After four years of trips to Europe, 2015 was my time to change it up and visit a new continent, starting with a long-time backpacker favourite: Thailand. I was excited to visit, after all, who doesn’t want to go to Thailand. But, I was also a little bit skeptical. How was Thailand for solo travel?
I got a lot of feedback from people telling me I would be “ok because I did Europe first”. They claimed travel in SE Asia, especially solo travel, was hard. But, since I had so much experience travelling solo in the Western world, solo travel in Thailand wouldn’t be too difficult for me.
I planned on spending a month in Thailand, but I actually liked it so much that after a quick visit to Malaysia and Singapore, I went back. Thailand is perfect for solo travel. Here’s why.
The Thai People are Amazing
Surprisingly to many people, English is widely spoken across many parts of Thailand. Granted, once you get really off the beaten track and into the rural towns and communities of the country it’s a different story but chances are, for at least the first part of your visit, you will stick to the bigger cities and touristic hotspots.
In my experience, the Thai people are some of the friendliest around. However, there are many others that will refute my view; claiming locals to be rude, unfriendly, out to rip you off, and even racist. Personally, I think it all depends on how you treat them. If you come in thinking you are better because you have more money, don’t adhere to the traditional customs, and speak rudely to them (reminder- they can understand you!) then yes, you will be treated poorly. And really, are you surprised?
Treat them kindly, show proper respect, and make the effort to learn a little bit of Thai (‘hello’ and ‘thank you’ at the minimum) and you will be surprised at the kindness you are shown. From directions, to tips, to treats you’d be surprised at how much the Thai people are willing to do for you- if they think you deserve it.
Tip: A genuine smile in Thailand goes a long way.
Getting Around Thailand is Easy
One of the best things about Thailand for solo travellers is how easy it is to get around, both in cities and around the country. There’s lot of help to be found (in English) and even the long and confusing routes that require multiple changes can be booked as a set, making your Thai travels worry-free.
In the Cities
There are a few options for getting around in the cities. Bangkok has a fantastic skytrain and metro system that is easy to use. However, although it connects to the airport, it doesn’t connect to the Old Town which is where many of the attractions are.
During the day there is a boat service that runs the Chao Phraya River and stops at many of the attractions including the Grand Palace, Wat Arun, and Khao San road. Hop on Hop off passes can be purchased for this route and last you the entire day. The other option is to rely on tuktuks or taxis. Tuktuks tend to be more expensive, and many drivers want to take you ‘shopping’ so be careful and negotiate where you are going, and what you are paying ahead of time. The same goes for taxis although here it is important to make sure they use the meter, or agree on a set price. Make sure to do your bargaining before you get into the taxi or tuktuk.
Many islands also rely on tuktuks or taxis. Some you can barter with, like in Bangkok. But some have set prices. For example, a taxi ride in Koh Tao will cost 300 baht (as of October, 2015) no matter where you are going, so in situations like this, it’s best to share when possible.
Another popular option in parts of Thailand, especially in Chiang Mai, is the Songthaew- a pickup truck converted into a taxi. Often they will tell you the price but there is some wiggle room to barter. Keep in mind that as a tourist, you will always pay more than locals.
Tip: Ask your accommodation ahead of time approximately how much it will cost to get where you want to go. Then you at least have an idea of what price to look for and if you should haggle.
Around the Country
There are several airports around the country offering both domestic and international flights. If you are in a time constraint, or can’t stand the idea of spending hours travelling by land than this is the best option. You can frequently find really great deals as well, especially from Air Asia.
Train travel is a popular choice among many tourists, and tickets can be purchased at great value. There are three classes of tickets: 1st, 2nd, 3rd however they are not always all available on each train. Tickets can be in air-conditioned, or non-air conditioner sections and long haul trips have either seat or berth options. Third class is most used by locals and can be fun for shorter trips, but if you are planning long-haul or overnight travel you probably want to upgrade to 2nd or 1st class.
Busses/ Mini Vans/ Ferries/ boats
Generally the cheapest way to go, but often also the longest. The best part about this method of transport though, is they figure out the whole journey for you. If your journey means you need to change busses and then get on a ferry, no problem. You can arrange it all through the office, get your tickets ahead of time, and just go where you are told. Some organizations even arrange pickup and drop-off at your accommodations.
Tip: Don’t leave booking your transportation until the last minute. Some routes only have one departure each day and they book up quickly.
Accommodation is affordable, and not just the hostels
Thailand offers a variety of accommodation options, many of which can be of great value. Hostels tend to be the most budget friendly option. A bed in a dorm can be found for as little $6CDN/night but can also go up to nearly $20CDN/night for boutique hostels in trendier/busier locations. Hostels are the best places to find fellow backpackers and solo travellers, making it easy to meet people and make friends.
There are plenty of guest houses offering affordable rooms as well. Or rustic, private beach bungalows. These usually start at about $20CDN/night and go up depending on season and amenities. Yes, by Thai standards this is pricey however, it’s a great option when you need a little space to yourself.
Of course there are plenty of classy and beautiful hotels and resorts as well for those wanting to splurge. Some of these options are relatively cheap by North American and European standards and it may be worth booking a night or two to get a break. However not everything is a deal and there are some pretty swanky and costly options as well so make sure to do your research.
You Don’t Have to Be Part of a Group to See the Sights and go on Excursions
Have you ever wanted to go on a day trip or take an excursion to see something, but not been able to because you’re one person army isn’t enough to run the trip? It’s a common problem for solo travellers, but not so much in Thailand.
From scuba diving to temple exploring, most activities in Thailand can be both group and solo-traveller friendly. Some things would definitely be cheaper as a group, but when you convert the total rate into your own currency, it’s not that bad if you have to go alone. For example, a return trip from Chiang Mai to Doi Suthep (30km) costs about 600 baht including the driver waiting for about an hour. That’s $15CDN. Expensive for Thailand? Yes. But consider how much the same would cost you elsewhere and you quickly realize that, if this is something you really want to do, you can afford it on your own.
One of the main methods of travel in Thailand is by motorbike, which travellers can easily rent for a day, week, or even month. This way you can easily explore further to reach places without having to rely on anyone else. Just make sure you are comfortable driving a motorbike; accidents are one of the leading causes of death in the country. You also better make sure you have insurance, and nerves of steel.
One of the most awkward things for solo travellers is meal times. Sure, cooking your own meal in a hostel is an option but sometimes you want to eat out. And sometimes eating out alone can be uncomfortable. Not a problem in Thailand where street food is both authentic, and cheap. No reservations required.
Tip: Head to the night markets and join the locals for a fun night out and some good street eats!
Things Every Traveller Should be Aware of
-While Bangkok’s Ping Pong shows might be a ‘once in a lifetime opportunity’ to many travellers, the fact is not a single person I know that has been has enjoyed it. The state of the women ‘performers’ can only be described as sad and depressing, and they are a scam. If you want fun night out, check out a ladyboy show instead.
-Elephant tourism is a huge draw in Thailand, however they aren’t all necessarily for the good of the animals. While there are plenty of sketchy organizations there are also plenty of good ones including BLES, The Surin Project, and Elephant Nature Park.
-DO NOT believe taxi or tuktuk drivers when they tell you that a certain sight or attraction is closed. This is a scam used on many tourists in an attempt to get you to spend your money somewhere else, where the driver will receive a kickback. If you are unsure as at your accommodations about opening/closing hours.
-Be careful when renting motorbikes or jetskis. While most renters are trustworthy there are some that will set you up and claim you damaged their property and charge you ridiculous amounts of money to pay for it. Your best bet is to ask around, ask other travellers, your accommodation etc., about reputable places to rent from.
-You DO need a valid license to legally drive a motorbike in Thailand. Plenty of travellers come, rent a bike no questions asked and hit the road. That’s all fine, until you get pulled over by the police. Non-licensed drivers will be charged and have their bike take away. I’ve heard of more than one backpacker left on the side of the road.