Before arriving in Bangkok, I foolishly thought I'd travel all over South East Asia in a month, until I arrived and realized just how much there was to see in one country. Traveling solo on a tight budget with no predetermined itinerary, I was especially clueless and relied on fellow travelers for ideas.
Scouring flight deals on SkyScanner, checking weather apps to avoid heavy rain, while adjusting to steaming hot temperatures eventually paid off, but take a shortcut from me and avoid some of this initial pain. Here are some ideas to get you started on your adventure in Thailand.
(Haad Tien beach, Koh Tao)
Low (July - October), Shoulder (April –June, September - October), High (November - March)
For many countries, you can get a 30-day tourist visa upon arrival (what I was given at the airport) or a 15-day visa if arriving by land. Requirements can change suddenly, so check the Thai Embassy page. Emirates has an easy-to-read visa requirements page as well. If you need to extend your visa, you can do so in Bangkok and Chiang Mai. Ask around for the easiest places to do so. It will cost around 2000 baht.
Packing, Lockers, and Laundry:
Balancing my way down the floating pier at Railay Beach East and then stepping into 6 inches of an underwater sidewalk made me unbelievably happy to be wearing a backpack, rather than pulling a traditional roller bag through that mess. It was high-tide and not the only time I walked through a few inches of water in Thailand. My Patagonia MCL bag (45 L), was a perfect option for a month of exploration, and here's a comparable Eagle Creek version, also 45L.
Don't forget a travel sewing kit. My inner MacGuyver came out out when I used nail clippers as scissors, the hem of an unnecessary t-shirt sleeve as backing, and spent 3 hours at the airport performing surgery on my bag with all of the random thread colors in my sewing kit.
Lockers are in every hostel, so for peace of mind, I brought a little lock for some valuables. It meant that I could leave for the day without worrying about my passport or other small items.
Laundry can easily be taken care of at any number of local laundry locations. Simply drop off your dirty clothes, they'll weigh it and charge you a fair rate by the kilo. By dinner time, your clothes smell great, are beautifully folded, and you have a full wardrobe again!
Generally, I'd say carry cash or get money out of the ATM while you're there. The currency is the Thai Baht, and everything tends to be cheaper up north -- Chiang Mai and Pai--, while Bangkok and Southern Thailand are more expensive. If you do use a credit card, always convert in local currency for the best exchange rate. Also, tipping is neither expected nor generally recommended.
Cash is the easiest form of payment. Anticipating a cheap holiday (which it was, comparatively), it's tempting to forget about a budget, but I was surprised how quickly money left my pocket. Fresh street food is a great way to keep things cheap, and bargaining is normal. A currency converter app on your phone is the easiest way to quickly convert and keep your finances in check.
Transportation and Safety:
At first glance, I was intimidated by the crowds of drivers and people with signs as I'd exit a boat or an airport, but these options turned out to be organized and the answer to getting me everywhere. Be discerning, but don't stress.
Safety. I had been heavily warned about bag snatchers and bus scams, but nothing bad happened to me. In fact, I found it to be safer than much of Europe, where pick-pockets and gypsies often prey. Do listen to travel warnings and previous traveler experiences, but don't let it scare you from going. As a solo woman traveler, I was able to let my guard down and relax, while also remaining alert and discerning.
Shuttle buses/taxis: Shuttles are cheaper than a taxi and an equally dependable way to go from an airport to your hostel/hotel. If you do take a taxi, be sure to negotiate the price up front. The more people you have, the better deal per-person you can get. Just agree on a price with the driver, and stay firm before you get going.
*There is a free shuttle bus between Bangkok's BKK (International) and DMK airport. Simply visit the pick-up-point desk and show proof of your next flight.*
Airlines: Most of my travel was by air, so I used the Skyscanner app and booked directly with the airline. I loved Bangkok Airways. Even their economy tickets gave me access to the airport lounge. I enjoyed the food on board, and they were dependable, with multiple flights per day. They also have a free 20 kg checked baggage allowance, which other airlines charge for.
Uber: Bangkok has Uber! This took the hassle out of haggling prices and making sure the meter was turned on. The ease and comfort was a huge relief as a tourist in such a massive city. A local Thai contact recommended using Uber, and it turned out to be the best solution.
Tuk-Tuk: You need to know what price to expect, haggle, and then hope they won't take you for an even longer, pricier ride. I avoided this option, but plenty of people had decent experiences. Some had tales of woe but still loved the wild ride through town they were sometimes taken on.
Metro Lines: Bangkok's metro system was easy and affordable. I found it to be pretty intuitive and an easy way to get from the International airport to most areas.
There are multiple options to get places -- ferries, longtails, scooter taxis, truck taxis, mopeds, busses, metro lines etc. It depends on your budget and time frame. Locals often commute via scooter taxis, which allow you to avoid some terrible traffic. I was able to decide my mode of transportation on the spot and everything worked out.
SIM cards and 7 Elevens:
7 Eleven's are everywhere -- I've never seen so many in my life! You can find random pumpkin/tuna toasties, cheap bottles of water, and most importantly, inexpensive month-long sim cards (don't forget to bring your passport with you when purchasing one). I immediately updated my phone number in Uber, so the driver could call me when lost en route to pick me up. Unfortunately, my phone data didn't load properly, and I returned the data for a refund (keeping the sim). If you run into the same issue, you can probably manage to find enough wifi all over Thailand, as I did. Good coverage is plentiful, so data is not absolutely necessary, just more convenient.
My itinerary eventually evolved into this:
2. Koh Samui
3. Koh Tao
4. Krabi/Railay Beach
5. Koh Phi Phi (Avoid the tourist trap of Koh Phi Phi and opt for Ko Lanta or cross back over to the Gulf and check out Koh Phangan for alternatives.)
6. Chiang Mai, then The Elephant Sanctuary
You can visit the numbered links above, click on the Blog heading, or visit the Thailand page for an overview of each of the 7 cities I visited.
For my Elephant Sanctuary visit, check out this page.