Backpacking Tips for Thailand

November-December 2016

Here are some tips that we would have found helpful to have known before we left. We loved backpacking because of the flexibility and freedom it gave us to move around. We didn’t backpack in the traditional sense of getting a huge pack, we did it in a normal sized backpack! I am not going to go into too much detail, this is just to get you thinking before you leave. So if you have further questions, just ask!

Tip 1 – Packing 

You can easily keep packing to a minimum. I always remind myself, do I really need to carry that extra shirt? I am backpacking after all so I don’t need anything too nice. If I find I need an extra tank or t shirt, they are on every corner. We didn’t need any long pants or jackets. The majority of the time we were in our swimsuits and/or shorts with a tank. Toiletries, we bought the travel size of our favorites since you can’t get Kiehl’s products there. We found that airports were very strict regarding the size. We had a canister of deodorant that was .2 over and they would not allow it (even though we got it to the country, they wouldn’t let it leave). Bring your own toilet paper.

Tip 2 – Laundry

Laundry is incredibly cheap and surprisingly well done. They do it by the kilo, so make sure when you give them your clothes they are dry. Our pile weighed probably four pounds and it was around $4. Dry and folded!

Tip 3 – Money

We each brought about $300 USD. It was incredibly easy to exchange money at the airports or exchange booths around town. I found that the exchange rate was close to what it said online and there were no fees. If you have larger bills you do get a better exchange rate. If you do plan on going to some countries (myanmar for sure) they are very cash based and some places only will exchange or accept hundred dollar bills. A lot of the local restaurants and all food carts were cash in Thailand. If you were in a mall or at a chain they of course  took credit cards, but we found a fun restaurant one night and our bill was almost $100 USD and they really only wanted to accept Baht.

Safety: We had no concerns carrying cash either. EVERYONE carries cash. Locals, tourists, business owners. We were on a water taxi in Bangkok and some workers had stacks and stacks of cash that they were counting right there in front of everyone. Of course be smart as a tourist. My husband carried his wallet in a zippered pant pocket. Anything zippered is fine. We didn’t buy a money pouch or any safety compartment.

Tip 4 – Renting a scooter

We did not rent a scooter. Other than the crazy drivers and not wanting to deal with that you have to be careful who you rent from. Do you have a license? We saw people in Phuket, Chiang Rai and Bangkok get pulled over and fined for not having a license. You can get multiple in a day and they were around 1000 baht. If we were in one spot for a long time we would have considered it, with a license. They also drive on the opposite side of the road for us and of course, have different driving customs. From people driving the wrong way down a road, using side walks, not stopping or paying attention to street lights and signs.

Tip 5 – Hiring a Scooter/tuk tuk/cab

This is so easy. My only advice is to make sure that you receive a quote before unless it is a metered taxi. I would always ask my hotel what a fair rate would be before I start negotiating. Tuk Tuk, scooter and other small modes of transportation were always negotiable.

Tip 6 – Visiting Temples

Visiting temples or sacred locations you must have your legs and shoulders covered. Yes, it can get very HOT, but this is being respectful. Just carry a scarf to wrap your shoulders with and on days I knew we were touring I would wear capris or bring light sweat pants to pull over your shorts. Some places, like the Grand Palace, allow you to rent clothes from them and usually return your money if you bring back the clothes. Don’t be one of those people that try to sneak in, just be respectful. Skimpy dresses or revealing tank tops is just rude.

Tip 7 – Medications

If you have pain killers or other remedies to fight colds, I suggest you bring them. I came down with a nasty cold and we couldn’t find anything that we could understand or that was from the states. Halls throat lozenges are considered candy and you can find them next to the chocolate in 7-11s. We did find a pharmacist that spoke a little English and he gave us a scented stick to smell. That did not work. So the last two weeks of my trip I was sick!

Tip 8 – WIFI/Outlets

I was so surprised about this part. There was WIFI everywhere. Cafes, restaurants, hotels, hostels, coffee shops, you name it. We also did not need an adapter for our phone chargers. I will say that we only stayed at hotels and no hostels, but we never needed to request an adapter. We did read that we didn’t need them before we went, but I was a bit skeptical, especially since we were going to some smaller areas. Bangkok, Phuket, Chiang Mai and Chiang rai, they were not needed. (This included Boracay, Philippines and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.)

Tip 9 – Finding the cheap – good food

Before you go, you ALWAYS hear people say that they ate for like $4 and that included beers. I kept thinking to myself, how do I find these places? Will it be hard? Am I going to be the only one to not find these locations? NO! They are everywhere! You do have to be careful still. But when you walk up to a place you will be able to tell. Our first encounter was near Wat Pho. The restaurants that you walk by are cheap as well, but we wanted a food stand. We looked down a side street and we found a woman cooking for a couple other people and so we stopped. We liked the menu and we had two dishes and a couple bottles of water for $3. Asiatique is a fun market that has some really expensive restaurants but under the ferris wheel are food stands that are incredibly cheap. You can get some fried chicken and rice for $1. Khoa San Road (Backpackers Road) has tons of restaurants and places to find cheap eats. Chang (pronounced Chung) is the local beer of choice and you can sometimes find a large can for 60 baht. But seriously, you do not have to search out the cheap eats. They are just everywhere. Do check out some of the fun restaurants though. We found Butcher and Beer in Bangkok and it was incredible!

Tipping is not like in the states. Leave extra change or a couple dollars. It’s not 20% and some food stands won’t even take it.

Tip 10 – Booking Hotels

I would always say have a plan before you reach a city. At least 1 night. It’s the worst after a long day of travel, trying to figure out where to stay or where your hotel/hostel is. Every city, even Bangkok, has cheap hostels, but we opted to do some fun hotels. We booked through hotels.com because after 10 nights you get the average of what you spent free on the 11th night. Plus it’s easy to book last minute and search areas. Hotels were as low as $30 and of course as high as $1000 in some places. The cheapest hostel we saw was in Chiang Rai at 180 baht, which was about $5.14 USD at the time. So you can really do this on any budget.

Tip 11 – Unconventional Sleep

To help with the budget you can always take overnight bus rides if you are going a decent distance. They are not that expensive and then you get a two for one. Example: A bus from Bangkok to Phuket will take you around 12 hours but it’s usually under 1000 baht for a VIP bus. I always suggest a VIP bus. Unless you are on a crazy budget, it’s not that much more and you get more space, bathrooms and water. We took a bus from Chiang Mai to Chaing Rai. It was about 4 hours and the VIP bus cost us $7 USD/person.

Tip 12 – Bathroom etiquette

This is where I was at times a bad tourist. In major cities it’s not much of a problem, they have better plumbing and so bathrooms are the same as in the west. When you get to smaller cities, eco places or trekking, the proper way to use the restroom is the following:

1 Go to the bathroom; 2 spray yourself with the provided hose; and 3 dab yourself clean with the tissue provided and throw in the trash can.

Now, I have done back country camping where there were no toilets, but I couldn’t fathom doing this. I was a bit uncomfortable. We weren’t in this situation too many times, but it is true, that their plumbing is not good and the pipes are very small. Of course, there isn’t anyone watching to make sure you follow this rule, but just so you are conscious of it. Also, I do suggest bringing your own toilet paper. Some places do not even provide that to make sure that no toilet paper goes down the pipes.

Tip 13- Negotiate

You can negotiate at most markets and with most transportation (individuals in tuk tuks or scooters). We did not negotiate of course with major shops, massages or food stalls.

The massages are cheap enough as it is. You start to see what the lowest and highest prices are in the city. Just because it’s more expensive does not mean that they are better. We never paid over 300 baht for an hour foot massage and the lowest we paid was 180 baht.

TIP 14 – The MOST IMPORTANT

Instead of doing do’s and DO NOTs, I am just going to do a couple of the DO NOTs.

  1. Do not ask questions about the deceased king and the future of the country.
  2. Do not touch peoples head, wave your hand palm forward to anyone or show the bottom of your feet to them.
  3. Do not get angry, lose your temper or start shouting. It will get you nowhere.
  4. Do not purchase or participate in illegal drugs.
  5. Do not dress inappropriately at a temple or sacred place, even if it’s hot.
  6. Do not show sexual affection in public places.
  7. See pic regarding depictions of Buddha. Really important!!20161125_203718

TIP 15 – Just have fun and go with the flow!

Last, but not least. Do not ride elephants. Chair or no chair. If you are considering, please read my previous article about this: The Truth About Elephants in Thailand

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6 thoughts on “Backpacking Tips for Thailand

  1. Great post. Pretty right on, Kym, on your suggestions. Many of these observations are overlooked by native people like me since we grew up with it. Here are my two cents on each topics that you wrote.

    Packing: If you’re there for at least a week, you can buy some stuff from supermarket or 7-11. Unless there’s particular brand you have to have. For example, shampoo, soap, toilet papers, sunscreen.

    Money: For money exchange, bring nice crips, unmarked, 100-dollar bills for the best rate. Airport money exchange gives the worst rate. Money exchange booths in tourist area are the best place to get your Thai baht. They also are less picky about the conditions of the bill. Some banks wouldn’t take the bill if it has been written on or shows sign of worn. Use common sense as in any tourist places when handle your wallet or cash.

    Renting a scooter: Despite growing up in Bangkok and have driven there, I would never consider driving a car or a scooter in Thailand, esp. in Bangkok. Not only you deal with driving on a different side of the road, but you also need to understand different driving behaviors. Think about what you would do if an accident happens and your counterpart doesn’t speak your language.

    Visiting Temples: Monks are not allowed to physically touch females so give them plenty of spaces.

    Medications: I was a pharmacist in Thailand so I had no problem about this topic. Many medications including many prescribing drugs in the States could be purchased legally in pharmacy in Thailand. However, because the brand names are generally different so it is best to have generic or non-proprietary drug names and strengths written down to avoid miscommunication when purchasing them.

    Wifi: If your phone has an unlocked SIM, you can buy local SIM with different data plans for your need. Airports have places that sell them. They are very inexpensive.

    Finding the cheap – good food: Seriously, other than visiting my parents and friends, this is the real reason I go back to Thailand regularly. Be adventurous and eat what locals eat. It’s OK that you don’t like some foods. You’ll be surprised.

    Negotiate: It’s hard to say what is negotiable when shopping in Thailand. There isn’t a clear rule. Personally, there are things I don’t negotiate — foods, prepared foods, most services, in department stores. I may negotiate for merchandise at weekend markets, like Chatuchuk Market, or at Chinatown. When in doubt and you want to try to negotiate, remember to smile and don’t take it seriously. Never negotiate what you don’t intend to buy if you got your price.

    Like

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