Thailand travel is incredible – a complete festival of sensual experience. At once modern and mystic, that exotic country is unlike any other you’ll ever visit… which also means that you can’t approach it like you’d approach other places.
Most visitors to that land of unique delights settle for a quick mom-and-pop tour, check the main attractions off their list and then fly out before the spirit of the place can even sink in. But a country is more than its sights or food or experiences – a country is nothing without its people. Thailand’s Buddhist background is evident in almost every aspect of its culture, and to not understand it is a waste of your journey.
If you’re a backpacker like me, then your main concerns are cheap but safe lodging, cheap but clean food and cheap transport. A tall order, but very doable, so lets break it down quickly into something you can work into your Thailand trip itinerary planner.
Budget accommodation is very easy to find in the form of guesthouses that charge about 150 bhat for a Thai traditional room with shared toilet(cheaper if renting only a bed) or 200 – 400 bhat for a more westernised room. Don’t expect A/Cs, TV, hot water or swimming pools though. Hostels aren’t a thing in Thailand. Aslo, even if you find some available in the larger cities, they don’t exactly advertise.
You absolutely must dig into Thai cuisine. Even if a plateful of insects or duck bills isn’t for you, they’re enough spicy, lemony goodness in vegetarian, chicken and seafood dishes to more than satisfy any palate. Also, eating in Thailand is a social affair. If you’re lucky enough to be invited to dinner by a family, get comfortable with a fork and spoon, and pick whatever you want off the shared plate. And if you’re going to eat out, look for restaurants where you can have a full meal for 20 – 50 bhat. They’re the authentic neighborhood eateries least likely to poison you.
Transport wise, Thailand is one of the most backpacker friendly countries you’ll ever visit. Baw Kaw Saw is the government bus company, safe and reliable if a little slow, that provides different bus services from absolute no frills to sleeper luxury. Songthaews are another sort of local bus. Tuk-tuks are miniature local taxis that are almost thrilling to ride. By far the best way to get around a locality is by renting a motorcycle for a day for about 150 bhat (carry a license). But if you lose or damage your ride, you or your local insurance plan (get one) will be expected to reimburse in full. Forget driving a car – it’s a nightmare. Any decent custom trip planner however should be able to give you train travel options; they’re slow, but safe, and give a better view of Thai countryside than any other form of travel. Go for second class if going on a long journey, or third class if going on short ones.
And now, lets clear up what you’ll get to see. I won’t speak about the temples or beaches that you can find listed on every other travel itinerary. Instead, I’ll tell you about the northern hill tribes who form the most authentic image of the country; I’ll ask you to visit the Death Railway at the Bridge over the River Kwai; about sea-canoeing at Phang Na Bays; the incredibly cheap golfing courses that are becoming more popular by the year; or see if you can get a friendly local to take you fishing; or hunt down the beautiful night markets to haggle for pretty souvenirs; or sign up for a Muay Thai class. Basic point is to get in touch with the people.