I know I say this every time I go somewhere, but I think Thailand might be my favorite place I’ve ever been. Maybe because of how incredibly nice and friendly the people are in “the land of smiles” but definitely also because of the food. I had Thai food once before I went to Thailand. I got pad thai in NYC and it was ok. Now I find myself craving Thai food daily. I could go on about the food for hours, but I’ll stop. Here are my recommendations for traveling to Thailand:
What to know
One of the major differences that took a while to get used to in Thailand is the toilets. Most places we went had western style toilets (though most had traditional flushers – a big bucket of water that you scoop water out of and pour into the toilet), but some places have traditional Thai toilets. Which is basically a flat, square sink on the floor that you hover over. Quite the adjustment, I must say. But regardless of whether it’s a western style toilet or flusher, you can’t put toilet paper in the toilet anywhere. Plumbing systems are very weak everywhere and it could cause a major issue. The first time I could put some tp in the toilet when I got back was really weird.
Another thing about Thailand is the transportation. Mostly everyone has a motorbike and uses that. You technically need an international license to drive a motorbike and I’ve heard stories of tourists getting pulled over by cops, though that didn’t happen in our group. The cops will offer the “opportunity” to pay off the ticket on the spot – usually around $10 or 300thb. If you do decided to rent a motorbike, be careful! Two people I know got in motorbike accidents in Thailand while we were there.
Finally, always negotiate. Whether it’s a cab from the airport, a tuk tuk, or a street vendor, always negotiate a price. They usually start at about double what they’ll actually end up taking. Everything is super cheap in Thailand (except wine, ugh). One US dollar = 33 baht. You can get a meal for one for under 100 baht almost anywhere. We got daily full body one hour Thai massages in Chiang Mai for under 200 baht including tip. Oh, and mostly everyone speaks English, so communication isn’t really an issue in Thailand. Also, side note, Phuket and Phi Phi are pronounced Poo-ket and Pi Pi.
Where to go
Chiang Mai was by far my favorite city in Thailand. The culture is very rich here and there is a ton to do (see my posts about Chiang Mai here). The people are incredibly kind and you don’t have to worry about locals taking advantage of you like you do in Bangkok and the islands. In Chiang Mai, I recommend Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai Canyon, and Wat Chedi Luang Temple. Another fun activity is the night market. There is a huge selection of clothing, trinkets, gifts, and food all along the streets. Most places will will offer around the same price for similar items, so go ahead and negotiate with the first vendor if you really like something.
If you plan on heading to the islands, Koh Lanta is the perfect option for lazy beach days and friendly locals/fellow travelers. This island totally gives off island vibes and while things are a little more expensive here than in Chiang Mai, it’s still very affordable. While we were in Koh Lanta, we mainly stayed near our bungalow at Time for Lime, but when we did venture off, we went to a private beach (supposedly monkey beach, but we didn’t spot any monkeys), ate at Diamond Cliff (the most amazing views!!), and went to a jungle party. The nightlife was exactly what you’d expect of a laidback island like Koh Lanta. Lots of beer and lots of fun.
I spent 3 nights in Koh Phi Phi and I wish I spent it in other places instead. If you plan to go to the party island, I recommend one night max. The best thing about Koh Phi Phi is Maya Bay. We did the Maya Bay sleep aboard and all of the activities they have for the overnight trip are perfect.
Bangkok is where most people from the US fly in and out of. Bangkok is a big city, so expect what you would of any large city – it’s a little dirty, there are beggars (scammers) in the streets, and if you don’t watch out for yourself, you might get your wallet picked. I enjoyed Bangkok more than I expected to, but I wouldn’t spend the majority of my trip here. I’d say 2 nights is enough.
What to eat
If you go to Chiang Mai, you absolutely have to have Khao Soi soup. It is the most delicious thing I’ve ever had in my life. The coconut milk and red curry based broth is thinner than typical curry and is filled with veggies and noodles. The best part is that it is topped with fried noodles. Pure heaven, for real. You can add in chicken, beef or seafood if you want. The place we went was a little makeshift restaurant in an alleyway between two restaurants. The old lady who makes the soup (and does everything else, since she’s the only person there) has a portable oven thing and the soup out on a folding table. It’s across the street and a little to the left of Diva Guesthouse in the old town area of Chiang Mai. Go there. You won’t regret it!
Other favorites I had while in Thailand include red curry and green curry. I’m a vegetarian so all of the veggie options were really great. Red curry is pretty spicy, which I love, but if you want something more mild, go with green. My sister loved masaman curry which is sweeter than both red and green curry.
What to wear
When I was in Thailand it was HOT. It got up to 110 degrees some days, so dressing modestly is really not much of an option. In the islands, it’s ok to wear your bathing suit (and I don’t think I every wore shoes) in public, but in the cities, you have to cover up a little more. Chiang Mai is a city with lots of temples, so I felt like I needed to be more conservative with how I dressed there than in the islands. If you do go to the temples, you have to cover your shoulders and knees, so it’s important to keep that in mind. You can just bring a sarong and use that while you’re in the temple if you don’t want to walk around in the heat so covered up.
What to skip
Don’t waste your time in Phuket. The tourist trap is dirty and no where near as beautiful as the other islands. If your time is limited in Thailand, spend it in Chiang Mai and Koh Lanta. I’d even recommend Bangkok over Phuket.
Don’t waste your time doing your hair or makeup. Sweat will ruin that in .5 seconds.