Buckets are a Thai classic that can provide excellent value for your money while saving you the hassles of waiting in line and constantly digging money out of your wet board shorts for drinks. Plus, with enough straws for everyone, they are a great way to share your drink and meet new friends. For a few hundred baht you will get yourself a pint of Mekong whiskey or Sangsom (or sometimes vodka), can of mix (cola, sprite, juice), bottle of Thai Red Bull, and have it all mixed into a child’s sand pail filled with ice and straws. Legendary.
If beer is more your thing, look for the 3 liter beer towers. The towers are placed at your table and usually have a large cube of ice enclosed in the middle to allow for self-service.
Both buckets and beer towers have spread to other countries, but Thailand was the first place I saw either of them so do yourself a favour and try an original Thai tourist specialty!
#7. Make the Most of 7-Eleven
7-Elevens are everywhere in Thailand and they are extremely handy for a number of things. Need to break 1000 baht? Buy something at 7-Eleven. Struggling with the heat? Duck into an air conditioned Sev. Need a cheap drink for the beach? 7-11 has cold beer, coolers, and even buckets and liquor if you are jonesing for a bucket. Need snacks or comfort food for a long travel day? 7-Eleven has many of your favourite name brand sweets from home available. I even had a 7-11 employee point me to a shop to have an Australian phone unlocked so I could use a local SIM. Seriously, 7-11 is your #1 friend in Asia.
I have arrived in Bangkok with little more than my wallet, passport, and toothbrush and departed with an entirely new wardrobe. For a few dollars an item, you can get new shirts, singlets, sandals, boardies, toiletries, and luggage. If you typically wear business clothes rather than beach scrubs, there are no shortages of tailor shops for dress shirts, sports coats, or suits. The only items I have found difficult to purchase in Thailand are high quality dress shoes and backpacks. Shoes tend to be on the small side, of limited selection, or of poor quality. Backpacks and luggage are often counterfeit and it can sometimes be difficult to distinguish knock-offs from the real deal, making it possible that you will overpay for a backpack that appears to be of quality on the outside, but whose true quality will make itself known when the seams fall apart before the end of your trip.
Tailor shops are everywhere in Thailand and there are a few things to know before having clothes made. Most tailor shops, with the exception of certain high end stores, outsource their tailoring to the same seamstress filled workshops (sweatshops?) so it really does not matter that much where you shop. The major differences will be in the quality of the fabrics available and the tailor’s ability to correctly measure you and understand what style you are after.
Dress shirts are usually the most consistent best buy. For less than US$ 30, you can get fitted cotton dress shirts that will look far better than off-the-rack shirts that cost 5x as much back home. For dress shirts, it is simply a matter of choosing your fabric, deciding on your collar (spread, semi-spread, straight, button down, etc.), and cuffs (French, one button, two button, angle cut, etc.). If you have the time, it is worth having one shirt made for you to try on and then have the rest of your shirts made once you have confirmed everything fits correctly.
Suits are much more difficult to have properly tailored, but you will still usually get a better product for the price than an off the rack equivalent. As I have been told before, a well tailored suit to women is what lingerie is to men, so it is worth buying a tailored suit if you think you will wear it.
Before buying a suit, it is worth doing some research so you know exactly what you want as there are many more style options available. You should probably know in advance what types of fabric you would like (do not necessarily trust the wool labels in the stores), the number of buttons, venting, pockets, etc. If you are buying your first suit, a navy 2 or 3 button with a single vent is a safe choice. One thing to be cautious of is that Asians love to use a lot of shoulder padding. If you have the build to fill out a suit well on your own, it is worth asking for them to use as little padding as possible. In fact, ask twice; many of my suits have come back with some shoulder padding despite my requests.
The only time I have had food poisoning in Thailand was after eating at a Pizza Hut. Big mistake. Thai food is delicious and the cheap restaurants and food carts are often just as delicious and clean as expensive ‘luxury’ tourist restaurants. Remember that highly priced tourist restaurants with Western menu items tend to not have the same turnover as the busier local spots, which means meats could be sitting in storage for much longer before being served. Furthermore, Thais may not be as familiar with preparing western dishes and thus a Pad Thai is a much safer choice than a Hamburger when it comes to potential stomach bugs. After seven trips to Thailand I have never been seriously sick from local food and thus I would encourage you to try as much as you can as the options are diverse, cheap, and healthy. I assure you, even the roasted grasshoppers and scorpions are worth at least trying.
Before agreeing to stay somewhere, always take a look at the room. It is very easy to look at a few places before deciding on where you will rest your head for the night and after a while you will get a good idea for what a fair price is for differing room standards. Sometimes, but not always, the room rates are negotiable so if you think the initial asking price is too high, see if you can negotiate it down to a fair price. If the bathrooms have green or red light bulbs I would stay away – they are just limiting your ability to see mold and mildew instead of cleaning it. Outdoor washrooms are great if you are able to find them!
An extra word of warning is that although I have never had an issue with theft in Thailand, I have heard many, many, many stories of people being ripped off on Full Moon Party nights. The thieves come out when they know people will not be ‘home’, so be extra cautious if there are large events happening. If there is no safe available in your room, check with reception to see if they can lock your passport and other valuables at the front desk. Just remember to get everything back when you depart (leave yourself a note) as I have had to help a few people make mad dashes back to their accommodation minutes before their flights / ferries / buses were scheduled to depart to collect their passports!
Taxis in most parts of Thailand will have meters and the meter will almost always be the cheapest way to travel to your destination. If taxis are parked and waiting outside of a known tourist area be cautious as they will probably either have a ‘fixed’ meter or will insist on a lump sum price in advance. In my opinion it is worth walking away from the touristy areas to a nearby street to wave down a taxi to both save a few dollars and avoid supporting scammers. Tuk-tuks are far less comfortable ways to get around and also tend to cost more. Riding in a tuk-tuk is an essential Thai experience that must be tried once, but there are much better and cheaper means of transport available in most areas.
Thailand is a popular backpacker destination for a reason. It is cheap, safe, beautiful, and fun. Be aware of your surroundings, exercise common sense, and do not beat yourself up if you buy a poor quality knock-off or pay a few too many dollars for a taxi fare. There are plenty of travel agents around to help you book flights, buses, trains, and tours so if you have the time, plan your trip on the fly and go with the flow. My #1 tip for backpacking Thailand is simply to meet people, share experiences, try new things, and enjoy yourself!