Top 38 Important Tips for Backpacking in Thailand
Thailand is a popular destination for backpackers from all over the world thanks to its beaches, temples, markets, nightlife, and much more — and independent travel gives you the freedom to explore it all in your own way.
Whether you're backpacking solo, or travelling in a couple, family, or group, Thailand is generally safe, and there are extensive modern facilities and businesses geared towards travellers. And whether you’re a cash-rich, time-poor flashpacker, or are ambling along the Banana Pancake Trail on a shoestring budget, it’s easy to put together the trip of a lifetime.
Here are our top tips on how to plan a backpacking trip to Thailand, and what to do when you get there.
When to Go Backpacking in Thailand
November to February is a great time:
Thailand's (relatively) cool season is the most comfortable time for exploring the sights and going on treks. Across the country, daytime temperatures reach the high 20s or early 30s. In the north, night-time temperatures can dip to 15°C (and sometimes close to freezing in the mountains), so pack something warm to wear. This period is also high season, so be prepared for a somewhat more expensive trip.
Rainy season is cheaper:
During Thailand's rainy season (June to October), many tourism businesses close, ferries can be cancelled at short notice, roads can be rendered impassable, and beach time is limited. That said, if you're on a budget, it can be a much cheaper time to travel, plus there will be fewer visitors.
Hot season means just that:
From March to May, daytime temperatures can reach 36°C throughout the country, so if you're thinking of doing extensive sightseeing and don't like the heat, consider travelling at a different time of year. If you're not planning on venturing far from the beach, it's a perfect time to visit Thailand.
Koh Samui has a different wet season:
Rainy season in the southern Gulf of Thailand islands — including Koh Samui, Koh Phangan, and Koh Tau — is October to December. Throughout the rest of the year, conditions are ideal for a visit. It can sound daunting, but the rainy season doesn't mean beach breaks are out. If you're prepared to lose an hour or two a day to a deluge, and aren't counting on bright sun every day you're there, this can still be a great (and cheap) time to visit these parts of Thailand, particularly at the early and later parts of the season.
Be aware of smoke pollution:
The burning of agricultural land in the north, especially around Chiang Mai, can make travelling in March and April very uncomfortable for those with respiratory conditions.
Try to fit in a festival or two:
Festivals in Thailand are a lot of fun and are a great way to get a glimpse of Thai traditions. Major annual celebrations include Songkran (Thai New Year) in April and lantern-filled Loy Krathong, which usually takes place in November. Bear in mind prices can go up during festivals.
Planning a Thailand backpacking itinerary
You can see a lot in a couple of weeks:
With some careful planning, it's possible to fit in plenty of places. A fortnight in northern Thailand could include destinations like Bangkok, Ayutthaya, Chiang Mai, and Pai, while a trip around the south could consist of Bangkok, Phuket, Koh Samui, and Krabi. A month will allow you to see a lot of the country.
Consider backpacking tours:
Thailand is fairly easy to explore on your own, but if you've just arrived and want a couple of days' guided tour as a soft introduction, or want your whole trip organised for you, there are plenty of options, from shorter sightseeing-focused tours to 3-week tours with an emphasis on partying.
Schedule in some new experiences:
Whether it's going to a Muay Thai (Thai boxing) fight night, having a Thai massage, going to a full moon party, trying rock climbing, or learning to scuba dive, Thailand offers so many opportunities to try your hand at new things. It's also likely that no matter which part of Thailand you're in, many of the same activities will be available, so you'll have options wherever you go.
Health tips for Thailand
Visit a travel clinic:
Consult your GP or a travel clinic, ideally at least eight weeks before your trip, to check what vaccinations you'll need. Hepatitis A, typhoid, and tetanus/diphtheria/polio are among the jabs usually recommended for Thailand, while you might require antimalarials if visiting certain remote areas.
Take mosquito repellent:
While malaria is not a concern in most of Thailand, mosquito bites can make life miserable, plus mosquitoes can carry other diseases like dengue fever. Take a mosquito net with you as not all accommodation will provide them.
Don't drink tap water:
It's always safest to drink bottled water in Thailand. Avoid fruit and vegetables that you can't wash with bottled water or peel, and always carry some diarrhoea tablets in case of problems.
Check your medications:
If you need to take prescription medications into Thailand, make sure none of them are banned, as they could be confiscated on entry into the country. Take no more than 30 days' supply with you, and carry them in their original container along with an accompanying doctor's note. Most over-the-counter and prescription drugs are available at Thai pharmacies.
Thailand visa requirements
Get the right visa:
UK passport holders can enter Thailand for up to 30 days without a visa. If you want to stay longer, you can purchase a 60-day tourist visa from the Thai embassy before you travel (£30). In either case, you can get a 30-day extension once in Thailand, from an immigration office.
Don't overstay your visa:
Overstaying your visa or visa-free period can lead to a fine, imprisonment, or deportation. If you think you're going to need even more time in Thailand (and why wouldn't you?), you could consider doing a “visa run” across the border to Malaysia, Laos, Cambodia, or Myanmar, then re-enter for another 30 days. Always check up-to-date information on which border crossings are open.
What to take backpacking in Thailand
If you're wondering how to pack a backpack for Thailand, the simple rule is to keep it light. You can also buy any extra clothes, toiletries, etc, when you arrive. Inexpensive laundry services and laundrettes are easy to find (or just wash your own clothes wherever you're staying).
Take some travel essentials:
Thailand offers excellent shopping opportunities, and you can get just about anything you need there. But you don't want to spend all your time shopping, so aim to get some travel essentials before going, so you can hit the ground running. These could include items like a guidebook, a money belt, a padlock for lockers, a torch, a plug adapter, insect spray, hiking shoes, a quick-dry lightweight towel, and sunblock. Period products are readily available, but it's smart to bring a few extras just in case.
If you have one, take an unlocked mobile phone (and buy a local SIM card):
Wi-Fi and mobile network coverage are generally good throughout Thailand, and many UK providers offer add-on packages or include some countries in their roaming for free. But if you have an unlocked smartphone, you can buy a local SIM card that includes calls, texts, and data — most convenience stores stock them.
Budgeting for Thailand
It's easy to keep costs down:
A reasonable backpacking budget for Thailand is around £25-30 per day on average. On some days you'll just be lying on your hammock and spending next to nothing, while on others, you'll be doing activities and visiting sights.
Cash is accepted everywhere, although ATMs usually charge a fee of around THB200 (£5) per withdrawal. Credit and debit cards tend to be accepted at larger businesses, but payment will likely incur charges (check with your issuer). Consider getting a currency card, which you can load up with money before your trip and use as a payment card but without the heavy charges. Plus if it gets lost of stolen you can return the money to your bank account via app. At the least, damage is mitigated as a theif can only spend what's already loaded on the card. You may consider adding £100 or so at a time. Carry a quantity of cash in a money belt to last a couple of days if you lose your cards. Keep a copy somewhere (like an email to yourself if you lose a bag) of all your credit card phone numbers in case of emergency.
Do your research:
If you're planning on doing activities, remember that costs can vary significantly between locations, so a little research can save serious cash on things like diving courses, mountain treks, yoga retreats, and cookery courses.
Don't be afraid to haggle:
Haggling is only really expected at markets aimed at tourists, where prices are often not shown. Learning a few words or phrases of Thai, and remaining polite and friendly, can bring the seller on side, helping you seal the deal you're looking for.
Accommodation in Thailand
Stay in a hostel:
Hostels are great way to save on accommodation costs and, if you're travelling solo, allow you to meet other backpackers and pick up travel tips. Thailand has an incredible range of hostels, from chilled-out retreats to party hostels, and dorm beds can cost as little as £5 per night.
Beach bungalows are great value:
If you're staying close to the beach and will be spending most of your time on the sand and in the sea, a wooden bungalow that includes a bathroom and a veranda to hang up your hammock is probably all you need, and should cost less than £10 per night.
Luxury doesn't have to be expensive:
A room in a 5-star hotel in Thailand can cost as little as £40 per night, depending on the season and location — perfect if you fancy adding a little luxury to your trip.
Book your first couple of nights in advance:
To save you traipsing around an unfamiliar destination looking for accommodation, especially if it's high season or you've just got off a long-haul flight late at night, book ahead.
Transport in Thailand
Take overnight buses/trains:
It's nearly 700 kilometres from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, and overnight buses and trains are usually comfortable and modern. You'll also save on a night's accommodation, with tickets for some luxury buses costing less than £20. Remember to take items like headphones, snacks, a neck pillow, and a sweater to counter the often-fierce air conditioning.
Consider internal flights:
If you're pressed for time, it's easy to travel between popular destinations in Thailand using low-cost airlines. A flight from Bangkok to Krabi can cost as little as £20. Check the times of the other flights offered. Depending on the airline, changes can come with little notice.
Take an international driving licence (or don't drive yourself):
If you're thinking of hiring a car in Thailand, you'll need one of these. Arrange this before travelling. Although taxis are inexpensive and driving in Asia can be somewhat overwhelming for Western drivers. There's also good public transport around much of the country, so hiring a car is far from a necessity.
It's easy to get around:
You'll have a massive variety of local public transport at your disposal, including buses, long-tail boats, mini buses, songthaews, motorcycle taxis, tuk-tuks, and taxis, while Bangkok has its efficient MRT and Skytrain systems.
Food and drink in Thailand
Even the Thai food you've tried at home won’t prepare you for the flavour explosion you'll experience in Thailand. Street food is a great way to try the local cuisine — you can usually get a noodle dish for a couple of pounds, or why not wander around a market trying multiple things?
Go where the locals eat:
If you're in doubt about where you should eat, look for busy stalls and restaurants, as the food is likely to be freshly prepared.
What to buy in Thailand
This is a remarkably versatile piece of kit; it's lightweight, and as well as wearing it, you can use it as a beach towel, a sheet, a pillowcase, a cover up, and even a curtain if you're sleeping in a lower bunk.
While you'll usually find hammocks dotted around any beach, consider buying one to put on the veranda of your beach hut. It's also a great souvenir to take home and rig up in the garden when the sun's out. You can usually get one for a few pounds in most markets.
Backpacker safety in Thailand
Always take out adequate travel insurance:
Although most travellers to Thailand never experience any problems more serious than a bad stomach or sunburn, be prepared. Flights can be cancelled, cameras can get stolen, and accidents can happen.
Keep your wits about you:
Use your common sense and remember that if something seems wrong, it's probably not worth taking the chance. Never get so drunk that your judgment is impaired. Although assaults on travellers are rare in Thailand, incidents are more likely to occur around bar areas late at night. Always keep your eye on your drink.
Guard against scams:
Common scams include tuk-tuk or taxi drivers offering you a tour, then taking you to a shop where they'll receive commission on anything you, usually reluctantly, buy.
Don't get involved with drugs:
For a start, you don't know what's in them. You could also could face imprisonment for possession (or an expensive bribe if it's a set-up), while sentences for trafficking range from a long prison term to execution.
Feeling inspired? Search our collection of holidays to Thailand.
Nick Elvin contributed to this post.