Thailand is the ultimate backpackers’ destination and hands down the easiest place to get around for travellers. If you were expecting a peaceful and spiritual experience you may be sorely disappointed because, like any nice place with good weather cheap booze, Thailand is absolutely full of drunk British people. You really have to accept Thailand for what it is, tourism is the largest industry here and there’s no point trying to find the ‘real’ Thailand because that is it. The sheer scale of tourism is Thailand is what makes it such a great place to backpack in my opinion: 1. The route is well-worn and it is incredibly easy to get from A to B. Wherever you want to go, you’ll only need to walk down the street to find loads of travel agencies offering your journey 2. In touristy areas, everyone has a basic grasp of English 3. It has a massive backpacker scene, meaning that you’ll never be far away from other like-minded English-speaking people. Everyone is there for a good time (sometimes too much of a good time) and very sociable, it’s very easy to make friends and the ideal place for a solo backpacking trip.
When to go
The best time to visit is from November to February, as this is the ‘cool’ season. ‘Cool’ in Thailand is about 25-30 degrees celsius, so don’t go packing your thermals. This is also the ‘dry’ season, when it does still rain a fair bit, but not as often. March to June is the ‘hot’ season, with April and May being the hottest. Then there’s ‘monsoon’ season which runs from June to October, which is holiday time for most of us. Don’t worry though it’s not exactly a constant monsoon, there are just short spells of torrential downpours and it is still very hot and humid.
Visas on arrival are available free for most foreign tourists, and last 30 days if arriving from an international airport. You technically need a flight out of Thailand within 30 days to be eligible. Thai immigration generally don’t care or check, but your airline might refuse to let you board without one as it’s their responsibility to bring you back should you be refused entry to Thailand. I would wait until you get to the airport and try to check in, because although Oman Air made me buy a ticket, I know a lot of other people who had no troubles. You can buy a cheap flight to a neighbouring country on your phone at the airport and pay extra for a flexible booking, part refund, or just swallow the cost. If crossing into Thailand by land you will be entitled to a 15 day visa. If you want to stay longer you’ll have to apply beforehand for a 2 month visa, and if you decide to extend your trip while still out there, you can simply do a visa run – leaving the country by land and re-entering straight away. A number of travel agencies will offer packages taking care of the whole process. In my experience Thai immigration don’t really care if you end up overstaying your visa by a few days, but you’ll be charged 550 baht per day.
What to take
Definitely take your phone or a tablet – there is free WiFi pretty much wherever you go, although it’s generally not great. Tourists can get a tourist SIM from the 7-Eleven, which is 299 THB and gives you 7 days of unlimited data. You’ll need to show them your passport to get it. Once that has run out you can buy more data in bundles from any 7-Eleven. I’ve found the 4/3G to be much faster and more reliable than any WiFi so I never bother to connect to WiFi on my phone and sometimes tether it to my laptop.
Loose clothing is best for when it’s warm and humid, but you’ll definitely want a jumper and leggings for overly air-conditioned ferries and up north. People are generally a bit more conservative in Thailand but like I said before, there are a LOT of British people here and have been for decades so they’re more than used to our custom of wearing absolutely no clothes in any temperatures above 20 degrees. You’ll need to cover up your shoulders and legs in temples so be sure to bring a t shirt that covers your shoulders, once you’re there you can buy some super cool elephant trousers.
Thai people tend to take their shoes off whenever they go inside, so you’ll need flip flops or other shoes you can take off easily. Running or tennis shoes might be an idea if you’re planning on doing a bit of trekking.
The plug sockets there will work with both Continental European round two-pin plugs and US flat two-pin plugs. Take suncream with you and enough for your whole trip ideally as it’s very expensive out there and can contain skin-whitening ingredients. Tampons are extremely hard to come by so take as many as you will need and then some more. You can’t drink the water in Thailand so if you’re planning on staying a long time or doing all of South East Asia, it’s probably worth investing in a Water to Go or Camelbak All Clear bottle.
Read my budget guide to Thailand here. Generally you’ll need £25-£40 per day, depending on where you go and which activities you do.
Vaccinations and healthcare
You’ll need to be up to date on tetanus, diphtheria, hepatitis A and typhoid – all available on the NHS. It’s worth also getting hepatitis B and rabies pre-exposure vaccines. You won’t need malaria tablets unless you visit high risk areas, all of the touristy places are fine but it’s always worth checking on NHS Fit for Travel.
Don’t go near any monkeys – they are extremely aggressive and will bite you. If they break the skin you’re looking at a lot of jabs, hospital visits and a hefty bill.
Generally Thailand has fairly good healthcare, although if you have any serious problems I would advise heading to Bangkok.
Thailand is incredibly easy to get around, with travel agencies everywhere. You’ll generally get around by bus or ferry. Don’t bother pre-booking travel online, just either book through your hostel at your origin place or find a travel agency. It’s worth checking internal flights as well as these are often very cheap and save you a lot of time on buses.
98% of the population are Buddhist and generally people here are extremely nice. The Thai people loved their king, who recently passed away, and you will see pictures of him everywhere. As the king’s face is on their money, it’s offensive to scrunch up bank notes or keep them in your bra or pants. If you drop one on the floor, don’t step on it. It’s rude in Thailand to show someone the soles of your feet, as this is the body part furthest away from ‘nirvana’, and to touch people on the head – the holiest part of the body.