Thailand Travel Tips
Thailand is the travel hub of Southeast Asia. Most people coming into the region fly into Bangkok and make that their base for doing the circuit around the region. With its lush jungles, famed beaches, world-class diving, amazing food, and cheap prices, Thailand attracts visitors from all walks of life. You can find cheap guesthouses and $10,000 a night resorts in this country – sometimes even next to each other. Travel through Thailand is really easy. The country is a well-worn destination on the backpacking trail and everything is convenient and easy. Though well on the map, there are still good destinations to visit away from the tourist masses and prices. Overall, Thailand speaks for itself. It’s so well-known around the world that when you hear the name, you already think about beaches, beauty, jungles, and food. And your thoughts are dead on.
Destination Guides for Thailand
Accommodation – Thailand is very cheap, though the north is far cheaper than Bangkok and the islands. You can find cheap guest houses for as little $7 USD per night in cities and $4 USD per night in the countryside. On the islands or for a nicer room with air-con, expect to pay $17 USD and up per night. Basic bungalows cost the same. Hotels start at around $40 USD per night and go up from there. Big resorts on the islands start at $50 USD per night for a bungalow on the beach. Suk 11 Guesthouse (Bangkok), Chada Guesthouse (Bangkok), Julies (Chiang Mai), Kodchasri B&B (Chiang Mai), Pooh’s (Ko Lipe), Greenhouse (Khao Yai) are the best companies to use for accommodations.
Food – Food is really cheap in Thailand. Street food costs as little as $0.65 USD per meal, though on average you’ll spent about $1 – 1.50 per meal if you eat on the street. If you eat local food you can eat for around $3.50-5 USD a day. Western dishes cost between $5-10 USD, though they can be higher in the fancier western establishments. Isao Sushi (Bangkok), Catalana Tapas (Bangkok), Om Ganesh Indian (Ko Phangan), Dada Kafe (Chiang Mai) are four of my favorite restaurants.
Transportation – Like everything in Thailand, transportation is also cheap. Local buses cost as little as $0.25 USD per trip, the Metro and Skytrain in Bangkok cost $0.50-1.50 USD per trip, and cab rides are usually $1.75-3 USD. Tuk-tuks are more expensive and cost $3-7 USD. Train service around the country is cheap – day trains cost as little as $7 USD. Night trains start around $17 USD for second-class without air-con. Boats to the islands cost $7-14 USD. It’s often better to get a bus/boat package then pay for them separately.
Activities – Day tours cost $17-35 USD per day. Trekking costs $30-50 USD per day. A PADI dive certification course (very popular in Thailand) costs around $300 USD. Elephant Nature Park (Chiang Mai), Sairee Hut Diving (Ko Tao), World Divers (Ko Tao) are the best tour companies.
Money Saving Tips
Go local – The easiest way to save money in Thailand is to simply live like a local. Take local buses, eat street food, and drink local beer. The average Thai lives on a less than $230 USD per month in Bangkok, and on even less in the country side. If you stay at cheap guesthouses and eat the street food, you can spend as little as $10 USD per day.
Eat the street food – Speaking of street food, don’t be afraid to eat it. It’s safe- even safer than a restaurant. If it wasn’t, the Thais wouldn’t be packing the stalls each day. You’ll find the best of Thailand’s food on the street and it will cost you a fraction of what you pay at a restaurant.
Take advantage of happy hour – Thailand’s many happy hours have half-priced drinks and 2-for-1 specials.
Buy beer at 7-Eleven – Buying beer at Thailand’s ubiquitous 7-Elevens and drinking outside will save you quite a bit on your bar tab.
Top Things to See and Do
Explore Bangkok – The heart of Thailand, this crazy city is a must-see. Most travelers don’t like it right away but it grows on you. Explore temples, palaces, amazing markets, shops, one of the craziest nightlife scenes in the world, and of course, amazing Thai food. At first, I didn’t like this place but it grew on me. Now, I love this city and return frequently.
Find adventure around Chiang Mai – Chiang Mai is an old city ringed with temples and surrounded by jungle. It’s a good launching pad for jungle treks into the area; there is a nearby elephant sanctuary, and the Chiang Mai night market is a place for some of the best deals in the country.
Hike in Khao Yai National Park – Located three hours north of Bangkok, this park is an excellent place to hike, swim, and find wild elephants. It’s not very crowded so you’ll have the jungle to yourself. Stay at the Greenleaf Guesthouse for the best tour/accommodation deals in the area.
Visit Khao Sok National Park – Located down south, this is considered one of the best parks in the world and the best in Thailand. You’ll find caves, jungles, rivers, lakes, and tall limestone kyrsts here. It’s not a common stop but if you are in Thailand for awhile, you should make the effort to go.
Hop the ancient capitals – Between Chiang Mai and Bangkok are Thailand’s three ancient capitals – Sukhothai, Lopburi, and Ayutthaya. Visiting them on your way north is a unique way to head from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. You’ll get to learn about ancient Thailand and see rural life at its best. My favorite capital is Ayutthaya.
Relax on tropical islands – Thailand has a million and one beautiful tropical islands. Some are overdeveloped, while others only have a single bungalow on them. You’ll find everything here. Some of the best islands here are – Ko Samet, Ko Taruato, Ko Lanta, Ko Chang, Ko Tao, Ko Jum, the Similian Islands, and Ko Samui.
Partake in the full moon party – If you like partying, there’s no better party in the world than the famous Full Moon Party. It’s 20,000 people partying until sunrise on a beach on Haat Rin, Koh Phangan. Sure, it is super touristy but that doesn’t mean it’s not a lot of fun and it’s as much a part of Thailand as anything else.
Go jungle trekking – There is some great jungle trekking in northern Thailand. Be sure to go on a multi-day hike. The shorter hikes aren’t as good and the hill tribes you visit are like visiting Disney world. The biggest departure points are Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai.
Go scuba diving – Scuba diving here is a popular activity. The cheapest place to learn is on the island of Kao Tao, which caters specifically for dive trips. Most people don’t go there if they aren’t diving. While you can dive all over the country, Ko Lanta, the Surin Islands, and the Similian Islands offer the best diving.
Learn to cook – Thai food is one of the most delicious types of food in the world and its relatively easy to cook. All over the country you’ll find places to teach you, though the best are in Chiang Mai and Bangkok. Even if you don’t plan to cook back home, at least you get to spend a day making and eating food.
Get off the beaten path – If you really want to see what Thai life is like outside the big cities, visit Isaan. Isaan is the name for the northeastern part of Thailand and is extremely rural. This area contains small farming villages that hardly see any tourists. Life here hasn’t changed much in a long time. Often considered a “backwater”, I think it’s one of the most interesting places in the country.
Take the day train – Taking the day train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai is not only cheaper but a much better way to see the countryside than the night train. Sure, you waste a day but you see the countryside, you experience how Thais take the train, and your treated to vendors coming off and on every stop selling meals for 50 cents. The day trip remains one of my favorite experiences in Thailand. Just make sure you have a good book!
Take part in Songkran – Between April 13th-15th, the Thai celebrate Thai New Year by holding an enormous, three-day water fight. Songkran, as it’s known, is meant to wash away the old and begin the year anew. It’s an amazing festival, and an unforgettable experience! Here’s a preview:
Help the elephants – Sure you can come to Thailand and ride an elephant, but so many of them in this country suffer from abuse. An even better way to get up-close-and-personal to the animals is to volunteer at the Elephant Conservation Center near Chiang Mai.
Admire Wat Doi Suthep – This stunning Buddhist temples lies in Doi Suthep-Pui National Park, 10 miles out of Chiang Mai. A tram or a trek up 300 steps will take you to the summit of Doi Suthep, where the glittering gold temple spire awaits you. The temple dates back to the 14th century, and really is too beautiful to miss.