An overnight rafting adventure from Pai to Mae Hong Son

The only ride for the next 2 days

The valve gurgles every few minutes, as freshwater drains out from within the battered inflatable raft.

“It’s fine, only out not in”, my guide Mr Chai assures me. I’m unconvinced, looking at the 2 centimeter depth of water collecting along the sides of the raft. Under the scorching heat of the 1pm sun in a cloudless sky, my raft is drifting on a 10-meter wide river in the middle of a jungle in Northern Thailand. There’s no cell reception, no settlement anywhere for 10 kilometers, and no one else but Mr Chai, my travel companion and I. This must be what getting lost and stranded feels like.

Just slightly over 3 hours ago, I was driven out of the tourist town of Pai in a rickety truck. After bumping around violently for an hour on dirt tracks, we stopped along a nondescript section of the river Pai. Mr Chai and his friend from Thai Adventure Rafting quickly got to work, inflating the 4m long raft in just under 10 minutes. While at it, they also prepared a dry box to keep my spare clothes for an overnight stay in a jungle camp, and some ingredients and cutlery meant for the next 3 meals deep in the jungle.

The road out of Pai to the river passes by garlic farms and majestic mountains
The road out of Pai to the river passes by garlic farms and majestic mountains
Inflating the raft is no easy task
Inflating the raft is no easy task
Our guide, Mr Chai, is a master of the rapids here.
Our guide, Mr Chai, is a master of the rapids here.

After a quick safety brief and an outfield toilet break, it was time to go. With a good 5-6 hours of rough waters between us and the camp, there was no time to lose. I grabbed my paddle and sat on the left side of the front row. Behind me, Mr Chai completed a final check and pushed his paddle against the rocks.

And with that, off we went!

The route from Pai to Mae Hong Son

Most travellers are familiar with the 1841 turns that make up the road between Pai and Mae Hong Son. However, for those that get carsick easily, there’s another way to get around this – by getting seasick.

As the River Pai twists and turns its way around the same mountains that make the roads so winding, bands of hard and soft rock has eroded into boulders and sand. This creates alternating sections of rapid and smooth-flowing river, the ideal playground for thrill-seeking backpackers.

Crashing into big waves in a nasty stretch of rapids
Crashing into big waves in a nasty stretch of rapids

Clinging on to dear life in the middle of a raging series of rapids seems like my kind of fun, so I gleefully signed up for a 2D1N rafting adventure. Depending on the season though, the experience ranges from mildly exciting (in the dry months of December to April) to hair-raising (during the rainy season in May to October). Alas, I was in town in December, which meant the rapids weren’t at its strongest. To make matters worse, garlic farms running alongside the river were draining the river.

Mr Chai tells me that he’ll still be able to give me a run for my money though. He does this by navigating to certain spots where the water gets sucked in like a whirlpool behind a boulder. This traps the raft in a strong back-current while water churns all around. Very appropriately, Mr Chai calls it a washing machine.

It takes more than a day to reach our first washing machine, at a particularly nasty stretch of rapids. Mr Chai expertly brings the raft past the boulder of interest, and without warning, the raft is suddenly jolted backwards. As water enters the raft and fills up the interior rapidly, we stop paddling and watch our raft just stay… stationary. Like an invisible rope pulling the raft back, the washing machine refused to give us up to the current.

Entering the strong grasp of a washing machine
Entering the strong grasp of a washing machine

In a minute it was over as Mr Chai finally pushed the raft out of the shadow of the boulder. He smiled broadly, glad that his efforts were not in vain. As colour returned to my face, he asked if I’d like to go for more.

Hell yeah.

Camping with the jungle men

All overnight rafting expeditions will stop at a jungle camp located deep in the jungle. With no villages or even a fisherman’s hut nearby, this is a world away from the noisy, crowded metropolis of Chiang Mai. Cell phone reception faded out hours ago, and the only source of electricity trickles only from a small solar cell charger. Running water is in abundance, though, as handmade bamboo pipes carry a constant flow from a small stream inland.

The jungle camp is manned by a hardy trio of men who have committed to maintaining the camp for months on end. Without the convenience of modern infrastructure and commercial facilities, they live off the land. Every day, these guys head out to catch fresh catfish from the river, or search for wild fruits and vegetables in the jungle behind them. Any other vices, like cigarettes and alcohol, is provided by Mr Chai and other guides who raft in once every few days. For them, Christmas Day comes early each time the familiar sight of tourists on the bright blue rafts approach the shore of the camp.

The jungle camp where we'll spend the night
The jungle camp where we’ll spend the night

“What happens during a medical emergency?”, I wondered aloud.

Mr Chai translates my question to the men, and they collectively laugh softly. A tad nervously, I thought.

“So far, everyone’s been fortunate that there’s been nothing like it”, Mr Chai explains. There’s no cell reception, so forget about calling for help. The easiest way would be to get onto the raft and paddle on, through the remaining rapids and until the town of Mae Hong Son. But that’s a day away, at least.

Otherwise, the nearest town is a tough 4 hour trek uphill through thick jungle to get to the nearest village, which is a generous description. More accurately, that is a few huts with limited facilities and supplies as well.

“The jungle men get their beer from the village, if they’re really craving for it”, he adds. “But tourists… will need the raft.” Which only meant keeping a close eye on snakes and scorpions, even though the place is routinely cleared by the jungle men before new tourists arrive.

Before resting, I take a bath in a jungle bathroom. The shower facilities can be described as a tub of murky river water with a small bucket to scoop and dump water over myself. The floor is built on bamboo sloping down, so all water is drained into the stream running towards the river. Even so, the bath is refreshing after a full day’s rafting. Somehow, this water still feels cleaner than some hostels I’ve visited over the years, where only brown rust water run out of groaning taps.

Bathroom in Pai rafting jungle camp
The bathoom in the jungle camp is a world away from the 5-star accommodation of Phuket
Murky jungle camp bath water
It’s murky, but beggars can’t be choosers eh?

At night, everyone sits at a long dining table in almost pitch darkness and Mr Chai and the jungle men trade jovial banter. Two large candles provide the only illumination there, while the glowing embers of the once roaring campfire tell us where not to step into.

The four gentlemen have whipped up a feast fit for royalty, and my friend and I are only able to finish a small portion of it. There’s chunks of chicken cooked in green curry, two plates of fresh vegetables and carrots just harvested in the morning, and a tube of sticky banana rice inside a section of bamboo. As we show signs of defeat, a huge platter of fruits is brought forth from the darkness of the cooking table.

“Don’t worry”, Mr Chai assures me. “The jungle men don’t waste food. Eat what you can, and they will save the rest for themselves tomorrow.” I’m sure a lot of city folks around the world could do with a stay in this humble place, and learn a thing or two about reducing wastage.

Once the small lamp runs out of power, candles are the only source of light
Once the small lamp runs out of power, candles are the only source of light
A lavish dinner in the jungle camp
A lavish dinner in the jungle camp

A soak in an unexpected hot spring

The tour itinerary cheerfully sells a soak in some hot springs on the second day. After a cold night wrapped in a sleeping bag, I was all ready to thaw myself. So we set out for another day of rumbling waves on the meandering river, headed towards Mae Hong Son.

In my head, I was already imagining what the hot springs would be like. Is it a swimming complex, like the famous Széchenyi Baths in Budapest? Or a deep sulphurous pool with multi colored mineral rocks like those in Yellowstone?

After a few hours on the river, Mr Chai stops the boat and drags it to a rocky shore. There’s nothing here, even as my eyes scanned the treeline for any animal or interesting plant.

“Can you smell it?”, Mr Chai asks.

I can’t at first. But eventually I get a whiff of that characteristic rotten egg scent of sulphur. Mr Chai smiles knowingly, and points to a small opening in the ground. With water seeping out, followed by wisps of steam rising from it, this is the long-anticipated hot spring.

Mr Chai gets to work immediately. He takes his paddle and starts shovelling sand, heaping them on top of each other. I help out with my own paddle and slowly, the shape of a raised barrier takes form. There’s no pool in sight, so we’re building a pool for ourselves!

Digging out a pool with just our paddles
Digging out a pool with just our paddles

Once the dam is sufficiently sturdy, Mr Chai digs deeper to collect more hot water. With the eye of a civil engineer, he also opens a channel at the other end to let water flow out. Slowly, hot water accumulates in a shallow pool. Using an empty dry box, Mr Chai scoops up a load of cold river water and pours it into the pool, instantly cooling it down to the right temperature for a comfortable soak.

For the next hour or so, I alternate between lying down in the pool, getting up to dump in more cold water, and dining on a packed lunch of fried rice and a slice of watermelon.

Taking a break and stopping for lunch, which soaking in the hot spring at the same time
Taking a break and stopping for lunch, which soaking in the hot spring at the same time

Eventually we have to leave, though. With a heavy heart, I break the sand walls and hot spring water gushes into the cold river, returning everything to its natural state. This hot spring took a lot of hard work, but damn it was worth every gram of sand shovelled.

Reaching Mae Hong Son

Finally after 2 full days of furious paddling and holding on for dear life, I see signs of civilisation. First, garlic farms appear by the river banks. Then I hear the familiar whirl of water pumps. Mr Chai manoeuvres the boat to a pier, and warmly greets his friend waiting by the river bank. At last, we’ve reached the National Park Headquarters just slightly after 4pm.

With practised ease, both men carry the dry boxes and rafting equipment out, followed by the raft. I have a bus headed back to Chiang Mai to catch, so Mr Chai urges me to wash up and shower first. Unsurprisingly, the basic shared toilet facility felt like a luxury hotel bathroom after a night in the camp.

Packing up in record timing!
Packing up in record timing!

In less than an hour after disembarking at the pier, the truck is speeding down to the bus station. (Prempracha Transport runs this service, and the last 5pm bus ticket can be bought from the Chiang Mai bus station beforehand). After a hasty handshake and a quick photograph, I throw my backpack into the minivan and bid Mae Hong Son a fond farewell. Alas my time here is too short, but that leaves me with an excuse to revisit this quiet town once again in the near future!

Organise a rafting tour

If you’re keen to go on this tour, you’ll need to hop on a minivan or bus to Pai. Contact Guy (he’s a cool Frenchman dude who first pioneered this activity here decades ago!) at Thai Adventure Rafting. Send him an email at, or call ahead at 66 – (0)81 993 9674.

The tour company is well equipped, professional and keenly observes safety procedures. My guide, Mr Chai, is exceptional in his knowledge of the river, and I never felt uneasy at any time. Also, after the tour is over, all his photos taken on his GoPro is available on their YouTube page, unlike some tour operators who insist on earning yet another quick buck by selling photo packages (stares hard at skydiving operators and their expensive videography packages).

The office of Thai Adventure Rafting is located in Pai
The office of Thai Adventure Rafting is located in Pai

Accommodation in Pai

I stayed in Juno hostel, which is located just 5 minutes away from the walking street. The dorms are clean, with individual curtains and electrical outlets for each bed. There’s also a small table stocked with bread, coffee and water available 24/7. Check here for latest rates and bed availability.

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Getting out of Pai

After Pai, you can continue your journey to Chiang Rai, or head back south towards Bangkok. Chiang Mai also has several interesting sites to explore just an hour outside the city. Check out my itinerary for spending 2 weeks in Thailand!

A Guide To Camping Overnight in Doi Angkhang, Thailand

Doi Angkhang mountain road

Just 3 hours away from Chiang Mai by car, Doi Angkhang is a mountain retreat popular with local tourists seeking respite from the tropical climate. This place is home to a royal agricultural project, a tea plantation and strawberry terraces, and is just a stone’s throw away from the Thai-Myanmar border.

This guide will help you plan a trip to Doi Angkhang, including your transportation and accommodation options.

How do I get to Doi Angkhang?

There are several ways to get to Doi Angkhang. In order of convenience and cost:

  • Rent a car and drive up the mountains
  • Hire a private driver from Chiang Mai for 2 days
  • Hire a private driver from Fang for 2 days

The best way to travel is by private car. Renting a car is relatively affordable, with rental rates for a basic car starting from 1,250 Baht per day. Driving your own car allows you to explore the area at your own pace, especially since there are many scenic viewpoints along the way.

However, be prepared to take on very steep and winding mountain roads for at least the last 30 minutes. You should be confident in your driving ability, and the car must be able to switch to low gear to make this climb. Cars with automatic transmission may have this setting, if there’s a ‘L’ marked on the gear stick.

The winding road to Doi Angkhang
The winding road to Doi Angkhang

Also, top up your fuel along the main road, before starting the climb up. Driving on low gear will consume a lot of fuel quickly, and there’s no petrol stations up in the mountains.

If you rather hire a driver, you’ll find plenty of tour agencies in Chiang Mai who can help. A full day rental can cost around 2,500 Baht, plus the driver’s expenses and accommodation for an overnight stay in Doi Angkhang.

Another option is to find a driver to make the trip up from Fang, the nearest city before the turnoff to Doi Angkhang. While you might save a bit on the drive from Chiang Mai, there are fewer tour agencies in Fang. To save a few dollars, you might end up wasting more time looking for a driver.

The roads to Doi Angkhang is well-maintained but narrow. There may be local marshallers along steep stretches, so keep a look out for them and do not speed. That is, of course, assuming your car is capable of moving beyond 10km/h on a very steep incline.

A clear warning to all drivers
A clear warning to all drivers

What is there to do in Doi Angkhang?

If trekking, scenic viewpoints and long walks in cool weather is your thing, you’ll enjoy Doi Angkhang. Located almost 2,000m above sea level in the remote mountainous region of Northern Thailand, this place is blessed with a comfortable temperate climate, manicured rows of tea and strawberry shrubs, and a small town with some shops.

The Royal Agricultural Station

Started by the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej in the 1960s to reduce the cultivation of poppy, this project has blossomed into beautiful gardens and an agriculture research facility. The entrance fee to get in is 50 Baht per person and per car (separately), and the gardens closes at 6PM daily.

If you’re looking for a place to stay, there’s a hotel with rooms available for rent. You’ll need to call in ahead of time to make a booking though, as there’s no online reservation service.

Located near the hotel, you can also choose to have a proper (but expensive) meal at the hotel restaurant, offering a selection of western and Thai cuisine.

The Tea Plantation 2000

Head up the slopes from the Royal Agricultural Station for about 5 minutes, and you’ll come to a one-way road cutting through a forest. As you exit, you’ll pass by a small checkpoint manned by a guard.

Take a left turn from the checkpoint as you join back to a main road. Just further down, take another left to exit and you’ll reach the Plantation 2000. Roads signs are mostly in Thai, so set your GPS to the right coordinates beforehand, or keep a map handy to ask for directions.

Driving into the tea plantation, you’ll first come to a tea shop overlooking the terraces. Stop by for a spot of tea tasting, and buy some back if you prefer. There’s a difference between highland and lowland tea leaves, so so try both before making a decision. You can drive further down or take a slow walk to the plantation itself. There’s no barriers, so feel free to explore the place, as long as you don’t disrupt the tea leaf pickers or damage the plants.

2000 Tea Plantation
The small but scenic 2000 Tea Plantation
Neatly harvested tea plants
Neatly harvested tea plants

The Strawberry Terraces

Return to the main road, and follow along the same direction as before until the next turn left. You’ll need to drive along a sandy track for a bit, so don’t worry if the place seems too secluded. After 5-10 minutes on the track, you’ll come to a small village with shacks on both sides. If you see ladies dressed in traditional tribal attire manning souvenir stalls, you’re at the right place.

Park your car along the side, and enter through one of the openings along the wooden fence. Enjoy the picturesque view of strawberry plants growing on terraces cut into the sides of the hill, and check out the fresh strawberries sold at the shops near the entrance. This plantation is managed by the local hill tribe, so buying the local strawberries is a great way to contribute and support their community.

Strawberry plants line the terraces cut into the hillside
Strawberry plants line the terraces cut into the hillside
A stray strawberry peeks out
A stray strawberry peeks out

The Thai-Myanmar border

Once again, drive on along the same road and in the same direction for another 10-15 minutes. Eventually, you’ll reach another village with the same layout as the previous one. As you drive in, look to your left and see a slope leading up. A manned military checkpoint marks the entrance to the army observation post guarding the Thai-Myanmar border.

You can drive up the slope and into the camp. As you make your way in, souvenir stalls run by women from the hill tribes line the road. Go past them, and you’ll reach a small carpark where you can stop for a while.

Unlike the border crossings elsewhere, this is a fortified border with military camps on both side. Between the fences, barbed wire and wooden spikes stare back at each other threateningly. As long as you’re well within the Thai camp, you can walk along the foxholes, enter the pillboxes, and take photos of the border and the camp itself. It’s not advisable to take photos of soldiers without permission, though.

The Thai army camp guarding the border
The Thai army camp guarding the border
Walk past this gate and the spikes and barbed wires, and you'll find yourself in Myanmar
Walk past this gate and the spikes and barbed wires, and you’ll find yourself in Myanmar

The Sakura trees

Washington and Japan are famous for the annual Sakura flower blossoms. But few are aware that Doi Angkhang also has Sakura flowers blooming between December to January. These trees grow wild in the forest, and some areas along the main road are popular with locals who stop by for a quick photo-taking session.

There’s also a clearing where you can drive in and park the car, if you prefer to spend more time admiring the flowers. Street food and fruit vendors offer cheap eats if you’re hungry while at it.

Sakura trees in Doi Angkhang
Sakura trees in Doi Angkhang

Where should I stay in Doi Angkhang?

Hotels and guesthouses

There are limited accommodation choices in Doi Angkhang. For most tourists, the Angkhang Nature Resort is the best place to stay. A double room will set you back 3,000 Baht though, so be prepared to splurge on a stay here. Check out the latest prices and room availability.

If you’re looking for cheaper alternatives, there are guesthouses in town. Unfortunately, they’re not listed on major hotel booking sites, so you’ll need to call ahead to reserve a room, or take a chance and show up at the entrance. Be warned that rooms may be snapped up quickly on public holidays and weekends.

If all the guesthouses are full, your best bet is to head down the mountain and find lodging in the nearby city of Fang. As far as possible though, try to spend the night in Doi Angkhang to experience the serenity and peace found only in the mountains.

For a list of available options, check out


Doi Angkhang offers a unique camping experience for tourists willing to rough it out for the night. While driving along the main road in the direction of the Royal Agricultural Station, look out for tents on the right side of the road. To the left, there should be several small wooden huts selling food and basic supplies.

At 400 Baht per night for a tent and sleeping bags, camping in Doi Angkhang is cheaper than other accommodation options. There are two ways to go about finding a tent though, each with pros and cons.

Campground in Doi Angkhang
Campground in Doi Angkhang

Renting a tent from the official campground office

As you drive past the campground, look for a modern one-storey building located just beside the road. Inside, the office is manned by park rangers who manage the campground and surrounding hiking trails.

You can rent a tent and sleeping equipment from the office. The tents are already set up at the cleaning just below the office, and offer panoramic views of the valley below. The opening of the tent face east, so expect a spectacular sunrise if you can wake up early to catch it.

There are shared toilet and shower facilities a short walk up from the tents. While hot water is not available, you can pay to use a heated shower at one of the shops opposite the campground.

Campground office in Doi Angkhang
Campground office
Collect the sleeping equipment from here
Collect the sleeping equipment from here

Renting from a private operator

Alternatively, consider renting a tent from a private operator. They’re another option should all the tents from the campground office be occupied, or you prefer to camp at a different location. The difference is minor though, as all the tents are pitched in the same general area. The private ones are just slightly higher up the slope, among trees that can provide shade from the afternoon sun.

Renting a tent from a private operator is slightly more expensive at 600 Baht, but it comes with free hot water shower and manpower. If the thought of lugging all your bags and sleeping equipment from the office to the tent is daunting, look for these guys to help you out.

Dining options at the Doi Angkhang campground

While the campground is a 20 minute drive away from Doi Angkhang town, don’t worry about going without food. You can find plenty of food just across the road, as the shops stock everything from instant noodles to freshly grilled corn.

As the night falls and the temperature falls below 20°C, choose your favourite shop to order mookata for dinner. You’ll receive trays of ingredients to cook on a circular hot-plate fuelled by charcoal, which is reminiscent of huddling around a campfire with friends or family. An employee of the shop will help carry the hotplate and charcoal to your tent, so you can enjoy your meal at your own pace, with an amazing view to boot.

There’s plenty of food for 2-3 people if you get the small set, and 4-5 if you purchase the large one. Here’s a pro tip though – bring a headlamp so you can shine a light at what you’re eating. The campground gets dark at night, and there’s not a lot of street lamps around so you get a good view of the night sky. The trade-off, of course, is that you need your own light to look around. Your hands will be busy holding your bowl and chopsticks, so keep the light around your forehead for your convenience. You’ll probably need to go through it to know what I mean exactly, I suppose.

Ingredients lined up and prepared for mookata
Ingredients lined up and prepared for mookata
Mookata - cooking meats and vegetables on a circular hot plate
Mookata – cooking meats and vegetables on a circular hot plate

Getting out from Doi Angkhang

After a full day exploring Doi Angkhang, head back to ground level by using the same mountain road down. From here, return to the major road from Chiang Mai. If you continue on towards Fang, you can visit the small Chinese town of Mae Salong. This town has an interesting background story dating back to the days of the Chinese civil war and a lost battalion of troops. Alternatively, you can also reach Chiang Rai in a few hours.

For more ideas, read our full 2 week itinerary in Thailand.

A 2-Week Itinerary Across Thailand From South To North

A golden Buddha statue sits near the Golden Triangle waterfront park
Thailand is, in equal parts, a mix of outdoor adventure travel, exotic cultural experiences, relaxing beach retreats and modern megacities. Here, traditional Buddhism and modern capitalism rub shoulders with each other in an impossible harmony. Over the span of 2 weeks, this itinerary will bring you on a whirlwind trip around the country.

Quick Links

Day 1 – Exploring the Andaman Sea from Phuket

Start from Phuket, the jewel of the Andaman Sea. Spend the day after you arrive to explore the main town of Phuket, or laze on the crowded beach at Patong. If you can hire a longtail boat for a few hours, you can also head out to explore quiet beaches and dramatic cliff faces.

In a few days time, you’ll be spending a night partying at Koh Phangan, so it’s best to get some rest now.

Patong beach at PhuketPatong beach at Phuket
Patong beach at Phuket

Where to stay in Phuket

While there’s a plenty of accommodation catering to all budgets in Phuket, Calypso Patong Hotel provides an affordable option just 20 minutes away from the main beach. More importantly, this hotel is clean and easy to reach (no need to go through dodgy side streets). Check the latest rates and room availability here.

You can also consider these deals from

Day 2 – Head over to Koh Samui on the other side of Thailand

On the other side of the mainland, Koh Samui is a relatively large touristy island in the Gulf of Thailand. To get here from Phuket, Ferry Samui offers a bus & ferry service that picks you up from your hotel, and gets you all the way to the Nathon pier at Koh Samui. Despite the short distance on the map, the trip takes almost 5 hours by bus, followed by a 1.5 hour ferry ride. Fortunately midway through, the bus stops at a small canteen in the middle of nowhere for a lunch break.

You’ll reach Koh Samui in the late afternoon, just in time to check in and find somewhere to settle for dinner. Most tourists will find a place on the eastern side of the island, where most hotels, international restaurants and attractions are located. If you’re staying near the pier at the eastern side, a small but exciting night market caters to locals at affordable, backpacker-friendly prices.

If you’re on a tight budget, I recommend the Dream Cat-Cher hostel. Located along the beach at Nathon and facing the western horizon, chill out on a hammock and sip a coconut as you laze the day away. Check out the latest prices and more details.

Alternatively, go to and check out these exclusive deals:

Ferry Samui office to get to Koh Samui from Phuket
Ferry Samui office to get to Koh Samui from Phuket
Nathon Pier at Koh Samui
Nathon Pier at Koh Samui

Day 3 – Party all night on the Full Moon Party beach in Koh Phangan

Explore Koh Samui during the day

The next day, spend the morning and afternoon on a round-island road trip in Koh Samui with a rented scooter. It costs 200 Baht for a full day rental, plus 50 Baht for enough fuel to last the day. If you’re uneasy with two wheels, there’s plenty of taxi drivers to complete the trip easily.

The key sights on the island is conveniently located almost along the ring road. If you’re riding in a clockwise direction, look out for these sights and attractions in this order:

Big Buddha temple
Big Buddha temple
Hin Ta Hin Yai
Hin Ta Hin Yai

As evening approaches, return to the pier and board the last ferry to Koh Phangan. If you’ve timed this right, you’ll be here on the night of the full moon. After all, Koh Phangan is world-famous for one thing in particular…

Party hard at night during the full moon party at Haad Rin

Every full moon night, thousands of party goers throng the beach at Haad Rin to drink, dance, rave or chill late into the night. As the party heads towards early morning, you might see people in a drunken stupor, crying over lost wallets, making out with strangers and more.

If you’re used to travelling on a tight budget in Thailand, you’ll need to expect the worst here. As expected, transportation, food and drinks are overpriced, and there’s a 100 baht entrance for foreigners. For a more information on getting to the full moon party and what to do there, check out our detailed full moon party guide.

A great place to stay for a night is the Phangan Barsay hostel. There’s no minimum stay policy, and the hostel is clean and looks newly renovated. There’s also heated water in the showers (don’t take this for granted in Thailand!) and individual lockers and power outlets beside each bed. Latest prices and more details are listed here.

You can also check out for the latest deals:

Getting to Koh Phangan by ferry
Getting to Koh Phangan by ferry
The full moon party at Haad Rin, Koh Phangan
The full moon party at Haad Rin, Koh Phangan

Day 4 – Fly to Chiang Mai and drive up to the mountainous border of Northern Thailand

Hopefully, you hadn’t partied too hard. An early morning ferry and bus ride will take you to the Surat Thani airport*. From here, take a domestic flight across Thailand and into the northern province of Chiang Mai.

*Flights from Koh Samui are very expensive. Head over to Surat Thani for cheaper flights.

The Donsak pier of Koh Phangan
The Donsak pier of Koh Phangan

Rent a car and hit the road to Doi Angkhang

Just miles away from the mountainous Thai-Myanmar border, Doi Angkhang used to be filled with poppy plants and drug smuggling operations. In the 1960s and 70s, the late Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej came in with a plan to encourage fruit and tea planting, and improved the infrastructure in the area with a royal agricultural station. Today, this small mountain-top town is a quiet retreat that sees few foreigners, and is popular with locals for its cool temperature climate.

Getting to Doi Angkhang is no easy feat though, as your car needs to crawl up very steep inclines and sharp curves for almost half an hour. A small car at full throttle would inch forward at roughly 10 km/h on low gear. If your car has automatic transmission and doesn’t come with a ‘L’ marking on the gear stick, you might not want to chance it with the slopes.

Sightseeing at Doi Angkhang

From Doi Angkhang, visit a well-manicured tea plantation and strawberry terraces that look too pretty to be working farms. Further down the road, just 10 minutes by car, a fortified frontier outpost guards the Thai-Myanmar border. Unlike friendly border crossings elsewhere, trenches, pillboxes and barbed wire add to a tense atmosphere here.

Driving past sakura trees in mid-December
Driving past sakura trees in mid-December
The strawberry terraces are open to visitors for free
The strawberry terraces are open to visitors for free

Camp overnight at the Doi Angkhang campground

In the evening, you have a few accommodation options. If you can afford it, the Angkhang Nature Resort is the premier hotel in this small town. Smaller guesthouses and hotels are located near the Royal Gardens. Check out for a list of available rooms:

If you’re looking for a bit of adventure without going too hard on yourself, this is it. You don’t need to carry along a tent or sleeping bags, as the campground office rents these out at extremely affordable rates. For 400 Thai Baht, you get a 2-person tent, two sleeping pads, two mattresses and a large blanket.

The toilets at the campground are washed daily and are relatively clean. You can have a cold shower at the shower rooms inside, or pay for a hot shower at one of the restaurants that line the opposite side of the road from the campground.

From your tent, you get a panoramic 180° view of the valley below on a clear day. At night, trace the tiny mountain roads as faint streaks of light lead into the distance. Almost every occupied tent would have ordered a mookata dinner set up in front of the tent. You can order one at any restaurant across the road. At 600 Baht, this is an ideal (and delicious) replacement for a campfire, and is easily a highlight of your Thailand trip.

As you drift off to sleep, set your alarm at 6am. All the tents are aligned to face east, so wake up early and catch the sunrise right in front of you!

Campground at Doi Angkhang
Campground at Doi Angkhang
A misty morning at Doi Angkhang
A misty morning at Doi Angkhang

Day 5 – Wander around the tea terraces of Mae Salong

Carry on the drive to Mae Salong via Thaton, and visit the multistoried Wat Tha Ton (Phra Aram Luang) temple. From here, enjoy the scenic viewpoint of the Kok River, before continuing onwards to Mae Salong.

After a series of steep climbs and descents down narrow but well-maintained roads, you’ll reach the mountain-top town of Mae Salong. Immediately reminiscent of a remote Chinese village, Mae Salong is famous for its community of Chinese immigrants who descend from the ‘Lost Army’ of the Kuomintang.

This dates back to the days of the Chinese civil war, when the Kuomintang were chased out of China by the Communists. Seeing refuge first in Burma (Myanmar today) and then Thailand, they were eventually given asylum by the Thais in exchange for serving as frontier troops. The descendants today still converse in Chinese, paste Chinese couplets on their front doors, and serve Yunnanese cuisine in local restaurants.

Mae Salong is famous for tea plantations, and the most accessible one is the Tea 101 factory and plantation that lies just off the main arterial road leading out of town. Here, the sweet scent of freshly cut and dried tea leaves fill the air, and you can enjoy tea sampling under the professional guidance of the staff in the factory shop.

After a long day of driving and sightseeing, spend the night at Mae Salong and enjoy the serenity of a peaceful village. The Shin Sane Guest House is located just beside the morning market, and is close to a 7-Eleven and several restaurants. This is one of the more established guesthouses in the town, and facilities are generally well-maintained and clean. Check out the latest prices and more details.

Alternatively, visit for additional deals:

Check out the extensive Tea101 plantation
Check out the extensive Tea101 plantation
Sampling tea at the factory shop
Sampling tea at the factory shop

Day 6 – See where three countries meet at the Golden Triangle

The next day, wake up at 8am to catch a glimpse of the morning market. It’s small and very local, but it’s interesting to observe the people socialising and going about their daily routine. After this market closes, everyone returns to their homes and farms, and the village returns to a peaceful calm.

The morning market at Mae Salong
The morning market at Mae Salong
Savour a typical Chinese breakfast of soya bean milk and fried dough fritters - all for 20 Baht!
Savour a typical Chinese breakfast of soya bean milk and fried dough fritters – all for 20 Baht!

The Choui Fong Plantation

From Mae Salong, head towards the Choui Fong tea plantation. An hour’s drive away, this plantation was obviously built for agriculture and tourism. In the carparks, small minivans jostle for space with cars and songthaews. In the fancy teahouse cafe, well-dressed Thais and foreign tourists dig into their expensive green tea cakes and lattes. If you’re feeling the heat of the midday sun, give yourself a treat and get a green tea soft serve ice cream. It’s thick, creamy and absolutely heavenly, while you explore the rows of neatly trimmed tea bushes.

After grabbing lunch and dessert at Choui Fong, it’s time to visit the infamous Golden Triangle. After a 1 hour drive through the scenic countryside, you’ll start seeing the mighty Mekong on your right hand side. Follow it upstream and you’ll reach a small town filled with tour buses, souvenir shops and people milling around.

The Choui Fong Tea Plantation is an Instagrammer's paradise
The Choui Fong Tea Plantation is an Instagrammer’s paradise
Having desert at the Choui Fong cafe
Having desert at the Choui Fong cafe. These will set you back 340 Baht.

The Golden Triangle

Head to the Golden Triangle Park, easily identified by a big golden Buddha statue perched along the waterfront. This is where Thailand, Myanmar and Laos meet, as the small Ruak river meets the Mekong. Once a lawless place where poppy plantations grew and drug smugglers ruled with impunity, the Golden Triangle is decidedly tamer now. Touts sell boat tours that shuttle tourists on a short trip to see Myanmar from afar, and then to a market in Laos for a spot of shopping before heading back to Thailand.

If you came here to see the drug trade first hand, you’re out of luck. Led by a royal initiative to reform the agricultural industry, farms now grow fruits and vegetables instead of poppy. You can still learn about the history of the drug trade at the excellent Hall of Opium. The entrance fee is a tad steep at 200 Baht, though. Alas if you’re looking for adventure and intrigue, you’ll be slightly disappointed that the Golden Triangle has lost some of its edgy sheen already.

The Golden Triangle where Laos, Myanmar and Thailand meet
The Golden Triangle where Laos, Myanmar and Thailand meet
A golden Buddha statue sits near the Golden Triangle waterfront park
A golden Buddha statue sits near the Golden Triangle waterfront park

Chiang Rai and the White Temple

If you still have time, hurry over to Chiang Rai and catch the White Temple before it closes at 5pm. One of Thailand’s most beautiful and unique temples, you can spend an hour just examining every little detail in the intricate artwork by artist Chalermchai Kositpipat.

Spend the rest of the night at the Chiang Rai night market, which opens late till 11pm. In the nearby food village, you can dine on cheap local eats while being entertained by local performers on a central stage. Just follow the sound of music from the night market – you won’t miss it!

The beautiful White Temple of Chiang Rai
The beautiful White Temple of Chiang Rai
Plastered hands reach out to visitors from both sides of the pathway into the White Temple
Plastered hands reach out to visitors from both sides of the pathway into the White Temple

Accommodation in Chiang Rai

There are plenty of hostels and guesthouses near the night market in Chiang Rai. If you’re looking for an affordable and clean place with excellent service, I highly recommend Baan Jaru. The owner goes out of the way to provide advice on what to see around town, help with travel logistics and make sure your stay is comfortable. Check out the latest prices and find out more about the guesthouse.

You can also consider the following deals on

Day 7 & 8 – Embark on an overnight trek to visit the hill tribes near the northern border

From Chiang Rai, book a 2D1N trek to the hill tribes from one of the many tour agencies around. Coconuts Tours is a reliable operator, although most tours work with similar itineraries.

(Read more about a similar trek in Hsipaw, Myanmar)

Day 1: Overnight trek to the Lisu tribe village

10am: Pick up from your hotel.

11am: Take a longtail boat ride down the Kok River to an elephant camp (optional elephant ride at an additional cost).

12pm: Reach a small town for lunch.

12pm to 4pm: Trek along jungle trails to reach a hill tribe village. The guide will decide on the destination village and trail based on your fitness level.

4pm to 7pm: Enjoy a welcome tea and a cold shower in the hut of your host family.

7pm to 10pm: Simple home-cooked dinner with the host family and guide, and you’ll probably want to rest early afterwards.

An elephant camp along the Kok River
An elephant camp along the Kok River
Trekking through the jungle
Trekking through the jungle
After hours of hiking, we come to a remote Lisu village deep in the hills of Northern Thailand
After hours of hiking, we come to a remote Lisu village deep in the hills of Northern Thailand

Day 2: Trek to a waterfall and return to Chiang Rai

9am: Wake up to the crows of the village’s roosters, and dig into a filling breakfast of local porridge or bread and jam.

10am to 1pm: Head down to the Chinese village at the foot of the hill. Along the way, you’ll pass by a tea plantation, rice fields and other hill tribe villages.

1pm: Using just bamboo, your guide will fashion a cooking vessel, eating utensils like chopsticks and cups, and start a fire to cook lunch in the jungle.

2pm to 4pm: Hike on to a waterfall for an optional swim (warning: the water gets cold especially in the winter season!), and then past another village to end with a jeep ride back to Chiang Rai.

The second day's trek starts off easier
The second day’s trek starts off easier as we enter another village
No metal pots required. Instead, bamboo is used to hold and cook green curry.
No metal pots required. Instead, bamboo is used to hold and cook green curry.

One highlight of this trek is to appreciate the ingenious craftsmanship of the guide, as he chops, slices, grinds and hammers freshly cut bamboo into useful items like cups, chopsticks and rings. If he finds a section of bamboo filled with water, you can do like Bear Grylls and have a sip right from the bamboo stem too!

The temperature drops drastically at night though, so be prepared with a jacket. The hut where you’ll be sleeping in is very basic, as you lie under a mosquito net and on an elevated platform, with a thin mattress for cushioning. You have a blanket for warmth, although it’s not going to be the clean and fluffy ones that you might be accustomed to in hotels.

Also, expect very basic bathroom facilities. The shower is a tub of river water with a small bucket to shovel water onto yourself. If you’re not ready to rough it out, this trek might just break your spirits down. Come mentally prepared.

As you return to Chiang Rai after the trek, get a ride on the pickup to the bus station. There’s no time to lose, as you have to get on the last bus to Chiang Mai at 5.30pm on the same day.

The bus station at Chiang Rai
The bus station at Chiang Rai

Day 9 – Take on winding mountain roads as you cross over to the backpacker haven of Pai

Wake up bright and early to catch an early bus to Pai. This mountain town is a 3 hour drive west of Chiang Mai, and makes up part of the infamous Mae Hong Son Loop, a dizzying series of relentlessly winding turns up and down steep mountain roads.

Once a sleepy village inhabited by farmers, this place has grown into a tourist town where every other commercial establishment is a hostel, bar, restaurant or motorbike rental shop. A place on most backpackers’ itinerary, Pai has scenic roads and some interesting sights to visit just outside town. You’ll need a motorbike* to get around easily, or hire a driver for at least a few hours.

*The police force in Pai are especially motivated to look for traffic infractions by tourists. Usually, not wearing helmet or not having a license is enough to warrant an on-the-spot fine… if you know what I mean.

Sights around Pai

Once you’re ready to explore the area, check out:

  • The Memorial bridge: a touristy bridge that tries to associate itself to the famous WWII era Bridge Over The River Kwai in Kanchanaburi. Alas, it really isn’t a WWII bridge but a pretty modern one, but tourists still come here anyway.
  • Pai Canyon: in the same light, Pai Canyon wants to be compared with the Grand Canyon, or perhaps Bryce Canyon in the United States. It’s nothing like the two, but is still worth a look anyway. It’s pretty, but don’t expect an earth-splitting chasm.
  • Wat Phra That Mae Yen (Big Buddha on the hill): Come here for amazing views of Pai from up above. You’ll need to conquer a pretty long flight of stairs to the top, but it’s worth the climb! For best result, come in the evening and watch the sun set behind the distant mountains.

By day, the Pai Walking Street is a narrow gridlocked street, flanked on both sides by touristy cafes and shops. At night, the entire area across several streets are closed to traffic, and street vendors set up their stalls as a night market slowly takes form. After a long day of sightseeing, find some cheap eats there or grab a bite at one of the many western-style cafes. Tomorrow, you’ll be leaving the creature comforts of urban life behind again.

Scrambling over steep canyon walls at Pai Canyon
Scrambling over steep canyon walls at Pai Canyon
The Memorial Bridge at Pai
The Memorial Bridge at Pai
Sunset over Pai, from the Big Buddha temple
Sunset over Pai, from the Big Buddha temple


While Pai is filled with hostels catering to every type of traveller with a range of budgets, I recommend Juno hostel for a cheap stay in a decent place. There’s a free snack bar, laundry facilities and individual lockers inside each room. More importantly, it’s just a 5 minute walk to the town centre of Pai. Check out the latest prices and more details. runs promotions on hotel deals as well. Here are some of them:

Day 10 & 11 – Brave the rapids from Pai to Mae Hong Son on an overnight rafting expedition

The River Pai lies just outside the town that bears the same name. From there, an overnight white-water rafting expedition will take you to Mae Hong Son, another popular town on many backpackers’ itinerary.

Mae Hong Son, of course, is famous for its winding roads. By taking on the journey by river, you’ll be missing out on this journey now – but rest assured, you’ll still have to face the 1,864 turns on the return journey by land.

For today, you’ll meet your rafting guide from Thai Rafting, a well-regarded tour operator run by Guy, a amiable Frenchman. After the equipping and luggage logistics are sorted, you’ll take a 1 hour drive out of town and along the river, stopping at a small village for to load up on snacks and beer if required.

Next, the pickup will stop at a nondescript location by the river, and the guide and his colleague will start pumping air into an impressive inflatable raft. 10 minutes later, you’ll be on the raft and in the river, ready to take on heart-pounding rapids over the next 6-8 hours. The following day, it’ll be more of the same, plus a pit stop at a hot spring, which resembles more like a mud bath than a luxurious body-soaking experience. But after enduring cold river water for much of the day, you’ll be glad to just wallow in ankle-deep hot water. If you’re looking for a thrilling experience, the best time to take on the waves is between May to October. With the rainy season bringing more water in, expect several Grade 4 rapids as you course down the river.

At the end of the first day, you’ll reach a jungle camp by 5pm, just in time to grab a shower. Again using a scoop and a tub of murky river water, comfort is not really the highest priority here. Instead, appreciate the peace and seclusion of this remote camp, where there is no electricity, water and cellphone reception. The nearest town is either a 4-hour climb through thick jungle, or a full day’s rafting down to Mae Salong. Virtually cut off from the rest of civilization, you’ll now know how it really feels like to be all alone in the world.

By late afternoon on the second day of the trip, you’ll reach the town of Mae Salong. While some travellers may stay for a day to enjoy the scenery and the laidback lifestyle, you’re pretty stretched for time during this trip. Instead, make a beeline to the bus station and take the last bus back to Chiang Mai at 5pm (Prempracha Transport).

Check out my personal account on rafting the River Pai to find out more about this unforgettable experience.

The only ride for the next 2 days
The only ride for the next 2 days
Our guide, Mr Chai, is a master of the rapids here.

Day 12 – Ride out to a Giant Treehouse just outside Chiang Mai

With one day to explore Chiang Mai, there’s no time to waste. If you’re confident to take on busy city roads, rent a motorbike and ride out for the day. Otherwise, you’ll need to rent a songthaew for a few hours, or just stick to exploring the city centre.

One interesting place to visit is located an hour and a half away by bike. The Giant Chiang Mai is a cafe built on top of a huge tree, and requires a 30 minute climb up winding gravel roads to reach. It’s worth the effort though, as you get a panoramic view of the valley below. It’s also something to boast about as you post your #lookatmyawesomecafe photos on Instagram.

Head back in the evening and grab an early dinner, as you’ll need to catch the overnight bus to Bangkok. There’s plenty of operators serving this route, so find the one that fits your schedule at 12go. Generally, these buses are pretty comfortable, but prepare a thick jacket as the air conditioning gets cranked up in the middle of the night. You have been warned.

The cafe on a tree, at the Giant Chiang Mai
The cafe on a tree, at the Giant Chiang Mai

Day 13 & 14 – Drive from Bangkok to Khao Yai to visit a slice of Europe amid the rolling hills of the Thai countryside

After a frigid overnight ride, the bus will drive into Mo Chit. This is one of Bangkok’s major bus stations, and is just a short walk away from the famous Chatuchak market. The BTS metro station is a 20 minute walk away, but many public buses can get you there for 2 Baht. Afterwards, take the BTS train and connect to the airport express. You’ll be collecting a rental car from the Suvarnabhumi airport, so expect the trip to take slightly over an hour.

From Bangkok, drive 2 hours out of Bangkok to reach Khao Yai. With the development of numerous themed resorts in recent years, this place sees busloads of tourists everyday. Alas, you need to be a hotel guest to explore the respective hotels, so pick wisely – the better ones (Thames Valley, Toscana, Sala, Kensington English Garden etc) will cost above 5,000 Baht per night. Also, do make a trip to the PB Valley vineyard and sample locally made wines. Entry is free, but there are scheduled guided tours that you can join for 320 Baht for adults or 250 Baht for kids.

Grapes grow well on the hilly soils of the PB Valley
Grapes grow well on the hilly soils of the PB Valley vineyard
Enjoy a slice la dolce vita in the Tuscan-themed hotel
Enjoy a slice la dolce vita in the Tuscan-themed hotel, Toscana

If fancy European-themed hotels don’t interest you, drive up into the Khao Yai National Park instead. The entrance fees is a tad expensive at 400 Baht for adults and 200 Baht for children. But some claim it’s one of Thailand’s most beautiful nature reserves, so go for it!

At night, you can dine at a nice restaurant in one of the many hotels. If you’re on a budget, drive down to Pak Chong and visit the small night market along the main road. The food’s cheaper than Bangkok, and the variety doesn’t disappoint.

If you’re travelling in December or January, there’s one last surprise in store! Make a detour and head towards Saraburi. During this season, the sunflowers fields are filled with bright and cheerful blooms that scream for attention. Most fields are maintained by farmers who ask for 10 Baht per person to enter. It’s a small price, and well worth the entry fee.

The sunflower fields of Saraburi
The sunflower fields of Saraburi
If you're in time, catch the sunset over the sunflower fields
If you’re in time, catch the sunset over fields of flowers


If you’re looking for an interesting place to stay for the night, try glamping – or luxury camping. The Lala Mukla Tented Resort Khao Yai is located near the major tourist attractions, and getting there by car is pretty easy. It’s also not as exorbitantly priced compared to the nearby resorts, although you do need to use shared (but spotless) shower and toilet facilities. Check out the latest prices and more details.

Lala Mukla Tented Resort Khao Yai
A glamping experience at the Lala Mukla Tented Resort Khao Yai

You can also consider these deals from

Day 15 & 16 – Get lost in the glitz and grime of Bangkok

At last, your trip is at its end. You have 2 days in Bangkok to explore a city that deserves a week at the very least. It’s the ideal setting for an end to this trip, and has something for everyone – from museums to late night shopping, and from relaxing massages to world-class nightlife (or otherwise, if you know what I mean).

If you’re new to the city and want to do something outside of the usual Bangkok itinerary, here are some possible ideas.

Tailor a suit

Many visitors go for a tailor-made suit or other clothes in Bangkok. Tailors offer decent quality work at affordable rates, and are located at almost every other corner in the city. Rates and workmanship will vary wildly depending on whether you make an effort to bargain or not, but a suit may be made for US$150.

Dine like a local at the Tawandang German Brewery

A place where local Thais let down their hair, this restaurant and beer garden brews their beers on-site in huge metal vessels. The food’s good too, and do make reservations if you’re coming with a big group. You should know that the place gets really crowded during dinner time, and especially on Fridays and weekends.

Catch a 4D movie at Siam Paragon

If you’re looking for the latest in cutting edge entertainment, Paragon Cineplex at Siam Paragon could easily trump any of the cinemas back home. The newest cinema hall boasts of a 4D experience, which is essentially a non-stop simulator ride through the entire movie. Couple that with 3D glasses and the occasional blast of cool air into your face, and you’ll really feel like you’re in the movie.

Prices range between 500 to 600 Baht, depending on the location. In some countries, that’s the same price just to watch the same film on a crappy seat in an ageing cinema!

Watch a cabaret show

Transgenders are an accepted part of Thai society, and many have ordinary jobs and lead ordinary lives like other Thais. In the entertainment industry however, ladyboys have a less-than-flattering reputation as raunchy performers and sex workers.

The Calypso cabaret show is a palatable version of this image, as ladyboys go up to sing, dance and act on stage. Generally, it’s family-friendly entertainment and a offers decent income for the performers. The performers know you’ve come to gawk at them, so its natural to stare or feel uncomfortable around them. Just don’t be a jackass and make rude comments or gestures – that’s just mean!

Dine on street food everywhere in Bangkok
Dine on street food everywhere in Bangkok
Walk the busy streets
Walk the busy streets of the city centre
End the day with a craft beer at Tawandang
End the day with a craft beer at Tawandang


There are far too many options to consider when staying in Bangkok, catering to all types of travellers and budget. As transportation in Bangkok can be a huge hassle, my main criteria for choosing a place to stay is:

  • Near the subway or BTS station. Don’t rely on the roads to get you anywhere fast.
  • Near the city centre, as the main tourist attractions are located there.
  • Affordably priced. The market is so competitive, so you don’t need to shell out a lot to stay in a nice place.

Check out these deals for rooms in Bangkok:

Additional notes

On this 16-day trip, you’ll need to plan out the logistics carefully as you’re going to be doing a lot of different activities. From trekking to driving a rental car, it pays to be prepared. On a tight budget, you don’t fork out for extra stuff at inflated prices when you’re desperate.

What to bring

Part of the itinerary will take on some amount of adventure and rugged travel. As such, keep your mosquito repellent handy and your backpacks light. Here’s a short list of things to make the trip more comfortable.

For trekking

  • Light jacket (temperatures can drop to 10°c at night between December to February)
  • Torch light or head lamp
  • Mosquito repellent
  • Sunblock
  • Portable charger for your camera phone
  • 1 liter water bottle
  • Waterproof casing for any electronics

On the road

  • A good book (Geek In Thailand is a recommended read)
  • An inflatable neck pillow
  • Eye mask and ear plugs if you’re a light sleeper
  • Pre-downloaded GPS app or maps

At the beach

  • Swimwear (bring a spare, if possible)
  • Towel
  • Sunglasses


  • Copies of your passport and driver license (to rent a motorbike)
  • Small daypack to carry just the essentials

Driving tips

This itinerary requires you to rent a car at two places during the trip. Some online reviewers have previously warned that car rental companies may charge you for new dents or cracks. During the initial handover, check the car thoroughly and make sure you record every defect with your camera. Even better, time stamp the photos so you can use it when contesting a defect.

While most Thai drivers do want to get home safely, some motorists do drive like maniacs. At the very least, get some insurance for your rental car, whether it’s from signing up with a travel-related credit card or through your travel insurance. Even better, pay for an third-party zero-excess car rental insurance.

The end of a whirlwind trip

This itinerary is undoubtedly packed with many activities and sightseeing locations, all in a short span of time. Nevertheless, this trip will take you memorable places, many of which are off the regular mass tourism trail. Thailand is a beautiful country with lots of friendly people, so come in with an open mind and fire up that spirit of adventure!

The comprehensive guide to enjoying the Full Moon Party at Koh Phangan, Thailand

Full Moon Party in Koh Phangan

It happens only almost once every month, as thousands of young and energetic partygoers throng the beach at Haad Rin in Koh Phangan. On any other day, the island is a picturesque and tranquil island paradise in the Gulf of Thailand. But under a full moon, the beach turns into a thumping, sweaty display of wild youthful abandon, fuelled by copious amounts of alcohol.

Koh Phangan isn’t your average idyllic beach retreat. You’ll be spoilt for choice at nearby Koh Samui (30-40 minutes ferry away), or Phuket on the other side of the Thai peninsula. If you’re looking way down south, Koh Lipe has great beaches too. (Tara Lets Anywhere has a detailed guide to Koh Lipe, if you’re interested).

But if you’re planning a trip to Koh Phangan, it’s almost always for the massive party atmosphere and laid-back backpacker vibes.

Getting to Koh Phangan

There’s no airport on Koh Phangan, so most visitors come in from Koh Samui. Flights to Koh Samui are generally more expensive than the average domestic flight in Thailand, so more savvy visitors (like yourself!) will know to fly in to Surat Thani airport. From there, take a ferry from the nearby coastal town of Donsak. Ferry Samui offers a hassle free shuttle service from the Surat Thani airport to Koh Phangan by bus and ferry.

A bus will first take you from the airport to the Donsak pier, which is at least an hour’s drive away. From Donsak pier, the ferry ride to Koh Samui takes about 3 hours, and it might get very bumpy in the middle. If you get seasick easily, it’s a good idea to stock up on those seasickness pills beforehand.

From Koh Samui, it’s just another 30 minutes to Koh Phangan, and you’ll disembark at the Thong Sala pier. Waiting songthaews (converted pickups with seating at the back) will take you to various destinations around the island. During the full moon festival, expect super-inflated prices starting from 150 Baht for a quick 5 minute drive to your accommodation in town.

Ferry from Koh Samui to Koh Phangan
The ferry from Koh Samui to Koh Phangan

Getting around Koh Phangan (and to Haad Rin beach)

Songthaews are the easiest way to travel around Koh Phangan, and especially to the Haad Rin beach. On the night of the full moon party, a makeshift boarding point is set up opposite the entrance to the local night market. Here, drivers will take turns packing as many partygoers as possible into the back of the truck. As at Dec 2017, it costs 150 Baht per person.

Once the driver is satisfied that he cannot physically jam another body in for fear of igniting a nuclear fission chain reaction, he’ll speed off towards Haad Rin at breakneck speed. This party comes literally once every full moon, and he has no time to waste in making as much money as he can.

You might be tempted to rent a scooter and try to get to Haad Rin yourself. Even if you don’t intend to drink, fatigue from dancing and maniacal Songthaew drivers pose a huge risk to your safety. It’s advisable to just stick to the local drivers for this night.

Taking a songthaew to Haad Rin
Taking a songthaew to Haad Rin with other partygoers

Where to stay in Koh Phangan

A week before the party, hotels and hostels get filled up quickly. Capitalising on this influx of visitors, many places require a minimum of 2-3 days stay during this period. Those that do not have a minimum stay duration will price their rooms accordingly, anyway.

The best place to base yourself during the full moon party is near Haad Rin beach. You’ll save on expensive transportation to and fro, plus you can conveniently stumble back to your room anytime during the night/early morning once you’re done. Of course, the accommodation near Haad Rin beach is the priciest.

If you’re on a budget, consider basing yourself on Koh Samui, leaving your luggage there and going to Koh Phangan with just some cash for food, drinks and transport. 500 to 1,000 Baht should suffice, unless you’re looking for a really good time. Since you’re all prepped to party all night, you can sleep on the beach at Haad Rin till sunrise and take the first ferry back to Koh Samui.

What to expect during the full moon party

Entrance fee

To get into the beach itself, foreigners need to fork out 100 Baht in exchange for a fancy red wristband. Ostensibly a fee imposed for the post-party cleanup, this is a small fee in exchange for letting foreigners come in and thrash the place every few weeks.

Paying 100 Baht entrance fee to Haad Rin
You’ll need to pay a 100 Baht entrance fee to get onto Haad Rin beach

Buying alcohol

Along the way from the Songthaew terminal to the beach, vendors line the streets with carts selling buckets of alcohol and mixers (see safety tips below). The listed price for a bucket is 250 Baht onwards, and you can even bring in your own alcohol from the convenience stores outside.

Buying bucket alcohol during the full moon party in Koh Phangan
Buying buckets of alcohol during the full moon party in Koh Phangan. Black Cock does have a nice ring to it!

What to do

The main activity at the party is to dance. From small head bobbing to outlandish full body wobbling, you’ll see them all on the beach. The full moon party is not a mega-huge rave centered around a DJ. Instead, it’s a bunch of beachfront clubs that thump out all sorts of music across different parts of the beach. Each will have a theme, and you’re free to stand in front of any and start dancing. There’s no barriers, no boundaries, and no bouncers. Dance till you’re bored, and take a few steps left or right to the next place, and repeat.

There’s also a club that offers partygoers a chance to play with fire. Alternating between jumping through a flaming hoop and skipping over a flaming rope, this one draws a constant stream of macho partygoers out to prove… something.

Likewise, there is a club that encourages partygoers to do chin ups for free alcohol. As with the flaming rope jumping, there is a never-ending line of participants eager to flex their triceps.

At certain intervals, tall vertical pole structures will be set ablaze, revealing messages like Full Moon Festival 2017 and the advertiser that is sponsoring it. This always gets the crowds excited for some reason.

And somewhere in the middle, a quiet zone exists without any beachfront clubs. Here, tired revellers take a break and sit on the beach, people watching, socialising or simply staring out into space in a drunken stupor.

Dance party at the full moon party Koh Phangan
Full on dance party at the full moon party Koh Phangan.
Flaming rope skipping in full moon party
Partygoers risking life and limb by skipping over a flaming rope.
Flaming rope skipping in full moon party
The flaming rope game doesn’t get old throughout the night.
Chin up challenge at the full moon party
For the less-suicidal, there’s also a chin up challenge at the full moon party.
Flaming sign in full moon party Thailand
Occasionally, large signs are lit up with flames to a roar of approval from the crowds.
Flaming sign in full moon party Thailand
There’s something about fire and large signs that get the partygoers excited.

Visiting the toilet

As selling alcohol is a competitive business, enterprising locals have found a lucrative side business – toilet entry fees. You’ll be hard pressed to find a free toilet during the party, so set aside 20 Baht each time you need to answer the call of nature. You’ll notice lots of men standing on the surf with their backs facing the party. They’re not admiring the seascape – they’re just saving themselves 20 Baht, and contributing a bit more water to the Gulf of Thailand.

As the party heats up, some brave ladies will also take up the challenge of the open toilet. Lots of sheepish smiles, hysterical shrieks and awkward postures will follow.

Paying for toilet at Haad Rin Full Moon Party
Paying for an overpriced toilet visit.
Pissing into the sea during the full moon party
Taking a leak into the sea while drunk. That’s a thing here too.


There’s a lot of ways to screw up your holiday (and your life) after a night of insane partying. The guiding principle is to use your common sense even when everyone around is going wild, and have some control over what you drink and do.

Here are some tips to stay safe during the full moon party.

Before the party

  • Bring some cash, and leave the rest in a locker or safe back in the hotel/hostel. 500 to 1,000 Baht should be enough for a fun night out.
  • Don’t bring your passport out, for heaven’s sake. But still, there’ll be people crying over their missing passports after midnight, every time.
  • As mentioned earlier, don’t ride a scooter to the beach. You’ll need to ride back afterwards, and drunk riding on dark hilly roads is a bad idea.

During the party

  • Don’t accept any drinks from strangers. There are reports of drinks spiked with date rape drugs.
  • Don’t accept or purchase drugs. Many of these dealers are undercover police, and Thailand has strict anti-drug laws.
  • Buy alcohol from shops, and check that the seal is unbroken. Some street vendors are known to refill bottles with homemade whiskey, which runs the risk of methanol poisoning.
  • Wear shoes, slippers, flip flops or sandals at all time. By 10pm, the beach will be strewn with broken bottles and shards of glass, so tread carefully and watch where you step.
  • Jumping into the sea while drunk, in the middle of pitch darkness and surrounded by piss-mixed seawater, is a bad idea. But you’ll see, there’ll always be some who find pleasure in doing so.
  • If you’re a female, find a group to tag along from your hostel. Judge their character and personality before going partying with them, as there are lot of ill-intentioned people going to party as well.
  • Exercise some control while partying. Jumping through flaming hoops and climbing flimsy metal pole structures are downright dangerous.
  • Make sure you’re aware of your surroundings at all times. If you feel uneasy, head back to your hostel and rest.
Safety during the full moon party
Always follow safety signs during the party. Please.

After the party

  • Drink lots of water during and after the party. Between the alcohol and the partying, you’ll probably be dehydrated. It’s probably a shitty feeling to nurse a hangover for the next few days.

Money-saving tips

There’s no restriction in bringing your own alcohol into the beach. Buy buckets, bottles of whiskey, soda or beer at the convenience stores on the island at the usual listed price. You can probably find a lot of partygoers forming a long line at the cashier too.

You can easily find partygoers looking for a Songthaew to get to Haad Rin from everywhere on the island. Share a ride, and save on the cost of renting one by yourself.

For accommodation, stay as close to the Haad Rin beach if you intend to return to your room after partying. Staying far from the beach means spending more time travelling there, as well as a more expensive ride. You will also find less people to share a ride if you stay further away.

Lastly, head over to the end of the southern end of the beach for cheap-ish beer. The going rate for a small bottle of Chang beer is 60 to 70 Baht. But if you turn right (when facing the sea) and walk straight to the end, you’ll come across signs that scream 50 Baht for a bottle of beer. That’s probably a good deal along this stretch of prime party-town real estate.

50 Baht Chang beer full moon party
See the small 50 Baht sign for Chang beer in the distance!


Partying in Koh Phangan on a full moon is an eye-opening experience for most people. While this is definitely an exciting event, you’ll need to budget a bit for the night. Take care of your own safety as well, since alcohol, youthful abandon and the mad partying crowds are a potent mix.

But for most part, use your common sense and just enjoy the music and the crowds. You might find yourself having the time of your life, with an epic story to brag about for the rest of your life. From here, check out this 16-day Thailand travel itinerary to see what else you can do on an epic whirlwind trip around the country!