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Thailand is More than Beaches and Bangkok

Most people know Thailand for its beautiful beaches and Bangkok nightlife, but if that's all you see while you're there, you're missing the real Thailand.

By: Sara Aho + Save to a List

Most people know a few things about Thailand: amazing beaches, elephants, and Chicken Fried Rice. Yes, Thailand has all that and SO SO much more. Not sold yet? Read on.

Whether you're currently planning a trip to Thailand or a dreaming of the day when you travel to the Southeast Asia, I encourage you take a few notes and do a little more research than I did. Last fall my husband and I set out to live in Thailand for a few months on a photography and videography assignment, and to be honest, I knew little past what I had seen while scrolling through Instagram. Pretty much I knew I wanted to pet an elephant, buy a pair of those ridiculously comfortable Thai pants, and soak up the sun on some beautiful beach. I was naive and shortsighted, overlooking all that truly makes Thailand irresistible.

Here's a list of my top 8 points to consider when planning your trip:

1. Before you even purchase your tickets, learn what seasons are best to visit. I'd highly recommend visiting sometime between November and February to avoid the hot and rainy seasons, but depending on what area of the country you will be focusing your attention, other seasons may work just as well. Also, check online to see what sort of festivals and holidays your trip may fall during. Thailand has many ancient traditions so the chances of your trip falling during a special celebration are pretty good. Plan accordingly so you don't miss out! 

2. Traveling within the country is cheap. Like ridiculously cheap by US Dollar standard. A simple plane ticket from the north of the country down to Bangkok can run about $20-40 each way day of purchase. Take advantage of these prices and see as much of the country as you can.

3. Get out of Bangkok. Yes, the city is huge, famous, and fun, but it's also expensive by Thailand standards. I highly recommend checking out Chiang Mai and maybe even making it your home base while you're traveling. It's in the northern mountain region, and it's a large enough city that you have everything (and more) that you could possibly want. Temples and night markets to explore, trendy nightlife, elephant camps, cooking classes, endless boutique coffee shops, yoga, and outdoor adventures such as hiking and rafting. You're money will go a lot further in Chiang Mai and it's a more manageable city to navigate and explore.

4. Speaking of navigating, get a grasp on the Thai transportation lifestyle asap. Motorbikes are the easiest and cheapest way to get around (but be careful-- they can be dangerous if you're not constantly paying attention), but if you're looking for a less risky option, a songthaew is your best bet. Stay away from TukTuks-- they're load, noisy, and expensive. Side note: Google Maps and Google Translator will be your BFF. While most Thai people speak at least some English, it's helpful to some sort of aid in the translating process.

5. You're in Thailand so obviously you have to visit a beach. Phuket and Maya are some of the most popular for tourists, so if you're looking for an easy resort type vacation, one of these larger towns could be a good option for you. However, if you're looking for a more local type beach with fewer tourists, set your sites on a smaller, less known destination. For example, we stayed on Koh Chang for a week and it was wonderful! There were waterfalls to explore, kayaks to rent, and fresh coconuts to sip on all day long.

6. Before you even book your trip, learn what season is best to visit. I'd highly recommend visiting sometime between November and February to avoid the hot and rainy seasons. Also, check online to see what sort of festivals and holidays your trip may fall during. Thailand has many ancient traditions so the chances of your trip falling during a special celebration are pretty good. Plan accordingly so you don't miss out!

7. Take time to talk to the locals. You'll probably hear the term "Thai nice," and yes, it's a very real thing. People in Thailand are incredibly accommodating and would love to help you experience Thailand through their eyes. Ask what's good in the area, get restaurant and food recommendations, ask the best places to take a drive on your motorbike to see the countryside. The greatest cultural gems are almost always outside the tourist districts.

8. Always remember to be courteous and conscious of cultural traditions and etiquette. Thailand is especially polite and modest, so familiarize yourself with customs before you even start packing. Learn to tip properly, dress appropriately, and learn the few gestures and mannerisms that are considered rude there. Be respectful (especially in temples) and slow down long enough to observe and appreciate the traditions that surround you. 

Thailand is waiting and the locals are excited to share it with you. Hop on a motorbike, grab your camera, and explore all that it has to offer!  

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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