First-timers' travel guide to thailand

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A first-timers' guide to Thailand

Published August 11th, 2017

So, you’re finally headed to the land of green curry. You’ve scored a black market bargain flight deal, bought that playsuit that's going to look hot once you're tanned, and already planned the hashtags that will make your friends jelly #cocktailsalldayerryday #wishyouwerehere.

To make sure your holiday is as fun as it is grammable, check out our first timers’ guide to Thailand.

Pack right

Pack your boardies and that playsuit, but also throw in a few warmer options. You’ll need clothing that covers your shoulders and knees to enter many temples, and it can get chilly in the leafy shade of the jungle. Sunscreen goes without saying, but mozzie repellent can also be a lifesaver.

Choose happy elephants

You know those daydreams you have of yourself in a stylin, wide-brimmed hat, waving to the camera as you ride an elephant through the lush Thai jungle? Abort this dream immediately. Start imagining yourself hanging with these gentle giants in the mud, or feeding them cornstalks. Legit elephant sanctuaries are the only place where you can get up close with pachyderms and know that they have been treated with TLC instead of the total opposite, so do your research.

Buy an old lady fan

When you’re wandering the stalls and markets in those first fantastic days, pick yourself up a fan. A simple, hand held, old lady fan. When you’re stuck on a bus without air conditioning, you will be the envy of your mates when you whip out your personal breeze maker.

Get amongst Northern Thailand

Definitely tick Phuket, Koh Samui and Bangkok off your list, but head north to jump into a completely different side of Thailand. Away from the irresistible influence of the beach, Thailand is a bit cooler, leafier and artsier. The gorgeous city of Chiang Mai is just the start: we love Chiang Rai, with its Narnia-like White Temple, Doi Inthanon National Park, or “the roof of Thailand”, and the chill hippie vibes of cute little Pai.

Eat stuff besides Pad Thai

‘Straya loves a good Thai feed, and you’ll see all your faves on the menu. You’re in for the tastiest Massaman, green curry and tom yum of your life, but don’t be afraid to branch out and munch on things like sai ua, the fragrant, curly sausages in the north, or kai jeow - a seafood or pork omelette that is semi-deep fried. We also love khao mao tod, which are sticky-rice-and-coconut-coated bananas that have been deep fried to a golden brown.

Watch out for dodgy money changing dudes

There are plenty of places on the street that advertise great rates for money exchange, but watch these dudes carefully. The vendor will make a big show of counting out your baht to you at the end, but count it yourself before stashing it in your purse - quick fingered ninjas can often slip a note behind the counter without you noticing.

 

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Rooftop bars in Bangkok are awesome

Get a drink with a view at one of Bangkok’s famous rooftop bars. A little pre-planning is smart, as you have to get pretty, get to the bar and have a drink in hand in time to get epic sunset feels. Our favourites include Sky Bar at Lebua, where parts of The Hangover 2 were filmed, Brewski, the highest beer bar in Bangkok, and Octave Rooftop Bar, which has possibly the best views in town.

Be prepared to haggle

Haggling can be a bit intimidating for first-timers, but it’s the way of life in Thailand. A few haggling tips for rookies: start with a max price in mind, don’t touch things unless you’re ready to haggle, and act totally disinterested. You’d be surprised how often a ‘best price’ can get better if you look like you’re walking away.

Get your festival on

If you take advantage of our epic $499 return flight to Phuket*, you’ll be visiting Thailand in November, a prime month for festivals, including one of the wildest beach parties in the world: the Koh Phangan full moon party.

Full moon party Koh Phangan

The thing about full moon parties is that they’re only held when the moon is full. Quarter moon, half moon and dark moon parties were nixed a few years ago for being a cop out (well, for being too noisy anyway). Thailand full moon parties for the remainder of 2017 are 7th August, 5th September, 6th October, 3rd November and 3rd December. Koh Phangan is the OG, but you’ll find many festivities elsewhere if you want to avoid the crowds.

Chiang Mai Lantern Festival

Chiang Mai’s Lantern Festival, or Yi Peng, is a bit tamer, but no less gorgeous. Every November, thousands of paper lanterns are released into the night sky and drift away on the evening breeze. There’s a ton of parades, religious ceremonies and fireworks to enjoy, and plenty of photo ops to feed your social media.

Loi Krathong

Also on the 3rd of November in 2017, this gorgeous festival is celebrated by setting a krathong, or basket, afloat on the river. The krathong is decked out with flowers, candles and sometimes a lock of the launcher’s hair. A quick wish to the river spirits and perhaps an added coin for good measure, and the floating bundle of luck is set free.

Songkran

So it’s not in November but we had to include Songkran because it’s so effing fun. Songkran is a nationwide water fight that is held in mid-April, and you can expect sh!t to get hectic. It may have religious origins, but you’ll find locals and tourists alike roaming the streets with a Super Soaker in one hand and a Singha in the other. The drenching doesn’t stop for three days so don’t bother changing into dry clothes.

*Conditions apply

emma death valley

Emma Lee

Emma is a travel writer and blogger living in Brisbane, Australia. She followed the snow around the world for many years, and still considers Lake Louise her happy place. Emma's other passion is food; a love that has led her down many sketchy looking alleys in Asia, South America and Europe.