Backpacking and traveling the world is a difficult endeavor. Regardless of the country, being able to get around somewhere completely unfamiliar to you is quite the undertaking.
Having lived in Thailand for about 9 months now, I finally think I’ve mastered how not to piss off most Thai people.
That being said, I just visited the island of Koh Tao for a long weekend to get my open water certification, and as much as I had an incredible amount of fun with my fellow foreigners, I took note of all the things they were doing wrong or backwards that was, ultimately, making their life that little bit more difficult as a backpacker in Thailand.
Before you embark on the long journey to the Land of Smiles, here are a few tips and things to know that will make your life so much easier once you get here.
1. Everyone is trying to rip you off
Be wary of any and all “deals” you may be offered here.
Haggle with everyone, and haggle absolutely everything. Do not get in that suspiciously cheap tuk tuk for a bargain tour of Bangkok — you’re going to end up in a lot of gem stores, buddy.
Do your research before purchasing any sort of tour package or item to see what people normally pay. This seems like common sense, but you would be surprised at how many foreigners (ahem, everyone) get ripped off while traveling in Thailand.
2. Learn a handful of Thai words
Thai people appreciate a foreigner who is willing to learn even the simplest words in order to communicate. Arm yourself with the knowledge of how to say a few key words and phrases to reduce your chances of getting ripped off and maybe even elicit a smile.
Good words to know:
- Hello: Sawadee kha/khrap (female/male)
- Thank you: Khob khun kha/khrap
- How much?: Taorai kha/khrap?
- No, I don’t want it: Mai ao kha/khrap
- Sorry/Excuse me: Khortot kha/khrap
3. Stop putting your feet wherever you please
It’s always a cringe-worthy moment when a traveler puts their feet up in Thailand.
Whether you are waiting for a bus or grabbing dinner at a local restaurant, keep your feet on the floor. It is extremely disrespectful to put your feet up in Thailand, as they are the lowest part of your body and considered dirty.
4. No meter? No problem.
If a taxi driver in Bangkok tells you they do not use a meter, simply walk away.
They are legally obliged to use one, and if they say they do not have one and you call them out, you probably do not want to get into their taxi anyway. Chances are, they will drive you around in circles, or worse, take you to the wrong destination.
5. Put it away
Do you have a beautiful physique? Yes. Is your complexion simply glowing from Thailand’s beautiful weather? Yes. Does that mean you should enter a public place wearing your swimsuit only? No.
The amount of string bikinis and swim trunk-wearing people I saw in Koh Tao roaming around in public, from the local 7-Eleven to restaurants off the main pier, was incredibly unsettling. That is not normally accepted anywhere, let alone Thailand.
For the love of God, put it away.
6. Thai time
Yes, the infamous Thai time will play a large role in your travels while exploring the Kingdom.
Many of you will brave overnight buses, endure long ferry rides or opt for the slow-moving train to get from city to city. That being said, do not be surprised if your mode of transportation is incredibly late, or (for some reason unbeknownst to anyone) incredibly early.
That being said, it is always better to arrive early than to miss whatever it is you are traveling on, but try not to get frustrated when you inevitably end up leaving much later than you had originally planned.
7. Keep your voice down
You can always tell when foreigners are nearby just by the sheer volume of their conversations. Whether you are on the sky train or at a restaurant, make note of how the people around you are talking and try to match their volume.
8. Bring bug spray
While you might not necessarily have to go the dramatic extra mile and purchase malaria pills before traveling, Thailand does have its fair share of mosquitos. I saw one too many legs simply covered in bites while in Koh Tao. You can purchase bug spray and lotion fairly cheap here, even from 7-Eleven, so there’s no excuses.
9. Sunscreen is your best friend
Can you handle the heat? Maybe, but in order to avoid the painful sunburn you will inevitably get if you underestimate Thailand’s weather, be sure to arm yourself with proper sunscreen. A possible day spent exploring a new city can be completely shot if you are too pink to move.
10. Mai pen rai
If something (read: everything) goes incredibly wrong during your trip to Thailand, try not to stress out about it.
Most likely, Thais will respond with a hearty laugh and tell you, “mai pen rai,” which essentially means, no problem or no worries. Let it go.
I missed a flight once and had to work the next day, and as I was uncomfortably close to tears, the woman working at my hostel simply laughed in my face and told me how cute I was. At the time, I could not understand how any part of the situation was, “cute.”
Now I understand, however, that losing face — in this instance, crying in front of them — is incredibly uncomfortable for a Thai person, so you should try to keep it together, tell yourself mai pen rai and carry on, regardless of how bad it gets.
What are your tips for backpackers in Thailand?