The Land of Smiles is a beautiful destination and one of our favourite countries in the world. But with over 25 million annual visitors, Thailand is also one of the most visited destinations on the planet and one that has unfortunately suffered tremendously from over-tourism. Lack of sustainability practices has lead to many environmental challenges that are threatening Thailand’s waters, Islands, wildlife habitats, and cultural traditions.
Fortunately, it’s not all bad news for first-time visitors, as opportunities to explore Thailand in a responsible way do exist and eco-conscious travelers can find lots of great things to do in Thailand on their first visit. Here are our eco-friendly Thailand Itinerary recommendations for first-time visitors.
Bangkok — Two Days
Every trip to Thailand begins in the country’s capital, Bangkok. While Bangkok is far from being an ecotourism destination, it offers a great introduction to Thai history and culture. Begin your trip to Thailand by visiting the Grand Palace, Wat Pho, and Wat Arun to admire the beautiful architecture and learn about the lives of Thai Kings.
Skip Bangkok’s busy shopping markets where sellers tout nothing but cheap low-quality goods and clothing. Instead, opt to spend your time exploring a local floating market instead. Stock up on local fruits and vegetables and simultaneously help support small farmers from the area.
If you have more time, take a trip to the Kho Yai National Park located a few hours outside of Bangkok to explore the rare monsoon rainforest, home to Thailand’s last remaining wild tigers, gibbons, and wild elephants.
Where to Stay in Bangkok
Opt to stay outside of the busy tourist areas of Koh San Road or Sukhumvit, and choose accommodation in a less touristy part of the city, like the green suburb of Silom. The suburb is home to Lumphini Park and is in close proximity to plenty of great authentic Thai restaurants.
There are plenty of nice hotels to choose from, but we recommend choosing one that has made a commitment to sustainable practices. Intercontinental Hotel Group has a number of hotels in Bangkok. Many of their hotels adhere to great environmental practices and a number of Level 4 IHG Green Engage Hotels are located in the Silom Area.
Koh Phangan — Three Days
Thanks to the Full Moon Party, Koh Phangan has earned a reputation as the premier party destination in Thailand, but many travelers don’t realize that this incredible island is also a paradise for ecotourism.
Those looking to connect with nature will find plenty to do in Koh Phangan. Hike to the summit of Khao Ra where you can enjoy amazing views of the bay and the tropical rainforest that comprises a large percentage of the island. Visit the Phaeng Waterfall, go diving at Sail Rock, and enjoy numerous beautiful hidden beaches that are dotted all around the island.
If you have extra time, take a boat ride to the Ang Thong National Marine Park Reserve, an archipelago with over 40 islands, where you can camp overnight and enjoy some swimming, snorkeling, and hiking.
Where to Stay on Koh Phangan
If you’re not here to party, avoid Haad Rin Beach and head north to enjoy a relaxing quiet stay on one of Koh Phangan’s lesser-known beaches.
Santhiya Koh Phangan Resort & Spa on Thong Nai Pan Beach and eKohPhangan Villa in Baan Tai are just two of the many eco-friendly accommodation options on the island.
Krabi — Three Days
Krabi serves as a great pitstop en route to the southern islands of Thailand, but it’s also an amazing destination for those interested in exploring the outdoors. Krabi is home to world-class rock-climbing and offers great opportunities for caving, sea kayaking, camping, and hiking.
Visit Khao Kanab Nam, two karst rocks that serve as Krabi’s landmarks, to hike to the top and admire a beautiful view from the summit. Join a rock climbing trip to Railay beach or Ton Say Bay, take a trip over to the Pranang peninsula for some caving, or go sea kayaking at Ao Pranang Beach or rafting on the Songprak River. There is also a great weekend Night Market where you can sample plenty of local dishes from a variety of local stalls.
Where to Stay in Krabi
If you want to stay in Krabi Town, check out Family Tree Hotel — a family-owned eco-friendly destination that’s simple yet beautiful. If you would rather park up on the sand, consider staying at the Green Leaf Certified Pakasai Resort on Ao Nang Beach.
Ko Lanta — Three Days
Ko Lanta consists of several islands, with the two largest being Ko Lanta Noi and Ko Lanta Yai. Most travelers stay on Ko Lanta Yai. The islands are a part of Mu Ko Lanta National Park which boasts beautiful scenery and white sandy beaches. Ko Lanta is a quieter and more sophisticated version of Koh Phi Phi, more suitable for those looking for a quieter island stay.
The islands offer plenty of ways to connect with nature and enjoy the beauty of this region. You can spend your days relaxing on the beach, visiting Khao Mai Kaew Caves, kayaking through the rich mangrove forests, or taking a guided hike in Mu Ko Lanta National Park to discover caves as well as exotic birds and other species.
Where to Stay in Ko Lanta
Chiang Mai — Three Days
Chiang Mai is a popular destination in northern Thailand that, despite a steady influx of visitors, offers many options for eco-conscious travelers. There are plenty of temples to visit, a great night market to explore, a few beautiful waterfalls to discover (Bua Tong Waterfalls and Mae Sa Waterfall are the best), as well a chance to zip line and go mountain biking in Chiang Mai’s lush mountainous countryside.
Those looking for a responsible way to interact with elephants will find plenty of elephant sanctuaries in the area. We recommend Elephant Nature Park, Thailand’s best-known elephant rehabilitation center. It has won several awards for its commitment to rescuing and rehabilitating Thailand’s working elephants.
Chiang Mai also acts as a popular starting point for Hill Tribe treks, with many companies in town now offering eco-friendly trekking options that have minimal impact on the natural surroundings and local hill tribe communities that they visit.
Where to Stay in Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai is teeming with beautiful sustainable accommodation options. The Chai Lai Nature Reserve (bookable only on Airbnb) is perfect for people who love nature and escaping the crowds. The reserve prides itself on being the only accommodation option in Thailand where you can live with elephants.
Mala Dhara Resort is another great eco-resort option. The resort offers accommodation, an organic farm, a yoga space, and a restaurant with a sustainable ethos — an ideal escape for a planet-conscious traveler.
Getting Around Thailand
There are plenty of options when it comes to transportation in Thailand. Most of the country’s main tourist destinations have a domestic airport nearby, there is a well-developed bus system and over 2500 miles of train lines. If you are traveling to the islands you will find ferries to take you to and fro.
To make your trip as sustainable as possible we urge you to use shared transportation whenever possible and to avoid flying when you can. If you must fly, consider carbon offsetting your flight.
We hope that this great itinerary will help first-time visitors to Thailand fall in love with this country and discover many great ways to explore its destinations in a responsible way.