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8 Things That Every Traveler Should Do in Thailand

Posted By in Thailand, Travel Tips | 49 comments

8 Things That Every Traveler Should Do in Thailand

Beaches, parties and cheap…pretty much everything: These were my impressions of Thailand before I had ever even set foot there, and all of it turned out to be true.

what to expect in thailand

But there’s also so much more to Thailand than these generic assumptions. How can you make an awesome trip to Thailand even better? It can involve profound experiences connecting with locals and trying on the Thai lifestyle, or it can even be as simple as drinking the right beer….

Don’t Spend Too Long on Khao San Road

don't spend long on khao san road in bangkok

It’s difficult to sum up the feeling of being on Khao San Road in Bangkok. It can be fun, wonderful and wild, but you feel guilty for enjoying it because this backpacker alley is where genuine Thai culture goes to die.

Khao San Road is kind of like a second airport into Thailand. It’s the place you have to pass through before you can enter Thailand officially. It’s a full-time party atmosphere where you can get a quick education in the local beers, eat a cricket, and be excited about the fact that, yes, you are actually in Thailand.

But it’s all too easy to get sucked into a pattern of endlessly drinking until 5am, and then sleeping through most of the following day, before doing it all again the next night. Party for one or two nights at most, and then move on.

Don’t Drink Chang

don't drink chang in Thailand

When we first arrived in Thailand, it seemed like Chang beer was everywhere. It’s in every bar, every store, and the logo seems to be on every other backpacker’s T-shirt. It felt as if Chang was the official beer of Thailand, and drinking it was like dedicating a toast to this beautiful country.

After 2 weeks of ignoring the terrible taste, and enduring the painful “Chang-overs” the next morning, we suddenly stopped and asked ourselves why we were drinking this disgusting beer. For a few Baht more, you can drink Leo or Singha, both of which are also Thai beers, but taste way better. Or even take it up one level further and try other cheap Southeast Asian beers like Tiger or BeerLao.

Just don’t drink Chang. It’s a horrible beer. Seriously. Try just one sip if you don’t believe me.

Avoid Tuktuks and Mini-Vans

You’ll quickly notice that Thai people aren’t riding around in tuktuks or getting on mini-vans departing from touristy places like Khao San Road. The transportation that is made for tourists is always going to be more expensive than local forms of transport. Try taking a songthaew, a scooter taxi or a local bus. Not only will you save money, but it’s a great way to get away from the other backpackers for a bit and meet some Thai people.

Eat Something Other Than Pad Thai

don't eat pad thai in thailand

I’ve mentioned before that there is a joke among Thai people about how tourists always order the pad thai. For most of us, it’s the most familiar food in a country full of very unfamiliar dishes. But you miss out on so many incredible foods if you never venture beyond pad thai. Don’t be freaked out by street food. Street food is so amazing that it’s worth turning a blind eye to the sometimes questionable hygiene practices involved in its preparation. I lived in Thailand for 10 months, ate almost exclusively street food, and I never once got sick from it. Seek out foods that you don’t recognize and try them. If you don’t know the name, you can just point. Try massaman curry, tom yum kung, mango sticky rice, and all the weird-looking fruits. If you’re not a fan of spicy food, check out this post for more ideas on what to eat.

Get a Massage

get a massage in Thailand

I can’t promise it will be good. My Thai massage experiences have ranged from being blissful to painful depending on the masseuse. At worst, it’s a slightly uncomfortable hour, and less than a few dollars spent. At best, Thai massages can be completely addictive. If you find the full massage a little intimidating, then try a foot massage or a pedicure. I’ve had some of the best pedicures of my life from the merchants that wander up and down the beaches, carrying buckets of supplies. Take advantage of Thailand’s cheap spa services in one way or another.

Don’t Be Afraid to Bargain

The general rule is that the merchant is going to start by quoting a ridiculously high price, and you should counter with a ridiculously low price. Then, hopefully, you’ll end up meeting somewhere in the middle, which is probably close to the actual value of whatever you’re buying.

But don’t be a jerk about it. I’ve overheard an embarrassing number of Westerners bargaining with an aggressive tone, or acting like the initial offer is an attempted scam. It’s not supposed to be some kind of epic show-down of good vs. evil. Relax and have fun with it.

Go Somewhere Remote

go somewhere remote in Thailand

Maybe this means lucking out and finding some undiscovered beach paradise, or it can just involve venturing out into a small town in the countryside, like our former home in Ban Pong. Find a place where no one speaks English, and there is no Western food. This is a completely different side of Thailand than the one that most travelers see. The people are different, the food is different – everything feels different. Get at least a glimpse of what Thailand looks like without all the tourists.

Slow Down

slow down in thailand

I definitely understand the desire to charge through a country, trying to make the most out of your trip, but this kind of approach really doesn’t work in Thailand. Thailand is made for slow travel. Despite the huge amount of tourism, it’s still a developing country with a developing country’s standard of transportation. This means it almost always takes longer than expected to get wherever you’re going. Trying to follow a tightly fixed schedule in Thailand is frustrating.

Plus, you might notice that most of the Thai people around you aren’t rushing anywhere. They’re moving slowly, savouring their time, and taking a break from everything during the mid-day heat. A big part of really experiencing and understanding Thai culture is letting yourself slow down to this relaxed pace of life.

 

What’s one more thing that you think every traveler should do in Thailand?

49 Comments

  1. Amanda September 25, 2013

    I love these tips! One of my best friends got a massage when she was in Thailand and she swears it was the best thing she's ever experienced. They definitely have my interest. 🙂
    My recent post Maintaining Focus

    • waysofwanderers September 25, 2013

      "jeb" is a good word to learn before a Thai massage. It means pain – then they'll know to lighten up a bit if it's too rough.

  2. Agness September 25, 2013

    That's so true. You just mentioned all of these things every single traveler does when visiting Bangkok – Koh San Road, Pad Thai and a massage in the street, but Thailand is more that this! I hated Khao San Road, such an annoying place. You can easily get a wrong first impression of Bangkok staying there. I am definitely a foodie traveler so Thailand was my dream destination. The food was amazing!!
    My recent post Let Me Show You Around Madurodam

    • waysofwanderers September 25, 2013

      Agreed! I definitely met people who went to Khao San first after arriving in Bangkok, and really started out with a bad impression of Thailand. It can be pretty shocking, and couldn't be more different than Thailand as a whole.

  3. @HeyNoobz September 25, 2013

    Awww man, this post made me miss Thailand. Those beaches! The food! The massages! Want want want!!

    • waysofwanderers September 25, 2013

      Me too! It's getting cold in Japan now, and I'm seriously missing those lazy Thai beach days.

  4. Colleen Brynn September 25, 2013

    This is such a great, thorough list, and I have never even been to Thailand. I can't wait to go one day, though…

    I've heard about these cheap Thai massages… I would probably get addicted to them… and the beer!
    My recent post Mongolian Grub: The Good, The Bad & The VERY Bad

    • waysofwanderers September 25, 2013

      Even better if you combine them: cheap Thai massage WITH a cheap beer ;).

  5. Jennifer September 25, 2013

    Good tips! We’re off to Thailand in November.

  6. foreignsanctuary September 25, 2013

    I agree with the first tip!!! I remember getting up early for a full day of sightseeing and being greeted with visitors still partying on Khao San Rd.

    During our last stay in Koh Samui, we decided to only eat where the locals eat. We found this buffet style restaurant and we were the only foreigners there. We ate true authentic Thai food for our entire stay. The food was very cheap and we got to rub shoulders with the locals as seating was a free for all. We made some great memories mingling with the locals as we attempted to communicate with them. And they enjoyed watching me breathe fire while eating the spicy dishes.
    My recent post Crazy About Flowers – Flower Festivals in Taiwan

    • waysofwanderers September 25, 2013

      That's a good way to choose restaurants. If it's filled with locals, then it's a good place to eat!

  7. Cheap flights Trip September 26, 2013

    Great advice. I have used every one of these at some point in my life, except the last one.

  8. Naomi September 26, 2013

    I didn't realise tuk tuks were tourist traps – something to bare in mind for the future. Great article Jessica!

    • waysofwanderers September 27, 2013

      Yep – I would go with a meter taxi, or even a scooter taxi over a tuktuk anyday!

  9. Steph (@20YH) September 27, 2013

    I think that in keeping with your tip of "going somewhere remote" I would specify and say that travelers should make sure they make time for the north rather than bumming around on the southern beaches the entire time. I thought Thai beaches were fine, but they are quite expensive (especially during high season) and the food is generally not as good there as what you'll find in the north (which is way better for the budget!).

    Also, I'm sure Thai people joke that foreigners are always only ordering Pad Thai and there are definitely other dishes to try, but I saw plenty of locals ordering up Pad Thai alongside us… I guess that means we found a good spot!
    My recent post Hunting for Singapore’s Cheapest Beer (Now with Bonus Bird Content!)

    • waysofwanderers September 27, 2013

      Agreed! The north of Thailand is so beautiful, and completely different from the south – I think it's so important to see both. And I have nothing against pad thai! I love it too, and, you're right, so do plenty of Thai people. I just think it's important to try a variety of foods, instead of only sticking to the familiar ones.

    • waysofwanderers September 27, 2013

      Haha – what qualities about it did you like exactly ;)?

  10. cvail September 27, 2013

    Yes, yes, and yes! All very good advice and reminds me I'm long overdue for a Thailand fix!
    My recent post The Dance of the Bullfight

  11. Zara @ Backpack ME September 29, 2013

    Great timing, as we're currently traveling around Thailand! 🙂
    I did have my fair share of pad thai the first couple of days but have also been trying a ton of new dishes, delicious every time! Food has been a major part of this trip around Thailand!
    My recent post WOAH! 2 years on the road today!

  12. ferretingoutthefun September 29, 2013

    We didn't even step foot on Khao San Road which probably contributed to why we loved Bangkok so much. If I were to add a tip, it would be to respect the local culture. Thais are actually pretty conservative so walking around barely clothed is tacky and rude. Short shorts and temples do not mix. And I didn't think Chang beer was that bad!
    My recent post Shanghai Aquarium: An Underwater Adventure

    • waysofwanderers September 30, 2013

      Good point! It's pretty easy to learn a few Thai cultural basics, like not touching things with your feet and covering up a little (especially at temples), but a lot of people don't seem to bother, and they really should!

  13. ednaz October 2, 2013

    Oh man this makes me miss Thailand so much…even though I love pad thai (and tom yam!) and would shamelessly eat it every day anyway 🙂
    My recent post Endings and Beginnings

    • waysofwanderers October 2, 2013

      I'm not going to lie – I ate pad thai for the first few weeks before I branched out into other foods. It's pretty hard to get tired of it!

  14. francaangloitalian October 4, 2013

    Good tips here! We only went to Khao San Road in Bangkok to kill our curiosity and see with our eyes why it is so popular, we left after 5 minutes.
    My recent post How We Tried To Love Vientiane, But Failed

    • waysofwanderers October 4, 2013

      Yep – I think 5 minutes of sensory overload is about all you need to get the idea.

  15. BlogDaz November 7, 2013

    My preference is Singha, but I know lots of long timers who are still drinking Chang, it really must be a remarkable beer.
    My recent post Culture Tourism in Pattaya

  16. Where in the World is Nina? January 26, 2014

    Good job Jessica! I have been living in Thailand nearly three years now… This list is great. When I speak to traveler and they say they love the cuisine and Pad Thai is there favorite…. because they haven't tried anything else, I just want to shove like 12 things down their throat and tell them BUT THERE IS SO MUCH MORE! lol
    And hello..! One Chang-over and people should know to stay away from that stuff. Singha and Leo all the way! :-p
    My recent post Freelance Freak: Work Online to Travel Longer

  17. Nick March 11, 2015

    Hi! I loved your post. I’m going to be visiting Thailand for the first time and can’t wait. However, I was wondering if I’ll miss out on the great food culture by being vegan. What tips do you have for me?

    • waysofwanderers March 12, 2015

      I don't see why you would have to miss out. Peanuts are a pretty big component of a lot of Thai dishes , for example, and I'm allergic, but I managed to find ways around it. You might find some good tips on Dale and Franca's blog – http://www.angloitalianfollowus.com/category/vega… – they've traveled all over the place on a vegan diet.

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