Have you ever dreamed of visiting South East Asia? Yeah, me too. And since Thailand is the hub of Southeast Asia, I started with backpacking for one month there in the summer of 2015. Thailand depends greatly on tourism, as 20% of the Thai GDP is based on tourism, averaging around 10% in other nations. So there is a lot to know, and I’m here to help! I asked on social media for some insight into what information YOU seek to know before you travel, and from those responses I’ve built this guide.
Go for a couple of weeks
If you’re traveling from afar, make the most of your travel time, and go to Asia for at least a couple of weeks. It took us around 25 hours to get to Thailand and 35 hours to get home (flight delays suck). In my opinion, you don’t travel 30 hours to go somewhere for just a long weekend. Make the cost of your plane ticket, and your travel time worth it. If you’re lucky enough to have a job that will allow you to, I’d recommend trying to visit the country for a month.
At the time of this writing (fall 2018) Americans do not need a visa to enter Thailand for 30 days or less. If you stay longer than 30 days you can easily get a visa in advance at the Thai embassy in the states, or apply for an extension at the Immigration Bureau in Bangkok, or hop borders into Laos or Cambodia and back into Thailand to reset your 30 day visa.
Get street food. Try all the things. Food is one of my absolute favorite ways to experience another culture. In Thailand I had lot of food firsts, including chicken foot soup, liver, and various bugs. If you want to eat like a local don’t bother spending more than 100 bhat ($3 USD) on a meal. If a meal costs more than 100 bhat, then it is not affordable for many locals and the food likely sits around for long periods of time and may be processed, or at the very least it is not made with the local Thai love. My general rule of thumb while traveling anywhere: if they have giant menus at the entrance with pictures all over them, they are catering to tourists, skip them. One food not to miss in Thailand, called durian, is pictured below. It is a fruit that people usually love or hate. Durian is common in a few countries in Asia and its strong odor makes it illegal in most Asian transportation systems and banned from many hotels.
The tap water is not safe to drink in Thailand, but the ice is okay. Vendors and restaurants who serve ice in their drinks buy the ice from an ice broker, who would never use tap water. So buy bottled water when you’re thirsty, but beer is often cheaper, and colder. So as far as what alcohol beverage to drink, local beers cost from 30-50 bhat ($1-1.50 USD) and are usually ice cold, and you can have open containers walking on the streets. At the nightclubs and the famous Full Moon Party “buckets” are common. They are literally a bucket, as in the kind children make sand castles with at the beach, filled with ice, red bull, and 300mL bottle of liquor; for about 200 bhat, or $6 USD.
Thai people tend to be more conservative than westerners with clothing in general. Regardless of gender, you should never expose your knees or shoulders in a temple. When I visited Thailand it was very hot outside, so I carried a pair of linen pants with me and put them on over my shorts whenever I went in a temple. Unless you’re heading out to the infamous Full Moon Party, when you’re deciding on what to wear, lean towards staying conservative. Want to be able to sunbathe topless at the beach? Thailand is not the place. Most of Thailand is warm year round, so light clothing is best, and if you’re visiting in the monsoon season, between June and October, it’s smart to have a light rain jacket.
Common ways of transportation in cities includes tuk-tuk, taxis and motor bikes. Tuk-tuks are three wheeled, open aired, motorized rickshaws that usually hold 2-3 people and are quicker than a regular taxi, but are well known for ripping off tourists. Regardless, if you’re traveling in Thailand, you should take a tuk-tuk at least once, its part of the Thai experience. If you’re traveling by tuk-tuk or taxi, you should agree on a rate before getting in, stay aware of your belongings and the count your change you receive before getting out when your ride is over. In the islands, longtail boats powered by automotive engines, are common. When traveling between cities, I have utilized busses, trains and planes in Thailand; they are all reasonably cheap, but the time frame is not always reliable, so be prepared to practice patience, and go with the flow. The true Thai way of life.
Once you get to Thailand, the cost of transportation, food and accommodation all tend to be quite low. You can get a bed in a hostel for $3-6, a private room in a hostel for $10-15, and a room in a decent hotel for $20-$30. The most expensive hotel I stayed was a high end water front resort on Railay beach and cost about $60 per night. Aside from when you’re buying food you should never accept the first price you’re offered in Thailand. When traveling in Thailand, you should consider bartering your new way of life. Don’t get me wrong, stuff in Thailand is generally very cheap by western standards, and it can feel a little odd bartering to get a purse decreased from 100 bhat (aprox $3 USD) to 80 bhat (aprox $2.50 USD).. because either price is great for a purse by western standards, but you can do it, and I would encourage you to. During my month in Thailand I spent around $1,500, but I could have easily gotten by with only $1k.
Language & communication
It’s always good to know a couple of basics when you travel, but also keep in mind that body language, smiles, facial expressions and charades can go a long way. Before you travel writing down a few common expressions is a good idea, and while you’re traveling, google translate can be a problem solver when you’re really stuck. In Thailand most hotels & hostels I stayed at had a bowl on the check-in counter of small pieces of paper with the hotel address and phone number printed in Thai; grab a handful of these and keep them with you to hand to any taxi or tuk-tuk when you need to.
Thailand is considered a safe place for tourists, with a low crime rate comparted to many other international destinations. When I was in Thailand I traveled to big cities and small beach towns and I always felt safe, even when I was alone. Of course anytime you travel you should exercise caution by avoiding carrying more cash then necessary, keeping your electronics out of site, and staying alert of your surroundings. To avoid getting pickpocketed you should always keep your purse or backpack in front of you, especially in crowded places.
“Don’ts” of Thailand
Don’t point: Pointing is very rude in Thailand and can be a hard habit for westerners to break. Using a flat, open hand, with fingers and thumb all touching, if you need to gesture to something is much more acceptable.
Don’t touch anyone’s head: The head is the most sacred part of the body in Thailand and must be respected.
Don’t wear your shoes inside: You’ll often be required to take your shoes off prior to going inside a Thai Wat (temple) and it is also respectful to remove your shoes before entering a Thai person’s home,
Don’t put your feet up: Just as the head is the most sacred part of the body, feet are considered dirty. After you have left your shoes outside it’s important to remember not to put your feet up on furniture and to be sure never to point your feet at anyone.
Do you have any specific questions about traveling Thailand? Comment below!