I’m not an expert on Thailand. I’ve only been there once, and I stayed mostly in Northern Thailand. But if anyone asked me for advice on traveling to Thailand, or what I would have liked to have known before going; this is what I would tell them.
1.) Don’t pack too many clothes
Clothes in Thailand are dirt-cheap. I mean like, clothes that yes, you would actually want to wear. Also, Thai culture is really conservative, I don’t think I saw any boobs while I was in Thailand and I sure as heck did not see anyone wearing an above-the-knees skirt or dress. Maybe a few, but it certainly wasn’t common. I presently live in South Korea as an English teacher and when I arrived in Thailand I found that I was uncomfortable wearing most of my dresses because they felt too short by Thai standards, so I ended up buying a pair of Thai fisherman pants and I wore them under the dress.
Thai fisherman pants are super light and comfortable and I guess they’re a little like Hawaiian shirts in Hawaii; EVERYONE wears them (I’ve never been to Hawaii, so I might be wrong about this). You can buy a pair of Thai fisherman pants for about $4.00. The only downside to Thai fisherman pants is that with the elastic waistband, you’re not gonna have any clue how much weight you’re gaining from all that mango sticky rice and curry. Additionally, printed t-shirts, dresses and skirts are everywhere, even winter coats! Why winter coats? Well, I think the Thais know that most people on vacation are coming from colder climates and they will return to colder climates, so why wouldn’t we want to buy winter gear while they’re on vacation? I totally would have bought a winter coat, had I any room left in my backpack, that is, bnut I didn’t because it was full of my too-short dresses. So, take my advice if you go to Thailand: don’t pack too many clothes. You might want one pair of pants, a dress, some t-shirts, and maybe a jacket; but plan to buy things. Shopping is half the fun of vacation, isn’t it?
I thought I would go to Thailand looking nice, which is why I brought my nice clothes. But once I got there and passed five dude-bros walking around the Chiang Rai night market wearing nothing but silk elephant boxers, silk Hawaiian t-shirts, and silk ties, I realized that I had overestimated the Thailand dress code. Thailand is for relaxing, so go buy yourself some Thai fisherman pants and you’ll thank me later.
So, what was my Thailand haul? I’ll tell you:
- One pair of sandals
- Four colorful face masks (in Korea, they only come in plain black or white, and then some Hello Kitty renditions. They’re used here to protect your face from winter winds, a cultural custom that I have picked up since moving here. In Thailand, I used them to protect my lungs from exhaust).
- One plaid dress. Cute with wooden buttons. ( I think I paid $4.00 for it in the market).
- One orange polka-dotted skirt made of good, thick material.
- One graphic owl shirt made of really soft material. LOVE IT.
- Yes, one pair of black elephant Thai fisherman pants.
2.) Buy bus tickets a few days in advance
I was only in Thailand for four days (after one of my days had been eaten up by the nice people at China Eastern airlines) and one of those days was wasted while I waited for a bus. Why? I had read the Lonely Planet, which told me that buses left from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai every 30 minutes or so, what Lonely Planet didn’t tell me was that everyone else had bought their tickets way in advance or online, so when I got to the bus station, I found that I would have to waste almost five hours of daylight before my bus would leave. This could have been avoided had I known in advance that I should buy tickets ahead of time.
The same situation almost happened on the way back from Chiang Rai. By 8AM on the day that we wanted to leave, we found that the bus station only had tickets left for 4PM. Luckily, we were able to leave our stuff at the hostel and explore a little more of Chiang Rai, but still, it didn’t leave us in complete freedom and it wasn’t ideal. It would have been better if we had bought tickets ahead of time.
(Bonus Tip: DO pack motion sickness medicine, even if you don’t usually get motion sick. Thailand is a mountainous country and if you’re traveling between cities, you might be going up and down mountains. If my friend had not given me some of her medicine while we were on the road between Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai, I might have puked. The Thai women sitting next to me? Well, she wasn’t that lucky. But I did let her use my plastic bag).
3.) Don’t accept round-trip tuk-tuk or boat service
Everywhere you go in Thailand, somebody wants to take you somewhere, whether it be a tuk-tuk driver, a Songthaew, or even a Long-tail boat. Now, my problem with these modes of transportation was not that I was overcharged, most of the times the prices that the drivers quoted were reasonable and I didn’t feel like I needed to barter very often. But I did have problems when a driver would quote me a round-trip price, and then limit my time at the destination because he wanted to take me back quickly. This happened twice and both times, I was pretty upset.
First, my friend and I took long-tailed boat from Chiang Rai down the Mae Nam Kok river to Ban Ruammit, a local elephant village. We had no way of knowing at the time that the driver who brought us to the village would then follow us around, tapping his foot and waiting for us to be done so that he could take us back to the pier. At Ban Ruammit, we had chosen one of the shorter elephant rides (30 minutes) when we could have been gone for over an hour, or even half a day. Our boat driver takes passengers to and from Ban Ruammit and other villages for a living, so, it’s not like he expected us to just want to go there and come back quickly. He knew what our destination was, and he knew that we were paying to see elephants, the fact that he made us feel rushed to return was unbelievably rude, especially since his boat ride hadn’t been cheap (it was about $26 round trip).
At one point, we asked our boat driver if it was okay if we walked around the village a little, since we had planned to spend the whole day at the village, and it was obvious that he wanted to get back quickly. He had never quoted a time-limit when we agreed to have him as our driver. He found a translator and eventually, he understood what we wanted and seemed to consent to the idea. But, after we had walked for about 25 minutes, we saw our driver in the distance, with a sort-of angry, fatherly stance; he was waving us back to the pier. It was time to go.
The next time this happened was actually on the same day, but with a tuk-tuk driver. Since we had gotten back to Chiang Rai from the elephant village with plenty of time to spare, we decided we wanted to go to Wat Rong Khun, otherwise known as the White Temple. We knew that we had almost two hours before the Wat would close because we had asked the secretary at our hostel. While trying to find a bus to get to the Wat Rong Khun, a tuk-tuk driver kept interrupting us, insisting that he could get us there faster and easier. He insisted that the Wat was closing earlier than what our hostel secretary had told us, and he offered to take us on a round-trip. We tried to argue, saying that we only wanted to pay for one way, but the tuk-tuk driver said that we would have a hard time finding another bus or tuk-tuk to take us back. So, we agreed to go with him.
When we got to the Wat, we had 45 minutes before our tuk-tuk driver’s alleged closing time and yet, as we climbed out of his tuk-tuk, he said I’ll wait here, fifteen minutes, okay?
15 minutes. He wanted us to spend 15 minutes at the huge Wat. Not only that, but he was wrong about the closing time. If we had taken the bus, we could have been there for over an hour, since the hours of operation at temple had been extended for a holiday, which our tuk-tuk driver didn’t know about.
My advice to you? Try to negotiate for one-way trips or make it clear ahead of time that you won’t accept a time-limit at your destination. There will always be another boat or another tuk-tuk. Unless you’re in a rural mountain village, but even then, someone can call something for you.
Overall though, I had a really great trip to Thailand and I highly suggest that anyone who’s interested in Thai food or just, Thailand and general, should go. Thai people are generally wonderfully warm and polite and the country really is as cheap to eat and travel in as everyone says it is. I would love to go back to Thailand and see more of it on a longer visit.