Backpacking Thailand travel tips
This overview of budget backpacking Thailand covers:
General costs, things to know, tips, transport, accommodation options and my overall experience of the country.
What can I possibly say about Thailand that hasn’t been said a thousand times before? Same, Same but different! As the locals say.
Thailand is a backpacker superhighway, every backpacker has had the experience of traveling through Thailand 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 overcrowded 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 matter how many ‘Starbucks’ and ‘McDonald’s’ appear, it will still appeal to backpackers.
Because this (Sorry I’m bringing out some cliches now) 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, or your purpose – you will find it here. It doesn’t matter how commercial it get’s in future, Thailand will always have its 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. Traveling Thailand will be a rollercoaster, a test of your emotions and nerves but be prepared to be amazed.
A few Thailand travel tips:
- 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 bell and a calling card for tour touts and tuk-tuk drivers to harass you.
- Haggle and agree on a price for tuck-tuck rides before you sit in the tuk-tuk, if you try to agree on a price afterward it’s their right to charge you more.
- Taking a train ride in Thailand is an 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 onboard 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 the traffic is mayhem.
- If going to a full moon party or any beach party, don’t walk on the beach barefooted, 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.
Some things to be wary of when Backpacking Thailand:
- Certain tuk-tuks will agree a lower than the standard price, this is a scam, they will not take you directly to your destination. They will take you on an unwanted tour and stop off a number of stores and stops they get a commission from. (This can take hours in some cases, store owners are very pushy and waste 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 pickpocket 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 alleyways 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 Chiangmai 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)
Basic things to know when backpacking Thailand:
- 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
- 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.
- You will see companies offering ‘visa runs’- This is where you leave the country just to return on a new tourist visa (However do check up on this as rules to visa runs change all the time).
- Rules change consistently on visa renewals – For more information on this check Gov.uk
- To check your nationalities Visa requirements check here CIBTVisas
Budgeting tips for Thailand backpacking:
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 overpriced 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)
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. Yes, I did say bucket! You’ll know what they are when you see one.
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 remembers 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 the 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.
While I was backpacking 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 its tourism and there are plenty of ways to travel this crazy chaotic country. You can choose to travel independently on local transport or in organized tour groups. Although there is an abundance of transport options, this is where your patience will be tested.
Transport will dent 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, there are trips over to the Islands in the south, they will also burn a hole in your pocket.
Note: Thailand nothing runs on time, mishaps will happen, short trips will turn into long journeys.
- 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.
- 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) – And they love to brightly decorate their buses in Thailand.
- Sleeper buses/trains – Yes beds on a bus (not the 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:
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.
- 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 in exchange for 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 conditioning
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) Thailand was the first and only country where I was bitten by a monkey!
Traveling Thailand was an education, you can read, research, plan and prepare for things beforehand 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. I started to become a savvy backpacker whilst traveling Thailand, learning to spot scammers and how to haggle. 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 breathtaking.
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 itself 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.
Trying Thai delicacies.
Ham and cheese toasties at 7/11.
Some of the temples.
Experiencing a Thai train journey.
The paradise beaches.
Ko Phi Phi Don.
Maya beach cruise.
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.
Some of my Dislikes.
Long bus journeys.
The humidity of Bangkok.
Getting bit by insects every day.
Taxi drivers hassling me after a long bus journey.
Witnessing Monkeys forced 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.
Some of the shit accommodation we stayed in.
Not being able to experience Chang Rai.
My Route backpacking Thailand:
This Thailand map shows the route I took through the country. My journey started in Bangkok before moving south to the beaches and islands, then a huge trip north to Chiangmai and finished back in Bangkok.
Did you find this backpacking Thailand guide helpful? Let me know in the comments below if there are any other Thailand travel tips you need or would like to know.
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