Best Time To Go: I’m sure you could go to Thailand at any given moment and have a GREAT time. However, the busy season is December-February which is also the best weather. I arrived the end of February and had perfect weather- not too hot, not to cold/wet! Another determinant of what season you will want to travel is the activities that you are interested in. For example, rivers aren’t flowing much during the end of dry season, so you’d want to be there before the rain run-off disappears. On the flip side, if you are an avid beach goer you’d want to avoid monsoon season!
Daily Spending: Thailand is crazy cheap. If you aren’t splurging on high priced tours or restaurant meals everyday, you can easily get by on $12. I found alcohol to be a bit more expensive in comparison to neighboring countries, but you can easily make a cheap night out by pre-gaming or sharing “buckets” of alcohol. Souvenirs can be found all over and will hardly make a dent in your wallet.
What To Pack: Pretty much every season in this country is warm. One exception is rainy season, which really only requires an extra rain jacket. The further north you go the chillier the nights will be, so be sure to pack a couple warm layers alongside your beach wear. Odds are you will be visiting a few temples, which means that you will want modest clothing items to cover your shoulders and knees.
Sunscreen is quite expensive here, so consider bringing your own bottle! On the topic of lotions… most of the body cream found in stores has a bleaching agent for skin lightening, so be careful when choosing! Keep in mind that clothing is crazy cheap here, so don’t overpack! Anything you didn’t bring you can find on the streets for a few bucks!
Transportation: Like the rest of Southeast Asia, Thailand has very affordable transportation options. In smaller cities you can catch a ride with a tuk-tuk or songthaew for a little bit of pocket change. Taxi’s are really only common in the largest cities and are never a great option in terms of finances. If you are looking for domestic transportation from one side of the country to the other, airfare is incredibly cheap if booked early enough, but you also have cheap bus and train options for around $15 each way.
- Talking with Monks– If you are looking to dive deep into Thai culture, why not educate yourself on their belief system? Wat Saun Dok Temple, in Chiang Mai, offers an amazing opportunity to have a discussion with a local monk. It’s completely FREE and will give you insight about the Buddhist culture. And who knows, you might even learn a little about yourself!! Read about my experience.
- River Rafting– Jungles, whitewater and great friends- what more could you want? For the most thrilling adventure, you will want to be in Thailand July-February for some serious rapids. But if a scenic float is more up your alley, you can pretty much float year-round. The most popular rafting spots are northern Thailand and can be reached either from Chiang Mai or Pai. A day trip will set you back around $45.
- Renting Motorbikes– Not only is this a great way to get around, it’s also a blast! And for $2-$5 per day, it’s well worth it. I wouldn’t recommend learning to drive one of these bad boys in a city center, as there are numerous horror stories of tourist carnage. If you are a newbie find a friend to join you, purchase insurance (soooo cheap), wear your helmet and take a few practice loops before hitting the main roads.
- Street Food- Your taste buds will thank you. Resturants provide comfort, but don’t even come close to the authenticity and sheer tastiness of the food stalls. You can find anything from fresh seafood to refreshing fruit smoothies. Pad Thai and Masaman Curry were my all time favorite and a full serving will cost you less than a few bucks! EXPERT TIP: Learn to use chopsticks before ordering your meal… I may or may not have been forced to slurp my noodles due to improper chopstick use. WHOOPS!
- Deep Water Soloing– If you go to Southern Thailand and don’t do this, you’ve made a big mistake. To break it down for you, you are climbing without gear (bouldering) on huge stalagmite cliffs in the ocean. With the ocean below you, you basically climb as high as you are comfortable with and either fall or jump into the water. How cool?! I did this in Ton Sai/Krabi and would highly recommend that area for any of your climbing endeavors. A full day, with lunch, will cost around $20. Read my post about Tonsai.
- Beach Parties– Whether it’s the jungle party, the full-moon party, the half-moon party or just a random party, Thailand won’t let you down when it comes to partying the night away.
My Favorite Places:
Large bustling cities really aren’t my cup of tea, so this city offers a perfect alternative to Bangkok. It’s large enough that there is plenty going on, but small enough that your can comfortably navigate your way around. It’s also the jump-off point for numerous activities in the region. Check out my post on Chiang Mai.
THINGS TO DO:
Temples. There are tons to pick from, but my favorite were the 3 or 4 located on the nearby mountain. Just a motorbike ride away, you can see the famous Wat Suthep for sweeping views of the city. And on your way down, visit Wat Tung Yu which is smaller and beautifully tucked away in a canyon.
Rafting. Have I mentioned how much I love whitewater? Chiang Mai is the hub for all major river operations and you have plenty of options to pick from. I opted for a day trip that included lunch and inner tubing and had an amazing time. The jungle is breathtaking and the river is a perfect mixture of challenge and fun.
Monk Chat. As I mentioned above, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to get an inside look at Buddhism and the life of monks. They are wise beyond their years and the knowledge they shared greatly impacted me. Even if you aren’t interested in converting to adopting buddhist philosophies, this is an experience you can’t pass up.
Markets. Chiang Mai is home to some of my all-time favorite street markets. At the top of the charts is the Sunday Walking Street Market, which offers hundreds of unique souvenir booths, food stalls and performances. The daily Wararot Market is a close contender for those seeking a little morning time shopping and dining.
Unique is one of the only words that can accurately describe this place. It’s not for the faint of heart, but if you seeking adventure and a laid back beach vibe I think you might find yourself falling in love with this quirky little community. It neighbors famous Railay Beach (where The Beach was filmed), but offers a much more secluded feel. Read more.
THINGS TO DO:
A LOT of climbing. Even if you aren’t an experienced climber, Tonsai can offer you some of the worlds greatest climbing! There are multiple outfitters that provide lessons and plenty of willing climbing buddies. So wether you want to top rope, lead or boulder there is something for every style and level of climber.
Secret Lagoon. Okay it’s not so secret, but it’s really cool. Just a short hike and steep scramble through the jungle, you will find yourself at a beautiful lagoon! Get there before the tide goes out for the best swimming. Ask your accommodation or a local for directions, or follow the signs!
Exploring. Head up the steep hill (there’s only one road) and you will find yourself on a neat little trail that takes you the back way to the other beaches. It’s maybe a 25 minute walk, but you feel like a real bad ass working your way through the jungle. The trail allows you to visit both parts of Railay and even connects to Phra Nang, where you can see the penis shrine!
My favorite thing about Thailand is it’s diversity. Depending on where you are, you will be exposed to different foods, landscapes, activities and people. The north is a little bit more “authentic” and also offers all of your jungle/mountain fun. The south is party central and will absolutely fulfill your exotic beach dreams. And the best part is, every local that you come across is smiling from ear to ear. It’s hard not to be happy in this country!
Tourists. Thailand is unfortunately a shining example of the negative effects of commercial tourism. Beaches are slowly being ruined, animals are being mistreated and the land is being overdeveloped. Not to mention the sad reality of sex-tourism that has become rampant throughout the country. As a traveler, it’s hard for me to hate on tourism but we need to start being more responsible in order to protect these beautiful places and people.
My Tips & Tricks Specific to Thailand:
1) Eat street food whenever you can. It is so much cheaper than anything you will find at a restaurant and probably tastes better too! Take it easy on the strange or raw foods for the first few days, but after your stomach acclimates you have hundreds of dishes to choose from. Almost every town will have some sort of market, so ask around to see where the locals go.
2) Avoid the tourist spots. While these locations are famous for a reason and provide tons of tourist activities, if you want a more authentic experience you’ll need to step off track a little bit. Homestays are a great way to delve into Thai culture, but if that is outside your comfort level you can find plenty of neat communities just by asking around.
3) Bring modest clothes with you in your daypack. Covered shoulders and knees is a requirement for entry into temples and you never know when you might come across one. The more popular locations will “rent” you a shawl or pants, but don’t waste your money!
4) Learn monk etiquette- Don’t be that person who hugs a monk. There are some serious rules set in place, especially for women, when it comes to interacting with monks. Here’s a few off the top of my head; cover up when you know you will be entering temples or visiting monks; don’t touch them (not even a nudge or handshake); do your best not to sit or stand right next to them on transport. AUTHOR’S NOTE: These rules aren’t sexists, but rather a tool to aid in the avoidance of sexual interaction and thoughts between male monks and females. Just do your best to respectful of the boundaries.
My Ratings for Thailand:
Activities: 9 out of 10
Food: 9 out of 10
People: 8 out of 10
Cultural Experience: 7 out of 10