this group going.
If you want to find out more about Trash Hero Koh Lanta, be sure to follow their Facebook page.
13. Hike to Khlong Chak Waterfall
If you’re the type who prefers a little bit of adventure to lounging in a hammock, never fear – there are still plenty of things to do in Koh Lanta that aren’t beach related. One solid option is taking the 2km hike through the jungle to arrive at Khlong Chak Waterfall.
One thing to keep in mind is that there really isn’t much of a waterfall in the dry season (December to April), which is when most people choose to visit Koh Lanta. Even though the waterfall itself isn’t too impressive at this time of year, it’s still worth it just to take the short jungle hike.
Along the way, you may see some macaques swinging up in the trees. You can also take a brief detour to explore a real life bat cave. Along the way, you’ll surely see groups riding elephants to reach the falls. It’s advised to skip out on the elephant riding in Thailand, and anywhere else in the world for that matter.
Khlong Chak is located in the middle of the southern part of the island. Just follow the signs to get there. There is no entrance fee to visit the waterfalls, but you’ll have to pay 20 Baht to park your motorbike outside of the trail.
14. Attend a Local Festival
There are several traditional festivals in Koh Lanta throughout the year. Taking part in one of these festivals is an awesome travel experience, so be sure to check the calendar to see what’s going on.
The biggest local festival is the Laanta Lanta Festival. That’s not a typo – laanta is translated as “eye-dazzling,” and that’s precisely what this festival is! There are musical performances, folk games, sport competitions, and of course plenty of delicious Southern Thai food.
This festival takes place over three days in March in Lanta Old Town, so be sure to add it to your itinerary if you’ll be in Koh Lanta in March.
15. Water Sports
As I’ve already mentioned, diving and snorkeling are two of the most popular things to do in Koh Lanta. That’s not all there is to do in the water on this Thai island, though. You’ve got several other options for water sports when you travel to Koh Lanta.
On all of the four main beaches in Koh Lanta, you can take part in a wide variety of water sports. The water is mostly calm here, so it’s a great place to do a bit of SUPing (stand up paddle-boarding, for those not in the know).
There’s some wind from time to time, meaning you can try a bit of windsurfing. You can sign up for lessons for around 1,000 Baht if you’ve never tried it. Koh Lanta gets a surf break once in a while, and there are both surf and boogie boards available for rent along the beaches.
If you love Thai food, why not learn how to cook it while you’re there? Bringing home some classic Thai recipes and the know-how to whip them up in the kitchen is probably the best souvenir ever!
There are a few different options for cooking classes in Koh Lanta. The original is Time for Lime, which just so happened to be started by the owner of the Animal Welfare Centre. All proceeds from their cooking classes go right back into taking care of the animals, so you’re supporting a great cause by signing up here.
Time for Lime is located at 72/2 Moo 3, Saladan. Their classes last from 4-9:30PM and cost 2,000 Baht ($64) per person. Additionally, they run special family courses as well as a cooking & cocktail experience for partners or friends.
17. Explore the Mangrove Forest
In the northeast corner of Koh Lanta, you’ll find the Thung Yee Pheng Mangrove Forest. Visiting this scenic area is a must when travelling to the island. With a few hours here, you can take in the beautiful landscape and probably encounter some monkeys and maybe even monitor lizards.
You’ve got a few options for exploring the mangrove forest. First up, you can just hoof it and walk along the wooden walkway. Kayaks are also available for rent if you’d rather paddle yourself around the rivers. Finally, you can just jump in a longtail boat and go for a leisurely cruise.
It’s possible to sign up for a kayaking tour of the mangroves for around 800-1,000 Baht ($25-$32) per person, which includes round-trip transportation. If you get yourself there, you’ll pay a 20 Baht entrance fee and can then rent kayaks for three hours for 500.
Those really looking to get away from it all may want to book a stay at the lovely Koh Lanta Mangrove Floating Homestay. Sleep on a floating house, explore the mangroves by day, and dine on fresh seafood at night.
If you’re planning an epic trip through Thailand and are looking for something to do in between the coasts, Khao Sok National Park is the perfect choice. In between diving in Koh Tao and rock climbing in Krabi, take a few days to explore one of Thailand’s best national parks.
This is one of the top places to visit in Thailand, and for good reason. With an abundance of hiking trails, tons of wildlife, and floating bungalows, this is a fantastic travel destination. Swap the hordes of tourists for elephants, gibbons, and wild boars. Stop for a few days at Khao Sok National Park and enjoy a trip full of adventures in nature.
Plan your trip to Khao Sok National Park with the help of this guide. Read on for more information about getting to the park, where to stay, the best activities on offer, and much more.
An Introduction to Khao Sok National Park
Khao Sok National Park is located in southern Thailand in Surat Thani province. This massive national park is 739 square kilometers, including the stunning Cheow Lan Lake. Dating back 160 million years, this is one of the oldest rainforests in the world.
In addition to the lake, Khao Sok National Park is famed for its majestic karst mountain peaks. These were carved over the years by heavy monsoon rains coming from both coasts. Khao Sok National Park is also home to plenty of waterfalls and caves, which you can access via the park’s extensive trail system.
Welcome to Khao Sok NP! | Photo by Sasha Savinov
Khao Sok was established as a national park in 1980. The park is actually in two different areas – Khlong Sok town and Cheow Lan Lake. It’s about 65 km between the two, so you’ll need to factor that in when planning your trip.
Now that you know a bit about the Khao Sok National Park, let’s take a look at some of the best things to do here.
Things to Do in Khao Sok National Park
With a few days in Khao Sok National Park, you can enjoy hiking, canoeing, wildlife spotting, rock climbing, tubing, swimming in waterfalls, exploring caves, and so much more. With a few days here, you can do a little bit of everything!
Independent travellers will be happy to hear that you can easily plan a DIY trip to Khao Sok. There are quite a few well-marked trails from the visitor’s centre that are easy enough to follow on your own.
On the other hand, it’s not a bad idea to enlist the services of a guide. Not only will you be supporting the local community, but they’ll be able to point out interesting flora and fauna that you might miss if you go hiking by yourself.
Plus, you’re actually not supposed to go more than 3 km into the park without the assistance of a guide. There are plenty of local guides that are ready and willing to take you into the jungle. Ask your accommodation for recommendations, or visit the main street in Khao Sok to find numerous guides selling tours. Trips range from 1/2 day up to 10 days of trekking and camping.
For a very unique experience, you can sign up for a night safari. Your guide will take you on a 2-hour journey into the jungle, which really comes alive at night.
With waterfalls, a river, and the lake, there are of course plenty of water-based activities as well. Some of the most popular things to do in Khao Sok National Park include canoeing or bamboo rafting down the river. If you’d prefer a more laid-back afternoon, you could just go tubing.
Khao Sok National Park is an incredibly bio-diverse place full of unique flora and fauna. See if you can find the Rafflesia flower, which is one of the largest (and most smelly) in the world. The park is also home to around 50 mammal species, over 300 species of birds, and countless reptiles, amphibians, and insects.
While exploring Khao Sok National Park, you might see Malaysian sun bears, swinging gibbons, barking deer, white-crowned hornbills, and monitor lizards, for starters. Channel your inner David Attenborough and shoot your own homemade “Planet Earth” videos here.
Don’t Forget Your Travel Insurance!
No matter where in the world you are planning to travel, make sure to have insurance before you set off on your adventure – it’s the one thing you should always pack. World Nomads is a popular insurance choice among backpackers, travellers and adventurers.
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There’s plenty to do around the town to keep you busy for your whole trip, but you’ll definitely want to carve out at least a day for visiting the lake. It’s easy to get signed up on a day trip there, or you can choose to stay a night or two in one of the amazing floating bungalows – a highly recommended experience. You’ll be surrounded by forest and mountains while enjoying your floating bungalow, which sits atop 40 meters of clear, fresh water.
You can join tours which include a night’s stay in a floating bungalow, hiking, 3 meals, caving, and wildlife spotting. Again, ask around in town for prices and recommended companies, or check reviews on websites such as TripAdvisor.
In addition to admiring the stunning karst mountains, you can enjoy some fishing, rock climbing, or even zip-lining through the trees. After an adrenaline-filled day of adventures, retreat to your bungalow on the lake and enjoy the beautiful views.
**Planning to visit other areas of Thailand? Check out our articles of the best things to do:
If you’re travelling by air or riding the rails, the closest place to Khao Sok is Surat Thani. You can get flights or trains here from several places in Thailand. From Surat Thani, it’s about a 2-hour bus ride to the park. You can also catch a minibus from Krabi, Phuket or Khao Lak.
Those who are stopping at Khao Sok in between the coasts will likely take a combination of ferries and buses. Just about every travel agent in popular areas like Koh Samui or Phuket can help arrange your transportation to and from the park.
Where to Stay at Khao Sok National Park
To make the most of your visit to Khao Sok, it’s best to stay at least a night or two. Thankfully, there are plenty of options for accommodation to suit all budgets and styles. You can stay in the jungle, on the banks of the river, or even floating on the Cheow Larn Lake! The majority of accommodations are available near the visitor’s center, with prices to suit all budgets.
Those who prefer being out in nature can try camping in the park. You can bring your own tent or rent one that’s already set up and ready to go. A step up from camping are the rustic cabins you can find at several locations. These are basically just a bed with a mosquito net, but at least you’ll have a place to lock your stuff and a bit more shelter from the elements.
A simple jungle hut. | Photo by Sasha Savinov
If you’ve got a little more cash to burn and prefer some comfort with your adventure, there are a few places with super nice bungalows, or tree houses. A few places out here even have swimming pools.
Many travellers who visit Khao Sok come to stay in the famous floating bungalows on the lake. These vary in terms of amenities and price, so you should be able to find one that fits your needs. Click here to have a look at the available accommodations in Khao Sok National Park on Booking.com.
You know that old saying “when it rains, it pours”? Well that’s certainly true here at Khao Sok National Park. The rainy season lasts all the way from late April until December. The most rainfall occurs between June and September.
During the peak of the rainy season, the trails can get very slippery and difficult to navigate. This is also peak leech season, with the pesky blood-sucking creatures coming out in full force. On the bright side, at least the waterfalls are really raging!
With such a long rainy season, there’s a short window of pleasant weather between January and mid-April. While this is considered the “dry season,” there’s still a fair amount of rain. Just be prepared with a raincoat, some good hiking boots, and long sleeves to keep the leeches at bay.
Even if you get rained on during your trip to Khao Sok, you should be glad. Without the constant rainfall throughout the year, this place would not exist as it is. When other parts of Thailand experience drought, it still rains in Khao Sok National Park. That allows the rainforest to sustain itself and the wildlife that calls it home.
An entrance ticket to Khao Sok National Park for foreigners costs 300 Baht ($9.35). Students get a sweet discount, with tickets going for only $3 (100 Baht). Most tours will include the entrance ticket, so you’ll only need to buy one if you’re visiting independently.
Speaking of tours, I highly recommend signing up for one. When we spent one month backpacking Thailand, we were all about doing things ourselves and sticking to a budget. We booked our own bus tickets, paid the entrance fee, and found a room in a basic jungle hut.
It was easy enough following the trails from the visitor’s centre, but we had no idea what we were looking at along the way and saw very little wildlife. Worst of all, we didn’t even make it to the lake. In hindsight, I wish we had just shelled out the money for a solid 2-3 day tour that included a bit of trekking around the village as well as a night out on the lake in a floating bungalow.
Learn from our mistakes and just sign up for a tour. When backpacking Thailand, sometimes it’s better to swallow your pride and just let someone else do the grunt work for you! Khao Sok is definitely a place where the benefits of a tour far outweigh the savings of doing it on your own.
Even though we could have done it better, we still had a great time visiting Khao Sok, and I’m sure you will too. It’s a fascinating, beautiful place that you’ll just have to see to believe. With its stunning scenery, unique flora, and diverse population of wildlife, it’s definitely one of the top places to visit in Thailand.
Most people who travel to Thailand want to spend at least some of their trip on a tropical island. The Kingdom of Smiles has no shortage of paradisiacal islands to choose from. One of the best Thai islands to visit is Koh Tao, “Turtle Island.”
Koh Tao is one of the best places to visit in Thailand if you’re looking for a diving destination, but there’s much more going on here. Water sports, beach bumming, hiking, wild nightlife, and so much more await when you travel to Koh Tao.
Here is a list of the 21 best things to do in Koh Tao to help you plan your Thai island getaway.
1. Get Scuba Certified
There are few places in the world better to get scuba certified than Koh Tao. There are tons of dive shops on the island, and the competition helps keep prices down. You can get your open water certificate here for just around $300. What a deal!
If you’ve always been interested in scuba diving but have been putting it off, Koh Tao is the perfect place to start. It’s great being able to learn in the ocean, as there are spots that are shallow enough to do so. I for one am really happy I learned out in the ocean rather than in a pool. It made the transition to proper scuba diving very smooth and we had great instructors.
Those who already have their open water certification can add plenty of other credentials here, including advanced diver, divemaster, and more. Many dive shops also offer underwater photography classes if you’d like to get into that. There’s no doubt that scuba diving is at the top of the list of things to do in Koh Tao.
2. Unleash Your Inner Yogi
It’s not all about being in the water here. There are also plenty of things to do in Koh Tao on land, including practicing yoga. There are quite a few yoga studios in Koh Tao these days, offering classes of various types and levels.
It’s hard to think of a better way to start your day than with an ocean-view yoga class. If you’re thinking of turning your passion for yoga into a job, you can look into doing your yoga teacher training here as well.
Check out Shambhala Yoga on Sairee Beach (around 300 baht per class) or check out Ocean Sound who offer scuba diving and yoga classes.
You don’t have to be a diver to enjoy the underwater world that surrounds Koh Tao. There are plenty of snorkeling cruises for those who aren’t dive certified but still want to admire the abundant marine life.
In addition to seeing turtles (which you’d expect on the Turtle Island), you might also spot black tip reef sharks and blue spotted rays. I’m a big fan of diving, but the snorkeling in Koh Tao is pretty awesome as well. It’s certainly easier and cheaper, too!
If you’re on nearby Koh Samui, you can do a day trip to Koh Tao to enjoy the underwater world.
4. Feast on a Seafood BBQ
After looking at all those fish in the water, it’s time to eat some of them back on land. There are plenty of beach side restaurants where you can choose from a variety of fresh seafood and have it barbecued right on the spot.
Beachside seafood BBQs are great. | Photo by Sasha Savinov
A seafood feast on the beach is certainly one of the most delicious things to do in Koh Tao! Check out Seafood By Pawn or Barracuda for some tasty food.
5. Play Mini-Golf
One of the most fun things to do in Koh Tao is playing a round of mini-golf. Head to the Koh Tao Leisure Park to play a round on their 18-hole course. You can play as many rounds as you like for about $5, so go ahead and give the “Goofy Golf” a try. It stays open late and its flood-lit at night, so this is a great way to spend an evening out.
In addition to mini-golf, they also have petanque courts, pool tables, foosball tables, a cinema, and a sports bar. Bring some friends along from the hostel for a super fun night.
Don’t Forget Your Travel Insurance!
No matter where in the world you are planning to travel, make sure to have insurance before you set off on your adventure – it’s the one thing you should always pack. World Nomads is a popular insurance choice among backpackers, travellers and adventurers.
Just enter your information below to get a FREE quote. Safe & happy travels!
6. Eat a Banana Pancake
Seeing as how Koh Tao is firmly on the famed Banana Pancake Trail through Southeast Asia, you should probably eat at least one. There’s a reason you can find banana pancakes everywhere in this region. They’re sweet, delicious, and super cheap, so why not?
Check out Coconut Monkey for more of a cafe style, or hit up any of the streetside vendors for a banana pancake filled with nutella, bananas and more. At around 40 baht ($1.20), it’s a bargain. Eating a banana pancake is definitely one of the most popular things to do in Thailand for backpackers.
The best way to explore Koh Tao is definitely with your own two wheels. Most travellers choose to rent motorbikes, which are readily available and quite cheap. With a set of wheels, you’ll be able to hit all corners of the island easily without having to worry about finding a cab. Just make sure you drive safe and always ride with a helmet.
If you’re not comfortable on a motorbike, you can also find bicycles for rent in Koh Tao. There are plenty of good bike rides you can take on the island, and you’ll get some exercise in the process.
☞ Looking for an epic motorbike adventure? Don’t miss the Mae Hong Son Loop in northern Thailand, it’s a highlight of any trip to the country.
8. Take a Hike to a Viewpoint
Speaking of getting exercise, there are a few short hiking trails in Koh Tao that take you to stunning viewpoints. Some of the best include the John Suwan Viewpoint and Fraggle Rock.
What a view! | Photo by Sasha Savinov
It’s best to head out hiking early in the morning or later in the day just before sunset, as the midday sun can be intense. Whenever you go, working up a good sweat is one of the top things to do in Koh Tao.
Just because you’re already on a gorgeous island doesn’t mean you can’t leave for the day to visit another one. Nearby Koh Nang Yuan is a tiny island that makes for an excellent day trip.
In addition to relaxing on the postcard-worthy beaches and enjoying some world-class snorkeling, you can get a nice adrenaline rush here on the awesome zipline. Koh Nang Yuan is home to the world’s first island-to-island zipline, which features some pretty incredible views. Be sure to put it high on your list of things to do in Koh Tao.
☞ Looking for a stunning island with pristine beaches, but less tourists? Don’t miss all of the incredible things to do in Koh Lipe.
10. Climb On Rocks…and Jump Off Them
If you can manage to climb out of your beach chair, why not give rock climbing a try in Koh Tao? Whether you’re an absolute beginner or a pro, there’s a climbing route here for you.
There are a few shops offering climbing courses on the island, so get out there and give it a try. Another experience worth trying is cliff jumping. After that serious workout climbing, it’s tons of fun jumping in the water and cooling off.
A great way to spend a half day in Koh Tao is renting a kayak and snorkel and heading out on your own. It’s not hard finding a shop that will rent the gear out to you for a couple of hours, and there are plenty of bays in the south of the island where you can head out from – Jansom Bay, Shipwreck, Sai Nuan Beach, June Juea Beach, Viewpoint Cape, Cape Je Ta Kang and Freedom Beach (to name a few).
Grab a kayak and go! | Photo by Sasha Savinov
An afternoon of paddling around the bay with a bit of snorkeling mixed in is hard to beat. Wherever you go out in Koh Tao, you’re sure to see plenty of marine life. The kayak/snorkel combo is definitely one of my favorite things to do in Koh Tao.
*Note: always check the wind and sea conditions before setting off and seek local advice about where (and where not) to kayak.
12. Drink a Bucket
When partying in Koh Tao (or any Thai island), the drink of choice is definitely a bucket. The concept is simple – take a beach bucket, and fill it with booze, ice, and a few mixers. Add several straws (preferably bamboo or glass ones), and share it with friends!
Dipping your toes in the sand, dancing to some music, and sipping on a bucket with some of your best travel buddies definitely makes the list of top things to do in Koh Tao. Fishbowl is a popular spot to grab a drink.
13. Train in Muay Thai
If you’re looking to get into shape, you should consider training in Muay Thai while you’re visiting Koh Tao. Even if you’re not into the idea of getting into the ring for an actual match, signing up for some Muay Thai lessons is a great way to get fit. After all those banana pancakes and buckets, it’s probably not a bad idea.
You know that old saying about playing with fire? People in Koh Tao have never heard of it. One of the quintessential things to do in Koh Tao is taking in a fire show on the beach.
Playing with fire on the beach. | Photo by Sasha Savinov
Every night of the week, you can find beach bars with fire shows going on. Grab a drink, pull up a beanbag, and sit down to enjoy a scorching hot performance.
Streets, Beats & Eats - Ko Tao - YouTube
Check out Koh Tao in our “Streets, Beats & Eats” series!
15. Learn About Marine Conservation
On this tiny island that’s a very popular tourist destination, marine conservation is extremely important. Thankfully, Koh Tao takes this topic very seriously and there are many great organizations hard at work there.
Once you’ve got your open water certificate, you might as well stick around Koh Tao to do a few free dives. One of the best dive sites in the area is definitely Sail Rock, so put a trip out there at the top of your list.
One of the best dive sites around. | Photo by Sasha Savinov
Most of the dive shops in Koh Tao offer trips out to Sail Rock. You’ll get two dives, lunch on the boat, and plenty of awesome views along the way.
17. Visit Ang Thong Marine Park
One of the most popular day trips out of Koh Tao is the Ang Thong Marine Park. This gorgeous archipelago of islands is just a short boat ride away, and just about every tour operator runs trips there.
On a trip around Ang Thong, you’ll get to enjoy some snorkeling and a short hike to a beautiful lagoon. You’ll likely spot some wildlife as well, including dusky langurs, hornbills, silver-haired bats, and hawksbill turtles. Visit Island Travel Tour Company for tickets – they also rent scooters.
18. Sip on Sundowners
After a long day out in the water or up on the rocks, the best way to wind down is with some sundowners on the beach. Pretty much every bar on the beach has a good Happy Hour around sunset, so plop down in that beanbag and get yourself an adult beverage or two!
Beautiful sunsets are a nightly occurrence. | Photo by Sasha Savinov
There are also a few bars up the hill that offer a panoramic view of the sunset. Cruise up to the aptly-named Sky Bar, grab a drink, and enjoy the show. (note: drinking at a sky bar is also one of the top things to do in Bangkok – put it on your list for the capital!)
19. Take a Thai Cooking Class
When you leave Thailand, you will inevitably miss a lot of things about the country. One thing you’re sure to long for is the food. Thai cuisine is some of the best in the world, so why not learn how to cook it yourself?
Signing up for a Thai cooking class is definitely one of the best things to do in Koh Tao. Learn how to cook some classic Thai dishes and then impress your friends back home with your culinary prowess. Joy’s Cooking Class is highly rated on the island. Half day classes (3 hours) with 3 different dishes costs 1,500 baht ($45).
20. Party it Up on the Pub Crawl
If you’re looking to let loose, have a good time, and meet fellow travellers, there’s nothing better than the Koh Tao Pub Crawl. This epic pub crawl is so much fun that they now run it four nights a week! Every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday, you can join in the madness and experience a wild night out in Koh Tao.
Pool party time! | Photo by Sasha Savinov
The pub crawl includes stops at a few bars, a pool party, and a ridiculously fun ladyboy cabaret show. The entrance fee of about $15 gets you a tank top, a bucket, a few shots, and drink specials at every bar. In all my travels around Southeast Asia, the Koh Tao Pub Crawl stands out as one of the most fun nights out.
21. Be a Beach Bum
After that jam-packed list, it’s fitting that the last spot goes to simply being a beach bum. There’s so much to see and do in Koh Tao that you’ll need to take at least some time on your trip to just do absolutely nothing and enjoy the beach.
While you’re sitting there in your beach chair, why not go ahead and plan your trip to the next Thai island? After all, both Koh Pha-Ngan and Koh Samui are just a short boat ride away. There are so many awesome things to do in Koh Phangan, including the famous Full Moon Party. Or, try your hand at digital nomad life on these beautiful Thai islands.
Do you love adventure, nature, and culture? Are you an adrenaline junkie who prefers cruising on a motorbike to sitting on a bus? Do you enjoy exploring off-the-beaten-path destinations that aren’t full of tourists? Then travelling along the 1,864 curves of the Mae Hong Son loop in Northern Thailand is the trip for you!
Riding along the Mae Hong Son loop is a favourite activity of backpackers along the famed Banana Pancake Trail in Southeast Asia. The loop starts and ends in Chiang Mai. Along the way, you’ll visit beautiful national parks, remote villages, and one of the coolest little hippie towns in the world.
One of the many scenic towns along the loop.
Are you ready to jump on the bike and head out for the adventure of a lifetime? Read on for an epic guide on how to tackle the Mae Hong Son loop and where to stop along the way. First things first, though – you’ll need some wheels.
Renting A Motorbike
Take one look around Chiang Mai, and you’ll quickly notice that just about everyone there has a motorbike. As such, it’s quite easy to find a decent bike to rent to take you on the Mae Hong Son loop. While you may be tempted to go with the cheapest option out there, you’ll want to ensure you have a quality bike for this journey. It’s a long trip on a long, winding road through the mountains of Thailand. Having a good chariot is important for this one.
From personal experience, I can recommend Mr. Mechanic. We got our bike from them before we set off on the Mae Hong Son loop and it was a smooth process. When we had to replace a part on the road, they reimbursed us as soon as we got back to Chiang Mai. Mango Bike Rental also comes recommended from other travellers.
A simple 125cc scooter ready for the trip.
Wherever you get your bike from, be sure to check for damage and take the bike for a test drive. You’ll also want to grab some quality helmets from the shop. It’s definitely worth it to shell out a few extra Baht for the insurance as well. If anything happens out on the road, you’ll want to make sure you’re covered.
Don’t Forget Your Travel Insurance!
No matter where in the world you are planning to travel, make sure to have insurance before you set off on your adventure – it’s the one thing you should always pack. World Nomads is a popular insurance choice among backpackers, travellers and adventurers.
Just enter your information below to get a FREE quote. Safe & happy travels!
As far as cost goes, it all depends on how long you rent the bike for. If you’re just renting by the day, a decent scooter usually costs around $8-12 per day. You can get a discount for a week and an even bigger one for a month. You can get a motorbike for a month for about $75-80, which is a great deal and takes care of all your transport needs around Northern Thailand.
Which Way to Go?
As this is a loop, it really doesn’t matter which direction you go in, as you’ll eventually end up back in Chiang Mai either way. I’d recommend heading south first so you can make Pai your last stop. It’s the kind of town that you’ll probably end up wanting to linger in – my wife wanted to move there after just one day – so it’s nice to leave that for the end of the trip.
What are you looking at?
Most of the bike shops in Chiang Mai have a really good map of the Mae Hong Son loop that I highly recommend picking up. You don’t always get cell phone service up in the mountains of Thailand so it’s good to have an actual copy of the map on you.
How Many Days On The Mae Hon Song Loop?
This really depends on you and how comfortable you are on the bike/how much time you have to spend in Northern Thailand. Some people tackle the entire Mae Hong Son loop in as little as four days, but that’s far too rushed if you ask me. You’ll spend a majority of your time sitting on the bike and will be exhausted with a very sore bum upon your return to Chiang Mai!
Do go chasing waterfalls.
We spent ten days riding the loop, but five of them were in Pai. I’d say that 6-7 days is a good amount of time to be able to explore each destination and not wear yourself out. If you’ve got the time, it would be awesome to stay out on the road for two weeks and really dive into each place. There’s so much to do along the loop that you can easily fill that time, plus you could have a few chill days off the bike as well.
Now that you’ve got a little background information about the Mae Hong Son loop, let’s take a closer look at the fascinating destinations you get to stop at along the way and what there is to do there.
Top Highlights Of The Mae Hong Son Loop
Doi Inthanon National Park
Heading south out of Chiang Mai, it’s a pretty straight shot until you begin climbing the hill up to Doi Inthanon National Park. It’s about 100km from the city to the park, which will take you a couple of hours with a stop or two. Be warned that the temperature drops considerably once you head up into the mountains, so you’ll want a jacket and maybe some gloves on for the ascent.
Inside Doi Inthanon, you’ll find some massive waterfalls, plenty of hiking trails, and even the highest point in all of Thailand. The park is actually referred to as the “Roof of Thailand” because of this! To be honest, you don’t get a great view from the point, but it’s still cool to snap a picture of the sign and say you went to the top of Thailand.
The highest point in Thailand!
Be sure to check out the royal chedis, which boast fantastic views of the mountains. They were built in honour of the late king Bhumibol’s and his queen’s 60th birthdays, in 1987 and 1992 respectively.
While there are some good trekking opportunities in Doi Inthanon, you’ll have to get moving unless you have 10 days or more to do the Mae Hong Son loop. Head down the mountain before it gets dark and cruise to the town of Mae Chaem. Here you’ll find a few hotels and restaurants where you can grab dinner and catch some sleep before another big day.
If you’ve got more than a few days to ride the Mae Hong Son loop, you can head further south to the town of Mae Sariang. This ride is just over 150km and will take you 4-5 hours depending on how many times you stop. There are plenty of scenic overlooks along the loop where you can pull over, stretch your legs a bit, and enjoy the view.
Mae Sariang is a quaint little mountain town that’s got enough going on to warrant spending a few nights here. There are hot springs, hiking trails in national parks, and some stunning Buddhist temples to visit. Due to the popularity of the loop, there are quite a few options for accommodation and dining in town these days.
Mae Hong Son
Next up on the loop is the city after which it was named. Mae Hong Son is the capital city of the province by the same name, and it’s a good place to stay for a night or two to take a break from the road. If you leave early enough, you can take a small detour to the town of Khun Yuam to grab some lunch and walk around. In total, the ride up to Mae Hong Son is about 150km and will take another 4-5 hours.
Mae Hong Son is a great jumping off point for longer treks, and pretty much every travel agent in town can set you up on one. You have a variety of options, from a single day trek to 3-night trips. I highly recommend going on a multi-day trek at some point in your Northern Thailand travels, regardless of where you decide to do it.
The temple at night.
If you’re not embarking on a trek, there’s still enough to do here to keep you busy. Check out the colorful temples on the small lake in the centre of town, and visit another temple up on the hillside to enjoy a panoramic view of town. In the evening, there’s a nice little night market full of cheap and delicious Thai food plus a few bars where you can chill out and meet fellow travellers.
Once you’re ready to head out of Mae Hong Son, there are a few fun stops along the way to Soppong. While the “Fish Cave” is kind of a silly tourist trap, it’s fun enough to get off the bike and check out. You can also take a breather at a mud spa, where you can get a nice mud mask on and soak your feet in the hot water.
Our next stop on the Mae Hong Son loop is the mountainous town of Soppong. It’s also known as Pang Mapha, so don’t get confused if you see both names used. This town is famous for its abundance of caves and hill tribe villages. With a few days here, you can explore them both.
The highlight of Soppong is Tham Lod, or the Coffin Cave. The name comes from the stone-age coffins that are inside the cave. Come here at sunset to witness the spectacle of thousands of bats flying out for the night and thousands of swifts flying back in.
Exploring caves in Soppong.
Trekking possibilities are pretty much endless in this area. I recommend staying at the Cave Lodge, as they run plenty of trekking tours and can provide you with very detailed maps to do some shorter, easier walks on your own.
They also cook up some delicious Shan cuisine, and the owner John has some incredible stories about his decades spent in the area. He’s actually responsible for discovering a lot of the caves in Soppong, hence the name of his guesthouse.
Many a backpacker comes to Pai and immediately falls in love with Pai. It happened to us, and it will probably happen to you! This beautiful Northern Thai town has a laidback vibe with a vibrant art and music scene, there are numerous fun things to do in Pai to keep you here for a while\. It’s an awesome town to base yourself in for a few nights of exploring all that the area has to offer.
Some of the must-do things in Pai include hiking in the canyon, soaking in the hot springs, visiting the Chinese village, and tubing down the river. It being Northern Thailand, there are also plenty of Buddhist temples and trekking options as well.
A nice soak in the hot springs.
After a big day out exploring, it’s fun to hit the night market for some tasty street food. It’s not just Thai food here, as we had some of the best baked potatoes we’ve ever eaten in Pai. There are plenty of bars in town, many with live music.
If you’ve been on the Mae Hong Son loop for a while, you’ll likely be seeing some familiar faces by this point in the journey. Isn’t that half the fun of travel? It’s great making new friends on the other side of the world.
Returning to Chiang Mai
Once you’ve had your fill of Pai, it’s time to jump back on the bike and tackle one of the toughest stretches of the Mae Hong Son loop. The road from Pai to Chiang Mai has over 700 curves and many of them are quite steep. Good thing you’ve been on the bike practicing for several days.
It’s about 150km to get back to Chiang Mai, which you can do in around 4 hours assuming you make at least one stop. When you get back to Chiang Mai, it’s time to park that bike and go out for a celebratory drink. You did it! You rode the epic Mae Hong Son loop. Congratulations on crossing one of the coolest experiences in Southeast Asia off your list.
You may find it hard to believe, but the cost of living in Thailand for an entire month (including everything) is most likely less than your rent payment at home. As digital nomads, we’re constantly looking for places to stay for a couple of weeks, a month, a year, and Thailand is always one of the top options when it comes to affordability and amenities.
If you’ve been considering working abroad, or just want somewhere to put down some temporary roots, Thailand might be the place for you.
Where else can you rent an apartment for around $200 / month, dine on delicious Thai food for $1 or join the gym for $25 / month?
In this guide to the cost of living in Thailand, I’ll list the 3 best places to live, what to expect and what you’ll spend each month.
Why Choose Thailand?
Visa Situation for Living in Thailand
Cost of Living in Chiang Mai
Cost of Living in Koh Samui
Cost of Living in Bangkok
Why Choose Thailand?
There are numerous places to visit in Thailand and it has long been a backpacker favourite. Since the hippie days it has continuously been one of the most popular destinations, and is always on lists of cheap countries to visit. There’s just something magical about the Land of Smiles.
From the beautiful beaches and lush jungle, to the unique culture and delicious food, Thailand is a fascinating country to see…and live in.
These days, it’s becoming more of a hot-spot for digital nomads and retirees who want to enjoy one of the cheapest places to live in the world. It’s amazing how much farther your money can go if you move to the right destinations – and Thailand is definitely one of the best options.
We’ve spent around 6 months both living in Thailand and travelling around the country, and even though we’ve lived in numerous other places around the world (Malta, Mexico, Grenada, Barbados, Argentina, Indonesia, etc.), we still list Thailand as one of our favourites.
The people are friendly (although a bit jaded by tourism), but they make you feel welcome and aren’t rude. Plus, we’ve never had an issue with our safety in Thailand.
There are international hospitals available, with high standards and low price tags. I’ve personally visited the Bumrungrad International Hospital in Bangkok and we’ve both been to the dentist in Bangkok as well.
My only issue with the hospital was that it was incredibly busy and I couldn’t make an appointment, and since it was a non-emergency, I had to wait quite a while for a check-up. Regardless, the hospital was very clean, the equipment was modern and the doctor spoke English.
In Thailand, you can get many medications over the counter without having to visit a doctor for a prescription first. The pharmacists are helpful (and knowledgable) and you can purchase things like antibiotics and birth control pills within minutes. This saves you time and money.
Apart from feeling safe and not having to worry about healthcare, you can enjoy the beaches, mountains and jungle. Or, you can hop on a cheap flight to a nearby destination for a quick holiday away. With the cost of living in Thailand being so low, you’ll have money left over each month for a holiday – whether domestic or international.
The only decision you’ll need to make is which part of Thailand you want to live in.
Visa Situation When Living in Thailand
If you aren’t living in Thailand full-time (ie: running a business or retiring there), then you can enter Thailand on a tourist visa. If you’re from one of these countries, Thailand is one of the best visa free countries because you don’t have to pay for your visa.
However, you can only stay for 30 days before you will have to either renew your visa at an immigration office (for a fee), or leave the country and return.
When we were living in Koh Samui, we landed at the Bangkok airport and received a 1 month visa for free, and then extended it at the immigration office on the island of Koh Samui to receive a further month. The cost of that extension was 1,900 thb ($58).
The immigration building for visa extensions in Koh Samui
Another option is to obtain a 60 day tourist visa before entering Thailand (at a consulate abroad, or in your home country). You will be allowed to extend that visa once more when you’re in Thailand, giving you a total of 90 days before you need to leave the country.
If you’re arriving by air, there is no limitation on the amount of times you can enter Thailand in a year if you are from one of the visa exempt countries, and you leave and return by air (not sea or bus).
It’s not an ideal visa situation of you plan on living in Thailand long-term, as you’ll constantly have to leave the country. But, it’s always nice to head out on a holiday and with cheap flights with AirAsia and IndiGo, you can fly to nearby countries of Singapore, India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Cambodia, Vietnam or Laos and enjoy a weekend away before returning to Thailand.
If you are 50 years of age or older, and you want to retire in Thailand, you can apply for a Retirement Visa, which is valid for one year. However, you aren’t able to open up a business or you would need a Work Visa.
Applicant must be able to provide proof of a pension or other regular income from a source outside of Thailand;
Applicant’s pension or other regular income must be no less than the equivalent of 65,000 Baht ($1,995) per month;
Alternatively, the applicant may meet the financial requirement by maintaining a Thai bank account with a minimum amount of 800,000 Baht ($24,500). (Applicants will need to show that they have 800,000 Baht in savings each year when they renew their visa.)
Any applicant married to a Thai citizen may be able to receive a visa on that basis rather than retirement.
As you can see, there are numerous variations to the visas you can obtain, and the extensions you can receive. Always check with the Thai Consulate for the most up to date information.
Note: new rules state that you must be able to show sufficient funds in the amount of 20,000 THB ($610) when entering Thailand. Whether or not the immigration officer asks you to show proof is up to them. But, to make sure you’re not turned away or questioned, make sure to have sufficient funds (doesn’t have to be in Thai Bhat) on you. We were never asked to show proof of funds on entry in 2017. Also, you must have proof of onward travel out of Thailand. Click here to learn how we deal with that requirement.
Cost of Living in Thailand: Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai is known as being one of the top digital nomad hubs in Asia – it has everything you could want or need. This is the place to live in Thailand if you want to be surrounded by other entrepreneurs and those who work remotely.
In Chiang Mai, you’ll find many restaurants (both local and international), bars, shops, gyms, a cinema, grocery stores, spas and much more. It has everything you could want or need when living abroad.
There are numerous things to do in Chiang Mai to keep you busy – watch some Muay Thai boxing, practice yoga, or take a motorbike out to the waterfalls or on scenic drives in the mountains.
Another option is to head to nearby cities. Check out the fun things to do in Chiang Rai and all of the chilled out things to do in Pai. If you’re feeling antsy, hop on a cheap domestic or international flight at the Chiang Mai airport and head off for a weekend away on the southern islands of Thailand, or nearby country.
How To Find An Apartment in Chiang Mai
There are a few ways to find accommodation in Chiang Mai. Unless you’re going to book through a reputable website like Airbnb, I would definitely wait to see the apartment in person before agreeing to one online.
Even with Airbnb, I recommend choosing a “Superhost” or a place with good reviews. Due to Airbnb scams, I would be hesitant to book an apartment that was newly listed and had zero reviews. Airbnb hosts will often offer a discount for 1 month+ stays.
In Chiang Mai, it’s more popular to arrive and look around once you’re on the ground. If you don’t want to book through Airbnb, you can check out these companies and agents in Chiang Mai:
Basically, send them an email of what you’re looking for in an apartment, and they will have some viewings lined up and take you around to look at places. The cost of living in Thailand is low, but the cost of apartment rentals in Chiang Mai is really low.
You can find places for around $200 / month (it will mostly likely be a studio apartment however). Typically, for a newer apartment with a pool and kitchen expect to spend around $400 – $600 / month.
If you are renting a small house outside of the city center, you would spend around $450 / month for 6 months or more. And finally, if you’re looking for a more modern, luxurious accommodation (with 2+ bedrooms), you’ll spend around $1,000 / month. The longer you rent for, the cheaper it will be.
As you can see, the cost of living in Chiang Mai really depends on the type of accommodation you want, which part of the city you live in, and how long you rent for.
Something to note is that ideally you can find a place that has a swimming pool and / or a gym attached. The days can be hot in Chiang Mai and with no beach around, having a pool can be a lifesaver. But, if you can’t find a place with a pool, you can always purchase a pass at one of the fitness centers and use their facilities.
Best Areas to Stay in Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai Old Town
This area is in the middle of all the action. You’ll be surrounded by numerous accommodation options and western restaurants. Accommodation prices tend to be on the higher end here.
Chang Khlan Area
Accommodations in this area are cheaper than the Old Town, yet you’re just a 15 minute walk southeast of the Old Town. This area is less modern, with a few seedy bars, but it’s still a safe place to live. You’ll also find lots of street food and cheap restaurant options.
Nimmanhaemin Road Area
This is a popular, trendy, “cool” area located northwest of the Old Town. This part of Chiang Mai is home to a large expat crowd, numerous coffee shops, western restaurants, a massive mall with a cinema and lots of co-working spaces. It is one of the more expensive areas Chiang Mai to rent in, but is where many digital nomads choose to live.
Since this area is close to a university, you’ll find lots of students around. It’s located north of the Old Town about a 25 minute walk to the center, and a 5 minute walk to a large grocery store. Accommodation is cheaper here and again there are lots of street food and cheap restaurant options. If you’re looking for a really low cost of living in Thailand, check out this area in Chiang Mai.
Costs of Living in Chiang Mai
Depending on your lifestyle, you can live for very cheap, or live like a king (while still spending less than you would in your home country most likely).
Costs are incredibly varied in Chiang Mai, with some people living on the budget end in a studio apartment and spending a total of $600 / month including everything.
Others in the mid-level range spend around $700-$800 / month, and at the higher end from $1,000 and up. There are top end options as well, but with so many nice houses and apartments in the budget – mid range, it’s really not necessary to overspend in Chiang Mai.
Obviously, if you’re a couple or if you find some housemates, you’ll be able to split the cost of rent and utilities.
Here’s a list of some average costs of items in Chiang Mai:
Apartment Rental – Nightly
$9 – 12 / Night
Accommodation Rental – Monthly
$200 – $1,200 / Month
Electricity and Internet
$150 / Month
$75 – $110 / Month
Full Tank of Petrol in Scooter
$3 / 10 minute ride (approx)
Co-Working Space Membership
$100 / Month (for the best co-working space)
$25 / Month
Bottle of Wine (midrange)
Domestic Beer in a Bar
Imported Beer in a Bar
Liter of Milk
Loaf of Bread
Western Style Meal
Thai Street Food Meal
$1 – $3
Total cost of living in Chiang Mai per month: $600 – $1,500 / person
The cost of living in Thailand is very affordable, but if you want to live on one of the islands, you’ll spend a bit more each month than you would on the mainland. The islands of Phuket, Koh Phangan, Koh Lanta and Koh Samui are probably your best bets when it comes to places with amenities that digital nomads and westerners typically want / need.
We spent 2 months living in Koh Samui in a gorgeous pool villa in the jungle. The island is quite large and offers everything from beaches and waterfalls to nightlife and street markets. This island isn’t known as being a party place (unless you stay in the Chaweng area), but rather, it’s a spot for holiday makers and expats.
Koh Samui isn’t exactly a “digital nomad hub”, but it’s a chilled out place where you can relax and get some work done while staying near the beach in a stunning villa.
There aren’t exactly co-working spaces here, but we did find an amazing spot that you can work from, while enjoying healthy food – Vikasa Life Cafe Organic Restaurant. Another option that we’ve heard about is the Content Castle where you stay in a shared house, pay $200 / month and receive room and board. You’ll also have to do some writing for the company. Click here for details.
We met a few remote workers, and those practicing or teaching yoga during our time spent at Vikasa. The setting is stunning and food is amazing (around $7 / meal).
We chose to stay in the Lamai area which has a long stretch of sand, beach bars, a local community (where we were), 2 large supermarkets (Makro and Tesco Lotus), plus numerous markets offering produce and street food. Restaurant food goes from around $3 and up for a plate of Thai food, whereas at the nightly food market, you can get meals for around $1.50.
The Lamai area is a great spot if you’re looking to have enough going on so that you’re not bored, yet looking for a place that isn’t as busy as Chewang.
How To Find Accommodation in Koh Samui
If possible, I recommend coming to the island and renting a guesthouse or hotel for a few nights while you search for a place to stay. But, if you’re short on time, or if you just don’t want to waste days looking for accommodation, you can contact an agency online, or book with a reputable site such as Airbnb.
We contacted an agency and they showed us many accommodations they had available on Koh Samui. After some back and forth bargaining about the price, we ended up booking a villa through the agent. We found out afterwards that the villa is actually on Airbnb as well. As always, opt for a place with recent, positive reviews.
You can also search on local Facebook groups for houses and villas for rent. Another option is to simply rent a motorbike when you arrive on the island and drive around. You’ll see numerous signs “For Let” or “House For Rent” and you can speak with the owner and see the property.
The only issue might be that you’ll have to pay cash. With online booking sites, you can pay with PayPal or your credit card, which gives you some sort of insurance and recourse if the owner happens to be a shady character.
You’ll notice that there aren’t a lot of apartments in Koh Samui in the traditional sense – high rises, big apartment blocks – but rather, small houses, villas or..