People tell you that ten to twenty years ago, backpacking Thailand was different, better. Exotic, beautiful, full of kindness and adventure. But like anything that’s great, everyone wants it. Now Thailand is the ultimate backpacking country. You will find travel agencies and western-style restaurants around every corner. There’s tours and resorts and scams. If you want to get off the beaten track, many people will recommend the neighboring countries of Laos or Myanmar. However, if you really want to discover the true Thai ways, you’ll still find them.
Get Off The Beaten Track When Backpacking Thailand
Thailand is still considered a developing country. The living conditions vary as vastly as the exposure to foreigners. It may seem as though you could go anywhere and find a hotel, but that’s not the case. Within a few hours of the tourist hotspots, you can find places where no-one can speak English. Here’s how you can find the places that will make you feel like you finally arrived in Thailand:
1. Take part in a project:
You could do a work away while backpacking Thailand or get hired to teach English. Help on an animal farm or maybe live in a homestay. These may have you end up in a place that’s not built for tourists, with no English menu in the restaurants and no public transport. The best part about this is that despite being away from the tourist hotspots, you still have a way to connect with the locals. If you spend time in their homes and schools, you cannot avoid communication. And while Thai is an incredibly difficult language, knowing just the basics plus waving your hands and feet will help you immensely.
2. Get your own transportation
By far the most popular way to get around in Thailand is the scooter. Everyone has at least one and drives like a wild elephant is after them. Renting a scooter just for a day or two can give you a great opportunity to leave the city behind and explore the provinces of Thailand. Also popular and perhaps preferable when getting lost far off away from the hotspots are dirtbikes. Since Thai roads can vary from excellent to barely visible, having a cross-country vehicle can be a huge advantage. Especially in the North, you may find yourself wondering just how the locals conquer the hills on their 49cc moped. Just the desperate search for gas can win you wonderful new friends!
3. Discover some spirituality
One way to do so would be a silent retreat. The experience probably wouldn’t be described as pleasant, but rather life changing. There’s different silent and meditation retreats in Thailand, catering to different types of visitors. For many, it is very hard to stay in one of the silent retreats for long. It may be the best idea to start with a regular meditation retreat, as they often include talking with monks and guided meditation. Backpacking in Thailand is great to discover some of your spirituality!
Another option is to do a “monk chat”. This is a program in Chiang Mai, where you get to sit down and talk to a group of young monks or apprentice monks. The idea is that they can improve their English, as education is an important part of monastery. In exchange, you can learn about Buddhism and their life as monks. I believe there are other places to talk to monks, but here it is a regular event.
4. Visit outside of holiday season
There are quite a few advantages to traveling in the rainy season in Thailand, especially since it only rains for short periods of time a day. However, if you don’t want to or can’t travel during that time, another great option is shoulder seasons. Many places that are touristic during the high season fall off the radar at the rest of the year. The times to avoid are Christmas and New Years, and also Chinese Golden Week (first week of October) when roughly 590 million Chinese people travel out of their country. As a comparison, the US only has 320 million residents. Why does this matter? Because China is the main source of Thailand’s tourism with nearly 8 million Chinese visitors in 2015.
5. Ask the locals what to do
Thais are known for their kindness. But, and this happened to me, if you stay on the tourist tracks, you might not experience that. After a week of feeling harassed and being ripped-off in Bangkok, I thought someone had made a mistake. Maybe they confused avarice for kindness?
It may take some straying from the beaten path while backpacking Thailand to experience the friendliness everyone tells you about. Not just ordinary politeness, but people giving your rides, offering you tea or food and showing you around. And what you will also see is that they will love to tell you about their home. There might be some places the lonely planet never printed, which locals love. It’s well worth a try to simply ask for advice!
Remember, though, that getting off the beaten path doesn’t always mean having a better time. Allow yourself some creature comforts here and there and you’ll enjoy the exotic adventures even more! What are your tips on backpacking Thailand? Let us know in the comments!