Preparing for Thailand: A guide for the mainland and the islands

Updated: Jan 9

#Thailand was our first stop on our Southeast Asian adventure in January 2019. We loved the flavourful food, beautiful landscapes and the friendly people so much that we went back 3 months later to celebrate Songkran, Thai New Year, in April 2019. Thailand is known as the land of smiles, and in our adventures exploring from north to south, we can confirm that this is true.

Interested in going to Thailand yourself? Here's what you need to know:


Currency: BAHT (Thai Baht= THB)

  • 25 baht= approx. 1 CDN Dollar

  • Most things are sold in 100 baht or higher (so $4+ CND)

Religion: Buddhism

  • A peaceful practice that revolves around karma- so be kind and patient with everyone you meet and they will return the sentiment!

Languages: Thai and English

  • Click here for some helpful Thai phrases.

Location: Southeast Asia

  • Thailand shares borders with Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and Malaysia.

When to go and weather: Most people visit between November - March to avoid monsoon season and to avoid extreme heat.

  • The Loi Krathong & Yi Peng floating festival is celebrated in Northern Thailand at end of October until the beginning of November. Thousands of paper lanterns are released into the sky with written messages, prayers and wishes and beautiful baskets are released into the water.

  • The "burning season" usually occurs March- April when farmers intentionally burn their crops after the harvest. The air quality in Northern Thailand can be poor during this time.

  • Thai New Year is a giant water fight that occurs in mid-April called Songkran. It's an amazing cultural experience and we would recommend celebrating in Chiang Mai.

Health risks: The Malaria risk varies throughout the country.

Etiquette: It is important to understand how to behave in Thailand in order to be a respectful visitor.

  • Examples include covering your shoulders when visiting a temple, avoiding public displays of affection (holding hands, kissing), and removing your shoes before entering any dwelling.

  • Check out this list and see image below for more helpful information:

Keep reading through this post for budget suggestions, and travel recommendations for what to see, activities you shouldn't miss, and where to stay in Thailand.


BUDGET

Approximately what you should expect to spend while visiting Thailand:

  • Accommodation for 33 days was 406 baht/person/night or $17.77 CDN. Note: this was for a mixture of two person rooms and mixed dorms for under 6 people which are typically more expensive options, so it is possible to pay less!

  • Food cost approximately 288.53 baht/person/day or $12.60 CDN.

  • Massages (Thai massages and foot rubs) ranged from 150 - 600 baht/person/hour ($6.55 - $26.20 CDN). The more you pay, the more comfortable and higher quality the experience should be. For example: an open air massage area vs. a spa-like experience with air conditioning.

  • Laundry service 20 - 50 baht ($0.86 - $2.50 CDN) per wash including soap and the service is usually amazing.

  • Transportation costs varied depending on the vehicle. Don't be afraid to negotiate prices and ask your accommodation for advice on how much trips should cost. Tuk tuks cost us between 100 - 350 baht and taxis were always around 500 baht ($21.50 CDN) because it was usually to and from an airport.

  • Washroom use in public places cost 10-20 baht/per use depending on where you are ($0.44- $0.87 CDN).

  • Our total daily budget goal for two people was 1700 baht/day or $74.27 CDN which was easily attainable!


TRAVEL RECOMMENDATIONS

Our recommendations for what to do and where to stay in Thailand:


BANGKOK

Background:

  • Capital of Thailand

  • Very busy and industrial

  • Lots of people wear masks while outside because of the varying air quality

  • The capital is the most common place in Thailand to fly into

Stay options:

To do:

  • Go to Khao San Road (both day and night!), it's touristy but it can be fun! This is also where people like to go to drink from sand buckets and try scorpion (Note: Thai people actually don’t eat these- they just enjoy making foreigners do it!). Lots of people book their island transportation from one of the many travel shops on this road. We used 12go.asia instead to book our own routes and save money.

  • Check out the Chatuchak Weekend Market (Saturday or Sunday only). Hail a cheap tuk tuk to get there (barter! Don’t pay more than 400 baht for 2 people). It’s a HUGE market and a lot of travellers don’t go. This is where we ate the best street food we’ve ever had. Download a map of the market beforehand to use your time wisely.

  • Visit the Grand Palace (buy tickets ahead of time) and/or Wat Pho (temple).

  • Take a day trip out of town and do a group tour to Ayutthaya – they’ll be offering deals at all the little shops on Khao San/off Khao San (one road over) – it’s a short drive out of town and has more of an ancient ruin feeling. We were able to book this trip through our hostel. Make sure you bring lots of water!

  • Visit a floating market. We chose to visit Ayutthaya over the floating market experience, but many have told us that it is really interesting and worth seeing. This experience can also be booked around Khao San road or likely through your accommodations.



CHIANG MAI

Background:

  • One of our favourite cities!

  • Very cultural, authentic, smaller and less industrial than Bangkok

  • Has “colder” weather because it's further north (however we still felt it was warm, and it's very beautiful)

Stay suggestions:

  • Stay near or in Old City. It is a neighbourhood of stunning temples on every street, vibrant colours and it is close to many delicious street markets.

  • There are lots of great accommodation options, but we LOVED Sleep with you Hostel. The owner Pim, is amazing! She helped us book all of our activities and got us great discounts. We went back to this hostel a second time to celebrate Songkran because they made us feel like family.

To do:

  • Visit the night markets and the weekend market (best food in Thailand is in Chiang Mai).

  • Attend a cooking class! Examples: Mama Noi and the Thai Kitchen Cookery Centre. We went to the Thai Kitchen Cookery Centre and it was so much fun (even Krystal who hates cooking enjoyed it). Price included transportation, a trip to the market, a full day of cooking with 7 courses of food, as well as a take-home recipe book.

  • Get a Thai massage. You can get a Thai massage anywhere in Thailand, but we especially enjoyed them in Chaing Mai. Some options we loved include: Calm massage and Sense Garden Massage and Spa.

  • Find a group of people and go to the Grand Canyon (Chiang Mai version), a big swimming gorge/water park, but it’s nice to cool off.

  • Check out the Sticky Falls. The rocks in this waterfall are made of a porous material that makes it easy to walk on even when they are wet.

  • Watch a Muay Thai fight. Ask your hostel for the schedule or listen for the trucks that drive around with the recorded advertisements for more information.

  • Celebrate Songkran. Songkran is Thai New Year and a large 3 day water fight that occurs in mid-April. We have never laughed or smiled so much during a festival!

  • Chiang Mai is known for its elephant experiences, but please be mindful that when deciding where to go that anywhere that allows you to feed, bathe, ride, or touch the elephants is an unethical experience. Although these experiences might be fun for you, it is actually very harmful to the animals and causes them a lot of stress and pain, and encourages a poor, high sugar diet. Do your research ahead of time and make an informed decision.

  • From Chiang Mai people often travel to Chiang Rai or Pai by bus or motorbike. Although we did not visit these spots ourselves, we were warned that the roads can be windy and nauseating so if you are prone to motion sickness, bring lots of water and travel with caution.

Places to go out/eat:

  • Dance the night away at Zoe in Yellow. It's a wild club that attracts foreign travellers from all over the world.

  • Check out Warm up Cafe. A bar with great vibe where the locals like to go with live music, an upstairs patio, and a great menu of food and drinks.

  • Try Khao Soi. A delicious curry dish with chicken and is only sold in Northern Thailand.

  • Eat mango sticky rice. It's a wonderful, light dessert.

  • Visit Goodsouls. It's a vegan restaurant with the most amazing and refreshing food. We still dream about the smoothie bowls we ate there...


KRABI

Background:

  • A beautiful area in Southern Thailand with lots of great beaches to visit

  • Looks like the island from Jurassic Park

Railay Beach

  • Very relaxed vibe, beautiful limestone cliffs

  • Huge climbing destination

  • It was recommended to us to see a Muay Thai fight at The Last Bar and go watch the fire spinners at night!

Ao Nang

  • Other end of Krabi

  • Fun, beach town

  • Beautiful sunsets

  • Close to the National Park

To do:

  • Island tours

  • Sea kayaking

  • Rock climbing

  • Lounging on the beach

To stay:

  • Arawan Krabi Beach Resort. It is an amazing spot if you want to splurge a little! Approx. 750 baht/person/night ($32 CDN). This resort offers a free shuttle to the beach, breakfast every morning and had amazing pools and views of the cliffs.

  • A word of caution: We would recommend that you pay a little more when staying anywhere in Krabi to avoid having to deal with bed bugs.


ISLANDS

Background:

  • Get to the islands by flying from mainland or use a bus and then take a ferry. We booked our transportation through 12go.asia.

  • Islands are more expensive and touristy than mainland Thailand.

  • Koh Phangan is where the wild Full Moon and Half Moon parties take place (Note: We never went to one).

  • We chose Koh Tao based on the activities that it offered and it's reputation for being known for more than just parties. See below section for more information.

  • Other islands that were recommended to us include: Koh Samui (very big, near Koh Tao), Koh Lanta (super chill), and Khao Sok National Park (beautiful and not very touristy.)

KOH TAO (Island) Background:

  • Known for diving and snorkeling - it’s BEAUTIFUL and small

  • You'll notice the food is still good here, but not as flavourful as the mainland

Stay suggestions:

  • Big Blue Diving. Recommended to us by a friend and apparently a great place to stay if you are also hoping to get any diving certifications.

  • We stayed at Indie Hostel. It was a great location, very clean and included breakfast in the cafe on the ground level.

To do:

  • Go snorkeling. OXYGEN was the company we used for snorkeling and it was amazing! Five spots, lunch, explored another island and they picked us up from our hostel for 950 baht ($41 CND) each for the full day.

  • Go diving. If you want to get dive certified, this is one of the cheapest places in the world.

  • Go hiking. Pack lots of water and discover one of Koh Tao's beautiful viewpoints. We went to the John Suwan viewpoint and it was breathtaking! Download the maps.me app for easy directions.

  • Party all night long. There are tons of great places to drink, meet new people and go dancing.


ADDITIONAL THAILAND TRAVEL TIPS/INFO

Money and avoiding theft:

  • Always have baht on you! Very few places take credit card

  • Keep some baht locked in your bag in your room and only carry what you need for spending money that day on your person

  • You may also have to pay to use a toilet in public places

  • Keep your wallet and other valuables (phone etc.) in your FRONT pockets

  • Wear your backpack backwards OR have a purse/bag that sits in front of your body. Thailand is very safe, but in crowded spaces if you are not doing these things it can make you a target for theft

Water:

  • Don’t drink the tap water!

  • There are 7/11’s everywhere so you can buy bottled water (can get 6L jugs of water for around 50 baht- $2 CDN)

  • Aim to drink 3-4 litres of water/day

  • Periodically use rehydration tablets to combat the effects of hot temperatures and overexertion. Visit our packing advice for Southeast Asia post for more information.

Food:

  • Try the street food, it is DELICIOUS. Use your judgement before choosing where to go. Pick places that are busy and have lots of locals. If it looks like the food has been sitting in the sun all day, try another cart/vender.

  • The food might be spicier than you are used to. If someone asks you which sauce or spices you want, ask if you can try it on a stick first.

  • It is typical that you order lots of different dishes from multiple street venders to make up your "meal." We felt the experience was similar to ordering Spanish tapas, but sometimes without a place to sit.


Hostel vs. Guest house:

  • A guest house is often more like a one-room cottage with a ceiling fan and typically an open concept (meaning you might be more vulnerable to bugs)

  • Hostels are like social hotels that cater to backpackers and travellers on a budget

  • In Thailand, private rooms or smaller group rooms in hostels (2-3 people) are more affordable than in places like Europe if you want to avoid the noise or hustle and bustle of a regular dorm room

  • Hostel rooms are comparable to very basic hotel rooms

  • Expect to spend 240- 480 baht per person for this option ($10-20 CDN/night)

Accommodations: Despite where you decide to stay, look for the following details included with your booking:

  • Air conditioning (A/C)

  • A high cleanliness rating- ideally 80% satisfaction or higher (Note: Some places are outdated looking, but they are SPOTLESS and well cared for). Read recent reviews for each spot to help you decide if it's a good fit for you

  • Breakfast included (not a deal breaker, but nice to have)


Taxis:

  • Before the car starts moving request that they use the meter. If they refuse and offer you a flat rate, it’s usually more than what you should pay.

  • Open a GPS on your phone to follow the route they’re taking and let them know if you’d like them to go a faster way or request that they pull over to drop you off.

  • From the airport in Bangkok, it should cost about 500 baht ($21.50 CDN) to your hostel/hotel etc. There are cabs available that you wait in a line and grab a number for (kind of like in a deli). We'd recommend that you message your accommodations a day or two ahead of time to ask for advice on what they feel is a fair price for you to pay to get there (if you book through hostelworld, there are often notes in your confirmation that will tell you that information).

  • Write down the address of where you are going and a phone number if possible on a piece of paper that you can physically hand to the driver. Taxis drivers like to call the location to confirm the address.

Tuk tuks:

  • These vehicles are a fun scooter-golf-cart-hybrid that are good to hire for short distances (under 15 minutes).

  • Hostels can help you determine a fair price if you ask ahead of time.

  • Avoid waving your valuables around and make sure that your luggage is secure- it can be a bumpy ride!


Temple attire:

  • Cover your knees and your shoulders, and avoid wearing flip flops

  • Many people buy “elephant pants” at markets because they’re colourful and very light weight (they also look fun in pictures). Expect to pay between 100-350 baht per pair.

Want to read more about how to prepare for Thailand? Check out our additional posts:

Let us know on Facebook or Instagram when you've made it to Thailand by mentioning @Ont2NewAdventures. We would love to hear about your adventure! Happy travels,

-Greg & Krystal

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