I’ve been to Thailand twice now and I’ll never forget the feeling when I first arrived on the islands! After 3 days in Thailand on our first trip, my friend Lou and I were already dreading leaving in 4 weeks’ time.
It has everything from exotic islands, turquoise waters, green jungles, golden temples, laid back locals, crazy cities and quiet rural villages. Orange robbed monks, full favoured cuisine and quirky elements at every turn. You can experience inexpensive extravagance in five star accommodation or go back to basic in wooden beach huts, whatever your preference and budget.
It’s a place that gets a hold on you! I would go back every year if I could, but I have so much of the world to see. I must resist.
Okay first things first….
Understand the visa
You will be given a 30 day visa when you arrive in Thailand. Make sure your flights are booked within the 30 days. On my second trip to Thailand we decided to fly into Bangkok and travel to Cambodia and Laos over a five week period.
When I arrived in Dublin airport, Emirates wouldn’t let me fly without producing evidence that I was to leave the country within the five week period. I had to run to the computers, reserve a train seat to Laos, and print the document in the airport (which was tricky), before they would let me check in for my flight. It was stressful, as you can imagine! Learn from my mistakes.
You will probably need a few. I had been to South Africa the year before so I had already got some of the required vaccinations. Bear in mind that some are free and some cost quite a bit. You will need to book an appointment with the doctor/nurse no less than two months prior to the date you leave. Some vaccinations require two shots before you go, done in stages.
If you are told to keep your vaccinations at home until they are due, make you read the instructions. I didn’t, and cost myself another 150 quid. The vaccination was to be re-fridge rated and ended up in the bin.
You will need malaria tablets if you are planning to venture to the borders and jungle areas. You can buy malaria tablets in chemists if you have a change of plans. They tend to make you feel sick so don’t take them just for the sake of it.
When to go
November – April is dry season
May – October is wet season.
Don’t be put off by the term ‘wet season’. The wet season in Thailand consists of the odd five minute downpour. We visited southern Thailand in August twice and had one day of rain on each trip in the four weeks we were there. It rained for 3 days in Laos however, which is north of Thailand.
June-August and December/January are the peak seasons. Busier and possibly slightly more expensive, but everything is so cheap it doesn’t really matter.
On my first trip I brought £1000 for four weeks and the second time I spent £1200. I noticed it had got ever so slightly dearer and we travelled a lot further on our second trip, which included Cambodia and Laos visa costs. The budget depends on you. What is your standard of accommodation? Do you like to slum it or live lavishly on holiday? Do you want to eat street food or restaurant cuisine every day? It’s up to you what you want to spend or what you can afford to bring.
Remember to pre-order the Thai Baht currency in the post office or travel agents, it’s not always stocked.
£1.00 = 54.31 BAHT
1000 = £18.41
Email your bank and inform them of where you’re going and the dates, so they don’t block your card when you try to use it in Thailand.
What to pack
I recommend you read my ‘packing bible’ blog.
It includes tips on;
- what to pack
- backpacking know how
- what you’ll need
- what you think you might need but won’t use
- useful apps
- what size of backpack to buy etc….
NOTE: Keep nothing breakable or of value in your backpack, it will get flung onto buses and boats. They also had a thai man in the luggage compartment of one of our buses and a phone was taken from the backpack.
Thailand sockets are odd. I would suggest bringing both types of adaptor or a multi purpose adaptor.
I would also buy good sunscreen, mosquito spray, shampoo etc. before you go. Anything they import tends to cost a small fortune.
Bring rehydration sachets and Imodium diarrhoea tablets. Everyone in Thailand will experience food poisoning at least once. Drink bottled water only.
Don’t let that put you off the street food. It’s cheap, authentic and really tasty. I got food poisoning from a restaurant, on my second visit to Thailand.
Don’t over plan your trip
Don’t tie yourself down to a schedule. You will like some places better than others and want to stay longer or leave earlier than you had originally thought. You will meet people along the way and might decide to travel with them. You will hear of places that weren’t on your list and decide to try them out. There is accommodation a plenty, you will never be stuck and if you have to sleep on a beach one night, sure it makes for a good story. I found that the ‘bad’ things on your trip, always make the best stories.
We booked our first two nights’ accommodation in Bangkok and our 2 nights’ accommodation in Haad Rin, Ko Phangyan for the full moon party. That would be all the pre planning I would recommend. One of the best things about travel, is the freedom you feel. Going at your own pace and not knowing where you’ll be from one day to the next. It’s exhilarating!
It’s important to respect people’s beliefs, traditions and cultural differences. It’s also pretty fun! I love immersing myself in a place. I don’t want to ‘feel’ like a tourist.
Feet are the dirtiest part of the body. You will be expected to remove your shoes before entering shops and people’s homes. I personally love this element of Thai life. This will result in stolen flip flops, people wearing odd flip flops, or simply going barefoot. Luckily in Thailand you can buy a new pair, almost anywhere for about 2 quid.
Do not point your feet at monks or religious statues. We went to the temples in Bangkok, and when you enter the emerald Buddha you must sit on your legs with your feet pointing behind you. If you are not sure, watch what everyone else is doing around, especially the locals.
Do not step over peoples bags, property, walk around it.
Woman are not allowed to touch the monks or pass something to a monk. You must pass the item to a male who will pass it on to a monk.
The top of the head is most sacred body part. You must never touch someone on the top of the head. Where we would pat kids on the head, or ruffle their hair as a sign of endearment, they would see it as insulting.
Public affection, kissing, holding hands, etc. is frowned upon. You will get away with it in more touristy areas, but tone it down if you can. In rural areas that aren’t used to tourists, make more of a conscious effort to keep PDA’s to a minimum. Be considerate when you’re on their turf.
You will need to cover shoulders and ankles in the temples. You can rent big, ugly shirts and trousers at the door for a small price, but you will not look good. I brought a shawl but they weren’t happy with it. Bring a long sleeve top and long trousers in your bag and slip them on before you go in.
Don’t stand on the king’s head. If you drop a coin, don’t step on it to catch it. It is considered a crime to disrespect the king in this way.
Every building will have a spirit house outside. This is where the spirits live that protect the Thai people. Offerings are made and placed on these spirit houses. Show respect, and do not touch them!
kap kun ka = thank you. Place hands together like ‘namaste’ prayer hands and bow your head. They really appreciate tourists/visitors making an effort. We were there for four weeks and I was still doing it on the way home in the airport. It will become a habit quite quickly. I personally think it’s a lovely way to say thank you.
‘Same same, but different’. This is how they describe knock off goods, amongst other many other things. It usually gets a laugh. Use it often!
Curry for breakfast! The Thai don’t eat cereal and toast for breakfast. Touristy places will offer this but I loved the traditional Thai food. I had red Thai curry and rice nearly every day for breakfast!
my favourite memories
- scuba diving for the first time on ko tao and swimming beside a turtle
- having a BBQ and watching a fire show with buckets in a private beach cove off phi phi island
- seeing bioluminescence under water
- travelling from island to island on a thai long tail boat on phi phi island
- swinging in a hammock in a secret treehouse, ko phanghan
- trekking through the jungle bareback on elephants. The elephant wrapped her ears around my legs so I wouldn’t fall off.
- dancing on haad rin beach until sunrise at ko phanghan full moon party
- driving quad bikes around the perimeter of ko tao island
- getting a tuk tuk ride in Bangkok
- the fire slide at full moon party
- drinking buckets and watching the fire shows, while lounging on a bean bag on the beach
- spotting the orange robbed monks
I have created a nectar list of all my best memories so far.
my favourite pictures
Don’t spend any more than 2-3 days in Bangkok. We met guys on the plane that stayed the night they arrived and left the next morning! It is not exactly a place of great beauty, but when you are there you can visit…
- khao san road – the backpackers hub
- book accommodation near khao san road.
- enjoy the street food, especially pad thai. Dinner for 90p and it tastes amazing.
- the temples and grand palace
- the floating market
- sky bar
- sunday street markets
- MBK shopping centre – 8 floors of knock-offs, souvenirs, and a cinema.
- the tiger temple, (this may have been shut down, as it is believed that the monks were drugging the tigers).
- the trees in Bangkok are all lit up. Very pretty!
- AVOID the ping pong shows. We went with the ‘when in Rome’ mentality and found in was uncomfortably sleazy, depressing, and the girls performing were miserable. We all went home early that night.
When you get to the islands, you will be so glad you didn’t waste your precious time in Bangkok.
In Bangkok we stayed in Nap park hostel. Loved this hostel! Two streets away from khao san road , so you can get some sleep, but close enough to everything. The interior style was right up my street. Lounge outside or inside on bean bags or cushions
Be street smart
Tuk tuks’ are an authentic experience you need to have in Bangkok. The beautiful colours and the adrenalin buzz on the drive is worth at least one trip. Think of them as the horse and carriage rides we get here. Nice way to get around, but pricey if you’re on a budget, but you have to give them a try!
If you need to get around on a budget, get a pink metered taxi. Ask for the meter to be put on. You don’t have to tip, but if you do it will be greatly appreciated. £1.00 to you is nothing but a big deal to them. We told the driver to keep the change (75p), and he was profusely thankful!
Book buses and boats in travel agents found on every corner. Shop around for best price.
Ko phangyan island
+ full moon party
Ko = island
Plan your route around full moon party date. If you can’t make it, don’t fret! There is now half-moon party, black moon parties and jungle parties. The date changes every month, depending on the full moon of course.
Arrive in ko phangyan two days before full moon if possible. The lead up to full moon is just as good (if not better) than full moon party.
Get your neon t-shirts, and neon paint and enjoy the music, fire shows and buckets on the beach. Skipping ropes set on fire, slides,dancefloors on rafts in the sea and even a sleeping section if you need a nap, but you will get robbed!
There’s normally a pool party around full moon. Don’t bring your phone etc. People get thrown into the pool constantly.
Stay in haad rin area so you can walk to everything.
On our first full moon we booked ahead, and ended up paying more than we should have. We slept on the dodgiest bamboo bed over a concrete stair in a massage parlour converted to dorm for full moon with 30 other people and one bathroom (if you could call it a bathroom).
500 baht for double room is standard price
Sun cliff resort is pretty nice and has its own infinity pool overlooking sunset beach.
Mushroom Mountain has the renowned ‘shroom’ shakes. But you can get them on other islands too.
Word of warning. We heard a story of a guy that drank a ‘shroom’ shake and thought he was an orange for hours. He panicked every time someone came near him, as he thought they were trying to peel him. Not always a fun experience!
We had friends who went north of the island to a place called bottle beach. They described it as two couples staying in two separate beach huts and one ‘restaurant’ that cooked the fish that was caught that day. Very quiet, more romantic side to ko phangyan. They loved it!
We did our elephant trekking here but I wouldn’t recommend it. The elephants were in chains. There is an elephant sanctuary near chang mai and you can watch the elephants paint. I would also suggest the elephant treks in northern Thailand, where they take you through rivers and beautiful jungles.
Ko tao island
Ko tao was my favourite island. Much more chilled out, and right up my street.
We stayed on sairee beach, both times.
Ac resort has wonderful beach huts and a pool and right next to the beach.
Ko tao is the place for scuba diving. You MUST try scuba diving. You don’t have to do your full PADI course, you can do a taster course. Half day of training and one-two scuba diving sessions for about 35 quid. An absolute bargain for the experience of a lifetime. I swam past a turtle on my first dive! You also get free rent for the duration of your scuba diving course.
We rented quads and drove around the whole island. One of my favourite days. We found all these beautiful, hidden places off the beaten track.
Lotus bar on the beach is the main drinking hole on ko tao.
On our second trip to Thailand we went back to Ko tao. The owner of diza bar remembered us and offered us a job. We got free buckets all night for standing at the entrance and encouraging people into the bar for 2-3 hours, then the rest of the night was ours. You can get jobs on any island if you’re strapped for cash, some pay cash. We saved a little bit of money doing this for a few days.
You must try a thai pancake. I recommend the banana, nutella, condensed milk combo. The making of the pancakes, is in itself a great show. You can get this on many of the islands, but my favourite was the man outside diza bar on ko tao. He’s famous. I think he is mentioned in the lonely planet book!
We lost two cameras on this island. One camera on our first trip and one camera on our second visit. We also managed to delete all the photos on one camera. We called this ‘the ko tao curse’. Word of warning, saves your photos to an online account like outlook one drive, dropbox, kodax, facebook etc, to avoid this. Saving to a hard-drive or USB also has its risks.
Ko phi phi island
Ko Phi Phi was devastated by the Indian Ocean tsunami of December 2004, when nearly all of the island’s infrastructure was destroyed.
I met a guy in Thailand, that was lying on the beach, in phi phi when a tsunami alarm went off and everyone had to go to high ground and wait for a few hours until the threat was deemed safe. He said the birds took off, like they knew something was wrong.
I worked for a guy who visited phi phi 20 years ago and told me how it once consisted of two beach huts and a fisherman’s stall. It is still in a state of repair from the tsunami but you will find ‘jordans irish pub’ ‘slinkys bar’ on the beach, and a muy thai boxing ring in a reggae bar.
Climb up to the viewpoint.
Do the maya bay tour. Maya bay is where ‘the beach’ with Leonardo DiCaprio was filmed.
Most tours include;
- The experience of a long tail boat.
- Monkey bay. Be careful they are cheeky animals, and well used to tourists. They will grab from your hand and if you haven’t got a rabies shots….
- Snorkelling (optional)
- Cliff jumping (optional)
- Free water and pineapple (lunch)
- Tour of the coves, Viking cave
- Maya bay – the beach
NOTE: getting to maya bay can be quite treacherous. you need to be able to swim.
There are tours that let you camp at maya bay, to get the beach experience
We did a secret beach party on our second visit. It includes the same as the maya bay tour but at the end they bring to a secret cove. It’s so small the boat has to stop outside and you jump out and swim in. then there’s a BBQ and buckets and a fire show. This is where we witnessed bioluminescence and it felt like the beach experience. Highly recommended.
I hated it. We went to ko phi phi from here, but there are nicer routes. Sleazy old men and young Thai girls, bars along a strip, and no one chilling on the beach at night. I felt like I was in Magaluf. You can try it, but I wouldn’t go back. Also the only place I got food poisoning…which didn’t help my love for the place.
What we missed
- chang mai
On both occasions we had planned to go up to chang mai and do the jungle trek tour and stay with the locals. On both occasions we went south to the islands first due to the full moon party date. Leaving the islands is damn near impossible. We even found it difficult to move from one to the next. You’ll understand when you get there. But learn from my mistakes. Go north to chang mai first if you can. You can book your jungle tour from there.
We met people who had stayed in railey on their trip. We hadn’t left enough time for it but if I was to go back, it would definitely be on my list. Hot spot for rock climbers.
I saw photos of this place after I had left. It’s situated west of Bangkok. The waterfalls would be worth a visit.
- Ko lanta
Another island in the south. Underdeveloped in comparison to the other islands. Might be a more authentic experience with less travellers.
- Ko Samui
We didn’t go to this island. I read somewhere, that this island was very developed. It might not be the rural ‘authentic’ island feel you are hoping for. I would skip it if you’re short on time.
What I learnt
- If you’re not drinking Chang, or Singha beer, you will drink from buckets
1xcan of coke
1xquarter/half bottle of rum/whiskey
M150/red bull shot (illegal in UK) like drinking speed :S
(note: open buckets can be easily spiked.)
- You will talk openly about vomit and diarrhoea with new friends and complete strangers.
Everyone is in the same boat. Don’t let it ruin your trip, drink plenty of water, take rehydration sachets, and stay close to a toilet.
- You are in paradise, but the best part of your trip will be the people you meet.
I am friendly with people we met on the plane journey, people we bumped into on each island, people we shared long bus journeys with and people we ended up travelling around with. Many a reunion has occurred since we left Thailand.
- Get used to haggling
Don’t get ripped off, but don’t fight over 50p. Remember these people are much poorer than you! A currency converter app is always useful.
- Girls … you will have to accept that some lady boys will be prettier than you!
- Don’t drive a moped
My sister and her husband travelled the world for 6 months. They travelled to Thailand on their trip. When I told her I was going she was delighted, but she made me promise her one thing, “Please don’t get on a moped”. I said okay, not fully understanding why she was so adamant.
The roads are dangerous, the drivers are careless and you will most likely get hurt or scammed.
I kept my promise and I’m glad I did. Everyone drives mopeds in Thailand. The locals and the tourists. The locals know the roads, and they have 2-3 people piled onto one moped. There are no traffic rules and if there are no abides by them. No helmets mixed with badly laid roads and huge potholes. Even if you are a safe or skilled driver, you cannot account for all the reckless drunk drivers out there. It’s a free for all.
If death doesn’t scare you, maybe missing the full moon party due to bandages and antibiotics will deter you. You will see 100’s of people with fresh cuts and bandages and 9/10 times are due to moped accidents. I have met tonnes of people in Australia who have numerous deep purple, red scars and every time I asked how they got them, they’re answer was driving a moped in Thailand. My friend Vicky, who I met in Australia crashed into a wall and nearly killed herself.
When you rent mopeds you are also guaranteed to get scammed. They charge you for scratches on the moped that were already there. If you crash the bike, which is likely, they can name a price for damages, and you have to pay it because the Thai police are known to be corrupt. That’s all your holidays’ savings gone in one fell swoop. I met several people that had to ring home for a loan from friends/family to pay the large sums. If you are determined to hire a moped, take photos of the bike and the scratches before you set out.
Two Dublin girls we met had rented a pickup truck. We jumped in the back of a pickup truck, for a drive around ko Phangyan Island. We had is very, very close call when the brakes cut out and we rolled backwards, down a steep hill to the edge of a cliff. We jumped out of the van and walked back to haad rin with shakey legs and hands.
I hope I haven’t dampened your spirits. I want you to have a good time in Thailand like I did, therefore, I need to tell you all I know 🙂
Books to read
(before you go or while you’re there)
You will do a lot of waiting around for boats when island hopping. Bring a book!
- The beach, by Alex Garland
- The backpacker, by John Harris
Both of these books feature adventure in Thailand.
- Lonely Planet Thailand guide book
You can also take a look at my blog ‘books for the wanderlust’, for other books to enjoy on your trip.
Take a look at my Thailand board on Pinterest.
You can follow the wandering boomerang on pinterest, facebook, twitter, instagram, tumblr, and flickr.
Please comment below with any Thailand travel tips you have.
Enjoy your adventure, and return safely,
The wandering boomerang 🙂