Backpacking Thailand Travel Guide

JUMP TO : Thailand Travel Itineraries | Places to Visit | Where to Stay | Travel Tips | Cost of Travel

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 dozens of times – often just passing through as some of the cheapest flights to Asia are into Bangkok – but I also based myself in Chiang Mai for six months in 2017, and I am currently staying Chiang Mai in between adventures yet again.

I absolutely adore Thailand, and in my opinion, this is one of the best countries in the world for first-time backpackers or digital nomads looking for somewhere to settle for a while.

Thailand can seem a bit expensive compared to neighbouring countries in South East Asia, but if you apply some broke backpacker travel hacks, it’s possible to travel Thailand in style on a tight budget.

backpacking thailand

One of the many temples of Chiang Mai

Whether you’re booking your trip in advance or winging it with a backpack and travelling solo (which you likely won’t be for long), moving around Thailand is a piece of cake. 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, but it’s the friendly and generous people that keep me coming back. They don’t call Thailand the Land of Smiles for nothing!

 

Where to Go Backpacking in Thailand

Thailand is such a popular backpacking destination because you can see so much in one country. Thailand is home to some of the most beautiful beaches and islands in the world in the sound, and beautiful jungles and temples in the north.

Grab a motorbike and explore Thailand’s countryside far away from the tourist masses, or eat and party your way through the pulsating capital Bangkok. Join a silent Buddhist mediation retreat, or dive among worldclass reef!

Chill out in a hammock with a Chiang beer, or party all night under the full moon on Koh Phangan. There is no limit to what you can do in Thailand!

 

backpacking thailand

 

Best Travel Itineraries for Backpacking in Thailand

Below we have written two travel itineraries for Thailand. You can easily combine both with a month or more. Check out our entry requirement section for more information on extending your visa to stay longer than 30 days.

 

Backpacking Thailand 3 Week Itinerary #1: Thailand’s Islands

Thailand Beach Hopping Itinerary

 

3 Weeks: Exploring Thailand’s Islands

Starting in Bangkok, Thailand’s capital make your way south to Phuket. If you go overland, make a side trip to Kanchanaburi, a beautiful national park, though it makes more sense to fly for not that much more money. Check domestic flights beforehand.

Phuket is the gateway to the Andaman Sea in Southern Thailand. While touristy, this island has a bit of everything: amazing beaches, boozy nights, one of the best Crossfit boxes in SEA, and Buddhist temples galore.

From Phuket, your next stop is Koh Phi Phi, also touristy, but known for great beaches and parties.

Head to Koh Lanta next to take a break from all the partying. With 2 weeks dedicated to the Andaman Sea you can make it to Koh Lipe. Finally, end your trip in Krabi. Here you can also extend a couple days in Railay if you’re big into rock climbing!

Next it’s time to explore the famous Gulf of Thailand, which includes Koh Samui, Koh Phangan, and Koh Tao. Koh Phangan has the infamous full-moon party, though there is plenty more to do on the island and some chilled out spots as well! Koh Tao is known for the laidback diver vibe and incredibly affordable diving schools. Koh Samui is the most unpopular of the three.beaten

Check out my insider guide to the best hostels in Koh Tao here and the best hostels in Phuket here.

 

Backpacking Thailand 2 Week Itinerary #2: The Central and North of Thailand

If you are flying internationally, you may fly to Bangkok. A great day trip option is Bangkok to Ayutthaya where you can get your first glimpse of jungle temples reclaimed by nature. Whilst not as impressive as Bagan or Angor Wat, Ayutthaya is still very cool. It’s easy to get a domestic flight up to Chiang Mai, but if you want to take the slow route, head to Khao Yai first. 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! Another

You can also head to Umphang for some trekking. Here you can reach the 200m-high Tee Lor Su Falls by rafting and hiking your way through the jungle on a three-day trip.

Next, head to Chiang Mai, Thailand’s capital with plenty to do! Check out our section on Chiang Mai below for more information. Spend 2 days in Chiang Rai check out the temples, and allocate some solid time in the hippy village of Pai high in the mountains.

Thailand Itinerary #2

 

Places to Visit in Thailand

Backpacking Bangkok

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.

The food in Bangkok is unreal. Taking a cooking class in Bangkok is a great way to get to know the exotic Thai flavors if you are new to the country. Also, who doesn’t want to learn how to make awesome Thai food?

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! Check out our guide to Bangkok’s best hostels and neighborhood breakdown on where to stay in Bangkok.

Book Your Bangkok Hostel Here!

Backpacking Thailand budget travel guide

The stunning Wat Arun Temple, Bangkok

 

Backpacking 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!

Bring your camping hammock with you and sleep the night in this beautiful national park for free!

Backpacking Thailand budget travel guide

Breathtaking Haew Suwat Waterfall at Khao Yai National Park

 

Backpacking 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. You can also visit the ethical Elephant Hills nature park. 

Book Your Khao Sok Hostel Here!

 

Backpacking 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.

For a isolated treehouse experience – head to Koh Yao Noi. From Phuket, it’s a short boat trip to Koh Yao Noi, a fairly chilled out island where I spent a week living in an incredible treehouse in the forest. If you want to disconnect from technology (there is no electricity) or have a romantic weekend away, I highly recommend checking out The Island Hideout (this is not sponsored, I paid my way there and loved it).

Enjoying breakfast and a cheeky smoke with my beloved in this epic treehouse.

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 Phi Phi, Koh Tarutao, Koh Chang, Koh Tao, Koh Phangan, Koh Samui, Joh Lanta and the Similan Islands. To discover something a little bit different, head on over to Koh Lipe. 

 

Book Your Thai Island Hostel Here!

Backpacking Thailand budget travel guide

Pristine waters of Koh Samui

 

Backpacking Kanchanaburi

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’.

Book Your Kanchanaburi Hostel Here!

Backpacking Thailand budget travel guide

Clearly obsessed with the Thai waterfalls!

 

Backpacking Chiang Mai

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.

Many visitors to Chiang Mai end up staying on for months or even years… Check out our guide to the best hostels in Chiang Mai for digital nomads, partyers, couples and chill time.

Chiang Mai has some of the most incredible street food out there so don’t miss trying it out! For those looking for Vegan Chiang Mai, you wont be disappointed.

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 and it’s worth packing a tent. 

There is a huge amount to do in Chiang Mai and it’s largely considered the digital nomad centre of the universe (for better or worse). I’ve spent about seven or eight months living in Chiang Mai over the last few years and have truly enjoyed it.

There is a cinema, a Crossfit box, Salad Concept (my favourite damn restaurant in the world), tons of meetups and events and it’s very easy to slot into working life in Chiang Mai so if you are thinking of pausing anywhere on your travels and need access to good WiFi, Chiang Mai is a good bet.

If you are into yoga, check out Freedom Yoga, run by my amigo Adam. Adam knows his shit, is impressively flexible and manages to be an excellent yoga instructor without being a douche bag or preachy, a rare feat indeed 😛 – If you are new to yoga, this is a great place to learn.

Consider going on a spiritual quest and getting tattooed by a monk with your very own unique Sak Yant tattoo… 

Some of my favourite restaurants in Chiang Mai that are well worth checking out; Tsunami Sushi, Salad Concept, Beast Burger, Le Brunch, Hideout, Smoothie Blues, Rustic and Blue. There’s also dozens of incredible street food stalls, vans and booths.

For more inspiration, make sure to check out our guide on where to stay in Chiang Mai too!

Book Your Chiang Mai Hostel Here!

Backpacking Thailand budget travel guide

Hiking adventures in Chiang Mai

 

Volunteer on an organic farm when backpacking Thailand

Recently, a fellow backpacker reached out to tell me all about Mindful farm – an organic farm volunteering opportunity just three hours outside of Chiang Mai.

Mindful Farm is an organic farm founded by a Buddhist Monk who studied in a nearby temple for about 20 years. Determined to teach a more mindful living and retreat from any touristic hustle, Pinam the Monk uses a volunteering system to keep the farm running and provide good value for travelers.

You can volunteer here for a minimal fee and learn a ton about organic farming, your volunteer fee covers housing and food (200 bhat a day).

The daily activities focus on putting your hands on the ground and caring for the farm, which is totally fun and insightful because the Monk has a lifelong farming experience since childhood. You will learn things like making compost, digging and designing new farm areas, house building, fermenting self-made fertilizer and lots of other skills useful to the organic farmer within you!

If you are more on the chill out side, you can just enjoy the calmness, go for a bath in the nearby lake or do yoga and meditation. With an average of 20 people staying there per day, boredom doesn’t exist, and the community offers great travel experience exchange from likeminded people.

To get there, you take the bus from Waroros Market in Chiang Mai which leaves everyday around 11:15am and takes 3 hours to get you there.

 

Backpacking Pai

A small town in the north of Thailand near Myanmar‘s border, Pai has only recently made it onto the backpacker circuit but is super popular already. I fucking love Pai and the drive from Chiang Mai to Pai is epic, if you do it by motorbike.

It is well worth a visit as it is located in a beautiful area of rolling hills and mysterious peaks, there’s parties, hippies and weed galore. 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 our guide on things to do in Pai. 

Book Your Pai Hostel Here!

Backpacking Thailand budget travel guide

The beautiful Pai landscape

 

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.

Interested in more Thailand hostels? Check out our guides below!

List of the best hostels in Bangkok

List of the best hostels in Chiang Mai

List of the best hostels in Pai 

We also put together a guide on where to stay in Chiang Mai here!

If you are backpacking Thailand on a budget, you could also try Couchsurfing. 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 in Thailand and don’t want to stay in hostels the whole time, 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!

Book Your Thai Hostel Here!

 

Where to Stay in Thailand

LocationAccommodationWhy Stay Here?!
BangkokSmile Society hostel, Bodega, Bed Station HostelMy favourite hostel here was the Smile Society hostel - a cozy little place, conveniently located to explore nearby spots.
Chiang MaiS*Trips - The Poshtel, Thai ThaiS*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.
Pak ChongHello Hostel Pakchong Located right next to the pak chong train station and within walking distance to the bus terminals. The staff are friendly & can arrange your day tours.
Khao Sok National ParkKhaosok Treehouse Resort, Coco Khao SokCompared 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 SamuiKingston Jamaica hostel, Lotus Hotel, Samui BackpackerMy top choice here would be the Kingston Jamaica hostel. It has a pretty chilled backpacker vibe going.
KanchanaburiSky Resort Kanchanaburi, Sam's HouseYou'll find some pretty great resort properties for cheap here. Check out Sam's House
PaiTribal Pai Backpackers, Purple MonkeyTribal Pai is a great up & coming hostel. Its backpacker friendly, has chilled vibes & i can assure you that you'll extend your stay "one more night". Purple monkey is cool too, the pool is a little run down but they make delicious caesars!

 

Top Things to Do in Thailand

 

1. 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.

Headed to the Koh Phangan Full Moon Party? Be sure to check out our list of the top hostels in Koh Phangan and book well in advance!

 

2. Get a Sak Yant Tattoo

Check out this site for details. Learn about these magical, spiritual tattoos and get inked by a monk for a truly unique experience.

 

3. Go 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. Though personally, I prefer the trekking in Laos or Myanmar.

 

4. Go 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.

 

5. 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 class. Learn how to cook up amazing flavorful dishes, so that you can take your skills back home with you and keep the Thai food train rolling.  It’s a memorable experience to try out on the backpacking route in Thailand.

Backpacking Thailand budget travel guide

Jungle trekking in Thailand

 

Thailand Travel Tips

Below I have covered everything you need to know before backpacking Thailand, including information on Thailand’s culture and food, estimates on what things cost in Thailand, and an entire guide on how to travel in Thailand cheaply!

 

Books to read while Travelling in Thailand

The Backpacker Bible – Learn how to ditch your desk and travel the world on just $10 a day whilst building a life of long-term travel with an online income.  Shameless bit of self promo here but this book is basically my dissertation on backpacking, nine years of tips and tricks and your purchase helps keep the site going. If you’ve found the content on this site useful, the book is the next level up and you will learn a ton – if you don’t, I’ll give you your money back. Check it out here.

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.

Backpacking Thailand budget travel guide

All set for adventure!

 

Thai Travel Phrases

While many Thais speak English in the touristy areas, once you get off the beaten path, you’ll find almost no one speaks English. Even in the popular cities, only basic English is spoken. Knowing Thai travel phrases will not only help you get around Thailand, it’ll also help you connect with the culture!

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! (Sounds adorable not offensive.)

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

 

Staying Safe in Thailand

Honestly Thailand is quite safe, and the people are keen on helping you out! Thailand has some pretty wild parties though, and it’s important to be aware of your surroundings, and careful with drugs and alcohol when you’re out partying.

Check out Backpacker Safety 101 for tips and tricks to stay safe whilst backpacking.

Pick yourself up a backpacker security belt to keep your cash safe on the road.

Check out this post for plenty of ideas on ingenious ways to hide your money when travelling.

I strongly recommend travelling with a headlamp whilst in Thailand (or anywhere really – every backpacker should have a good headtorch!) – check out my post for a breakdown of the best value headlamps to take backpacking.

 

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, but always be respectful no matter what your views are!

For tips on how to stay safe whilst getting fucked up, check out Blazed Backpackers 101!

 

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.

 

 

Find out why I recommend World Nomads, check out my World Nomads Insurance review. 

 

Even if you don’t get insurance with World Nomads, Please do get some sort of insurance from somewhere, there are lots of decent options online.

 

What to Pack for Thailand

On every adventure, there are five things I never go traveling without:

AR Security Belt

1. Security Belt with Hidden Pocket: I never hit the road without my security belt. This is a regular looking belt with a concealed pocket on the inside – you can hide up to twenty notes inside and wear it through airport scanners without it setting them off. This is hands down the best way to hide your cash.

 

gifts camping mat

2. Pocket Blanket: This lightweight, waterproof, super compact pocket blanket is a must for all adventures. Doubling up as an emergency poncho, this picnic blanket is worth its weight in gold when chilling, or camping, on the beach. It comes with a carabiner, a secret zipped pocket where you can hide stuff and pocket loops which you can weigh down using stones.

 

AR microfibre towel

3. Microfibre TowelIt’s always worth packing a proper towel. Hostel towels are scummy and take forever to dry. Microfibre towels dry quickly, are compact, lightweight and can be used as a blanket or yoga mat if need be.

 

 

Headlamp4. HeadtorchI would never travel without a headtorch. Even if you only end up using it once, a decent head torch could save your life. If you want to explore caves, unlit temples or simply find your way to the bathroom during a blackout, a headtorch is a must. Currently, I’m using the Petzl LED headlamp with red light (which insects can’t see).

 

Hammock for backpackers5. HammockTaking a tent backpacking is not always practical but hammocks are lightweight, cheap, strong, sexy (chicks dig hammocks) and allow you to pitch up for the night pretty much anywhere. Right now, I’m rocking an Active Roots parachute hammock – it’s light, colorful and tough.

 

For plenty more inspiration on what to pack, check out my full backpacking packing list.

If you’re a lady adventurer, check out Kristin’s epic post on what to pack for Southeast Asia travels. 

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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 guesthouses fill up fast so this is a country where it can definitely be worth making reservations. It is difficult to find cheaper accommodation 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.

It is best to avoid northern areas of Thailand during February to April as the burning season starts and mountains will slowly be covered in smoke.

Monsoon season is in the summer for most Thai islands, but make sure to check.

Backpacking Thailand budget travel guide

Excellent weather all through!

 

Apps to Download before Travelling to Thailand

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.

backpacking Thailand budget travel guide

Surfing the web in private using hide.me

 

Thailand Travel Guide to Getting Around

The best place to fly into is Bangkok. International airports are also located at Krabi, Ko Samui and Chiang Mai, but it’s 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.

 

How to Travel 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 any way, 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 and overnight trains are a great way to save on a night’s accommodation and get from A to B.

Rather than just rocking up at the bus stop in the hope they will have space to fit you on, you can now book tickets in advance for most of South East Asia using 12Go – I love 12Go and use it myself pretty often when backpacking around Thailand.

Powered by 12Go Asia system

Luckily, Grab (similar to Uber) is now readily available in several countries in the region including Thailand! Grab is hand’s down the best way to get around cities, the price is locked in on the app so you can’t get ripped off and it will always work out cheaper than traveling by taxi or rickshaw. Follow this link for free Grab credit. 

 

Independent Travel VS Organised Tours in Thailand

Thailand is a great backpacker destination and can easily be explored on your own. If however you are short on time and keen to explore Thailand, and the rest of South East Asia, with a group of like-minded people then I recommend checking out Free and Easy Traveller.

These guys are all about getting under the skin of a destination and providing you with a unique travel experience in which you are bound to make plenty of amigos and memories. Broke Backpacker readers get a 5% discount – just use the code BROKEBACKPACKER.  (All uppercase!)

 

Entry requirements for Thailand

Many nationalities can receive a thirty-day free visa waiver on arrival (if arriving by air; it’s currently 15 days if you arrive overland). You can generally extend the waiver once, to receive an additional thirty days, for a fee of around $60.

If your nationality requires a pre-arranged visa or you want to sort out a Thai visa in advance, particularly for a longer stay, it is fairly simple to receive one a Thai embassy at home or abroad.

Need an outbound ticket to show to immigration? – check out this site. 

 

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.

Backpacking Thailand budget travel guide

Thumbing a ride!

 

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.

 

Thailand Backpacking Costs

Below I have highlighted what things cost in Thailand in sections:

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, but you have to look harder.

Bungalows and beach huts start at around $4 but can cost way more if you haven’t perfected your haggling skills. It’s well worth having a hammock or a tent whilst backpacking Thailand as there’s lots of very cool places to set up for a night. 

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 $2-3 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. Check out Journey Wonder’s post here all about his experience getting inked in Thailand. 

 

Money in Thailand

There are lots of international ATMs but many of these, charge pretty insane withdrawal fees so it’s advisable to avoid small ATM transactions and get out a bunch of cash at once – just make sure you hide it well. If you need to transfer money internationally, use Transferwise, it’s the fastest and cheapest way to move money around when travelling.

GET IT HERE

You should always have some emergency cash hidden on you and I’ve written an entire post on the best places to hide your money. If you want to carry a fair bit of cash safely on your body, your best bet is to get hold of a backpacker belt with a hidden security pocket.
 
Top 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….

Camp: With plenty of gorgeous natural places to camp, Thailand is an excellent place to take a tent. Check out this post for a breakdown of the best tents to take backpacking.

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 – check out this post for info on the best backpacking stoves.

Haggle: Haggle as much as you can. You can always get a better price for things especially while in local markets.

Pack your bible: Learn how to travel the world on $10 a day whilst you get your shit sorted, discover the secrets to longterm travel and build an online income. Check it out here.

Volunteer: If done properly, volunteering is an excellent way to cut down your costs on the road. I strongly recommend Workaway – you pay just $29 for the year and then have access to literally thousands of projects all around the world where you can help out in exchange for food and board.

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.

Backpacking Thailand budget travel guide

Camping in Northern Thailand

 

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.

Alternatively, if you want to find a cheap way to stay in this incredible country for as long as possible, check out Workaway – for just $29 a year you get access to literally thousands of projects around the world where you can volunteer in exchange for food and accommodation.

 

Internet in Thailand

As with much of the world, the internet in Thailand has become increasingly more reliable and fast. You can get free wi-fi at most hostels, hotels, cafes, etc. In the cities, you’ll see that Thai people are always connected and on their phone.

You can also get a SIM card for data pretty cheaply.

 

Must Try Experiences in Thailand

People in Thailand

The people in Thailand are some of the kindest and warmest people I have come across. The friendly aura of the Thai people is immediately noticed stepping off the plane, and despite Thaialnd being famous for its beaches and jungles, it’s the people I come back for.

Thais are friendly, unpretentious, and generous. I feel like as a traveler it’s still easy to make connections with Thais, whether it’s at the market or at a bar.

Moreover, Thais are pretty accepting of different sexualities. While backpacking Thailand you’ll hear about “ladyboys” a lot. Thais widely accept transgender people, as well as same sex couples.

 

Food in Thailand

Thai food is honestly amazing. Their noodles and curries are full of flavor without being too heavy.

Tom Yung Goong: A soup blended with fragrant lemongrass, chilli, lime leaves, shallots, and lime juice with fresh prawns and straw mushrooms. 

Red Curry: Red curry paste made with cocnut milk and meat, as well as kaffir lime leaves.

Pad Thai: A delicious noodle dish with a fish and peanut based sauce, as well as chili powder. This is probably the most internatinally recognized dish in Thailand.

Khao Soi: This soup-like rice noodle curry dish is the most popular dish in the North of Thailand. It’s made with deep fried and boiled egg noodles, pickled mustard greens, shallotslime, ground chillies, and meat in coconut milk curry.

Check out this article on 40 Thai dishes for more inspiration!

 

Festivals in Thailand

Thailand has a lot of great festivals, but the two best are Songkran and the Festival of Light:

Songkran: Held in mid-April this is Thailand’s traditional New Year. The entire country takes to the streets in the most epic water fights imaginable. I’m talking, water guns and buckets, people driving by in trucks spraying everyone in their path, etc. Everyone is having a good time, people are drinking, but not stupidly so, and it’s a great way to have fun with Thais and experience their culture. The biggest celebrations are in Bangkok and Chiang Mai.

Loy Krathong (The Festival of Light): On the day itself, thousands of people will gather along canals and rivers, to set their Krathongs (made with banana leaves and beautiful flowers) free into the waters to float away.

In Chiang Mai, Khom Loy are also added to the celebration, which are ‘floating lanterns’ released the night of the festival.

 

Scuba Diving in Thailand on a Liveaboard Trip

Thailand has some of the world’s best scuba diving venues. The problem is, the word is out. Millions of tourists flock to Thailand every year to enjoy the wonderful diving the country has to offer.

Sadly, many of the ultra-popular Thai Islands’ corral reef systems have been damaged by high human traffic volume.

If you love Scuba Diving there is still a great way to go diving minus the tourist hordes and further environmental impact.

Considering joining a Liveaboard trip in Thailand. Most Liveaboard boats go to remote regions the average dive shop will not take you.

Eat, sleep, dive. That is the name of the game. Sounds pretty sweet, right?

Check out the awesome Liveaboard scuba diving trips here.

 

Brief History on Thailand

Like much of South East Asia, Thailand was once roamed by hunter-getherers and indigenous kingdroms. Unlike most of South East Asia, Thailand evaded European colonization, and had their own colonies. However, in 1893 Thailand was forced to cede Laos to France. Later they also ceded Cambodia to France and Malaya to Britain.

In May 1946 Thailand formed a new constitution for Thailand was published, but there were still power struggles between kings.

In 1947 Field-Marshal Phibul staged a coup, and Thailand then became a military dictatorship. Over the decades people protested for a civilian government, and in 1992 after many student demonstrations the king stopped eventually returned Thailand  to civilian government, and a new constitution was introduced in 1997.

There was another military coup in Thailand in 2006, but in December 2007 democratic elections were held again.

 

Being a Responsible Backpacker in Thailand

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 Mai, 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 the 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…

 

Final Thoughts on Backpacking Thailand

Our Thailand Travel Guide was written so you can have 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 🙂

 

Want to learn how to travel the world on $10 a day? Check out the Broke Backpacker’s Bible…

Yay for transparency! Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means that if you book your accommodation, buy a book or sort your insurance, I’ll earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. I only link to stuff I’ve actually used and never endorse crap. Your support helps me keep the site going. 


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7 Comments

  • Marc says:

    Great insights and there are so many reasons to backpack in Thailand. I love backpacking anywhere every time I have a chance.

  • Leo Tat says:

    You’ve written an amazing resource for traveling in Thailand that even a nonbackpacker like myself can use. Went to Thailand last year with family (2 kids), Bangkok, Phuket and Chiang Mai. We loved Chiang Mai so much that we are planning to move there to live in the next two years. Heard good things about Pai, so would definitely visit since it’s not far from Chiang Mai. I’ve also talked about volunteering with my wife, and will be sure to check out Love Volunteers to see what is available.

  • Angad Achrekar says:

    Thank You for this! It was really helpful 🙂

  • Sharon says:

    Backpacking Thailand on The Cheap

    Great guidance and tips. I hope to be traveling very soon, so this blog is timely for me. Great work.

    Cheers Sharon…

  • Keri says:

    Wonderful post! How long would you recommend someone stay in Thailand to hit all of the must-sees/dos?

  • Harris says:

    Great post. thanks for sharing.

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