Misadventures and mistakes are bound to happen whenever you travel to a new country – no one’s immune. Living in Thailand for several months gave me endless opportunities to screw up, resulting in tears, extra money spent, and time wasted. Honestly, these would’ve all been EASILY avoidable had I done just a little more research (I’m not the only one who caves to laziness, right?). So take it from me and learn these 15 rookie mistakes before you travel around Thailand!
1) Be aware of taxi scams
Taxi drivers are unafraid to take full advantage of solo travelers’ naivety by circling streets, taking longer routes, or claiming the meter broke so they can charge double. If you enter a taxi and the driver says the meter doesn’t work, leave, and if they offer a flat rate, don’t be afraid to bargain because in most cases they’re charging much more than they should be.
While riding (especially as a solo traveler!), have Google Maps open so the driver can see that you’re tracking distance to your destination (and pay attention to where you’re going). This discourages them from intentionally taking wrong turns.
Note: Tuktuks usually cost more than taxis (in relation to distance)
2) Not all Thai massages are legit
Thailand is known for their incredible massages, however, it’s vital to check their reviews on TripAdvisor! In more populated areas, many will charge more for a poorly done massage just because of Thailand’s reputation. Be sure to check upon entering if the facilities are clean. As a budget backpacker, don’t choose one just for the price – the exterior often matches the quality inside.
3) Spicy means SPICY
Spicy takes on a whole new level in Thailand, where their “mild” surpasses typical expectations of what it should taste like. In touristy areas, you’ll notice they tame down the spice, however, it’s always safest to assume food is too spicy (better to have the option of adding spice than asking them remake an entire dish).
Some useful terms!
Mai-sai-prick (without spice)
Mai-pet (with a little spice)
4) Mai pen rai lifestyle – don’t take things too seriously
Thais live a “mai-pen-rai” lifestyle, which translates to “no big deal” or “it’s okay”. They don’t harp on mishaps and instead are very “go with the flow”. If an inconvenience happens, it’s fine – no one causes a scene or gets angry. Though they may internally be agitated, no one outwardly shows it.
As a solo traveler, I’ve gotten frustrated in situations and was appalled by the “lack of care”, but it isn’t that – it’s just their way of life. So from one solo traveler to another, don’t have a strict schedule, because many times, things will go unplanned – go with the flow!
5) “Thai time” is a real thing
Just as we say “Hawaiian time” here in Hawaii, in Thailand, time is even more fluid. If a bus runs late, it’s not a big deal and everyone waits patiently for the next. I’ve had friends wait hours for a late bus without receiving an apology or accurate estimated time. Time is a very loose term, so don’t expect punctuality and give yourself lots of time while traveling around Thailand.
6) Beware of human trafficking photo opportunities
As someone who clearly stands out in appearance amongst Thais, there were several instances where people walked up asking to take my picture. I quickly learned that while some ask for photos for that “celebrity feel”, others use it as a tactic for human trafficking.
They’ll take photos, send it off to be posted online, and continue to watch you go about your day. When they see you’re vulnerable (i.e. intoxicated, walking alone), that’s when they’ll attack. Especially as solo travelers, be alert – say no to all photos (just to be on the safe side), and be cautious of those who try to sneak pictures.
7) Always have cash on hand
Most places don’t accept cards, and if they do, it’s with a minimum purchase or an additional charge. Cash is the primary form of spending, even in grocery stores. Get in the habit of always carrying cash. As a solo traveler, you’d never want to be stuck somewhere without any cash on hand!
8) Have a variety of Baht
Although ATMs dispense baht by the 1000s, most places have very little change. I’ve had to first break my baht before making a purchase, or had to wait several minutes for the vendor to find enough change from surrounding stores. Thais tend to pay either the exact amount or slightly above.
Especially with taxis, tuktuks, and Grab drivers (Southeast Asia’s equivalent to Uber), break your baht ahead of time and try to pay with exact change.
Tip: break your 1000 baht at a Family Mart or 7/11.
9) Be cautious of highway fees
Often times taxi and Grab drivers won’t ask if you want to use the highway, resulting in an extra charge upon drop off. These fees are usually 50 to 150 baht, which isn’t too bad, but can be frustrating as a budget backpacker. Keep Google Maps open and remind your driver if you don’t want them to take the highway. Sometimes it’s worth the baht depending on traffic, but it isn’t always necessary.
10) Don’t spend too much time on party islands
Koh Phi Phi, Krabi, Phuket, and Koh Pha Ngan are all worth visiting, however, don’t devote your entire solo trip to partying! Thailand is such a diverse country with so many gems all around that it’s best to 1) save the partying for last and 2) explore the entire country!
11) Checked in luggage is charged by weight
I learned this after paying $250 for a bag I would’ve normally paid $50 for in America (which was SO PAINFUL as a solo budget backpacker). If you’re flying on an Asian airline, be sure to check their baggage policy! It’s expected to purchase a certain amount of weight at the time of ticket purchase. At the counter, excess weight is charged by the kilo, which can result in a hefty price tag.
12) Pack more than just tank tops and shorts
Thailand is HOT and HUMID, but it’s also a conservative country. When it comes to visiting temples, you won’t be allowed in without proper attire. Bringing t-shirts and wraps to cover your shoulders, chest, and knees will be essential. Otherwise, you’ll either be denied entry or forced to purchase a pricy cover up.
13) Bring Sunscreen (and Aloe) from home
Sunscreen is very much a necessity in Thailand’s intense heat index! However they’re much more expensive there than in the United States and are sold in much smaller bottles. For instance, a $2 bottle of sunscreen in America typically sells for $10 in Thailand (not what you’d hope to spend excess money on while solo backpacking). So don’t forget to pack it! And if you burn easier, bring along some aloe gel.
14) Know what to look for before choosing an elephant sanctuary
Check out my previous post that details how to choose an elephant sanctuary. Don’t fall for sanctuaries that claim to be “ethical”, yet offer rides and performances. Those heavily contribute to the inhumane treatment many elephants endure. Take responsibility as a solo traveler and read up on multiple blog posts and reviews!
15) Don’t feel pressured to tip
In Thailand (as well as the rest of Southeast Asia), tipping isn’t a common practice as it is in the United States. Don’t feel pressured into tipping, because no one’s expecting you to. You may do so as a nice gesture, but if anyone demands it, that’s a clear sign that they’re scamming you.
With everything you do, use your best judgment and be safe, especially if you’re a solo traveler. Now go have fun and make some incredible memories!