Thailand has been my second home for years and my favorite base that I’ve found after nearly eight years of traveling.
Backpacking Thailand is how my adventures first started out in 2011!
I’m hoping my in-depth guide here, from someone who lived in Thailand for about four years, will help you on your adventures around this incredibly beautiful country. Here’s pretty much every single thing you need to know to properly backpack Thailand plus some further posts that dive deeper linked throughout!
Get to planning your amazing getaway…
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Table of Contents
Thailand offers a platter of welcoming attributes.
The weather is perfect in many parts across the country, days of hot sun with a warm sea breeze. The jungles and mangroves, waterfalls and limestone mountains, caves and long lazy rivers make up such a stark contrast from the world you just came from that you’ll feel like you’re in a dream…
Add to all of that the ancient history, temples, museums, and bridges, that are a living experience of the past.
All of this wonder firmly establishes Thailand as the paradise of the eastern world. Don’t even get me started on the array of fabulous food and the warm welcoming people. Oh, and have I mentioned the cheap prices?
I called this country home for four years, and I have a book’s worth of awesome memories that will last me (and my readers!) a lifetime.
And what’s the best way to get an up close and personal sense of everything that makes this country a paradise? Backpacking Thailand of course!
Fly! The airport most travelers come through is in Bangkok; it’s cheap and easy to get direct flights.
But you can also come through Chiang Mai or Krabi if you want to begin in a different area and you’re willing to pay a bit extra.
You can of course also come overland from one of the four countries that border Thailand – Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, and Malaysia.
There are many border crossings between the countries, roads, railways, and even “friendship bridges,” complete with security checkpoints and officers stamping passports.
Backpacking The Andaman Coast
Hello, island hopping! I am in love with Krabi. It is all beachy, beautiful, welcoming, and laid back. You can go rock climbing in Tonsai or fall asleep on the wide open beach of Railay. Both are favorites of mine.
Then there are so many little day trips you can take from Krabi Town.
This gorgeous province situated on the southwestern coast of Thailand, on the crystal clear waters of the Andaman Sea, is the place to wander and get lost for a week or two or three.
If you happen to have some more time and perhaps are even taking a trip down to Malaysia, swinging passed the Trang Islands could be a great choice as well. The famous Emerland Cave (Koh Muk) is stunning although, a bit crowded. Most of the other islands, like Koh Kradan, are a bit more chill.
if you’re venturing down there, then you mine as well hop to Koh Lipe as well. A little oasis in the sea with barely believable blue waters and no other need for anything but flip-flops, swimsuits, and maybe snorkel gear.
I have lots more info regarding this coast, so feel free to continue reading more about what it’s like backpacking Thailand in this region.
Read more about Backpacking The Andaman Coast:
- 1-7 Day Krabi Itinerary and When to Visit
- Where To Stay In Krabi
- Krabi’s Beauties: Railay Beach and Tonsai Beach, Thailand
- 9 Krabi Island Hopping Tours That Will Make Your Jaw Drop
- Things to Do in Krabi, Thailand
Backpacking the Gulf Islands
More island hopping! Seriously though, it really never gets old. The islands in this country are beyond magical. The primary Gulf Islands are a trio of distinction.
Each island has its own charm.
Koh Samui is often for the luxury seekers and families but you can definitely see some Thailand backpackers rocking up here too. This island is one of the more expensive spots in Thailand though. Chaweng and Lamai are two of the most popular beaches and the northern beaches usually offer a bit more serenity out of the bustling tourist hubs.
Personally, Koh Samui piques little interest for me. I think there are better islands with better views/beaches and for a cheaper price.
Koh Phangan is the wild party island with full moon raves on the beach that attract populations in the thousands. Yes, this is the home to that Full Moon party. Every month, revelers from all corners of the globe attend the
shit show beach party as well as a number of other parties that happen when it’s not a full moon (Jungle, Waterfall, Black Moon parties…)
Alternatively, the northern part of the island is the best escape should you want to visit and not get doused in neon, shoved around on the dance floor, or overall be a part of one of the world’s most chaotic parties. If you can’t tell yet, I’m not the biggest fan of these parties, personally! They are just a bit too much
for this grandma.
And Koh Tao, my personal favorite, is the mellow diver island. You can hang here for days on end getting your dive certificate or just relaxing in a hammock. Or both.
Four wheeling around is also quite fun as some of the more off the path roads are a bit rocky and are tough for motorbikes. Snorkeling/diving all day, chilling at night. The island has certainly got way busier over the years and has even earned a bad rap due to some suspicious deaths but many still find themselves drawn to this spot.
Backpacking Northern Thailand
Have I told you about my adventures getting lost in Pai? Sometimes overlooked for obvious reasons (hello? Gorgeous beaches to the south anyone?), but even though it is not a fabulous cliff-lined beach, Pai is worth the trip north and it’s a great backpacking Thailand experience for its hippy laid back vibes, waterfalls, and hammock sprinkled valleys.
From Pai, or on the way to Pai, travel the Mai Hong Son Loop that will basically allow you to see all the variety of Northern Thailand, through Mai Hong Son proper and, of course, to the cosmopolis of the north, Chiang Mai.
Rice paddies, caves, lazy rivers, and limestone mountain ranges abound.
While you’ll still feel like you’re in paradise in the north, it’s a very different dreamscape than that of the southern coast and the islands.
Chiang Mai is definitely the preferred city when compared to Bangkok, personally. I am truly a sucker for mountains being a stone’s throw away if I’m in need of a bit of a detox from the metropolitan life and Chiang Mai is a city without being a city. It’s big, but don’t expect skyscrapers, life can be quick but it’s not fast. I love the pace and lifestyle here.
Hop out of town and you can chase waterfalls, explore caves, and go hiking.
Before heading out of the north, hop over to Chiang Rai for the White Temple and a few other worthwhile spots. And if you’re heading back down south, try to make a quick stop at Sukhothai, the old ancient capital of Thailand.
Read more about backpacking Northern Thailand:
- Things to do in Pai
- Where to Stay in Pai: Hostels, Hotels and Resorts
- 10 Things To Do In Chiang Rai That You Can’t Miss
- Chiang Mai to Pai and Back! The Best Ways to Get Around
- 7 Unusual Things To Do in Chiang Mai
- 4 Lesser-Known Spots Around Mae Hong Son To Go To
Backpacking Central Thailand
OK, let’s head to Bangkok! Here’s your chance to check out the big city.
You’ll get plenty of nightlife, shopping, and city life out of your system. A sky bar is a must, Vertigo and Lebua are both great. Khao San Road is where literally all the backpackers in Thailand flock to but there’s plenty more than just that one party road.
Read more about how to spend 3 days in Bangkok
While backpacking central Thailand, you can also check out Ayutthaya with its dozens and dozens of stunning ancient temples, it’s just an hour from Bangkok.
Koh Chang is an awesome island with pretty little beaches, Lonely Beach is the perfect spot for sunsets and cocktails, Long Beach is far away from everyone and everything, and White Sand Beach is where all the typical tourists go.
Koh Chang is arguably my most favorite island in the country although I do have an affinity towards everything in Krabi considering that’s my second home… Tough call.
Koh Samet is where all the Bangkok weekenders head so if you’re in the mood to see where the Thais go to get away, Samet is a cool choice.
And of course, you’ve gotta hit up Kanchanaburi so you can wander across the Bridge Over the River Kwai, learn about WW2, and clamber around Erawan Waterfall.
Everyone, myself included, will tell you, you have to try the most popular foods in Thailand. It’s one of the world’s most famous cuisines for a reason. Oh, and because you’re backpacking Thailand, you’ll be happy to know it’s dirt cheap.
Pad Thai – Obviously you’ve got to try Pad Thai, an amazingly flavorful noodle dish with tamarind, spices and lime juice; it can be veggie only or include a combo of different meats or seafood. This is literally the first meal every backpacker in Thailand eats, and for good reason, you should pay no more than a 30-50B for one at the market.
Tom Yam – A spicy ginger lemongrass soup with big shrimp swimming inside. It’s big-time comfort food in Thailand. Great for the end of a long day wandering.
Som Tam – A spicy salad made with green papaya, palm sugar, peanuts and lime. To die for.
Khao Pad – Literally fried rice (or I should say, rice fried). A staple and easy dish to get anywhere with veg, chicken, or pork.
Now that you’ve tried the obvious, branch out a bit…
Curries – Yes, that’s plural. There are so many wonderful curries to try – red, green, yellow, masaman, Penang…oh my!
Khao Soi – More curry and my absolute favorite Thai dish. Coconut milk, curry, noodles (both in the broth and crunchy on top), pickled cabbage, chili… with all the textures and flavors on earth coming together in complete harmony. So so damn pleasing.
Tom Kha – Coconut lemongrass soup with ginger, lime juice, and a fascinatingly aromatic blend of herbs and spices that make your mouth water.
Larb (or laab) – This is another one of my favorite dishes EVER! It’s a minced meat, pork or chicken (tofu in my case), dish with a bunch of chili and herbs (sometimes basil or mint) served with sticky or steamed rice. I need this in my life often.
Pad Ka Pow – The best Thai basil and chili dish you can imagine. I can eat it almost every day.
I’ve already written extensively about transportation in Thailand for those who want to get really deep with me.
For everyone else who wants the short and sweet version, suffice to say that the transportation in this country varies from heartwarming and fun to wild and sketchy.
Trains – It’s quite an experience to take these super slow moving dinosaurs. The most popular is the night train that travels from Bangkok to Chiang Mai or back. It’s actually a fun and great way to get around, however, it will be the slowest, which is why I’d only recommend it as a means to travel by night so you don’t waste the day.
Buses/Minibuses – Can be a great form of transportation, cheaper than other options, and slow, but they do the job. Just know that the local bus is always better and the tourist one is known to be less safe and where theft can happen. Minibuses are usually used for distances around 5-6 hours or less and the larger buses for longer and even overnight.
Planes – Cheap, easy, reliable. Nuff said? Air Asia often has the cheapest prices and the most flights. You can get from Chiang Mai to Krabi in just a couple of hours including your time at the airport making the country extremely accessible for those with less time.
Motorbike – Yes, they’re fun, and for some of these backpacking Thailand excursions, you can only go by motorbike (Like the Mae Hong Son loop), but proceed with caution. Motorbikes require safety measures like helmets and paying attention to the roads (and not being a douche bag!) The traffic can get bad, the rules are non-existent, and the roads can be crappy.
When you should go really depends on your Thailand itinerary.
If you plan to stay for months on end, it really doesn’t matter. Thailand is beautiful all year round.
Generally speaking, November to February and March to May are the better months to visit the north with the former actually being a bit chilly at night. May to November is when the rain is at it’s heaviest. Please note the north does have a burning season as well. March to mid-April locals burn the fields to prepare the crops for the next season.
Air quality can be very poor at this time and many flee to the south or visit back home. The mountains can’t be seen, build up from the ash gets in your nose, it dusts the top of your furniture if the windows are open, and you wake up to the smell of smoke. It’s unpleasant and backpacking northern Thailand at this time may not be the best choice.
For the south, it actually differs if you’re on the east or the west. On the west coast, April through October is the rainiest, while on the east, September and December experience the most rainfall.
April, is overall, the yuckiest month to be in the country as it’s the hottest. The one perk? You’ll get to experience Songkran which is the world’s largest water fight and the holiday that’s celebrated across the country to “wash away” impurities.
Essentially people run around with water guns partying for 2 days to a week straight depending on where you are. And luckily so because it does offer some relief from the heat.
November to February is another general window that’s great for visiting as the weather is balmy, however, this will also be peak season for the country. March to June is when it will be summer AKA the hottest.
July to October is when the most amount of rainfall occurs for the country but coming at the shoulder months could be worth it as prices are cheaper and places are generally less crowded.
At the end of the day, most people come here to visit the north and the south, and many have little flexibility with their schedule, so just get here! Don’t fret too much as weather is unpredictable anyway.
All of these costs are per person/room, per day and are simply round about averages.
I’ve provided helpful links for each budget so you can get a deeper look into which kind of accommodation best fits your price point. Everything is listed in Baht. (At the time of writing, 100 baht = $3 USD)
You can actually find hostels for only 100B and resorts for over 8,000B, so I simply gave you an average number to get your wheels turning for your budget.
Side note for those backpacking Thailand who may perhaps fall more in line with a flashpacker… splurge the extra $1 or 2 on a legit guesthouse room if you’re anything like me. I don’t understand dorms at all unless you’re that desperate to meet people, which I do get! (Although even as a solo traveler I never stayed in them)
But if you’re not looking to be social every minute of the day, you can nab a private room for pretty much the same price or for an extra buck or two, if that.
New Thailand backpackers think they are saving a bunch booking dorms but often times, they are even paying more. There are many dorms that charge a premium when the private room down the road is much cheaper. There are even plenty of hostels that offer dorms and private rooms so you don’t need to give up the social aspect.
Can anyone tell I really don’t like dorms and I really value my privacy yet? Thought so.
Accommodation Prices in Thailand
Here are accommodation prices for the most popular areas in Thailand. Agoda is Asia’s most popular accommodation booking site hence why I linked to them for you to check out. They are the best site for pre-booking your accommodation.
Read More About: Where To Stay In Krabi
Read More About: Where to Stay in Pai
Generally speaking, the south and the islands are always more expensive than the north. It far easier to find better deals and stay on a stricter budget in Chiang Mai and Pai as opposed to Koh Phagan.
Food and Drink Prices in Thailand
Local food at a market: 30B-100B
Local food at a restaurant: 80-250B
Foreigner food: 150B-400B (think western breakfast, spaghetti, lasagne, etc)
Fruit shake: 30B (but more expensive in the touristy spots and at restaurants)
Beer: 50B for a large Leo (at a 711)
A drink bucket: 200B (literally a sandcastle-type bucket with liquor and mixer usually sold around Bangkok and Koh Phangan.)
Motorbikes and Transportation Costs
Motorbikes go for 150B-500B and more depending on the type of bike and where. The north, as mentioned, is cheaper. Helmets are not an option and tickets can run you 250-500B+ per infringement/depending which officer pulls you over. They love getting their cash from tourists with no helmet.
Buses are around 500B and up if it’s an overnight bus and depending what class your ride.
Trains are 700B-1600B depending what class you get and for long distances. They can be as cheap as 10B for an hour or two ride.
Minibusses are around 250B and up for a few hours.
Songthaews (large taxi truck things) are the cheapest public transport and can run 7B to 50B for getting around town.
Tuk tuks are regularly quite pricey because their main purpose is to tote around tourists so rides can be 100B+ for just going 15 minutes away. They are also open, so all the smog is getting in your face. I haven’t ridden a tuk tuk since my first few months in the country, 8 years ago. I usually say do it for the experience but never as a regular mode of transport.
Taxis, the “regular” kind, as in a regular car like you have at home, are most popular around Bangkok. They are notorious for scamming tourists by trying to negotiate a price with you beforehand when they should be using the meter instead.
Grabs are available here too! Big cities are much easier to get around with Grab now as it’s a bit more regulated and harder to get ripped off. Just download the app!
- Tourist buses – Watch out! These can be super sketch, like robbed or be told to exit the bus in the middle of nowhere type of sketch. Be sure you take buses directly from the bus station (AKA what the locals are riding) or book it ahead of time here. The worst ones to book are on Khao San Road.
- Get immunized – I know it seems obvious to some but it’s not for everyone. You can get all your shots prior to going but it could also cost less abroad. This is a personal choice. Please, no need to ask which shots to get, that’s a question that should only be discussed with your doctor.
- Passport – Keep it in the hotel! Keep an ID or a copy of your passport on you but it will be less likely to get ruined or stolen if it sits in your hotel.
- Personal belonging safety – Grab yourself some anti-theft gear. I praise these bags every day.
- Gambling – Don’t do it! It is highly illegal and can get your ass thrown in jail. Then there’ll be a movie about your life… Or not.
- Monkeys – So cute right? Well, don’t feed or touch them! These little cuties are cut throat hustlers if they think you have something they want, food or not, they will attack. Also, they can have rabies, so yeah, no touchy.
- Animal attractions – Animals aren’t meant to be touched, ridden, or perched on your shoulder. No matter what animal attraction you see in the country, it should be avoided. Don’t ride elephants, don’t participate is snake shows, don’t tip the man with the money at the market, don’t take pictures with tigers… All animals attractions are a huge no-no.
- Tips – Tips aren’t really necessary in most situations but if you’re at a nicer restaurant, you should leave 10% or so, a restaurant a notch down? Leave the coins. At the market? No tip is necessary.
- Haggling– Tread carefully. I cringe when I see tourists haggling over the equivalent of a few coins. Never haggle for food, and never get rude. Haggling in Southeast Asia is an art.
- Don’t cause someone to lose face – AKA don’t yell, embarrass, or make a scene about anything anywhere in the country. It’s massively disrespectful and could even be dangerous for you. Read more here.
1. Taxi meters – Never get in a taxi when they refuse to put the meter on. You’ll have to maybe even ask five taxi guys before one finally agrees to use it. This is most common in Bangkok. Unfortunately, even in this case, their meters could very well be rigged. When you start seeing prices that you’d see back home, get out and hail a new cab. This is a tough one to avoid unless you’re a seasoned traveler or know the average costs.
2. It’s not closed – It’s a common scam to be told things are closed (like the Grand Palace in Bangkok) so they can whisk you away to a “magical place” that’s open. Instead, they take you to their friend’s shop hoping you buy something.
3. Gems – It’s a no! Just avoid gems, it’s likely you’ll be sold a worthless rock.
4. Travel agencies – Don’t walk into travel agencies and book onward travel. You’ll be either left paying WAY more than what everything is worth or worse yet, your tickets will be fake. Book at the stations, online, or only at reputable companies. Even then, no need to book EVERYTHING. Just the next leg or two if you must.
5. Snatch and run – Anything hanging off your shoulders in a crowded area is an invitation for theft. They will even do this while passing you on a motorbike. Wear cross body bags only.
6. Tourist buses – As mentioned, avoid these. They steal from bags in the undercarriage and worse, they can yell at you to get off in the middle of nowhere forcing you to stay at their friends overpriced hotel (this happened to my boyfriend years ago, luckily he put his foot down and didn’t get off the bus, his friend fell for it though.)
7. Corrupt police – It still happens. Don’t do drugs or break laws and overall you should be fine.
8. Fake police – On a similar note, there are “police” that could demand to see your passport, declare there’s an “issue” with your visa, and try to fine you. Avoid this by only carrying a copy of your passport and saying you only want to be searched at a police station if they request one. You can even call the tourists police to verify badges (call 1155).
9. Change – Always check your change and know your bills. There’s also a scam where they declare your 1000B is a fake one, take it to the back to “double check” and then give you the actual fake one and deny you a purchase.
10. The spill – something is spilled or a “bird shat on you” out of nowhere! Oh no! A perfect distraction to grab a bag or snatch your wallet…
11. A free show – Nothing is free, we know this right? So don’t believe them when they tell you you can get in for free to a place that regularly charges a cover charge if you just buy a beer. That beer will be very overpriced.
12. Jet ski and motorbike – A vehicle that’s rented should be analyzed in detail, photographed and videoed. They will try to blame the damage on you that was previously there.
13. Menu – Always order off menus with prices on them. if they don’t have prices they can bring you a highly inflated bill. Also, remember the roundabout prices when you do order because sometimes they will charge you more and when you ask to see the menu again to verify, they give you a fake menu with the inflated prices (better yet, keep a menu at your table).
14. Side money – If you’re robbed or asked for money in a sketchy situation, always have a few bucks, like a few 100Bs or even a 500B in a side pocket and your real money hidden. This way you can hand over the equivalent of $15 and get out of the situation quickly without losing out on much and making the thief feel satisfied enough.
Don’t let any of these scams deter you or scare you! After four years of traveling and living in the country I’ve only experienced theft from a tourist bus (but they made away with 2 pairs of $1 sunglasses, half a bottle of sun lotion, and $3 of Malaysian ringgit so who really lost out here?) and once an inflated menu scam…and that’s IT!
Overall, you won’t experience most or any of these scams, just keep your wits about you and you’re going to be fine… Oh and don’t do anything truly stupid, that helps too. We need our common sense to work while we’re abroad too, don’t think nothing bad can happen just because you’re on vacation.
I think we’re done here, my friends. I truly hope this was a great guide to get you sorted through your Thailand backpacking trip. I have tons more helpful links on Thailand, so go back up and click on them and I’ve added some below as well.
Where will you go after Thailand?
Where are you first starting your Thailand backpacking trip? What are you most stoked about? Let us know in the comments!
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Nina Ragusa is an adventurer, messy bun master, breakfast fan, and full-time travel blogger. She’s been abroad and epically failing at the American Dream since 2011. Her sassy yet informative blog, Where in the World is Nina? is all about how to work abroad to live a more adventurous life. If you want to travel longer you have to work to wander.