10 Essential Tips for First-Time Backpackers in Thailand

Last Updated on April 27, 2024 by Kylie

As someone who taught a semester of English in Thailand and backpacked around the country twice, I’ve had my fair share of ups and downs. Here are my top tips for first-time backpackers in Thailand!

1) Taxi drivers may take advantage of you

Taxi drivers are unafraid to take full advantage of travelers’ naivety by circling streets, taking longer routes, or claiming the meter broke and charging 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.

While riding (especially if you’re alone), have Google Maps open so the driver can see that you’re tracking the route. This discourages them from intentionally taking wrong turns.

Bangkok traffic during the day
Photo by Connor Williams on Unsplash

2) Mai pen rai lifestyle – don’t take things too seriously

As you travel around Thailand, you’ll often hear the phrase “mai-pen-rai” which translates to “no big deal” or “it’s okay”.

If an inconvenience happens, no one causes a scene or gets angry. Though they may be agitated, no one outwardly shows it. It’s not uncommon to arrive much later than predicted or wait longer than anticipated for a bus or ferry. Time is very loose, so don’t anticipate punctuality, and be sure to give yourself lots of flexibility while backpacking around Thailand.

Try to avoid planning a strict itinerary because many times things will go unplanned – go with the flow!

4) Always have cash on hand

Most places in Thailand 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 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 at 7-Eleven or wait for the seller to find enough change from neighboring stores.

Especially with taxis, tuk-tuks, and Grab drivers (Southeast Asia’s equivalent to Uber), break your baht ahead of time and try to pay with exact change.

Thai baht

5) Highway Fees

Sometimes taxis won’t ask if you want to use the highway, resulting in an extra charge upon drop-off. In my experience, Grab drivers have always asked.

These fees are usually 50 to 150 baht, which is usually worth it considering Bangkok’s traffic. However, if you don’t need to take it, keep Google Maps open and remind your driver.

6) Don’t spend too much time on party islands

Koh Phi Phi, Phuket, and Koh Pha Ngan are all worth visiting, however, don’t devote your entire trip to partying.

Thailand has so much to offer outside of the backpacking party culture. There is so much to see and experience that giving it up for partying is such a shame. If you want to experience Thailand’s nightlife, it’s best to save the partying for last.

7) Checked luggage is charged by weight

I learned this after paying $250 USD for a bag I would’ve normally paid $50 USD for in the United States; a painful lesson to say the least.

Always check your airline’s baggage policy! Outside of the US, it’s expected to select 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.

8) Pack more than just tank tops and shorts

While Thailand is hot and humid, 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 is essential. Otherwise, you’ll either be denied entry or forced to purchase a cover-up.

Wat Phra Singh temple in Chiang Mai, Thailand

9) Bring Sunscreen from home

Sunscreen is a necessity in Thailand, however, they’re much more expensive there than in the United States and are sold in much smaller bottles.

For instance, a travel-size $2 USD bottle of sunscreen in the United States typically sells for $10 USD minimum in Thailand. Cheaper sunscreens are available, but many contain whitener!

10) Research an ethical elephant sanctuary

Check out my previous post that details how to choose an ethical elephant sanctuary. Don’t fall for sanctuaries that claim to be ethical, yet offer rides and performances. As the driving force of Thailand’s tourism industry, your decision heavily contributes to the treatment and care of elephants.

Be sure to use these 10 tips to your advantage as you backpack your way around Thailand! Comment below any other tips you found useful as well.



  1. June 11, 2020 / 4:30 am

    WOW! So good to know and I am so thankful I came across your article!!

    • June 11, 2020 / 8:32 am

      Aww thank you so much!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *