Preparing for Backpacking Through Thailand

If you ever done packing to backpack somewhere, you probably understand what an utter disaster it can be when you don’t do your research. Though Thailand is one of the best places currently for having a backpacking adventure, if you don’t know what to expect, you might end up lugging around a lot more than planned. In fact, so many people don’t prepare properly that there’s a phrase in Thailand called “first time farang,” or “first time failure.” To avoid that, use this guide to prepare for backpacking through Thailand:

What to Pack for Thailand

First, Thailand is a hot, steamy, humid jungle of a country for the better part of the year. You are definitely going to have to pack light clothing that wicks away moisture. Furthermore, you might want a poncho and other waterproof goods if you plan on visiting during the rainy season. Here’s a breakdown of you Thailand wardrobe:

1. Hats

A nice sun hat will keep you both cool and dry. Plus, you can spray your hat with bug spray to keep away the mosquitoes.

2. Comfortable Flip-Flops

People practically live in their flip-flops in Thailand. Though you will find an endless supply of cheap flip-flops, all the walking you do will obliterate them within days. Pack an indestructible, comfortable pair that won’t hurt your feet instead.

3. Linen, Light Cotton

Anything that is light and breathable, such as linen and cotton, is going to be your friend. Choose items that wick away moisture, aid in keeping you cool, and dry quickly if you get soaked in a sudden rainstorm. Leave heavy denim and jeans behind, too. Dresses, skirts, shorts, capri pants, and swim trunks are all okay. If you have rayon UPF garments, bring them.

4. Temple-Worthy Clothing

Typical Thai attire is conservative—especially if you plan on visiting temples. Dress modestly, keeping shoulders and knees covered. Though tourists can bend the rules slightly, especially around hotels and whatnot, if you enter religious ground, don’t be rude.

thailand chiang mai
Chiangmai royal pavilion chiangmai , Thailand

What You Definitely Need

Aside from clothing, there are certain items that will definitely come in handy when travelling to and around Thailand:

1. Travel Insurance

Accidents can happen, even when you plan for the apocalypse. That is why decent travel insurance can be a wonderful safeguard against any potential problems that arise when backpacking a foreign country. Travel insurance for Thailand should cover—at the bare minimum—all the activities you plan to do (because accidents happen, especially spontaneously), all the modes of transport you can use (including tuk-tuk travel and rental motorbikes or scooters), and any medical evacuation to your homeland if necessary.

Don’t skimp on it.

2. Bug Repellent

Mosquitoes in Thailand life off of unsuspecting tourists. You will be a literal magnet if you aren’t slathered in citronella all the time. Bring along some citronella shampoo and deodorant; and if you have natural bug repellent, pack that too. Mosquito-repelling wristbands and bracelets are excellent options for children; and for hotel or hostel rooms, you can use a plug-in (like Mosqui-Go Duo plug-in) or an Anti-Insect Room Refresher.

3. Sunscreen

Thai sunshine is more intense than you might believe, because the country is on the equator. In other words, if you’re not sporting SPF 50+, wearing the appropriate clothing, and going around sans hat…you’re going to get burned. Badly. Though you can pick up sunscreen in Thailand, it is always good to pack a couple of tubes just in case.
packing for thailand

4. Waterproof Phone Holder

Rainy season, rivers, beaches, and the random alcoholic beverage can do terrible things to an unprotected phone. Thailand is certainly not a dry location, and so you should pick up a waterproof phone case for assurance.

5. Travel Adapters (maybe)

Depending on where you are from, you might not need a travel adapter. The plug shape in Thailand is similar to the US and Canada sockets (2 flat blades or 2 round pins). People from the UK will be out of luck. For voltage, Thailand uses 220 volts. Double check whether your laptops, cameras, phone, and other electrical devices are using double voltage or not. A universal adapter can help.

6. OTC Medications and First Aid

Don’t wait until your scratching yourself mad to get OTC mosquito bite relief. Bite patches, hydrocortisone cream, and Zap-It are going to be your best friends. Other useful First Aid items and medications to bring include:

  • Imodium Multi-Symptom Relief (Anti-Diarrhoeal)
  • Electrolyte drink tablets
  • Motion Sickness medication (for boats and ferries)
  • Sanitary wipes and hand sanitizer
  • Pain reliever
  • Antiseptic
  • Band-aids

However, most of Thailand’s pharmacies are stocked up and have staff that speak English. If you forget something, it won’t be the end of the world.

Bits of Wisdom for Preparing for Thailand Backpacking

1. Cultural Cues and Etiquette

Remember, Thailand has a modest culture. Avoid wearing clothing that shows too much skin. You are also expected to take off your shoes when going indoors.

Pointing is also considered rude. Be careful not to gesture this way at people, as you could find up offending them. If necessary, point with all four fingers and keep the palm down.

In Thailand, you are also not allowed to touch anyone’s head—not even children. It is the most important part of the body in Thai culture.

2. Bargaining Skills

Nearly all merchandise in Thailand comes with a negotiable price. Don’t let retailers at the night markets rip you off. The “walk away” method is extremely potent in Thailand, especially when you want to get a deal on handmade souvenirs.

3. Beware Elephant Rides and Tiger Temples

Though other people might have done it, please don’t. The sad truth is that elephants aren’t made to be ridden. If you want to see elephants, don’t ride them. Go to an elephant sanctuary instead. The same is true about the tiger temples. Those tigers have been drugged to behave and are often abused.

Spend your money on ethical tourism, instead.
elephant sanctuary in thailand

4. Smart Budgeting Skills

Again, you are allowed to bargain for many goods around Thailand. This will save you some money. Furthermore, you should do most of your eating out at night markets, where street vendors are aplenty. Buy street food and often. A lot of goodies can be bought for less than 10 baht.

Avoid alcohol. It is bound to be overpriced in the cities; and there will be price gouging at festivals.

Stay at an Airbnb or hostel, especially if you don’t plan on staying put in one place for long. The best accommodation for backpackers includes S*Trips – The Poshtel (Chiang Mai), Bed Station Hostel and Smile Society hostel (Bangkok), Hello Hostel Pak Chong, and Tribal Pai Backpackers or Purple Monkey (Pai). Or use a sleeper train.

For those who don’t have a lot of money, Couchsurfing is an acceptable way to get a bed for minimal cost.

The Difference Between North and South Thailand

We wanted to briefly touch on what a big mistake it is to lump all of Thailand under one roof. Just like anywhere else in the world, Thailand is bigger and more diverse than you might expect. There are differences in the culture and food. For example, in Northern Thailand, you can find Lanna or Isaan cooking—and try as Bangkok might to recreate such cooking, no one in Southern Thailand can. Northern Thailand is also landlocked and so food features less seafood and more sticky rice.

Northern Thailand is also mountainous, and there are many temples hidden in the misty forests and mountaintops. Overall, the northern region, where you find Chiang Mai, Pai, and the Golden Triangle is less traversed than Thailand’s southern cities and islands. Phuket, Koh Phi Phi, Koh Lipe and Koh Lanta are on the Andaman Sea side, while Koh Samui and Koh Tao are on the Gulf of Thailand side.
boat at phang nga in phailand

Weather in Thailand

There are 3 main seasons in Thailand to consider: first, the cool and dry season which happens during November and February. Expect Bangkok, Phuket, and the beaches to be packed with tourists. In Northern Thailand, however, it can get cold during this time of the year, and so if you don’t mind some teeth chattering, you can avoid the swarms of tourists and visit Chiang Mai and such.

The hot season comes during March through June. The oppressive heat can be dangerous for those with a sensitivity to humidity. July through October is known as the rainy season. Southern Thailand gets much more rain during the north.

Final Thoughts

Backpacking anywhere in the world is certainly more than just strapping on some hiking gear and going for it. Thailand is a vast country, and it is often hotter and more conservative than what people might originally think. Regardless of where you go in Thailand, however, there are many wonderful, memory-making opportunities awaiting your arrival. What’s your first destination?

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