Travel blunders are bound to happen, especially when traveling to a new place that has a completely different culture than what you're used to. There's so much you can't possibly anticipate so you just wish for the best. But sh%t happens.
I've been to Thailand three times and thankfully haven't had anything seriously terrible happen to me. Number 8 on this list comes from a direct experience of mine that made a portion of my time in Thailand a pain in the ass. Who knew I'm a terrible swimmer and would drag my foot across coral in the ocean?
I'm lucky that (knock on wood) I've never lost anything of value on my travels. On one of my trips through Asia a friend had her camera stolen, and another had to miss a flight because she was in the hospital. I've seen first hand how quickly things can go wrong while traveling.
The inspiration for this post comes (a little too late, unfortunately) from a loved one recently returning from Thailand with a nasty infection caused by scratching his bug bites. I briefed him on a few things to "watch out for" in Thailand, but totally forgot to give him my advice on how to avoid this pesky problem. That's why my bug bite tip earned the number one spot on this list. Let's dive in.
1. Bring Anti-Itch Creme
The mosquitos are relentless in Thailand (those little f$#kers!), and they are in full-force during the most beautiful time of day: sunset. There's something diabolically potent about their bites too. If you've ever been bitten by a Thai mosquito then you feel me.
Let me tell you, you ARE going to get bit, even with bug spray. So go ahead and use bug spray if you wish, but understand that you have to manage the bites in order to avoid bigger problems. It's not uncommon to see puffy, bloody ankles on your fellow tourists who scratch their bites to death. Gross.
My recommendation is to cover my skin as much as possible to avoid the bites, and then treat the bites as they begin to itch. If they never get itchy then you won't scratch them. So I carry anti-itch creme with me everywhere, all the time.
The second I feel an itch, I apply the creme instead of scratching. It works like a charm and I avoid the possibility of creating a wound that can become infected by the dirty water there.
2. Beware of the Buckets
Getting wasted in Thailand is ridiculously easy because of the popularity of "buckets." For only a few dollars you can get a 1/2 gallon bucket (literally) of a super strong fruity alcohol concoction that goes down way too easily. The roadside bucket bars are everywhere in Bangkok and down south in the beaches. What's not to love?
I've seen young tourists acting like total maniacs in the streets after slurping a bucket or two. I've heard too many stories of travelers getting pickpocketed or scammed because they were hammered off a bucket of booze.
The buckets are a sure fire way to get you drunker than you intended and put you in a position to make decisions that could ruin your trip, like getting a tattoo on your face, losing a finger, or going home with a lady-boy.
3. Bargain Hard
Bargaining is part of the culture in Thailand. It's customary, so don't feel bad. Needing to bargain is not a license to be a dick though; be fair, yet firm. Expect to pay somewhere around 1/3 to 1/2 of the price offered to you, depending what it is.
If you routinely overpay for things on your trip, you'll not only blow your budget (which happened to a friend of ours who had to return home a month earlier than planned because he was out of money), but you'll ruin it for everyone else traveling to Thailand.
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Every time a local over-charges a tourist and gets away with it, it makes them less likely to accept the fair, going-rate, therefore raising the rates for everyone and making it more expensive to travel.
4. Don't Flash Your Money
A good way to get targeted for pickpocketing or over-charging is to flash your wad of cash. Don't do it. Keep the bulk of your money in a safe space away from your spending money for the day.
I like to keep a days worth of spending money in a completely separate wallet, that way if I get pickpocketed then I only lose a small amount. It helps me stay on budget for a long trip too.
5. Buy Travel Insurance
Yep, one of the most important things to purchase before your trip is insurance. Travel insurance covers all kinds of unforeseen incidents, like doctors visits (been there!), stolen camera equipment, transportation for your body if you die, time in a decompression chamber if you get bent SCUBA diving, lost luggage reimbursement, etc.
READ MORE: How Much Does it Cost to Travel in India?
Don't skimp on this! You never know what can happen over there (especially if you're drinking buckets). I highly recommend using World Nomads for your insurance. They've been incredibly helpful to us, and their coverage comes at a great price. #worthit
6. Don't leave your valuables on the beach
On our last trip to Thailand we made a stop at the immigration office in Bangkok to extend our visas from 30 days to 60 days. The place was packed with other travelers. While waiting, I met a young girl who had her passport and money stolen from her bag on the beach.
She told me that she was an unfortunate victim of a typical crime against tourists there. The thieves will watch from a distance as tourists get set up for a day at the beach. Once they get in the water, the thief will run up and either grab their bag or rummage through it for the good stuff.
The take-away here is either don't bring anything other than a towel to the beach with you or bring a waterproof pouch with your valuables and take it with you in the water.
The girl we met in the immigration office was trying to get her passport replaced so she could go home, sadly earlier than planned, because her money was gone too.
7. Protect Yourself from Typical Scams
It's a good idea to brush up on the latest scams wherever you decide to travel so you don't become that guy. Here are some of the typical scams going on in Thailand.
Scam: Tuk-tuk drivers refusing to agree on a price, and then charging you 5-10 times the going rate once you arrive at your destination.
Solution: Never get in a tuk-tuk until you've agreed on the price ahead of time.
Scam: Tuk-tuk or taxi driver insists the hotel you booked has been shut down or is full and then offers to take you somewhere else (where they will get commission).
Solution: Don't fall for it. Either grab a different tuk-tuk or insist they take you where you want to go with no funny business.
Scam: Returning a motorbike and being charged for damages that were already there.
Solution: Always video tape and take photos of your rental motorbike as you are renting it to document the condition. Do it in the presence of the person you are renting from so they know they can't pull a fast one on you.
These are only a few of the typical scams in Thailand. Always have your wits about you (see #2 and #9) and if it seems too good to be true, or too sketchy to be a good idea, then it probably is.
8. Bring Water Shoes
So, I learned this one from experience snorkeling barefoot on Koh Tao. I ended up kicking coral underwater and scraping the top of my foot.
When I woke up the next day my foot was red, swollen, and oozing even though I cleaned it when I got back to the hotel. It got infected right away and was so damn painful.
I wasn't able to wear a shoe or go in the water for more than 2 weeks after that. After that I have made every effort to prevent getting any wounds, even small ones, because the risk of infection over there is much greater than it is here.
Take away: protecting your feet while you're swimming or walking around the beach is a great way to protect your whole trip.
9. Don't be a F%$king Idiot
Oh boy, this is probably the hardest one for some people. Thailand feels pretty law-less when you're over there, especially combined with the inevitable vacation attitude you'll have. I've seen some nasty injuries from tourists crashing their little motorbikes on the winding islands roads because they were driving like Formula-1 racers.
Don't be a f%$king idiot just because you're in Thailand, even if everyone around you is (I'm looking at pretty much everyone in Patong.)
Remember you are visiting somebody else's home. Treat the Thais with respect, be careful and aware of your surroundings, behave like you would want tourists to behave in your city, and don't get too wasted. You don't want your bad Thailand travel experience to end up on somebody's What Not To Do in Thailand blog post.
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