Destinations: Asia

The Southeast Asia Edition: Your Top 13 Must-Do’s in Thailand

July 1, 2014
Southeast Asia has always been a backpacking haven. The region attracts the most visitors between November and March when people are looking to escape the cold winter months back home. The interest in this region continues to grow as evidenced by the sheer volume of requests I’ve been receiving for Southeast Asia travel tips. 

“What should I do when I go to Southeast Asia? Any tips on must-visit places?” Well… yes indeed! However, considering the numerous countries that the Southeast Asia travel route encompasses this is a ridiculously TOUGH question to answer. So I thought I’d start this edition with some tips on visiting the travel hub of Southeast Asia: Thailand. If you’re headed off to Thailand, here are the top 13 must-do highlights while you’re visiting. 

1. Eat Street Food. Eat LOTS of Street Food.
The best thing about traveling is eating the local food. Locals are not eating at the 5-star hotels and restaurants. They’re eating from the street vendors. The food is cheap, delicious, and you’ll get to experience the real deal! Scared of getting diarrhea? Read #8 on this post for avoiding diarrhea while traveling.

2. Visit Temples.
Thailand is filled with temples galore. Beautiful temples. Even if you’re not into temples you should definitely visit at least a few. You’ll be awe’d by the intricate details and magnitude of the structures.


3. Join the Full Moon Party.
Once a month, a crowd of tens of thousands gather on the beaches of Ko Pha Ngan to dance from dusk til dawn under the full moon. Music ranging from trance and house to reggae and R&B blare all along the beach as jugglers and fire-eaters entertain the revelers. Even if you’re not a rager this is a must-see event you should experience at least once. For details on when the next event will be held and tips for attending, visit the Full Moon Party Page.

4. Go Scuba Diving.
Thailand is one of the top scuba diving destinations in the world. So diving is a must! If you aren’t already certified, you can do so in Thailand. It takes about 3 days and is safe and very affordable. 

5. Play on the Beaches.
Not into scuba diving? No problem. Just hang out on one of the many beaches in Thailand. The water is crystal clear and the backdrop is breathtaking. What more could you ask for?


6. Take a Tuk-Tuk Ride.
Tuk-Tuk’s are the taxi’s of Thailand. They can be a bit of an oddity if it’s your first time riding in one. You might even feel a bit unsafe with only a metal bar keeping you inside. Worry not! With Lonely Planet’s tips, you’ll be a tuk-tuk riding pro in no time! 

7. Get a Massage… or Two!
Thai massages typically involve stretching and a deep massage. At only $7-15 USD (depending on your negotiation skills) for a one hour massage, you can afford to spoil yourself! 

8. Visit a Fish Spa.
Though banned in several states in the U.S., fish spas are widely available in Thailand where toothless Garra rufa fish, the size of minnows, nibble away at dry, dead skin on your feet. There is controversy over health risks of these spas. I would definitely recommend only going to spas where they thoroughly clean your legs and feet and check for any cuts prior to allowing you into the spa. Get ready to giggle! It tickles!

9. Volunteer with the Elephant Nature Park.
Everyone has “riding an elephant” on their bucket list. What most people don’t realize is the abuse elephants undergo to be “trained” for allowing people to ride on them. Elephants are beaten with bullhooks and endure spinal injury from the weight of carrying baskets full of people all day long. So instead of riding an elephant, volunteer for a day with the Elephant Nature Park, an elephant rescue and rehabilitation center in Chiang Mai. In all my years of traveling, this was one of my most memorable experiences. Expect to spend a whole day cleaning, feeding, and playing with your elephant. You even get to ride the elephant! Instead of electric prods, bullhooks, and heavy baskets full of people, it’ll just be you riding bareback on your elephant!


10. Drink From a Bucket!
Thailand is known for buckets. Essentially it’s colorful little sand pail filled with ice. You choose a small bottle of spirits, a mixer, and pour both into the bucket. Throw a few straws in and sip away with your buddies!  

11. Attend a Muay Thai Match. 
Experience the real deal in Thailand! The energy and intense atmosphere are incredible. You also learn that Muay Thai is not about knocking someone out. While the goal is to win, athletes will show respect during the match. Ratchadamnoen And Lumpinee are the two stadiums in Bangkok offering fights on alternating days of the week. 


12. Then Train Muay Thai For a Day!
Feeling inspired after watching some Muay Thai fights? There are several boxing gyms and camps throughout Thailand that offer training for as short as one session to multiple sessions over several months. Note that these are not air-conditioned, indoor gyms. You’ll be training in the heat so be ready to work up a sweat!

13. Have a REAL coconut.
Forget about paying $3-4 for tiny little containers of artificially sweetened coconut water. Try the real thing in Thailand! For as little as $0.50 you can have a fresh, whole young coconut. Be sure to have a spoon ready to scoop out all the tender coconut meat after you finish sipping the juice. Healthy and refreshing without breaking the bank!

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