I know I’m not alone when I say Thailand is a favourite destination; it’s the sort of place you can go back to again and again – and I have! I’ve been every kind of traveller in Thailand: most often the very broke backpacker, occasionally the fancy holidaymaker; I’ve done the quick ‘Bangkok stopover’, and most recently I’m a flashpacker (meaning occasionally I splurge for nice sheets!)
This mish mash of experiences has taught me a few things about travel in Thailand that I want to share with you. This isn’t a comprehensive travel guide, but there are definitely some gems here that will help you save money, have more fun and avoid getting into trouble!?
15 TIPS FOR TRAVELLING THAILAND
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AVOID THE SUNNY SIDE
If you’re travelling by bus/train on the cheap (meaning without air conditioning) you can stay cool by taking note of where the local Thais are sitting and following suit. The locals will usually choose to sit on the side of the bus that will be out of the sun once you’re on the road, which means you’ll stay cooler.
FIND A CHEAP ROOM
If you’re looking for the cheapest possible accommodation, you best bet is to head to the busiest ‘backpacker’ areas and shop around. A quick Internet search or your guidebook should point you in the right direction.
The very cheapest accommodation options won’t usually have websites and you won’t be able to book online, but they will usually have a sign on the street. When you ask if they have rooms available, don’t be afraid to ask if they have anything cheaper.
OR GET A NICE ROOM FOR A STEAL
However, in Thailand just a few extra dollars can = a BIG upgrade, with bonuses like air conditioning, breakfast, or a pool! Even if you’re on a budget, it’s worth having a look online to see what’s available. I’ve gotten some amazing deals on Agoda (including a 4 star, beachfront hotel for 900 baht a night!)
Also, guesthouses are often cheaper than hostels. Hostels are a good option if you’re travelling solo and want to meet other travellers, but if you can find a travel buddy you’ll usually save money by staying in a small guesthouse and splitting the cost of a private room.
SAVE TIME + FLY
Don’t rule out air travel when travelling north to south (or vice versa.) Most backpackers travel by train or bus, but flying can actually be cheaper and save you a lot of time. We flew from Phuket to Chiang Mai for less than 500 baht with Air Asia and saved two days of overland travel.
DMK (DON MUANG) AIRPORT
If you do decide to fly within Southeast Asia, you’ll find that most of the low cost carriers fly out of Don Muang airport (DMK) – not the main international airport. Two quick tips for DMK:
There is a free bus between DMK and BKK (the international airport). When you exit DMK, you’ll find the bus counter outside. You need to show that you have an onward flight leaving from BKK; a screenshot of your itinerary is fine. They will give you a stamp and then you can board the bus. If you don’t talk the bus a taxi will cost you around 600 baht (it’s a 45 min – 2 hour ride depending on traffic.
Consider staying in Ayutthaya instead of Bangkok before your flight! Ayutthaya is one of my favourite spots in Thailand; there are gorgeous ruins in the centre of town and it’s easy to hire a bike and explore. It’s super easy to take the train from Ayutthaya direct to DMK airport and in my opinion it’s a lot less stressful than coming from Bangkok.
“Sunset at Wat Chaiwatthanaram, Ayutthaya, Thailand” by Justin Vidamo
TRAVEL TO THE ISLANDS DURING THE RAINY SEASON
On the islands everything, from accommodation to beer, is considerably more expensive than the rest of Thailand. A few weeks on the beach can do considerable damage to your budget. The solution? Consider travelling during the rainy season to save money (Koh Samui and the eastern islands: October – December / Phuket and the west: May – October.)
During the rainy season, it does rain (almost) every day but usually not all day. But you can get incredible deals (stay 8 nights, pay 4 nights – or discounts around 50% of peak season rates) so it’s worth it. It’s never cold, so you’ll still be able to enjoy the beach, plus you’ll avoid the crowds.
SPEND MORE TIME IN THE NORTH OR EAST
Travellers to Thailand, especially first time travellers, spend most of their time between the islands and Bangkok, with maybe a quick dash to Chiang Mai. However, I’d highly recommend going a bit further off the beaten track and spending more time up north or to the east.
Go beyond Chiang Mai to Pai, and then further west to Mae Hong Son. (Stop in Soppong along the way to go trekking.) Or head further north towards the Laos border to Chiang Rai (then visit Phu Chi Fa.) Or go east to Isaan.
Why? It’s cheaper, there are fewer tourists, the food is (arguably) better and because it is fun to be adventurous and get away from full moon parties and whiskey buckets every once in a while.
SOMETIMES IT’S OK TO DRINK THE WATER
No, not the tap water … but the water in restaurants is fine 99.99% of the time. If you eat in local restaurants there is usually a pitcher of water on your table. This is bottled water (filled from big ‘water cooler’ style bottles.) Look around and you’ll almost always find a cooler with ice and glasses; feel free to help yourself. (This doesn’t exist in the fancier, ‘touristy’ restaurants, so you’ll be stuck buying bottled water.)
By the way, if you’re worried about ice – check the shape. If the ice cube is round, with a hollow centre (like a bead) it’s safe; these ice cubes are bought from an ice vendor, not made from tap water.
DON’T LOSE YOUR LUNCH
If you get motion sick (like me) travelling on Thai roads can be a challenge.
Many Most drivers weave in and out of traffic, pass on blind corners, and occasionally slam on the brakes. Add winding, narrow roads or occasional sea travel and it can be a queasy nightmare if you’re not prepared.
In other words, motion sickness tables are your friend. If you haven’t brought any from home, they are cheap and easy to get from 7-11 (and there are 7-11’s everywhere.) The pills are either in the medicine section, near the register, or behind the front counter. Look for ‘Dimenhydrinate’ on the packaging – it is usually a little blue pack or clear packaging with yellow pills.
(And while you’re in 7-11, pickup up some tiger balm. Use it on mosquito bites and thank me later.)
MARCH AND APRIL ARE HOT
Really, really hot. I’ve twice travelled through Thailand during March and April and to be honest, I wouldn’t recommend it unless you’re spending all your time at the beach. Especially if you don’t have room in your budget for air-conditioning.
To be clear, if it’s the only time you can go, still go; but if you have any flexibility in your plans I’d highly recommend adjusting your trip accordingly. (The only plus to travelling this time of year is Songkran, the Thai New Year – also know as the biggest water fight on earth. The date varies but it’s usually in April. Be prepared to get very wet.)
Songkran – photo by JJ Harrison
Lastly, it’s possible to travel so light in Thailand. The weather doesn’t change much, it’s laid back and it costs next to nothing to get laundry done (about $2-3/ a load – or try hand washing, clothes dry quickly in the heat.)
You could easily get by with:
- x 1 pair shorts for the beach
- x 2 bikinis (bring x 1 sporty top that can work as a sports bra)
- 3-4 tank tops (or switch out some tanks for tees if you prefer)
- x 2 pairs of loose, lightweight pants
- x 1 long sleeve ‘cover up’ top
- x 1 sundress
- a sarong
- flip slops
Travelling light is so freeing and I guarantee that you will have a better holiday if you carry less stuff.
GO TO THE DENTIST
Dental tourism is huge in Thailand, and on my recent trip I decided to try it for myself. My experience was AWESOME (I know it’s strange to show so much enthusiasm for a dental visit!) But the office was clean and modern, the dentist quick and painless, and the price – under $40 for a cleaning!
I visited Dental 4 U in Chiang Mai (they speak excellent English) and I highly recommend them.
CHECK YOUR VISA REQUIREMENTS
This should be a no-brainer … but just in case, here is a friendly reminder to check your visa requirements. Most tourists get a 30 day visa when arriving by air but only 15 days if crossing a land border.
If you want to stay longer you can do a visa run (a good excuse to expand your trip) or most passport holders can get a longer visa if they apply ahead of time. I have a US passport and I was able to easily get a 2 month visa from the Thai consulate while in London. But always double check the rules before you travel – things change all the time.
GO DIRECT TO THE SOURCE
If you want to do a tour, cut out the middlemen and go straight to the source. Don’t be afraid to ‘DIY’ your own tour. You’ll save money and have a better experience.
For example, we were staying on Ko Yao Noi (a small island east of Phuket) and we wanted to visit some of the other islands on the way to our resort. Our resorted quoted us over $250 for the trip. Instead, we took a taxi to the pier and negotiated with one of the longtail boats directly; we ended up paying $100 for the day instead. We saved a fortune and we had a private boat to ourselves – and check out our view!
What do you think? Do you have any tips to add? Let me know in the comments! x<
photo credits: photos are mine unless where noted above