Thailand: 15 key tips for the trip of a lifetime

March 22, 2015
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Thailand. You’ve either been there, or you want to go there. This trip is the reason this website even exists in the first place. Do you need travel tips or advice? I’ve got you covered.

One thing that really bothered me before going over was that there was no straightforward guide I could find of which islands to go to, whether its okay to eat street food, whether to book hotels in advance, whether it’s actually as dodgy as its made out to be…. the list goes on.

So, I decided to put a comprehensive guide together to be a sort of go-to for anyone considering making the trip. Its pretty long; there are a lot of tips. And if I’ve forgotten something, let me know! The first half is general do’s and don’ts for Thailand, and the second half is specific pointers for Bangkok, Chiang Mai and the islands. We travelled in July and August – this is typically seen as a quieter time of the year as peak season is around January (but after the full moon I’m not sure I want to find out how busy the high season really is).

First off; this is not just a kebab holiday with nicer scenery. Well, it sort of is. But there is a lot of cultural stuff to take in and I strongly suggest you get to experience some of it. I’m not saying you should visit temples everyday, but if you want to go on a 3 week drinking holiday and see absolutely nothing but the four walls of a club, just save some money and go to Ibiza instead.

Anyway, for your trip to Thailand, Do:

1) Pack light: Make a list of every item of clothing you think you’ll need over there. Then cross off half of it. Laundry literally costs €2.50 in Thailand if you want an express wash, dry and iron service. You will without doubt end up buying most of the clothes you wear out there – like the essential Chang tank top, which costs 100 baht (About €2.50). Be smart and sort your clothes into plastic bags when packing too. Socks in one bag, shorts in another, etc. It eliminates the trek of having to sniff test for clean clothes in the morning. Also, this doesn’t have to be a backpacking holiday unless you want it to be. Suitcases are fine. In fact, they’re better if you’re planning on buying a lot of stuff – which I would also recommend.

2) Drink buckets: They’re good value. They aren’t in any way dangerous if the drink you’re buying is sealed. Sangsom, Hong Thong, Smirnoff and Absolut are the main brands of alcohol consumed in the places you’ll be over there. Also try Chang beer, but don’t drink it all night unless you want to experience the horrific “changover”.

3) Upgrade to air con rooms: Seriously. Imagine waking up glued by your own sweat to a foam mattress in 30 degrees of heat and 98% humidity. Now imagine you’ve been drinking earlier that night and you’re severely dehydrated from sweating. And its 6am. And you only got back an hour ago. And somehow you’re already hungover. You have essentially turned into a hideously dehydrated prawn cracker stuck on the sweaty tongue of Satan. Best of luck getting back to sleep though.

4) Wear suncream, and DEET: Its cloudy pretty much all the time but sweet mother of jesus those rays can ruin you. When you’re getting ferries between islands, the sun will probably be beaming and there will be zero clouds above your head. Don’t take that as a sign to sunbathe. There are too many stories out there of third degree burns from sunbathing on the ferries. Stay off the top deck, just go inside. Regarding DEET, get 50% strength (or stronger if you can find it). It’s an insect repellent. It certainly works, but be sure you reapply it regularly and liberally if you want it to be effective.

5) Try the street food, and be wary of western food: I ate a lot of street food in Phi Phi – my favourite island. It was incredibly delicious and incredibly cheap. Just make sure that you’re getting it cooked there and then when you buy it. If its cold and they won’t heat it up for you, don’t eat it. Avoid eating any of the scorpions or crickets unless you want to see cooked maggots inside them when you take a bite. No lie.

If you’re set on eating western food alone, opt for deep-fried things that have to be cooked at high temperatures. Like Chicken Schnitzel (i.e. Chicken Maryland) and chips. A simple search on trip advisor for good restaurants near where you’re staying is a good call.

6) Make a life pack: This is essential, because you will use it everyday. Dioralytes, Panadol, Nurofen, Antiseptic cream (Germolene or Savlon), hand sanitizer, anti-histamines, Immodium, Motilium, plasters (even a bandage roll, I speak from experience when I say your feet will be grateful for it), a scissors, Strepsils, alcohol wipes. And of course, the sun cream and DEET mentioned earlier. Everything is over the counter in Thailand – no prescriptions – so if you forget anything you can buy it over there. However Dioralytes (i.e. rehydrating oral salts) are pretty expensive, and you won’t be saving much money by waiting to buy everything until you arrive. I had a Dioralyte first thing every morning and I’m honestly convinced they’re made of miracles. If you’re prone to bites, you can get Fucidin in Thailand over the counter (Its available on prescription in Ireland), and motion sickness tablets for the ferry if you’re prone to that too. And on a related health note…

7) Book travel vaccinations early: Book them two months in advance of travelling to have all appropriate vaccinations for the trip sorted. Your doc will ask you where you plan on travelling – some mainland areas require additional jabs or anti malarial drugs. I started my course about a month in advance of going and that was cutting it very tight – my last injection was the day before travelling.

8) Bring one or two toilet rolls: Hide them in your bag. They’re like gold dust at certain times of the trip when moving to a new island or when someone (inevitably) gets stricken down with the shits and all they have to turn to is the weird hose next to the toilet. You can choose to be a generous god and share the wiping wealth or let them suffer and endure the ass washer.

9) Haggle: Every merchant in Thailand is willing to haggle. Its part of their culture. They’ll give you a ridiculous starting price for everything they sell because you’re western. Don’t be afraid to counter back with a ridiculously cheap offer. Ask them what their best price is, and make sure you’re paying less than that. This applies to taxi’s especially – arrange the price before starting the trip!

10) Take the blanket from the plane: You will be glad of it, and you will use it on those horrific bus transfers.

10) Stay safe: It is not as dodgy as you think. But it’s like any holiday or night out: stay with your friends. Be safe in every sense of the word. Be seen. Be respectful of the locals – most Thai people are extremely well-mannered, but do not take well to rudeness. Yes there are pickpockets. And yes, there are lady boys. Fellows, do not go near them and do not go near the (apparently) female prostitutes. If you find yourself in a 7/11 at 5am buying a ham and cheese toastie and a prostitute walks in and tries to solicit you for sex by copping a feel down your shorts, do not freak out and insult her. Just say you’re not interested and walk away, because there is most definitely a giant roided pimp nearby and he will punch you and it will hurt. Trust me.

DON’T:

1) Don’t be tight with money: You’re going to eat out everyday, stay in hotels each night, and do activities all the time. I spent a total of just under €500 per week out there. That included everything: hotels, drinking every single night, eating out every day, a shit ton of activities and a heap of shopping. I was pretty much taking the piss with my spending by thinking I was a king and I still came home with money to spare. As mentioned above, upgrade to air con rooms. Pay that extra five euro.

2) Don’t go near tap water: Don’t drink it, don’t brush your teeth with it. Buy lots and lots of bottled water – its only 50 cent for 2 litres. Here’s a fun fact: I was the only one of the lads to not get the shits while there, and I was the only one to brush my teeth using bottled water. That may or may not be a coincidence, but I’m thinking that it isn’t. Make sure to buy a large bottle of water before heading out at night so that it’s within reach for the next morning too.

3) Don’t get a tattoo: If you really want a tattoo, wait and get it when you get home. If you really wanted it over there, you’ll still want it when your home, and you’ll save your Mammy and Daddy (and yourself) worrying about you contracting HIV from dirty needles and bamboo sticks. Also, you’ll be sober getting it back home, which will make it easier to decide whether that tattoo of the camel on your big toe is a great idea or just really fucking stupid.

4) Don’t rent mopeds: Unless you’ve driven one before, and are comfortable with paying for “damages” upon return. If you bring it back scratched you will be paying a hefty fine. If they claim you scratched it even though you did not, you will be paying a hefty fine.

5) Don’t disrespect the King or the military: Unless you want to get arrested in a country that has a terrifying prison system. Thai people love their King. Like, really love their king. Before every film screening in Thai cinemas, everyone must stand for a 10 minute feature dedicated to the King and the royal family. It is also illegal to criticise the military regime in the country, and these lads have massive guns which they aren’t afraid to use.

As regards booking things in advance: Do it for wherever you’re arriving (likely Bangkok). The rest is optional. Seriously. Koh Phi Phi and Koh Tao are tiny islands, but we had no trouble booking into the two most popular resorts on the day of arrival. Word of warning however; you’ll more than likely go to Koh Tao after the full moon party along with thousands of other people, so it might fill up fast. There are Koh Tao resort reps on Koh Phangan (where the Full Moon is held), and they can cut you a deal if you book with them and travel to Koh Tao after the full moon.

Depending on the day though, it is about 10-20% cheaper to just walk in on the day for a lot of places. I would definitely have Phi Phi and Koh Tao booked before arriving at either island because those two fill up fast, and Bangkok if you wanna lock down a nice hotel such as the Baiyoke Sky Resort (detailed below).

As regards booking a room for 2 people and cramming more people in: See the number 1 Don’t listed above. Having said that: you won’t get away with extra people in Ban’s, they track everyone. You would get away with it in PP Princess/Charlie. This isn’t really something that I’d recommend because it’s really not at all expensive to pay for your own bed. In a nice hotel. Such as The Nine hotel in Ao Nang, which cost us literally €9 and was incredible.

ITINERARY

There isn’t really any strict order to go about things, but I would definitely do things in this order again.

  • Bangkok (3 nights)
  • Chiang Mai (3 nights)
  • Phuket (2 nights)
  • Koh Phi Phi (7 nights)
  • Ao Nang (2 nights)
  • Koh Samui (3 nights)
  • Koh Phangan (5 nights)
  • Koh Tao (3 nights)
  • Bangkok (Again) (2 nights)

Fly into Bangkok and spend 2-3 nights there – especially if you arrived that night. You’ll need it for the culture shock. Stay in Dang Derm on the Khao San Road – it will be filled with other 20 somethings just like you who cannot believe how ridiculous this city is. Try and get to the Grand Palace and Wat Pho. Also check out the Temple of the Dawn. When it comes to night life, you really couldn’t be any better served by the Khao San Road – Dang Derm is right next to The Club Khaosan, and any of the bars on the street in front of you are good to spend some time in before heading in there.

Chiang Mai: I wasn’t in Thailand for this part of the trip but from what I’ve heard and the photos I’ve seen the 2 day trek is definitely something that is worth doing. This involves a full day of jungle trekking, an overnight stay in said jungle, elephant rides, bamboo rafting, white water rafting, zip lining and mountain biking. Also, the Tiger Kingdom is here – playing with baby tigers is always fun.

Phuket: Quite a seedy place, but there are some good markets here. Go to Seduction – it’s a fantastic club. While in Phuket, we stayed in Deevana Patong Resort and got breakfast included – the breakfast was incredibly good, and the hotel was great to chill in during the day – some rooms have their own mini pool overlooking the main pool area.

Koh Phi Phi: You will fall in love with this island and never want to leave. Stay at PP Charlie or PP Princess. Most people stay here and they share the same resort. The pool is the best hangover cure going – ignore the reviews on TripAdvisor, their mostly from people who were expecting something more than a kebab holiday on steroids, because that’s as much as this part of the trip really is. Both Princess and Charlie are quite basic but there’s air con. Don’t pay for the breakfast because you will not rise in time to eat it and its cheaper to buy food in 7/11 or restaurants nearby. Schedule an early morning to do walk to the Phi Phi viewpoint and see the island before the clouds set in. This is the reward:

Phi Phi Viewpoint

Make sure you plan enough time to stay Phi Phi. It is the definition of paradise – Maya Bay is located there, i.e. “The Beach”.  The Banana Bar and Slinky’s are two essentials when you go out for the night; both are basically next to the Charlie/Princess resort. The Banana Bar plays films on the rooftop up until the early evening for those that want to chill out and take in the incredible views. At night, they sell 2 for 1 buckets. Slinky’s features EDM until the early hours and all sorts of activities where you literally play with fire – free shots for going through a flaming limbo and free buckets if you go through naked. If you’re going to do that sort of thing do it here and not at the Full Moon in Koh Phangan – at the Full Moon the fire dancers seem to actually try to burn you, and there are rumours they have deals going with the pharmacies in Koh Phangan to keep their business going.

The Banana bar runs a fantastic Water sports Experience that I would HIGHLY recommend doing. It’s about €60, includes breakfast, food and drink and they’re take you out on a large speedboat which feels like a much safer experience than the long tail boat the local fisherman bring tourists on! Also, in Phi Phi, there is a company called Maya Bay Tours that run a Sleep Aboard tour. It’s supposed to be one of the best experiences of a lifetime and was literally the highest rated activity on the planet on TripAdvisor. Unfortunately we couldn’t fit it in because of time constraints – we opted for the Banana Bar speed boat day instead.

One more thing. Phi Phi is tiny. If you strike up a passionate half hour romance with someone at Slinky’s and/or do some arts and crafts with a stranger back in your hotel room, be aware that you will run into them again, and likely the very next day. The fear.

Koh Samui– Stay in the Ark Bar if it’s cheap, otherwise stay in Behind The Scenes Hostel. We wanted to stay in Ark Bar but it was too expensive for us at the time, so we opted for the Behind the Scenes. It’s very very basic, but it’s very clean and located just behind the Ark Bar. When it comes to nightlife, its between the Ark Bar and Green Mango, with both having their own respective nights – Ark Bar holds its nights on Wednesday and Sunday, with the others being held by Green Mango. The most important thing I can say about Samui is buy all the fake merchandise you want here, do not wait until Bangkok. This is especially true for all of you who want a pair of “real” Nike Frees.

Koh Phangan: This is a 5 day event. All resorts here generally only allot rooms on a 5 night stay basis. You’ll have the Coral Bungalows Pool Party, the Jungle Experience Party and everything will culminate in the Full Moon Party. Stay on Haad Rin beach – this is where the Full Moon takes place, and if you’re based here you won’t have to queue to get to the beach on the night of the Full Moon. Tommy Resort is the go to destination for Haad Rin beach, but we stayed in a Jenny hostel; we had an entire dorm to ourselves and it was beside the beach, so it suited us perfectly. However, Tommy Resort is way better kitted out. Ensure you buy a shitload of glow paint from one of the shops on the day of the full moon and get horrifically luminous clothing too. Go hard or go home.

Koh Tao: Stay in Ban’s. It’s a great resort, and literally the entirety of Koh Tao revolves around Ban’s. You can book your diving package together with the accommodation and it works out way cheaper, and those who don’t want to dive don’t have to. They have a pub crawl which is held every few days during the week, and everyone on the diving course goes out together on the last night of their course with the instructors. Koh Tao is way more chill than anywhere else in Thailand so you have plenty of time to recover before going home. The best thing about Ban’s: If you book a diving course, you’ll get your accommodation free. As already mentioned earlier in this post, I would advise to book this in advance on Koh Phangan from one of the reps before travelling onwards to Koh Tao.


Bangkok (Again):  This time, treat yourself. We stayed in Prince Palace and booked a suite for 5 of us. While it was a lovely hotel, it was further away from the shopping district than we would have liked. If we were doing it again, we would stay in the Baiyoke Sky hotel or Lebua – Lebua was featured in The Hangover 2, and they have a 2,800ft² Hangover suite. This is the lounge:

Image taken from Lebua.com

At night in Bangkok, most people seem to go out on the Khao San Road – The Club Khao San is a good place to check out. Make sure to try the Sky Bar in the Baiyoke for drinks on one of the last nights you’re there – we did and it was a great way to end the trip. Check out MBK for some souvenirs, and I cannot recommend enough to go to the Paragon IMAX cinema. The cinema is like the opera in Thailand: Thai people dress to impress. There’s even a 5 minute address from the King played before films which you have to stand up for.

Regardless of what you do or don’t take away from the tips and advice I’ve given here, there’s no denying that a trip to Thailand will without doubt be one of the best things you’ll ever experience. On that note, if you’re still with me even after all this mountain of text, here’s the original video of the trip I made. It’s too long, there’s too much slow motion and there’s some sloppy editing, but it certainly captures the atmosphere of what the trip was for myself and the others that travelled there. Enjoy your trip.

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