Thailand is one of the most visited countries in the world, especially for young, first-time backpackers who are looking for a cheap and easy destination to explore. We love living in and exploring Thailand and wanted to share our best backpacking Thailand tips.
Planning your trip to Thailand
When to visit Thailand – Thailand is best to visit between November to February when the weather is at its coolest but the monsoon season is over. However, wet season runs from May to October and is, therefore, the cheapest time to visit Thailand.
Stay safe – Staying safe is Thailand is relatively easy as long as you follow your instinct. If something doesn’t seem right, whether it is a bar, hostel, taxi, then remove yourself from the situation. Make copies of your passport and ID too and have a photo of both on your phone.
Travel insurance – Thailand is fairly safe but accidents can still happen. Make sure you get yourself a travel insurance that protects you if you experience illness, theft, cancellations or injury. We have all seen those horror stories of people in hospital after a motorbike crash with very little insurance to help them.
Check the festivals – Thailand has a few big festivals every year- Songkran, Lunar New Year etc, so check the dates before you book. If you want to experience a music festival, full-moon party or Songkran, then book your trip in advance but, if you aren’t visiting for a special occasion, try to avoid these key dates.
Don’t rush – There is a temptation, with travelling, where you want to spend a few nights in many places in order to see as much as possible. Thailand is the opposite type of travel. With cheap accommodation, you can enjoy slow travel, spend 6-7 nights in each place (or more) and really get to know an area before moving on. Thailand is not meant to be stressful so don’t make your time a quick visit.
Learn some Thai Phrases
Hello (male): Sawasdee Krap
Hello (female): Sawasdee Ka
Thank you: Khob khun kha (khob-khun-kha)
How much: Nee Tao Rai
Not spicy = Mai pet
Be protected – It is recommended that you get the following vaccinations for Thailand: Hep A, Hep B, Typhoid, Tetanus/Diphtheria/Polio, MMR and rabies. It is worth visiting your local travel medical clinic before visiting Thailand as these vaccination recommendations can change. Malaria is very rare in Thailand but taking Malaria tablets is advised for those staying near the border of Cambodia and Myanmar.
What to pack for Thailand
Sunscreen – This can be quite expensive in Thailand so bring your own sunscreen to stay protected.
Bring an unlocked smartphone – A lot of Thailand business runs off a phone – with apps like Grab and FoodPanda being essential for those looking to visit for long periods of time. Get yourself a local sim on arrival; there are lots of one-month unlimited data plans with companies like True. This will come in handy when you are lost and need directions, when you are looking for a last-minute place to stay, searching for bus or train times, ordering a taxi and so on.
A waterproof camera – Either bring a phone that is waterproof or a waterproof camera. We loved experiencing the caves around the southern islands of Thailand and enjoyed kayaking around across the sea but, you do get wet and a waterproof camera is essential if you still want to document your trip.
Mosquito Repelling bracelets – You can get mosquito repellent spray in Thailand, we love the spray from the Tesco Lotus stores. But, to avoid putting too much deet on your skin, you may want to invest in these repelling bracelets to avoid bites whilst keeping your skin healthy.
Imodium – Some countries call this activated Charcoal but essentially, bring diarrhoea tablets. Thai food is cooked very differently to anything in the west and the spice levels will surprise most. It is always a good idea to carry some tablets with you for those times you have had to run to the bathroom. These should settle your stomach and let you continue your holiday without too much bother.
Adapter – Get yourself a universal adapter for all your travels, ideally we prefer to get an adapter with USB ports too.
A reusable water bottle – These are perfect for Thailand travel. Not only is it good for the environment but it is a reminder to keep drinking water. Restaurants will refill your bottle for you and there are water stations all over the city too.
Dress down – Thailand does have some high-end restaurants and sky bars but, you do not need to bring expensive clothes to Thailand. Streets are dirty and clothes will get ruined if you are staying in Thailand for some time – especially if you plan on trekking through the jungles up north or exploring the beaches down south.
Food and drink
Be brave – This is my best tip for backpacking Thailand. The food in Thailand is very tasty and, eating the local food is cheap, easy and delicious. The first time we visited Thailand back in 2013, I didn’t eat anything from street vendors out of fear but on returning a few years later, I realised how much I had missed out. Make sure you try some skewers if you are feeling cautious or stick to Pad Thai if you aren’t a fan of spicy food.
Street food all the way – Street food in Thailand is the best but it is also affordable. We get an assortment of Thai dishes to fill us both for dinner and barely spend more than 200 baht. Most noodle or curry dishes will cost around 50 baht whilst meat and rice is usually around 40 – 80 baht.
Western food – Western food is available in Thailand and generally, isn’t too bad. It is not as cheap as Thai food but you can find a slice of pizza for 60 baht or a burger for 120 baht, especially in the outside food court areas or markets. For good quality western food, head to a western bar or check out the hotel buffets – many offer amazing breakfast options. There are also top-end restaurants specialising in all types of cuisines.
Stay hydrated – It sounds like a simple one to remember but it is vital to stay hydrated whilst you are in Thailand. The heat can be unbearable so you need to drink plenty of water but also try some of the fresh coconut water (great for hangovers) and one of the many fruit juices or smoothies available.
Avoid buckets – There are many places that serve buckets of booze, whether it is Redbull and vodka or coke with rum, I would suggest you stay away. Firstly, they are strong and many visitors get way too drunk off these. Secondly, they are cheap, meaning they are probably using fake brands of vodka which is just dangerous. And thirdly, there are some bars that have a habit of putting extra stuff in your straw to make sure you get too drunk to remember a thing.
Do not drink the tap water – You shouldn’t drink the tap water in Thailand however, filtered water in restaurants is fine, as is ice. We suggest investing in a filtered water bottle if you are worried about drinking water.
Types of accommodation – Budget backpackers love the hostels in Thailand; they are cheap, comfortable, safe but also offer opportunities for you to meet other like-minded travellers – plus, hostels in Thailand often include private rooms too. Alternatively, you can look for guest houses or budget hotels, we compare prices using Agoda because we generally find the prices slightly cheaper here than on any other hotel comparison website.
Long-term rentals – many people visit Thailand and fall in love. The laid-back nature is enough to cause anyone to truly unwind. If you have time on your hands, it may be worth looking at long term rentals – with many modern apartments costing as little as 15,000 baht a month in some of the best areas to live in Bangkok and beyond.
Avoid AirBnB – If you are looking for a week somewhere, then AirBnB is great, but if you are hoping to stay for a month or so, you are better off staying in a hotel or hostel for the first few nights whilst you look around for apartments or homes available to rent.
Use public transport – Avoid the Tuk-tuks and stick to public transport. In Bangkok, you have the BTS and river boat taxis to help you travel around the city whilst a Thai bus service is available in Chiang Mai and southern Islands.
Download Grab – Grab is the Thailand version of Uber and is easy and convenient to use. It can be more expensive than normal taxis but, using Uber around the tourist sites in the cities will save you from being ripped off by taxi drivers who don’t want to turn on the meter.
Avoid the tuk-tuks – These are unmetered so, although you may want to experience them once or twice, try to avoid using them regularly. We find they will often charge more than taxis and are best to experience when you have a short journey.
Book in advance for flights – Flying around Thailand is very inexpensive especially if you use websites such as Air Asia and look in advance. You can fly from Bangkok to almost anywhere for under $50 with some flights being as little as $15.
Overnight buses – You can use the sleeper buses to travel from city to city but check your bus of choice has air conditioning. Tickets can be purchased from most travel agencies, the bus stop but also many hostels and hotels.
Package deals – If you are travelling to one of the islands have a look at Nok Air’s package deals. They often offer a flight with bus and ferry ticket included in the price, making the journey a lot easier.
Saving money in Thailand
North or south? – Staying in the north is cheaper than Bangkok and the Southern Islands, with hostels or guest houses costing around 300 – 500 baht a night in the cities. Expect to pay double this for a budget room on the islands.
Book online – When we first travelled to Asia in 2013, it was popular for travellers to find a hotel on arrival and pay in person. However, that trend has shifted and you will often find much better prices when you book online either via the hotel website or comparison websites such as Agoda or booking.com.
Use facebook – Once you have chosen the hotel or guest house you want to stay in, send them a message on Facebook to check if they can offer better rates. Often hotels and guesthouses have to pay extra for bookings via these comparison websites, so they would benefit from having direct bookings.
Use Eatigo – The Eatigo app is amazing. It lists a lot of different midrange to high-end restaurants but with discounted rates. You need to reserve a time on the app but can get up to 50% off your bill by doing so. We use this app for the hotel buffets and restaurants because it saves us a lot of money and we get a delicious meal for half the price.
Negotiate – When possible, negotiate the price. Generally, if something has a clear price on it, then that is the price. But if it is unmarked, you can negotiate a price – this is the same in markets as it is in travel agencies. If you can’t get a price you are happy with, move on.
Become a local – eat the local food, drink the local beer and take the local buses to really save money.
Happy hour – Take advantage of the happy hours in Thailand – most places will offer some form of 2-for-1 or half-price specials.
Use 7-eleven – Buying food and drink at 7/11 can save you a lot of money. The food may not be the most nutritional but, if you are looking for some snacks or bottles of water, stick with 7/11.
STA Travel – If you are under 30 or a student, check out STA Travel for discounted airfare and attraction rates.
Fly budget – Fly with budget airlines such as AirAsia and NokAir. Compare prices on Skyscanner and check the airline websites for the best prices.
Take out large amounts – I normally don’t recommend this but ATM’s in Thailand will charge you and extra 180 baht for every transition you do with a foreign card. Therefore, you are better taking out larger chunks of cash and keeping it safe, instead of taking a little bit as you need it. If you are American, you can look at the Charles Schwab bank card which doesn’t charge extra fees.
Use Klook – Klook is a website with discounted prices on attractions and events all over Asia. There are lots of Bangkok and Thailand discounts on here and we always check prices on here before planning a trip or exploring more of Bangkok.
Whilst in Thailand
Be respectful – The people of Thailand are wonderful and welcoming but they value their culture and religion immensely. Learn the Thai etiquette and abide by it – don’t point the soles of your feet towards somebody, don’t copy the image of the Buddha, don’t touch the top of peoples head and avoid stepping on coins; the King is very important in Thailand and by stepping on an image of him (even if on a coin), it is seen as disrespectful.
Ignore tuk-tuk drivers – That sounds harsh but what I mean by this is, ignore tuk-tuk drivers outside major attractions. Generally, they will stand outside the Grand Palace or nearby temples in Bangkok and tell you that the attraction is closed and that they can take you on a tour of other temples in the city. Ignore them and check for yourself – they are looking to overcharge you for a tour around the city which can often include a trip to their mate’s tailor shop.
Klook – Check out Klook for discounted tickets to some of Thailand’s most popular attractions.
Have a massage – We avoided these on our first trip to Thailand but it was a mistake! You can get amazing massages for as little as 150 baht. There are parlours everywhere or you can check hotel websites for the best deals on their own spa.
Avoid Elephant rides and tiger temples – stay ethical on your trip by avoiding these horrific “attractions”. You can visit elephant sanctuaries in Thailand, where the animals are looked after well but do your research first.
Dress Respectfully – There are dress codes for temples and palaces in Thailand which you need to follow. If you are visiting temples, you will need to cover your shoulders, knees and chest with some temples asking you to cover your ankle.
Pack light – In the blazing heat of Bangkok, the last thing you want to be doing is carrying around a heavy backpack. When you are visiting attractions, bring your phone, wallet and some water, maybe some sunscreen to reapply if you are out all day but that is it.
Ask the locals – The locals in Thailand are wonderful and friendly. They may not all speak too much English but you can always ask them for beach/restaurant/bar recommendations and, if they understand, you are sure to get a good insight into the area.
Expect to pay more – Millions of tourists visit Thailand every year and a fact of life is that you will pay more. Some places will even have a local price and the foreigner price. Expect it and you can only be pleasantly surprised if it doesn’t happen.
Do4You – If you are staying in Bangkok for an extended period, you may want to download the Do4You app. Using this app, you can order a laundry pick-up with a 24-hour turnaround. This is perfect for those that don’t have a washing machine and need some clothes washed before their next adventure. As ex-pats living in Bangkok, we use this service weekly and have never had any problems.
These are our best tips for visiting Thailand – have we missed anything? Let us know in the comments below! Have an amazing time and remember to tag us on your Instagram photos! @ThatBangkokLife
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[…] Khaosan Road never sleeps and is the backpacker hub of Bangkok. There are lots of bars, restaurants, and street stalls to choose from so sit back and watch the chaos or join the party. There’s also a large selection of cheaper accommodation in the area often catering to a younger crowd backpacking in Thailand. […]
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I’ve never been to Thailand but I’d love to go! I always travel with a backpack and stay in (good) hostels to save some money. This is a perfect guide, I’ll keep it for later 😊
Having just returned from Thailand, I can see how this would be a very useful list. All about the reusable water bottle too.
Awesome guide for first-timers! I definitely agree – stay away from buckets filled with booze. Definitely did not have a memorable experience drinking out of those lol. Boy, I miss those Thai massages though!
I really want to visit Thailand, it looks amazing