15 fun things to do while backpacking Thailand
Thailand has been an amazing country for backpacking for years. Even wanted to chew on some bugs for lunch? Then backpacking Thailand is your way to become happy.
But even if you prefer dreamlike beaches with white sand, great food and a traveler friendly infrastructure, Thailand is a perfect place to dive into the Asian culture. Moreover, it is a great country to start your first backpacking trip. Backpacking on a budget or not: Everything is possible in Thailand. Just be aware, that Thailand is a country attracting a lot of travelers and tourists every year. You won’t be the only one. In this post, I’d like to share my favorite 15 fun things to do while backpacking Thailand with you. Keep a few basic things about traveling Thailand in mind and get inspired by some interesting experiences.
Avoid Thai bars full of sex tourists
- If you avoid the typical places with a reputation of sex tourism, prostitution, cheap bars and big hotels, you will be able to have a good time backpacking Thailand. There are a lot of things to discover: Impressive nature, beautiful temples, historic sights, lush green national parks.
Get around by local buses
- To get around Thailand, you can safe a lot of money and get a good idea about real Thai life by using the local busses at the bus stations instead of traveling in tourist minibuses cramped with western backpackers. It might be easy and often the fastest way of traveling to catch a tourist mini bus at your hostel. But try to get the real travel experience at least once. A 800 kilometers bus ride can be around less than 15 Euros. Get an overview about destinations, timetables and prices here.
Backpacking Thailand with a daily budget of 10 to 20 Euros a day
- I traveled around Thailand with a daily budged of 10 to 25 Euros per day depending on sightseeing activities and the distances, that I traveled. Hanging out in a beach hut for a few days will cost you less than a complete Bangkok sightseeing and shopping program. Streetfood is available for less than two Euros. A fresh fruit juice or smoothie can be sometime less than one Euro. Beds in basic beach huts hostels and hotels will cost you from 5 Euros upwards per day, if you don’t need luxury and air condition. A bus ride for example from Bangkok to Krabi by local bus can be around 12 to 15 Euros. Yes, prices in general have risen during the last years. But Thailand can still be a fantastic place for backpackers on a budget, if you find the right spots.
Be aware of tourist scams in Thailand
- I loved backpacking Thailand. I always felt safe and met a lot of happy relaxed and peaceful locals. But be aware, that you might get scammed, while people smile in your face. You are a tourist, no matter how scruffy your clothes look. Always use common sense. Always count your change. I met people, who ended up booking a whole tourist boat for a trip on river in Bangkok just for themselves – paying a lot of money. I met people, who got talked into buying three suits – and had to travel with that for weeks around South East Asia. I got talked into a free sightseeing TukTuk trip and ended up in some shops and travel agencies, where people tried to sell me tours and all kind of overpriced things. It might happen: Just don’t buy anything, that you don’t really want or need. Think about it for a few minutes and don’t feel embarrassed to walk off.
There is other stuff, that makes you happy while backpacking Thailand.
Here are my favorite 15 fun things to do in Thailand
1. Living and relaxing in a beach hut
- Backpacking Thailand means sleeping in a basic hut at a white sandy beach at least once. Going to sleep with the sound of the waves and waking up by jumping from the bed directly into the warm waves of the ocean made me relax and find some peace after traveling for months. I really spend some days just by myself reading a great book in a hammock, going a few minutes to eat great Thai food and speaking to some of my international neighbors, who earned their money in Thailand by giving some yoga classes. No TV, no internet. It was great not to care about anything. You can find places like that even on the party Island of Ko Phangan. Just leave the beach of Haad Rin, where the Full Moon Party takes place, and locate yourself in one of the small villages on the other side of Ko Phangan.
- Forget about online bookings in case, you want a real budget deal. And don’t forget to bargain about the price for your hut in a charming way. Expect to pay at least 5 to 10 Euros for a pretty basic hut per night. Just walk around or drive around on a rental motorbike and ask directly at the less posh looking resorts. And if you want company, look out for some advertisements of beach parties at bigger backpacker resorts along the beach.
2. Eating drinking, shopping and partying on Khao San Road in Bangkok
- Khao San Road is the place, where all backpackers meet sooner or later. Between countless hostels and bars, you can buy cheap clothes and jewelry, get an amazing massage for your feet, drink fruit juices, eat street food and dive in a crazy world of night clubs, music, sounds, yelling drunk western travelers. You might find it cheesy, but you need to feel the vibrant atmosphere it at least once to be able to talk about it. I really stayed in a hostel in one of the side lanes and enjoyed the easy way of life for a few days. You can be, what you are: A backpacker among other backpackers. Get some energy and information around Khao San Road in Bangkok before starting to discover the more remote parts of Thailand.
3. Eat, eat, eat: Thai Food is the best
- Thai food rules. Did you know, that people all around the world consider Thai dishes to be the most delicious food? 35000 voters taking part in a 2017 CNN poll on Facebook put four Thai dishes on the world’s top 10 list. The results: The soup “Tom Yam Goong“ , the noodle dish “Pad Thai“, the papaya salad “Som Tam“ and the “Massaman Curry“ are among the world’s most favorite dishes. Among the top 50 are moreover “Green Curry”, “Thai Fried Rice” and “Moo Nam Tok” – a combination of Grilled pork combined with lemon juice, green onions, chili, mint sprigs, fish sauce and toasted rice.
- Read the full list of voter’s World’s Top 50 dishes here.
- In Thailand, I never got food on my restaurant plate, that I didn’t like. It was always pretty amazing, sometimes also quite spicy. I ate a lot and still managed to lose weight while traveling around Thailand. I always felt fit and healthy, pretty impressed by the food variety and good vegan and vegetarian options. Thai Food is together with Malaysian food my favorite food in South East Asia. While traveling on a budget, you get in these countries amazing quality of products and taste for small money as long as you eat as local as possible and try restaurants catering especially just for tourists and travelers.
4. Visit the temples in Bangkok’s former royal district
- While in Bangkok, you should see the Ratanakosin area. You won’t be disappointed, No matter, how many temples in South East Asia, you might have already seen. Mingle with the Buddhist pilgrims and foreign tourists and enjoy your day between Wat Phra Kaew (the temple of the Emerald Buddha), the Grand Palace, Wat Pho with the country’s largest reclining Buddha and the impressive Wat Arun (temple of the Dawn).
- The sights are open every day of the year. Start early. Most temples open around 8 am. Some close around 5 pm, Wat Phra Kaew even at 3.30pm. Wear appropriate clothes to cover your elbow and knees, avoid jeans with holes or tight leggings. Flip Flops are okay. Don’t believe anyone telling you, that the temples are closed. These people usually just want to sell you some alternative tours. The temples are open every day.
- Find opening times, prices and background information about temple in Bangkok on the Lonely Planet website.
5. Try insects for lunch – or take at least a picture of them
- Grasshoppers, bugs, worms, scorpions: They all are on the Thai snack menu. Insects are a great source of protein. They mostly come deep-fried and are a cheap meal, sold on many markets and food stalls. I really tried to look really interested on the trays full of insects on the market, but belong to the culinary cowards. So if you want to prove your open-minded traveler attitude towards culturally different food or are simply traveling on a budget and need some proteins, give it a go.
- Here is some great advise about the different tastes and how to eat insects.
6. Discover Thailand in a TukTuk
- In Bangkok, you don’t necessarily have to look for a TukTuk. The drivers will find you. Many will offer you a free or very cheap TukTuk tour. No problem with that. Just be aware, that you might end up in some travel agencies, tailor or jewelry shops, where clever salesmen will try to talk you into buying something. The better way is to choose the right time for a TukTuk ride by yourself, find a TukTuk away from the main tourist spots and talk about the route and the price beforehand. Some drivers will also suggest nice places to go to. But be aware, that the time and the petrol has a price. Plan to pay around 40 THB – 1 Euro – for a small trip, 400 THB – 10 Euros – for half a day. Accepting that, you will get a fun experience seeing parts Thailand from a new perspective.
7. Chill in colorful beach bars – and find Mushroom Shakes on the menu
- It’s absolutely the best to chill at Thailand’s beaches on the colorful cushions or in the comfy hammocks of a beach bar. It’s easy to spend the whole day sipping fruits juices and eating Thai curries, reading a book, listening to music, talking to other backpackers, meeting new friends and enjoy the easy life.
- In many budget beach hut resorts, you might find some special drinks on the menu like Mushroom Shakes or Happy Shakes. It sounds like a super funny idea. But be aware before thinking of tripping, that drug laws in Thailand are extremely strict and that the fun can end in the worst case forever if being caught. According to Thai lawyers, possession or consumption of Schedule V narcotics like Marijuana and Magic Mushrooms can result in five years imprisonment or fines of up to fifty thousand baht. You don’t want that. Read more about the law here.
- You should think twice about taking drugs in Thailand at all. You maybe might want to travel to Portugal instead. Hard to believe, because you might get offered all kinds of drugs openly in many places and find places called Mushroom Bar on the Island Ko Lanta. Read reviews on TripAdvisor.
- If you try the special shakes: Don’t be stupid, get a good feeling for the situation and don’t get caught.
8. Enjoy psytrance parties in Thailand
- One of my greatest party experiences in Thailand was the Half Moon Party on Ko Phangan . I loved the amazing set up in the jungle, the neon colors, the body paint, the decoration, the beats, free and wild dancing in the sand for hours. I went there with some other backpackers, that I had met on the Island a few days before. The atmosphere was overwhelming. Happy. That was a few years ago. Back then, the tickets were 500 THB including a drink and a free CD. Be ready to pay meanwhile Meanwhile 1400 THB at the door – or get an online discount. The party takes place every two weeks. Read more information about the Half Moon Party on Ko Phangan.
- Once a month, you find the festival Blackmoon Culture at Mac’s Bay in Ban Tai, Ko Phangan. Read more on the website and on Facebook.
- And for everyone, that looks for a great way to spend New Year’s Eve, check out the Open Air Experience Festival on Ko Tao. Read more about the Experience Festival
- Almost everyone has already heart about the infamous free Full Moon Party on Ko Phangan uniting western travelers at the beach of Haad Rin. If you like buckets full of long drinks, hordes of travelers dancing at the beach, drunk sex, cheap drugs getting sold openly and fun music sounds, it’s your place to be. Just be aware, that the Full Moon Party has obviously lost its spirit. It started as a relaxed backpacker gathering with a chilled out hippie vibe in the 1990s. Back then, Ko Phangan didn’t even have electricity or backpacker hostels. Even if there are still some bars playing psytrance nowadays, it has nothing to do with the spirit of psytrance anymore. Get information about the Full Moon Party
9. Taking the night ferry from Surat Thani to Ko Phangan
- The most interesting way to get to the legendary island of Ko Phangan is probably to take the slow night ferry from Surrat Thani. I arrived by bus in Surrat Thani, walked a few hundred meters towards the harbor and bought a ticket for the slow boat, that leaves the harbor every evening around 11 pm from Ban Don Pier. It’s recommended to buy the ticket a few hours before departure directly on the boat. The price should be 400 THB. After a stroll around the close by night market full of stalls with cheap sun glasses, clothes and insect snacks, I went on board. The ride takes around seven hours. And it was a really adventurous feeling sleeping on a mattress in the belly of the boat next to other travelers and locals, feeling the fresh breeze and listening to the roaring engine. It’s a local transport boat and you won’t find any touristic comfort. But you will get a unforgettable authentic travel experience instead and might be able to meet new travel mates on the same wavelength.
10. Go snorkeling or diving in Thailand
- Some call Thailand one of the best diving and snorkeling sites in the world. Well, I haven’t been everywhere, but had very nice snorkeling experiences in Thailand. Buy or rent yourself some snorkeling gear and just try the beaches or get on a snorkeling trip on a small boat. While Ko Tao is said to be one of the most impressive places for divers, I personally experienced it as a place punished with too much concrete as a consequence of touristic overkill. But hey, there is enough space in the water for curious adventurers.
- You can find some great advise to find the best dive spots here.
11. Discover Maya Beach – the beach of „The Beach“
Everyone will tell you, that visiting the Maya Bay on the island Phi Phi Leh, which was the setting of the legendary movie „The Beach“ with Leonardo di Caprio, just means to hang out in a commercialized scenery with hundreds of other backpackers around. Locals will even suggest you better tours to more beautiful beaches without tourists. But everyone still wants to go to the magical place, which gets still top ratings on Trip Advisor.
- It is really a beautiful beach. And if your imagination is really good, you might see the beauty behind the dozens of other tourist boats. Luckily, it wasn’t too busy, when I went there. You will have different option of getting there including tours with speed boats and large passenger boat.
- I went on a day tour from Krabi to the Phi Phi Islands starting in a kind of ferry and hopping in a small long tail boat taking six passengers. You probably get the best budget boat deal by asking the locals directly at the Krabi pier for offers or book a tour at the harbor.
- The atmosphere in our group was chilled out, the visit of Maya Bay, Ko Phi Phi, snorkeling and the snorkeling gear included in the price. Just be aware, that you might get charged a Maya Bay entry fee of 200 Baht additionally to your tour price.
12. Visit a ladyboy show on Ko Tao
- I felt a bit strange visiting a ladyboy show in the Queen’s Cabaret for the first time in a cabaret bar on Ko Tao island. I was curious and got a warm welcome already at the door. The entrance was for free as long as I bought at least one drink. Expect the drinks to be relatively expensive. The show itself was pretty cool and a really good entertainment. The dancers on the stage were pretty.
- I have never seen anywhere else on this planet so many transgender people than in Thailand. They are called ladyboys by the tourists or Katoeys by the locals. They seem to be a natural part of the city nightlife in Thailand. In every party or red light district, you will see them showing self-confidence on the streets or in cabaret shows singing songs of Beyoncé, Rihanna, Gloria Gaynor oder Whitney Houston. The open-minded attitude towards transgender people might be found in the tolerant religion of Buddhism. The existence of a third gender has been already mentioned in the early days of the development of Buddhism. According to Buddhism, every person lives a life as a Katoey in the circle of reincarnation.
- But even the impression of Thai tolerance is just one part of the truth. “Thai ,kathoeys’ (‘ladyboys’) encounter discrimination at all stages of employment, face prejudice in terms of education and public facilities, receive lower salaries and fewer benefits, and battle instances of sexual harassment and physical violence“, is written in an article of the Pulitzer Center. Read the full article here.
13. Try street aerobics
- You might come across crowds of people dancing or doing street aerobics in public parks or places in Thailand – guided by an instructor and music. Be curious, be sportive and join. It’s fun. The classes are free. Even if you don’t understand the instructor, just watch the other people and follow. There are men and women of all ages taking part. The moves are usually not too difficult.
14. Meet monkeys in the Khao Yai National Park
- okay, it was a pretty stupid idea to visit the Khao Yai National Park without ideas about how to deal with crocodiles, bears, monkey and heaps of leeches alone in the wilderness. I had a very romantic idea about watching all the elephants, reptiles, monkeys, bears and birds and all the other hundreds of species coming from over-civilized Germany. I panicked as soon as I saw the crocodile warning sign and cried like little school girls, when our legs were suddenly covered with disgusting blood sucking leeches in spite of our leech socks.
- But me and my travel mate wanted to see the 2,168 square kilometers including rain and evergreen forests and grasslands, that had been put on the Unesco World Heritage list. And all in all, we had an amazing experience. We saw monkeys jumping from tree to tree. We walked around amazing plants and watched fascinating waterfalls. The Khao Yai National Park was even setting for the amazing waterfall scenes of the movie „The Beach“. And at night, we fall asleep listening to jungle sounds.
- I can just recommend to get there prepared in a better way than we did.
Our challenges in Khao Yai National Park
- Our first challenge: There was no public transport in the park at all. Visitors are supposed to bring their own cars or go on a tour. And I really still don’t understand, that there is not even a bicycle rental in a park, where the environment should be protected. At least, there was a local bus from the town of Pak Chong to the park entrance. Be aware, that the visitor center is 14 kilometers away from the park entrance. Our solution: walking and hitch-hiking. Both ways worked, but we needed patience and power.
- Second Challenge: No hotels and hostels around. Our solution: Pitch up a tent on one of the two campsites in the National Park. You can rent tents for 150 Baht. There is an extra charge for other stuff like sleeping bags.
- Third Challenge: Find your way without a guide. Our solution: stay on the marked trails. The park offers options from 500 meters to eight kilometers, all together 50 kilometers. Get a map at the visitor center. And buy some socks to protect your legs from leeches. There are some trails starting at the campsites.
- Fourth Challenge: We didn’t bring a lot of food and restaurants closed earlier in the afternoon than we had thought. Our unintended solution: Looking hungry and poor. The nice and well-prepared Thai campsite neighbors offered to share their rice dishes with us. The next day, we stocked up at the restaurant.
Khao Yai National Park: Prices, opening times, wildlife
- The main entrance is at North with nearest city Pak Chong in Nakhon Ratchasima Province, the second entrance is at South in Nakhon Nayok province. The international tourist entrance fee is 400 THB for adults and 200 THB for children. As of March 2015, Thai driving licence, work permit or student card holders can’t get in for Thai price, which is with 40 THB a lot less.
- Get all information about routes, animal life, plants, prices, campsites, opening times Khao Yai National Park.
15. Rent a scooter and try not to break your bones
- You can find scooter and motorbike rentals almost everywhere in Thailand. It’s cheap and it’s a popular way of transport in Thailand. And many backpackers use the bikes to do individual sightseeing trips or to visit more remote beaches. It’s a great way of being independent and get to see a lot. You can rent motorbikes per hour, for a day or even for a few days or weeks. In a group of a few travel mates, I also rented a scooter on Ko Lanta. I have a driving license and usually drive cars, but it was my the first time in my life driving a scooter. At first, I felt pretty insecure and had to learn, how start, to drive, to speed up and use the brakes. Ko Lanta was a quite good place for me to learn it, because there was not much traffic on the streets out of the main season. Most roads were just empty. After a few minutes, I simply loved driving.
- The most important thing for me was not to injure others and not to get injured. Be aware: According to statistics, hundreds of drivers get killed in traffic accidents every year, thousands of people get injured. Especially travelers often underestimate the traffic in Thailand and lack experience in driving in foreign countries or on motorbikes. Find information about statistics here.
- You might not even have to show a driver’s license when renting a motorbike in Thailand. But make sure to have an international driving license with you and got a health insurance for travelers. Otherwise getting controlled by the police or having an accident can be expensive experiences.
- Get helpful information about driving a motorbike in Thailand on the World Nomads website.
Visa Regulations in Thailand
- Find out more about Visa Regulations on the official website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Thailand here. Many nationals (for example of member states of the EU) arriving in Thailand, get free 30-day visa-exempt stay if arriving to Thailand by air or land. No visa needed.
- If you plan to reenter Thailand more than twice per year while traveling South East Asia, make sure to check with a Thai Embassy the possibilities beforehand. Here you find a list of international Thai Embassies.