Where to Go
Thailand is incredibly diverse, with famous and “must-see” sights all over the country – which can make it incredibly challenging to try and plan an itinerary that takes in everything. To make it just that little bit easier, we’ve rounded up the places you absolutely have to have on your list – everything else should be planned around these.
The capital of Thailand, you can’t have a Thai itinerary without including Bangkok. It’s a fantastically varied city, fully of soaring skyscrapers and modern architecture nestled next to floating markets, historical cultural sights, traditional architecture, and some of the best museums you’ll find across the country.
Bangkok also has one of the best nightlife’s in Thailand. With a number of nightclubs, cocktail bars, rooftop bars, traditional Muay Thai fights and more, there’s enough to keep you occupied from 6pm right through until 6am.
Sometimes referred to as Thailand’s northern capital, Chiang Mai exhibits a seamless blend of culture and nature. It’s home to over 500 temples, all fantastically built into the environment that includes lush jungles and fast-moving rivers.
It’s here that avid hikers will find the Doi Inthanon, Thailand’s highest point, and there’s also an ethical sanctuary where travellers can interact with beautiful elephants knowing they’re not contributing to animal brutality.
The largest island in Thailand, Phuket is any backpacker’s dream destination. With the endless sandy beaches at Patong, the hedonistic nightlife, water sports, world-class shows, food so fabulous even the fussiest of eaters will enjoy themselves, and some of the most famous cultural sites in the world, it’s not one to be missed.
While here, make sure to check out Wat Chalong and the big Buddha, and set aside some time to marvel at the old buildings in Phuket Town.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Ayutthaya is one of Thailand’s many ancient cities, full of sweeping ruins that date back to Siam’s golden age. These sights include Way Yai Chai Mongkorn where visitors can climb the tall stupas, as well as Wat Mahata with the famous stone statue of a head fully enshrined with the roots of a tree.
Anyone who’s a fan of Bridge Over the River Kwai should add Kanchanaburi to their bucket list, as it’s here that the famous bridge can be found – and travellers can even take a ride on the infamous Death Railway. The area is a combination of natural wonders coupled with wartime monuments, and there are several museums dedicated to the wartime history – including several wartime cemeteries.
Nature lovers should head to Erawan National Park where you can spot the Erawan Falls and the Pra That Cave, whole Sai Yok National Park is perfect for an afternoon picnic surrounded by mini waterfalls.
What to Do
Thailand is one of those countries that has something for everyone. Incredibly diverse, with a history and culture that spans the ages, it’s no wonder the country is full of exception sights, fantastic national parks, and intriguing traditions to get involved with.
Take a Cooking Class
Thai food is some of the best in the world, and it turns out it’s actually incredibly easy to cook – once you know how, and where better to learn than with genuine Thai chefs in Thailand?
There are a number of places to spend an afternoon learning how to cook traditional Thai dishes across the country, but the best are in Chiang Mai and Bangkok. The Chiang Mai Kitchen Cooking School is one of the best, with courses starting from just £20.
Get a Sak Yant Tattoo
Possibly not one for everyone, fi you’re travelling to Thailand on a truly immersive cultural trip, then a bamboo tattoo administered by a monk has to be on the list. Unlike getting a tattoo at any typical parlour in the UK or western world, getting a Sak Yant tattoo is a very personal and sacred experience.
Having been around for over 2000 years, they were traditionally used for warriors seeking protection and strength in battle, and they would cover their entire bodies with the magic symbols in order to prevent knives and arrows piercing their skins.
The best place in Thailand to get a Sak Yant tattoo is the Buddhist temple called Wat Bang Phra, where the monks will choose your tattoo and placement based on your aura.
Hike in Khao Sok National Park
Tucked away in the south of the country, Khao Sok National Park is one of the best in the country. Full of hiking and trekking routes, as well as limestone karsts, relaxing rivers, more wildlife than you could spot in a year, and the best sunsets on the island, it’s not one to miss.
Visit the Grand Palace and Wat Pho
The royal palace of Thailand, the Grand Palace was first built during the late 1700s as dictated by King Rama I. Even today, it’s the official residence of Thailand’s king – although it’s no longer his home, but rather it’s just used for official ceremonies.
The palace itself is incredible, with a number of temples – including the famous Wat Pra Kaeo, where travellers can find the 15th century Emerald Buddha. Extend your trip and visit Wat Pho nearby as well to catch a glimpse of a gigantic, golden, reclining Buddha statue.
Attend the Full Moon Party
One of the most famous cultural festivals in the world, the Full Moon Party is a cornucopia of drinking, dancing, and loud music. If you like the sound of fire dancers putting on a show, booths covering you with glow-in-the-dark face paint, a selection of different music playing on the beach – all equally loud – and stalls of people lining up to sell you alcohol, then get ready for the best night of your life.
Scuba Dive in the Similan Islands
One of the most popular activities in Thailand is scuba diving, and the country is home to some of the best diving spots in the world. The island of Ko Tao is one of the cheapest places to learn, which must of the island catering specifically to diving – it’s one of the only reason people tend to visit – but if you’re looking for the absolute best spot then head to the Similan Islands.
Here, divers will see the Elephant Head Rock, and a reef that’s home to snappers, rays, fish, and turtles.
The Elephant Nature Park
One thing you don’t want to do in Thailand is pay anyone any money to ride an elephant. Sure, it looks good on the ‘gram, and it seems to be the thing to do when you’re out there, but the reality is that these institutions are incredibly abusive towards the incredible animals.
Instead, head to the Elephant Nature Park and spend some time volunteering at the Elephant Conservation Centre near Chiang Mai. A fantastic centre, it teaches visitors about the elephant tourism trade, educating tourist on why they should never ride an elephant in Thailand, while simultaneously offering people the chance to give back and help the community.
Shop at the Floating Markets
Located in various spots throughout the country, the floating markets are a unique way to explore and try some local foods. The best ones can be found in Ratchaburi, or during the Taling Chan Weekend Floating Market in Bangkok.
Literally what it says on the tin, the floating markets consist of boats on the water, piled high with colourful goods and things to eat.
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Best Time to Visit Thailand
Thailand is a diverse country, so the long and short of it is that the best time to visit will differ depending on where it is that you’re going. The islands on one side of the country, for example, have a slightly rainier climate than the other side, and the two sides will often be the exact opposites in terms of weather.
December through to March is Thailand’s driest season, making it the best time to visit if you wanted to avoid getting too wet – although bear in mind that, like any tropical country, there will always be short rain showers no matter when you visit.
April to June is great for cheaper prices but because it’s the slow season, a lot of business and ferry services on the smaller islands will shut down. It’ best to plan what you want to do first, and then if you can still do everything during the shoulder season go for it – you’ll at least save a few bucks.
In terms of key events and festivals, February sees the Buddhist celebration of Makha Bucha, as well as Krabi Naga Fest along the southern coast, bringing music directly to the beaches. There’s also the Phi Ta Khon Festival in June which sees people dressed n elaborate ghost costumes, as well as the Bangkok International Festival of Dance and Music in September.
How Much Does it Cost
Typically, Thailand is known for being really cheap – and it can be, as long as you’re sensible and don’t go overboard. You can’t expect to do every single activity going, eat at the fanciest restaurants, and stay at the nicest hotels and still have an affordable trip.
A daily backpacking budget through Thailand would be between 825-1150 THB, which converts to roughly £21-30, which covers staying a private room with a shared bathroom, street food, drinks, a few tours, and transport.
Typical costs while backpacking across Thailand:
Thailand is easy to visit on a budget – all you have to do is live like a local. That means eating at street food vendors, drinking local beer, and taking buses rather than cabs.
The average Thai lives on the equivalent of £188 a month on Bangkok – and that’s even less in the countryside. In fact, if you’re staying in local guesthouses and eating street food – which is completely safe, often safer than the restaurants – then you could spend less than £10 a day.
Take advantage of the happy hours in many of the bars, which include half priced drinks and 2-for-1 specials, and it’s possible to find beer for less than £1 in the 7-11s.
Another good tip is to not book tours before you go. This sounds wrong but trust us; booking your tours before you go means you’ll be charged a lot more, whereas the local travel agencies are very open to negotiation.
What to Pack
Knowing what to pack for a new destination is always daunting – especially when you’re backpacking, and you’re relying on whatever you can fit inside a backpack. Thailand especially can be difficult, as it’s humid and muggy, but also gloriously sunny with frequent rain showers.
The essentials for any backpacking trip are, of course: swimsuit, long sleeve tops, t-shirts, leggings, stretchy jeans that dry easily, underwear, shorts, toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, shower gel and a towel – unless you’re staying in a hotel, typical backpacker accommodation doesn’t come with a towel.
In keeping with the hostel theme, a pair of flip flops is handy for the showers, as is a refillable water bottle to carry around with you during the day. If you’re planning to go on a lot of hikes and walks then make sure you have comfortable shoes, and bring a rain jacket to protect from the random outbursts of rain Thailand is prone to.
Other good things to pack, if you have space, include: bug spray, eco-friendly wet wipes, a first aid kit – as much as you can, but definitely band-aids and antibacterial cream – a universal charger, and a lock for your backpack.
There are a number of different styles of backpacker accommodation types you can stay in in Thailand: hostels, guesthouse, or a bungalow resort. And the great news is that they’re all ridiculous cheap, if you don’t mind a basic room.
As little as £1.50 is enough to get you a private, basic room or beach bungalow with a shared bathroom. Expect it to be a little bit tatty and dated, but it will definitely be clean, and as long as you’ve packed correctly you won’t find yourself at a loss for anything.
A lot of places will offer you the chance to upgrade for £1 a night, which gives you a room with a mosquito net over the bed. In Thailand, this is always a good idea so try and budget for this – or at least bring your own net. There’s nothing worse than trying to hike for hours with itchy bites rubbing against your boots and clothes.
Food and Drink
Thai food is popular all over the world, but you’ve never had anything like it until you’ve tried traditional Thai from a Thai restaurant, in Thailand.
Known for its incredible flavours and fresh ingredients, without being too heavy, Thai food is perfect for the heat and humidity you can find here. Specialities include Tom Yung Goong, which is a soup blended with lemongrass, chilli, lime, shallots, prawns and mushrooms, and of course there’s the famous red and green Thai curries made with coconut milk.
Almost every street food cart will serve a delicious Pad Thai, consisting of thick noodles and a myriad of vegetables. While you’re backpacking, you absolutely have to try the Pad Krapow Moo which is chicken or pork served on top of white rice with a fried egg, as well as the Som Tum: shredded papaya with green beans, garlic, and chilli, topped with peanuts and typically served as a side salad.
Thailand is a veritable backpacker’s dream; a remote paradise full of extraordinary cultural elements, tropical beauty, lively cities and more – all just waiting to be explored by adventurous travellers.
For a place so far reserved from the western world, it’s no surprise that there a number of social norms that travellers should become accustomed to if they want to avoid an embarrassing encounter.
- Don’t talk about the king – Thai’s are sensitive to anything that could be seen as a sign of disrespect against their king
- Cover your shoulders and knees when entering Thai temples and royal palaces
- Don’t point, but gesture with all four fingers extended and thumb flat against the palm
- Don’t put your feet up on anything that’s not meant for feet
- Don’t touch anyone’s head – it’s the most important part of the body
- Eat with your spoon – eating directly off your fork is considered crude
- Women must never touch a monk or their robe
- The national anthem is played out loud every day at 8am and 6pm – if you’re in a public space, it’s customary to show respect by stopping and standing still until it’s over
A massive part of travelling is picking up handy phrases so that you can communicate with the locals – often leading to great deals, cheaper prices, and hidden activities off the beaten track.
The key with Thai is to know that there are slightly different rules to the language depending on whether you’re male or female. If you’re male, you have to end every sentence with the word “khrup/krap”, while females have to end their sentences with “ka/kap”.
- Aai ja
- Khop khun
- Khor thoad
- Hong nam yoo tee nai
- Phom dong gaan hai mor maa raak sa
- Mai pen rai
- Kun pood paasaa anggrit dai mai
- Mai khao jai
- Lah gorn
- A nee tao rai
- Thank you
- Sorry / excuse me
- Where is the restroom
- I need a doctor
- No worries
- Can you speak English?
- I don’t understand
- How much is this?
Transportation in Thailand is incredibly cheap, which means any backpacker can get around the country on a limited budget and see all the incredible sights. The best bet if probably a local bus to get you from town to town, and these cost as little as 8 THB per trip (£0.21).
There is also the Metro and sky train for when you’re in Bangkok, which costs between 15-50 THB (£0.39 – £1.30), as well as metered taxi rides which cost between 60-100 THB (£1.56 – £2.60).
Tuk tuks are the most popular form of transport for tourists, which means they tend to be more expensive – but definitely worth the experience if you travel in one at least once. A single ride will set you back 100-235 THB (£2.60 – £6.10).
The trains across Thailand aren’t the most reliable, and they tend to be pretty slow, but they’re a great option if you’re travelling long distances and want to take the scenic route. Plus, it’s fairly cheap, with a day train costing just 50 THB (£1.30). A night train will cost 575 THB (£14.95) for a second-class ticket that doesn’t have air conditioning, which works great if you want to reach a different part of the country but not waste a whole day travelling.
When flying in to Thailand, citizens from the USA, UK, and EU are given a free, 30-day visa upon arrival. If travelling overland to visit Thailand, this visa is only 15 days. However, for approximately £50 you can extend this to receive an additional thirty days.
If you are looking to stay for longer than 30 days, you can apply for a tourist visa in any Thai embassy before you travel, which gives you 60 days straight away.
In addition, ASEAN passport holders also get a free 30-day visa upon entry, although some aren’t valid for extension, so it’s worth checking with your local embassy or government.
Is It Safe?
Thailand is one of those amazing paces for backpackers to visit because its so incredibly safe – even if you’re travelling on your own.
The main type of crime it’s best to look out for is petty theft, such as bag snatching, which is common in major cities across the world and isn’t specific to Thailand. Another common scam is unmetered taxis, but aside from that it’s a very safe country to travel in, with helpful, friendly locals.
If you are worried, just remember to trust your instincts: don’t ride with a taxi driver who seems shady, and don’t be afraid to change hotels if you’re not happy. You can also make copies of your passport and ID and forward your itinerary to your friends and family back home, so they know where you are.
A Brief History
Early archaeological sites put Thailand’s history beck roughly 5000 years, showing evidence of rice cultivation and even bronze casting. During the early years of civilisation, Thailnd was controlled by tribal groups, such as the mon and Khmer peoples who both equally established large kingdoms in different areas of the country.
After meeting with other South Asian populations, these kingdoms absorbed the religious, cultural, and political ideas from other countries which influenced the development of Thailand’s national identity as we know it today.
Between then 10th and 14th centuries, Thailand was largely ruled by the Khmer kingdom. However, as the empire weakened, city states across the country became to claim independence, until the 1500s saw most of the country fall to the Burmese.
In roughly 1768, General Taksin liberated the city states from Burmese control, reuniting them under what was known as Siam. Through diplomatic means, Thailand entered into various treaties with western nations – notably Britain and France, which is one of the main reasons they managed to escape imperial colonisation.
In 1932, a Siamese Revolution ended the absolute monarchy of the Ayutthaya Kingdom that had been ruling for centuries, establishing a constitutional monarchy largely overseen by military personnel. For 60 years the military ruled the country, until in 1992 a government was established.
- Thailand is the only country in South-East Asia that was never colonised by a European power
- There is an annual festival dedicated entirely to monkeys where over 600 monkeys are invited to a buffet of over 2 tonnes of food prepared by locals
- All men used to become Buddhist monks
- It’s home to fish that can walk on land, using two front and two back fins that propel the fish up waterfalls
- There are over 1,430 islands in Thailand
- The first known Siamese twins were born in Thailand
- It’s illegal to drive a car shirtless
- According to local belief, sneezing means that someone is missing you or talking about you
If you really want to make the most of your time in Thailand, then check out these useful resources. When you’re backpacking, it’s always better to be safe and prepared than winging it.
- Links incoming