My Guide to Thailand


Mai pen rai…. It’s all good. Seriously. This is one of my favorite countries and cultures ever. The people are kind and happy. The food is amazing. The landscapes are jaw dropping. It’s dirt cheap. There is street culture. It is safe. It is warm. Now I’m questioning why I am not there now with you.

The only things that may ruin Thailand -besides the food poisoning you will get at some point- are spending your precious time in over-touristed areas. Crowds, package tours, fat white men with prostitutes, petty theft: stay away!

I’ve spent roughly four months in the country collectively, and seven in southeast asia, all spread between 2008, 2010, and 2014. Here’s what I learned:

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First: Read my guide Bargaining with Grace in Southeast Asia 

 

NORTH

All prices in the north are roughly half the price of what you will pay in the south. There tends to be more emphasis on spirituality and history. There are less douchey tourists. It is less traveled but still very accessible. Only downside: no beaches.

Expect to pay:

-$6-15 / night for a clean and basic room with a bathroom and hot water. $50 gets you luxury.
- Meals range from $1-5 for basic, and up from there.
- 1 hour massages start at $5

Chiang Mai

Easily one of my favorite cities. Ever. The streets are strange and small and bursting with life! The city is divided into old (inside the moat) and new, (which is outside the moat). I’ve always stayed in the old city. I’m a sucker for those streets. I always stay around Moon Mung Soi 9 (quick lesson: soi means “side street” or “alley”, so main streets -aka Moon Mung- will have multiple side streets stemming from it, -aka the “sois).

Must sees: Doi Suthep, Sunday Night Walking Street (much better market than the regular one)
Tattoo- Weingping Ink Tattoo Studio comes highly recommended from a close friend of mine.
Food- Order “khao-soi”
Extra dares: take a cooking class at an organic farm, find the secret local’s swimming hole, go rock-climbing

Pai

I’ve spent more time here than any other place in the country. Pai has grown up a lot since I first visited in 2008. The tiny hippie town that was full of dread-locks and had no AC in 2008 all of a sudden has fake tan euro trash and street fights in 2014…. It’s going towards the Vang Vieng route a bit, but is still a must-visit in my book. Just now I recommend staying a bit outside of town or across the river. There is still a great conscious international ex-pat scene, and so much to do! The worst time to visit is early spring, when the local burn the hills and the air is always smoky.

Must dos- Rent a scooter and get lost. Wear a helmet and don’t be a dumbass.

Tattoo- Monkey Magic Tattoo with Poh. I’ve spent 16+ hours on his table. Don’t be a stranger! Tell him I sent you.

Eat- There is this amazing little lady at the night market that makes this noodle salad concoction for $1… She take 3+ different kinds of noodles, mixes them with 2+ different sauces, squishy tofu, spicy sauce, fried tofu skin, cilantro, green onion, garlic, and whatever else she has on her table. I ate this every night and would wake up craving it. Get it.

Shop- Mai and Boy’s psytrance crystal and jewelry shop and bar. It’s off the main street down a small alley/entryway that is lit by cut-out bamboo. You enter into a small bar area with a firepit. They have a small jewelry store in the back. Everything in it is so gorgeous and made with intention. They throw small full moon parties with tee-pees on their property outside of town. Hang out. Ask them about crystals.

Chiang Dao

Went here to teach english to hilltribe children on a small farm. The farm owners were psychotic. Left and stayed in town. Not that I would call it a town… The caves are amazing. That’s about all I got for you.

Chiang Rai

I haven’t been but have heard good things…. My friend Dave says to go to the White Temple.

Kanchanaburi

Stayed here in 2010 and loved it. It’s a great short (two hours if I remember correctly) trip from Bangkok by train. Very interesting if you are history buff. Cute town. Kind of a lot of prostitution for how cute it is, but you an avoid those bars easily. In the market I almost bought a baby squirrel to be my backpacking pet, but Lobo wouldn’t let me.

Do- Go kayaking, learn about the WWII Japanese occupancy, visit waterfalls. My biggest regret there was not visiting Erawan Falls.

Lopburi – Monkey Town

Lopburi is right off the train tracks and a great way to spend a few hours. There are monkeys everywhere! Big monkeys, small monkeys, cute monkeys, ugly monkeys, mean monkeys, and very very very tiny brand new baby monkeys. You will get enough monkey pictures to last you your whole trip.

Ayuthaya

Great temple town, some fun touristy things to do. Honestly all I remember from there was that it rained and I drank a lot of beer.

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South

Koh Phangan

Koh Phangan is over-backpackered but still a gem. I have still resisted the urge to attend a Full Moon Party, but I have made it to two Half Moons in 2008 and 2010. From what I can gather, the Full Moon Party is a fabulous debaucherous amateur rave, full of littering, bad trance, eighteen year girls in day glow paint, and some fucked up chakra symbology packaged on tank tops. But it’s supposed to be a hell of a party.

The Full Moon Party goes on in Haad Rin, (you may also see it spelled Hat Rin, Had Rin, Haat Rin, etc)  and for the rest of the month, Haad Rin is a killer shallow beach town to beach bum out on. What most people don’t know (shhhhh) is that there is more on Koh Phangan that just Haad Rin. Yeah, that’s right! It’s a decent sized island with lots of hiking, beaches, jungles, and places that are just too hard to find for most hungover eighteen-year-olds. So you can be safe for most of your time there and just go to Haad Rin when you get the urge to party.

Where I stay: Haad Tien at The Sanctuary, a quick mini b0at ride from Haad Rin, and is a gorgeous sacred yoga retreat spa safe-haven away from the chaos. It’s a splurge -for Thai standards- but still wayyyy cheaper than anything comparable in the US. The restaurant is fabulous, the people are dynamite -assuming you like Burning Man esque yoga freaks- and the vibe is pure love.

To save on money you can stay at a cheaper spot on Haad Tien, Why Nam Beach or Haad Yuan Beach, all are  accessible to each other through jungle paths, and just visit The Sanctuary for yoga, dinner, or activities.

Also- it is worth noting the best party I have been to on Thailand was at Guy’s Bar on Haad Tien. It goes off every Friday night. Great vibe and music without the amateurs. Of course it’s been years since I’ve been, so all bets are off!

Koh Samui

Haven’t been and have been warned to never go. Tourist trap.

Koh Tao

Famous for its diving, and the best and cheapest place in Thailand to get a certificate. Great music and parties. Head here if Koh Phangan is too much for you.

Koh Chiang

I was here in 2008 and it was pretty chill. We went looking for a burner resort on Lonely Beach called The Magic Garden, and found an empty and sad bungalow set up with faux fur. From what I have gathered the island has turned into a bit of a tourist mess with large resorts taking up space on all the good beaches, but there is still great hiking and protected land.

Koh Lanta

I did not expect to like Koh Lanta as much as I did. I had a blast beach bar hopping for two days. Good vibes. Not too expensive for the south.  Like most of the south not as much culture. If you want to still have amenities but stay on an Andaman island that isn’t too overdone, this is a great bet.

Koh Phi Phi

Stay away. The Beach ruined it for everyone. Even transferring boats here gave me anxiety.

Phuket

I had heard nothing but awful things about Phuket for years and years, and I finally spent a night there this last year and was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. Truth be told the old town there was the closest I have ever gotten in the south to feeling like I was in the north. There was a fabulous outdoor market, great scenery, and thai magic. I did not go to the beaches or spend more than 24 hours there, but the short time I did spend I loved it.

Railay Beaches

So many good things. Backpacker paradise. After you get on the boat from awful Au Nong, time just slows down and becomes more special. If you have never rock-climbed before this is where you should learn. If you’re a pro then you probably have already heard of it and are creaming your panties waiting to get up. It’s breathtaking. I stay in Haad Tonsai, the smallest and least developed of the beaches. It’s small and the beach isn’t fantastic, but the vibe is so fresh and uncorrupted. Eat and chill at Backyard Cafe, it’s on the backroad on the way to the jungle path. Visit the chicken lady on the small street food path. Update: Apparently there is construction going on and Ton Sai will soon have its first resort.

Must dos - Rock climb your heart out. Commission a boat to take you out to hidden private islands. Kayak.

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Getting Around

Plane

Honestly, it’s so cheap to fly around the country, you should just fly. Check out Air Asia and Thai Air.

Boat

Get ready to spend a lot of time on boats in the south! Enjoy yourself and crack open a few beers on the way. Shop around for prices as there are always a few commissions

Train

Trains are a super fun way to travel if you have the time. Definitely get sleeper bunks for overnight trips. Watch your things closely!

Tourist Busses

Take if you enjoy drunk Australian men whining about the local beer. For hours and hours and hours.

Tuk Tuk

Bargain! Make sure your price is determined before they start driving. Make sure they are including each way and the amount of people in the tuk tuk. Example: You may think that 50B is a great deal to get across town and back, but when you go to pay the driver demands 200B – 50B each way x2 for you and your friend.

Taxi

Make sure they are legit taxis with honest meters. Many times taxis can be cheaper than tuk tuks for small trips because of the meters.

 

 



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