I’m not going to get into deep and extensive travel guides. I can’t possibly compete with the Lonely Planets and Rough Guides of the world. As with everything, I’m just going to offer my personal opinions based on the experiences I’ve had.
So let’s get into it…
Thailand is as good an option as any to start yourself off on your winging-it backpacking adventure. The reason I say that is that Thailand is really the Mecca for backpacking culture in Asia. That’s both a good thing and a bad.
- Well laid out backpacker’s “trail” means that you’ll always have an idea of where to go, what to do and how to get there.
- No shortage of services offering ways to get around and hostels/guest houses to stay in, usually with people that speak decent English
- Plenty of other backpacker’s and travelers for you to meet and get to know
- Endless options for fun whether you like cultural exploration, extreme sports and of course… partying
- Thailand can often feel too planned out. You can easily find yourself in the “tourist trap” or as my friend calls it- “the Banana Pancake Trail”. His philosophy is that basically anywhere you go that has banana pancake food stands, you’re in a tourist trap because that’s not exactly a “local dish” but it is often passed off as one to hungry backpackers. That doesn’t mean banana pancakes aren’t delicious, because they are, just know that you aren’t exactly getting the authentic experience.
- Not only can you get stuck in the tourist trap, you risk a good chance of getting stuck in the party trap as well. Picture this: you’re incredibly nervous but you finally make the jump. You go to Thailand, likely Bangkok or one of the islands. You meet some fellow backpackers and immediately form a connection based on your shared experience. You go out to a club, maybe a Full-Moon Party on the beach. The next thing you know, weeks have gone by and you haven’t really gone anywhere nor done anything else. You have become too comfortable with what you immediately found and now you’re nervous all over again to get back out on your own. Resist this temptation.
- Unfortunately, with many tourists come many scams. I’m not saying you should always be looking over your shoulder, just be vigilant. If you’re not comfortable with doing something… don’t do it. Always be polite though to avoid escalating a situation. Here’s a trick- adopt the “Thai smile”. Thais will smile a lot which has given them a friendly moniker to outsiders, but that smile can also be a mask during conflicts in which they’re angry or agitated. If you force a smile, even when things are getting heated, you’re playing on their field and you are more likely to find an agreeable resolution than if you default to getting visibly upset.
- It’s easy to get to Thailand and be blown away by how much fun it is, even for a backpacker on a meagre budget like yourself. Certainly, the rules are much looser than in many Western countries and sometimes it seems like “anything goes”. But you shouldn’t let your guard down. Remember that the rules might seem more lax, but the penalties certainly aren’t. A drug conviction in Thailand can get you several years in a terrible prison or even a death sentence depending on the amount. There are also higher rates of STDs and the risk falling into dangerous scams or situations. Almost all of these risks are heavily amplified when alcohol is involved and when you are out to the wee hours of the morning. This isn’t a warning to stay away from having a good time, just a reminder to be smart about it.