backpacking Thailand - my overview

Backpacking Thailand: My overview!

This page is my overview of backpacking Thailand, covering the country, some tips, general things to know, transport and accommodation options, general costs and my overall experience.

What can I possibly say about Thailand that hasn’t been said a thousand times before?

Thailand is the backpacker super highway, every backpacker travels through it at least once. I know long-term travelers who have been multiple times and never had the same experience, they never get bored of it, as it’s constantly evolving.

Sure maybe today it can be considered as too commercial. The ‘cliche’ backpacker country where once upon a time travelers went to discover this once mystical land but now it’s a commercial tourist trap overrun by western enterprises. And, there is an argument for that. It is over crowded with tourists, everything is geared towards tourists, there are way too many souvenir shops and way too many tours offering the  ‘authentic travel experience’ that Thailand once had. But Thailand will always attract backpackers no natter how many ‘Starbucks’ and ‘McDonald’s’ appear, it will still still appeal to backpackers.

Why though? because this crazy, chaotic, vibrant Country has it all; from the unbearable humidity of Bangkok to the paradise beaches of the south to the jungles in the north. Thailand is a backpacker haven, whatever type of trip, whatever you’re looking for, whatever your purpose – you will find it here. It doesn’t matter how commercial it get’s in the future Thailand will always have it’s charm and diversity.

Depending on where in this vast country you are you will be subjected to the chaos it’s everywhere but You’ll also find the tranquility, the color and vibrancy and hoards and hoards of tourists. Thailand will be a rollacoaster, a test of your emotions and nerves but be prepared to be amazed.

backpacking Thailand: my overview

A few tips when backpacking Thailand:

  • The humidity of Thailand will hit you as soon as you enter the country.
  • When backpacking Thailand haggle, haggle, haggle. Learn to haggle well, learn to play the game or you will get ripped off and be out of pocket very quickly.
  • Don’t flash a map in public, a map is like an alarm for tour touts and tuk-tuk drivers to harass you.
  • Haggle and agree a price for tuck-tuk rides before you sit in the tuk-tuk, if you try agree a price afterwards it’s their right to charge you more.
  • Taking a train ride in Thailand is a adventure in itself
  • Fresh Mango juice, freshly squeezed lemon juice and ice coffee is a godsend in the soaring heat.
  • Keep hydrated, Thailand gets very hot.
  • Chose a bed close to the middle of the bus if you take a sleeper bus. Don’t trust the on board toilets, they don’t work half the time and if they do, they will stink.
  • If you like reggae music you’re in luck – reggae bars are everywhere.
  • Some budget hotels cost the same as guesthouses and hostels – You will yearn for some air-con.
  • Renting mopeds are a great way to get around the islands – Be careful in cities though the traffic is mayhem.
  • If going to a full moon party or any beach party, don’t walk on the beach bare footed, you will cut your cut on broken glass (Like this muggins over here did)
  • If you are looking to go to an elephant sanctuary, do some research into which ones are ethical – there are many that claim to be but after some research you can clearly see they are not. 
  • Don’t leave your drink’s lying around you will be left vulnerable to having your drink spiked.
  • Have plenty of insect repellent – Mosquitoes are everywhere.
  • Chang beer is cheaper than Chang water.

backpacking Thailand: my overview

Some things to be wary of when Backpacking Thailand:

  • Certain tuk-tuks will agree a lower than standard price, this is a scam, they will not take you directly to your destination. They will take you on a unwanted tour and stop off a number of stores and stops they get commission from. (This can take hours in some cases,store owners are very pushy and wastes your your time)
  • Thailand is rife with beggars, while some are homeless others are just trying to get money from you, and that includes children. In some cases the children will try and pick pocket you.
  • Do not agree to follow tour touts promising you an amazing price on a tour/activity/trip to another location. This can be a trap to lure you into alley ways and mug you.
  • Keep your possessions close and safe on buses, it’s known for children to crawl under seats and steal out of bags on the floor.
  • Many of the Animal sanctuaries are not very ethical – we went to a monkey sanctuary in Changmai and I never felt so sick, seeing monkeys tied up to posts and made to perform for the crowd.
  • ‘Lady-boy’ prostitutes are everywhere, a lot of the time you will not be able to tell if they are girls or boys – If you’re into this kind of thing be very careful.
  • Don’t flash your cash, you will be targeted.
  • Crime is common against backpackers and travelers, be smart, savvy and vigilant but not overly paranoid.
  • Sometimes there is political unrest in Thailand, be sure to know if there are any marches or demonstrations going on that might shut the city down. (Happened to me the day I have was meant to fly out)

Backpacking Thailand: my overview

Basic things to know:

Language spoken: Thai

Other Languages spoken: Different dialects of Thai.

Is English spoken: yes, commonly used in cities.

Currency: Thai Baht

Backpacking in Thailand is – Cheap

To check live rates click here XE.com

Visa options:

British tourists can get a ‘visa exemption’ which is valid for 30 days. However you must get an entry stamp at the airport or at a land border crossing. You can also extend this once during your stay.

Visa lengths differ if you enter by Air or land – If you arrive by air you will get a 30 day visa however by land you only get 14 days.

If you want to stay for longer than 30 days you will have to apply for a visa before traveling.

Rules change consistently on visa renewals – For more information on this check Gov.uk

To check your nationalities Visa requirements check here CIBTVisas

 

Things to know when budgeting for Thailand:

backpacking Thailand

Even with how commercial and popular Thailand has become over the past 2 decades with backpackers it’s still a relatively cheap country to backpack through. To keep your costs down, you’ll want to and need to learn to haggle. From the outset you will be over priced for everything. Thing’s that you think are cheap, and compared to western prices they may be, however they have your ‘pants pulled down’ and ripping you off.

For the first few days you will get ripped off with everything but once you learn to play the game, once you learn to haggle just wait and see how much cheaper things will become. (Remember haggling is a game, do not be rude with it, play the game)

Accommodation/transport:

Accommodation is also relatively cheap, again haggle the prices and get that room for $10 down to $7, or down to $5 if you’re really good. Thailand is one of those countries where getting a basic hotel room can work out just the same as getting a room in a guesthouse. There will be times you want nothing more than a room with Air con.

Transport will dent to your budget. Local and public transport is cheap, but moving from one place to another is not. With Thailand being such a huge country you will be paying out large lumps of money to get from A to B. Then of course are trips over to the Islands in the south, they will also burn a hole in your pocket.

Food/Drink.

Food and drinks are cheap, dining in restaurants is possible even on a tight budget but to really save money eat with the locals and eat the delicious street food and BBQ fish. (Pad Thai will become your staple meal)

Thailand is geared full speed towards backpackers, and especially party goers, so it’s no surprise alcohol is very cheap, Chang beer is cheaper than Chang water. Buying spirits on their own is expensive, buy a mix of cheap spirits in a bucket and your saving money. Yeah I did say bucket, you’ll know what they are when you see one.

Activities/tours/trips:

Excursions, activities and tours – It’s time to haggle your heart out, you will either get royally ripped off here, or get a bargain. Every activity is massively overpriced but remember the first price is not the correct price. Turn into a bit of a salesman yourself drive that price down and chuck in a few extras. Haggling is not rude, you’re not putting these people out of pocket by getting  cheaper price they overprice trips so they get more money out of tourists. The game is played each way.

As you can see I haven’t gone into too much specific pricing, as prices always change and information becomes irrelevant. However if you are looking to compare live prices here is a couple of good sites for live comparisons to help you: numbeo and expatisan.

When I was in Thailand in 2013 I was getting by on a daily budget of $15-$20.

Getting around when backpacking Thailand:

Thailand is full of travelers, backpackers and tourists from all over the world, it thrives on it’s tourism and there are plenty of ways to travel this crazy chaotic country. You can chose to travel independently on local transport or in organised tour groups. Although there is an abundance of transport options, this is where your patients will be tested.

Note: Thailand nothing runs on time, mishaps will happen, short trips will turn into long journeys.

Transport options:

Locally:

Tuk-tuks – Cheapest way to get around.

Taxi – More expensive and you will get stuck in traffic.

Moped- Renting is easy – the roads are not.

Local buses – Run within cities and towns.

Nationally:

Trains – Experience a Thai train journey, it will be something!

Coaches – A choice of 2nd class, 1st class and VIP options. (chose wisely these journeys will be long. Think of your comfort as well as your money)

Sleeper buses/trains – Yes beds on a bus (not the most comfiest thing but saves on a nights rent.)

Boats – from slow long boats to speed boats for Island hopping.

Flights – domestic flights are available but not as fun as land travel.

 

Popular Backpacker tour companies:

Backpacking through Thailand

Backpackers world travel

STA travel

Hundreds of locals tour operators in Thailand, shop around and haggle for best prices.

Accommodation options when backpacking Thailand:

With Thailand being such a hub for tourism there is no shortage of accommodation options, it all just depends on your budget. From basic (I mean prison cell like) rooms, hostels, guest houses, hotels, couchsurfing to hotels Thailand will accommodate you for whatever your needs are.

  • Basic rooms – Just 4 concrete walls and a bed
  • Hostels – Not always the cleanest but great to meet people.
  • Guest houses – Private rooms at cheaper rates than hotels
  • Budget Hotels (can be quite cheap in areas, sometimes you need that air con and privacy)
  • Homestays – Organize to stay with a local family for exchange of work or rent – great to get to know locals and experience the culture on a different level.
  • Camping  in national parks – buy a tent, sleeping bag or hammock and sleep under the stars.
  • Huts on the beach – range from basic to air conditioned

My overview of backpacking Thailand:

Even though Thailand has become highly commercial and a huge tourist trap, it was the first non English speaking country I backpacked. (Yes I’m counting Australia as an English speaking country) And it was the first and only country where I was bit by a monkey!

Backpacking Thailand was an education, you can read, research, plan and prepare for things before hand but until you actually experience it, you’re not going to learn. To me Australia and New Zealand like are beginners guide to backpacking, easing you in and Thailand was the next level up. Even though everything was pretty much laid out I still learnt to haggle, to spot the scammers, became more of a savvy backpacker. I learnt how not to stand out like a tourist and learnt how to be patient in all the chaos. Some of the trips and yet unspoiled landscape in the north were just breath taking.

It’s because of Thailand I became accustomed to mammoth long-haul journeys, sleeper buses, I can spot a scam artist a mile away and prepared me for my future trips.

And the country it self behind the commercialism, is still amazing. One I’d definitely go back to no matter how many Starbucks there are.

I loved my time backpacking Thailand, the contrast from the hustle bustle of Bangkok, the overly touristy Islands to the jungles in the north.

Some of my Highlights.

Bangkok except for Khao San road.

Watching the chaos around me.

Exposure to a new culture.

Learning to haggle like a pro.

Cheap cigarettes.

Cheap booze.

Eating Scorpions.

Trying Thai delicacies.

Street food.

Some of the temples.

Experiencing a Thai train journey.

The paradise beaches.

Ko tao.

Ko samui.

Island hopping.

Ko Phi Phi Don.

Krabi.

Maya beach cruise.

Railay beach.

Changmai.

Riding an elephant (sorry if you’re offended but lived a childhood dream).

Thai jungle experience.

The wilderness in the north

Riding on the roof of a tuk-tuk through the jungle.

The incredible landscapes.

Amazing Waterfalls.

Ham and cheese toasties at 7/11.

 

Click here for full gallery

Some of my Dislikes.

Long bus journeys.

The humidity of Bangkok.

Chumpon.

Sleeper buses.

mosquitoes.

Getting bit by insects everyday.

Humidity.

Being hassled by taxi drivers after getting off a long journey.

Monkeys tied up and up being made to perform.

Getting bit by a monkey.

Slicing my foot open at a full moon party.

The underage prostitution that’s clearly evident.

Seeing old men with very young girls/boys.

Patong Beach.

Some of the shit accommodation we stayed in.

Not being able to experience Chang Rai.

 My Route backpacking Thailand:

This trip started in Bangkok before moving south to the beaches and islands, then a huge trip north to Changmai and finished back in Bangkok.

View other countries I’ve traveled

 

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65 Comments

  1. I spent less than a week in Thailand right after my quiet and relaxing trip to Myanmar trip and it is true that I was a little bit shocked by Bangkok’s hassle and locals trying to scam you everywhere (you did not mention the “lucky Buddha” . . ). My two days north in the jungle were definitely better and I would like to explore the country a little bit more but with all those scams, I don’t know!

  2. Love all of your tips! Though I’m past the point of wanting to backpack in Thailand (air con luxe hotel over here please!), I’m saving these tips for my teenagers should the mood to visit strike them. Appreciate your candor about keeping safe too. But what’s with the proliferation of reggae bars?!

  3. Loved my experience in Thailand and specifically Bangkok. Indeed, what a chaotic and dynamic city. There is so much to see and do and at all different price points. The one thing I’d add to your list is a Thai massage. That is a unique experience, all by itself. I’m looking forward to my next trip to Thailand!!

  4. Really enjoyed this review. Thailand is a gem in the SE Asian area. We have spent nearly 2 years in the place on and off. Fave country in the world. The humidity can get to you but drinking ample water, dressing cool and doing stuff in the early morning or late afternoon works nicely. I recall seeing how crowded the beaches would get in Phuket when I went to snap the sunset. Locals and tourists tend to swim and enjoy the sand later in the day because the Thai are like vampires, and when it gets really hot and humid, even farang are not as eager sun worshippers.

    Ryan

  5. You know the one thing I disliked the most about Thailand? And I’m surprised that I haven’t heard the same from anyone else but I didn’t like the attitude of the people at all! I actually haven’t felt as much racism against brown people (actually, Indian more than anything else) than I did in Thailand! I tried to haggle for a moped in a couple of places and got the response’ you Indian people only want to haggle, don’t want to take, go away and don’t come back’ and I was actually very shocked! Lol. Nevertheless, I loved the temples, the beaches and the overall vibe. And of course, it is cheap! I love your very extensive guide, people will find all the information they need to visit Thailand here.

    • Oh wow medha, that’s actually quite surprising to hear, I never had nor come across anybody who had any issues with Thai people, they for me were quite friendly And I haggle about everything ….shame and sorry to hear that 😯😕 and your right with the beaches and how cheap it was 😁

  6. ok so I know this post is about backpacking in Thailand but one thing stood out to me – you were bit by a monkey?! that is exactly what I was so afraid of in the monkey forest in Ubud, Bali… did you need to get emergency rabies medication?
    Gabby recently posted…How to visit Nusa Lembongan, BaliMy Profile

    • Haha I was waiting for somebody to pick up on that, I did get it checked out but luckily it didn’t penetrate my skin so I was ok, and so far no sign of rabbies. I used to live in Bali and those monkeys in the Ubud forest are a lot more aggressive than others.

  7. To be honest, I have a sort of love-hate relationship with Thailand. Some 7 yrs ago I had a 2 week trip planned.for Thailand but when I landed in Bangkok airport there was a misunderstanding with my tourist visa and I sort of spent the night in airport jail 😂 Really curious if others had this experience. I eventually ended up in Malaysia and it was the best trip ever, but since then I never tries to return to Thailand. Posts like these make me want to try again, I don’t know how comfortable I would be backpacking though 😂 This was a great post anyway and thank you for sharing all your best tips 😁

  8. Wow! This is such a comprehensive guide! I have been to Thailand as a backpacker about 3 or 4 times now and I agree that despite the overcrowding it really does have it all. Had to laugh at the chang beer being cheaper than water comment.. it is so true though!

  9. Thank you for such an honest, in depth guide! We’re hoping to visit Thailand next year, and I’ve been going through guide books like crazy. It’s refreshing to see some helpful hints along with the gorgeous pictures.

  10. I agree, a train ride in Thailand is an adventure in its self.
    I had such a wonderful time in Thailand, the people were friendly and the food was amazing. I hope I can go back now that I’m a little more seasoned traveler.

  11. This is an interesting article bringing back memories of my own Thailand trip that I enjoyed a lot. I’m just a bit puzzled about your warnings: I conceived Thailand as a quite safe country (of course you shouldn’t flash your cash – you shouldn’t do that anywhere in the world) – and I was travelling by myself; still, no problems or sketchy situations at all. Thanx for sharing all the little tips and tricks and info, though.

  12. A fantastic guide to Thailand for any traveller, tourist, experienced, backpacker or other. Love the sense of humor and your insider tips and advice. And we agree with you that despite the crush of tourists and tourist traps, Thailand is still an amazing experience — the best travel writers can find the uncommon and unique experiences even in the common.

  13. Planning to take a trip to Thailand hopefully next summer! I am a little worried about the humidity though, never been a huge fan of the heat. Never thought about sleeping on a bus, but I have to say they look pretty awesome, at least on the outside.

  14. What a great in-depth guide! I still haven’t made it to Thailand, but this is a great article to come back to when I finally do plan a trip there, full of helpful tips.

  15. I love Thailand despite its hustling and bustling state. I’ve been thrice and lived there for 2 months. I got used to the friendliness of Thais compare to some Asian countries. Most of the people especially in local villages and communities are polite and always gave a polite gesture. Although like most Asian countries who don’t use and speak English, they always try their best to be understood. I love their beaches, too! Indeed, Thailand is one of the best places for backpacking!

  16. Pingback: Thailand Gallery - Forever roaming the world

  17. This is a great guide for anyone heading to Thailand for the first time 🙂 For visas, it’s worth noting that the days you get differ depending on whether you enter by air or land. (With a British passport you get 30 days by air but only 14 days at land crossings.)

  18. Thailand is an amazingly beautiful country with so much to see, enjoy and do. Your post did it justice as you took us on a sumptuous journey across that country. 🙂

  19. Thailand is beautiful country . Ive been few places in Thailand such as Puket and Patong , I use to ride a motorbike when I was there . We also ride motorbike in Bali Island everyday do don’t need to worry to ride a bike in other country . In my opinion Thailand is pretty save country . I will definitely coming back to Thailand again and bring my family

  20. Thailand has always been on my bucket list and I wish I can finally see it in person in the not so distant future. There’s plenty of places to explore there and experience a lot of things as well. This is the perfect guide, thanks for sharing everything from the accommodations to the transport!

  21. What I love about this post is that it actually gives me useful info. So many travel blogs just post a few pictures of the place they went and gloss over their trip. I’ve never been out of the country and I need real advice! So THANK YOU! Even just the thing about not having my map out- so freaking helpful!

    • Hi thanks for that…what you’ve just said is exactly the reasonable started blogging …I’ve been traveling/backpacking since 2010 and over the years i have struggled to find real information and by that I mean things that occur everyday. Sure there are hundreds of travel blog that can tell me hotspots and places to eat and touristy information but real info and things that actually matter and occur are are not written about. It’s lime people are scared to write about it because it’s not always pretty if you get what I mean …so I started this blog with this purpose to get real information that going to help you along the way….i also have a mini series called traveling realisms that i post on Tuesdays which talks about all the things that are likely to happen but what your not told about before hand so your not prepared for it…So glad you found this helpful.

  22. It sounds such an amazing country and amazing experience. I’ve never been backpacking so this was really interesting to read. There are so many tips a first time backpacker would never know.

  23. My friend just got back from a trip in Thailand!! She said it was absolutely gorgeous and loved all the history and culture there. Once our boys are bigger, we plan on taking a trip out there 🙂

  24. oh I remember that Thailand humidity! It was such a beautiful place to visit though! I’d love to go back one day! Great tips there, some really important ones for tourists to remember.

  25. It does look like an amazing trip. South eat Asia has a ton going for it. I just know that you are right about the humidity. I was in China in the summer and that was humid enough, not even quite as hot and humid as Thailand.

  26. It seems so colorful and joyful! I am not sure a trip like that would be fit for a family with a little one so maybe later on for us!

  27. I have never been to Thailand or to any Asian country. I am so wanting to travel to that part of the world. There’s so much to experience about Eastern culture and of course, the beaches are the best.

  28. Thailand has became such a popular place to visit. I know a few people who absolutely love the place. Unfortunately I don’t think I’ll ever go as I couldn’t do the flight

  29. I would like to visit Thailand one day. It’s not even that far of a flight from here, I just haven’t ever managed to get there! I’m not sure I would backpack though… with food and drink being so cheap I would probably be more inclined to find a nice resort so I can just chill in the pool when I fancy…

  30. You’re like a Thailand encyclopedia. Not been there but I hear it’s a fun place to be. Your post is super descriptive and helpful. On my list! 🙂

  31. I would love to go to Thailand, I have never been before and I like that it has a mix of cultures and activities. I have never been backpacking before either! x

  32. This is amazing! I personally don’t want to backpack as a trip, but this gave me great insight into what to expect and your tips were great. Thailand is on my list of places to go this eyar or next.

    • Thanks Natalie, so glad you have found this post helpful 😀 Even though Thailand is over crowded with tourists and travelers from all over the world you will absolutely love it. It is still an amazing country. Are you just going to Thailand or other South East Asia countries too ?

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