We’ve written before about our suggestions for a two-week itinerary for first time visitors to Thailand. But if you have more time and are spending three weeks on holiday in Thailand, it gives you added scope to experience more of what this amazing country has to offer.
A classic three-week Thailand itinerary takes in a little bit of everything with visits to cities in central Thailand, the mountains of the north and the beaches of the south. As with our suggestions for the two-week itinerary, try not to cram too much in if you’re visiting Thailand for the first time. Slower travel can be more rewarding, and with three weeks there is still plenty you can see and do without rushing around.
We’ve included some ideas for how long to spend in each region, but just use that as a guide and adapt the suggestions to suit you. Maybe you’d prefer to spend more time island hopping. Or if you like the idea of slow travel, swap internal flights for trains and explore historic locations like Ayutthaya, Kanchanaburi or Sukhothai.
- 4/5 days: Central Thailand (Bangkok + Ayutthaya or Kanchanaburi)
- 6/7 days: North Thailand (Chiang Mai + Chiang Rai or Mae Hong Son)
- 9/10 days: Beaches/islands (Andaman Coast or Gulf Coast or East Coast)
Where to visit first
With most visitors arriving in Thailand via Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport, it’s a popular option to start your Thai adventures with at least a few nights in Bangkok. That certainly makes sense, but if you are visiting Thailand for the first time the Thai capital can be a culture shock. As an alternative, you could opt to spend time in Bangkok in the middle of your trip or at the end of your trip.
For a gentle introduction to the country and Thai culture, head straight to the laidback surroundings of north Thailand. From Suvarnabhumi airport there are frequent flights to Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai with a flight time of just over an hour.
After a week spent relaxing in the scenic north, you can then visit Bangkok before you head to the southern islands or beaches. Another option would be to fly directly from Chiang Mai to Krabi, Phuket or Ko Samui for your beach time and then finish off your holiday with a few days in Bangkok.
4/5 days: Bangkok + Ayutthaya or Kanchanaburi
From Bangkok you can visit Ayutthaya and the historic ruins as a comfortable day trip. The wartime sites of Kanchanaburi can also be visited as a day trip, but the region has much to see and do and it’s worth spending at least a night here if you can.
If you decide to visit Bangkok at the start of your trip, you can then fly up to Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai to explore north Thailand. There is also the option of taking the train to Chiang Mai. The overnight sleeper is a popular option and tickets can be booked online via the official State Railway of Thailand (SRT) website. The northern train line also stops at Ayutthaya, so you could spend a night or two in Ayutthaya before continuing north by train to Chiang Mai
As another option, you can take the train to Phitsanulok from where you can connect by bus to the wonderful Sukhothai Historical Park. There are also flights from Bangkok Suvarnabhumi to Sukhothai. After Sukhothai, continue by train (via Phitsanulok) or bus to Chiang Mai.
7 days: Chiang Mai + Chiang Rai or Mae Hong Son or Nan
Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai are the two main cities in the north of Thailand and they both make an excellent base to explore the surrounding countryside. A popular option for a three-week itinerary is to spend a week in the north with four days in Chiang Mai and three days in Chiang Rai.
The journey time between Chiang Mai and Chiang Mai is around three hours. Frequent bus services run between the two cities with the reliable Green Bus Company offering the pick of the services. It’s also possible to visit Chiang Rai on an organised day tour from Chiang Mai which will take in popular attractions like the White Temple and Golden Triangle.
If you’ve visited Thailand before or would simply like to get off the beaten track, consider spending some time exploring delightful provinces like Nan, Phayao and Phrae. And heading in the other direction to the far north-west of Thailand, Mae Hong Son has stunning mountain scenery and its own unique culture.
Islands and beaches
9/10 days: Beach holiday
For many visitors, a holiday to Thailand isn’t complete without time spent at one of the country’s numerous beach resorts or tropical islands. To maximise your relaxation time, choose one particular coast to stay (i.e. Andaman Coast, Gulf Coast or East Coast) and allow around 10 days to enjoy a twin-centre break or go island hopping .
On Thailand’s east coast, the gorgeous islands of the Ko Chang archipelago await. To get there, visitors need to take a boat from Trat on the mainland. Although it’s possible to fly from Bangkok to Trat, the number of services is limited and only Bangkok Airways currently fly that route. There is no train service to Trat so the most common way to get there is via the five/six hour bus journey from Bangkok.
If the idea of soaking up the rays on a tropical island appeals but a long bus journey doesn’t, look instead at Thailand’s southern islands and beaches. With direct flights from Bangkok to locations including Ko Samui, Phuket, Krabi and Trang, getting to your preferred beach destination is quick and easy. And if you are travelling from Chiang Mai, there are direct flights to Phuket, Krabi, Hua Hin and Hat Yai.
Wherever you choose to go, a classic three-week Thailand itinerary will give you around 10 days of beach time in southern Thailand. You could simply spend this portion of your holiday relaxing in one place or you could indulge in a bit of island hopping.
On the Gulf Coast, Ko Samui can be combined with a stay on nearby Ko Pha Ngan and/or Ko Tao. If you like the idea of a beach holiday but would prefer to stay on the mainland, consider Hua Hin or Cha Am. Or for somewhere away from the main tourist areas, take a look at Chumphon and Khanom.
On the Andaman Coast, Phuket and Krabi make for a great twin centre break. Alternatively, spend four or five days in Phuket and a similar amount of time in nearby Khao Lak. Another good option that would allow you to explore some of Thailand’s quieter islands would be to divide your time in Phuket or Krabi with three or four days on the charming islands of Ko Yao Noi, Ko Yao Yai or Ko Lanta. You really are spoiled for choice!
Nine or ten days is a decent amount of time to go island hopping without having to rush around. And the scenery on the boat journeys between the islands is often spectacular. Take a look at the gorgeous Trang Islands or the equally beautiful islands in Satun province.
Find your ideal Thailand itinerary
For more Thailand itinerary ideas, take a look at the links below:
- Beach holidays
- Family holidays
- Luxury holidays
- Responsible tourism
- Romantic holidays
- Sport and adventure holidays
Best time to visit Thailand
Thailand is a year-round destination. While it’s true there is a ‘rainy season’ or green season, any month can still be a good month to visit Thailand. For beach holidays, the Andaman Coast and Gulf Coast are affected by different weather systems. This means that the Gulf Coast (e.g. Ko Samui) can be ideal for a beach holiday during the UK and Irish summer. The opposite Andaman Coast (e.g. Krabi, Phuket) is a great choice for a winter holiday.
Check out the monthly guides below for more details:
Advice for first-time visitors to Thailand
If you’re travelling to Thailand we hope you’ll have an amazing time. To help you get the most out of your visit, we’ve put together this article for first-time visitors. Our Thailand travel advice page also covers many of the most frequently asked questions we receive.
You may also enjoy
Fan Club Thailand
Tourism Thailand (UK & Ireland)
We are here to help you experience the best of amazing Thailand. Bookmark our online magazine for ideas and tips for what to see and do in Thailand, and follow us on social media for even more travel inspiration.