Last year, I impulsively booked a round trip to Thailand for a month. I thought I had it all figured out. Flights were cheaper in August, I would stay in discounted Airbnbs and the Internet told me I could live on $20 USD a day. Despite my research, nothing truly prepared me for life on another continent.
Whether you like to plan every detail of a trip or make decisions on the fly, I promise you will still make rookie tourist mistakes. Unless you devote every minute of your spare time to planning, there just isn’t enough time to learn everything about a country. So, here are the most important things I learned about travelling around Thailand.
There’s no way to put this nicely—it’s hot in Thailand. You will sweat profusely, you will get sunburns and if you’re not careful, you may risk dehydration. You’ll be tempted to wear next to nothing just to stay cool. But trust me, resist the temptation, you’ll stick out like a sore thumb.
If you’re observant, it may only take a few hours in a new country to pick up on the subtle etiquette cues. I quickly realized that no one in Bangkok wore sleeveless tops or short shorts. Instead, people wore t-shirts and culottes. So, I adapted. Just by making sure your shirts have sleeves you will stand out a little less as a tourist.
Tip: It’s better to dress in long pants or skirts and in tops with sleeves if you want to visit temples across the country. If not, carry a scarf to cover your shoulders before going in.
Talk to the locals
Guidebooks and “How to Plan Your Summer Vacation” blog posts are helpful, but can’t compete with recommendations from locals. If you’re not the type to strike up a conversation with a stranger, choose an Airbnb with a highly rated host. They’ll be able to give you input on the best places to go.
Tip: I heard about one of my favourite sights in Chiang Mai from someone living there. In Old Chiang Mai there are so many ornate temples to visit, but they get crowded with sightseers. If you’re open to venturing up the Doi Suthep mountain, visit Wat Palad. It’s a hidden gem tucked deep in the jungle near a rushing waterfall.
Choose your island wisely
When daydreaming about Southern Thailand, it’s easy to get caught up in the thought of colourfully decorated longboats and majestic cliffs in the middle of the Andaman Sea. But before hopping on the first ferry to any island, it’s important to choose your destination carefully.
Don’t get me wrong, whether you travel to Ko Samui or Phuket, you’re still going to see breathtaking views of white sand beaches. Just don’t jump the gun and choose an exotic sounding island because you’ve heard the name before. Popularity doesn’t make it the most worthwhile island to visit. Take Ko Phi Phi Don for example. It’s worthwhile if you plan on drinking cocktails in buckets on the beach—it’s a touristy location. But if you’re looking for a destination with more Thai culture, the locals recommend Koa Tao.
Tip: If you do find yourself on Ko Phi Phi Don, and don’t mind walking, opt to see more of the island and trek to Long Beach. It’s a little off the beaten path, much less crowded and overall a beautiful place to lounge or swim.
Stay grounded at the market
You can’t avoid going to markets in Thailand. Street vendors, street food, night markets and weekend markets are a way of life. And honestly, some of the best tom yum, fried rice and curries are from the smallest setups all over the country. Just take extra precautions so that the big ones like Chatuchak Weekend Market and the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar don’t swallow you up and spit you out whole—with all of your Thai bahts spent.
Make sure to keep track of where you started so that you can retrace your steps and find your way back to a familiar spot. Carry a backpack to store the goods you buy. Plastic bags at your sides can be cumbersome in the narrow walkways. And finally, only go with the amount of money you’re comfortable spending that day. There’s so much to buy and you may overspend.
Tip: Try your hand at haggling; it’s a fun way to get the most bang for your buck. However, be respectful of the vendor’s business. If they’re not interested in giving you a discounted price, kindly thank them and move on.
Also, print out a map beforehand. The enormous Chatuchak Weekend Market has over 8000 stalls divided into 27 sections. You can also download the Chatuchak app to see where you are in the market at all times.
Always take a metered taxi
You heard it here first: because you’re a tourist, things will be more expensive. From the entrance fees for main attractions to the price of a tuk tuk, it’s always more than what the locals pay. You’ll notice the discrepancy most while trying to get around.
By opting for marked metered taxis, you’ll know that you’re being charged fairly for your ride. Most drivers will try to set a round-numbered price to get you from point A to point B. The chances are that it’s much more than what the meter price would be. If a taxi driver refuses to use his meter, don’t get in the car, and wait for another one.
Tip: Sign up for Grab to hail taxis and shared cars more easily. The app gives you set prices to choose from and helps with the language barrier between you and the driver.
Impulsively travelling to new places to get out of your comfort zone is exciting. If you snag a great deal on a round-trip flight from Canada in the moment, it’s okay to be a little bit wary. Chances are you’ve booked a flight during the off-season.
I learned that Thailand has three simple seasons: hot, cool, and wet. Most guidebooks say you can travel to Thailand any time of year. But by their standards, the best time to go varies by the region you’re planning on visiting. If you’re really worried about the rain, try going in the cooler dryer months from November to April. But don’t be fooled, it’s still hot for most of us tourists.