Thailand

Updated February 2020.

Thailand is what comes to mind when many people think of paradise. With an interior filled with jungle and coasts filled with fabulous beaches, Thailand is the perfect spot for backpackers or digital nomads. There’s a reason Chiang Mai has been built up with co-working spaces. After spending two months there, Thailand was the ideal place to relax and recharge. I was ready to get back on the road after spending days filled by the pool and nights out in Chiang Mai’s clubs.

Historical overview

Thailand was originally the home of a number of different kingdoms, including the Malay, Khmer, and more. You can still find a number of the ruins from these periods outside of major cities such as Bangkok or Chiang Mai.

Thailand was the only Southeast Asian country to avoid direct influence from Western countries, and so it has preserved some of its ancient culture more than its neighbors. They have also kept a monarchy as opposed to other countries who have been influenced by Communist leadership. However, the country has had political unrest as citizens have access to information from around the world via the Internet.

Today, Thailand remains a favorite location for younger travelers despite occasional protests. It’s also a wonderful city for LGBTQ travelers and it is an incredibly accepting country that takes pride in being open to Queer culture.

Basics

Language spoken: Thai

Year founded:

Type of government: Unitary parliamentary constitutional monarchy

Capital: Bangkok

Population: 69 million

Type of money: Baht

City guides

Visas and immigration

For US citizens entering Thailand for less than 30 days, no visa is required. Your passport should be valid for six months from entry and you only need one empty page for a stamp.

If you wish to stay longer, you can get your visa extended for another month by leaving the country for a few days and then returning, or by heading to an immigration office. There, you will need to bring in your passport, two passport photos, and you will need to fill out some forms detailing more information about your stay. Also, make sure to bring 1900 baht with you and go before your current visa expires! You can continue to do this every 30 days, though whether or not it will be renewed will be determined by Thai officials and there is no guarantee that they will extend it.

You will need to visit the immigration office in either Bangkok or Chiang Mai–no offices anywhere else in the country. (Here’s some more information from the Bangkok and Chiang Mai offices.)

Vaccines

You shouldn’t need any vaccines other than what you would normally receive, such as tetanus, whopping cough, and the flu shot. However, if you want to get a rabies vaccine just in case, some doctors might recommend it. Thailand also requires a Yellow Fever vaccine for those who have traveled to destinations where this is a concern.

How to get around

Thailand is not the easiest country to get around with public transportation. The best way to get from one end to the other is through flying. The best part is that it is affordable–you can fly from Bangkok to Chiang Mai for around $30. It is also possible to take buses from the main cities, though they are often long (nine hours from Bangkok to Chiang Mai) and average around $15.

While I normally advocate for taking a bus or train for sustainability reasons, flying takes some of the pressure off and makes it easier for you to reach certain islands, as well. For sights like national parks, taking a tour might be a good option.

If you are planning on staying in Thailand for a few weeks, then renting a scooter is also a possibility. Keep in mind that everyone here drives on the left side of the road! You can rent one for around $10 a day, which is an affordable way to take a road trip if you’re feeling especially adventurous. Rideshares are also a great way to get around. They are super cheap (think $3 a ride) and safe–take them over taxis!

Also, if you plan on really going local, then you can also take one of the red trucks around the city. You’ll give them 50 cents and an idea of where you want to go and they’ll drop you off nearby. You should definitely try it at least once if you have the chance!

Accommodations

One of the best parts of Thailand is that it is super affordable (a big reason why backpackers love it so much). You can find accommodations at every end of the spectrum, but hotels and hostels are fantastic when it comes to reasonable prices.

BangkokChiang MaiPhuket
Budget (hostel)$7 per night for a dorm, $30 per night for a private$8 per night for a dorm, $20 per night for a private$8 per night for a dorm, $40 per night for a private
Mid-tier (hotel)$40 per night$30 per night$30 per night
Luxury (hotel)$110 per night$120 per night$100 per night
Me making friends at an elephant sanctuary...

When to go

Thailand is great to visit all year. Because it is a tropical location, you’ve got a temperate climate that shouldn’t affect when you choose to go all that much. However, there is a slight rainy season that might want to be considered when you are planning on spending time at the beach. Between November and early April tends to be the prime time to go–and many other tourists head there too. Just keep that in mind when booking accommodations and tours!

This list is a little all over the place–I recommend visiting several different cities in Thailand if you get the chance. Each offers a different feel and a wide number of activities. If you have time to wander from one end to the other, here are the sights worth checking out!

The Grand Palace

As Thailand’s most-visited spot, you shouldn’t miss Bangkok’s lavish Grand Palace. Make sure to get there in advance if possible in order to avoid the lines and to get a chance to see the Emerald Buddha before the crowds arrive.

Visit a Floating Market

Bangkok has a few floating markets worth visiting. I recommend Damnoen Saduak, which is where you tend to see most of the stunning photos on Instagram from. The best things to do is take a tour so you can relax and you don’t have to worry about navigating the area yourself.

Head to an elephant sanctuary

Many people head to Thailand just for the experience of seeing elephants. It was one of my favorite things I did while I was there, and it’s the first thing I think of when I think about my time in Thailand. Make sure the ones you choose are humane. If you’re in doubt, you can check out my guide here for some more info!

Go island hopping

Are you even in Thailand if you don’t take some time to jump from fabulous island to fabulous island? Research a few you want to visit beforehand so you don’t find yourself confused about which can be accessed by certain ferries. This is another experience where having a tour booked can come in handy. (Unsure about where to go? Here’s a list of my favorite islands!)

Try some street food

If you are in Chiang Mai, you have to make an effort to check out some of the fantastic food they have in the markets. You might need to be a little bit brave in order to sample everything, but you can find some amazing egg rolls, noodles, and more–all for super low prices.

Hike in the national parks

I loved hiking in Thailand’s national parks. Not only do they show a different side of the country than the cities, but there are also some challenging options that will test any experienced hiker. You can find multi-day hikes and day hikes out of Chiang Mai that offer beautiful scenery, flora, and fauna.

Check out Chiang Rai

This funky temple was created by artist Chalermchai Kositpipat, who fashioned it after traditional Buddhist structures. While it is mostly known as an Instagram darling, it is actually one of the most fascinating statements I’ve seen on worship and what that means in modern society. It’s well worth booking a tour for!

Take a cooking class

Thai food is inarguably amazing and I loved learning to cook some local favorites while I was there. I even took what I learned there home and use it on occasion. Both Bangkok and Chiang Mai are inundated with schools, but I recommend spending about $30 at most.

Ayutthaya

As one of the best-preserved sites of Khmer ruins in Thailand, take some time out of your Bangkok itinerary in order to see this spot. You can book day trips that will get you there and back and give you time to wander around this ancient structure.

Costs

Thailand is an incredibly affordable country, and you can easily spend a day here without spending more than $50. Meals are cheap (and taste amazing) and can usually be purchased for around $4 on the low end. Getting around is super cheap. The only major cost tends to be alcohol, which is still reasonable if you choose to order beers instead of fancy cocktails.

If you really want to stretch your dime for meals, head to a market. You can try a whole bunch of delicious, traditional foods paying $1 or $2 a piece.

Helpful Thai phrases

The Thai language is not easy! It’s gendered and much of the meaning comes with the tones that are used. However, most locals don’t expect foreigners to be able to speak the language–though they will appreciate you trying!

Sawadee khrup/ka – Hello

Chai (khrup/ka) – Yes

Mai (khrup/ka) – No

Khop khun (khrup/ka) – Thank you

Khor thoad khrup/ka – Sorry/excuse me

La gorn khrup/ka – Goodbye

Safety tips

Thailand is an incredibly safe country for tourists. The worst that is likely to happen is that you might have an item or two stolen. However, it’s always best to be safe rather than sorry, so going into your trip with these things in mind can make it much more relaxing.

  • Be respectful. Thailand is very strict about how the king is perceived, so any negative feedback should not be shared with your new Thai friends. You can think but you want, but do remember to keep your thoughts to yourself.
  • Do not take any drugs! Thailand is extremely serious about their drug laws, and it has been known for foreigners to be thrown in jail for using illegal substances. Take a break while you’re there or you could end up in prison for several years.
  • Make sure you wear a helmet if you decide to ride a scooter. It might look cool to go without one, but you can find yourself severely injured or killed without one. Talk about a bad holiday!
  • Think twice before getting super drunk. While it doesn’t happen often, tourists have been known to be drugged and have their stuff stolen. As in any country, practice responsible drinking habits!

Packing list

This list contains affiliate links to sustainable, eco-friendly products.

When you think of packing for Thailand, think light! Light clothing, light backpack, and clothes you can easily rewash if necessary. If you are planning on being there in the rainy season, make sure you have a quality rain jacket to avoid downpours!

Backpacks

Osprey offers an amazing pack in the in the Fairview. For Thailand, you will probably be carrying around lighter items, meaning you should only need a 55 liter instead of something bigger. On the other hand, you can always look for a bigger pack in the Aura at 65. You also have the option of a removable daypack if you plan on hiking.

For women:

Osprey’s Fairview 55 for women is compact and offers great support, as well as the ability to be used as a carry-on. I love the storage compartments (albeit in my older model) and how easy it is to transport from one place to another.

For men:

For men, the Osprey Fairpoint 55 offers a similar design but with a style more for guys. It also has a slightly different hip support for if you plan on taking this with you on your hiking trip. Comfort and convenience is what this pack is all about.

Basics

Toiletries

Miscellaneous

Articles on Thailand

How to give back

Here are some basic tips if you want to give back while you’re in Thailand.

  • Make sure that if you choose to volunteer with elephants that you choose an organization that is known for treating them correctly. Many times, an institution will advertise itself as humane when it really isn’t. For more information on spending time at an elephant sanctuary, you can read my guide here.
  • Teaching English for an afternoon is one of the best things you can do if you want to donate some of your time in Thailand. Many schools welcome English speakers coming in for a day, and it’s simple to sign up through programs like GoEco.
  • Beach cleans and ocean conservation projects are also common in Thailand. If you plan on being around water, this is a great opportunity to visit the area’s beautiful coral reefs and conduct important research along with the pros.
  • Make sure to cover up properly when entering temples. Women should not wear shorts or skirts above the knee or tank tops (and you will be asked to wear a robe if you do). Be respectful and agree–they’re usually free and you return them at the temple entrance when you’re done.

Books to read

Sightseeing by Rattawut Lapcharoensap– This lovely book features a number of stories growing up Thai and all that it means to be a part of such a unique and surprising country. Best of all, the writing is pure poetry, and I found myself aching for more after it was done.

The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan– Spanning a number of different countries but heavily featuring Thailand, this Man Booker prize winner is a heartbreaking story about war and all the people who it wrecks in its path.

The Orchid House by Lucinda Riley– Taking place during World War II, this historical fiction novel moves back and forth between England and Thailand–and highlights the difference between two very different countries. If you’re looking for a light read, this will satisfy you on the plane ride over.

Noodle Trails by Eileen Kay– Comedienne Eileen Kay shares her journey about heading to Thailand in order to escape her life back home. With a cheeky sense of humor and some realities of living abroad, Kay lends a new look into expat life.

Helpful websites and information

For more information on Thailand, check out these websites!

Travel.Gov

The US government website gives details on what you should expect before going, any vaccinations you need to have, and if there has been any recent civil unrest.

Keep wandering,

Alex Signature Wander

Like this guide? Pin it!