With recent events giving Thailand an unsafe image. Not to mention a tradition of stories circulating about debauchery at full moon parties, scams from taxi drivers, and corrupt policemen. Thailand sometimes appears to have a bad reputation. Yet despite this, Thailand remains a top holiday destination for tourists from all over the world and it’s easy to see why. The country boasts the world’s most postcard-perfect beaches, ornate temples, a rich culture, food to die for and all at a very affordable price. So where does the disparity crop up?
Thailand truly is one of the world’s most beautiful destinations and a must-visit for any budding travellers. But like any country, it’s not without its shady corners. But as long as you know what to do – and more importantly – what not to do, I guarantee you’ll enjoy it to the fullest. So I present to you some tips and suggestions for getting the most out of your trip.
1. Places for backpackers to stay
Avoid: Khao San Road. Bangkok‘s number one tourist destination is a petri dish of cheap bars, dirty accommodation and harem pant-wearing travellers. That’s not to say it’s a no-go zone – it’s safe and cheap but many make a beeline for this bustling street and don’t see much of the rest of the city.
Instead: Sukhumvit and Siam Square are popular and convenient alternatives. You could also look into the up-and-coming area of Phra Khanong or the original backpacker centre of Soi Ngam Dupli. Or even better, get yourself onto AirBnB or Couchsurfing and spend some days with a local, seeing a very different side to the city. Ari, a hipster cafe district, is slightly pricier but there are good AirBnB choices here. Bangkok also has some of the world’s best deals on 5 star hotels, so if you would like to splurge, this is the place to do it on the cheap!
2. Taking taxis
Avoid: Bargaining a flat rate with a taxi driver. It’s a surefire way to get an inflated price.
Instead: Insist on using the meter – it’s illegal for taxi drivers to refuse. But if they do, walk to a main street and keep trying until you find one. UBER and GrabTaxi are also working in Thailand so you can hail cars without being scammed, but you will need to have data on your phone to use these services. If you would like to rent a taxi for the day, you can negotiate a price upfront with the driver. The price will vary but will usually be several thousand baht per day depending on the distance. Be sure to settle all details before renting the taxi for the day. You can also consider a private car charter for the day, which can be found for less than 2000 THB.
3. Thai entertainment
Avoid: Ping Pong Shows. Do I really have to explain? It’s a certain type of sex show infamous in certain parts of Bangkok, Phuket and Pattaya. The biggest danger to watch out for is being scammed into the upstairs of a bar and not being allowed to leave until you pay a huge bill, especially in the Patpong area. If you REALLY must experience one, some of the bars in Soi Cowboy offer a toned down version of the show as long as you purchase drinks, but there can be long wait times between acts.
Instead: Watch one of Thailand’s many impressive shows with talented performers. Be it a cultural show in Phuket, a Muay Thai fight in Bangkok or a cabaret extravaganza in Pattaya. But if you really must satisfy your curiosity, this Hangover Tour leads you around some of Bangkok‘s more seedy locations, with the security of a clued-up local guide and fellow intrigued travellers.
4. What to do in Pattaya
Avoid: Seedy areas of Pattaya.
Instead: Make the most of Pattaya‘s beautiful beaches, spectacular performances and nearby attractions. Don’t miss the immensely impressive Sanctuary of Truth (pictured above), award-winning Nong Nooch Tropical Garden for some tranquility, and a cabaret show (Tiffany’s Show or Colosseum Show are both excellent). For the kids, the Cartoon Network Waterpark or Art in Paradise interactive gallery are firm favourites. And for adventurers, an ultralight flight over the region is about as amazing as it gets. Nearby Chanthaburi is the durian export zone of Thailand and is the perfect place to sample the King of Fruit at the various fruit farms offering buffet tastings. Ko Samet in next-door Rayong province is the closest island getaway from Bangkok and has some of the best beaches for weekend getaways from the capital. All these locations also can make the perfect day trip from Bangkok using a private car with a driver.
5. Shopping the markets
Avoid: Bargaining too low. It can be offensive.
Instead: Decide how much you would pay for the product before you begin to haggle. Whatever price you’re offered, start bargaining at about 50% of that and negotiate from there. Of course, the usual tricks apply (price checking in other shops, acting nonchalant, walking away). If, in the end, you’re arguing over a few Thai Baht, give in and pay the extra, in the grand scheme of things you won’t be feeling the loss. The best market to visit in Bangkok with the best prices is the original Talat Rot Fai train market next to Seacon Square. It is also the hipster capital of Thailand.
6. What to do in Phuket
Avoid: The seedy and touristy areas of Phuket. Patong – I’m looking at you. I’m not suggesting you avoid Phuket altogether, it’s an excellent base and is home to some of Thailand’s best international hotels and restaurants. But if you’re not one for debaucherous nightlife, certain areas of Patong may be worth avoiding.
Instead: Steer far clear of the crowds on Patong beach, the bar brawls and nighttime companions. Instead explore some nearby but quieter bays like Hat Tri-Triang or better yet, take a day trip to a paradise isle. Tachai Island, the Similan Islands and Raya Island all boast some of Thailand’s most sublime snorkelling, all within an easy day trip from Phuket. Heading inland, a world of adventure awaits ready to entice any restless souls. A 50 meter bungy jump, a jungle high ropes course, and an ATV safari are just some of the activities to entertain you.
7. Elephant tourist attractions
Avoid: Funding elephant maltreatment. You’ll sometimes see elephants brought into the cities, parading through the tourist areas, in an attempt to get tourists to pay for food to feed them. Don’t do it! This is just funding the mistreatment of elephants, a recurrent problem in Thailand.
Instant: Pick out a reputable elephant sanctuary. Some good choices include: Elephant Nature Park, a rescue and rehabilitation centre in Northern Thailand, Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary for rescued and retired elephants, or Khao Kheow Open Zoo, a huge zoo near Pattaya with a good reputation.
8. Tours and sightseeing
Avoid: Touts feeding you misinformation about tourist destinations. A common scam in Bangkok is to tell you that popular tourist spots, like the Grand Palace or Wat Pho have been closed and offering you a tuk tuk tour instead.
Instead: Well the obvious answer is don’t believe them! But if you do want a tour of Bangkok, there are a number of alternative options available. A scooter tour gives you a local’s guided tour of Bangkok, the Eat & Ride Scooter is perfect for foodies wanting a taste of authentic Thailand, and this river cruise, dessert tasting and pottery making tour by bike is certainly a unique way to experience Bangkok.