Aaahhh, Thailand… lovely, lovely Thailand. ‘Tis a heaven on Earth. The pristine, white sandy beaches of the south, the lush, green jungle-covered mountains of the north, the wild east – all untouched by tourists. There’s also the erratic, exotic and exciting mega city of Bangkok, fizzing away on the south-central coast, offering delicious street food, wild parties, and (surprisingly), a spider’s web of smooth tarmac roads that spread out across and entrap the entire landmass.
Thailand is the perfect destination for a road trip. The roads are excellent and there is an endless quarry of fascinating things to see and do. A plate of Pad Thai and an ice-cold bottle of Singha beer never tastes quite so good after a long day of road tripping!
Thailand is also especially suitable for motorcycling, with its warm climate, smooth roads and the plethora of sights to feast your ravenous eyes on.
In Thailand, whole families (yes, on one bike), 12-year-old girls and ancient grannies with dogs all use a motorbike to get around. It’s partly because of how driving can be a bit erratic – often people don’t seem to notice red lights, or care if they are on the correct side of the road or not, or see any danger in overtaking a truck on a sharp mountain bend! Don’t let this put you off – just be suitably cautious, keep your wits about you, and be safe.
Here is our BUCKiTDREAM list of three of the most off the beaten track and epic road trips you can take around Thailand.
(All travel times given are for the quickest, most straightforward routes. There are often more scenic route options available for a given section of your journey which, time permitting, can and should be taken.)
Venture North into the Golden Triangle and Along the Mekong River Start in Chiang Mai, the moated city – a relaxed place that attracts quite a lot of western travelers, but still maintains its authentically Thai vibe. Chiang Mai has excellent bars, restaurants, and music venues, and is a genuine party town.
From Chiang Mai, head 3 hours north to Chiang Rai – a middle-sized city of fewer than 100,000 residents in the northern mountains. Khao Soi, a delicious, spicy noodle soup with soft noodles below the water mark and crispy noodles above, is a Chiang Rai specialty that must be tried!
From Chiang Rai, drive 2 hours north to Chiang Saen – the last outpost of Thailand. This sleepy little town straddles the Laos border, and eating a Thai Hot Pot at a street food restaurant while sitting on a blanket by the banks of the Mekong, is the perfect way to end a day of sightseeing and traveling.
From Chiang Saen, drive 2 hours east along the Mekong river, waving to the Laotians who are going about their day in a foreign country less than 100 meters across the lazy river. To your left, you’ll see Chiang Khong – a sleepy little town with a sprinkling of excellent and very cheap restaurants and guesthouses on the river side. This place is quiet but great for a relaxing evening of stuffing your face with tasty food that costs next to nothing.
From Chiang Khong, drive 2.5 hours south to the city of Phayao. This fairly large city sits on the banks of a huge round lake and is a popular holiday destination. It’s also quite a buzzing party town, although westerners are almost completely absent.
Get Off the Beaten Track in Isaan Start in Bangkok, and drive 3.5 hours northeast to Nakhon Ratchasima. This large and lively city is a great base from which to visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Khao Yai, Thailand’s oldest national park, and a wonderful wildlife watching spot.
From Nakhon Ratchasima, head 4.5 hours northeast to Sisaket – a friendly, rural town where most people are rice or tobacco farmers, and very few people speak any English at all.
From Sisaket, head 1.5 hours northeast to Ubon Ratchathani – ‘The Royal City of the Lotus’ on the banks of the Maenam Mun River, with its laid back vibe and wealth of fascinating temples.
From Ubon Ratchathani, go 2.5 hours northwest to the ancient moated city of Roi Et.
After a night in Isaan’s oldest settlement, drive 3 hours northwest to Udon Thani – the biggest city in Isaan. This place is big and buzzing and has a large expat population.
From the bright lights of Udon Thani, drive 1.5 hours south to the youthful, vibrant university town of Khon Kaen, which has some fun bars and great places to eat – Thai student style!
From Khon Kaen, it’s a 4.5-hour drive southwest back to Bangkok.
Explore Thailand’s Southeastern Region Start in Bangkok and head 2.5 hours southeast along the coast of Pattaya City and its armies of go-go girls, wild parties, and strip clubs.
Then cruise 3 hours east to explore the precious stone market and pretty water-front architecture in Chanthaburi. From Chanthaburi, head 1.5 hours southeast to the buzzing town of Trat – the major jumping-off point for travelers heading to Koh Chang.
Take the 2.5-hour drive and ferry to pretty Koh Chang. It’s an island that is lush and beautiful and fast being colonized by tourist industry infrastructure, but it still has plenty of unspoiled areas… for now.
From Koh Chang, head 5 hours north to the border city of Sa Kaeo, which is surrounded by spectacular parklands.
After exploring the parks, drive 3.5 hours west to Ayutthaya – a city that was once one of the richest on Earth, and is now packed with spectacular ancient ruins.
From Ayutthaya, it is a 2-hour drive south of Bangkok.
Hopefully, these three road trip ideas have to whet your appetite for some extended exploring expeditions in Thailand. And once you are on the road, don’t forget to preserve your bucket list memories in a picture or written word form and share them with your friends on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter!