Whether you’re a party animal, outdoorsy type, culture vulture or beach bum, Thailand has something for everyone! Stunning white sands, tropical rain forests, delicious food, friendly locals and crazy night life; it’s no wonder Thailand continues to lure thousands of backpackers to its beautiful shores year after year. Check out the ’10 experiences backpackers should not miss!’
1. Learn to Dive
Diving in Thailand is second to none and with prices amongst the cheapest in the world for beginners, it’s an absolute must on a backpacking trip of South East Asia! Completing an ‘Open Water PADI course, which takes four days, will grant you an underwater license that you can use anywhere in the world! Popular places to learn include the lively Koh Tao, the stunning Koh Phi Phi, the friendly Koh Chang and the laid back Koh Lanta. Wherever you decide to take the plunge, there are no shortage of excellent, professional dive schools across Thailand who will open up the amazing marine world. And once you’re carded, meaning you can dive up to 18 metres, the underwater scenes will blow your mind! Watching turtles glide by, hunting for nemo, swimming past sting rays, puffer fish and barracuda, spotting shrimp and crab lurking in the crevices of the colourful coral reef, it’s an experience you’ll never forget. And, if you’re lucky, you may even catch a glimpse of the amazing whale shark, a seasonal visitor to Thailand’s waters. Growing up to 12 metres these gentle giants are incredible creatures that only visit a few places in the world.
2. Go Rock Climbing in Krabi
Rugged cliffs surrounding gorgeous sandy bays make Krabi the ultimate Mecca for rock climbing enthusiasts. The rock forms part of the worlds largest coral reef, stretching from China to Papua New Guinea. Railay and Ton Sai and even the gorgeous Koh Phi Phi offer rock climbing enthusiasts countless routes and challenges that would keep you occupied for years! And you don’t have to be the world’s best climber to scale the limestone karsts and take in the stunning scenery. Beginners can sign up for a half a day or a full day course with one of the rock climbing schools, where you will be taught basic how to belay a partner, climb and abseil. The more adventurous can commit to a three day climbing course where you can learn to lead climb. Whatever level you’re at, it’s an exhilarating experience that will get your heart beating and your adrenalin pumping as you push yourself to the top. As you pause to take a breath, chalk your hands and look at the scenery all around you, you’ll understand why thousands of climbers flock year upon year to climb in this paradise on earth.
3. Indulge in Massage & Spa Treatments
Where else in the world can you get a full body massage for under $5 USD I ask? And not only that, there’s pedicures, manicures, facials, body scrubs, body wraps, mud masks, hot stone massage, waxing, aromatherapy, swedish massage…the list goes on. With hundreds of treatments designed to relax and pamper at incredible prices, you may as well make the most of it while you’re here! If you haven’t tried the traditional Thai Massage yet then next time you hear ‘Masaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaage?’ don’t hesitate, get in there, lie down and get ready for a serious body work out. As your body is pulled in ways that you never imagined, you may wonder if this is torture or massage, but guaranteed you’ll walk out feeling a million dollars. Ancient Thai massage techniques are a form of Thai Traditional Medecine; which include yoga stretches and the practice of moving energy around the body through targeting pressure points. Many travellers take courses to lear the art of this ancient healing tradition.
4. Experience a Thai Festival
Whatever time of year you’re backpacking through Thailand, chances are your trip will coincide with a Thai Festival or celebration of sorts! Whether it’s a country-wide or local celebration, it will most certainly be an exciting and colourful affair, where tourists are welcomed to join in the events alongside the fun-loving Thai people. For backpackers, attending a festival can be an amazing cultural experience which becomes the highlight of a trip for many. The recent Sonkran festival, (in April) is one of the most exuberant events in the Thai calendar, where people all over the country join together for an enormous water fight! Then, there’s the beautiful ‘Loi Krothung’ or Lantern Festival in November, best witnessed in Chiang Mai as thousands of glowing paper lanterns take are launched into the night sky creating a wonderful spectacle. Or for the adventurous, there’s the ‘Phuket Vegetarian Festival’ a gruesome sight as devotees take part in a demonstration of faith to their ancestors by peircing body parts with long spears. Or you may be lucky enough to witness a Thai wedding, a boy’s ordainment into monk hood or just a local street party. Although most of the festivals have a strong religious significance, everyone is welcome and the emphasis is on fun!
5. Visit the Colourful Markets
Colourful, bustling and brimming with life, Thai Markets are a great cultural experience for travellers and a wonderful place to chat to locals. Wander around stalls selling intriguing bits and bobs, sample weird food and drink and put your bartering skills to the test as you attempt purchase of a new brand new pair of fisherman pants! All over the country, you’ll find markets selling souvenirs, local produce, homemade gifts, everything you can imagine can be bought from a Thai Market, or ‘Da;at’ in Thai language. Amongst the best markets in Thailand is the Chiang Mai Weekend Market, where part of the city is taken over by the huge fair. Specialising in hand-made products and silks from local hill tribes. There’s also street music and a chance to try home brewed wine! However, the mother of all markets has got to be Chatuchak Market in Bangkok. With an incredible 15,000 + stalls selling everything from retro jewelry to puppy dogs, it’s one of the largest outdoor markets in the world and makes for a great day out! Plus – take advantage of the fantastic sales on at the moment and buy some pressies for the old folks at home!
6. Visit an Elephant Sanctuary
The elephant is a revered symbol of Thai culture and heritage. In many places across the country, notably in Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand, you will find Elephant Homes or Elephant Conservation Parks. For many travellers, a visit to an Elephant Sanctuary turns out to be a highlight of a backpacking trip. Feed them, bathe with them, learn how to take care of them; Thailand’s sanctuaries offer the incredible chance to get up close and personal with these amazing creatures in a natural environment; many of them who have recently been rescued from working in unsuitable conditions.
7. Do it just once! The Full Moon Party
Despite being a ‘cliched backpacker experience,’ the Full Moon Party is undoubtedly a must for all fun-loving backpackers to Thailand! Rumours have it that the event began in 1987 as a gathering on the beach of a few friends and a few guitars to celebrate someone’s birthday. Since then, the party has continued every month on the night of the full moon and has escalated into a worldwide phenomenon! Every month up to 30,000 people dance and frolic on the sands, bodies smeared with aluminous glow paint and a bucket in (each) hand to rave it out until the break of dawn. Thai and international DJ’s play a variety of music; techno, trance, drum n’ bass, house, reggae and even cheesy hits! Music blasts from about 15 different sound systems on the long sandy stretch of Haad Rin Beach. Party animals will not want to miss what remains one of the best beach parties in the world! It’s a once in a lifetime experience – although one that you probably won’t remember the next day!
8. Try Muay Thai Boxing
Muay Thai is an ancient martial art form that’s unique to Thailand. It has been compared to a form of kick boxing with it’s origins in Chinese and Indian martial arts. For people in the ‘know’ it is referred to as the ‘Art of Eight Limbs’ as it uses punches, elbows, kicks and knee strikes, so there are 8 points of contact as opposed to ‘two points’ (two fists) in Western boxing. It’s the national sport of Thailand and you’ll find boxing stadiums across the country. Spectating a Muay Thai fight at Bangkok’s Lumphini Stadium is an exhilarating and boisterous experience that should not be missed! Sit at the back with the rowdy Thai men as they bet on each match and passionately cheer the fighter to victory. For those interested in learning more about Muay Thai, there are various camps where you can train and learn with real fighters. Anyone can sign up to learn the skills and the training is a great way to improve fitness, learn self-defense and self-discipline.
9. Get off the Beaten Track
Thailand is no secret. It’s a popular place and it’s easy to see why, with so many attractions and stunning natural wonders that everyone wants to cast eyes on – it can be good for backpackers to get away from the crowds once in a while. And when you do, you’ll realise that it isn’t that hard to do! Hiring a motorbike can be a great way to explore; taking dirt tracks up country lanes passing through hill tribe villages, driving up deserted coastal roads and checking out eateries and local digs only the Thais know. The fantastic thing about Thailand is that it’s a really safe place to travel and everywhere you go you’ll no doubt meet smiling and welcoming locals. And, if you’re looking to get way off the beaten track, North Eastern Thailand or Issan is little visited province of ancient Khmer ruins and rice fields that go on for miles. Travel can be rewarding when you take the path less trodden and seek out the places not many travellers do.
10. Sample the Amazing Street Food
All over Thailand, it’s difficult to walk down any street without passing by a food stall with a smiling Thai selling some tasty meal or snack. From noodle soup, to sushi, satay, meatballs, fried chicken, quail eggs, coconut ice cream, dried squid, fresh fruit, papaya salad, sticky rice and more!…there’s nowhere in the world with the variety of street food that Thailand has. And to drink there’s the freshly squeezed orange juice, sugar cane juice, Thai iced tea or coffee or at night the suspicious looking local whiskey… There’s no denying, Thai street food is delicious and it’s the cheapest way to fill up in Thailand, so for backpackers it’s an absolute must! Don’t be scared of tasting new things and asking locals to tell you what things are. If you ask and you still haven’t got a clue, try it anyway! And, if you’re feeling daring you can even try the fried insects; crickets, maggots and beetles.