The HPL Thailand Travel and Packing Guide

thailand travel prep guide

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Thailand has long captured the imaginations of travelers from all over the world for its delicious cuisine, history and captivating scenery. It’s a must-visit stop on any trip to Southeast Asia as it’s easy to travel around and very budget-friendly. Marvel at the intricate details of Bangkok’s Grand Palace or learn to scuba dive on the island of Koh Tao. Take one of the popular cooking classes, where you’ll learn to replicate your favorite dishes. Be sure to get outside of the cities, as that’s where you’ll find laid-back beach and mountain towns.

If we’ve left anything out or you’d like to add to the conversation, please leave comments below!

Thailand Travel Expenses Tips

Thailand is one of the cheapest places in the world to travel, so it’s not difficult to stay on a budget. Some travelers boast being able to travel for the equivalent of $10 USD per day there. Here are a few ways to keep costs low.

Eat Like a Local

By dining at sit-down restaurants, you’re paying sometimes twice as much. Instead, head for the street food stalls where the locals will be eating. You can find dishes that are filling and fresh for less than $1. If you’re unsure what to order, I recommend asking a local or simply pointing at something that looks good!

Don’t Bother Flying

Thai VIP Bus
Thai VIP Bus

Unless you’re on a time crunch, it isn’t really worth it to fly within Thailand. While there are budget carriers that keep costs fairly low, it can be more trouble than it’s worth between getting to the airport, lining up for hours until the gates open, the mad dash to check in and the baggage restrictions. Instead, the VIP buses and trains are cheap and usually on time. Songthaews, or shared truck taxis, are also common for getting from place to place, typically shorter distances. Skip the tuk tuks, as they’re usually a rip off. And be wary of scooters, especially if you’ve never driven one before.

Skip Chain Hotels

Avoid the major hotel chains when traveling in Thailand, as they’re much more expensive than local ones. Instead, seek out guesthouses or budget hotels, which offer many of the same amenities at half the price. Some include breakfast and free WiFi. And while hostels aren’t plentiful like in other parts of the world, the few that do exist are highly rated.

Plan Around Festivals

Thailand’s festivals bring in visitors from all over the world, which may affect your travel plans. If you’re planning on visiting during the Full Moon Party, Songkran or the Lantern Festival, I recommend booking your accommodation and transportation early. And if you’re trying to avoid them, be sure you know the dates so you aren’t shocked to find every hotel sold out and trains not running.

Thai Train Station
Thai Train Station

Essential Gear to Bring

Packing for Thailand can differ by when you’re going: rainy season or not-so-rainy season. Don’t forget that it’s a modest country, so flamboyant and skimpy clothing may get you some stares. Dress appropriately for where you’re going, specifically temples.

Sarong– This is one item you’ll want with you at all times. It makes for a beach cover up, keeps you warm in the air conditioned malls and also drapes over your shoulders to make your outfit suitable for temples.

Waterproof jacket or umbrella– When it rains, it pours and sometimes even floods. Bring some sort of item to protect you from getting wet. It might also be smart to bring something to protect your stuff like a dry bag for electronics and a backpack raincover.

Sandals– It’s customary to take off your shoes when entering a home or temple, so bring shoes that are comfortable but easy to take on and off. I wore flip flops nearly every day while my sister wore Crocs flats.

Lightweight clothing– Consider your clothing carefully, as it sticks to you when you’re sweaty. I wore a mix of lightweight dresses and longer shorts with tank tops.

Diva Cup– Tampons are not easy to come by in Asia, so if you want to avoid the drama of having to track them down, give a menstrual cup a try!

Books to Read Before Visiting

Books about Thailand can inspire you to get ready for your trip or connect on a deeper level if you’re already traveling there!

The Beach by Alex Garland– A man overhears about a secret paradise in Thailand, far away from the chaos of backpacker-filled Khao San Road. But what appears as an ideal society soon goes awry. Grab on Amazon.

Anna and the King of Siam by Margaret Landon– An Englishwoman goes to the kingdom of Siam (present-day Thailand) to tutor the king’s children and concubine and to help him communicate with foreign dignitaries. Their cultures often clash, but they both learn from one another. The book inspired the film and play The King and I. Grab on Amazon.

The Bridge Over the River Kwai by Pierre Boulle– In the book that became an award-winning film, a group of British prisoners of war are forced to dig a bridge for the Japanese to go by train to Burma. Grab on Amazon.

Sightseeing by Rattawut Lapcharoensap– In this collection of stories set in contemporary Thailand, the author tells the stories of the Thais living their lives and of visitors as well. Grab on Amazon.

Movies to Watch Before Visiting

Thailand has long been a popular place to film movies for its breathtaking scenery. Here are a few movies that are either set in Thailand or filmed there.

The Man with the Golden Gun– This James Bond classic was filmed in Bangkok, Phuket and what is now known as “James Bond Island.” Grab on Amazon.

Brokedown Palace– Two friends travel to Thailand in search of fun and sun, but when a handsome stranger frames them with drug trafficking, they are taken to prison. This is a lesson for travelers! Grab on Amazon.

Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason– Our favorite Brit finds herself filming a television show in Thailand with Daniel Cleaver and it’s not long before she unknowingly gets caught for smuggling drugs. Grab on Amazon.

The Hangover 2– While this is more farce than anything, the Wolf Pack returns for more shenanigans in Bangkok. They encounter the mafia, ladyboys and can’t remember any of it. Grab on Amazon.

White Temple
White Temple

Top Things to Do in Thailand

Thailand is a large and varied country with much more to do outside of the major cities. We’ve broken them down by attractions for each region.

Bangkok and Surrounds

Major metropolis Bangkok has more attractions than anywhere else in the country, so many people spend more time here. In the city, be sure to visit the temples, specifically Wat Pho. The Grand Palace is a must-visit and for shopping, be sure to hit up Chatuchak Market. Khao San Road is covered in backpacker bars, but Sukhumvit has many night spots as well. Get a unique perspective of the city by taking a ferry or visiting one of the many rooftop bars.

A short train ride away is the ruins at Ayutthaya, the former capital of Siam. Founded in the 1300s and destroyed in the 18th century, it’s an important place in Thai history.

Bangkok Food TourBangkok Food Tour – $33.33
This Bangkok food walking tour serves up fifteen tastings of delectable Thai dishes and drinks! Limited to 10 people, this small-group tour provides a personalized experience.

Chiang Mai and the Mountains

Long term travelers prefer the easygoing nature of Chiang Mai and its surrounding cities like Chiang Rai. Here you’ll find winding mountain roads and national parks with wildlife spotting opportunities.

Elephant Nature Park
Elephant Nature Park

Chiang Mai itself doesn’t have as many traditional tourist attractions as Bangkok, but make sure to visit the major temples, including Wat Doi Suthep, at the top of the mountain, and Wat Chedi Luang, in the center of the Old City. Animal lovers will appreciate a visit to the Elephant Nature Park, a wildlife habitat for the majestic creatures. Also check out the Sunday Night Walking Street and the many cooking schools located in town.

The most popular reason people visit nearby Chiang Rai is to see the famed White Temple, a modern structure featuring statues of everyone from Spiderman to Predator. Another popular town is Pai, a quiet hippie town where most people spend their days relaxing, renting motorbikes and swimming in waterfalls.

Bangkok Food Tour 2-Night Chiang Mai Tour Including Elephant Nature Park – $425.00
Feed and bathe rescued elephants at an animal sanctuary and get an insider’s glimpse of the spiritual side of Chiang Mai on this 2-night tour of Thailand’s northern city. Numbers are limited to 12 people, ensuring an intimate experience with a small group.

Andaman Coast

If you’ve ever seen pictures of epic sunsets in Thailand, it was probably taken on the Andaman Coast, known for being home to the filming locations of The Beach. Base your travels around Phuket, where you can spend a few days before venturing out. You can check out the Big Buddha and the Botanical Gardens before taking a boat trip to James Bond Island.

Further afield is Krabi, a coastal town known for its rock climbing and scenery. Koh Phi Phi is another popular destination with a legendary party scene.

Gulf of Thailand

On the opposite coast, you’ll find just as many famous islands and beach towns with plenty to offer of their own. Pattaya is the closest beach to Bangkok, so it’s popular with those visiting for a shorter period.

Further south is where the most well known beaches are located. Each of the islands is a great place to relax on the beach. Koh Samui is the largest, with its own Big Buddha and temples, as well as top notch resorts. Koh Tao has the best scuba diving around and you might even spot whale sharks! It’s ideal for all skill levels. And of course, Koh Pha Ngan is known primarily for its monthly Full Moon parties.

Food and Drink in Thailand

The food in Thailand is arguably the best in Southeast Asia. Each region has its own signature dishes, but here are just a few that I recommend trying. And don’t worry if you’re a vegetarian, as most places have vegetable dishes.

Mango Sticky Rice
Mango Sticky Rice

Pad thai– It’s called the national dish for a reason! It consists of noodles, egg, peanuts and vegetables with additional options of chicken or shrimp.

Skewers– You can call it many different names, but an easy and tasty dish from a street food vendor is anything on a stick. You can find pork, beef, chicken, vegetables and even bugs!

Khao soi– My personal favorite dish is native to northern Thailand and is a noodle soup with a rich, spicy broth and slow cooked chicken. You can find many different variations of noodle soup here.

Curries– I never tired of curry during my travels. There are three main types: red, green and yellow. Red is the most popular, but the green is delicious and can be very spicy. Yellow is more mild. They might have potatoes, peppers and other vegetables in them.

Mango sticky rice– This odd sounding dessert is so refreshing, as the tartness of the fruit cuts the sweetness of the rice covered in condensed milk.

Khao Soi
Khao Soi

Thai Language and Additional Help

The Thai language is very difficult to learn, especially because of the written language. It’s easy to learn a few key words and phrases, specifically “no,” “too expensive,” and “thank you.”

You should also keep in mind the laws of the country, even though you’re just visiting. It’s against the law to speak ill of the king, punishable by deportation, among other things. They also take drug-related crimes very seriously, so stay awa!



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Thailand travel and packing guide

Written by Caroline

Caroline Eubanks is a native of Atlanta, Georgia, but has also called Charleston, South Carolina and Sydney, Australia home. After college graduation and a series of useless part-time jobs, she went to Australia for a working holiday. In that time, she worked as a bartender, bungee jumped, scuba dived, pet kangaroos, held koalas and drank hundreds of cups of tea. You can find Caroline at Caroline in the City.

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Gear We Use

Organization

Packing Cubes – Organize your luggage with the lightweight, durable and compressible Eagle Creek Pack-It Specter Compression Cubes.


Backpacks + Daypacks

Pacsafe – Since they come with extra theft-resisting features, Pacsafe bags make you a more confident traveler. We especially love this bag.

Sea to Summit – Of all the Sea to Summit products, our most recommended is the fits-in-your-palm, super packable Ultra-Sil Daypack.


Personal Care

Nalgene Toiletry Bottles – These leak-free toiletry bottles and tubs come in all sizes – even super tiny, helping minimalists pack it all without bulk.

Turkish Towels – They’re thinner than most travel towels, and they actually cover your body! We can’t get enough of Turkish towels for travel.


Clothing

Speakeasy Supply Co. – They make the awesome hidden pocket infinity scarves that are perfect for stashing secret cash, lip balms, and passports.

Anatomie – Anatomie travel pants come with luxury prices, but they offer many benefits for travelers. See our review of the famous Skyler pants.

Travel Resources

Booking Airfare

Dollar Flight Club – Get flight deal alerts for your preferred departure airport. There is both a free and premium version (recommended for more sweet deals). Members save on average $500 USD per flight!

Skyscanner – Skyscanner is our preferred site for searching flights. They offer unbiased search results and are free from hidden fees. You can also book your hotels and rental cars.


Accommodation

Airbnb – Airbnb is the best place to book out apartments around the world. Sign up using this link to get $37 USD off your first stay booking + $14 USD towards an experience booking!

Booking.com – Search for hotels, hostels, and apartments using this one resource. Use it for flights, car rentals, and airport taxis as well.

Hostelworld – For hostels, Hostelworld remains our number one source for booking stays. Choose from straight up hostels, budget hotels and bed and breakfasts.

Trusted Housesitters – Save money on travel accommodation by becoming a housesitter. Housesitters often have extra duties, like caring for pets and gardens.

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