Backpacking in Thailand
When you go backpacking in Thailand you will find it to be one of the most developed South East Asian countries, has the best infrastructure, and the Buddhism driven philosophy and sense of national identity is inspiring and a real breath of fresh air. Thailand has a deserved reputation as ‘backpacking central’ and is a magnet for travellers from all over the world. This said, it truly is a very different experience to other popular backpacking ‘hubs’ – and to life back home.
For many travellers, Thailand will be the first stop of their South East Asian leg, and their first taste of Asia. Indeed, there aren’t many travelling routes that aren’t planned or travelling buddies that aren’t met on the self-declared centre of the Thai backpacking universe: Khao San Road in Bangkok. So why a hiking watch
Thailand really does live up to expectations and, although other South East Asian destinations may do other things better – nowhere does everything (from temples to full-moon parties) quite as well as Thailand.
Where is it and what’s there?
As well as being the figurative heart of South East Asia for many backpackers, Thailand is also geographically at the centre of the region. It is bordered by Burma to the North West, Laos to the North East and Cambodia to the South. With the Gulf of Thailand completing the circuit and providing the ingredients for much of Thailand’s backpacking appeal in the form of hundreds of miles of eponymous Thai ‘postcard perfect’ tropical beaches and islands. As you move North, Thailand quickly becomes dominated by rural life and paddy fields (Thailand is the largest producer of rice in the world) and as you approach the borders of Burma or Laos, becomes increasingly mountainous: its highest point being Doi Inthanon at just over 2500 metres.
Thailand’s climate can be summed up in one word: Hot. Technically it does have a wet and dry season, but these generally mean either ‘wet hot’ or ‘dry hot’! Temperatures are rarely below 25° and the wettest time of year is September and October. With this in mind, it’s easy to see why the beaches around the Gulf of Thailand have such allure.
Getting there and visas
Unless you are arriving overland, the likelihood is that you will arrive into Bangkok airport. This is a good thing – Bangkok is the hub of Thailand and the perfect place to acclimatise, pick up anything that you’ll need for your onward travels, and hook up with other like-minded people. If you arrive by air, then you are eligible for a 30 day ‘visa-free’ stay. If you arrive by land, then this is 14 days. You can leave and re-enter up to a maximum of 90 days within 6 months (perfect if you’re travelling to other countries in the region). If you are planning on spending longer backpacking in Thailand then you will need to look at getting a tourist visa at a Thai consulate or embassy.
Thailand has the most developed railway network in South East Asia and it is certainly worth capitalising on it: especially as elsewhere in the region travelling around can be less straightforward! The rail network is run by the State Railway of Thailand, and has almost 3000 miles of tracks. A 20 day pass for the whole network costs from around £25.
In urban areas, the bus networks can be an effective means of getting around, and there are also numerous regional airports so – if you’re in a hurry – flying is a viable and relatively cost effective option.
Things to do while backpacking in Thailand
As ever, if you asked ten people then you’d get ten different lists of things to do when backpacking in Thaliand. And Thailand, as a consequence of its reputation, has an ever increasing number of ‘must-dos’ that are now almost clichés. But remember: they are clichés for a reason! Here are a few ideas to get you started:
• Bangkok by day. Quite possibly where your Asian adventure will begin and where it will end – and you’re guaranteed to feel a slightly different person by the time you leave… The airport aside though – Bangkok is an amazing city. A thriving mix of culture, religion and industry. Head to Khan San Road to plan your trip, then be sure to spend a few days checking Bangkok out. Surprises abound at every corner, but the astounding floating markets are worth checking out, as is the Temple of the Golden Buddha, home to a 5 tonne solid gold Bubbha. No, you can’t chip a bit off.
• Bangkok by night. An entirely different proposition and – for good or bad – with a global reputation. Suffice to say that the ‘infamous’ Bangkok can be found in the Patong area after dark. As with all such places, however, this reputation is built around a relatively small area, and Bangkok is much much more than this – with beautiful evening views, stunning sunset spots and staggering cuisine: widen your net, and be sure to scratch below the ‘sordid surface!
• Safari. Sometimes backpacking in Thailand can feel a bit ‘home from home’; you may be hanging out with your mates or other backpackers from the next town that you met on Ko Samui, so be sure to go on safari or an elephant trek to remind yourself exactly where you are!
• Ko Pha Ngan. Or perhaps more accurately: a full moon party on Ko Pha Ngan. From their hippy roots, the full-moon parties have managed to maintain something of their ‘tripped out’ allure and – although perhaps not worth planning your entire trip around – most definitely worth getting to if you’re in the area….
• The islands of Phuket and Ko Samui are synonymous with Thailand and the white sand and palm covered beaches home to a whole world of likeminded sun kissed people. The only tough thing is dragging yourself away.
However long you have in South East Asia, and however much you plan on getting done, it is almost impossible not to spend some of your time backpacking in Thailand which – considering all that it has to offer, and the fact that it ticks all of the ‘backpacker boxes – is no bad thing at all. Enjoy your hiking advenute