So what makes Thailand such an amazing place to backpack? It’s pretty simple really, it was one of the first places to really become popular with backpackers, so the routs are well-trodden and there is ample information out there to help you get from A-B. When I knew I wanted to backpack in South America I decided to do a trial run in Thailand to see how I coped first.
I’m so glad I choose backpacking in Thailand as my first trip. It was incredible. From temples to Thai Massages it is one of the most culturally fascinating countries I have visited. And don’t even get me started on the Thai Food, I ate for under $7 a day most days so it’s super budget-friendly too.
In this Thailand Travel Guide, I have covered everything you need to know to start planning your trip to Thailand. I’ve linked all of my Thailand Itineraries and detailed blog posts to it so you can easily navigate through all of my Thailand content.
As always, have an amazing trip and feel free to shoot me a message if you have any specific questions!
Top 10 Things to Do in Thailand
- The Phi Phi Islands
- Chiang Mai
- Koh Yo Noi
- Koh Tao
- Koh Lanta
- Ancient Siam
Click for place guides
Where I've been
You can’t come to Thailand and not visit Bangkok right? It’s where most Thai adventures start and end. I’d recommend spending at least 4 days in Bangkok at the end of your trip if you can, to avoid hating it as I did haha.
The Phi Phi Islands
Koh Phi Phi is a gateway island for doing lots of cool tours in the water. Including visiting Maya Bay (when it opens back up). It’s one of the more expensive islands to stay on. But you can find some great deals.
Ayutthaya is somewhere you should plan to visit for at least a day trip. If you are planning on heading north from Bangkok to Chiang Mai then stop here on the way to wander around the ancient temples in the capital of the Kingdom of Siam.
Chiang Mai and Pai
You may be tempted to skip Chiang Mai in favor of more beach time and island hopping, don’t. You can make time up by Flying from Chiang Mai to Phuket or Krabi. Chaing Mai is the Digital Nomad capital of the world for good reason. It’s cheap, beautiful, there is a tone of things to do, and the weather is much fresher so make sure you bring your jumper. After you have finished eating your way around Chiang Mai and getting all the Thai Massages you can then it’s time to head to Pai. It’s the place to come for outdoor activities, meditation, and to emerge yourself in nature.
Koh Lip is one of the smaller more underdeveloped islands on the southern tip of Thailand. Come here to relax, eat fresh fish, and go snorkeling.
If you have to choose between Phuket and Krabi as your base for island hopping, choose Krabi. There are awesome night markets, and so many tours and activities to choose from. If you are just stopping over then stay in Krabi town for a few days, but if you have a bit more time then head out to Railay Beach.
Koh Yo Noi
Many people skill this little island. I get it, the beaches aren’t all that beautiful and it’s pretty small. But they do have an awesome yoga retreat place where you can just drop in and stay for a few days. Staying there was one of the best decisions I made on my Thailand trip and it really helped to ground me among all the backpacking madness.
There are three islands close together, Koh Samui, Koh Phanang, and Koh Tao. Although it’s worth visiting all three if you have time, if you don’t, head straight to Koh Tao. It’s the smallest of the islands and has a super laid back small island vibe to it. Plus it is the cheapest place to get scuba diving certified!
Another place many skip. I spent Christmas here zipping around the island on a scooter (no cars) and drinking banana milkshakes. It’s super chill and is a great place to relax for a few days.
This is the next island from Koh Jum so you just get back on the boat and keep going. It’s an incredible island you likely won’t want to leave! You can also do a lot of water tours from here if you don’t want to go from Koh Phi Phi.
Top 10 Things to do In Thailand
1. Visit the Jim Thompson House in Bangkok
The Jim Thompson House in Bangkok is a private collection of Asian art. The collection belonged to the “Thai Silk King” James H.W. Thompson. The museum is open from 9 am until 6 pm each day and the entrance fee is 100 baht. This fee includes a guided tour. You can not enter without a guide.
2. Enjoy a drink or two at a rooftop bar in Bangkok
What better way of really getting to know Bangkok than by heading to one of its rooftop bars to enjoy a few drinks as you watch the sun setting over the city. For some recommendations, check out this Bangkok itinerary I wrote.
3. Light up a lantern in Chiang Mai
There are so many things to do in Chiang Mai. But one of the most popular has to be the festival of light that happens each October 31st. You can learn more about Yi Peng and buy tickets here.
4. Get a massage from ex-prisoners in Chiang Mai
I’m all about the Thai massages. Seriously, the only thing I retreat about my time in Thailand is NOT having more of them… and I had a lot. One of the things they do in Chiang Mai to help to rehabilitate the female inmates of the prison is to teach them Thai Massage. Be sure to check them out while you are there.
5. Get a Sak Yant tattoo in Chiang Mai
Another thing I retreat. It’s a tricky one because Tattoos need time out of the sun and sea to heal and if you are on a short trip, it may not work out for you. But if you can, and you are a fan of tattoos be sure to do this!
6. Meditate at the feet of the White Buddha statue in Pai
Many people find their way to Pai to meditate. Pai is well known for its spiritual energy. One of the best ways to experience this energy on your own is to hike up the 353 steps to the white buddha. Once you arrive, find a quiet spot and take a seat for some quiet contemplation.
7. Release your inner foodie at the night market in Pai
Thailand is well known for its amazing food. In my opinion, the best food you are going to find in Thailand will be at the night markets. Otherwise known as “walking Streets”. The one in Pai is especially known for its amazing food.
8. Get some work done at Beachub coworking space in Koh Phangan
9. Party like there’s no tomorrow at the Halfmoon Festival
Ok, I must admit I didn’t do this. I had planned to spend new years eve at the full moon party on Koh Pangan with a friend. But we had had such a chilled time doing yoga and meditating. That we decided to give it a miss… next time I’m 100% going though!
10. Take the overnight train from North to South (or the other way around)
You can’t backpack Thailand and not take at least one overnight train. I traveled to Chiang Mai and you can read about it here.
Top Beaches in Thailand
1. Sairee Beach, Koh Tao
It is the most popular beach on Koh Tao for good reason. Not only is it stunning with its perfect sand and clear waters but there is a lot of things to do if you get tired of working on your tan or sleeping off your hangover. From beach volleyball to Thai Massages on the beach, you will never get bored here. It also has great snorkeling as there is a reef 30 meters from the shore you can easily swim out to.
2. Hat Pramong, Koh Lipe
There are three main beaches on Koh Lip, Sunset Beach (Hat Pramong), Sunrise Beach (Hat Chao Ley), and Pattaya Beach. Of course as a lover of sunsets then Hat Praming gets my vote as one of the best beaches in Thailand every time! It’s a small beach on the west of the island and compared to the others it’s relatively underdeveloped making it much quieter and more peaceful. Plus there is always a lot fewer boats here so it’s better for swimming.
3. Secret Beach, Koh Phangan
Also known as Haad Son beach on Koh Panang is a must-visit. Although don’t do what I did and try to walk there haha. It’s over on the west and to get there you will need to rent a scooter or take a tuk-tuk. Or do what I did and hitch a ride on the back of some German guys motorbike after they took pity on me trying to walk there in the sun… Anyway, the beach is glorious and because of its location it’s generally quiet. It’s well worth looking for somewhere to stay over here if you want some downtime.
4. Phra Nang Cave Beach, Krabi
This beach didn’t make the top 1 most beautiful beaches in the world for no reason! But if you want to come here you will have to work for it, as it’s only accessible by boat. Totally worth it though!
5. Lamai Beach, Koh Samui
Lamai is the second-largest resort on Koh Samui just behind Chaweng. It’s much quieter and has a more laid back atmosphere. Plus the prices are cheaper.
Thailand Travel Information
Thailand is an incredible destination with palaces, temples, markets, shopping, spas, friendly people, fine dining, and some of the best hotels in the world. The word ‘Thai’ means freedom, so literally Thailand is the land of freedom and Thailand proudly proclaims that, unlike its neighbors, it has never been colonized. This has allowed the kingdom to retain its unique culture, traditions, and language.
The capital of Thailand is Bangkok.
“Thai” means “free”, therefore, “Thailand” means “Land of the Free.” It must show their pride in the fact that Thailand is the only country that has never been colonized in Southeast Asia while other countries around were colonized by Great Britain and France.
The currency in Thailand is the Thailand Baht (THB)
The dialing code of Thailand is +66
The water is not safe to drink from the tap in Thailand.
Thailand Budget Per Day
Backpackers Budget – 1100 THB ($35 USD)
Accommodation: $8 USD
Food: $7 USD
Activities & Transport: $20 USD
Mid Budget – 2200 THB ($70 USD)
Accommodation: $15 USD
Food: $10 USD
Activities & Transport: $45 USD
Luxury Budget – 4000 THB ($130 USD)
Accommodation: $50 USD
Food: $25 USD
Activities & Transport: $55 USD
Food in Thailand
Don’t even bother coming to Thailand if the thought of eating street food turned your stomach. Seriously. If you want the best, freshest food in Thailand, then the streets are where it’s at.
Yes, of course, there were times when I ate in a restaurant. But most of the time I just grabbed something fresh from a street stall.
If you want to know how I ate in Thailand for under $7 USD a day then take a read of this post.
The best place to eat is always the night markets or walking streets. Go hungry and try as much as you can. If you need a bit of inspiration then check out Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown season 3. In episode 7 he goes to Chiang Mai in Thailand… YUM.
If you want some more specific recommendation then here are a few places you should check out:
Bangkok – street food, street food, street food. Seriously. Forget the restaurants, eat on the streets.
Chiang Mai – Forest Bake, Beast Burger, and Frosé Café
Pai – The Night Market, Blossom Café, and Witching Well
Koh Phangan – Bubba’s Café, Karma Kafe, and Pantip Market
Koh Samui – The Art Club, Falafel Mor, and Wild Tribe.
Thailand Money Saving Tips
Thailand is well known as a budget-friendly destination. That said there are still ways you can easily blow through your budget if you aren’t careful
I ate well in Thailand and I don’t think I cooked for myself once! Why? Because it’s just so cheap to eat out. That said if you eat western food then it’s soon going. to add up. So to save money try and get accommodation with breakfast included and stick to eating cheap local food.
Book in advance
With transport, it is always worth booking ahead if you can. Especially as in high season things will book up fast. I recommend booking with BookAway. If you want to fly then book as far in advance as you can, as you can get some amazing deals with Air Asia. But if you wait until the last minute it can cost you.
Use Grab instead of Tuk Tuks
Downloading Grab will make your stay (and your life in general) so much easier while traveling in Southeast Asia, especially in Thailand. You know in advance exactly how much you’ll pay for the ride and the cars are generally very clean and safe.
NEVER purchase items from someone who approaches you on the street.
If their stall/shop is nearby and it isn’t a scam, you’ll find your way there, don’t worry.
Never accept the first price
So this is one of the things I learned the hard way. You don’t have to be an asshole and haggle so much that you are ripping the person off. But it is expected that you will haggle. So whatever they tell you, half it and then work from there. Always so it with a smile and don’t be afraid to walk away. I got ripped off so much my first stay in Bangkok as I’m British and therefore allergic to haggling. But I got the hang of it eventually.
Thailand Packing Advice
I’m not going to go into too much detail here as I wrote this super detailed blog post about what to pack for Thailand. I even made a handy printable checklist, just enter your email on the form below.
Thailand is hot, humid, but conservative. So you are going to need a mix of things that you can wear in the heat but that keeps you covered when needed, beachwear, and some warmer things if you are planning on traveling to Northern Thailand. Plus don’t forget your travel yoga mat if you plan on doing some yoga in Thailand!
Footwear… there is a lot of very cool jungle hiking so having some hiking sandals is a plus. You are also going to want some shoes you can easily take off when you go into temples or on and off boats etc. Flip flops are a must!
Also remember to ALWAYS carry a scarf with you in Thailand, especially if you plan on visiting any temples. You will oftern be asked to cover up.
Where to Stay in Thailand
Accommodation in Thailand is easy to find but often hard to choose from. Compared to other Southeast Asian countries (e.g. Cambodia or Vietnam), Thailand’s approach is rather modern and caters to every need of the typical Western traveler, both appearance and service-wise.
Depending on your budget, you can enjoy your stay at a party hostel, a chic yet affordable boutique hotel, or even at a luxurious beach resort. I did this a few times as a treat to myself, you would be amazed at what $30 a night can get you!
Both booking.com and agoda.com are great tools for finding and booking accommodations. Booking through one of these sites will most likely get you a pretty sweet deal on the best accommodations available around Thailand. I actually checked a few times and it was cheaper to book through booking.com than in-person direct with the hotel.
Also, the best part is that many places offer free cancellation on your booking, so it’s totally fine to change your mind if you spontaneously want to change your plans.
Be aware that you’ll almost always be asked to pay for your bill upfront in Thailand.
Traveling in Thailand
Traveling around Thailand is easy and cheap. In the past you had to ook everything in person through a travel agent.
Thankfully things have progressed since then and almost all of your travel can now be booked online through BookAway. Unless you want to fly then its best to check on Skyscanner or Google flights and book via Air Asia.
Booking tickets in advance can save you both money and time, and it’s relatively easy to do so even without speaking Thai, as most websites have an English translation.
If you want to travel from one corner of the country to the other? The best options are to take the overnight train or a bus. Or if you can also fly, if you book in advance flights can be as low as $15 USD!
If you are feeling adventurous then you could rent a motorcycle and travel across the country. Many people do this and it looks great fun!
When you just need to get from A-B in a city then use Grab or a Tuk Tuk. In Chiang Mai, I rented a bike. On the islands, it can get expensive to travel by Tuk Tuk or Grab all the time so it’s best to rent a scooter. Do be careful though, insist on a helmet and get them to show you around the bike. I was just given the keys and sent off, I didn;t even know how to start the thing let alone know how to drive it, needless to say, it didn’t end well!
Thailand Safety Advice
Safety in Thailand is always a worry, especially to solo female travelers. But people, in general, are very respectful towards tourists but of course, you should be aware of some of the most commonly used scams so that you don’t end up with a huge bill or even worse, being tricked out of your money.
Tuk-tuk driver scam
This is a fairly common scam around Thailand, but often the price is just too high so you end up looking for other options anyway. Always negotiate with the driver BEFORE getting into the vehicle because tuk-tuk drivers can be very persuasive and stubborn when it comes to paying. Unless it’s on your bucket list, I’d skip the tuk-tuk experience all in all and simply go for Grab.
The Passport scam
NEVER, ever hand over your passport to anyone! Carry a photocopy of it with you at all times, so in case a bike rental place requires you to identify yourself, you can leave the copy of your passport with them, no hard feelings. If they refuse to accept the copy, just walk away.
The Best Time To Visit Thailand
Thailand has a pretty epic rainy season so it’s best to try and avoid that as all costs as the rains will make traveling so much more difficult.
Therefore the best time to visit Thailand is during the dry season between November and February when the climate is relatively cool and dry (25-32°C).
I visited in December and was there over Christmas and New year. During this time you will see prices rise and flights can double. So, if you are on a budget then avoided traveling in December.
What to Read in Thailand
If you want to go one better than Lonely Planet and you are al woman traveling solo then ditch the generic guide books and get this instead. It’s written by a woman who has traveled extensively and lived in Thailand for women. You really couldn’t find a better companion. Than The Solo Girl’s Travel Guide.
Ok ok so I know this a super cheesy romance novel. But sometimes it’s just what you need on those long-ass bus rides…
Here is the synopsis:
“Travel photographer Winter Knowles and archeology professor Logan Spencer dislike each other at first sight. Stuck together into the wild, these two unwilling teammates will bicker and banter their way through a laugh-packed treasure hunt.
After years of searching, a new mapping technology has given Logan a clue to the location of the legendary Lost City of Gold. A discovery that could make his career. So the last thing he needs on this life-changing expedition is for his team to get distracted by a pair of long legs.”
You may not want this before your trip. But trust me, when you get back from Thailand all you are going to be thinking about is Thai food. I love this book and use it to try and recreate some of my favorite recipes whenever I get the craving!