Thailand is a gem in Southeast Asia. A must-see for any backpacker moving along the Banana Pancake trail. Infamous for its pristine beaches and full moon parties, there is so much more than meets the eye. From palm-covered beaches to lush mountainous jungles, it has something for everyone. With its rich culture, friendly locals, awe-inspiring landscapes, and incredible cuisine, Thailand is a vast tapestry of history and modernism woven into a patchwork of unique experiences that ignite the soul.
Thailand is a beautiful and fascinating country that can and should be explored beyond the tourist hot spots to fully appreciate its depth and natural beauty. From North to South the landscape, culture and language change as you explore different latitudes.
The first time I came to Thailand I arrived just in time for Songkran, Thai New Year. This happens in April every year and is a week-long water festival across the country. I arrived in Phuket from Bali and stayed near Bangla Road, which is infamous in its own right as the party street of Phuket. Songkran transformed this street into a water festival where you couldn’t walk 2 feet without getting sprayed with water guns or a bucket of water dumped on you. The thought behind it is cleansing of the old for the new year. Locals then rub clay on your face as a blessing. The party is fun, loud, and wild, and this is where I fell in love with Thailand.
From that moment I have been backpacking through Thailand and even lived on Koh Tao for three months simply to enjoy the people, food, diving, atmosphere, and island lifestyle.
You’ll love Thailand if you are:
- First time backpacking
- Solo Traveling
- Solo Female traveler
- Traveling with kids
- Love Thai food
- Looking for adventure
- Luxury on a budget
How to backpack on a budget
Staying in hostels can save you tons of money as accommodation is one of the most expensive parts of traveling. It’s also a great way to meet people. I use the Hostelworld to find and book dorms and also use their chats to meet up with people in the same city I’m in. Whether you’re looking for a party hostel, something chill, a dive school, or a yoga hostel there is something for every preference.
2. Local transportation
Find out what ride share app the locals use! Grab is huge in SEA and saves you from having to negotiate with a taxi driver. Buses, vans, trains (if you’re lucky you can get a sleeper, if not enjoy the ride from a bench seat in the back), ferries, long tail boats, etc. There are so many options to cheaply get around the country. Flights in the country are cheap as well, but depending on how much time you have, slow travel is a more sustainable option that lowers your carbon footprint and allows you to see and experience more of the country! Win-win
3. Eat Local
Thailand has some of the best food in the world. Find out where the locals eat and go there. Not only are you getting authentic cuisine, but it’s going to be much cheaper thanWestern food catering to tourists. You can get a great meal, made with love, from as cheap as 30 baht. Thai street food is incredible. You can go to markets during the day or night markets and find incredible meals! If you’re new to the region give your body some time to acclimate and be wary of food that may have been sitting out for long periods of time. I try to steer clear of meat that has been sitting out unrefrigerated or precut fruit, but besides that don’t be afraid of expanding your palate and trying new things! Also, know your spice preference. “Thai hot” is a whole other level of spicy. If you want something a little spicy ask for “Nit Noi”. You can always add chili oil or spices to your food later.
4. Travel during off-season
Whether it’s off season, shoulder season, or rainy season traveling off of peak season is going to save you money, and bonus it’s not going to be as crowded! There’s really not a *bad* time to be in Thailand.
This is a great way to have new experiences, meet people, or get compensated with accommodation. You can volunteer at hostels by asking the staff if they need any volunteers. Make sure you know what you are expected to do and what you get in return for compensation. Volunteering with different organizations can also give you something meaningful to do if you have spare time. While staying on Koh Tao, I volunteered with Koh Koh Pups, a dog rescue on the Island, and was able to walk and play with pups which was great when I was homesick and missing my dog.
6. Free Activities
You don’t have to book a tour or excursion to enjoy a city. Look for natural landscapes or start walking. Between the beaches, hiking, temples, or just exploring a town there is always something interesting to do. Exploring a city by foot is the best way to find new and unexpected things
7. Search for cheap flights
I do a lot of research when looking for flights. I go back and forth between different days, times, layovers, etc to find the most cost-effective deals. Usually, I look between apps such as Google Flights, Skyscanner, Expedia, Hopper, etc. Make sure you are in incognito mode when looking at flights on websites as they will save your cookies and the more times you visit the more the cost will increase. I also like to choose flights that have long layovers because this gives me time to explore another country or destination and is usually cheaper than direct flights.
8. Carry On Only
I fit everything I need into a 40Liter Backpack and a second tote or smaller day pack. The backpack when cinched down fits in the overhead storage bin for *most* airlines and I can stow the second bag under the seat. This saves me money on baggage fees and saves me time when getting to or leaving an airport. If you’re backpacking, the last thing you want to do is carry a bunch of stuff around the country. Packing only a backpack or two forces you to embrace minimalism and realize what actually matters. Pro Tip: take half the clothes you think you will need and twice the money.
9. Multi-use items and essentials
I like to bring ultra-light multi-purpose items so that I can carry as little as possible but get the most use out of everything. This is especially helpful when traveling through different climates, or in areas that may not have essentials available. For example: A Pashmina or scarf that can be used as a blanket on the plane, a head scarf in the UAE, and a cover up at temples.
This is what gets people usually. It’s easy to go over budget in countries where the conversion rate makes you feel like you’re loaded. Keep in mind that the more you stick to the budget, the longer you can travel. I also like to look up what basic stuff should cost in an area such as a taxi, meal, hotel, etc to make sure I am paying a fair price.
hot tips for backpacking through Thailand
- Don’t drink the water. Tap water in Southeast Asia is nonpotable. You will have to purchase drinking water, which is pretty cheap, but always make sure you have some on hand for drinking, brushing your teeth, or cooking.
- Learn the language and customs.
- Thai is a tonal language and is gendered. Learning some basics such as how to say hello, goodbye, thank you, how much, etc. is much appreciated by people in any country. While many Thai people know at least some English, don’t count on it in more remote areas. Get Google Translate to help navigate through ordering and asking for help or directions. Hello/ Goodbye: Sawasdee Krab/Ka , Thank you: Khop Khun Krab/Ka
- Take off your shoes when entering a building, whether it is a home or shop.
- Cover up at temples – This applies mostly to females, in most temples, you will have to cover your shoulders and legs.
- Bow – Placing your hands together and bowing when expressing gratitude or farewell. Thai culture values humility, politeness, and harmony.
- Tipping is not customary but always appreciated.
- eSIM or SIM cards – Getting a SIM card is helpful for communicating while in Thailand as your service may not cover it and this is a cheap option. Wi-fi is also usually available in hostels, hotels, and restaurants.
- Currency conversion– A currency conversion app is great to have to keep track of what an item costs in your home currency. Remember, negotiation is part of the experience in Southeast Asia.
All in all, backpacking through Thailand has been one of my favorite experiences to date. I met so many amazing people and had so many incredible experiences. The culture, food, and people are some of the best in the world. I highly recommend backpacking Thailand to anyone, especially if it is your first time backpacking in a foreign country. Be safe, and have the adventure of a lifetime.Dare To Be A Wildflower is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.