CULTURE, FOOD & SIGHTSEEING IN THAILAND | fivethreeninety

When I post this, I’ll be back in the UK in my own bed. And if I’m not too exhausted still from the 42 hour journey across the world, I’ll definitely be crying about having to return to normal life.
Thailand had been such an incredible place to visit. It has such an incredibly rich culture, such welcoming & friendly people & amazing experiences that I hope I will never forget.

I’m going to share with you all my experiences, tips, todo’s & recommendations for a Thailand adventure.

 

Before I start on the individual places I visited, here are some general tips for Thailand that every visitor should know:

 

Health & Hygiene

⁃ Only drink bottled water. Thailand’s mains water supply isn’t safe to drink, but you can buy bottled water everywhere. Go for Mineré or Nestlé branded ones if possible – & avoid ice (restaurants won’t always use drinking water to make it).

⁃ Carry tissues with you at all times.

⁃ Carry either soap or hand sanitiser too.

⁃ Do not underestimate how much you will need of either of the above two.

⁃ Don’t flush toilet paper down the toilet! Thai sewage system can’t handle it & all you’ll do is block the toilet. Every toilet comes with a little spray hose to clean yourself up, & a bin to put tissue in.

⁃ Take diarrhoea/ sickness tablets with you. You will probably get food poisoning (I can’t stress enough how important it is that you don’t think you will be immune).

⁃ Don’t panic if you do get food poisoning. It’s very common, even amongst locals, so just take your time to wade it out, & visit your nearest pharmacy. They’ll know how to help.

⁃ You can try your best to avoid food poisoning by drinking bottled water, avoiding ice & eating food that’s made to order. Street food is really good & cheap, but is a little bit more likely to be harmful to you due to it being out in the open longer.

 

Clothes

⁃ Take floaty mid length sleeved shirts to wear in temples that will keep you cool as well as covered.

⁃ Wear shoes that you can slip on & off easily wherever you go.

⁃ You will choose practically over fashion. Accept that before you pack & you’ll save yourself a lot of room in your suitcase.

⁃ It will be hot. Dresses are nice but chafing is not – shorts will be your best friend.


Culture

⁃ Don’t ever be anything but respectful to the monarchy, especially now. Thailand is currently in a year of mourning after their beloved King passed away, & everywhere from shopping complexes to homes has huge tributes & shrines in his memory. This respect includes currency; Thai money is emblazoned with pictures of the King so it is an extreme offence to stand on money.

⁃ Thailand is not very accepting of PDA (public displays of affection). If you’re travelling there with a spouse or partner, it’s best not to be too touchy feely in public & avoid kissing. Hand holding is becoming more acceptable, but you’ll find it’s too hot to hold hands anyway & it’s a bit of a risky gamble.

⁃ Be polite. Politeness is a huge thing in Thai culture so remember your please’s & thank you’s & show your gratefulness openly. Be as kind as possible when turning services like taxis or tuktuks or suit fittings down. It helps to bow your head or put your hands together to say thank you too, & it’s good to do this whenever you leave an establishment.

 

Religion

⁃ Don’t buy likenesses of the Buddha as souvenirs. You’ll see this written on everything from billboards to umbrellas: the Buddha is to pay respect to, not to use as a decoration. A general rule of thumb is that if you don’t completely understand something, don’t buy a trinket of it.

⁃ Cover your shoulders, knees, midriff & chest when visiting temples. Avoid wearing “flashy” clothes.

⁃ Remove your shoes when going inside temples.

⁃ Never point your feet towards the Buddha.

⁃ Leave space for locals to pray.

⁃ Nod your head/ bow before exiting temples.
Those are the most important tips I can give you – a lot of it is common sense (just be a nice person & stay clean) but you should be mindful that you’re in a different culture at all times.

 

I also thought it might be helpful for me to share my experience of Thailand as the following:

A Vegetarian

It is so easy to eat out as a vegetarian. Almost every restaurant or food vendor I came across had a vegetarian option or had tofu handy to replace meat for you if need be. Buying food from shops was a little more difficult – I never found any pots of noodles from 711 that weren’t meat, or any toasties/ paninis etcetera. Eating out is your best bet, where you can specify no meat clearly. It would be doable to survive as a vegan too, though this would need a little more searching out specific restaurants & cafes. There are multiple options for Vegan places to eat out, you’d just need to travel to them.

A Woman

I was a little apprehensive about how this culture would act towards me as a woman but I had no need to worry – the entire two weeks I was there I was treated with nothing but kindness by practically everyone I met. The only things I did experience were things like a server at a bar assuming the beer I ordered was for my boyfriend, or men offering to carry my suitcase over my boyfriend’s. But that’s pretty much the same as back home. This is just from an outsider’s perspective bear in mind – I’m not an expert by any means on what being a woman living in Thailand is like.

A Couple

Though it’s true that Thailand isn’t very PDA-y, they are very accommodating & celebratory about couples. Numerous people we met even politely asked about our relationship & complimented us, but it is worth noting that Thailand as a country does not approve of same sex relationships & same sex marriage isn’t legalised as is with most of Asia.

A Tourist

The people of Thailand are famed for their hospitality & it’s true. All you have to do is ask & people will go above & beyond to help you find your way, somewhere to eat, sightseeing you should do.

 

Quick side note re. flights:



We flew with Ukraine International Airways & while it did the job, it wasn’t great. The in flight food wasn’t great, & a vegetarian option needs to be ordered online 36 hours before departure which I didn’t know about for the flight there, & missed the deadline for on the flight back. There’s not much leg room & no television screens for the passengers except a few small central ones from the ceiling where they show bad quality showings of recentish films.
Anything extra you want has to be bought with euros (which you most likely won’t have on you for a journey between the U.K. & Thailand) or card, which will come with extra charges. Basically, stock up on food in the airport lounge if you’re flying UIA.

On the opposite side of the scale is Thai Airways, who we flew with on our inland flights. The whole experience with this airline was perfect – comfortable seats, friendly service, television screens for every passenger & relaxing music playing throughout the flight. You even board to a nice little video telling you all the great things about the place you’re heading to. They provided complimentary in flight food even on a one hour trip, but I don’t know if they had vegetarian options as I didn’t eat (sorry).

Okay – let’s get into the specific places!!




Bangkok is almost an exact 50/50 split between modern/ western culture & a traditional Thai one. You will see a Starbucks right next to a wooden home on stilts above the water; religious shrines outside of a shopping mall; plastic chairs & tables set up in alleyways as makeshift restaurants next to the subway. Phone & electric cables & wires hang low & thick alongside trees & paving slabs can be crooked or wedged around tree roots. It’s a huge city with amazing things in it, but it is also pretty full of pollution & chaos.
Travel wise, it is so easy to get around. If you can’t walk there’s both an underground rail service & a sky train; boat services up & down the river & always a taxi or tuktuk willing to take you somewhere.


Recommendations:


  The Grand Palace

The Thailand Grand Palace is unlike anything I’ve ever seen in my life. It really is grand, full of lavishly decorated buildings that are jaw dropping (really it’s unbelievable). It feels like an absolute culmination of all the love & pride the country has for its  Monarchy and religion, and you can feel how much of a special place it is to the Thai people when you’re there.

 

Chatuchak Weekend Market

We went on a whim to fill up an afternoon & were not expecting the sheer size of this market at all. It just goes on & on & on, hundreds of stalls selling everything from coconuts to Spongebob watches. I can’t even describe how do you do is you just need to experience  struggling to find your way back to where you started for 45 minutes.

 

Khaosan Road

This is backpacker central, & is basically a mini Camden. There’s hostels & hotels & restaurants, all at pretty dirt cheap prices, with travel shops & market stalls lining the road. There is every kind of souvenir you could want on this road, from little wooden elephants to designer knock offs.

 
Tourist Boat


This was such a good way to travel around. A day’s pass is 150 baht (which is under £3.50) & means you can hop on & off at any stop, all of which have beautiful sightseeing opportunities. Even if you’re not stopping you’ll see some beautiful sights on the sides of the river & the breeze is SO GOOD on the hot days of Bangkok.

 
I wouldn’t prioritise:

Dusit Zoo

It does have some cool animals there (hello hippos) but it doesn’t have that much space in the enclosures & though it teaches you more about animals than other zoos I’ve been too, it didn’t seem like it prioritised them animals as highly as it did the income it made from visitors.

 




The flight to Chiang Mai played us a little video which claimed that the city was a “once in a lifetime” trip, & while I hope that wasn’t my only time there, they were right. The experiences we had in Chiang Mai made memories I hope never to forget. From swimming in waterfalls to caring for native elephants, Chiang Mai feels like a really authentic Thailand that caters to tourists with what it naturally has to offer.

How to get there:

Flight from Bangkok. You can get return tickets for around £80, probably cheaper. The central city is only a ten minute drive from the airport.
Recommendations:
Wat Phra Sing

The actual temple at Wat Phra Sing is beautiful, but it’s their gardens that made it stand out for me. It’s so quiet & serene, just a really tranquil place full of people taking the time to be in a calm environment.
May Kaidee Vegetarian & Vegan Cooking Classes

I didn’t do this class but went on a mission there to get a booklet for it, after my cousin lost hers when she did the course a few months back. If I’d have had the time I definitely would have done a traditional Thai cooking class.
Hike

I really recommend you do this. Go to a local agency & ask them about walks in the mountains & they’ll be able to help you easy. The one we did was amazing; three waterfalls; a visit to the Naphamethanidom temple which is so high up on the mountains all the air is mist; a stop at the highest point in all of Thailand; visiting local rice farms & trying fresh coffee from a local grower. The day starts with a few stops along the way to the top, a paid for lunch & then a two hour walk down, all guided by amazing tour guides who know everything back to front. If you’re worried about the walk, don’t be – it’s all downhill & really isn’t that exhausting.

 
Chiang Mai Elephant Sanctuary

The best thing you can do in Chiang Mai is visit an elephant sanctuary. Do your research before you go though, make sure you aren’t going to one that uses chains, hooks or allows riding. However amazing it would be to ride an elephant, the process behind it is beyond cruel & you really can’t do it. I really can’t recommend the sanctuary we went to enough – the workers were so funny & happy & full of life & obviously really cared for the amazing creatures we were seeing. With them, you get the chance to feed the elephants, have a mud bath with them & swim in a river with them, before you go off to spend some time with just people at a waterfall. The elephants are rescued from labour work or circus’, & are just the most amazing animals now that they can just be elephants.

 

I wouldn’t prioritise:

 
Nightlife
I didn’t experience any in all honesty, but I think all the amazing things you can do in the day in Chiang Mai just wipe you out too much to be thinking about going out all night.

 

 

Koh Tao is famous for it’s diving & that’s how we know it – my boyfriend, Jamie lived here for three months last year when he was studying to become a certified Divemaster, so finally getting to see it myself was amazing. It’s incomparable to any place I’ve ever been before, & is the most relaxed & stress free environment I’ve ever been in. Nobody seems to have any worries, everyone is calm & welcoming & there is such rich diversity from people all over the world all gathered on this tiny island.

 

How to get there: 

⁃ Buy a joint ticket from Bangkok. This includes the coach journey to Chumphon & then the boat to the island. It’s a long journey but it’s worth it.

 

Recommendations:


Hire a Bike

The island is tiny, but hilly. Getting a bike means you’ll be able to see every bit of Koh Tao without having to trek through the sweltering heat. Go to Oli’s Motorbike Rentals in Mae Head – it’s worth it to go through them rather than just hire a bike off the side of a road.
Samosa Restaurant

It’s down the road opposite the Supermall by the Roctopus dive HQ. It doesn’t look like much but the people are wonderful & the food is amazing – every dish is cooked to order. Jamie went there all the time when he stayed last year, & when we went for the first time this trip it took the woman all of two seconds to remember him & his order. We went every day & by the end of the week she added us on her personal Facebook & posted a photo of us on the restaurant’s profile.
Nangyuan

Nangyuan is an even smaller island off Koh Tao. Take a taxi boat over there for the day & you can swim with fish, relax on the beach & trek up to the peak to see the island stretched out beneath you. If you take a towel, only use it to dry yourself off – don’t lie on it on the beach (the island loses a lot of sand this way). Also keep in mind that you can’t take plastic bottles onto the island with you – & all food & drink is a little more expensive here.
Freedom Beach

This was the most magical start to our stay in Koh Tao. This beach is tiny,  secluded & just so so peaceful. Laying there watching the sunset from a hammock  with the waves rolling in was one of those pinch me moments when my life didn’t seem real.

 
Sairee Beach

Sairee is the big famous beach on Koh Tao, but is still so serene. It’s never crowded, & in the day you can relax in the sun or under the palm trees, & at night relax at the front of beach bars watching fire shows.

 
Koh Tao Pub Crawl

The co-towel pub crawl is trashy as hell but its brilliant.  You pay 500 baht for entry to the pub crawl, which grants you a T-shirt, a free bucket, free shots and discounts at every bars you go to.  It’s the biggest pub crawl in Asia and one of the top five  pub crawls in the world,  and is best enjoyed as part of a big group. The best bit of the pub crawl though by far is…

 

Cabaret Show

image

This was the best moment of my life. The show is free, but every entree must buy a drink once inside – ready in time for the show.  Full disclaimer, it is a shortened show than their actual evening one they do late every night but it is incredible. There’s group & solo performances set to Rihanna & Michael Buble that give you so much life – please just go. They’re so talented. I was ALIVE.

 

Bucket Bar

If drinking is on your todo list then head here. It’s just opposite Choppers, & is a smoothie & shake bar by day & a bucket bar by night. It’s the cheapest buckets of alcohol you’ll get on the island & they have logs of wood which is the basis of a brilliant drinking game.

 

I have fallen in love with this way of life. Of waking up to gorgeous heat & heading out barefaced & barefoot to venture out for the day.

 

Obviously videos from my trip will be coming to my YouTube channel as soon as possible, so go subscribe to see the things I experienced too beautiful to describe in words.

 

Thailand, I have loved you. Without sounding like a stereotypical traveller who has ‘found them self’, you have changed me for the better. These two weeks have felt like a lifetime in the best possible way & I hope I can return someday soon.

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