Thailand! A country that every backpacker dreams of. Say vacation and the first place people want to visit is Bangkok or Phuket and pickup the Thailand Travel Guide immediately. The hub for all tourists heading to South East Asia before checking out other countries. However this was not the case with me. Thailand was never in my mind. Every time someone said am going on a trip to Thailand, I would smirk and think to myself, “Why Thailand when there are so many better countries?” Call it ignorance or arrogance, to me it always looked as a place to party, a place where people go to take happy ending massages, a place where people booze to their heart’s content. But it so happened that when I planned my first vacation after career break it was to Thailand. On a rainy evening I was staring at the India map and was wondering where next. But I knew it rains in most part of the country in July. And my eyes just moved to the right of the map and thought, “Okay may be Thailand then!” Merely for two reasons,
1. Am on a career break, I have lot of days in my hand. When I was working; I need to be careful about the ten days leave that I accumulate and I better go to a place from my bucket list. But now that I have enough leaves I need not worry about that.
2. Every Tom, Dick and Harry seems to be heading there, let me also check out.
But the moment I started to chart out the itinerary, I realized my notions about Thailand were completely wrong. The initial plan was to do Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. However as I was jotting down the places, I had already crossed 50 days. Due to personal commitments, I had to cut short this trip and so 50 days turned into 40 days and subsequently chopped off few places from the list. With the knowledge of researching for the trip and having spent 40 days in Thailand, here are some useful travel tips, places to chose, planning itinerary, what to expect, etc. In short a small Thailand travel guide for you to plan your trip.
Contents - Read all the way though.
Thailand Travel Guide – Places to Visit:
So, the map above are the places visited on my trip and the route followed. To be honest, it is a tad tight schedule. At some of the places I was there just for a night and at some of the places even though I spent couple of nights I wanted to do more. Thailand has five regions – North, North East, East, Central and South. Bangkok is not to be missed, it is full of vibrancy and grandeur. Bangkok being the capital of Thailand, is crowded than other cities but it is also more organised and well connected. It has a mix of palaces, wats (Buddhist temples), night life, food streets, shopping markets, something for everyone. I spent three days there but it needs minimum 4 days.
Briefly let me jot down places to visit based on what you can expect.
- City Life/ Night Life/ Shopping/ Culture – Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phuket. All of these places have something for everyone.
- National Park with waterfalls, cave exploration and trekking options – Khao Sok (huge lake with limestone Karsts too), Khao Yai to see elephants and gibbons, Khao Sam Roi Yot, Erawan national Park, Sai Yok.
- Islands to visit for snorkel, beach time and scuba – It’s a long list and have made a blog on “How to choose best Thailand 3. Islands to Visit”. In short, east has Ko Chang and Ko Kood. Gulf of Thailand has good snorkel and white sand beach options like Ko Tao, Samui and Phangan. South of Thailand has places like Phuket, phi phi, Lanta and Krabi. South has best limestone karsts beaches and blue water
- History of World War II – Kanchanaburi. Was emotionally overwhelmed on visit to Kanchanaburi and going through the Burma railway & Hell Fire pass.
- Khmer Ruins – Liked Angkor Wat in Cambodia? A big extent of these Khmer ruins lie in the North east of Thailand. I visited Phanom Rung, Phimai and Lopburi. But throughout Isan province most of the Khmer empire ruins can be found. Having Nakhon Ratchasima as base and covering these places is an easy option.
- Kingdom of Siam – Kingdom of Siam is nothing but Thailand from 17th century up until 19th century after which it was named as Thailand. However Kingdom of Siam includes transition from Ayutthaya kingdom to Sukhothai kingdom to Thonburi kingdom to Rattanakosin kingdom. Visiting these places and the museums in them give most informative insight into the history of Thailand, how the kingdoms changed, who were the prominent kings, how the architecture differed and so on. These can be found in Ayutthaya, Sukhothai and Bangkok.
- Trekking – All the national parks listed above has trekking options. Additionally Pai, Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai also have lot of trekking spots near them as they are in hilly region.
- Border Crossing – Thailand is bordered with Malaysia, Cambodia, Laos and Burma aka Myanmar. A lot of travelers cross the border to not just move between countries but also as an experience day trip. Some of the popular crossings are – Tak to Burma (Tak is close to Kanchanaburi), Mae Sai to Burma (one day trip to Tachileik can be done from here), from south into Langkawi Malaysia, Surin to Siem Reap Cambodia, from Nong Khai to Vientiane Laos.
Not everyone are going to have the luxury of 40 days or three months like how some of the backpackers travel. Indians especially, I have not seen them do more than 10 days or so. So if you have limited number of days at hand be wise in choosing the places to visit. Do not mix south, north and central for a week’s trip. Precious time and energy will be spent in just commute. Some ideas for 10 days, number of days required for each destination mentioned in brackets(),
- Bangkok (3) – Khao Yai(1) – Khmer Ruins (6)
- Bangkok (3) – Ayutthaya(2) – Sukhothai (2) – Kanchanaburi(2) – Erawan & Soi yak (1)
- Bangkok (2) – Sukhothai (2) – Chiang Mai (3) – Pai (2) – Chiang Rai (1)
- Khao Sok (3) – Phuket (4) – Phi phi (1) – Krabi (2)
- koh Samui (3) – Koh Tao (3) – Ko phangnan (2) – include Bangkok if flight to koh samui is expensive
Hope that gives an idea of how you can mix and match the destinations.
Visa & Currency:
A lot of countries have visa on arrival. Some have the benefit of 30 days on arrival. Indians however have an on-arrival visa for only 15 days of stay. So if you are looking for a longer stay, get your visa done before landing in Thailand. Required documents to be submitted are mentioned here – Thailand Visa Process. Choose the city from where you are applying as the documents differ. This information is applicable only for Indians. Also note that for Thailand visa on arrival, the new rule states that you need to have at least a fund of 10000 bhat (that is roughly 20K INR). They may or may not ask for this proof. But with the increasing number of begpackers, this is being monitored these days is what I read. Carry cash as all the transactions are in cash and in most of the places, they levy a charge of 3% on credit cards. Indians do not need yellow fever vaccination or any other medical proof to get visa for Thailand. Thai currency is called Bhat and as of 2017, 1 Bhat is 2 INR.
Stay Options in Thailand:
Stay options in Thailand is unlimited. Depending on the budget you have, you can opt from a dorm to a private room in hostel to posh hotels and resorts or condos or even villas. That said the room rate ranges from 500bhat to even 10000bhat. North East and Central Thailand is much much cheaper to explore than the southern islands. Some of the hostels and AirBnbs let you book them only if you stay for more than couple of nights or weeks together. Most of the hotels do not serve lunch and dinner, however they serve breakfast. Food is never a problem in Thailand though. There is always a street food vendor around the corner. A lot of hostels and AirBnbs have washing machine which operate on coin system. Even other wise you can find lot of laundromats even in small towns, so no need to worry about having fresh set of clothes to wear.
Tip – if you are booking your stay among bustling city streets, skip booking breakfast along with stay. This will turn out cheaper for room rent. And street food or decent breakfast options in restaurants can be found for 99 bhat.
This was a tiny private room in a hostel building for which I almost shelled out 2000 bhat.
Whereas this was a room in a resort which had breakfast, swimming pool, high end dining facility, huge room, all for just 1000 bhat. So you see!!
Commute within Thailand:
Hands down minivan is the best option to commute within Thailand. However they operate for only short distances. They are the fastest, on time and they are available almost throughout the day. Surprisingly they were comfortable too and was not claustrophobic. The next best option is of course the VIP buses which are AC buses with toilets within the bus. One of the reasons why I find Thailand is easy for solo travel is that commute from one destination to another is so easy. Even at places in North East where I could not find information online about commute, all the small towns and places were well connected. You just have to reach the bus station or railway station and there is always an information coordinator available who would put you into the right bus and ensure to send you off, irrespective of whether you ask for help or not. The moment they see someone with backpack and a slightly confused look, they pick you up and put you in the right bus/van/train. AirAsia operates flights between destinations that are very affordable too.
To travel between islands, you can always book at your hotel or any travel agent. A minivan would come to pick you at the door step, drop you in the ferry, pickup from the ferry and put you in a bus if overland journey required or into a minivan to take you to your accommodation at the destination. It is all so well sorted out. Within the city there are tuk tuks (autos), motorcycle to hire, songteaw (a shared open van like system which works like city bus), big cities have bus, motorcycle taxis, taxis, car rentals.. So depending on the budget and convenience you can choose the mode of commute.
What to Eat at Thailand:
To be honest this needs a separate blog post and I will post one soon. Apart from the green curry, red curry and pad Thai that are widely known, one of the yummiest snack is the banana chocolate rotee aka pancake. Think of dessert or snack this is the first thing I would head to. The option for vegetarians are tofu, fruits, vegetable noodles with curry powder, potatoes and of course the yummy papaya salad. North East was the only place where finding vegetarian food was challenge for communication was also an issue and they eat more of chicken and pork. Non vegetarians and Sea food lovers have too many yummy options. At some places the menu card is just in Thai and so you are good if you are confident enough to just point at dish and have or else pad thai always comes for the rescue. Thai coffee in hot and cold form was my favorite. It is freshly brewed coffee poured over sweet condensed milk. Sticky rice with coconut pudding is another delicacy. I better write a separate blog on this!
How to say Hello & Thank You in Thai:
Thai people are very hospitable, friendly, smiling and every time you walk down the street, everyone are going to greet you Sawadika. Sawadika is common for hello, good morning, good day, good evening.. I really miss the sweet music of Sawadikaaaa filling the air along with a sweet smile.. and the other word is Kapunka which means Thank you. I learnt just these two words and worked my way pretty much. They really appreciate and are genuinely happy even though it is just two words that you have learnt! But here is the twist! It is sawadika only if you are female. If you are male it needs to be Sawadikhrap (sawasdee + khrap). Similarly if you are a guy you need to say KapunKhrap. So women end their sentences with a Ka and men with a Khrap. Though Thai is indirectly based on Indian language, I could not understand most of it. And then a lady told me how the word “Ma” in different tone variation could mean dog, mother, come. So ya, that was the end of learning Thai and I was happy with Sawadika and KapunKa..
Or just a smile also works 🙂
When food is served with love and happiness, it’s like heaven.. the simple lives of people from the floating market Bangkok.. . . . . . #amazingthailand #thailand #thailand_allshots #thailand_ig #bangkok #landofsmiles #seasia #asia #indianblogger #travel #travelblogger #blogger #traveldiaries #charmingthailand #gtgi #femaletraveler #dolcefarniente #happy #mango #coconut #boat #canal #floatingvillage #floatingmarket #unforgettablethailand
Souvenirs to Buy:
Lot of Buddha statues, angel statues, Elephants, elephants, elephants, trinkets, accessories, boxing shorts, paper umbrellas, Thai silk, lacquer ware, wooden carvings & furniture, spices, curry powder, dry fruits, coconut oil, massage oil & spa products, bird’s nest (check in the duty free shop in airport), alcohol, coconut shell artifacts and lots of clothing..
DOs & DONT’s in Thailand:
- Thai people are very patriotic and have high regards and respect for the royal family. Never disrespect it, their feelings, regards, sentiments and the King. Late King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s cremation is scheduled for October 26, 2017. The country will definitely be paying respects and expect most of the services to be closed.
- In some of the prominent cities, markets and anywhere the National anthem will be played twice a day and the entire city comes to a standstill paying respect, please do so too.
- Never disrespect Buddha and Buddha images. This is written in all the temples and reminded many times. Always remove slippers and shoes where ever mentioned, as a practice whenever you are entering the monastery, temple, please do remove.
- Dress appropriately especially when visiting the temples. It is necessary to cover shoulders and shorts are not encouraged. They do give sarongs to tie around if you are dressed inappropriately however please do not ignore a country’s tradition and rules for the sake of your convenience.
- Maintain distance from monks and never touch them. This is expected especially from ladies. Do not sit on chairs that are designated for the head monks. These chairs look special and are easily identifiable.
- Though sex tourism is very prevalent and apparent in Pattaya, Phuket; the whole environment looked weird and like exploiting women. This is a personal request to not encourage this.
- Another personal request is to not ride elephants, watch elephant show, watch snake show, bird show, pet tigers at tiger temple. I had no sighting of animals in the national parks of Thailand and that is where all these animals should belong.
- Thailand has a huge inflow of traffic, please do not litter and reduce plastic usage.
That’s the simple list that comes across my mind as of now..
Hope this simple guide on Thailand was useful. If you have more queries please do post in the comment section and I will try to answer. Any experts visiting my blog, please drop in some more tips and information..
Happy Traveling.. 🙂