Solo backpacking guide Northern Thailand


Thailand is definitely one of the easiest countries for first time solo travelers.  Good infrastructure, a lot of backpackers and social atmosphere, safe and easy to travel around.
In general most of SEA is excellent for backpackers.  Still there are huge differences between the countries and some of them might be more difficult to travel around.
I need to say that I was happy to start in Thailand. It is definitely not off the beaten path but I think that was what made it easy for the beginning. There where a lot of other backpackers around with travel suggestions and tips. You always found people to hang around with, explore and party. Everyone seems to have the same plans. Either they go south to the islands or north to Chiang Mai and Pai. Some of them included temple cities like Ayutthaya, do a little stop over in Chiang Rai or went more off the beaten track.

Lets begin with general backpacker informations.

Generel information 

Wifi and mobile data

Most of the places do have wifi but if you want to have it on the road, just buy a sim card in one of the seven eleven shops you find on every corner. They ll tell you what kind of prices and dataplans they have and give you a prepaid card. They install everything and ten minutes later you have for some bath a mobile data working phone.
Food and drinks 
You wont have the place or option to cook in your hostel. Most of the hostels do not even have a kitchen. But food is cheap. You can buy it in the streets for around 40 bath (1 Dollar) a meal. Still food poisoning is a big deal in SEA. Most of the western people are not used to it and at least 1/2 of the travelers get sick. So try to avoid icecubes in your drinks, never drink tab water and just order food at places that do look good. Often you wont find big supermarkets but seven Eleven. But you mostly buy bottled water there and some Sandwiches as after-party-snack. (The ham one is super hyped. You wont find a traveler that never ate a Seven Eleven Sandwich after a Khao San Road night).

Transportation

You do not need to prebook transportation from home. You will find travel agencies on every corner of the street and sometimes even the hostel arrange it. Book your tickets one or two days in advance.  You can travel around with buses or with the train. Also Air-Asia is super cheap. I traveled around with buses, even the VIP Buses are extremely cheap. Sometime you hear about travelers getting their stuff stolen in the buses, so sometimes, especially when traveling to the southern Islands you need to put your important things in your hand luggage and keep it on you all the time. Best way is to ask other travelers about their experiences. 

Safety

Thailand is not Germany or the US. Thailand is still a country where a lot of poor people live. The crime rate here is not as high as it might be in Cambodia, but you still need to follow some rules. 
The easiest way not to get anything stolen or to get yourself in unsafe situations is simply by a) not walking alone during the night alone at places where you wont find a lot of tourists. Khao San Road is a difference, there are so many backpackers, you cannot be alone. B) walking around like a ATM on two legs. Just take some money with you and maybe a phone, hidden in your pants, bra or fanny pack. 
During my stay in Pai there was a tourist killed. Media will just tell that an innocent backpacker got killed by locals. Streets where closed, tourist areas where down. In the end we found out over some people, that the guy got involved in some mafia, drug things and that he had a fight with a local. Backpackers do not get simply killed by being there. Often there is a background story that nobody knows. 
Just be careful, don't get into unsafe situations and never as a women get totally wasted in places with people that you don't know. 
I never got anything stolen for me or felt unsafe. I was careful, tried to arrive in cities during the day and always had a hostel and a address to go to. 

Clothes

I arrived in Thailand with long shorts and long shirts. After three days on Khao San Road I understood that I packed definitely the wrong clothes. Thailand  is way more westernized than you might think. As long as you're not going into temples or staying in less touristy places you will be totally okay with T-Shirts and Shorts. Also you can find a lot of clothes to buy. Lose shirts and the popular elephant pants. It always depends where you are. You don't need to walk around totally covered at all the places. Just be careful not to show to much. 

Health

There are a lot of pharmacies where you can buy Malaria tablets or Mosquito sprays. You dont need to buy it for way to much money back home. You should take sunscreen from home, because thats the only thing Thais do not need. They import it and have to sell for a lot of money. 
If you get sick, there are good hospitals in every tourist place or bigger city. Thailand is not that back in time as you think. 
The only thing to be aware of is Rabies (so dont touch everything on four legs that looks cute) because it is deadly. Everything else like food poisoning or dengue fever is something you often cant prevent. Unless you dont eat anything and use your mosquito spray tewntyfour seven. 


Bangkok


Arrival and transportation


A lot of traveler start their travels in Bangkok. The international flights land at the Bangkok-Suvarnabhumi Airport. It is located around 40 minutes from Khao San Road, the main tourist Street.

After arriving at the airport you get your visa, pick up your luggage and follow the taxi signs.
You get a ticket there and go to the next available taxi driver. On your ticket will be the name of the driver (also there is the information of the driver inside the car). Of course I did the first mistake and let the Taxi driver take the ticket. Try to keep it, if there where any problems you want to report later.
Also normally an one way drive to the center should cost no more than 450 bath.  But most of the drivers wont turn on the taximeter, they'll cover it with something and tell you it cost  600 bath. I need to say in that moment I didn't really care. It was my first time there. Alone in freaking Bangkok and I didn't feel like going from one cab to another to ask for a cheaper price. I just wanted to go and check in my hostel and sleep. But I learned that you get used to bargaining very fast. It gets kind of a game and soon it is totally normal. So yeah I payed way to much money to get to Khao San Road. But as a Thailand Newbie you learn by doing mistakes.
I had a offline map on my phone and showed the driver where I needed to go. After some time he got it and took of. The cabdrive to the center is already an adventure for itself. So many new impressions. You learn really fast that traffic is a huge problem and that a mom with three kids on a motorbike without helmet is normal.
Another popular transportation method is the tuktuk. Here as well you need to bargain. Find out before you go somewhere how much it should cost normally and often after asking two or three tuktuk drivers you'll find one that will accept. Just be careful, don't take the ones that want to sell you the "Coupon tour". They ll drive you around different destinations, bring you into some shops, want you to buy coupons and in the end you still need to pay the driver. Its just a scam. They often might tell you that something is closed. But trust me you would have heard if it is so.


Hosteling 



I arrived at my hostel (Nappark Hostel) and checked in. First rule I learned, is that you got to take off your shoes when entering. I chose the Hostel because a lot of people on other blogs said it is super social and the hostel standard is way better than it is normal for SEA. I liked the hostel, awesome bathrooms and comfy beds (in comparison to other hostels). Still SEA standards are way more different than European ones. Still I need to say, that during my stay I felt like most of the people where just hanging downstairs on the mattresses, checking their phones and watching tv. I found it hard to get some people together to do something. In the end I found a nice group of people to do some sightseeing and to go out in the night. I am not the kind of person sitting around waiting for something to happen. Also I am not feeling like doing sightseeing on my own. I traveled alone, because I wanted to meet new people and to decide what cities and places I want to see. But in the end I always found different group of people to do something with. I think Nappark is a nice hostel, if you want to relax and chill after some action-packed days. But for a beginning, when you want to get social and experience a lot of things it was a bit to calm. (Inside the hostel, not the nights on Khao San Road, because they are definitely not calm).

Another popular hostel is the Lub D. But I never stayed there.
In Bangkok it is still  more western than in other cities. Hot Showers, normal beds, good standards. I always check on Hostelworld when I planned to check in a hostel alone to not end up at a dirty, creepy place at the other side of the city.


Sightseeing



MadMonkey has a great site with all kind of information of every sight to see. If you just stayed for five days in such a big city it is hard to know everything. My Bangkok guide is based on my experiences. 

Here are some of my favorite ones from my stay:


Grand Palace

Costs around 400 bath and extra 250 if you forgot appropriate clothes. Opening hours are every day from 8:30 am until 3:30 pm.

Khao San Road
Is a approximately 400 meter long street full of bars, restaurants and Massage places. During the day you buy clothes and stuff, during the night the whole street is partying hard.  Its the backpacker mekka.


Bangkok National Museum

Featuring historical and cultural Artwork.

Wat Pho 
One of the biggest in Bangkok. Having the over 46 meters long lying golden Buddha.
I prefered Wat Pho, because Grand Palace is so big, it get kind of exhausting to see everything. Wat Pho was enough for two hours.

Wat Arun
Olderst Temple in Bangkok. Known as the temple of dawn.


Other things to do in Bangkok
- visit the floating markets in Bangkok.
- visit Chinatown
- party until the sun rises
- have a Thai Massage



A loveletter to Bangkok
Either you hate or love Bangkok. Bangkok is huge. Immense. A big metropolitan city. Loud nightlife, a lot of traffic, thousands of tourists, hundreds off smells and tastes. A lot of backpackers can stand it for two or three nights, but most of them say its enough. You need to experience it. Try Khao San Road, try the buckets, go clubbing and shopping and do some sightseeing in between. I loved Bangkok. I loved the craziness and I am so sad that I never had the time to explore it completely. One day, when I will do the Islands I will come back, for some more crazy nights. One night in Bangkok...



Chiang Mai


In comparison to Bangkok, Chiang Mai is a village. Most people go there after Bangkok for the chill vibe and for trekking, biking or elephant adventures. 

How to get there 
There are three ways to get there from Bangkok: 
By Bus, by plane or by the night train. You normally need around 12 hours by land. But for the real adventure, you should go by land. From the most big cities the agencies sell tickets for Chiang Mai. It is a popular tourist Hotspot in north Thailand.


Hostel

The most popular hostel chain in Chiang Mai is the "Spicy" one. They have the Spicythai in Chiang Mai and some more in Pai, Koh Tao and Laos. "Spicy" is known for the hostels being a bit outside of the city. In this hostel you feel like a big family in one big house. Spicythai was like being in a family. People where extremely social and you met so many to do stuff with. One evening someone cooked for us, another we had a little party outside, we went for scooter tours, waterfalls and bike rides. Another guest didnt had a bed to sleep so he used a hammock in the garden. 
In the evening we all went out for partying in Chiang Mai, another we stayed in and watched "the beach" at the tv. 
The bathrooms are outside and there is no hot water. After Bangkok it feels like you're back in the nature, hundredths years ago...
I cant tell about other hostels, because I just stayed at the Spicy one. It was kind of a 15 minutes walk into the city center, but that was okay. 

The city and the surroundings
The center is located in its old temple walls. The center is build in a huge rectangle, so it is super easy to walk around and explore. There are so many temples and interesting things to see in the Old town. Best way to explore is by walking. 
During the night, after you went to the night market, you go to  the most popular "nightclub" called 'Zoes'. We always took one of the red taxis and drove to the Partyarea. In Chiang Mai everything clothes down at midnight. Until then, the little party streets are filled with Partygoes. Its a bit the Khao San Road of Bangkok. Just not so crazy. Chiang Mai doest  have such a big partyscene. It is more about the nature and trips you do during your day. 
But if you are down for some more nightlife try the a Bar called Spicy, Bubbles, Monkeys Club or Mandalay.  
You should definitely rent a motorbike and explore the surroundings. 
We had a group of people and went for the Canyon for cliff jumping and swimming. Afterwards you should take a scenic ride and drive up to the Doi Suthep Temple on a mountain and see some great waterfalls and nature on its way. 

Bucket List for Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai Canyon []
Elephant Sanctuary (no riding please) []
Bike and Hike tour (exhausting but fun) []
Partying at Zoes []
Templehopping [] 
Cooking class []
Zipplining []
Do a massage Course []
Weekend and night market []
rent a motorbike [] 
visit the Doi Suthep Temple []

Pai

Every Thailand Backpacker who had been to Pai stayed there longer than planned. Once you're there you never want to leave. Pai is a little city in the north-western hills at the boarder to Myanmar. Pai is lovely. Full of Hippies and backpackers. Of good food, nice chilled parties and nature. You just rent a scooter and explore the surrounding waterfalls, canyons and jungles. 
How to get there 

Pai is located four hours north west of Chiang Mai. You can buy a minibus ticket at an office or at the hostel directly. 
Take care that you don't have a hangover. There are so many turnes (over 700!) you get definitely motion sick. 
The bus station in Pai is in the middle of the main street. During night market its super chaotic to get there, but they'll drop you off there and then you can eat something before walking to the hostel. 

Where to Stay

SpicyPai 
In Pai I stayed at two different Hostels.
SpicyPai from the Spicy Group and Circus Hostel.
I switched to Circus Hostel because I was a little bit disappointed about Spicypai. After hearing so many great things about Spicypai I decided to check it out. But the atmosphere was very low. I slept three nights there. The first one, there was basically no one at the whole hostel. After asking where everyone is, I got told, they all hang at Circus Hostel.
Anyways, Spicypai has an amazing location in the middle of the rice fields. You wake up, seeing the sunrise, sleeping in Bamboo beds in a huge open room.
It is back to nature, it  is basic and beautiful. But all the people left for circus, so I decided to spend my last nights there as well. Circus is as well located in the nature. It is a huge hostel with such a big atmosphere. There is a pool, morning activities, circus training, open mics, guitars, books, people. I cant describe it. It is amazing. I loved circus and you can meet people so easily.


Bars and Nightlife


The two most popular bars are "Dont Cry Reggae Bar" and "Sunset Bar". Both bars are known for a chilled atmosphere, you'll find people smoking or tripping on some Shakes. But besides that you will also always find some awesome friends to chill and explore the village and the nature.



What to do



You should definitely rent a motorbike. It is so easy to explore everything, besides that, most of the interesting activities are outside of Pai. Go explore the canyon and afterwards maybe the land split and the waterfalls. Also take a little swim in the natural hot springs (there are two different ones, the one where you pay and the free ones) and enjoy the ride!

Another thing to do is to explore the Chinese Villages or do a day trip to the Tham Lot Caves.
Don't forget to see the sunset from the hill of the white Buddha.

Pai Bucket List

- See the Sunset from the White Buddha []
- Explore the Landsplit and eat organic food []
- Eat a Burger at Burger Queen(amazing) []
- try the pool at Circus Hostel[]
- rent a bike []
- explore the free hotsprings []
- get lost in the Canyons []
- have a lovely time []



After Pai? 

I took a bus to the city Chiang Kong to get to Laos. It was a three days tour including the Slowboat trip. Some people make a little stop for Chiang Rai for the white temple. They say one or two nights are enough and than its time to head south or to Laos!

>>Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Pai Traveldiaries! <<

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