Thailand and Cambodia for backpackers

Travelling is one of the things I love the most. So it’s quite surprising that it took me so much to start writing about it! But better late than never – and who knows, this blog post may come in handy for other people planning their own trips. So here I am, giving you some insight on my own experience travelling as a backpacker in Thailand and Cambodia.

First, some general information about my trip:

When – from August 9th, 2017 to August 31st, 2017
Where – Bangkok, Siem Reap, Chiang Mai, Koh Phangan
$$$ – 1800-ish euros, including the flights

So, let me begin with…

The intercontinental flight

We flew – we as my friends and I – with the company Turkish Airlines, which I highly reccommend. It wasn’t terribly expensive (we spent around 600 euros for a Milan MXP-Bangkok BKK round trip) and I was very comfortable for the duration of my flight – plus, the food the crew served us was SO GOOD. Seriously, I still dream about that food! How they managed to make airplane food taste so good is beyond me, but man, they nailed it

BANGKOK – 5 days

Our arrival at Bangkok airport was smooth as silk – also, the airport in question is one of the most beautiful I’ve been in. There are taxis just outside, which we took in order to get to our hostel, The Onion Hostel near the famous flower market. Highly recommended, the position was superb – we managed to get to the main attractions in the city on foot – and it’s pretty cheap. But honestly, everything in Thailand was pretty cheap – we even managed to eat fairly well for one (1!!) euro!

Bangkok is a peaceful city, not at all the chaotic capital we feared. Its streets are lined with trees where beautiful squirrels (literally, their species is called ‘beautiful squirrel’) roam, stealing food from the offerings. We never once took a taxi or a tuk tuk, as we were more than happy to walk and do some sightseeing. For all that, in hindsight, I would have spent only four days in Bangkok, as they’re more than enough to experience the city fully and even do a day trip to the ancient capital of Thailand – Ayutthaya.

Here a list of what, in my opinion, are the most notable and unmissable landmarks of Bangkok:

  • Wat Pho – a majestic temple complex with four impressive chedis and courtyards with ponds full of kois.
  • Wat Arun – on the other side of the Chao Praya river, my favourite temple stands, with its high central prang and colorful porcelain
  • The mesmerizing flower market, where you’ll find people braiding the typical flower crowns, which are used as a sort of ex voto or gifted during festivities
  •  The royal palace – the only truly chaotic place we found in Bangkok, apart from Khao San road. Still, it’s worth a visit despite the hordes of tourists. You will miss the quiet peace of the temples, tho!

the Wat Arun

Plus, as I mentioned before, it’s very easy to visit the ancient capital Ayutthaya from Bangkok – and it’s definitely an experience! You can easily reach Ayutthata by train (one hour, more or less). We travelled third class but were comfortable nonetheless – third class carriages are basically like busses, the only downside is that there is no air conditioning (there are fans instead) and you may end up having to stand, but for one hour is definitely doable. The best way to visit the ancient ruins of Ayutthaya is by bike – we rented some as soon as we got there, and explored the ancient city with ease. Well, except that time I almost fainted due to sunstroke – good piece of advice: when in Thailand during summer, wear a hat and drink a lot of water!

the royal chedis in Ayutthaya


The temple complex of Angkor is the largest in the world, and it lived up to the expectations – no, better, it exceeded them tenfold! The ideal way to visit the complex is to fly from Bangkok to Siem Reap – we flew with Air Asia, basically the asian Ryanair – then book a tuk tuk driver and have them drive you through the temples. If you feel adventurous, you can rent a bike, but I don’t reccomend it if you’re visiting during the wet season. The humidity was 99%, I had sweat pooling on my skin! The temples are in the middle of a glorious jungle, the heat and humidity were a force to be reckoned with.

We stayed in Siem Reap for three days, which are more than enough to visit the main temple complex and some of the further away temples (such as the mesmerising Banteay Srei, or Red Temple). The ticket for a three days visit is around 60 euros, but the complex is worth every penny! Words can’t describe how mindblowing  hiking amidst these ancient, majestic temples is, surrounded by the luscious Cambodian jungle.

While exploring the temples, keep an eye out for monkeys! When I visited, they usually came out at around 5 pm, and were not shy the least. One even stole a bottle from us – only to throw it back when realising it was empty.

Angkor Wat – the majestic temple that gives the name to the complex


Chiang Mai is a jewel in the north of Thailand. We reached it by flying back to Bangkok from Siem Reap, and then taking another Air Asia flight – but you can reach it by train too, if you have a day to spare. The city is incredibly laid back and relaxed, peaceful despite being the largest city in the north, with a beautiful river that embraces its center like a ring. Chiang Mai is most notable as a starting point for many trekking routes, but we preferred exploring its temples – and there are many, many temples, more than 300! They’re built in a very different style than those in Bangkok, made of dark wood where Bangkok ones were all porcelain decorations. Here some notable ones we visited:

  • Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep – the most famous of the Chiang Mai’s temples, built on a hill some kilometers away from the city center, that you can easily reach via bus.
  • Wat Chiang Man – the most ancient of the temples, and incredibly peaceful, you’d spend hours in its gardens!
  • Wat Chedi Luang – my favourite one, a complex of temples dominated by a large stupa, unfortunately damaged by an earthquake. But still impressive!
  • Wat Sri Suphan – the Silver Temple, a modern building that appears, as the name tells, made entirely of silver. It’s a very peculiar temple and worth a visit, even if, unfortunately, women (and, I guess, female-presenting people) are forbidden to enter its chambers!

A beautiful wooden temple with the typical stupa behind it

Another wonderful activity to do in Chiang Mai is hiking with the elephants. Mind you, hiking with them, not on them. Riding is an awful practice, a real torture to the animal. Luckily, more and more tourists, as the truth behind riding is uncovered, seek a more animal-friendly activity in order to get to know these gentle giants. Elephant Nature Park is one of the major orgs promoting this new approach to tourism. They have a rehabilitation center you can visit, where they help rescued elephants get back into shape, or – as we did – you can join one of their projects and hike with the elephants and an expert guide, a truly life-changing experience. Elephants are incredibly intelligent and gentle creatures, to be able to walk side to side with them was a privilege.

The elephant herd walking with us in the wilderness. When an elephant flaps their ears, it means they’re happy!

 Koh Phangan – Relax!

Finally, we spent the last days of our trip in one of the islands of the Gulf of Thailand, shielded from the monsoons ravaging the Andamane sea. Less famous than its two sisters, Koh Phangan was a paradise of peace and tranquillity. We stayed in a hotel two steps from the Mae Haad beach – and oh, what a beach! The best place were to snorkel on Koh Phangan. It may not rival the nearby Koh Tao island, but to us, who never once dipped our feet in a tropical sea, snorkelling there was a breath-taking experience. Green and rose corals and plenty of colorful fishes greeted us whenever we put our head under water. It was like living inside Disney’s Little Mermaid! And whenever we felt exhausted by snorkelling, we would crawl back to the beach and take a mango smoothie from the nearby restaurant, or eat some delicious pancakes (pancakes are fairly popular in Thailand and Cambodia!). The perfect way to conclude our holiday.

Mae Haad beach

To reach Koh Phangan, we flew from Chiang Mai to Surat Thani, where we then took a bus to the pier and a ferry, then a taxi to reach the hotel (Mae Haad is at the other end of the island compared to the pier). The travel was a bit exhausting, but definitely worth it!

Overall, it was a beautiful trip, an experience that made my life richer. And incredibly easy, too! I never travelled outside Europe before this, so I was a bit scared… but honestly, all the people we met were incredibly kind and helpful, and every hiccup we encountered we easily overcame. I would gladly come back, as there are many other jewels worth visiting in Thailand, such as the amazing Sukhothai.

I hope this blog post may be helpful to other travellers. The world is amazing! Keep travelling ~