The Backpacker Scene
Thailand is renowned as a backpacking haven, and you’ll meet tons of new people at every turn. Backpacking in Thailand offers myriad memorable experiences. The Land of Smiles has many sides. It attracts a diverse crowd, including laid-back island lovers, vivacious party animals, spiritual seekers, foodies, social butterflies, introverts—you name it, you’ll find it in Thailand. Full of fun and adventure, a trip to Thailand can be a life-changing experience.
Making the Most of It
Feast at street stalls and markets: There’s no better way to savour Thailand’s delicious cuisine than at the plethora of street stalls and markets all around the country. Prices are unbelievably low, and you can eat well on a modest budget; there’s definitely no need to go hungry in Thailand. In addition to well-known favourites, you’ll also find regional dishes that can be tricky to find elsewhere.
Relax and enjoy the ride: Delays happen, and plans change. Embrace the Thai concept of mai bpen rai (no worries), and keep your cool; losing your temper helps nobody! Go with the flow, and allow for flexibility in your plans to make the most of your trip. And remember: smiles can go a long way in Thailand.
Dress appropriately for your surroundings: Keep beachwear on the beaches, and be sensitive to your environment. Don’t wear the same togs for partying on the islands and visiting temples. Outside of prime tourist areas, Thais are quite modest; show some cultural awareness when exploring to avoid offending locals and embarrassing yourself.
Thailand is generally a very safe country for backpackers, with the majority of Thai people going out of their way to help foreigners and show true hospitality and kindness. As with anywhere, though, you should exercise a healthy level of caution; don’t leave your common sense at the airport!
Avoid walking in quiet and dimly lit areas at nighttime. Although rare, attacks and thefts can occur on lonely beaches and similar areas. Additionally, packs of aggressive street dogs roam some areas. Be careful of wild monkeys too, day or night; one bite, and you’re off for rabies shots.
Always keep valuables safely locked away, and watch out for pickpockets in crowded places. Carry a photocopy of your passport to comply with Thai laws. Snatch and grabs can happen from scooters whizzing past too. Think twice before renting a scooter yourself—Thailand has some of the worst road-safety records in the world. Don’t ride when drunk, and always wear a helmet. Avoid drugs—penalties are strict and severe. Solo travellers especially should avoid getting too drunk and always be aware of their surroundings.
Food and Accommodation
As already mentioned, Thailand has some of the best, and cheapest, street food in the world. A variety of food is available on almost every street! Backpacking areas cater well to foreign tastes, with many restaurants serving western favourites. Being vegan or vegetarian can be slightly tricky outside of major tourist areas, however, and you’ll likely be limited to a few basic options.
Thailand has accommodation to suit all budgets, with backpacker hostels and cheap rooms in abundance. Don’t overlook guest houses, beach huts, and other accommodations; you can often score a private room for just a bit more than a dorm bed. Although hostels can be difficult to find in more offbeat locations, there’s almost always a handful of cheap hotels, motels, and guest houses to choose between. Finding a budget place to sleep is rarely difficult. Do try and book ahead, though, for the best deals during peak season and over major holidays.
Hostels and backpackers’ bars are always great places to meet new people. Tours and activities are also ideal ways to make new friends with a common interest—think snorkelling or diving excursions, cooking classes, meditation centres, rock climbing, and group jungle hikes.
Knowing a little of the local lingo can impress locals; learn how to say hello and thank you at the least. Smile lots, and learn how to wai to show respect. Many locals will approach tourists out of curiosity, keen to strike up a conversation. Before you know it, you may have made a new BFF!
Money, Money, Money
The currency in Thailand is the Thai baht (THB). For comparison, 1 USD is approximately 31 THB. Practically, you can offload smaller coins at 7-Eleven convenience stores. Always check change to avoid shortchanging scams, and use official exchange booths. Cash is king in Thailand; don’t rely on cards outside of fancy establishments. Bargain for the best deals at tourist-focused markets.
Here’s what you can expect things to cost on your Thailand trip:
1 meal from a street vendor: 30–60 THB (0.95–1.9 USD)
1 large bottle of beer from a store: 50 THB (1.6 USD)
1 night at a backpacker hostel: 150–300 THB (4.7–9.5 USD)
1 short tuk tuk ride: 50–100 THB (1.6–3.2 USD)
1 bottle of local insect repellent: 20–50 THB (0.60–1.6 USD)
1 massage at a local parlour: 200–300 THB (6.4–9.6 USD)
1 entry to a temple: 100 THB (3.2 USD) (But, many smaller temples are free!)
Where to Go
Bangkok: From pulsating nightlife, thriving markets, and glitzy malls, to historic temples, quirky museums, and delicious food galore, the ultimate backpacking capital of Bangkok offers something for everyone.
Chiang Mai: Combine nature and culture in the laid-back northern gem, with hundreds of temples, numerous waterfalls, meditation centres aplenty, and jungle trekking through nature and hill-tribe communities. Don’t miss Thailand’s highest point: Doi Inthanon.
Sukhothai: Travel back to the past, and explore the atmospheric ruins in ancient Sukhothai. Enjoy a sense of calm as you cycle between the glorious historic sites.
Kanchanaburi: Charming and chilled, Kanchanaburi is famous for the wartime Bridge Over the River Kwai and the amazing Erawan Falls. Enjoy a low-key nightlife, crack open a can of Leo beer, and relax alongside the famous river.
Bucket List Experiences
Stay up all night at a Full Moon Party: Cover yourself in neon paint, get your glow sticks ready, and head to the infamous Haad Rin on Koh Phangan for a legendary night of revelry. Catch a nap on the beach, shower, and repeat.
Get up close and personal with elephants: Coming face to face with a magnificent beast is often a highlight when backpacking through Thailand, and there are several amazing sanctuaries where you can interact with mighty elephants. Don’t ride elephants or visit somewhere that makes elephants perform; choose an eco-friendly centre that puts animal welfare first.
Hop from one stunning island to another: With some of the best beaches and islands in the world, boat trips are the perfect way to admire many of Thailand’s glorious scenes. The iconic James Bond Island in Phang Nga Bay, Koh Tao’s underwater world, Koh Phi Phi, and the sublime Trang islands are highlights.