Yeah I’m still a virgin traveller, but from just one month stay in Thailand, there’s a lot of lessons I’ve learned and either regretted, or enjoyed being proven wrong about my assumptions. For other people looking to travel Thailand, some of this may come as a surprise to you.
So here’s a list of things for my final blog entry you may not think about travelling the first time. Not finite by any means, but stuff I’ve picked up on my way through Thailand.
Transport in Thailand
I hired a bike in 3 places, Krabi, Hua Hin and Chiang Mai. Easily the most practical way of getting about, and likely the cheapest in the long run. It’s not, however, the place to learn to ride a motorbike. In the more sedate areas then you should have no problem, but in the built up areas driving can be a perilous affair. I learned how to ride in Thailand, though I’ve ridden a BMX through hectic London streets. Make sure you know what’s around you.. mirrors should be positioned correctly on left and right to see what’s behind you, look around often but pay attention to the road in front and behind.
When hiring a bike, you may be asked for your passport, ALWAYS refuse. If you’re afraid of offending then tell them if you get caught by the police without your passport you can be arrested – this is the truth, always carry ID with you for this reason. The alternative then, unless you get a friendly bike rental place, is to hand over a copy of your passport and a deposit (usually 2,000 Baht to 6,000 Baht depending on the type of bike).
Take photos of the bike from all angles, mostly those which could potentially be scratched, if you return your bike scratched you could lose some, or all of your deposit. The first bike I hired I handed over my passport, the second only a copy (though this was because my friend who lives in Thailand and can speak the language, and knows them), the third a copy and 3,000 Baht deposit.
You will get your bike without much fuel, you will not get a refund for excess fuel on return, nor are you expected to refuel the bike when returning it. Wear a helmet! If they don’t offer you a helmet with the bike then refuse the hire, helmets are mandatory, though you will see a lot of Thai’s not wearing theirs. A helmet can save your life in an accident.
Most of all remember that Thailand will usually be more dangerous than your own country, there’s a lot of drivers, no MOT system, a non-mandatory insurance system, and drink drivers. A lot of foreign tourists are involved in fatal accidents each year in Thailand, so don’t be blasé about it, take this seriously and you should find riding a motorbike in Thailand a pleasure and offering a lot of freedom.
Rental bike prices vary by type and how modern they are, from around 150 Baht to 450 per day, if you book a chunk of time you’ll find you can barter down the price. To fill up a bike with petrol also varies by petrol station, but more often than not I paid 110 Baht to fill up an empty tank, 120 was the most I paid. This tank will last around 90-100km
I took 4 long journey trains in Thailand, from Bangkok to Surat Thani and return, from Bangkok to Chiang Mai and return. The trains operate a sleeper system, if you book far in advance (and I suggest you don’t turn up expecting a train not to be full) you can secure a sleeping ticket. On my travels I didn’t book in advance, so I only managed to secure a sleeper ticket once, 2nd class. The other times were in 2nd class seating and 3rd class seating.
On public transport I’m a very bad sleeper in a seat, on the sleeper bed I slept very well, I have no objection to sitting on a train for 13-17 hours, but the first train in 3rd class seating was dark the entire journey, so I couldn’t photograph until sunrise around 7. Had it been light I would have had a whale of a time. For this reason I’ll book in advance next time, if there’s no sleeping then I’ll take a seat on a morning train and photograph the journey.
The trains are noisy, when the windows are open you get some air pollution in certain areas. If you’re a light sleeper I’d recommend tablets, eye pads and ear plugs if you need. I would also recommend bringing a blanket or wearing layers if you’re in a seat, the wind can get quite cold if you’re in the wrong place, and even shutting the windows and blinds may not reduce the wind in your direction.
Prices can vary depending on the seat and the journey, there’s a really good website that I refer to before travelling, Seat61.com which has extensive pricing and timetables for throughout Thailand. I paid: 250 Baht from Bangkok to Surat Thani 3rd class seat, 598 Baht from Surat Thani to Bangkok 2nd class sleeper, 431 Baht from Bangkok to Chiang Mai 2nd class seat 270 baht from Chiang Mai to Bangkok 3rd class seat.
In the seated accommodation you’ll get food and drink hawkers, beer and cigarettes most of the journey, in the sleeping carriage you’ll see fewer. For me, as a smoker, travelling 13 or 17 hours on a train without smoking is a bit of a challenge, but on the trains in Bangkok you can smoke in the vestibules with the doors open (a really nice experience, health and safety would do their nut).
The toilets are of the squat variety, and the trains move around a lot, so if you’re a guy – lucky (unless it’s #2) and if you’re a girl then make sure you wear good grips on your shoes.
I did spot a thief picking through a bag using a radio reciever presumably to test for mobile signals. So make sure you keep all your valuables in the sleeping bay with you, and keep your wits about you. All your clothes and non-valuable items can be placed in a backpack in the luggage holder by each bay.
Taxis/Tuk Tuks and Motorbike Taxis
As a farang, or foreigner, you will immediately be charged a higher price than a local, but this is not necessarily the final price you will pay. Don’t get ripped off, there’s plenty around and if one won’t accept your price move on to the next, more often than not the driver will cave for a lower price..
The classic piece of advice is DO take a tuk tuk, but only the once, it’s an experience rather than a necessity. The other piece of advice is DON’T take a motorbike taxi, as these drivers have very little regard for your safety. Taxi’s should tell you a rough price before you depart, and turn on the meter if they have one, if they don’t turn it on, request they do, if they still refuse then you should get out and avoid being ripped off, move on to the next and be happy.
They are everywhere though, so if you need to get somewhere in a hurry then either a tuk tuk or a taxi will take you where you need to go. Be prepared to be turned away when you mention your destination, some drivers refused once I mentioned where I wanted to go.
Never pay more than 100 Baht for a tuk tuk, fair enough if you’re travelling a long distance, in any way a tuk tuk wouldn’t be the safest or fastest form of travel.
Long journey buses are usually quicker than the trains in Thailand, but more expensive, I found sleep easier on a bus than in a seat on a train, the seats tend to recline a bit lower and are of a better quality, you also don’t get much noise from the outside. For destinations such as Bangkok to Krabi Town which doesn’t have a train station, you should buy a joint ticket from the train station, that way it will save you time and energy at the staging points.
Skytrain Bangkok (BTS)
Easily the best, safest and fastest way of travelling in Bangkok, and I’d recommend booking your accommodation close to a station, as this will save on taxi or tuk tuk fares. At most you will pay 65 Baht to cross the city, at least 15 Baht to go one or two stops. It has air conditioning throughout and the ticket purchasing is simple, you will need 10 or 5 Baht coins though so you need to go to the change stations situated near the barriers after working out – using the handy priced maps near the ticket machines – how much you will need.
If you plan on staying in Bangkok for a longer time then it may be worth looking into a pass that you can top up.
If you can afford to stay in hotels during your travelling, then by all means do so, hotels tend to offer better service, more amenities, more facilities and good locations. The problem is the price, if you’re on a budget then I would recommend staying in hostels or guest houses.
Most places will have a hotel though I would recommend booking in advance as they will fill up and you may not get a room if you turn up on the day. Prices don’t have to be super expensive either, my first two days I stayed in Imm Fusion Sukhumvit, a private double room for 798 Baht per night booked online. En-suite shower and toilet, refrigerator free water, TV and nice, clean sheets, in a quiet and good location and most importantly near to a BTS line.
If you’re travelling on a two week holiday, and have a hefty budget, then you can find luxury hotels more expensive than Western prices. I used TripAdvisor throughout, combined with HostelBookers and HostelWorld to book my accommodation as well as turning up on the day.
Tend to be large places with many different types of room available. Dorms from 2, 4, 6, 8, 10 and even 12 beds, private rooms too. These places tend to attract backpackers, young and old and can be quite social, I met some really nice people staying in hostels throughout Thailand.
You could be charged a key and towel deposit, perhaps even rental price for the towel. Hostels can have laundry, TV rooms, male/female only dorms, bars, restaurants, lobby/sitting areas. Nearly all places have WiFi now, so you can connect with your friends and family on the move.
There will also likely be a baggage storage area and a locker for you to keep your valuable items in. Shared toilets and showers, unless you’re in a private room, either air conditioning or fan, also dependant on room type. I would recommend a fan room, as air conditioning can give you a cold when you’re in and out of hot and cold areas.
Prices vary by area, size, how modern they are, and the time of year, I paid 300 Baht per night and that was the most I paid. I also paid 270, and 220.
Usually smaller than hostels, but a similar principle, offering various types of room and usually cheaper than the other options. I would recommend checking the reviews for any places your about to stay before deciding on booking, to give you an idea of what to expect.
Guest houses are a really common type of accommodation due to their size. Most will offer tour help and advice, as they usually make deals with the tour companies.
Don’t expect frills from guest houses, though it depends on the owner’s desire to make your stay nicer. Some have no towels, no western toilets and no toilet paper, they can be dirty at the low end prices, and noisy, or have insects. If you’re travelling on a budget, and aren’t squeamish if you see a cockroach, then go for a guest house because of the price.
Not usually as social due to the less people that can stay in one, though this also varies place by place. Will usually have WiFi usually have less amenities than hostels.
Prices also vary, I’ve paid as little as 120 Baht in Chiang Mai, and as much as 400 in Bangkok.
You should try to book in advance, just on the off chance that you arrive and try to secure a room and are turned away late at night. I came with no plans to my journey, and so I couldn’t effectively (nor did I want to) plan the whole trip. I was only turned away a few times, and this was the on-season, so it’s still possible to not book ahead.
Late at night Thailand tends to open up – it’s less hot at night and so you’ll generally find night markets crop up every day in the towns and cities. You can get anything you want if you’re prepared to walk around. From meat to fruit, to vegetarian and vegan. Prices are lower than if you buy in a restaurant (and some things aren’t sold in restaurants. Some places may not seem appealing, it’s best to follow your instinct on these, try and get good clean food cooked in front of you, lots of fruit is sold already peeled, which could cause stomach upset depending on age.
Usually open all day, and you can – in the more touristy areas – find Thai and Western food alike. In certain areas like Hua Hin, there’s a lot of Westerners that have moved there and opened their own restaurant, offering authentic (note, authentic is used very often, sometimes by non-authentic chefs) Western cuisine. All of the places in the tourist areas apart from a few have English menus, but search around because you can usually find the same food quality for a lower price if you wander. Prices vary by location of course, and the class of the establishment. If you’re in a tourist areas expect prices to be double at least, from those in less tourist based areas.
Thai food is very nice, they take care in cooking – of course – and use a lot of spices for some meals. If you’re averse to spicy/strong foods then you could stick to the Western cuisine, but you will pay more. And be adventurous – within reason – something you may not eat in the UK is usually cooked with more care in Thailand, and they certainly know how to wow with their food.
Most all dietary requirements are catered for, vegetarian, vegan, halal.. throughout Thailand.
Food is everywhere, a cornerstone of Thai culture, you may come across items that you’d never think of eating in the West, and you may come across things that you regularly eat in the West but aren’t cooked the same in Thailand.
One of the more expensive parts of a travel is encountered if you drink alcohol, it may seem cheap in comparison to your usual prices, but it’s expensive when you consider that you may drink more often, or more frequently thinking that it’s cheap.
Wine is UK prices here (450 Baht a bottle), as a wine drinker I have had maybe one or two glasses – beer is the preferred drink of most that travel to Thailand, and – although prices vary, you can usually get a small bottle for 35 – 50 Baht. Spirits are available by the UK brands but also close to UK prices, unless you drink the Thai Sam Song ‘whisky’ or the equally lethal Hong Thong.
Of course you can get anything anywhere and so cocktails, spirits, beer, wine, mixers, alco-pops, just don’t expect to pay pence for them. Most of the places you stay will allow BYOB which is of course cheaper, though unless you’re near to a 7/11 (which, btw – while open 24 hours – only serves alcohol until midnight) then you may end up choosing to opt for the more expensive guest house/hostel-own price than walking the distance to the nearest off-license.
You shouldn’t drink alcohol in the streets, and most places will not sell alcohol between 2pm and 5pm each day.
You can get just about any fruit in the land of smiles, and the best drinks I’ve had have been non-alcoholic fresh fruit shakes. Everywhere sells Pepsi, Coke and Sprite, and in the 7/11’s that are everywhere you can buy cold drinks from iced teas to juice to water. Hot drinks are a-plenty too, both coffee, tea and hot chocolate. A huge variety of teas are on offer in most places.
Don’t drink the water from the tap though, you can get various nasty things from it, not just Typhoid.. Be wary of drinks with ice in as that can come from tap water, but don’t be paranoid – you can generally tell from the place if the drinks they’re serving are ‘clean’ or not.
I’m very torn with travelling with a DSLR camera. Though I can say it’s been an adventure taking it, being able to change settings that I may not be able to on a compact. Given that I also had to take a laptop (shooting in RAW does have a downside), all chargers, accessories, etc.. the total weight came in around 18 kilos. Also because I was very wary of damaging and losing any of it I tended to carry it with me all the time. If you’re a photographer wanting to travel, if you don’t mind the weight, take all your gear – if you’re a photographer who wants to carry less I’d advise a mirror-less camera.
If you don’t take a computer, you’ll have a hard time with uploading photos. Once of the alternatives is to carry a memory card reader. Not all computers you come across in the places you visit will have an SD card slot (and good luck with a CF) so using a card reader will let you get the photos to a cloud or online source. Of course you can also just pack multiple memory cards.
Nearly everywhere has WiFi available for if you have your own device, some that give you the WiFi key, and some – usually hostels/guest houses – that offer an unsecured log in and give you a username and password for the account login screen.
It’s really anywhere if you want it. Except if you plan to go on long trips through rural areas and aren’t prepared to pay the huge data roaming charges, then I’d advise getting an international sim, everywhere sells them in Thailand.
Internet speed depends on where you go, I went in some very low-grade places and had amazing internet, compared to some high end places that had a very slow connection.
There are three types of toilets I came across, the urinal for guys – everyone knows how to use this right? Then there is the standard toilet with seat and lid, and then there is the squat toilet. With the standard and squat toilets you will see a hose with a nozzle at the end near to the toilet. This is for cleaning yourself after going to the toilet.
Don’t expect everywhere to have toilet roll, this is something that has been introduced to Thailand over the years, the ‘bum gun’ is the equivalent, like a portable bidet if you will. Toilet roll can also cause issues if flushed, so please be sparing with what you use, and try to use the gun where possible.
The squat toilet is as it sounds, you have to take down your trousers and sit on the scored areas either side of the toilet to do your business. Once done, you will see a bucket/vat/some water receptacle with a bowl or other item to scoop up water and use as a manual flush. For this reason squat toilets usually have water on the floor, making the experience a challenge, and also slippery.
What to Bring
I can’t advise girls what to bring for various reasons, but some items are universal.
I didn’t take a towel with me, I wanted space for other things, did I make a mistake? Given the same chance again I’d take a towel, a small one at least. Most places have towels as part of the room charge, some you leave a refundable deposit, some you leave a deposit and pay, some you pay. But, if you don’t take a towel you can’t go in the sea at whim, to a pool, or any other water activity.. This let me down so I would take a small towel with me again. But it wasn’t such a pain to ruin it for me by not taking one.
Shower and Hair
Depending on where you stay there’s sometimes products available in the showers. But don’t rely on it. I’d suggest taking a body wash of some sort, soap even, or shower more often using just water.. Shampoo if you need it but shower gel will do the job. It gets hot and so two or three showers a day is commonplace.
Thailand is sunny and hot for most of the year, you will need sun cream. It’s expensive there, so buy it in the UK (or wherever you’re from) it was around 400 Baht when I was looking. I used SPF 40, but some anti-malarials (Doxycycline) can make you photosensitive which will make you burn more easily, so get a higher SPF if you burn easily and are taking Doxcycyline.
The same, mozzies are all year round, you will need repellent It’s expensive there, buy in the UK. Mosquitoes are everywhere, mostly at dusk and dawn.
Well done if you don’t take tablets when something is wrong, and there are pharmacies most places in Thailand, but I preferred to come pre-prepared. Paracetamol, Ibuprofen, anti-diarrhoea, bandages, plasters, anti-bacterial gel, salt replacement powder, sleeping tablets, tape, anti-malarials, indigestion remedies, laxatives.. I used all but plasters of those in one month. If you’re going for longer then maybe stock more, but you could end up taking the whole pharmacy if you’re worried.
Anything could go wrong, don’t skimp on insurance, get good cover which you may not use, as opposed to bad insurance which won’t cover you for lots of things. Cash loss, personal items cover, passport loss, theft, injury (even death) could happen whilst you’re away and you don’t want to be left in the lurch. Choose the insurance that matches your requirements and don’t be blasé about it.
I’d take a credit card with no balance on it for emergencies. All ATMs will charge you 150 Baht per transaction, if you also add your type of card’s natural overseas charge, then each transaction could end up costing you £3+ each time you withdraw. There are some cards that factor this in, so check around before you go. Also remember that some places (though most do) may not have an ATM nearby.
Don’t take it all with you. If possible allow for an ATM transaction or two along the way. There’s nothing worse than losing your wallet, except for if all your cash was in it. Carry your wallet in your front pocket, or somewhere less easy for pickpockets (which for me, wasn’t an issue, but if you’re going to the seedier areas you may want to take this advice). On a heavy night out you shouldn’t really pay more than 1500- 2500 Baht, so only ever carry what you need, hide the rest in your sock if need be, but as the old adage goes.. ‘don’t keep all your eggs in one basket’
When you run out of cash, and your credit card is maxed, what then? Make sure that you have a means to support your travels or get home.
A very broad topic, I’d advise against wearing any jewellery that could make you a target for people. Jewellery is – in my opinion – unnecessary for cosmetic means. Keep it safe at home. Passport, wallet and mobile should be with you at all times where possible, regardless.
Generally though, keep them with you at all times.. I kept my laptop and camera with me at all times, if you’re travelling on a sleeper transport and you fall asleep, then you’re not keeping an eye on anything that’s not near you. Be wary of your environment and be sensible. Don’t flash your valuables around.
Thailand is hot.. very hot.. all year round. Except in the North, it can get down to 3/4/5 at night in places like Pai, you may need another blanket and thick clothing to wear yet in the South it’s super-hot in the day and still warm at night.
I was uninformed before I came so I packed way more excessively than I should.. light fabric, non-branded, everyday clothes are inexpensive in Thailand, you could probably come with no clothes in your bag and stock up for all-weather types for less than UK prices. I threw away socks and pants I didn’t need on day 1, I went commando throughout, and once you get a pair of flip flops then socks are out of the window too.
Is That It?
As I said, this list is not finite, though the above are some key things to consider before travelling. I travelled alone, so I can’t comment on group travelling/safety/packing, I did find from travelling alone that I enjoyed myself more as I wasn’t tied to anyone else.
You will meet a lot of people in the same boat as you, doing the same things. Embrace each chance you have to share stories – some great advice came from fellow travellers about where to go and what to do/not to do. Most of all have fun, be safe, love everyone and trust no-one, be respectful of Thai culture, take in the sights, sounds and smells, and make the most of what you have.
Thanks for reading, until next time..