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Chiang Mai trekking or Phuket island life? Which airport should I fly into in Thailand?

Given the choice, a lot of Thailand first-timers ask themselves that same question: which airport should I fly into in Thailand? Should you start your adventure in the North, possibly with some Chiang Mai trekking? Or fly in from the South, and kick off your Thailand tour on the world-famous beaches? And what about Bangkok itself? Isn’t it the biggest hub of all three?

From high-rise to traditional Klongs (backwater canals), Bangkok has it all

Bangkok will welcome you with a warm embrace, the minute you step out of the airport. There will be scorching heat, humidity and the continuous shouting from taxi drivers. Everyone’s trying to grab your attention, and the city is filled with tuk-tuks, motorbikes and taxis in all colours of the rainbow. Some love the organised anarchy that Bangkok seems to dish up 24/7, while others prefer a more relaxing transfer after a trans-continental flight. Luckily there are arrival services to take care of that.

But is that the right solution? Is Bangkok the right place for you? Are there other options? Which airport should I fly into in Thailand?

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SO WHAT ABOUT NORTHERN CHIANG MAI?

Though Bangkok is the official capital of Thailand, Chiang Mai is the capital of Northern Thailand, the creative capital and most definitely Thailand’s adventure capital. It’s a city with a small-town vibe and every block has its own coffee shop, creative hangout or ambitious start-up. A stone throws away from the city, you’ll find high mountains, wild nature, and all the adrenaline adventures you can possibly imagine. On a bicycle or songthaew (local pickup truck taxi), the city is yours. With its slow pace and friendly atmosphere, you’ll easily spend 3- to 4 days in amazement. Staying longer than that works as well, as the city constantly reinvents itself and there are too many activities to chose from.

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Chiang Mai trekking or Phuket island life? What to do in Thailand
There are Chiang Mai trekking and other very interesting tours & experiences

CHIANG MAI AS A TRANSFER STOP

From Chiang Mai, you can reach almost any destination in Northern Thailand by bus/road, even the neighbouring countries. With the low-cost airline network expansions, you can fly directly from Chiang Mai to the South, where island life awaits. Alternatively, there are flights out to the Burmese cities of Mandalay and Yangon as well.

COMBINE CHIANG MAI WITH BURMA  ▶  FIND YOUR BURMA ADVENTURE

Chiang Mai is also a great starting point if you are into mountain tours, or thrill-seeking activities in the surrounding area, where trekking is popular.  Travellers to the city of Pai are well-advised to start in Chiang Mai, but alternative destinations like Chaing Rai, Mae Hong Son or the Golden Triangle are just as accessible from Chiang Mai.

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CHIANG MAI CHARACTER

Visitors from Chiang Mai often talk about its slower pace, and how the city is that much more accommodating. Compared to the South, it is considered a friendlier and more convenient experience.

Chiang Mai trekking or Phuket island life? What to do in Thailand
A nightly bike tour in Chaing Mai, why not?

SO WHAT ABOUT SOUTHERN PHUKET?

Phuket is Thailand’s largest island and the most visited one as well. Home to countless beaches and beach villages, it also serves as a starting point for Southern Thailand’s National Parks, and other attractions you may want to visit.

Chiang Mai trekking or Phuket island life? What to do in Thailand
Phuket is the gateway to all the Similan Islands

Phuket has suffered from a negative image recently,  but it has to be said that your experience will largely depend on what part of the island you go. This means Phuket will be exactly what you want it to be. Slow and beautiful on the North-western part of the island. Busy and wild on the South-western side of the island or colonial and cool in Phuket Town, in the centre of the island. For a more thorough introduction to Phuket’s beaches and towns, read more here.

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PHUKET AS A TRANSFER DESTINATION

Phuket is probably one of the best gateways in Southern Thailand, and in the Andaman Sea or the Gulf of Thailand, anything is within a day’s reach. Phuket’s international airport has just opened another terminal and with its wide variety of flights and operators it connects easily to any other travel plans you may have.

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Chiang Mai trekking or Phuket island life? What to do in Thailand
Some of the best diving destinations are found in the South of Thailand

If you planned on going to Khao Lak, flying into Phuket makes sense, as it is a mere 1-hour drive away. Southern Thailand offers some incredible diving destinations, and Phuket is also a great starting point for your diving adventure. We know that a lot of backpackers and travellers like to go island hopping, and starting on the biggest island of them all makes a lot of sense as well. Phuket is often followed by Phi-phi and Koh Lanta, all the way up to Koh Lipe on the border to Malaysia.

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PHUKET CHARACTER

The tropical island Phuket. Just 15 minutes after touchdown you can sink your feet in the beautiful white sands while enjoying a cocktail. So if you need a few days to shake off a jetlag in a relaxing environment, Phuket is a great starting point. If you dislike urban environments, Phuket is great too, as Phuket is mostly jungle with a few villages and beach communities here and there.

which airport should i fly into in thailand?
Whether you want your beach empty or a little more crowded, Phuket has it all

CONCLUSION ON WHICH AIRPORT SHOULD I FLY INTO IN THAILAND

So, did you find the right solution for you on where to start a Thailand holiday? We’ll sum it up as follows:

For travellers looking for a more active holiday, whether it’s cultural activities, trekking or adventures, Northern Thailand makes a lot of sense as their first stop. A lot of travellers who are visiting Thailand a second time around are tempted to go Chiang Mai trekking, as they like the idea of seeing the other side of Thailand. For the beach- or the resort experience, Southern Phuket is still unbeatable. The relaxing island culture is convenient and once you arrive, anything you need is within walking distance. With its many attractions aimed at tourists, Phuket is especially family friendly. There you go. We hope you now know where to start a Thailand holiday.

Might you also be interested in:

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First time as a backpacker?  ▶  Read our 13 valuable tips for backpacking in Thailand like a pro

This Post Has 2 Comments
  1. We’ve been 9 moving at a rapid pace through Southeast Asia, so we’re slowing things down with a two week stay in Chiang Mai; a lively, yet manageable, city in Northern Thailand.

    1. Hi!
      That sounds like a truly good idea. Chiang Mai has lots to offer and cool places to stay. You can even find budget accommodation with swimming pool access, so who need the beach then? 😉
      What are your plans when you are there? We absolutely LOVE the city, and we’ve compiled our best insider tips: http://gobeyondasia.com/insider-tips-chiang-mai/
      You can also find the best places to hang out in the hip Nimman area: http://gobeyondasia.com/the-best-places-to-eat-and-hang-out-in-nimmanhaemin/
      And you can, of course, contact our Travel Advisors at ECO Resort Chiang Mai here: http://gobeyond.asia/about-us/chiang-mai-travel-center
      Ali and Oil will be happy to help you guys.
      Happy onwards travels!
      Berit – Team Go Beyond Asia

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