After four years of trips to Europe, 2015 was my time to change it up and visit a new continent, starting with a long-time backpacker favourite: Thailand. I was excited to visit, after all, who doesn’t want to go to Thailand. But, I was also a little bit skeptical. Was solo travel in Thailand safe? Was it easy? Or would I hate it?
I got a lot of feedback from people telling me I would be OK because I “did Europe first”. They claimed travel in SE Asia, especially solo travel, was hard. But, since I had so much experience travelling solo in the Western world, solo travel in Thailand wouldn’t be too difficult for me.
Well, turns out I found it to be the opposite. For me, solo travel in Thailand was really easy. In fact, 60 countries later, I would argue that Thailand is one of the easiest countries I have travelled in. Originally, I planned on spending a month in Thailand, but I loved it so much that after a quick visit to Malaysia and Singapore, I went back for another couple more weeks. Then, when I returned to SE Asia in 2016, I went back to Thailand again. In total, I spent a little over 7 weeks travelling solo around Thailand.
There are dozens of reasons to fall in love with this country, but here’s why I recommend solo travel in Thailand.
The Thai People are Friendly and Welcoming
Thailand is known as the land of smiles and once you arrive it’s easy to see why. In my experience, the Thai people are incredibly warm and welcoming. From hosts at accommodation, those who work in the service industry, and even just locals on the streets and in the markets, I was greeted kindly everywhere I went.
However, while I had an amazing experience with the locals, not all travellers share my view. Some will say that the locals are rude, unfriendly, out to rip you off, and even racist. Personally, I think it all depends on how you treat them. If you come in thinking you are better because you have more money, don’t adhere to the traditional customs, and speak rudely about them then yes, you will be treated poorly. And really, are you surprised?
I was shocked at how rude some fellow travellers were in front of the locals. Making crude comments and remarks and assuming that nobody understood them because they were speaking in English, not Thai. Spoiler alert: many Thai people speak very good English.
I have zero patience for entitled travellers who think they are better because they speak English and/or come from a wealthier nation and, sadly, I saw a lot of that in Thailand. However, if you are a decent person who is kind and respectful, you can expect the same treatment back ten-fold.
English is Widely Spoken in The Main Tourist Spots
It might surprise some people to know that English is widely spoken across many parts of Thailand. Granted, once you get really off the beaten track and into the rural towns and communities of the country it’s a different story but chances are, for at least the first part of your visit, you will stick to the bigger cities and touristic hotspots.
While you should never expect everyone to speak English if that isn’t their first language, the fact is that the abundance of English in Thailand is a huge relief and does make things a lot easier for solo travellers. Especially if you are like me and Thailand is your first stop in SE Asia. SE Asia is very different than travelling in other parts of the world and knowing I could readily seek help or ask directions in my own language took off a lot of stress.
Getting Around Thailand as a Solo Traveller is Easy
One of the best things about solo travel in Thailand is that it is so easy it is to get around, both in cities and around the country. There’s lot of help to be found (yes, in English) and even the longer and confusing routes that require multiple changes can be booked as a set, making your Thai travels worry-free.
In the Cities
There are a few options for getting around in the cities. Bangkok has a fantastic skytrain and metro system that is easy to use. However, although it connects to the airport, it doesn’t connect to the Old Town which is where many of the attractions are.
During the day there is a boat service that runs the Chao Phraya River and stops at many of the attractions including the Grand Palace, Wat Arun, and Khao San road. Hop on Hop off passes can be purchased for this route and last you the entire day. The other option is to rely on tuktuks or taxis. Tuktuks tend to be more expensive, and many drivers want to take you ‘shopping’ so be careful and negotiate where you are going, and what you are paying ahead of time. The same goes for taxis although here it is important to make sure they use the meter, or agree on a set price. Make sure to do your bargaining before you get into the taxi or tuktuk.
Many islands also rely on tuktuks or taxis. Some you can barter with, like in Bangkok. But some have set prices no matter where you are going, so in situations like this, it’s best to share when possible.
Another popular option in parts of Thailand, especially in Chiang Mai, is the Songthaew- a pickup truck converted into a taxi. Often they will tell you the price but there is some wiggle room to barter. Keep in mind that as a tourist, you will always pay more than locals.
Tip: Ask your accommodation ahead of time approximately how much it will cost to get where you want to go. Then you at least have an idea of what price to look for and if you should haggle. As a tourist, you will pay more than locals but it should still be affordable.
Around the Country
There are several airports around the country offering both domestic and international flights. If you are in a time constraint, or can’t stand the idea of spending hours travelling by land than this is the best option. You can frequently find really great deals as well, especially from Air Asia.
Train travel is a popular choice among many tourists, and tickets can be purchased at great value. There are three classes of tickets: 1st, 2nd, 3rd however they are not always all available on each train. Tickets can be in air-conditioned, or non-air conditioner sections and long haul trips have either seat or berth options. Third class is most used by locals and can be fun for shorter trips, but if you are planning long-haul or overnight travel you probably want to upgrade to 2nd or 1st class.
Busses/ Mini Vans/ Ferries/ boats
Generally the cheapest way to go, but often also the longest. The best part about this method of transport though, is they figure out the whole journey for you. If your journey means you need to change busses and then get on a ferry, no problem. You can arrange it all through the office, get your tickets ahead of time, and just go where you are told. Some organizations even arrange pickup and drop-off at your accommodations.
Tip: Don’t leave booking your transportation until the last minute. Some routes only have one departure each day and they book up quickly. This is especially common for trains.
Solo Female Travel in Thailand is Safe
Safety is always key for me as a solo female traveller and I can honestly say that I never felt unsafe in Thailand. Granted, I followed the typical rules (for solo women in general) and made sure I was respectful at all times which included covering up in the streets (Thailand is much more conservative than North America and Europe). That being said, cat-calling was basically non-existent in Thailand which, as a solo female, was amazing.
A few things for solo female travellers in Thailand to make note of:
- Women are not allowed to touch monks
- Tampons can be incredibly hard to find (bring your own!)
- Many products like lotions and deodorant have whitening agents in them- so double check those labels!
Plus Size Travel in Thailand
One of my biggest concerns in travelling to Thailand was that I wasn’t ‘skinny’. I identify as plus-size and I had heard several horror stories about how plus size people, especially women, were treated. While there were a couple of comments (mainly when shopping in the markets) I didn’t have an issue. In fact, I would argue that Thailand was where I started to feel more comfortable and accepting of my body. If you want the full story of my plus size travel experience in Thailand, read this post.
Accommodation is Affordable (And I don’t just mean hostels)
Thailand offers a variety of accommodation options, many of which can be of great value. Hostels tend to be the most budget friendly option. A bed in a dorm can be found for as little $6CDN/night but can also go up to nearly $20CDN/night for boutique hostels in trendier/busier locations. Hostels are the best places to find fellow backpackers and solo travellers, making it easy to meet people and make friends.
Solo travellers in Thailand will also love to learn that there are plenty of guest houses offering affordable rooms as well. Or, if you are on the islands, consider one of the simple private beach bungalows. I paid $20/night for the private cabin above which was by the beach. Yes, by Thai standards this is pricey however, it’s a great option when you need a little space to yourself.
Of course there are plenty of classy and beautiful hotels and resorts as well for those wanting to splurge. Some of these options are relatively cheap by North American and European standards and it may be worth booking a night or two to get a break. However, not everything is a deal and there are some pretty swanky and costly options as well so make sure to do your research.
You Don’t Have to Be Part of a Group to See the Sights and go on Excursions
Have you ever wanted to go on a day trip or take an excursion to see something, but not been able to because your one person army isn’t enough to run the trip? It’s a common problem for solo travellers, but not so much in Thailand.
From scuba diving to temple exploring, most activities in Thailand can be both group and solo-traveller friendly. Some things would definitely be cheaper as a group, but when you convert the total rate into your own currency, it’s not that bad if you have to go alone. For example, a return trip from Chiang Mai to Doi Suthep (30km) costs 600 baht which included the driver waiting for about an hour. That’s $15CDN. is it expensive for Thailand? Yes. But when you consider how much the same would cost you elsewhere then you quickly realize that, if this is something you really want to do, you can afford it on your own.
One of the main methods of travel in Thailand is by motorbike, which travellers can easily rent for a day, week, or even month. This way you can easily explore further to reach places without having to rely on anyone else. Just make sure you are comfortable driving a motorbike; accidents are one of the leading causes of death in the country. You also better make sure you have a licence, travel insurance (that actually covers motorbike insurance-this means you need a lisence), and nerves of steel.
Solo Dining in Thailand is Easy
One of the most awkward things for solo travellers is meal times. Sure, cooking your own meal in a hostel is an option but sometimes you want to eat out. Sometimes eating out alone can be uncomfortable, especially if you are a solo female traveller.
However, this is not a problem in Thailand. Most of the best food is actually street food which means no tables or reservations required. Just join the line, grab a seat if there’s one available, or take your meal to go. For many travellers, this easy way of eating out without the pressure of being alone is one of the best aspects of solo travel in Thailand.
Tip: Head to the night markets and join the locals for a fun night out and some good street eats!
How to Meet Fellow Solo Travellers in Thailand
Thailand is a mecca for solo travellers so making friends along the way won’t be hard. The easiest places to meet other solo travellers in Thailand are in the more popular spots. Think Khao San Road in Bangkok, the Sunday night Market and ladyboy show in Chiang Mai, beach bars on the islands, the Full Moon party etc.
Depending on how experienced a traveller you are (or aren’t) you may choose to avoid some of these more popular spots and instead choose quieter, less busy areas. In this case beach bars, hostels, and night markets are still a good bet for finding other travellers. Also, public transit for long distance rides and activities such as scuba diving or hiking trips.
So many people travel solo to Thailand that I guarantee you won’t have a problem meeting fellow travellers.
Things Every Traveller Should be Aware of in Thailand
-While Bangkok’s Ping Pong shows might be a ‘once in a lifetime opportunity’ to many travellers, the fact is not a single person I know that has been has enjoyed it. The state of the women ‘performers’ can only be described as sad and depressing, and they are a scam. If you want fun night out, check out a ladyboy show instead.
-Elephant tourism is a huge draw in Thailand, however they aren’t all necessarily for the good of the animals. While there are plenty of sketchy organizations there are also plenty of good ones including BLES, The Surin Project, and Elephant Nature Park.
-DO NOT believe taxi or tuktuk drivers when they tell you that a certain sight or attraction is closed. This is a scam used on many tourists in an attempt to get you to spend your money somewhere else, where the driver will receive a kickback. If you are unsure as at your accommodations about opening/closing hours.
-Be careful when renting motorbikes or jetskis. While most renters are trustworthy there are some that will set you up and claim you damaged their property and charge you ridiculous amounts of money to pay for it. Your best bet is to ask around, ask other travellers, your accommodation etc., about reputable places to rent from.
-You DO need a valid license to legally drive a motorbike in Thailand. Plenty of travellers come, rent a bike no questions asked and hit the road. That’s all fine, until you get pulled over by the police. Non-licensed drivers will be charged and have their bike take away. I’ve heard of more than one backpacker left on the side of the road.
A Note on Travel Insurance in Thailand
Please, do NOT travel without travel insurance! I’ve had to rely on mine multiple times. While the cost may seem annoying and better spent elsewhere, trust me when I say you’ll be sorry if you don’t have it. For just a couple bucks a day, you can save yourself a whole lot of stress and money. I like to recommend SafetyWing for travel medical insurance as they are one of the most affordable options I’ve found, plus, they are who I use and I have had great experiences with them. Learn more about the importance of travel insurance here.