Ahhh Thailand. This country holds a special place in my heart as one of the most beautiful and unique countries I’ve ever been to. I spent about 2 weeks traveling around the country through Bangkok, Ko Pha Ngan and Chiang Mai trying to stretch my budget as far as possible (after all, I was only a year out of college). I found that this was very easy to do in a country that was so backpacker-friendly, and ate some of the most delicious and fresh Thai food I’ve ever had.
Below I’ve written a few notes on general advice, time of year to travel and cities to visit.
- Bring toilet paper wherever you go! You will be hard-pressed to find any at all as the norm in Thailand is to use a hose to clean yourself.
- When you know you’ll be visiting temples or holy places, plan to wear pants or a long skirt that covers your knees. You will also need to cover your shoulders so plan on a t-shirt or carry a shawl to as you can’t have bare shoulders inside a temple (no exceptions, gentlemen!)
- Get a massage (or 2!) every day. They are SO cheap and absolutely amazing. You shouldn’t have to pay more than $10 USD for a full-body one
- Eat as much “street food” as possible. Those were the best places!
- Don’t ever touch the monks, especially on the head
- Be as polite as possible and always remember to bow when greeting or thanking someone. The Thai are very proud of their culture (the only SE Asian country to never be colonized) and pride themselves on politeness.
- Get a green coconut and drink the milk from it. It’s so readily available and refreshing!
BEST TIME OF YEAR TO TRAVEL
If you are trying to decide what year you want to travel to Thailand, and don’t mind getting a little messy, then take my advice and make sure that you are there during both Songkran (Thai New Years) and the Full Moon Party.
April 13th, for Songkran Water Festival – The Thai New Year’s Festival (Songkran Water Festival) falls on April 13th every year, but the celebrations last another 3 days until April 15th (potentially even longer if it falls before a weekend!). The celebration of the New Year is centered around purification and washing away one’s bad luck and sins. But what makes this holiday one of the most unique in the world is it’s water festival, which refers to the 3-days where the entire country shuts down and everyone participates in super-soaker waterfights. Some locals who own shopfronts even fill up giant plastic trash bins with water to feed a seemingly neverending supply of water to their waterguns. You’ll commonly see people walking around covered head-to-toe in white chalk, which originated with the monks who used it as a blessing. Depending on where you are, you may even have random people smear chalk on your face…
Full Moon Party – Chances are, if you’re a millenial or have backpacked around SE Asia, you associate Thailand with the famous Full Moon Party. And it’s true, this party takes place every month when the moon is full, and it’s even expanded to half-moon parties on Ko Pha Ngan and other islands. However, if you want to experience the original Full Moon Party, then you need to go to the southeastern part of the island to Haad Rin Beach. Be prepared to stay up all night partying and dancing until the sun rises, and then head to one of the beachfront restaurants for breakfast.
PLACES TO VISIT
You really only need 2 days here tops (IMO), but you can definitely get all the “musts” easily done in that time, Check out my Bangkok 101 guide for top things to do.
Southern Thailand Islands
I’ve only ever been to the eastern side of the peninsula so the only insight I can provide is what I’ve been told by friends or other travelers. We took a 15-hour bus from Bangkok to get down south, but I wouldn’t ever do it again. Spend the extra money on a cheap flight from Bangkok to Koh Samui instead
Eastern Side (Gulf of Thailand):
Ko Pha Ngan – The smaller of the major islands on the west side, this island is famously known for the Full Moon Party on Haad Rin Beach which is a MUST on your bucket list. There are a number of hostels and beach clubs located in the immediate proximity of the beach along with a famous cliffside bar called the “Mellow Mushroom.”
Ko Samui – Thailand’s second largest island (after Phuket) I’ve only been in one of the ports on the way back from the Full Moon Party, but I’ve heard that Lamai Beach is beautiful and good things about the scuba diving.
Western Side (Andaman Sea):
Ko Phi Phi – I’ve never been but this island is known for their beautiful beaches, and also for being the set of The Beach with Leonardo DeCaprio.
Phucket – The largest island in Thailand and at the moment still on my bucket list.
Chiang Mai – My favorite city in Thailand! There are so many different things to do in this city and also options to get away with various eco-tourism activities available. From animal sanctuaries (tigers & elephants)
Pai – Everyone of my friends who has been here raves about how chill it is and how they didn’t want to leave. I’ve had it described to me as a more hippy version of Chiang Mai.