If you only have one week to spend in Thailand, you should decide in advance what is most important to you. Do you just want a week of total relaxation, a week of partying or a week completely immersed in Thai culture? You can of course experience all of these in a week wherever you elect to stay, but deciding in advance what is most important to you will probably determine where you head to. I would advise basing yourself in one city or region rather than try and do too much travelling in a short space of time. Booking accommodation in advance will also save you a bit of time and with just 7 days to spend the more organisation you do in advance the better.
A week on the beach
If you are looking for a week of total relaxation I would recommend heading straight to one of the islands or beach resorts. With a one-week itinerary carefully consider your transport options. Buses and trains are inexpensive and can be a great way to travel in Thailand, but if you are travelling long distances flying may make more sense. Flights to Ko Samui take just over an hour from Bangkok compared to a combined rail and ferry journey which takes over 15 hours. Flights to Krabi and Phuket also take just over an hour from Bangkok. Ko Samui, Krabi and Phuket all offer a choice of beaches, a variety of nightlife and a wide range of accommodation options which makes them all a good choice if you are staying in Thailand for just a week.
If you don’t want to fly but still want to hit the beach you could make a beeline for the pretty little island of Ko Samet. Getting to Ko Samet from Bangkok will involve a road journey of just over 2 hours to the port at Ban Phe and then a 30-45 minute ferry crossing. If all you want to do is sunbathe and swim for a week, then consider Ko Samet. Another idyllic island is Ko Chang. Part of the appeal of Ko Chang is that it is a part of a marine archipelago and day trips to neighbouring islands are easily arranged. Although it’s Thailand’s second largest island, much of the interior of Ko Chang is covered by jungle and as such is uninhabited. The palm-fringed beaches have started to attract developers but not to the extent of Ko Samui or Phuket. Getting from Bangkok to Ko Chang takes just over 5 hours, including the ferry crossing. There is an option to fly to the nearby airport at Trat, but because it is on the mainland it still involves a ferry crossing to Ko Chang.
Another beach option is the resort of Hua Hin which has been popular with the Thai royal family since the early 1900s. Train or road travel from Bangkok to Hua Hin takes between 3-4 hours. Hua Hin’s beaches may lack the dramatic beauty of others further south, but it is a very pleasant town to stay for a week and has plenty of attractions away from the beach to keep visitors entertained. Nearby Cha Am is quieter and less developed than Hua Hin, but that also means that there is less choice of accommodation. Staying in Hua Hin, Cha-am is only 30 minutes’ away by taxi, bus or train.
One week in Bangkok
Bangkok can make for a fascinating week-long stay. Although the city’s appeal might not be immediate to first-time visitors, Bangkok usually manages to charm those people who have spent long enough there and scratched beneath the surface. The main tourist attractions such as Wat Phra Kaeo, the Grand Palace and Wat Po are all conveniently located close to each other in the historic Ratanakosin area of the city on the banks of the Chao Phraya River. The river is a great way to get around Bangkok but make sure you take time out to explore the many khlongs (canals) which gives an intriguing insight into the old and new Bangkok. A specialist canal tour can easily be booked or if you are feeling adventurous grab a map and use the local water taxis which ply the canals. You won’t see many tourists and the boats aren’t for the faint-hearted, but you will see and experience parts of Bangkok that most tourists don’t. Keeping with the water theme, venture out to the Floating Market at Damnoen Saduak and that will keep you occupied for the best part of one day.
If you are a shopping enthusiast, Bangkok should keep you more than happy for a week. Check out this guide to Bangkok shopping and try not to miss the famous Chatuchak Weekend Market. Bangkok has a fantastically diverse array of restaurants and eateries ranging from side-of-the-road hawker stalls to swanky international restaurants. Whatever your budget is, you’ll find something suitable in Bangkok and that applies to accommodation as well as entertainment and dining.
A week of culture
Bangkok makes for a convenient base for a couple of day tours if you want to get away from the capital. The ancient capital of Ayutthaya makes for a great day trip from Bangkok especially if you combine it with a river cruise back to Bangkok. Kanchanaburi is another destination within day trip range and is highly recommended. If Ayutthaya appeals to you then you are also likely to enjoy Sukhothai which is an equally impressive ancient site, although it can’t be done in a day trip and would necessitate an overnight stay.
The northern city of Chiang Mai is very proud of its 700-year-old heritage and if you want a week of culture you won’t go far wrong in Chiang Mai. The city is home to temples, colourful local markets and is renowned for its festivals. The surrounding countryside and mountains are home to National Parks and ethnic hill-tribe villages. Visitors spending 7 days in Chiang Mai won’t be bored and although it’s a very popular tourist destination, the city doesn’t feel overcrowded and retains a genuinely friendly charm.
A week of partying
Just about every town, city or resort has bars, clubs and karaoke joints. Some are very Thai whilst others cater mainly for tourists. If all you want to do is party for a week there are plenty of options. Bangkok has some of the best clubs in South-East Asia which regularly attract world-famous musicians and DJs. Pattaya is home to an abundance of clubs and bars and has a thriving nightlife. Pattaya may not appeal to everybody, but for dedicated party-goers who want to crash out on the beach during the day, Pattaya may fit the bill. Similarly, Patong in Phuket and Lamai in Ko Samui provide plenty of entertainment at night and a beachside setting to recover during the day.