March 27, 2013

Thailand Travel Tips That Your Guidebook Won’t Tell You

I’m Jessica and I’m a money expert, speaker, Accredited Financial Counsellor Canada®, host of the More Money Podcast, and am currently writing my first book with HarperCollins Canada (2025).
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Having traveled around Thailand for almost a month, I’ve definitely learned a thing or two. I may not have been “roughing it” like some of the backpackers we met on our trip, but I still did a lot of authentic Thai things and for the most part, traveled like a local.

That being said, there are a ton of Thailand travel tips that I learned that I’d like to share with you in case any of you want to jump on a plane to Thailand in the near future too. Okay, let’s begin:

1. If you want to be frugal, head north

As beautiful as the islands in the south are, and as exciting as the hustle and bustle of Bangkok is, if you really want to get the most bang for your baht, head north. Not only is it significantly cooler in temperature (and thus more bearable to walk the streets mid-day), but the cost of accommodation, food, drinks, and activities is a fraction of the cost.

Moreover, Chiang Mai was probably my favourite place in Thailand. The people were friendly, it wasn’t too busy or overwhelmed with tourists, and there was so much culture and history to see.

2. Clean food, good taste

If you are an adventurous eater then you’ll probably want to dive right into all the street food that Thailand has to offer. Since I’m a pretty picky eater, I needed to eat my meals at either a café or restaurant.

The street food honestly scared the sh** out of me (fish on a stick? No thanks!) and I really wanted to avoid getting food poisoning in a foreign country. A useful tip I learned to make sure a restaurant was safe to eat in was if it had a “Clean Food, Good Taste” sign hanging inside. It’s part of a food sanitation project launched by Thailand’s Department of Health in which all establishments that qualify as clean, safe, and sanitary get to one of these signs.

But again, that’s not to say that if a place doesn’t have this sign, the food isn’t totally okay to eat. Just use your best judgment, and if you do want to eat the street food, the rule of thumb is to avoid any cart without any customers at it. If it’s not busy, it’s probably for a reason.


3. Avoid the moon parties

Listen, I never actually went to a full-moon or half-moon party when I was in the south of Thailand, but everyone I met who did go said that those parties were insane. I’m talking drugs, hookers, buckets of booze, flaming skip rope competitions, you name, it’ll be there!

Hey, maybe that actually sounds right up your alley, I’m not judging. But just so you know, when I was staying in Ko Lanta I heard about two Canadian sisters found dead in Ko Pi Pi after ingesting DEET, a bug repellent that is also used as a drug, that was mixed in cocktails that they had at one of these parties.

I know I’ll have to die one day, but I sure don’t want it to be in a puddle of my own vomit. Also, drugs and prostitution are both still illegal in Thailand, and those parties are crawling with undercover cops who could put you in jail.

4. Beware of the “happy shake”

Another thing I didn’t try nor wanted to try was the “happy shake”. If someone offers you a happy shake, know that it will make you happy because there are magic mushrooms in it. Drugs aren’t my thing, but even if they were I’m not sure if I’d want it in shake form. Just sayin’.

5. Free Wi-Fi is everywhere

And I mean everywhere! Even street carts on the side of the road offer free Wi-Fi. It’s great because if you plan on bringing your iPad or tablet with you (which I highly recommend, we got a ton of use out of ours), you’ll never have to pay for internet or go to an internet café your whole trip. Thank you Thailand for being so up with the times! Now, why is Canada so far behind?

6. McDonald’s delivers

You read that right, in Thailand McDonald’s has a delivery service! Again, why don’t we have this in Canada? It’s brilliant!

7. PDA is not okay

Even though my BF and I spent almost every waking hour with each other for a month, when we got back to Vancouver, we told each other that in some ways we grew closer, and in other ways more distant. The thing in Thailand is PDA is not okay. That means no kissing, hugging, or hand-holding in public. It’s just part of their culture, and since we wanted to fit in we abided by those rules.

It was weird not being able to hold hands with each other as we did at home, and even though we did eventually get used to it, it was nice to be able to show PDA again when we got back home.

8. Driving in Thailand looks way worse than it actually is

I won’t deny that the traffic in Bangkok and most of Thailand was something I’ve never seen before (bumper to bumper from morning to night, and motorbikes weaving through cars), but even still I never felt unsafe in a tuk tuk, cab, or as a pedestrian. Actually, during our whole trip, I only witnessed two accidents.

One was a mere fender-bender, and the second one was a motorbike losing control and throwing off the driver and passenger. In both cases, no one was hurt, which makes me think maybe we are really the bad drivers over here.

9. If you go to Chiang Mai, say hi to John

One of my favourite finds in Chiang Mai was John’s Gallery. It was the coolest looking whole in the wall, with some of the neatest artwork and wood carvings I’ve ever seen. We literally stumbled into it on our way back from dinner one night, and after buying a few little postcard-sized paintings, we came back a few days later and got some really neat wood carvings and boxes.

The best part is, that John makes most of the art himself, but everything else is made by this Thai hill tribe that he used to be a part of. Thanks to The Only Way is Asia‘s blog, I can let you know where to find it too: 330 Tha Pae Road, Chiang Mai.


10. Get used to the bum gun

Okay, fine, the Thais don’t actually call the hose in their bathrooms a bum gun, but my BF said he found the term on some British guy’s travel blog and it just stuck with us. Because many places in Thailand have old plumbing, even if there is toilet paper in the bathroom, you aren’t allowed to flush it down the toilet.

Instead, you have to put it into a garbage bin. Ya, I know, kind of gross, but that’s where the bum gun comes in. It’s what you use to basically hose your parts off before using any toilet paper. I personally never got used to the bum gun, and am so thankful that going to the bathroom in Canada is way less complicated.

If anyone else has any questions about Thailand travel tips, I’d be happy to try and answer!

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add a comment

  1. Happy weekend! 🙂

  2. From Shopping to Saving says:

    YAYYY! I totally think of myself as sassy. I think. Anyway have a fantastic time with the BF and have lots of fun!

    Hey maybe you can visit Frugal Portland. LOL!

  3. Modest Money says:

    Hmmm I might be the only male blogger in that list. Does that still make me sassy? lol I dunno if sassy is a good trait for a guy. Thank you very much for the mention though. We’ll have to chat some more soon. Enjoy the trip down to Portland. I’ve never been either, but it sounds like a cool city.

  4. Michelle says:

    Thanks girl!

  5. Daisy says:

    Thanks for the mention friend! Have fun in Portland! The boy and I are going to Oregon on May long. I’m excited!

  6. Bridget says:

    thanks girl 😉 I adore ya!

  7. eemusings says:

    Woot! Thanks for the shoutout 😀

  8. Jordann says:

    Thanks for the mention! Hope you had an awesome weekend.

  9. Country Girl says:

    Thank ye kindly for including me on the list! You’re pretty sassy too, y’know. 🙂

  10. TB and BlueCollarWorkman says:

    Great list of great blogs! I agree with your picks 🙂 And since i began my blog, I too, have felt very welcomed by the community — them’s good peeps!

  11. B. (Below Her Means) says:

    Thank you so much for mentioning me! I adore you and your blog. I’m behind and catching up on entries but seeing you link to me made my afternoon. Thank you!

  12. debt relief order says:

    i love the site “from shopping to saving”. It really helps in saving money when you out for shopping. I appreciate your choice of blogs.

  13. Michelle says:

    Great tips! I really want to go one day so I will definitely be bookmarking all of your posts 🙂

  14. I’m with you on the no so adventurous eating. I would also be terrified to go to one of those parties or be anywhere near it..I’ve seen Brokedown Palace!

  15. Anne @ Unique Gifter says:

    This is a fun list. Toilet paper isn’t a thing in Thai culture… my Mom’s friend lived there for a few years in the early 90s. The influx of tourists has at least made it available for you!
    That’s neat that there’s Wifi everywhere… I agree, we definitely need more of it!

  16. Between the bum gun and the happy shake, I’m dying! 🙂

    Another bookmark for me as Thailand is quickly making its way to the top of my travel list.

  17. Nick @ says:

    So fun! I would love to go there some day.

  18. Johnny Moneyseed says:

    My first thought when I read “fish on a stick” was “MMMM Fish sticks!” But you’re probably right, it’s most likely nasty. America is the same way with the WiFi thing. I’ll never understand that. The telecomm companies have deals with our lawmakers to not have free internet, because they’ll lose too much money. It’s probably great for them, but it sucks for us.

  19. livingrichonthecheap says:

    You are a mountain of info! Definitely info that people need but don’t get from guidebooks!

  20. The Norwegian Girl says:

    great travel advise! I´ve always been hesitant of visiting Thailand because of the party scene, but after reading all of your Thailand trips posts, I could actually find it a possibility. that Wifi everywhere sounds awesome! It`s often one of the things I miss the most when I`m on vacation.

  21. OutlierModel says:

    I’ve heard quite a few stories about women mysteriously dying in Thailand, not just the two sisters (though those were fairly recent). It’s good to be cautious… and stay away from mysterious drinks.

  22. Thad Puckett says:

    Thailand can be great, especially Chiang Mai. But it can be pretty dangerous too, as you point out. The north has more variety.

  23. Samantha says:

    Great advice! I LOVE Thailand. My most favorite place in the whole world is Koh Lipe. It is laid back and full of charm and the island is so small you can walk all the way around it in 45 minutes. Actually, my husband and I want to retire there. The people are friendly and the lifestyle is so laid back. Another thing to try is the ‘hot pot’ meal. I don’t know what the official name of it is, but you pick your own fish and meats and you have this hot pot thing that you cook it on right at your table. Love it. I love everything about Thailand.

  24. Tee says:

    Never realize you did quite a research on PDA in Thailand ;). Things have changed quite a bit nowadays though, especially in the cities. These days, holding hands and hugging are perfectly fine in public, although that may not be the case for temples and royal sites. My wife and I hold hands all the time when we go shopping or strolling in the park.

    A quick/short kiss is also quite ok. French kissing, however, is not okay, but even that is still bearable if you are foreigners. Again, just not near/around the sacred or formal sites.

    Hopefully, Thailand will be more romantic for you the next time!

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