Thailand! A country that every backpacker dreams of.
Whenever it's about vacations, the name comes up in Bangkok or Phuket, and we immediately pick up the Thailand Travel Guide.
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, and it always looked like 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 a 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 parts of the country in July. And my eyes just moved to the right of the map and thought, "Okay, maybe Thailand then!"
I chose Thailand merely for two reasons,
- Am on a career break. I have a lot of days on my hand. When I was working, I need to be careful about the ten days of 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.
- 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 utterly 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 helpful travel tips, places to choose, planning itinerary, what to expect, etc.
In short, a small Thailand travels guide for you to plan your trip.
Thailand Travel Guide - Places to Visit:
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 a 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, and it is full of vibrancy and grandeur. Bangkok, 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), nightlife, food streets, shopping markets, something for everyone. I spent three days there, but it needs a minimum of 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 a snorkel, beach time, and scuba
- It's a long list, and I have made a blog on "How to choose best Thailand Islands to Visit."
In short, the east has Ko Chang and Ko Kood. The Gulf of Thailand has good snorkel and white sand beach options like Ko Tao, Samui, and Phangan. South Thailand has places like Phuket, phi, Lanta, and Krabi. South has the best limestone karsts beaches and blue water.
History of World War II - Kanchanaburi. Was emotionally overwhelmed on a 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 lies in the Northeast 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 a base and covering these places is an easy option.
Kingdom of Siam - the Kingdom of Siam is nothing but Thailand from the 17th century until the 19th century, after which it was named Thailand. However, the Kingdom of Siam includes a transition from the Ayutthaya Kingdom to the Sukhothai kingdom to the Thonburi kingdom to the Rattanakosin kingdom.
Visiting these places and museums gave the 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 have trekking options. Additionally, Pai, Chiang Mai, and Chiang Rai also have many trekking spots near them as they are in a hilly region.
Border Crossing: Thailand is bordered by Malaysia, Cambodia, Laos, and Burma, aka Myanmar. Many travelers across the border not just to move between countries but also as an experience day trip.
Some of the famous crossings are - Tak to Burma (Tak is close to Kanchanaburi), Mae Sai to Burma (one day trip to Tachileik can be made from here), from the south into Langkawi Malaysia, Surin to Siem Reap Cambodia, from Nong Khai to Vientiane Laos.
Not everyone will 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 ten days or so. So if you have a 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 ten 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
I hope that gives an idea of how you can mix and match the destinations.
For some easy tours and sightseeing packages - Book here
Visa & Currency:
A lot of countries have visas 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.
Choose the city from where you are applying as the documents differ. This information applies only to Indians. Also, note that for a 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 backpackers, this is being monitored these days, is what I read. Carry cash as all the transactions are in cash, and in most places, they levy a charge of 3% on credit cards. Indians do not need yellow fever vaccination or any other medical proof to get a visa for Thailand.
The Thai currency is called Bhat, and as of 2017, 1 Baht is 2 INR.
Stay Options in Thailand:
Stay options in Thailand are unlimited. Depending on your budget, you can opt from a dorm to a private room in a 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 are 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 a 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 a washing machine that operates on a coin system. Even otherwise, you can find many laundromats even in small towns, so there is no need to worry about having a fresh set of clothes to wear.
Tip - if you are booking your stay among bustling city streets, skip booking breakfast along with your visit. 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 baht.
This was a room in a resort with breakfast, a swimming pool, a high-end dining facility, and a huge room, all for just 1000 baht. So you see!!
Commute within Thailand:
Hands down, minivans are 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 were not claustrophobic.
The next best option is the VIP buses, which are AC buses with toilets within the bus. One of the reasons I find Thailand is easy for solo travel is that commuting from one destination to another is easy. Even at places in the North East where I could not find information online about commuting, all the small towns and places were well connected.
You have to reach the bus station or railway station, and there is always an information coordinator available who would put you on the right bus and ensure to send you off, irrespective of whether you ask for help or not. The moment they see someone with a 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 doorstep, drop you on the ferry, pick you up 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.
There are tuk-tuks (autos) within the city, a motorcycle to hire, songtaew (a shared open van-like system which works as a city bus), big cities have a 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:
This needs a separate blog post, and I will post one soon. Apart from the green curry, red curry and pad Thai are widely known. One of the yummiest snacks is the banana chocolate roti, aka pancake. Think of dessert or snack this is the first thing I would head to.
The option for vegetarians is tofu, fruits, vegetable noodles with curry powder, potatoes, and the yummy papaya salad. North East was the only place where finding vegetarian food was a challenge, for communication was also an issue, and they eat more chicken and pork. Nonvegetarians and Seafood 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 point at the dish and have it, 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 will greet you, Sawadika. Sawadika is typical for hello, good morning, good day, good evening...
I 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 learned just these two words and worked my way pretty much. They appreciate and are genuinely happy even though it is just two words that you have learned!
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 the Indian language, I could not understand most of it. And then a lady told me how the word "Ma" indifferent tone variation could mean dog, mother, come. So ya, that was the end of learning Thai, and I was happy with Sawadika and KapunKa... But a smile always 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:
A lot of Buddha statues, angel statues, Elephants, elephants, elephants, trinkets, accessories, boxing shorts, paper umbrellas, Thai silk, lacquerware, wooden carvings & furniture, spices, curry powder, dry fruits, coconut oil, massage oil & spa products, bird's nest (check in the duty-free shop in the airport), alcohol, coconut shell artifacts and lots of clothing...
DOs & DONT's in Thailand:
- Thai people are very patriotic and have high regard and respect for the royal family. Never disrespect it, their feelings, regards, sentiments, and the King. Late King Bhumibol Adulyadej's funeral is scheduled for October 26, 2017. The country will 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 town 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. Permanently remove slippers and shoes was 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. Rules are rules! No Women allowed
- 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 exploited women. This is a personal request not to encourage this.
- Another personal request is not to ride elephants, watch elephant show, watch snake shows, bird shows, pet tigers at tiger temple. I had no sighting of animals in Thailand's national parks, and that is where all these animals should belong.
- Thailand has a huge inflow of traffic, and please do not litter and reduce plastic usage.
That's the simple list that comes across my mind as of now... PIN IT
I hope this simple guide on Thailand is useful. If you have more queries, please post in the comment section, and I will try to answer.
Any experts visiting my blog, please drop in some more tips and information...