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Backpacking in Thailand 15 Essential Tips for Beginners

Backpacking in Thailand: 15 Essential Tips for Beginners

One of the most ideal countries for backpacking is Thailand. It’s considered a mecca for backpackers and a country that’s ideal for backpacking beginners thanks to the friendly locals and its welcoming atmosphere – the “Land of Smiles” indeed!

Backpacking, however, (especially if you’re going at it alone) can seem like a daunting task. We’re here to give you some of the most important tips to ace that backpacking goal here in Thailand. 

Travel light

It’s always important to travel light but this tip becomes crucial if you plan on backpacking across Thailand. Most people pack more than they should and in reality, you’ll only be able to use around half of what you packed anyway.

If you’re planning to stay in Thailand for quite some time, we suggest that you have your clothes washed instead for around 40 THB per kilo. Your clothes won’t be too heavy for laundry as well since you don’t have to bring a lot of garments here for warm weather.

Aside from packing jackets and other warm clothes, you can also just use layers of your thin clothing to stay warm when in a cold area (like a night bus). You don’t only save on your backpack space but it also makes you fashionable!

You can also use zip cubes to further organise your backpack. They can help limit the space some of your clothes may take up and make it easier for you to retrieve your clothes

The bottom line is that you can just pack what you need and keep your backpack light by having only the essentials.

Know the different seasons of  Thailand

Before you go backpacking, familiarise yourself with Thailand’s different seasons to avoid any inconveniences. November to February is the cold season, March to May is the hot season while June to October is Thailand’s rainy season.

Generally speaking, the best time for you to travel to and around Thailand is during the months of November to February. During this period, you’ll experience sunny and mostly dry weather which is perfect for backpackers such as yourself.

The months of March to April are ideal if you want to visit the beaches (such as Phuket and Phi Phi Island) and do some watersports here. Keep in mind that these months can be quite hot in urban areas such as Bangkok and Chiang Mai. 

The rainy season in Thailand begins in May but heavy rainfall usually occurs from August to October. 

During these months, some of your planned itinerary may be affected by inclement weather so it’s best that you check weather forecasts before heading out.

Also, The rainy season in Thailand is usually also the off-peak season for tourists. This means that rates for hotels and other tourist activities will be a bit lower– something that you can take advantage of if you time your trip right.

Besides, the rainy season here doesn’t mean that it will rain all day long. You can still go backpacking as long as you’ve got a general idea of what the weather will be for the day (thanks to weather forecasts!)

Get vaccinated before backpacking

Backpacking to any less developed countries or if it’s your first time visiting Southeast Asia, then there are some vaccines you need to take care of first. None of these are actually required but they are highly recommended to protect your health and safety.

Aside from the vaccinations you probably already have administered like hepatitis A and B, you may need to get shots for Japanese encephalitis, rabies, and typhoid. To know which specific ones you might need in Thailand, ask your doctor for advice.

In case of a medical emergency, you can rely on Thailand’s health care to provide you with adequate medical services. 

It also won’t hurt if you can get travel insurance with health coverage to offset your medical expenses if ever there’s an emergency while you are backpacking.

Bring the necessary medicines

Here’s another tip related to your health– bring some important medications when you go backpacking in Thailand. You can bring some diarrhoea and stomach medications here along with some over-the-counter painkillers just in case you need them.

You don’t have to go crazy bringing with you an entire pharmacy’s worth of medicines here. In Thailand, there’s a pharmacy at every street corner with English-speaking staff who can assist you if ever you need to buy some medicines. 

Plus, the doctors here in Thailand are well-trained to handle Southeast Asian and tropical-related health issues. This means that they are prepared to handle some of the more common illnesses that you and other tourists may contract while backpacking.

In fact, you can get good quality healthcare services from one of the many hospitals in Thailand, specifically in Bangkok. They have standards that are up to par with Western health facilities and they can give you emergency care if you need it.

Protect yourself with some sunscreen and bug spray

Here in Thailand, you’ll be exposed to areas with insects and walk around (a lot) under direct sunlight. As such, we recommend that you use some sunscreen and bring some bug spray to avoid any adverse effects that may be caused by these two factors.

Apply enough sunscreen especially when out in the countryside or when walking in broad daylight on city streets. On the other hand, use some insect repellent and bug spray if you plan to stay in areas with a lot of insects (such as near woods, rivers, etc.).

You can also check out some of the local flora to use as a natural alternative to insect repellants. 

Ylang-ylang and lemongrass are known to be effective against mosquitoes and you can use them to avoid these pesky insects from ever bothering you while you relax or sleep.

Use local SIM cards for internet connectivity

While backpacking in Thailand, most of the places you will visit or stay in will have WIFI connectivity. This means you’ll be connected to the internet while in cafes, restaurants, and your hotel.

However, to stay connected on the go, we highly recommend that you get a local SIM card for mobile connectivity. This way, you can do tasks that require an internet connection even when not within the area of hotels or cafes.

You can do some research, book accommodations, order food, and book a Grab car. In addition, you can easily use Google Translate if you have mobile internet for when the language barrier hits you when trying to talk to the locals.

The good news is that it’s fairly easy to get a local SIM card here and you’ll also find that internet rates are quite affordable (around 14 THB for 1 GB). You can also go for some unlimited data if you’re planning to stay longer in Thailand (around 650 THB).

Some of the best local operators we recommend include AIS Thailand, TrueMove H, and Dtac Thailand. These three network providers can offer you some of the best data packages and widest coverage as you backpack your way through Thailand.

The most ideal way for you to get a local SIM card is from the airport. The staff can help you set up your phone and your newly bought local SIM card plus offer you great rates designed for backpackers and tourists.

Bring some warm clothes as well

Aside from taking a flight from one district to another, you can also travel by night trains and night buses around Thailand. They’re cheaper and they’re also a great way to enjoy the sights and the local culture.

However, the air conditioning on these buses and trains can make the trip really cold. Hence, it’s still best to wear warmer clothes or try to layer some of your clothes to keep warm. 

Airports can also be quite cold especially when you have a scheduled flight at night. Hence, we recommend that you keep your jacket or your extra layer of clothing within easy access in your backpack or luggage.

This way, you can easily take these warm clothes out if ever you feel the need for them.

Be aware of possible scams

Thailand is a generally safe country to travel to and do some backpacking in. However, there are some scams (how to avoid scam in bangkok) here that you need to be wary of.

These scams usually happen around Bangkok and you just need to be alert as to when one is attempted. The first one is overcharging tuk-tuks so be sure to negotiate the price before getting on one and heading to your destination.

The next scam is one where a “helpful local” will tell you that either the temple or the royal palace you’re headed to is closed.  They then offer you an alternative tour where you’ll be brought to a clothing or jewellery store to purchase something instead.

The temples and the royal palace of Thailand are rarely closed during operating hours. As such, if someone approaches you informing you the temple or the palace is closed, don’t pay attention and be on your way.

Just go straight to the temple or palace you want to visit and see for yourself if the site is really closed for the day. It’s probably not!

Lastly, since Thailand has a ton of night markets or walking streets, be wary of fake products being sold here. It’s okay to buy cheap but it’s a different story if the item is a counterfeit!

Respect the sanctity of temples

Thailand is primarily a country observing Buddhism and while the locals here are warm and friendly towards travellers such as yourself, you have to respect the culture and tradition of the country. This is especially true when entering temples.

When entering these sites, you need to make sure that you wear appropriate clothing. This means not wearing short shorts or sleeveless shirts.

You can also bring a sarong with you if ever you’re planning to visit a temple while backpacking through Thailand. You’ll probably want to wear shorts some days to lessen the impact of the hot weather in the country.

With a sarong, you can simply drape this over to cover your shoulders when you’re wearing a sleeveless shirt or tie it around your waist to hide your knees and legs when wearing shorts.

Some areas of these temples should also only be accessed barefoot. As a general rule, do as the locals do– if you see shoes or slippers strewn about a location, then chances are you have to enter that portion without any footwear on.

Lastly, keep in mind that these temples have Buddhist monks conducting religious ceremonies throughout the day. Keeping your voice down and observing silence while within temple grounds is a must if you want to show your respect for Thailand’s culture.

Take your time as you backpack through Thailand

There are a lot of things to do and activities to experience when you visit Thailand. Hence, we recommend that you take your time when backpacking through this beautiful tropical country.

One week isn’t enough to explore the entirety of the country and it’s best not to do so. You can get around Thailand cheaply and quickly but you wouldn’t be able to take in all the sights and fully enjoy the experience of going through the country’s diverse regions.

Instead, we recommend that you take around 2 to 3 weeks to visit some of the major regions of Thailand. This way, you can take your sweet time to fully enjoy what Southern, Northern, and even Central Thailand have to offer!

Choose your backpacking route carefully if you don’t want to do a lot of backtracking here and save some cash on transportation. 

For example, you can start your backpacking journey through Chiang Mai before heading to Bangkok and lastly, to Phuket.

If you have the time and funds for it, we’d even recommend staying and backpacking here longer as this country is truly one of the best ones for backpacking and travelling on a budget. 

Carefully plan your island-hopping itinerary

There are countless different islands you can visit in Thailand while backpacking here. Do note, though, that you need to choose which one to travel to as these islands cater to different types of travellers and backpackers.

For instance, Koh Tao is the ideal spot for divers and backpackers. On the other hand, party-goers will find that Koh Phangan is the ideal island to visit thanks to its full moon parties.

It’s best to travel to Koh Tao if you’re a backpacker looking for a budget-friendly island to visit. Plus, this is a popular location for many digital nomads thanks to its not-so-crowded areas and available options for co-working spaces.

Here, you can enjoy the beautiful island vibe of Thailand with a great view of the Andaman Sea while on your “paidcation” as a digital nomad

If you plan on travelling to Thailand for a vacation with your family, then we recommend visiting the more laidback and family-friendly island of Koh Samui. As you can see, you need to go for the island that best suits your preferences so plan ahead!

Try out some street food

Most tourists tend to be too strict when it comes to hygiene, and for good reason! But the good news is that you don’t have to worry so much about Thai street food, as the stalls serve food that is generally hygienic and fresh. 

If you see the locals eating at a particular food stall, then go and eat there as well. This is a good indicator that the place serves authentic, delicious, and hygienic food items that are safe for you and your family to enjoy.

Plus, the items in the stalls have a fast turnover rate as they are cheap!

Ice cubes and fruit shakes are okay to consume as well since the country understands the importance of health and sanitation especially when it comes to backpackers and tourists. You can also brush your teeth with tap water but you shouldn’t be drinking it.

 Go for a metered taxi or ride-hailing apps

While most taxi drivers in Thailand are required to use their taxi metres and do so for most passengers, some may try to negotiate the price of the fare with you before your trip. 

This can be an exhausting practice while you’re travelling here, so instead, we recommend that you go for taxis that will turn their taxi metres on for you once you start your trip.

Doing so will ensure that you get the right rate or fare for your travel.  You can also avoid getting overcharged by some not-so-trustworthy taxi drivers hoping to make a quick buck out of tourists and backpackers.

Better yet, download some ride-hailing apps like Grab or Bolt, on your mobile phone and order a taxi online. This way, the fare will be predetermined and it will save you the hassle of having to negotiate taxi rates whenever you want to catch a ride. 

Do note though, that different ride-hailing apps cover different areas of Thailand. In this case, Grab covers more areas and works best within urban areas and some islands while Bolt has fewer areas covered like Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phuket and Pattaya.

If you don’t have a ride-hailing app yet or if you don’t have mobile internet set up, you may have to hail a few taxis in case the first few ones decline to turn on the metre for you. 

You just need to be patient here but eventually, a taxi should come along and charge you the right rates for your trip based on the taxi metre.

Avoid tuk-tuks as much as you can

We’re not saying to avoid tuk-tuks altogether. On the contrary, you can actively seek out a tuk-tuk ride just for the experience of riding one of the most iconic transportation options in the country.

However, once in Bangkok, tuk-tuks have been known to take advantage of backpackers and tourists. 

They may overcharge you or charge you with lower rates. A lower rate though, means that instead of taking you to your destination, they take you to a souvenir shop first for you to buy some items (where we assume they get a cut of the profits!).

If you really need to travel via tuk-tuk, negotiate with your driver first before taking that ride. Make sure that you know the price of the fare to avoid getting scammed or overcharged by opportunistic drivers.

Instead, go for a regular taxi when in the city. Better yet, book via a ride-sharing app if you want to get to your destination conveniently and without getting overcharged.

Drive scooters with caution

Driving around in your own rented scooter can be great fun, especially around the city and the southern islands of the country. This will allow you to go anywhere you want and explore the different locations with ease and convenience.

However, you have to be extra careful when driving a scooter here especially if you’re not that used to driving a scooter or (God forbid) it’s your first time driving one. City streets are not for scooter practice and a lot of tourists can get injured this way.

Instead, stick to the left lane (Thailand is a left-lane driving country) and keep a slow and steady pace when operating this two-wheeled vehicle, especially on unpaved roads. 

You also have to make sure that you are wearing the right gear for scooter riding such as closed shoes and a helmet. It goes without saying that you should definitely not drive a scooter if you’ve had a drink or if you’re planning to have one as it isn’t worth the risk!

You need to present an international driver’s permit (IDP) for motorbikes along with a Thai-issued motorbike driving license if you want to legally drive a scooter in Thailand. 

If you have a foreign license to drive a motorbike, you need to present this to the Department of Land Transport (DLT) in order to obtain a motorbike driving license. Once you have this Thai-issued license, you can then apply for your motorbike IDP.

However, while these requirements can be tricky you still need to comply. If you do get caught by a police officer, you might be fined (around 500 THB). 

Some have even resorted to bribing authorities to get off the hook – something that we strongly discourage.

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