Thailand is the travel hub of Southeast Asia and the center of the universe for most first-time backpackers. With its lush jungles, famed beaches, world class diving, delicious food and crazy parties, Thailand attracts visitors from all over the world. Thailand caters for most budgets; you can find dirt cheap guesthouses and hotel suites costing thousands of dollars a night right next to each other. I myself have been to Thailand a whole bunch of times, often I am just passing through as some of the cheapest flights to Asia are in to Bangkok. In general, although I like backpacking in Thailand, I tend to avoid staying there as it is comparatively expensive to neighbouring countries in South East Asia. Many backpackers and digital nomads stay in Thailand for a long time, to get a proper break down of how much it costs to live in Thailand, check out Nina’s guide.
Whether booking your trip in advance, or winging it with a backpack and travelling alone (which you likely won’t be for long), moving around Thailand is a piece of piss. The country is well established on the backpacking trail and everything is convenient, easy and relatively safe. Though well and truly on the backpacker map, there are still a few gems not yet discovered by the tourists masses and it’s still possible to get off the beaten track whilst backpacking in Thailand. When you think of Thailand you straight away think of beaches, temples, jungles and tasty food… These thoughts are bang on.
- Arriving into Thailand
- Travelling in Thailand
- Hitchhiking in Thailand
- Entry Requirements for travel to Thailand
- Backpacker Accommodation in Thailand
- Where to go backpacking in Thailand
- Must try experiences when travelling Thailand
- How much does backpacking Thailand cost?
- Budget tips for broke backpackers
- Learning Thai while backpacking Thailand
- Travel phrases for backpacking Thailand
- Sex, Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll in Thailand
- Being a Responsible Backpacker
- Travel Thailand for free
- Best time to travel to Thailand
- Onwards travel from Thailand
- Apps to download before travelling to Thailand
- Thailand backpacking resources
- Get insured before backpacking Thailand
Arriving into Thailand
The best place to fly into is Bangkok. International airports are also located at Krabi, Ko Samui and Chiang Mai but its easier to fly into these from other South East Asian countries. You can enter Thailand by road or train from Malaysia, Cambodia and Laos and by boat from Indonesia.
Travelling in Thailand
Thailand is a pretty big country, and if you are short on time, you may want to consider taking the odd internal flight while backpacking in Thailand. AirAsia is a great low cost airline but you need to book your tickets in advance before it fills up or the prices go up. You can also get around by train but this is often not as fast or punctual as travelling by bus. Thailand is a relatively easy country to drive around, compared to many of the countries I’ve driven in anyway, and many backpackers explore the country by motorbike. Most roads are marked in Thai and English so it is pretty straightforward to find your way around. Night buses are a great way to save on a night’s accommodation and get from A to B. For short distances, tuk tuks are your best bet although Uber is slowly but surely taking over and often works out cheaper. Keep an eye on your shit when in a tuk tuk.
Hitchhiking in Thailand
Thailand is a great country to hitchhike in! But you have to be persistent and make sure the locals understand where you need to go or you will end up getting dropped at a bus station. Hitching a ride in Thailand is pretty safe and easy; just find a good spot where the traffic is nice and slow and stick out your thumb. If you are backpacking Thailand on your own, there is a good chance you can hitch a ride with motorbike riders.
Entry requirements for travel to Thailand
A lot of nationalities simply get a thirty day, free, tourist visa on arrival (if arriving by air, it’s 15 days if you come overland). You can usually extend this once, for an additional thirty days, for a fee. For less fortunate nationalities, it’s fairly simple to sort out a Thai tourist visa before you arrive – I recommend VisaHQ if you want minimum hassle.
Backpacker accommodation in Thailand
For me, one of the most exciting things about being on the road is meeting new people and staying in new places. And what better place than Thailand to really jump into backpacker culture by staying in some of the most kickass hostels in South East Asia. These backpacker meccas are great for meeting fellow travellers, exchanging exciting travel stories and just chilling out.
Here are some of my favourite hostels on the Thailand backpacking route:
Bangkok – My favourite hostel here was the Smile Society hostel – a cozy little place, conveniently located to explore nearby spots.
Chiang Mai – S*Trips – The Poshtel is a kickass hostel and just a walk away from the Night Bazaar where you can try some amazing local food. They have reliable wifi too.
Khao Yai National Park – Considering it is a national park, the properties around this area are slightly on the expensive side. A super cheap option is the Pakchong Hotel. Its best you book in advance so you can get a confirmed reservation before venturing out.
Khao Sok National Park – Compared to Khao Yai, there are some pretty great accommodation options here which are pretty easy on the pocket. Check out the Khaosok Treehouse Resort if you want to stay somewhere really special.
Koh Samui – My top choice here would be the Kingston Jamaica hostel. It has a pretty chilled backpacker vibe going.
Kanchanaburi – You’ll find some pretty great resort properties for cheap here. Check out the Sky Resort Kanchanaburi.
Pai – Do stay at the cool as hell Purple Monkey backpackers hostel. It is dirt cheap and offers free wifi and breakfast!
You could also try Couchsurfing while backpacking in Thailand. This is another great way of meeting locals and exploring the local culture. You can save a few bucks since CouchSurfing is free.
If you are backpacking Thailand, AirBnb is a great way to find a quality apartment for a cheap price. It’s especially handy if you are travelling as a couple and need a bit of chill time away from noisy dorms. Use this AirBnB coupon code for $35 off your first stay!
Where to go backpacking in Thailand
This is the hectic heart of the backpacker scene in Southeast Asia. Many travellers, myself included, hate it when they first arrive but dig a little deeper and you will come to love it. There are plenty of temples, palaces and markets to explore and the nightlife is fantastic. My first time in Bangkok, the city ate me alive and emptied my wallet in under 24 hours. Having become a regular visitor since, I now love the city and have come to be more aware of potential scams, such as the long running Bangkok Tuk Tuk scam, which often aim to target visitors in their first few days of arrival. Keep your wits about you in this city of saints and sinners!
Most backpackers end up in this leafy laid back city at some point and with good reason. The historical, yet surprising cosmopolitan, walled city is surrounded by jungle and amazing hillside landscape starting just a short ride from the city centre. The area has become well known for home stay and hill-tribe trekking in Thailand. One downside however is that the treks here can sometimes feel unfortunately commercialised. I suggest either trekking elsewhere such as a national park or heading out on a longer trek to discover some more untouched areas. The city itself is well worth visiting if not only for the vast array of temples, then for the quaint coffee shops that seem to match them in numbers, often serving locally grown coffee bean and free wifi. Prices for Thai massage are some of the cheapest I’ve come across and the massive night market is one of the best places to pick up souvenirs in the country. There are some great trekking opportunities from Chiang Mai around the Myanmar border area.
Khao Yai National Park
Just three hours north of Bangkok, this park is a great place to find wild elephants as well as hike and swim. It also has some crazy beautiful waterfalls that you need to trek a bit to reach- totally worth it!
Khao Sok National Park
Probably the best national park in Thailand, Khao Sok offers caves, jungles, rivers and gorgeous limestone scenery. You can explore the park by using its hiking trail, or raft, canoe or kayak through Sok river. If you’re lucky you may spot an elusive gibbon or two.
The Thai Islands
Thailand has an absolute ton of beautiful tropical islands. For the adventurous it is possible to find small islands all over Southeast Asia that are pretty much uninhabited. Some islands are very crowded and others only have just a few bungalows on them; some of the best (well, best known!) are Koh Samet, Koh Taruato, Koh Chang, Koh Tao, Koh Phangan, Koh Samui, Joh Lanta and the Similian Islands. To discover something a little bit different, head on over to Koh Lipe.
In 1942 Kanchanaburi was under Japanese control and it was here that Asian forced labourers and Allied POWs were made to build the infamous ‘Bridge on the River Kwai’ as part of the ‘Death Railway’. Although a sobering experience the bridge is surrounded by some gorgeous waterfalls that are well worth a visit once you have been to the ‘Jeath War Museum’.
A small town in the north of Thailand near Myanmar‘s border, Pai has only recently made it onto the backpacker circuit. It is well worth a visit as it is located in a beautiful area of rolling hills and mysterious peaks. If you have time I strongly recommend getting closer to the Myanmar border and visiting some of the Karen villages in the area. Check out this accommodation guide for places to stay in Pai.
Must try experiences when travelling Thailand
Full Moon Party: Probably the most popular backpacker party in the world is the Full Moon Party. 20,000 people partying until sunrise on Haat Rin beach, Koh Phangan. It is extremely touristy but still worth a look, there are so many ‘moon’ parties that you can pretty much turn up whenever you want and party however the biggest one is still the full moon party. I personally prefer the half moon party as there are not quite so many people and so prices do not skyrocket as much. For loads of details on the Full Moon Party click here. You can also try out the Eden Garden Party on Haad Yuan beach which is about ten thousand times better. The Eden Garden Party is held every Saturday and Tuesday and is one of the best psychedelic-themed events I have ever been to.
Jungle Trekking: There is some great jungle trekking in Northern Thailand. If you choose to go trekking make sure to go on a multi-day hike. The most popular places to go Jungle trekking are Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai. Personally, I prefer the trekking in Laos or Myanmar.
Scuba Diving: Many backpackers fall in love with scuba diving whilst in Thailand. The country offers incredible diving opportunities in crystal clear waters with abundant marine life and plenty of wrecks for the underwater adventurer. The cheapest place to learn is the island of Kao Tao.
Learn to cook: No Thailand travel guide could be complete without a mention of the tantalising food that pops up on every corner, at every hour. Thai food probably ranks as my favourite food in the whole world and many tourist areas offer Thai cooking courses. It’s a memorable experience to try out on the backpacking route in Thailand.
How much does backpacking Thailand cost?
Accommodation: Although cheap, accommodation in Thailand is more expensive than most other countries in Southeast Asia. You can still find guesthouses for around $7 in the cities and $4 in the countryside. Bungalows and beach huts start at around $4 but can cost way more if you haven’t perfected your haggling skills.
Food: Food is super cheap in Thailand and is some of the best in all of Asia! Street food costs around $0.65 and if you eat locally it is possible to get by on about $2 a day. You can save a lot of money on your bar tab by taking advantage of happy hours or buying cheap beer from a 7-Eleven.
Transport: Transport is pretty cheap in Thailand if you don’t get ripped off by a tour operator. Only get in taxis which agree to run on the meter. A taxi ride normally costs under $3. Tuk Tuks are great fun but you have to haggle, they probably work out more expensive at around $5 a journey. Boats between Thai islands cost between $7 and $15 and it sometimes works out better value to buy a boat and bus combo ticket. Buses are pretty cheap and local buses cost just $0.25 in Bangkok. Trains across the country cost between $7 and $18. The whole of South East Asia is, in general, fairly well connected by train. When booking short-distance buses it often makes sense to simply book them on the ground but if you plan on heading to Singapore or Malaysia it can be worth booking them in advance.
Activities: If you choose to pay for a tour (I very rarely endorse this) it will cost between $15 and $35 a day. Trekking with a guide costs between $30 and $50 a day. A PADI dive certification course costs around $300. One of the best value experiences you can have in Thailand is to track down a traditional tattooist and get a Sak Yant Tattoo.
Budget tips for broke backpackers
To keep your spending to an absolute minimum whilst travelling in Thailand I recommend sticking to these basic rules of budget adventuring….
Hitchhike: In Thailand it is so so easy to thumb a ride and it is an ace way to keep your transport costs down and instead spend it on smashing experiences. So hitchhike as much as you can when backpacking Thailand.
Camp: With plenty of gorgeous natural places to camp, Thailand is an excellent place to take a tent. When you’re in dire need of a shower and some company, jump on Couchsurfing.
Cook your own food: I took a small gas cooker with me to Thailand and cooked a lot of my own meals whilst hitching and camping, I saved a fortune.
Haggle: Haggle as much as you can. You can always get a better price for things especially while in local markets.
Learning Thai when backpacking Thailand
Thai is very useful while backpacking Thailand. Its so much faster to communicate with the locals in Thai. Download the app uTalk Go. It is a super magical language learning app. Great to get to grips with the language and learn a few phrases on the go.
Travel phrases for backpacking Thailand
Hello – Sà-wàt-dee
How are you? – Sà-baai dee m?i?
Pleased to meet you- Yin dee têe dâi róo jàk
Excuse me – K?r tôht
Please – Kor …
Cheers – Chon
Crazy – Ding- dong! (I wouldn’t be offended if you called me that! It sounds adorable.)
Son of a bitch – Ai hee-ah (Now that sounds more effective!)
Ladyboy – Katoey ( Very useful to know this in Bangkok!)
Where’s the toilet? – Hông náam yòo n?i (crucial if you’re a lover of spicy South East Asian food)
Yes – Chai
No – Ma Chai
Beer – Bia
How much – Nee Tao Rai
Sex, Drugs and Rock ’n’ Roll in Thailand
Even though drugs are free flowing in the half moon and full moon parties, Thailand has very very strict laws against possession of drugs including imprisonment and the death penalty. Yup! They take drugs very seriously. So my advice would be to be extra cautious when it comes to drugs. Pai is a well-known stoner hangout and it’s easy to pick up weed on the Thai islands but finding something in the cities can prove trickier. A lot of the time, the weed is low-quality brick weed. Shrooms are also easily available in both Pai and the islands and it is possible to pick up LSD and MDMA but the quality varies enormously and the price is usually high. Every now and again, unfortunate backpackers do get roofied so be careful with your drinks and don’t accept random shit from strangers. Tinder is awfully common in Thailand but more as a hook up app than a dating app. If you are a white lad rocking up into South East Asia for the first time, you’re in for a treat as you will suddenly be about ten times more attractive to the local girls than you are back home. Don’t be surprised if the girl you’ve been chatting up turns out to be a lady boy… it happens. Prostitution in Thailand is very common indeed, please have a read of the section below.
Being a Responsible Backpacker
Writing your name in black marker on temples, chugging Chang beer while shirtless, swearing loudly and visiting unethical animal attractions? You Sir, are a twat. Luckily, most backpackers don’t fall into this category but, when you’re out and about and have had a few too many drinks, it can be easy to embarrass yourself. It’s easy to get carried away in South East Asia, everything is so damn cheap and so much fun. I’m in no way the perfect traveller; I’ve been the drunken idiot on the street. I know first hand just how hard it is to be the one person in a group to say no when somebody comes up with a stupid idea that, for some reason, everybody is down for.
By no means am I telling you not to drink, smoke and party. Do it and love it. Just don’t get so drunk you turn into an imbecile your mum would be ashamed of. If you can’t handle drinking buckets, then stick to beer. If you want to see Elephants, then go and see them but do your research first. Look up ethical animal sanctuaries such as The Elephant Jungle Sanctuary in Chiang Maifollow, who treat and care for animals properly. Don’t ride elephants. If you’re not into seeing the temples, no worries but don’t be disrespectful, inappropriate or deface them – certainly do not try to wander in shirtless.
Wear a helmet when you hop on a motorbike in Asia. Despite being an experienced driver, I’ve had a total of three crashes in South East Asia over the last ten years. On the one occasion I wasn’t wearing a helmet, I split my head open and had to go to hospital. It was an expensive mistake. The local people are sick of scraping foreigners off the road and, trust me, you don’t look cool for not wearing a helmet.
Humans are humans; treat people you meet along the way with the same respect you would show your friends and family back home. You are not superior to anyone including the girls/guys walking the streets. Sex workers in South East Asia are people like you and me; they may enjoy what they do, or they may be on the darker side of it. Regardless of your beliefs and thoughts on prostitution, remember this is another person with thoughts, feelings and a life outside of the sex industry too. You are not superior to these people, you just happen to be from a more privileged background.
Go to Asia and have the time of your life, do the things you’ve dreamed of but be respectful along the way. Travelling the world makes you an ambassador for your country, which is awesome. We can make a positive impact on people when we travel and get rid of any ugly stereotypes that may be associated with your country…
Travel Thailand for free
Perhaps one of the best options for backpackers wanting to explore Thailand long-term and experience living in this truly incredible country is to get a Teaching English as a Foreign Language course online. TEFL courses open up a huge range of opportunities and you can find teaching work all over the world. To find out more about TEFL courses and how you can teach English around the world, read my in-depth report on teaching english abroad.
Best time to travel to Thailand
The peak tourist season in Thailand is November to February, when the weather is beautiful across the country but there’s a high chance you’ll run into a ton of tourists. The really popular guest-houses fill up fast so this is a country where it can definitely be worth making reservations. This way you can find cheaper accommodation which is difficult to find during peak season. The local people are a really friendly bunch and keen to help so if you have any problems don’t be afraid to ask for directions from the locals.
Onwards travel from Thailand
Thailand shares its border with Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, and Myanmar. Although neither China nor Vietnam border Thailand, their territories lie within 100 km of Thai territory and are easily accessible from Thailand. You can enter Thailand from any of these countries by flight, road or boat.
Apps to download before travelling to Thailand
Be warned, free wifi in Thailand is hard to find and will probably be painfully slow. Don’t use your precious moments downloading apps while backpacking in Thailand, prepare before you go!
uTalk Go – The backpacker’s secret weapon when it comes to learning languages, I cannot recommend uTalk enough; whilst backpacking Thailand, this is your secret weapon.
Maps.Me – Prone to getting lost or taking that ‘shortcut’ that adds another few hours onto a simple walk? This app is definitely for you. My favourite offline maps app, download your map and route before you venture out to keep you on track while backpacking Thailand.
XE Currency – I used this a lot when backpacking Thailand. It is a great help while calculating expenses.
HIDE.ME – I always have a VPN ready to go on both my phone and laptop, I personally use Hide Me which is one of the fastest and most reliable options out there. This particular VPN allows for up to five connections which is handy for keeping all your devices connected without having to purchase multiple VPN packages.
For more useful apps to download before backpacking Thailand check out my top 8 travel apps recommendation.
Thailand Backpacking Resources
Books to read
Lonely Planet Thailand Travel Guide – It’s always worth having a Lonely Planet packed away, plenty of useful info on bus routes and where to go.
A Thailand’s Best Street Food: The Complete Guide to Streetside Dining – Thailand is known all over the world for its brilliantly spicy and whacked out cuisine. Carry this guide along to find the most bizarre and the yummiest food Thai street markets have to offer.
A History of Thailand – A great insight into Thailand’s rich cultural and political history.
The King Never Smiles – This is the Biography of Thailand’s Bhumibol Adulyadej, a Western born king who deftly shaped Thailand’s political history.
Private Dancer – A thriller revolving around the popular private and pole dancing culture of Bangkok.
Bangkok Babylon – Inspired by Orwell and Hemingway, Jerry Hopkins recalls his first decade as a Bangkok expatriate by profiling twenty-five of the city’s most unforgettable characters.
Here are some more amazing books to read during your Thailand backpacking trip.
A gear checklist I swear by! Make sure you check this out before venturing out for a backpacking adventure…
Get insured before backpacking Thailand
Even if you are only going on a short trip, you should always travel with insurance. Have fun on your Thailand backpacking adventure but please do get insurance – take it from someone who has racked up tens of thousands of bucks on an insurance claim before, you need it.
As a wise man once said, if you can’t afford travel insurance, you shouldn’t be travelling – so be sure to get your backpacker insurance sorted before you head off on a backpacking adventure! Travelling without insurance would be fucking stupid. I highly recommend World Nomads.
Even if you don’t get insurance with World Nomads, Please do get some sort of insurance from somewhere, there’s lots of decent options online.
And so there you have it budding adventurers; everything you need to know to go on an incredible backpacking adventure across Thailand. Thailand is a hell of a country, the people truly are lovely and the beaches truly are pristine; head on over now whilst you have the chance. Peace and love amigos :)
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