We partnered up with Contiki recently to send Ellie Quinn, influencer and travel blogger (The Wandering Quinn) on two separate tours of Thailand – lucky gal.
So, when she got back we wanted to know all about it – because there’s nothing better than reading a blog or getting recommendations from someone who’s actually been there, done that, and (maybe) got the Chang t-shirt to prove it. Basically, if you’re considering going on a Contiki tour, then you’re in the right place.
The Thailand tours
The first of the tours I went on was the Thai Northern Highlights Tour which started in Bangkok. After getting a taste of Bangkok, 34 of us travelled over six days further North, where we visited the jungle, some waterfalls and a UNESCO heritage site before arriving in the beautiful city of Chiang Mai, where we spent our days temple exploring, taking a cooking class, zip-lining and much more!
The tour visits Bangkok > Kanchanaburi – overnight train to Chiang Mai – Pai > Chiang Mai
After this tour finished I stayed in Chiang Mai for a few days which was an easy city to pass the time in by relaxing in the cafes, going on day trips and soaking up the culture before flying down to the island of Koh Samui to start the Thai Island Hopper East Tour. Over nine days this tour took 16 of us to all three Eastern Thai Islands – Koh Samui, Koh Tao and Koh Phangan. We chilled, we partied, we went on day trips, we stayed in three amazing and unique hotels and it really felt like a proper holiday by the end of the trip.
10 reasons to book a Thailand tour with Contiki
1. A smooth-running trip
One of the biggest reasons people book a group tour is to take the stress and hassle out of planning. And I can certainly say that I did not have to think about a single logistic on this trip because everything had been planned so perfectly. Not only that but both trips ran so smoothly. We didn’t have any delays, we weren’t waiting around for bus drivers or day trip guides. Check-in and check-out were seamless and every restaurant, bar, hotel and activity we went to were ready and waiting for us.
This factor really impressed me and showed me that Contiki plan their trips extremely well, something I highly value as it keeps the stress off of us, the travellers!
2. Awesome tour managers.
Each Contiki tour has its own tour manager who is with you from start to finish and I had two really amazing tour managers!
I also got to experience two very different set-ups because my first tour – Thai Northern Highlights was run by Eb who is from Australia. Initially this surprised me as I assumed we would have a local guide, but after understanding that we would still have local guides (more on that below) and that this tour was due to continue around Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam after I left them in Chiang Mai, it made sense that she was our tour manager, plus Eb had so much passion and knowledge for South East Asia! I also heard from a girl who had just been on the Thai Island Hopper West Tour that her tour manager there was an Aussie guy, so it must be the way they work.
However in Koh Samui I was welcomed to the trip by Ole who would be our tour manager on this trip and she’s Thai. She was amazing as well, and because my Thai East Tour was just around these islands she really was the perfect tour manager for us. Her passion and knowledge of her own country was invaluable, her English and communication skills were faultless and she was a lot of fun!
This gave me a real appreciation for how Contiki works; they employ tour managers from around the world to not only work in their home countries but also give them a chance to live their dreams by working abroad. Because of this the tour managers love what they do, and it really shows by the quality and experience of the tour!
3. Local tour guides.
As mentioned above, Contiki does still use local tour guides for sections of the trip and I really liked this because it gives back to the local community, providing more jobs. They also gave us the best local insights and information.
4. #NoRegrets activities included.
Contiki like to include a lot of activities within their itineraries rather than being add-ons, this ensures you don’t have to pay lots of extra costs whilst on the trip. And also if it’s already included you’ll have no regrets about not choosing to do it.
My Thai Northern Highlights Tour was amazing for this, so many activities were included with just a few additional ones in Chiang Mai, and all transport was included too.
The Thai East trip had fewer activities included, I also heard this was the same for the Thai West trip. In reality on these trips, if you don’t opt in and pay extra for these activities all of your days would be free days. Some people may like this extra ME time and those that chose to party most nights on our tour certainly didn’t mind not having to get up early to go on a boat trip, but I would recommend looking into the inclusions of the trip to work out if it’s a trip with lots of activities or not.
5. Fun additional activities.
If the #NoRegrets activities are not enough there are plenty of other activities such as snorkelling, island tours, zip-lining and cooking classes, all of which can be added on and paid for whilst on the trip. Plus there’ll be some extras that your tour manager will suggest that isn’t mentioned online, after all, they know the best places to go and best things to do – like local street food markets and cabaret shows.
6. Quality of accommodation.
Contiki tours are not backpacking or shoestring budget tours and this showed mostly in the quality of our accommodation for both tours. During my time on these tours, I stayed in a floating hotel in the jungle, a resort with its own private beach, a bungalow in a fun and fancy backpackers resort, and various upmarket hotels in Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Koh Samui. All of the hotels had pools, incredibly friendly staff and great buffet breakfasts to set us up for the day.
7. Time given to enjoy the accommodation.
There’s nothing worse than being on a trip with amazing accommodation, with a pool and nice view, and not being able to enjoy it due to there being no free time in the itinerary (tends to happen when there are lots of late nights and early check-outs). However on both tours we were given a few hours in each place, between the days’ activities and dinner to do with it as we pleased. This gave us some quality alone time, which not only meant we had time to shower and chill, but could also head to the pool and make the most of the nice accommodation. After all, there’s no point in travelling all the way to a floating hotel in the jungle and not have the time to jump in the water and enjoy it. Luckily we did!
8. The group sizes and age range.
I think some people think they are ‘too old’ for organised tours and this puts them off, which is a real shame. Contiki markets itself as offering tours for people from the ages of 18 to 35 and based on my experience if you are within that age bracket then their tours are most definitely perfect for you!
My tours consisted of travellers who were 18 and 19, going on their first trip away, alongside people in their twenties and thirties who had been on multiple trips in the past, myself a 28 year old solo traveller, younger couples, older couples and everyone got along really well! Age doesn’t matter if you’re open to new experiences, meeting new people and having a good time.
The group sizes for both tours were completely different – a group of 34 and a group of 16! There’s no guarantee how many people you’ll have on your tour, it may be big, it may be small, but both have their benefits. Being with 33 other people meant I didn’t learn everyone’s name by the end of the six days, and some people I barely spoke to, but we got a good mix of people. 16 people felt a bit more manageable for me, and because of our small numbers we were really close by the end of the eight days. I not only knew everyone’s name, but most people’s life stories and they knew mine too which really makes you feel like family – the goodbye’s were very sad!
9. Wide range of local transport.
Coaches, trains, mini buses, tuk tuks, bikes, public boats, private boats, jeep’s… these are all the types of transport Contiki used in their Thailand tours. It really gave us the best experience Thailand could offer, bumping over various landscapes, and made each day different and exciting (particularly the tuk tuks).
10. No pressure to drink, surprisingly.
Finally, my view of Contiki had always been that their tours are very party focused and attract an audience who like to drink. And with Thailand’s reputation as a party destination, it had worried me a little as I’m 28 now and my Thailand partying days are over. I really wanted to enjoy the day’s activities and get some rest. Thankfully though, there was no pressure at all. In fact I only had one beer and a few cocktails on one of the nights and still enjoyed plenty of the evenings’ entertainment.
Contiki appreciate that people join the Thailand trips to enjoy the nightlife – this is one part of Thailand after all – but on each night out we were given the opportunity to go home after dinner, or after a few hours out depending on how we felt. The tour managers in no way pressured us to drink by forcing any drinking games. I actually ended up getting plenty of sleep and woke up each day feeling fresh and ready to start the day’s activities. Which was a welcome change to my partying days!
So all in all, if you’re looking to party, chill, rest, explore and enjoy a good all-round holiday, Contiki tours are perfect for this, especially the island tours like the Thai Island Hopper East and West Tour (but I could be biased)!