If you haven’t been to Thailand yet, hold onto your panties, and get ready for a wild ride. It’s an incredibly stunning country known for having over 40,000 beautiful Buddhist temples, spicy street food that will make you cry harder than your first break-up, and fun-loving people that just want to dance and karaoke!
I’m not joking, there are karaoke dance parties on public transportation.
Here’s some advice to help you save money, show respect to the culture, and be a responsible and conscious traveler.
Don’t expect to find toilet paper in public or private restrooms. Most public restrooms will consist of a squatty toilet, bum gun, and consider yourself lucky if there is soap to wash your hands. You can stock up on napkins or tissues at 7-11, and don’t forget to travel with a small bottle of soap.
2. If you are a woman, don’t sit next to male monks.
I almost made this mistake when I hoped on a songthaew going back to the Old City from the Crossfit gym in Chiang Mai. The bench to the left was a row packed with women all squeezed together. The row to the right had tons of open space to sit with only two guys— two monks— sitting there.
My initial reaction was to sit where there was space but the strangeness of the situation had me pause and reassess. It only took me a few seconds for my American-conditioned brain to figure out what was going down.
3. Travel vaccines are offered for a fraction of the price in Thailand.
Before moving to Thailand, I spent $500 on three vaccinations after being horrified at my local travel clinic. Threats of uncontrollable diarrhea that would murder me within hours of disease infection had me dishing out my hard earned dollars.
Death by dysentery is not how I want to leave this planet! I refuse!
Once you land, you can get some of the recommended travel vaccines in Thailand for a fraction of the price back home.
For example, getting vaccinated for Japanese Encephalitis in:
Be sure to check with your doctor about which vaccines are recommended and when to get them. Here is a list of the CDC’s disease and vaccination recommendations. Some vaccinations require that you start them up to two months in advance to your trip!
I am not a doctor; I am simply sharing information. Consult your doctor about vaccines, if you are into that kind of thing.
4. You can get around the country dirt cheap by bus.
So your options to get around the country include flying, taking a train, and the ever so popular double decker buses.
Flights between Chiang Mai and Bangkok are bountiful and can be as low as $19. Be sure to book in advance for the best deals.
Buses are great for budget travelers since they can be super cheap but I’m not promising a glamorous ride! Their full of 7-11 stops and sometimes even karaoke. A friend of mine even had the pleasure of being on a bus in Thailand while a woman gave birth to a baby a few rows behind her! They are just full of surprises.
Here is a great website for booking buses, trains, ferries, and flights around Asia.
The train can be even slower than the bus. But the train can be a much more comfortable ride and offer a more scenic journey. There are sleeper trains with bunks and dining carts with food and coffee.
Tip: Bus ticket’s aren’t recorded electronically, so if you lose your ticket you are SOL homie! No reprint. No refund.
Tip II: Credit card cancelled because your busy ass forgot to call and give a travel notice? You can pay for your flights at 7-11. Because 7-11 is LIFE ITSELF in Thailand.
Tip III: When you are ready to catch a flight out of Thailand, you will usually find the cheapest flights out of Bangkok.
5. Wai to people you’d like to show your respect to.
What is a “wai” you ask? Think of how you would give a Namaste bow to your yoga teacher at the end of class. Bring your palms together in front of your heart and lower your head to a bow.
When you first meet someone in Thailand, wai them; handshaking is not a traditional custom in Thailand.
6. Be still.
When the national anthem starts playing, pretend like your seven-years-old again playing a game of freeze tag and don’t move. You can hear this being played all throughout Thailand everyday at 8am and 6pm. Be sure to turn and face the flag if there is one around.
7. Don’t get ripped off by tuktuk and taxi drivers.
Trust me when I say that taxi and tuktuk drivers are going to jack up their prices for a farang compared to what they would charge a local.
When a driver offers a price, reply with half off that price, and you will usually agree on a price in the middle. Don’t get in the car without agreeing on a price first!
Tip: I found writing the address of my destination on a piece of paper to be more effective in getting drivers to drop their price. When I would show them the google map on my new pretty iPhone I was getting outrageous price requests. I quickly caught on and started writing the address down on paper.
Download the app Grab. It’s the Thai version of Lift or Uber only you don’t have to link it to a credit card if you prefer using cash. I like using this app because I know exactly how much my ride is going to be (and it’s always cheap!) and I just pay cash. Simple.
Even if you don’t use it, you can lose it to get a better deal from a taxi or tuktuk driver. There have many times when a tuktuk driver has named a price, I put the address into Grab, and show them that I can get it cheaper through the app. They always match that price or make it a little cheaper. You’re welcome.
8. Have fun bargaining but know where it’s appropriate & when to stop.
There are some places like the night markets in Bangkok and Chiang Mai where bargaining with street venders is half the fun! I’ve had many friendly and playful banters with vendors as we haggled over a price of fairy lights or earrings.
Don’t be that foreigner that gets their panties in a bunch over a dollar. Your dollar goes a lot further in Thailand than it does back home. Have fun but don’t be a jerk about it.
9. Take your shoes off before entering a temple, home, and some small shops.
Stay ahead of the game by noticing if there are shoes outside of a door before entering a building. If there are shoes outside, this is your cue to let those little piggies breathe.
10. Take advantage of the affordable health care.
Besides vaccines, many travelers embrace the much more affordable healthcare in Thailand including everything from teeth whitening, to new prescription glasses, to spinal surgery. Of course, you are going to want to do some proper pre-gaming and do your research reading reviews on different clinics and doctors.
Spend a little time sifting through Google and YouTube to gather feedback for the type of healthcare you are looking for. Here’s a little more info on why medical and dental treatments are so popular amongst travelers here.
While living in Chiang Ma, I had some really great dental work done in at Dental 4 You. I even met other expats that moved to Chiang Mai short -term just so they could have dental work done here. It comes highly recommended!
11. Don’t feed the monkeys.
I repeat, do not feed the monkeys! Giving them food is a sure fire method to make them aggressive because they start to associate people with having delicious food (I mean, they’re not wrong).
Sure they are super cute at first, but their cuteness factor quickly plummets when they are terrorizing your backpack or running up a tree with your bag.
On this note, be cautious when picking up litter that the monkeys could mistake for food.
After climbing a classic route, Groove Tube, on Tonsai Beach, I was ambushed by an aggressive troop of monkeys the second I picked ua styrofoam food container off the beach!
Now I’m not saying to never pick up trash off the ground in a monkey-run area, but I am saying to do so at your own risk. You have been warned.
12. Those elephant “sanctuaries” you see on the gram probably aren’t actual sanctuaries.
A very popular thing to do when exploring Thailand (and other Southeast Asia hotspots like Bali) is to visit an elephant “sanctuary”. Does bathing with elephants sound like an epic dream come true? Hell to the yeah!
But I had my suspicions, as I do with any operation that capitalizes on the handling or entertainment of animals, so I got to work researching these so-called sanctuaries.
Fast forward eleven elephant sanctuaries later, I still could not find a place that didn’t have reviews on Yelp or Google from people expressing their regret spending their time and money there. Every single “sanctuary” was called out for abusing the elephants. I’m not saying every elephant sanctuary in Thailand is terrible, but I am asking you to avoid supporting abusive and deceitful tourist traps by doing your research.
Is the well-being and quality of life for these beautiful and majestic creatures worth an instagram photo? Please do your research and support only authentic businesses.
Kate Good shares the not-so-cute truth behind “happy elephant paintings” over here at One Green Planet. Be informed. Know who and what you are supporting.
13. Thailand has a serious plastic problem.
Thailand is slanging so much single-use plastic you’ll wanna slap your momma! Okay, let’s leave mama out of this but you get my point.
Thailand is one of the top five countries that contributes to more than 60% of the trash found in our oceans according to Ocean Conservancy, a US based ocean advocacy group. The other responsible (or not-so-responsible) countries include Vietnam, China, Indonesia, and the Philippines.
It’s bad, yall. It’s really, really bad here. My head might just pop off my body and roll off to Mars if I see one more plastic bottle in a doubled plastic bag with a plastic straw in a plastic wrapper. It’s so unnecessary and causing some serious damage to our oceans.
If you even look at some bananas at the market, they start putting them inside a plastic bag. Be ready to proclaim, “Mai sai thoong!”every time you by something.
And you better be fast! Otherwise you will have a plastic bag in your hand before you know it.
Most cities, even small towns, have water refill stations you can fill up your water bottle at for one baht. Let’s show some love by learning some simple phrases like “no bag, please” and “no straw, please”.
Be sure to put together and carry around a sustainable travelers kit so you can refuse single-use plastic like a pro.
14. There are 9 public trash cans in all of Thailand.
Okay, so maybe that is an exaggeration but that is how it feels. There is absolutely a waste management problem within the infrastructure that contributes to the dirty streets of this beautiful country.
In Chiang Mai, you may give your trash to any of the vendors at the night market!
Bangkok on the other hand is a whole other beast. Many unmanaged landfills are popping up around the city within lots and on the side of the roads.
Trash is often illegally burned as a solution to the trash problem.
You can lessen your contribution to this problem by creating the least amount of waste as possible.
Get a mango smoothie in your reusable cup and straw instead of using single-use plastic for ten minutes.
Get your $0.30 pad thai in a reusable food container from a street vendor instead of a plastic box that will hold your noodles for a whopping twenty minutes.
When shopping, bust out your reusable bag, say “mai sai thoong, ka/kop” (no bag, please), and give a little wai.
15. Here are some essential Thai phrases:
- Hello=Sawadee ka/kop
- How are you?= Sabai dee mai, ka/kop?
- Thank you= Kop khun ka/kop
- No bag= Mai sai tung, ka/kop
- No straw= Mai ow lawd ka/kop
- No sugar= Mai sai nom thon, ka/kop
- How much?= Tow rai, ka/kop?
- Just a little bit spicy, please= Pet nit noi, ka/kop
- Where is the toilet?= Hong nam you tee nai, ka/kop?
- Excuse me/ I’m sorry= Kor taught, ka/kop
- I don’t eat meat= Mag sow ee rat.
- Don’t worry about it/ Never mind/ It’s all good= Mai pen rai