Essential Experiences in Thailand for First-Time Backpackers

Last Updated on April 27, 2024 by Kylie

As someone who’s spent 5+ months both living and backpacking around Thailand in 2019 and 2023, here are essential experiences every first-time backpacker should have on their itinerary (minus the partying)!

Explore Bangkok’s temples

Some of the most unique and astounding temples reside in Thailand’s capital city! Here are some temples worth visiting:

  • The Grand Palace/Temple of the Emerald Buddha
  • Wat Arun
  • Wat Pho (Temple of the Reclining Buddha)
  • Wat Saket
  • Ayutthaya (day trip from Bangkok)
  • Wat Samphran

Chatuchak Weekend Market

Chatuchak is the largest market in Thailand where every backpacker can find a pair of obligatory elephant pants, mango sticky rice, and Chang shirts. But aside from that, they’ve got all sorts of unique finds including furniture, souvenirs, trendy clothes, massages, nail salons, and perfume. Keep in mind that because it’s a tourist hotspot, prices will generally be higher, so don’t be afraid to bargain!

Friday: 6 pm to midnight
Saturday: 9 am to 6 pm
Sunday: 9 am to 6 pm

Photo by Minseok Kwak on Unsplash

Admire elephants in North Thailand

Spending time with elephants is one of the most incredible and surreal experiences you’ll ever encounter! Do your part as a solo traveler to research an ethical sanctuary that ensures the elephants are well taken care of both in the public eye and behind the scenes! One of the highest-rated ethical encounters is with Elephant Nature Park (spots fill fast).

Spend time in Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai is a tourist hotspot, but much quieter and more relaxed compared to Bangkok. Here are some things I recommend adding to your itinerary in Old City!

  • Temples
    • Wat Chedi Luang
    • Wat Phra Singh
    • Wat Rajamontean
    • Wat Chiang Man
  • Zenza Massage & Spa (the BEST massage I’ve ever had in Thailand!!)
  • Sunday night walking street

Take a cooking class

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this! Cooking classes are most popular in Chiang Mai, which is where I took mine. Our half-day class was 1200 THB/person and included a trip to the local market, a tour of the farm, and 4 dishes to cook: one curry, one soup, one noodle dish, and one dessert.

I highly recommend visiting Thai Farm Cooking School!

Escape reality in Pai

Tucked away up in the mountains is Pai. You can take on the windy road either by motorbike or a 3-hour bus ride from Chiang Mai. Backpackers gather to escape city life, meditate, and explore the terrain (and sometimes party). I recommend joining a day tour to hit up the main spots including Pai Canyon, Chedi Phra That Mae Yen (large white Buddha), Yun Lai Viewpoint, the Land Split, and more!

Head South to Railay Beach

A quick boat ride from Ao Nang, Railay is the best place for solo backpackers to get a taste of adventure and beach life. This is one of my favorite places in Thailand! Here are a few things you can do on Railay Beach.

  • Rock climb limestone cliffs
  • Admire the formations in Tham Phra Nang Nai (Diamond Cave)
  • Visit Phra Nang Cave Shrine (commonly known as the Phallus Shrine)
  • Chill on the beach (Railay Beach or Phra Nang Cave Beach)

Go Island Hopping out of Ao Nang

My favorite experience in Krabi was a snorkel tour of the nearby islands. Several tours are offered that explore a variety of islands and beaches, but this was the one I did. Aside from snorkeling we had drinks, paddle-boarded, swam with bioluminescent plankton, and enjoyed a delicious Thai dinner. Whichever tour you choose, island hopping in Krabi is something not to be missed!

Follow this 4 Day Ao Nang, Krabi itinerary I created specifically for backpackers balancing Ao Nang’s highlights, must-do activities, and relaxation.

Get scuba certified in Koh Tao

Koh Tao is my favorite island in Thailand! I’m obsessed with how clear and blue the water is, and as someone from Hawai’i, I’ve got some pretty high standards! I’d honestly recommend at minimum ONE WEEK here.

  • Get scuba certified with Taco Divers
  • Enjoy the sunset at Sairee Beach
  • Island hop to Ko Nang Yuan
  • Spend time at the beach
    • Tanote Bay
    • Aow Luek Beach
    • Shark Bay
    • Freedom Beach
  • Head to John-Suwan Viewpoint

Celebrate Songkran (April 13-15)

Every April, Thailand celebrates its traditional New Year unlike anywhere else in the world. For two days, people gather to spray water guns and throw buckets of water at each other. Locals and tourists alike partake in this exciting event – a perfect occasion for the peak of their summer. Check out this article to learn more about Songkran.

Loi Krathong/Yi Peng Festival

Loi Krathong, paired with Yi Peng, is a Thai festival marking the end of rainy season. During the full moon of the 12th month in the Thai lunar calendar, people craft little baskets from banana tree leaves, decorate them with flowers, and set them afloat to pay respect and give thanks to the water goddess.

In Chiang Mai, Yi Peng (native to Northern Thailand) coincides with Loi Krathong, where people release floating lanterns, lighting up the nighttime sky (just as you see in Disney’s Tangled!) 

Visit a National Park

Thailand has several national parks that are incredibly serene. Most solo travelers visit the floating bungalows at Khao Sok and boast of its breathtaking views! Be sure to visit outside of the monsoon season (May – October).

Photo by Robin Noguier on Unsplash

Save this for your Thailand trip and let me know which ones you’re adding to your itinerary!

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2 Comments

  1. August 2, 2020 / 10:38 pm

    Can you tell us more about this? I’d love to find out some additional information.

    • August 3, 2020 / 10:11 pm

      Of course! 🙂 more info about a certain activity? Or things to do in Thailand in general?

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