A few weeks ago I received a great email from someone named Jaramey. She asked some awesome questions about my time living in Thailand because she is headed there soon on vacation, and I thought they were PERFECT questions to answer for a blog post!
If any of you have specific questions I didn’t answer here, please email me or leave them in a comment, and I will get them answered and added to this post! I hope this is helpful to those of you traveling in Thailand and Asia in general. After living there for 3 months, we definitely learned the lay of the land and I’m happy to pass on what we learned to you!
I brought a ton of dresses and skirts knowing it would be HOT and humid. I did bring a couple pairs of jeans, and I think I wore them once. I would walk outside in them and go NOPE, and walk back to our apartment and change. Have you worn jeans in 90 degree heat and 85% humidity? One of the most uncomfortable feelings in the world, truly. Light cotton dresses and skirts were my go-to.
My husband also mainly wore shorts and t-shirts, or short sleeve collared shirts. Before we left I also bought us Teva’s – mine are HERE and husband’s are HERE. I wore mine CONSTANTLY, they are truly a necessity if you are traveling in Asia. The ones we got for my husband were great for comfort and traction on the wet ground, BUT they did rub off onto the soles of his feet after they got wet, so he had black feet for a few weeks. I did return them when we got home because I don’t think that was normal – Nordstrom took them back no problem. Mine were amazing, no problems there. On the city sidewalks of Bangkok we never knew when it would start raining, so I defaulted to my Tevas so as not to slip and slide around as we walked. I also wore them at the beach and even in Bali, because they could go from hiking, to walking around in tide pools, and back to hiking. I can’t speak highly enough about them. Oh and a fanny pack. I ALWAYS wore my Hershel fanny pack, especially at street markets when you want to be hands free and not worry about pickpockets.
For walking around the hot street markets and such, I wore the lightest dresses I had – really you want as little fabric as possible on your body – but no matter what you will sweat and be a mess at the end of the day. My advice would be to go with the flow and enjoy it. Don’t freak out about your makeup melting off (HA makeup, I gave up on foundation about a week into living in Bangkok) or your clothes being sweaty. Just do what you can and laugh it off.
*Side note: At any of the temples or religious sites in Thailand and actually most of Asia, you have to wear modest clothing. No bare shoulders or knees for men AND women. If you arrive to the location in something they deem to be immodest, you will have to buy or rent clothing to cover you properly before you can go into the site.
How much did you pack?
Between my husband and I for 3 months living in Bangkok, we brought 2 BIG suitcases, like the biggest size you can find. I had a carry-on and a backpack. Husband had a duffle bag as well. On the trip home we also had another backpack we stuffed full of souvenirs. Those were all of the bags we had between us.
Packing depends on the type of trip you want to have. If you’re staying in hostels and backpacking around, obviously pack as light as possible. If you’re worried about something you might need while you’re traveling, most cities and obviously Bangkok have pretty much everything you could possibly need or want. If you’re not sure if you should bring something, DON’T. Bangkok is a city of mega-malls. I’m talking H&M, Topshop, big department stores, small boutiques – street markets… you name it, they have it. Don’t stress too much about packing every little thing. You’ll wish you had the extra space in your bag anyways for souvenirs! SO MANY SOUVENIRS.
I also did not bring a hair dryer and I am so glad. I would shower at night and my hair would usually (hey, it’s super humid) be dry by morning. Don’t bring one!
Did you bring a GoPro? or DSLR?
I brought both! I definitely used the GoPro – hello snorkeling and scooter rides around tiny Thailand towns! It was a must. Bring extra batteries though, those things run down SO fast. I brought my Canon 70D DSLR and honestly probably used it like 3 times. Being SO hot and humid walking around visiting sites, you just DO NOT WANT to haul a big DSLR too. I quickly learned to just leave it at home when we would go out for the day. Instead – I bought my Sony RX100-V point and shoot pretty much everywhere. It takes KILLER video and great photos too. It’s compact enough to fit into my fanny pack or even pocket if I needed, and when we asked people to take a photo of us, they could actually operate it. Unless you are a professional photographer I’d say skip it and go for a great point and shoot camera, and a GoPro (and your phone obviously!) If I were to do it again, I’d get the Sony A6000 and a compact lens. Those are amazing cameras and combine the best of a point and shoot and a DSLR.
Did you ever get things stolen from you?
Funny story here – we were in Krabi and I went to an ATM to get more money out for boat rides and such, and I LEFT MY DEBIT CARD IN THE MACHINE. Walked away for like AN HOUR. I had no clue. We were walking along the sidewalk back to our hotel and a few Thai guys started trying to get our attention saying, “Hey lady!” and by this time we were so used to the constant barrage of people trying to get you to buy something or eat at their restaurant, I tried to ignore them and say no thank you and keep walking. Then I noticed they were trying to hand me my debit card!!! I felt terrible to say the least – they were trying to return my card and I was trying to get past them as fast as possible. The GUILT you guys. I was red-faced and thanked them excessively. I think my husband even tipped the guy who gave me the card back, just because he was so nice to go out of his way to return it.
Long story short, no we never had anyone steal from us. We had an encounter with a taxi driver who was furious with us for not having money ready for the toll, and he tried to take my whole 1,000 baht instead of giving me my change back (the change was like $20 USD) but I was like NOPE and he gave us the change. That’s really the closest we came to getting stolen from. We found MOST of the Thai people to be kind and friendly honestly.
This isn’t to say that stealing doesn’t happen!! I know it is actually quite common for tourists, and depends on the area you are in – so always keep your possessions close and your money and wallet in a safe place. Be especially aware in subways and tourist areas, street markets – really anywhere there are tons of people around it could happen. Be smart and be aware.
What was the average amount of money you spent each day?
That’s a tricky one and totally depends on you. You can spend $5 a day and be totally fed and happy, or hundred of dollars at the street markets and eating amazing food all day. But I think you’re asking what the prices are like there, and the answer is CHEAP. When we were there, .32 USD was equal to 1 baht. So for example, a cheap trinket would be 30 baht, or $1 USD.
I was working in Bangkok while we were there, and my co-workers would take me to the authentic, THAI only street vendor places for lunch every day. They didn’t speak a word of English and my co-workers would order for me. A common price for lunch would be an average of 30-50 baht for a soup or entree (vietnamese soup, pad thai, cashew chicken, all served with rice, etc.) and a drink would be about 15 baht (a coke or soda), so maybe about $1.50 on average for a filling, fresh made delicious lunch. Do I miss it? YES. Oh and I would usually get a fruit smoothie with my lunch or dinner (ok fine lunch AND dinner) and those were about 30 baht. I still crave the passion fruit smoothies daily. That is an example of a real Thai street vendor lunch though – most tourists wouldn’t be able to do that obviously, but the prices are still very inexpensive.
In Bangkok there are these huge malls everywhere, and they all have what is called a “Food Republic” or some similar name, which is like a cafeteria with different food vendors. You put money on a card and take that card to any of the vendors, and buy what you want from them. Then you take the card back to the cashier and they give you the rest of the money that was on the card. We would eat at those kinds of places a LOT. You could try a variety of different things that were very inexpensive, so we loved that aspect. One of my favorite meals was a pork katsudon, meaning rice with a fried cutlet of pork cooked in eggs and a yummy sauce on it (I know it’s a Japanese dish). That was about 90 baht if I remember right, so about $3. $3 to $5 was the more pricey amount for lunch or dinner, like at a mall or restaurant. You could certainly make due with a street market lunch for just a few bucks and get a ton of delicious variety.
As far as souvenirs go, it depends on the vendor. They do haggle, but honestly when things were so cheap, we usually just paid whatever they were asking. You will see crazy expensive souvenirs and crazy cheap, it just depends on the item. If you are going to Bangkok, definitely DO NOT MISS the Chatuchak weekend market. It has literally every souvenir you would ever want. More on Chatuchak later, but even if you can’t make that one, there are street markets all over Thailand in every city, and that’s where you will find the best food and souvenirs.
Did you ever have problems with communicating?
Hahahaha YES. Thank heavens for my co-workers in Bangkok, I would text them all the time asking for translations of signs or menus. It does depend where you are in Thailand and even Bangkok obviously. In the touristy parts of town, people obviously know enough English to get by, and you’ll be fine. In a very authentic area of town with no tourists, you’re gonna have to get by with hand gestures and pointing. Hey, it works! Or Google translate, we tried that sometimes and occasionally it worked. If you make somewhat of an effort, they appreciate it and they work with you. We really only learned hello, goodbye, thank you, and excuse me. Usually I can catch on to more words or phrases, but Thai is EXTREMELY difficult because it is tonal. You can say “ma”, “ma”, and “ma” in 3 different ways and it means 3 different things. My co-workers tried to teach me more words and phrases and it just DID NOT work. I said something dirty to a street vendor once when I tried to order soup, and I gave up after that. Here is what you need to know:
After any saying if you are a woman, you say “ka”, if you are a man, you say “kab” (it’s technically “krab or krap” for men but it sounds like “kab” so that’s what my husband would say and they understand. You’ll see how this works…)
Hello: “Sa Wa Dee Ka” (woman) or “Sa Wa Dee Kab” (man)
*Also when you say hello or bye you usually do the “wai”, which is the classic hands pressed together “praying” motion and bowing. You’ll see it plenty and you can emulate it from the locals.
Thank you: “Khob Khun (coon) Ka” (woman) or “Khob Khun Kab” (man)
Those were pretty much all we used. You’ll hear Thai people speak and catch on pretty quick.
Did you feel safe when you were traveling?
I don’t think I can really remember a time I didn’t feel safe? I was with my husband the majority of the time, but there were a few times he was sick and I would want to go out and go to a street market, and I felt completely comfortable the entire time. I think it’s all about being smart and not venturing off by yourself where there aren’t many people around. No dark alleys, no deserted parts of town, you get the idea. Overall I never had a time in any of the countries we visited when I didn’t feel safe.
Did you use cash or a credit card when spending? Was it easy to find ATM’s?
Both, but you need cash on hand. The street vendors, taxi’s and tuk tuk’s obviously won’t have a card reader, so you’ve got to have cash. ATM’s are fairly easy to find pretty much everywhere, but they will charge you a LOT in fees, so get what you think you will need so you don’t have to keep going back. The BEST option is to bring cash with you and when you get to Thailand, change some if not all of it over at the airport. The fees are usually quite small to do that. If you want, you can do some at the airport and the rest in town at a Super Rich – that was the exchange place we found that had the best rates. You will need cash though to leave the airport, if you are taking a taxi or the metro, you’ll just want to have cash (baht) with you. Other than that, nice malls and restaurants will take cards, but make sure you’re using one with no foreign transaction fees.
What did you wish you had while you were there?
A steamer! I was working there though, so it was annoying going to work in wrinkly clothing. I don’t think that really applies if you’re just traveling around, just bring clothing that doesn’t wrinkle easily. Other than that, I don’t really know if there was anything I NEEDED that I couldn’t easily get in Thailand. I brought outlet converters with me, but they have tons there at shops and touristy areas, so they’re not easy to find. I’d bring one at least, and then if you need more, get them there.
What should I stay away from?
Anyone that wants you to go to a “ping pong show”. 🙂 Google it if you have to, but it’s a dirty show and in the touristy areas men will come up to you and make a ping pong noise with their mouths and say “Ping pong! Ping pong!” and if you show any interest at all they will try to steer you to the “show” and get you to pay. We knew what it was so thankfully we ignored them, but just be aware that’s fairly common. I’d also avoid Pattaya probably… it’s a town in Thailand where older tourist men go to meet young Thai women. It’s a party town, and the main walking street is basically Vegas combined with New Orleans, but dirtier and in Thailand. If you go to Pattaya definitely go to the Sanctuary of Truth, but that’s about it.
(Sanctuary of Truth in Pattaya)
We generally also avoided tuk tuks. Definitely do it once, you have to have the experience, but other than that use Grab (Thailand’s version of Uber), Taxis, and the subway to get around. Tuk Tuk’s are just WAY expensive and being in the open air behind 100 cars exhaust quickly gets a bit old.
Be wary of the street food. The food safety standard are, well, nonexistent. We’d see someone brushing raw meat while cooking with a sauce, and then from that same bucket, scoop sauce out to dip the meat in for the customer. Cross contamination like you’ve never SEEN you guys. We definitely ate A LOT of street food and it can be delicious, but maybe watch them for awhile just to be sure you’re not walking into a disaster.
What was your favorite place you went to?
Oh jeez this one is HARD! Of EVERYWHERE we went in our 3 months of traveling…I can’t really narrow it down. Probably Tokyo. More on that later. From Thailand? Chiang Mai. It is SUCH a cool city. (Here’s my vlog from Chiang Mai.) Not too big and populated, and there are even kind of hip, young parts of town where you can find cool restaurants and things to do. I’m also biased because we did our day at the elephant sanctuary in Chiang Mai, and I could have done that every day for a month. It was hands down my favorite activity ever in the 3 months we traveled. I have a full post on that and YouTube video coming soon, don’t you worry. Also the weather was great in Chiang Mai, it was a little cooler and more mountainous than central or southern Thailand. It’s a must-visit city for sure. We also LOVED Krabi and Koh Lanta though. I’ve just never been anywhere like that with the beautiful rock formations, warm waters, beach vibes. Each place had their own quirks and things that were special about it.
What place would you not go back to?
Probably Pattaya. We went on a whim one weekend because it’s the closest beach to Bangkok so it’s a quick and easy trip. It was an interesting town to see, but it was kind of depressing seeing the young Thai women have to prostitute themselves (literally – prostitution is legal there) and all kinds of foreign older men hanging on these poor girls. Lots of partying and drinking. If I had to advise you, I’d say skip it. If you have extra time in your itinerary, you can go to the Sanctuary of Truth and that’s a fun few hours. The Sanctuary is beautiful and worth seeing, but probably not worth going out of your way or making a special trip to Pattaya for.
(Pattaya, Thailand ‘Walking Street’)
Also Kao San Road. I guess you have to see it because it’s famous? Maybe it’s not so famous anymore – because I knew what it was but my husband had never heard of it before! We made sure to go see it one night, but it’s a fairly small street, SUPER touristy, slightly sketchy, lots of drinking and partying. We walked up and down the street and got right into a taxi and left. Meh.
Did you ever take the night trains?
Nope! I’ve heard these can be so cool! The flights were so inexpensive and fast we just did that to towns we wanted to go to. But I would have liked to do a night train if I went back again. Make sure you get the right trains though, I’ve heard some of them are so old and don’t have A/C, and some of them are brand new and great. You can find which ones are which easily online – the best site is: https://12go.asia/en.
Where did you store all of your important documents while you were there?
I have a Kate Spade travel wallet I would use for flights and trips to various cities – it would fit my passport, flight documents, money (baht is bigger than USD) and any other docs we needed. When out and about, I kept my cards and money in a small coin purse I bought while we were there. That along with my passport, camera, and cell phone were about all I had in my fanny pack when we would go out for the day. Definitely photocopy your passport and have that somewhere in another bag or luggage, so if your passport gets stolen you’re not screwed. Also don’t carry ALL of your money with you if you can. If your hotel has a safe, use it and leave anything you don’t absolutely need in the safe.
When you were at the beach where what would you bring? Where would you put your money and special belongings while there?
I had a little beach bag and I had sunscreen, my coin purse, chapstick, a power bank and cable for my phone, my camera, and sometimes my GoPro. I didn’t venture too far out into the ocean, and always covered my belongings in a towel or beach mat. I would keep my eyes on my stuff when in the ocean, just glancing back every once in awhile. Usually we were in touristy beaches, so I wasn’t too worried about stealing because there were people who would see someone grab our stuff, so it was unlikely. Stealing can obviously always happen though, so don’t bring something to the beach that would be devastating to lose, just in case. I also just carried a little bit of money for smoothies and snacks too. We had a hotel right next to the beach, so we could have even left everything in there and taken a towel and the room keys, and then not had to worry about anything. That’s an option if you’re concerned about your stuff sitting on the beach unprotected.
Did you ever get sick?
Stomach sick, yes. Cold or flu? Just my husband did. I’m religious about taking a supplement called Immunizen, so when I felt a cold coming on, I would take those and it would go away. My husband wasn’t as good about it and he didn’t catch it in time, and he got a cold.
We actually got sick in Indonesia. Another funny story – my company put us up at the Ritz Carlton in Jakarta, Indonesia for a work trip for a few days. It was a NICE Ritz, of course. Beautiful hotel, huge rooms, just pure luxury. There was a sign in the bathroom of our room that said “Please use this bottled water to brush your teeth.” and there was a bottled water. The first night we obeyed, but after that we felt so comfortable and got lazy and used the tap water to brush our teeth. It’s the Ritz after all, it felt so weird to use bottled water! Well that was our downfall, because we were both violently sick to our stomachs for about 10 days. We even went to the hospital in Bangkok when we got back to try to figure out if it was parasites, but luckily it resolved itself and we were fine. NOT a fun 10 days though, so when they say don’t put the tap water in your mouth, DON’T do it. That was in Indonesia though – we made ice cubes out of our tap water in our apartment in Bangkok, and never got sick from that – so it just depends where you are I guess.
We did go to the hospital and it was honestly a pretty great experience, if you ever need to go. We got in quickly, and it was inexpensive (compared to the U.S.), but Google it before you go because there are expensive hospitals and poor hospitals, so find one in the middle if you have to go, that’s what we did and it was great.
Did you travel alone?
Mostly no, I was with my husband. There were a few times he was sick and I went somewhere on my own, but I made sure it was safe and there would be other people there, etc. I didn’t do anything if I felt nervous about it or if I would be all alone. It’s about being smart, and not putting yourself in a situation where something could happen. I would advise traveling with a friend always if you can!
I really hope this helped you in your Thailand travel planning! Again if I missed your question, please email me or leave a comment below and I will answer it!