You’re sitting around wondering about your plans for New Year’s Eve. “Yeah, we need to do something. A new place…somewhere nice!” Goa? Done. Kerala? Done. Goa again? Done, last year. Or your plans have come to nought, and you sitting at home watching reruns of The Big Bang Theory (or worse, FRIENDS), trying to laugh at jokes you know by heart. (Heck, I once watched Titanic because my NYE plans were shelved, and I was upset that Jack didn’t just clamber onto the raft and ask Rose to scooch a bit.) 

Anyway, it turns out, travelling to Thailand for a New Year’s trip is easy, inexpensive (read:cheap-ish), and very very, er, do-able. So, all ye backpackers, listen up. 

 

Yes, backpacking solo through Thailand is a rite of passage and you’re ready for it. Truth be told, there isn’t a person in India who doesn’t wish to succumb to the allure of those tropical beaches, that impossibly green countryside, and the legendary parties, maybe even the verboten ones like on a certain Walking Street. 

In this blog, we’re looking at three options for backpacking through Thailand around New Year’s Eve, without breaking the bank. 

Getting to Thailand

Illustration by Urja Kaulgi

First, a quick run-through of the documentation involved. What about the all-important Visa? Thailand offers the now-famous e-visa for Indian tourists that costs 600 Baht or Rs 1410. This visa is valid for a 15 days’ stay in Thailand. The regular VOA (visa-on-arrival), which requires that you show proof like return tickets, accommodation, 10,000 Baht on your person etc, was free until 31 Oct 2019. That date has been extended to 30 April 2020, so you’re covered on that front too.

Speaking of costs, keep in mind the currency exchange rate – one Thai baht costs 2.3 INR. As for flight tickets, they cost less when booked three months or more, prior to your date of travel. With 2020 less than two months away, your tickets to Thailand will now cost you between 20,000 INR and 35,000 INR, depending on where you plan to stay. 

You can easily do a 5-day trip in Thailand this New Year’s Eve, and we’ve charted out more than one option for your big finale of 2019.

1. Phuket & Krabi – 6 days and 5 nights, 50,000 INR

What can we say about Phuket that hasn’t been said before? Crown jewel of the Thai coastline, Phuket is where the best crowd gathers for New Year’s Eve. 

The flight tickets cost around 35k. Hey, it is 6 weeks to New Year’s Eve, so you’re a bit out of luck with ticket prices. 

DAY 1

Our itinerary starts off with you flying into Phuket on, say, the 27th of December. You spend a couple of days in and around Phuket, taking in the sights, sounds, food, and, of course, the parties. Check out popular beaches like Patong, Karon, Or Kamal, or quieter ones like Kata Beach. Make your way to the biggest landmark in Phuket – the Big Buddha statue, then wind down your day with the sunset at Promthep Cape. 

DAY 2

On day two, you can do something offbeat, like trek to Bang Pae waterfall, or visit the Trick Eye Museum and the Upside-Down House for an unusual, mind-bending experience. In the evening, you must join the lively crowd at Phuket Fantasea and Siam Niramit, which recount Thai history and include some impressive “gravity-defying stunts”, as this detailed piece by Ithaka on Phuket describes it. 

DAY 3

Day three, you can head over to Krabi, which is just a couple of hours away. You can take a cab or a bus to Krabi. Or you can brave the 2.5 hr ferry if you aren’t the kind to get seasick. Buses, while not entirely comfortable, cost around 300 INR while the ferry will cost you around 1500 INR. Cabs cost around 5000 INR, so you might want to stick to the ferry or the bus. 

Krabi is quieter, almost serene, and allows you to catch your breath. There’s no better place to do this than Railay Beach, probably the loveliest bit of coastline in Thailand. And that’s saying a lot, given the beauty of all of Thailand’s beaches. Take every ‘tropical paradise’ cliche in tourism history, and turn it up a few notches (or a hundred) – that’s Railay Beach. Turquoise waters, azure skies, mountainous backdrop, gentle breeze, warm sun, white sand – the gods took extra care to create this perfect island. 

Fair warning: you’ll likely never want to leave.

 

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If you’re the kind that needs to keep moving, you can trek in the mountains that are right by the beach. The treks take you through forests so pretty, you’ll think you’re in a picture book. By the time you’re done, Krabi has your heart. After sundown, walk the streets of Krabi, and you’ll see another side of this idyllic town. Shop at the Ao Nang Night Market and taste the delightfully addictive street food that’s all around you. 

Or, if you want that one night of splurging, book a table at the most coveted restaurant in Krabi – The Grotto. We’re not shilling for them but that view is so darned pretty, it’s ridiculous – Nestled in a cave under a limestone cliff on Phranang Beach, overlooking the sea, as this Ithaka blog on Krabi says. 

DAY 4

Day four, and it’s time to island-hop. There’s a 4-island tour that begins at around 8 am that Ithaka can hook you up with. You’ll visit Koh Poda, Koh Gai (Chicken Island), Koh Tub and Koh Mor – four small islands that are the definition of blissful, typifying the Krabi experience. Or you can swim in the Emerald Pool and take a glorious dip in the hot water springs. The trekkers can hike to the top of Hang Nak mountain. End the day on a sunset cruise or at the very popular Old West Bar, where you can meet travellers from, literally, all over the world. 

DAY 5

Day five, head on back to Phuket, because it’s 31st December, and New Year’s Eve is just a few hours away! I suggest you take a siesta in the afternoon so you’re all set for the big night. As the sun goes down, head over to the popular beaches – Patong, Karon, Kata, Kamala, or Bangtao –  and you’ll find yourself in the midst of some of the most uplifting celebrations you’ve ever witnessed. The other popular option is to head over to one of the beach clubs – Cafe Del Mar or Paradise – which are great places to party. You won’t go wrong with good ol’ Bangla Road either, which is abuzz on New Year’s Eve. The people that aren’t at the beach are here on Bangla Road. 

Day five, January 1st – Happy New Year, fellow traveller! Best let that hangover subside gradually, so lay back in bed and let the memories of a colourful night sky, laughter, and the joy of bringing in the new year while bonding with kindred souls from around the globe bring a smile to your face. If you’re feeling more energetic, try out some watersports, or visit the elephant sanctuary nearby. They’re not cheap, but they are rewarding. 

As your last evening in Phuket draws near, it’s time to get a taste of the legendary (notorious?) bawdy side of Phuket. We give you Simon Cabaret. Ladyboys, cabaret, funny parodies. Need we say more?

Day six, January 2, you’re back on the flight home, with memories to last you a lifetime and a satisfied smile that won’t fade for a while.  

This itinerary isn’t too expensive. Backpackers can stay at any of the hostels (they’re all quite good) for 600-1500 INR per night. It’s simpler to book your accommodation online because discounts are easier to come by. Street food is inexpensive and hygienic too, around 30-50 baht per meal, or 70-120 INR. Transportation costs are low if you use buses, or share cabs with fellow travellers. 

In summary, a backpacking holiday to Phuket and Krabi can be a fantastic, exciting, and unforgettable start to your new year.  

2. Bangkok, Chiang Mai, – 5 days – 50k INR (7 days – 55k-60K, with Chiang Rai)

We have another option for people who aren’t excited by beaches. “What’s the big deal about a beach? They are all the same. There’s nothing to do!”

Well, worry not, we’ve got you covered. How about a holiday in the lush countryside, while immersing yourself in the captivating charms of Thai culture? This trip culminates in what can only be described as a sublime experience – the lanterns of Chiang Mai. 

We start our big year-ender in Bangkok – the capital of Thailand, which is lively, seductive, and entertaining, with nary a boring moment. You could just spend 5 days in Bangkok, and it would still be worth the, well, trouble. 

But, in our case, we’re staying in Bangkok for just 2 days. It has plenty of inexpensive options for accommodation for backpackers. Even the more popular hostels that are generally rated 8/10 or more (Hostelworld, Booking.com etc) charge you between 500 INR and 1600 INR for a bed in their dorms. If you can push for 2k per night, you’ll get really good private rooms in these hostels (There will most certainly be a New Year’s rush, so temper your expectations). 

DAY 1

Bangkok’s number one place to visit is the palace. The home of Thai royalty and traditions, the Grand Palace is a complex of 100 stunning buildings, almost none of which you can enter and all of which will draw a serious number of likes on your Instagram. There’s a two-foot-tall Buddha figurine made entirely of emerald in Wat Phra Kaew, a place you must not skip. 

After you’re done with the palace, grab some lunch and then go shopping. Bangkok is a shopper’s dream, and malls like Terminal21 or Siam Center are the most well known. Those glitzy shopping arcades shown in Youtube videos…they’re usually shot here. 

Once night falls, head to Sukhumvit to see the unmistakable neon lights and glamorous nymphets. You’ll also see many people milling about, feeding off the nervous and excited energy of Bangkok’s edgier side. It is quite the experience. 

DAY 2

Image by joe puengkaew from Pixabay

Day two, and you must visit the floating market. It is exactly what it sounds like, and if you jog your memory, you’ll recall it from James Bond and Misson: Impossible films. Or head on down to Ayutthaya, a UNESCO site and the stunning capital of an older empire. A visit here is a great crash course in Thailand’s history, culture, and tradition. Much of what the modern world admires about Thailand’s culture, has its origins in the Ayutthaya kingdom. You can also check out the very unusual Chatuchak Weekend Market before spending the evening at Khao San Road, the backpacker haven where you’re most likely to stay while in Bangkok. Everything is cheap here, and people are really friendly, so a  good time is had by all. 

You will now arrive at a fork in the road. (Metaphorically speaking. No one leaves forks on the streets of Bangkok. You’d never get them back.) You have to decide whether you want to head to the hills and see the unspoiled side of Thailand, or party like everyone else on crowded beaches. 

Chiang Mai

If you are here for more than mere partying and want an authentic experience that goes beyond strobe lights and beach bars, take the overnight train or bus to Chiang Mai. Train No 9, and Train No 10 leave Hua Lamphung Station at 6:10 pm and reaches Chiang Mai around 7:15 am. The ticket costs between 2200 INR and 3415 INR. Flights are expensive, with tickets starting at around 7k INR. The train is the scenic route and a lot cheaper, so we see no reason not to recommend it over the flight.   

DAY 3

Day three is in Chiang Mai, the second city of Thailand, as it were. The northern capital. Deposit your backpack at the hostel you’re booked into, freshen up (they won’t mind) and head to the Old City of Chiang Mai. You’ll see the Chiang Mai Gate, after which there’s a temple on every street, each more elegant and beautiful than the previous one – Wat Chang Taem, Wat Chedi Luang, Wat Suan Dok and many more. (Yes, Wat translates to temple.)  Towards mid-day, check-in at the hostel, then take a nap to rest your weary bones, or head to the Nimman – the hipster and traveller hangout. Plenty of boutique stores, handicrafts, and some strong buzz-me-awake espresso. 

Evening is for the best street food in Thailand. Chiang Mai’s night market is famous for its food and for unbelievable deals on everything from appliances to DVDs. Yes, they still sell DVDs, go figure. The clothes and handicrafts are pretty good too, so do not hesitate to bargain. If you can manage to attend it, the Sunday Night Market on Ratchadamnoen Road is the best street food and night market experience you’re likely to have in Thailand. 

DAY 4

Day four is when we head out into the verdant countryside. The hills outside town are home to many elephant sanctuaries. This is a uniquely moving experience – the elephants are rescued and restored to full health. And visitors are allowed to interact with, even bathe, these gentle giants. Do NOT miss this once-in-a-lifetime experience. However, if you do not want to visit the elephant sanctuaries, head out to the Chiang Dao mountains north of the town and trek through the charming countryside. Finish the day with a relaxing Thai massage at any of the spas in town. It’s the perfect way to rejuvenate after a day of activity.

DAY 5

Day five and it’s time to relax and unwind in the slower pace of Chiang Mai. As midnight approaches, dozens, if not scores, of people gather on the banks of the Ping river. You’d soon find beautiful lanterns, or khom loys held by the gathering crowd, only to be launched into the sky at the stroke of midnight. Hundreds of such lanterns float up into the sky, symbols of good fortune and new beginnings. As the air of optimism takes hold, it is easy to see why people get swept up in a poignant moment shared with hundreds of hopeful souls. What a lovely way to start the new year! 

Now, there are a couple of options for planning how to end your New Year’s Eve holiday in Chiang Mai. You can fly into Bangkok, and fly back home from Chiang Mai, which will cost you a total of 35k INR. Or you can take the train back to Bangkok and fly back from Suvarnabhumi to keep your expenses low. 

Accommodation in Chiang Mai’s hostels starts at around 650 INR for a bed and goes up to 3000 INR for a private room. The fabulous street food costs the same as elsewhere in Thailand – around 30-50 baht per meal. 

Chiang Rai

If you have another day to spare, you can also choose to visit Chiang Rai, which is 3-4 hours away by road, and is preferred by some travellers who find Chiang Mai too crowded and noisy. You can visit the famous, and beautiful, White Temple, the Blue Temple and, if time permits, meet the intriguing Long Neck Tribe. You can then double back to Chiang Mai and fly back home on day seven. 

3. Bangkok, Pattaya – 6 days and 5 nights – 50K INR

This is the most popular and the least expensive option. The downside is, everyone else and their extended family is already in Pattaya for New Year’s  Eve. Shall we say, done to death? Don’t be surprised if you run into your neighbour, his 3 kids, and their 4 cousins, staying at one of the resorts in Pattaya. 

If you’re doing Bangkok and Pattaya, you can use the same 2-day itinerary we have above for Bangkok. Then, take a bus for about 280 INR. two and a half hours later, you’ll find yourself in Pattaya. 

Pattaya is great for partying. Check out Ithaka’s fantastic list on what to do in Pattaya. On New Year’s Eve, the beaches and all the party joints are lit up, and you’ll be jostling for space in this extremely popular resort town. That does not take away from the fact that you get to ring in the New Year, in one of the most beautiful locations in South East Asia.   

Accommodation in hostels is on the cheaper side in this beach town. Single beds in dorms start at around 800 INR per night, with private rooms costing around 2.5k INR per night. For backpackers, street food is a safe bet, and costs the same as elsewhere in Thailand. Fried Rice costs around 50 baht, so, if you’re frugal, you can keep your daily food cost down to 200 baht or under 500 INR! Not bad for a foreign trip, eh? 

You can also indulge in a bit of adventure sports and still keep your overall trip cost under 50,000 INR. One can see why Bangkok-Pattaya is a popular option. 

And there you have it, folks. We did say that you can travel to Thailand for a fantastic New Year’s Eve experience at a cost of just 50,000 INR. It’s an easy decision to make, and with Ithaka’s help, it is very easy and inexpensive to spend 5 fabulous days at the end of the year in Thailand.