Thailand is a budget traveller’s ideal destination. This nation has beaches that rank among the best in the world with their flawless, soft white sand, food that spans the flavour spectrum from spicy to savoury to sweet, and people that are commonly considered to be some of the friendliest folk you’ll ever meet. Not only that, but this nation, with 95% of its citizens identifying as Buddhist, is a cultural centre for Buddhism, with shimmering temples on display in almost every city in the country, along with countless other relics and ruins just waiting to be explored. Simply put, this country is where you’ll want to begin your explorations of Southeast Asia.
Not only do you get to experience all of the above attractions, you get to do it at severe discount to the rest of the world. The cost of living in Thailand is very low, with meals on the street rarely costing more than 60 baht (<$2 USD) per plate, drinks included. Accommodations are similarly affordable: with bunk beds going for as cheap as 90 baht ($3 USD) per night in Chiang Mai, and decent beds costing no more than 500 baht ($16.70 USD) in the southern islands, they’ll be times where your nights out will cost more than the bed you’re about to crash in!
From ruins and temples to tropical paradise islands, Thailand truly has it all. Let’s explore in further detail what you need to know and shouldn’t miss in the Land of Smiles…
Currency: Thai Baht
What To Do
There are so many things to see and do in Thailand, that it can be difficult to pinpoint what to do first. Chances are you’ll be arriving in Bangkok from destinations abroad. Upon arrival in this hectic, noisy city, it can be tempting to leave as quickly as possible to get down to the beaches. Resist this temptation, at least for the first few days, and see many of the cultural relics that this heaving metropolis has to offer. The Grand Palace should be at the top of your list. Beware of touts that claim that the Grand Palace is closed. They are lying to you to get you to go on a cheap tour that will only stop at their friend’s suit and gem shops! Once inside, pay the 400 baht entry fee and marvel at the many spires and chedis on display. Don’t miss the Emerald Buddha, the major relic made of jade that is at least 500 years old!
Before you leave the Big Mango, treat yourself to a rowdy night out in one of the liveliest traveller’s ghettoes in the world, Khao San Road. Lined with bars that don’t stop all night, restaurants that cater to every taste and whim, you’ll find excitement here, whenever you decide to hit this strip. Among the bunch, Mulligan’s and Centre Khao Sarn are the best spots to knock back some brews until the dawn begins to break!
For those heading to the beach for some R&R, there are two options. The first is to head south and sample the highly touted beaches in the Gulf of Thailand/Andaman Sea. If you choose this route, Koh Tao is best if you plan on seeking your diving certification, or just like snorkelling amongst many clownfish in your search for Nemo. Do you like to party? If so, head straight for Koh Phangan, home of the Full Moon Party, as well as countless other small parties to keep the vibe going in between the big events. If you need every conceivable convenience at your beck and call, then make for Koh Samui and Phuket. Here, you’ll find cuisine in every international variety possible, full medical facilities to put your mind at ease, and a bar scene that will keep you jumping all night. The only drawback to these places is the highly irritating presence of touts who don’t take NO for an answer.
The second beach option is to opt for the less travelled route. For this, we recommend heading east to Koh Chang. 85% of the land area of this island is protected by a national park, which also limits development on the land where developers are allowed to build. This has kept tourists numbers down, allowing for plenty of room to spread your towel on wild, lightly-touched beaches. If you wish to keep your costs down and hang out with fellow backpackers, Lonely Beach on the West Coast is where you’ll want to stay.
After all this beach time, head north towards Chiang Mai, where many activities, unique cuisine, and cultural attractions await you. Firstly, head up the mountain that towers over the city, Doi Suthep, and check out the gleaming temple that sits ¾ of the way up. It affords a commanding view of the city below, so don’t forget your camera at the hostel! Want to take home some knowledge of Thai cooking? They are countless cooking schools offered in the city which will allow you to cook up a mean green curry for your mother, upon arriving home. Finally, the Flight of The Gibbon, while a bit pricey, offers the opportunity to undertake a plethora of adrenaline sport activities, including ziplining and mountain biking, in the wilds of Northern Thailand, for a fraction of the price that you’d pay back home in the West!
What To Eat
Thai cuisine draws its appeal from simple base ingredients, combined with spices and flavouring agents to create a mix of tastes that has made it one of the most sought after food in the culinary world.
Our picks include the classic Thai noodle dish, Pad Thai. Made with your choice of noodles, peanuts, egg, a meat of your choice (or none, if you are vegetarian) and tofu, it is often served with a side of lime to offer a citrusy twist to your meal. Among all the curries available, Massaman Curry is a favourite among those who don’t like their mouth being set on fire. Made with coconut milk base and fragrant spices, as well as potatoes and cashew nuts, it is a delight from the first spoonful to the last. Finally, don’t leave the north without trying some Khao Soi. Another curry, it is made with crispy noodles and cabbage, and has a sweet coconut milk base. You’ll be jumping at the chance to try this one again, even if it is for a highly inflated price back home in the developed world!