A Solo Female Traveller's Guide to Thailand

Experience the rich culture of Thailand and meet fellow adventurers along the way
Experience the rich culture of Thailand and meet fellow adventurers along the way | © Panom Bounak / Alamy
Leslie Finlay

Taking on Thailand solo is a tremendously rewarding experience, but the prospect of navigating the unknown can unleash some anxiety. From the depths of the coral reefs in the south to the mountain peaks in the north – and all the temples you can handle in between – here’s our toolkit for navigating the Land of Smiles on your own.

Savour Thai food and explore some of the fascinating islands on TRIPS by Culture Trip’s 10-day epic, small-group adventure – ideal for solo travellers wanting to meet like-minded folk.

Enjoy the sunset in winter at a viewpoint in Phu Chi Fa

What to Pack

Thailand’s seasons vary countrywide, and even then, the tropical climate is completely unpredictable. Check the monsoon schedule before booking your trip so you can pack accordingly, but don’t expect the worst — the sun’s always shining somewhere over the Thai Kingdom.

As tempting as it is to pack your bag to the brim with bikinis, exploring Thailand could take you through waterfall treks, climbs up to dizzying viewpoints and majestic temples – or simply some delicious rooftop cocktails against Bangkok’s skyline.

A jungle hike through bamboo in Chiang Rai, Thailand

Here’s what we recommend bringing on your trip:

Comfortable shoes and good socks, suitable for both city touring and light trekking.
Cheap sandals, in case you remove your shoes before entering buildings, where flip-flops can accidentally change owners easily. Also, Bangkok clubs enforce a strict dress code and turn away anyone in flip-flops, so if you plan to party in BKK, keep that in mind.
Light jumper, ideally with a security-zip inside-front pocket; also useful to repel mosquitos.
Light, airy cotton tops and comfortable shorts.
Long skirt or lightweight pants for temple visits.
Swimwear that’ll stand up to watersports.
UV-protective, scratch-resistant sunglasses, but we advise leaving your favourite pair at home.

That said, be a travel minimalist

Thai night and weekend markets are a great place to stock up on everything you need, while shops and boutiques countrywide have unique skincare products, clothing, and accessories that’ll take up valuable space in your luggage. Anything else you need on the go is easily available from pharmacies or mega-malls.

The Train Night Market Ratchada in Bangkok

Be sure to stock up on the following:

Solid shampoo and conditioner bars to avoid that inevitable shampoo leak in your luggage.
Reef-safe sunscreen. SPF will be your new best friend, though watch out for dangerous chemicals like oxybenzone.
Biodegradable wipes, though we promise you’ll learn to love the “bum gun”.
A menstrual cup – tampons are very expensive in Thailand and generate a lot of waste.
A good tinted moisturiser with SPF, since you won’t want to wear heavy make-up that sweats off in the heat or washes off in the sea.

Stay Safe

With a deeply engrained Buddhist culture and accepting social philosophy, crime rates are very low in Thailand. Those behind the minimal crime that’s reported by tourists are, in fact, other tourists, and injuries are more often than not self-inflicted – and avoidable.

There are enough Buddhist temples in Thailand to last you a lifetime

General Safety Tips

1. Reconsider renting that motorbike. Thailand’s roads are not the best place to learn how to drive. Shops will rent motorbikes to almost anyone, holding your passport as collateral, but even a scratch or ding can cost you. If you get injured, insurance companies won’t cover the medical bills of an unlicensed driver, leaving you with a pile of bills and a new “Thai tattoo” from a road rash.

2. If you must rent a scooter, only rent from a business that is reliably recommended.

3. Opt for quality whenever you can afford it. With activities such as scuba diving, rock climbing, or abseiling – or any of Thailand’s other awesome offerings – the cheapest is not always the best. Those few extra baht may buy you a higher-quality adventure, better equipment, professional instructors and even insurance.

4. Pace yourself. The party scene in Thailand is full-on — from the chic clubs of Bangkok and earthy jungle raves in Pai to endless boho beach parties. But be sure to take your common sense in your carry-on. Watch drinks as they’re poured, don’t leave them unattended and drink plenty of bottled water. It may seem logical, but with pharmaceuticals like diazepam sometimes available over the counter, it’s important to stay as vigilant as you would in any party environment.

A full moon party on Koh Phangan beach

5. Get your vaccinations before you travel. While street food is a straight-up delicacy nationwide, it’s still a good idea to get your hepatitis B vaccine to combat food-borne bacteria. Consult your doctor regarding other travel vaccines, but unless you’re heading into the depths of the jungle, you’re at minimal risk.

6. Drink free mineral water. The tap water is not potable, but you can save money and avoid plastic waste by taking advantage of the free, filtered drinking water available in most restaurants and hotels. This water is sourced from licensed distributors that also supply the restaurants and bars with filtered ice.

7. Stay connected. On arrival at the airport, look out for kiosks with cell providers offering tourist SIM cards, with data plans active for anywhere from a few days to a month. AIS, TrueMove H and DTAC offer the most consistent coverage countrywide.

Travelling Between Destinations

Train is a quick, easy and cheap way to get around

1. Use a booking agent. With a seemingly infinite number of train lines, bus routes and boat schedules, you’ll save time, money, and brainpower by going to an agent. Tell them your end destination and they’ll arrange all the chutes and ladders to get you there.

2. Always ask for the meter when you get in a taxi. A common yet avoidable scam occurs when a taxi driver does not switch on the meter, then charges a wildly higher rate upon arrival.

3. Take advantage of handy apps. The Grab app will save you heaps of time.

4. Take the night train or night boat. At first look, the trains and cargo boats aren’t the most aesthetically pleasing, but once you’re tucked up in your bunk, it’s like your average hostel — only moving. Pro tips: book lower bunks, bring earplugs or headphones and wear your jumper, as they love to crank up the air-con.

Areas to Avoid

The deep south of Thailand, along the Malaysian border, is the only area regarded as unsafe. The region has experienced separatist violence since 2004 and today, there’s still a military presence here to keep the peace. However, the highway route that crosses the border is removed from the conflict, bussing hundreds of tourists across the border daily to Malaysia.

Scuba divers join marine life in the sea off Thailand

Wherever you are in the country, avoid “ping-pong” or live sex shows. Not only are they officially illegal in Thailand, it’s a pretty murky line between what could be a consenting performer and straight-up sexual slavery or human trafficking.

Thailand has been trying to combat its sex-tourism image for years, but it’s the demand of curious tourists that keeps the abusive industry afloat. These shows are also hotspots for scams and corruption, advertising a low entry fee but then charging a shady, and huge, “exit fee”. Stick to the “ladyboy shows” – they’ll impress without the moral ambiguity.

Meet Other Travellers

The joy of solo travelling is you get to meet lots of fellow adventurers

With so many travellers making their way through the Land of Smiles, it’s easy to either link up with others or trail-blaze solo. If you prefer the former, definitely do the following:

1. Stay in a hostel. Gone are the days of Leonardo DiCaprio’s Khao San nightmare in The Beach, as across Thailand today, hostels are sometimes even nicer than local hotels. Dorm room not your thing? Book a private or semi-private room while still reaping all the social benefits of hostel life.

2. Book a scuba diving course. Or a Muay Thai class, a yoga retreat, or whatever suits you. Spending several days learning a new skill with others forges a unique bond that can outlast your trip.

3. Volunteer. There are plenty of ways to give back to the community in Thailand and though many may require longer commitments, Trash Hero is a good place to start for a feel-good surge. This NGO has dozens of chapters around Thailand that meet up once a week to clean beaches or waterways, wrapping up with a sunset beer and food. Not only will you meet other travellers but local community members, too.

You can do your bit by joining in a beach clean-up

Befriend the Locals

Damnoen Saduak floating market

Absolutely nothing will get you further in the eyes of Thai locals than demonstrating respect toward their culture. Avoid these common cultural mistakes:

Keep the bikini or swim trunks for the beach. As a deeply Buddhist country, it’s considered wholly inappropriate to walk around the streets in swimwear.
Keep your feet on the ground — while Thais are generally not offended by an accidental cultural faux-pas, putting your feet up on anything or pointing your feet at another person is still considered offensive.
Don’t ride elephants – the animal is sacred to Thai culture and elephant-riding schemes shorten their lifespan considerably. Visit reputable sanctuaries instead.
Travel sustainably — Thailand has long been in the media hot seat for its plastic waste problems and recent studies indicate a significant portion of this plastic is generated by tourists. Either way, green is trendy today in Thailand, so use our guide for tips on travelling more sustainably.
Learn Thai words — Thai is an admittedly tricky language, but knowing these simple phrases will get you far with the locals:

Hello = “Sah wah dee kha”
Thank you = “Khob khun kha” – or just “Kha” is used informally
Pair each with a Wai and you’re golden.

Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.

Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.

Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.

We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.

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