I’ve been in Thailand for a month now, and in the span of 30 days, I’ve learned more completely new and unexpected things than I would in a year at home. Some of these lessons have been fun in nature- learning how to drive a motorbike, how to order the perfect vanilla latte in Thai- while others have been the result of mistakes I made, and lessons learned the hard way. There’s enough of those to fill several blog posts, so this one will focus on my domestic travel tips.
So far, I’ve taken two weekend trips out of where I live in Nan province, in Northern Thailand. I love being in Nan- there’s fewer tourists, a laid-back atmosphere, everyone is friendly and kind, and the mountains and landscapes are gorgeous, not to mention it’s several degrees cooler than the more southern provinces. Unfortunately, I’m significantly further away from my friends and some of my bucket-list Thailand destinations. For context, arriving in Nan for the first time, another teacher and I took the overnight bus from Bangkok, roughly a ten-hour drive. The flight is only an hour, but regardless, getting anywhere is a much more complicated trek for me than for some of my friends who are closer to Bangkok.
My first 4 tips for domestic travel came about from my first weekend trip, to Pattaya, southeast of Bangkok.
My take on public transport- not really worth the hassle. My route from Nan to Pattaya was far more confounded than it needed to be, thanks to my overzealousness to use public transportation when, in fact, I should have just called a taxi or a Grab. I started at Nan Nakhon Airport, flew to Don Mueang Airport (DMK), took a shuttle bus, got off the shuttle too early, changed my destination to pick up my friend so we could travel together, walked through a subterranean mall/train station, got on a Sky Train, got off, changed my mind again, went to the bus station, took a 2 hour van ride to Pattaya, and finally hopped on the back of a motorbike taxi to our Airbnb. I could have saved myself the headache and simply taken a taxi to the bus station, and then taken the van or bus the rest of the way. By the time I had exhausted just about every method of transport in Thailand, I hadn’t even saved any money. Lesson learned.
Chargers- keep it simple. If you are from the U.S., you are in luck because the outlets here are very similar to what we have at home, type A and B plugs. Despite this, my mistake is twofold- not only did I leave all my adapters at home, forgetting that I would eventually be traveling to other countries, but I also took my phone charger that only connects with a USB-C cord. This ultimately meant that I could not plug my phone into any of the regular USB charging ports in the airports on the way to Thailand or while I was traveling on this trip. With my phone battery getting dangerously low and with my boarding passes in my Apple Wallet, I frantically ran around the airport to try and find a working Type A or B outlet, which was no easy task and ended up with me sitting basically underneath a restaurant counter. Save yourself the humiliation and pack the USB cable in your personal item.
Negotiating with taxi drivers. This one is tricky, and I don’t really have an answer. Some taxi drivers will take advantage of the fact that you are a clueless foreigner just desperate to get to their destination and overcharge you. I thought that I was being so travel savvy by looking up the cost of my ride on Grab beforehand and then suggesting that price to the taxi driver who approached me. Of course he accepted it- I had offered 3x what it would have cost on the meter! Luckily, this driver was kind and he only charged me the meter price, but I really ended up almost scamming myself.
These last two tips are from my most recent trip to Kanchanaburi and Erawan National Park.
Think about traffic. Especially when transiting between airports or train stations in Bangkok, don’t wonder if there will be traffic, just assume that there will be. I had bought myself a bus ticket for about an hour after my flight landed, thinking that would be plenty of time to get to the bus station 20 minutes away. I was wrong. While a motorbike taxi would have maybe gotten me there in time, the Grab taxi I ordered was at a dead standstill with 25 minutes remaining of the drive while my bus pulled out of the station without me. I had to buy a new bus ticket for about 130 baht, which isn’t bad, but still! I could have easily avoided that by simply booking a later ticket. On the opposite side of things, bus seats do sell out for certain time slots, so keep that in mind as well- two of my friends ended up missing the last bus out to Kanchanaburi.
Always Bring a Raincoat. I have still not learned my lesson on this one- not the first time, when I ended up in a downpour trying to motorbike home from dinner; nor the second time on the bus from Kanchanaburi to Erawan National Park. On the winding trip through the mountains, it started pouring rain and my friends and I got absolutely drenched on the bus before we managed to get the very stuck windows closed. We were going to a waterfall anyway, but it was not pleasant feeling like we were in the waterfall while we were still sitting on the bus with two hours to go.
There are so many more things to say about traveling in Thailand, and I’m sure I’ll come up with several more tips every trip I go on. Regardless of if you make mistakes or if the journey is long and exhausting, the destination is always worth it, and at the very least you will have some funny stories to tell!