Thailand is a real travel hotspot at the moment. Gap year students and twenty-somethings flock for the paradise setting and alluring party scenes, whilst the rich culture of the Kingdom captures the hearts of refined travelers of all ages. The destination is almost guaranteed to be enjoyed by every who visits, and even though the tourism there has shot through the roof in recent years, it is still possible to find authenticity and adventure in Thailand.
Some of the tips mentioned here refer to places to see, and things to do, although this article is not intended as a guide book. Other tips will focus on safety and lessons that can help give you a head start; lessons that other travelers have had to learn the hard way. Finally, some of the lessons will focus on the increasingly important issue of cultural awareness; visiting Thailand with respect for the locals and the country, and seeking more than just full moon parties!
Things To Do
Check Out The Islands.
The islands dotted around Thailand are some of the most beautiful in the world. Paradise exists here, with miles of white sandy beaches and palm trees, cocktails, crystal waters, and exotic jungles. The island of Phucket is very well known for its nightlife, and although it is essentially a touristy island, it is still worth a ride if you seek a party. Ko Phi Phi on the other hand offers a more tranquil and relaxed approach to island life. Other top notch islands include Ko Samet, Ko Taruanto, and the Similian Islands, but there are many more.
It is not my aim to promote the typical tourist mindset of drinking it all away in paradise, while having no consideration for the locals, or the culture. Having said that Thailand is one of the party capitals of the world at the moment, so even if party is not your main intention, it would be rude not to hit a couple. Having a great time on a beach with thousands of people has to sound a little appealing to you? If it does then go for it! The biggest Thai party is the full moon party, an all night beach party with 20,000 revelers, fire, dance music, and heavy intoxication.
Check Out Bangkok and Chiang Mai.
Bangkok is Thailand’s capital, and it is nothing short of hectic. It is busy, smoggy, and the roads are chaos. It is also full of bazaars, street vendors, temples, monks, statues of the Buddha, and an incredible “sky-train” Love it or hate it there is a lot to see here, and whilst many prefer to escape sooner rather than later, a few days to absorb the chaos of Bangkok is a must.
Chiang Mai is one of the largest cities in the North, and has a completely different atmosphere, one that screams out culture and creativity. It is also located close to mountains, jungle, and within a few days walk of lands inhabited by tribes.
Take a Jungle Trek
Chiang Mai is also one of the best places in Thailand to embark on a trek. The country as a whole is full of awesome countryside, and potential for trial walking, but Chiang Mai makes a particularly brilliant base to depart from. Single day treks are available, but for the best experience take one that lasts several days to get deeper into the unknown, and closer to the raw nature of the jungles. In Thailand it is even possible to take a night safari and get up close with some amazing animals such as giraffes and elephants.
Respect the Culture
Remember the Locals.
Thailand is full of attractive islands, and just about every activity imaginable for the traveler who has a little cash. With such a prominent party scene the country has come to be perceived, by some, as a sort of utopian haven. This is an irresponsible conception, and one that cannot continue if the country is to keep its tolerance and charm towards foreigners. Remember you are a visitor, and the local people around you are not part of the backdrop. They should be respected and engaged with, not least of which because it is a huge part of authentic travel to try to understand how locals live, and how they see life.
Respect Customs and Religion
Every country has certain norms that are generally adhered to. Where these norms are heavily engrained into the history of a country they become even more upheld, and are considered customary. Thailand is a largely Buddhist country, and the religion is tied very closely to the culture. Certain customs follow, and locals will appreciate the traveler who tries to show respect in this way. An example of this is taking shoes off before entering the home of another person, and especially before entering a temple. You should be wary that taking photos inside temples is also not great etiquette, although it is likely to be tolerated.
Just Because Something is Tolerated, Doesn’t Make it Right
Thai people are among the most tolerant in the world, and are likely to put up with tourist behavior. This does not make it okay to be disrespectful, and in fact, seeing the tolerance of the Thai people should encourage you to show them the same back.
Don’t Speak Out Against the Government
Do you have the impression that Thailand is a place where everything is allowed and nothing is punished? If you do you are seriously misguided. In Thailand it is not recommended to speak out against the state, and can land locals in trouble, let alone tourists. Bite your tongue, and keep your political opinions to yourself.
Carry Your Passport
Don’t go anywhere without your passport. It is a legal requirement in Thailand and failure to produce it can land you a fine, or worse.
Police Can Be Corrupt
The police in Thailand are known to be corrupt. That is not to say all members of the police force are, just that the corruption is more common in Thailand than it is the UK or US. Stories are rife from travelers who claim they have been involved in a stitch up which resulted in them having to pay a bribe to the police.
There is Political Unrest
Thailand has suffered a long history of political oppression and uprising, and even today the problems have not been solved. As a result certain areas of the country, such as around the border of Madagascar, remain dangerous, and it is not recommended to travel there. Protests and demonstrations have broken out regularly in recent years, such as in Bangkok. Try to avoid being a part of these, as they have often lead to violence, and in some case full scale riots and deaths.
Be Prepared For Heat
The weather in Thailand generally ranges from hot, to very very hot, apart from a cold season in the North for just a couple of months. The sun in a climate like this can be relentless and needs to be taken seriously. Wear a hat and very high factor suncream, avoid direct sun for prolonged periods, and try to do as the locals do; all the while remembering you are likely not as well adapted as they are.
Thailand is Cheap… For You
Thailand is a relatively cheap place to travel. Food and accommodation are cheap, as are activities. Remember though that this is a result of poverty, and a lower standard of living in the country, which affords your US dollars a better exchange rate. Do not take this for granted and act like a big-shot, patronizing the people around you that are genuinely struggling to eat. Thailand is not necessarily cheap for a Thai person.
Watch Out for Scams
As a result of the struggles, and economic deprivation, some scams go on in Thailand. Such scams are not often dangerous or life-threatening, but rather are aimed at leaching money out of travelers and tourists. One well known scam is in tuc-tucs, which should be avoided in the long run. They can overcharge, and try to take you to destinations where another person, in on the scam, tries to sell you something.
Thailand is one of the most beautiful, and happening travel destinations in the world right now. With a bit of common sense it is not an unsafe place to travel. With a bit of respect it is possible to respect the locals, the customs and traditions, and the Buddhist religion, whilst enjoying all of the activities on offer for the tourists. The diversity of the experiences on offer in Thailand make it one of the most inclusive possibilities for travel; so more than anything else… enjoy!