Chris and I travel very similarly to each other, but probably fairly different from a lot of people. We are busy and like to go go go. We don’t necessarily want to over do it, but we do want to do a lot! We also aren’t really beach people. Although we do enjoy the water and doing things on/in the water. We like having flexibility and being open to doing and trying things, but we also like to have an idea of what to do when we are there. Traveling with kids, the only difference is we are a little more flexible and open to bail asap!
This is how we went about planning our Thailand trip, and it turned out to be the PERFECT trip for us, but its probably not for everyone. (Partly Chris speaks Thai so we had a lot more flexibility!)
We knew we wanted to spend time in Northern Thailand. Chiang Rai specifically, so we decided to fly into Chiang Mai right away. (We also knew we didn’t really want to spend time in Bangkok). We weren’t sure if we would go to the beaches or not. Next we knew we wanted to spend time in the Isaan. Thailand is one of the most visited countries in the world, especially the beaches and Bangkok. Chiang Mai also gets a lot of foreign travelers as well. (We were super surprised to see how many more tourists there were in Chiang Rai than the last time we went 9 years ago!) The Isaan on the other hand is almost an untouched gem of Thailand! Its the biggest region in Thailand and is on the East side of the country. Its full of farm lands, rivers, and mountains. Chris spent most of his time in Thailand living in the Isaan, so it was high priority on our list of must visits.
After giving it thought and doing some research we decided that this trip we would spend time up north in Chiang Rai and in the Isaan. We figured another trip we could visit the beaches and go to Bangkok. After we decided the areas of Thailand we wanted to visit, we needed to figure out where to spend Songkran. A month before we left we decided that we wanted to play Songkran in the Isaan and we wanted to meet up with our friend and play with her. We decided to book a plane ticket to Khon Kaen right after we landed in Chiang Mai.
We also knew we wanted to rent a car so we could drive around wherever/whenever we wanted. (Although public transportation in Thailand is great. Domestic flights are cheap, they have buses, trains, taxis, tuk tuks, and songthaews.) We also thought having a car would be a great option for giving kids a break if needed and air conditioning! We decided to rent the car in Khon Kaen and we would return it in Chiang Mai when we flew home. This was an awesome idea! I would 100% rent a car again. (They do drive on the left hand side of the road.)
Once we knew where we were starting our journey, and we knew we had a car I was able to do the planning of the things we would do on our trip. One thing that was a bit of a bummer, and thew things up in the air was the air quality in Chiang Rai (pretty much all of northern Thailand.) There were forest fires in boarding countries, and the burning of the rice fields made for super smokey/terrible pollution up North. It was something I was monitoring closely, but we did want good air quality while we were up north. Most years it clears up by Songkran, but this year was terrible. We figured if we had to we would spend more time in the Isaan. We would just watch the air quality and make our way up north as it got clearer.
Like I mentioned before the Isaan isn’t a huge tourist destination for Americans, but I did find some blogs that were written by expats living in Thailand. I read one blog in particular that talked about Dinosaurs in the Isaan. Once I found that I had a good starting point on what we would do in the Isaan, besides visiting Chris’ old cities.
The main way I planned this trip was I opened up google maps, I typed in a few places I’d read in blogs and saved them (hearted them). From there I would find other points of interest on google maps and if they looked promising I would heart them. I found a few different routes we could drive from Khon Kaen to Chiang Rai and I would heart a lot of points of interest along the way. I did make sure that the places I hearted would be good for Chris and I, but would also be good for the kids!
We also had an over night layover in China (Kunming) so I did book our hotels in China (both ways) and I booked our hotel in Khon Kaen the first night as well. (We were flying in late and it was over a holiday so I figured having our first night covered would be smart.) Those were the only hotels we booked ahead of time. We used Agoda, and it worked out wonderfully. Since we were traveling with kids we needed to make sure we had enough bed space for all of us and Agoda was good for that.
We also needed to figure out how we would get Thai money (Baht), and how we would use our phones (maps). We decided that we would take mostly cash and exchange that instead of debit cards. (We did have a fee if we used debit cards, so to limit that we used cash. Thailand is a safe country so we weren’t too nervous carrying around a wad of cash.) We exchanged money three times on the trip, and pulled out from ATMs twice. (We did call our banks to let them know we would be out of country.)
For phones we decided we would buy SIM cards there and have a Thai phone number. We couldn’t text, but we had unlimited data. This was super easy to do and they have a place to get SIM cards at airports and 7/11. Since we went over a holiday we did go to a cell phone place and had our Thai friend help us get SIMS. (Other places were closed.) The SIMs worked out great and we had data/calling the whole time we were there! Before we had our SIMs we did download maps to our phones before we left to use before we had data.
We also decided that we would have our laundry done in Thailand. We brought a total (what we were wearing included) of 6 outfits, one swim suit each, water shoes, and tennis shoes. We wanted to pack light, but not so light we were doing laundry all the time. I think this was the perfect amount of outfits for the 18 days we were gone.
So the planning all we did was get hotels in China, first night hotel in Thailand, rented a car, knew the regions we wanted to go to, and hearted places to go/things to do on google maps, had money that we could exchange, and had a plan for phones and that’s it! I did do a decent amount of research on things to do, but we left it VERY flexible!