Backpacking Thailand: The Ultimate Guide 2024

Backpacking Thailand is one of the best experiences I have ever had. For budget travellers, Thailand is an absolute must. In fact, some may consider it a “rite of passage”.

Thailand is the most popular country for backpacking and for good reason. It has so much to offer from culture to islands, from food to animals – Thailand truly has it all.

Naturally, you might have some questions before setting off on a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Thailand. Luckily for you, I am a full-time backpacker and most of my content focuses on Southeast Asia.

So I created this guide which covers everything you need to know before taking on Thailand on a budget.

Why you should backpack Thailand

There are a million reasons to visit Thailand, way more than I can fit into one paragraph.

To sum it up, it’s both easy and rewarding.

“What do you mean by easy?”, I hear you ask. As part of the Banana Pancake Trail, Thailand is one of the most popular backpacking countries there are.

This means that there is a well-connected network of hostels, cheap buses and backpacking communities.

A picture of the beach in Thailand

Many Thai people also speak English, which makes communication much easier than if you chose to backpack Central America, for example. Another huge reason for backpacking Thailand (or Southeast Asia) is how cheap it is, but I’ll go into that later.

As for the rewarding aspect, Thailand has so much to offer. The culture of South-East Asia is completely different to anywhere else in the world, you HAVE to experience it at least once in your life.

A picture of local Thais

There are so many different temples to explore, foods to taste, mountains to hike and more. Not to mention how welcoming the Thai people are. They always have a smile on their face!

Backpacking Thailand will create memories that stay with you for a lifetime.

Is backpacking Thailand safe?

Obviously, I cannot guarantee your safety, but I can reassure you that Thailand is a very safe country to solo travel.

As I said, there is an extensive network of backpackers, meaning that you are never truly alone.

You will always meet people in hostels, in bars and clubs, or out doing something fun. South-East Asia is widely accepted as the safest place to go backpacking.

By the way, make sure you know the drinking age in Thailand before you go into any bars or clubs to meet people.

A picture of a monk in a forest

How much does backpacking Thailand cost?

As I said, backpacking in South-East Asia is very cheap. For the average backpacker, backpacking Thailand will “only” cost around $1500 USD each month. That’s just $50 each day.

In some places, this can work out cheaper than paying your monthly bills! There’s a reason backpacking Southeast Asia, Central America, etc. is so popular.

A picture of someone's back pocket which holds a credit card and a money bill

Obviously, it depends on how you are as a backpacker. You could go ultra budget traveller and spend only $1000 a month, or travel with a bit more luxury and spend $2000 a month.

Your main expenses will be food, accommodation, travel and activities. Here is a rough guideline for how much to expect to pay each day.

Food$10
Accommodation$10
Travel$10
Activities$20
This is a rough average for each day. Obviously, you will not travel or do an activity every day. This is a daily average over the course of a month.

As you can see, activities make up the largest part of the cost. So the amount of activities you do really determines your monthly cost for backpacking Thailand.

Activities in Thailand are still considerably “cheap” compared to Western prices, but if you do activities a few times a week, they quickly add up.

I created a budget calculator for backpacking Thailand and other popular backpacking destinations which you can use to estimate how much you will need for your trip.

Do you need a visa to backpack Thailand?

Most nationalities receive a 30-day Visa exemption. This includes Americans, Australians and most European countries.

You can check if you are eligible on the Thai embassy website.

You can also purchase a 30-day Visa extension while in Thailand, this costs about $50.

Alternatively, you can purchase a 60-day Visa for $50 before arrival, but it’s pretty pointless if you can have 30 days for free before deciding if you want to stay longer.

If you want to stay in Thailand for longer without needing a visa, you can take border runs to Cambodia or Laos.

A picture of a stamp from immigration in Thailand in a passport showing the entry date and date the holder can stay until.

When to backpack Thailand

There is no real answer to this as Thailand is an amazing country and is well worth a visit at any time of the year. That being said, Thailand experiences a monsoon season (heavy rains and floods) and this falls from July to October. I would recommend between November and February. You can expect temperatures on average of around 77°F (25°C).

A picture of the temples in Phuket at sunset

How to get to Thailand

This article contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase using one of these links, I earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. It helps me to keep my site up and running! Read my disclaimer for more information.

The most common and easiest way to get to Thailand is to fly into Bangkok. Coming from Europe or the US, you might find it difficult to get a direct flight at a good price. It often works out cheaper to have a stopover in Qatar. You can expect an indirect flight to Bangkok to cost around $400, however, you can find it cheaper if you are flexible with dates using sites like SkyScanner.

A picture of Bangkok, where you fly into when backpacking Thailand

How to travel while in Thailand

While in Thailand, you will do most of your travel on a bus. They are extremely cheap considering the distance of the journeys. For example, you can get from Bangkok to Chiang Mai (a 10-hour journey) for under $20.

A picture of a bus, the most common form of transport when backpacking Thailand

The downside of buses in Thailand is that they often aren’t the best of conditions. This is usually fine for short trips, but for longer journeys, you may wish to consider a sleeper train. Don’t worry, I will tell you where and when to get these in the itineraries 🙂

There isn’t Uber in Thailand unfortunately. Though there is Grab, which is the next best thing. It’s pretty affordable and is used all throughout Southeast Asia.

What to bring to Thailand

When backpacking it is important to have the essentials but as little as possible. Do not overpack! You will regret it. There are essentials for any backpacking trip that you should bring, but on top of this, there are a few items that may be particularly useful for Thailand:

  • Universal Charger Adapter – Thailand has a mix of American and European sockets so it is important to have both.
  • Travel-friendly credit card – important to avoid the large processing fees, I recommend Revolut for Thailand.
  • Padlock – used to keep your locker locked in hostels
  • Day bag – you don’t want to carry your full backpack around every day!

Make sure you pack appropriate clothes for temples too. You won’t be allowed in otherwise. A general rule of thumb is to cover your shoulders and knees.

Backpacking Thailand Top Tips

Setting out on a long backpacking trip, or a solo backpacking trip can be intimidating. Not to worry! There are lots of general tips for travelling on a budget, but I’ve created some specifically for Thailand. So here are 5 amazing tips for backpacking Thailand:

  • Keep your Netflix subscription – those bus journeys can be long, and you’ll want something to keep yourself entertained! There are some other apps I recommend having for Thailand too.
  • Don’t get a taxi without agreeing on a fee before – taxi drivers will often try to scam you claiming their meter is “broken”
  • Don’t overplan – it’s so easy to be spontaneous in Thailand, embrace it!
  • Don’t drink the tap watertap water in Thailand is not safe or clean, and don’t brush your teeth with it either! You can buy water cheaply throughout Thailand.
  • Get your vaccinations – you usually need at least Hepatitis A, Typhoid, and Tetanus before going. You may also wish to get Rabies and some other vaccines.
  • Buy an eSIM – getting a Thai eSIM works out much cheaper than buying a SIM card at the airport. Their packages are so overpriced, and eSIMs remove all stress.
  • Consider a group tour – there are many great budget group tours of Thailand that take you to all the best destinations and make it really easy to get an amazing Thailand experience.
  • Keep track of timezones – it can be easy to lose track of time in Thailand, but make sure you always know the time at home for keeping in touch with your loved ones. For me, for example, the time difference with the UK is 6-7 hours.
A picture of the floating market in Bangkok

Backpacking Thailand Itineraries

Backpacking Thailand is something that shouldn’t be rushed. I would highly encourage spending at least 4 weeks in the country, but I understand not everyone can commit to that. I have constructed 3 amazing itineraries for backpacking Thailand which you can follow.

However, I strongly encourage you not to book things ahead of time, it is so easy to be spontaneous in Thailand and make plans last minute. Often these things make for the best memories!

Choose your Itinerary here:

1 Week Backpacking Thailand Itinerary

If you only have one week in Thailand, you are going to want to see as much of the country as possible without rushing it. I have given you a few choices to make, as otherwise, you would be going places just for the sake of going there, and not getting a true sense of Thailand.

Day 1 and Day 2: Bangkok

After landing at Bangkok airport, you will spend your first and second days in the Thai capital. There are so many backpacking must-dos here such as the Floating Market, or simply walking down Khao San Road.

Bangkok isn’t expensive either so it’s a great introduction to the way of life in Thailand. The culture shock was real for me, but I loved it.

When staying in Bangkok, I recommend the Niras Bankoc Cultural Hostel. It’s right in the centre of Bangkok and has an amazing backpacking community, not to mention the cheap price. Book your stay here.

The majestic Grand Palace in Bangkok under a clear blue sky, showcasing its golden roofs and ornate decorations with tourists taking in the sight.

After two amazing days backpacking Bangkok, book a sleeper train to either Chiang Mai OR Phuket. You can book sleeper trains in Thailand through 12go. It should cost about $20.

Day 3 and Day 4: Chiang Mai OR Phuket

Due to the limited time you have in Thailand, you should choose between Chiang Mai OR Phuket. They are at opposite ends of the country so it is impossible to visit them both in one week without spending half your time in Thailand travelling.

Why choose Chiang Mai?

Chiang Mai is a beautiful inland city surrounded by extraordinary mountains. This northern part of Thailand is full of jungles, hiking routes and elephant sanctuaries. If the outdoors is your thing, Chiang Mai is the option for you. In my opinion, there are so many reasons Chiang Mai is worth visiting.

When staying in Chiang Mai, I recommend Smile Robotist Hostel. This is one of my favourite ever hostels. The owner is so friendly and helpful and the hostel has a really home-like feel to it. Book your stay here.

A picture of me standing in front of a waterfall during a jungle trek in Chiang Mai.
Me during a jungle trek in Chiang Mai.

Why choose Phuket?

Phuket is Thailand’s biggest beach resort. The beaches are some of the nicest in the world, it’s a great place to go for snorkelling, diving or just enjoying being by the sea. If you prefer to relax, choose Phuket.

When staying in Phuket, I recommend Phuket Sunny Hostel. As with all my suggestions, it’s such great value for money. Only $7 a night but for an amazing hostel (with a working AC!). Book your stay here.

A picture of the beaches at Phuket

Day 5 and Day 6: Pai OR Koh Phi Phi

If you chose Chiang Mai as the last option, you will be visiting Pai. If you chose Phuket as the last option, you will be visiting Koh Phi Phi.

Pai

You can get from Chiang Mai to Pai on a bus for around $6. It should take around 3 hours on the bus. Pai is a lovely place to relax and spend even more time outdoors. Pai is home to even more hiking routes to see some of Thailand’s natural beauty.

When staying in Pai, I recommend Darling View Point Bungalows. The clue’s in the name! It’s in an amazing area, and the host here is especially welcoming. Book your stay here.

A picture of Pai, looking into the sky from some flowers

Kho Phi Phi

You can get from Phuket to Koh Phi Phi via a ferry which costs around $10 and takes just under two hours. It’s a lovely journey though! Koh Phi Phi is a beautiful set of Thai islands, an amazing way to continue the relaxation from Phuket. The Phi Phi islands are amazing again for swimming, snorkelling, and the lot, just look how blue that water is!

When staying in Koh Phi Phi, I recommend the Voyagers Hostel. This hostel has an amazing backpacking community and is located in an amazing location, just a minute’s walk from the beach. Book your stay here.

A picture of the Phi Phi Islands. The most popular set of islands when backpacking Thailand.

Day 7: Bangkok

Assuming you are flying out of Bangkok again, you will want to make your way back here for your last day. Simply follow the transport you took but in reverse. One last thing to do in Bangkok before going to the airport is to make sure you have seen its beautiful temples. They aren’t to be slept on! Taking a Bangkok temple tour is one of the best things you can do in the city.

A picture of the temples in Bangkok

2 Week Backpacking Thailand Itinerary

Two weeks in Thailand is enough time to see the most popular places, however, it is a tightly packed schedule! I would still encourage you to spend as much time as you can in Thailand.

Day 1 and Day 2: Bangkok

You can’t backpack Thailand without exploring Bangkok. There’s an endless list of things to do in Bangkok from visiting Wat Pho to taking a bat along the Chao Phraya River. This is the heart of backpacking Thailand, and you’ll be sure to have an amazing experience.

When staying in Bangkok, I recommend the Niras Bankoc Cultural Hostel. It’s right in the centre of Bangkok and has an amazing backpacking community, not to mention the cheap price. Book your stay here.

A picture of Bangkok from the river.

Day 3 and Day 4: Chiang Mai

Head up north to Chiang Mai, the best option is to get a sleeper train as the journey is pretty long. In Chiang Mai you can go on endless jungle hikes and spend time with Thailand’s national animal: the elephant.

When staying in Chiang Mai, I recommend Smile Robotist Hostel. This is one of my favourite ever hostels. The owner is so friendly and helpful and the hostel has a really home-like feel to it. Book your stay here.

A picture of 4 elephants including 1 baby elephant at a santuary just outside of Chiang Mai.

Day 5 and Day 6: Chiang Rai

Take a 3-4 hour bus journey for about $7 and you’ve made it to Chiang Rai! Chiang Rai is Thailand’s northernmost major city. These northern highlands are designed for exploration. It is temples galore up in Chiang Rai! My favourite is the Blue Temple, but the most famous is the White Temple.

When staying in Chiang Rai, I recommend Get Hi Hostel. The reviews for this place say enough. It’s THE backpacking hub in Chiang Rai. Book your stay here.

A picture of me standing in front of the White Temple in Chiang Rai.

Day 7 and Day 8: Phuket

Trying to squeeze the north and south of Thailand into a 2-week timeframe is tough! To get from Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai to Phuket, you can either fly or take a very long (20+ hours!) train. I suggest flying. Once in Phuket, you are in a whole new world. The beaches are amazing and there are so many things to do!

When staying in Phuket, I recommend Phuket Sunny Hostel. As with all my suggestions, it’s such great value for money. Only $7 a night but for an amazing hostel (with a working AC!). Book your stay here.

Sunset over the sea in Phuket, a beautiful sight when backpacking Thailand.

Day 9 to Day 12: Island hopping

From Phuket, there are endless opportunities to go island hopping. Take your pick from the Phi Phi islands, see Phang Nga Bay or even the Surin Islands, there are so many options to choose from and you could easily spend a lifetime island hopping the south of Thailand.

Another beautiful picture of the Phi Phi islands

Day 13: Krabi Town

Split the journey between Phuket and Bangkok by spending a night in Krabi Town. Another beautiful seaside town with a lot to offer, you’ll wish you had more time to spend. Then get the bus early the next day and make your way back to Bangkok for Day 14 and prepare to fly home.

When staying in Krabi Town, I recommend Kbunk Hostel. It has everything there is to need, from restaurants to bars, everything is on your doorstep. Book your stay here.

A picture of the beach at Krabi Town

4 Week Backpacking Thailand Itinerary

Spending four weeks in Thailand allows you to see all of the main selling points. As well as going off the beaten track. That being said, four weeks still won’t show you all of Thailand. You could spend a lifetime here.

A drone view of the beaches at Phuket. Backpacking Thailand leads to some incredible views.

For spending 4 weeks in Thailand, I would suggest following the 2-week itinerary but spending an extra day or two in each place. That will allow you to see pretty much all the major attractions. On top of this, you may wish to visit somewhere a little more off the beaten track:

  • Koh Chang
  • Koh Lipe
  • Kanchanaburi
  • Koh Tao (great for PADI courses)

Most of these are beautiful islands in the south of Thailand.

Koh Tao
Koh Tao

Things to do in Thailand

Backpacking Thailand is filled with fun adventures and activities. It’s impossible to make a list of everything there is to do. Instead, I have compiled a list of 5 must-dos when backpacking Thailand. In no particular order,

  1. Party like never before at the Full Moon Party

The most famous party for backpackers around the world is the Full Moon Party. Held in Ko Pha-ngan, the Full Moon Party is a huge festival that runs all through the night, with 30,000+ in attendance. Held every month or so, it’s a must-do when visiting Thailand!

A party of backpackers partying at the Blue Moon Party.
  1. Get your PADI – Scuba Diving Certification

Thailand is renowned for its unbelievable diving spots. There’s no better place to get your PADI for this reason alone, but on top of this, it’s incredibly cheap! It costs around $300 compared to $700+ in the Western world. I did mine with Koh Tao Roctopus.

Once qualified, you’ll see a whole new world by diving in Thailand, it’s indescribable. You can see sharks in Thailand too which is cool!

The inside of a diving centre with a PADI Flag.
  1. Interact with Elephants (ethically)

There is a lot of controversy around the livelihood of elephants in Thailand. Please never ride these beautiful animals, they are not designed for it and these elephants are treated so badly, please look into this if you are unaware.

Instead, visit a morally appropriate elephant sanctuary that allows the elephants to roam freely and does not force them into human interaction. It can create some of the most special memories!

A picture of me patting an elephant's trunk while smiling at the camera.
  1. Eat Street Food

It’s impossible to not eat street food when backpacking Thailand. Street food is the best option there is. It’s so so cheap but tastes so so good. Also, it’s the most authentic form of Thai food you can get, you watch it being cooked right in front of you after all! When you go to Chiang Mai, I recommend the Chiang Mai Gate Market. If you ask me, it’s one of the best in all of Thailand.

A picture of someone cooking street food, a must try when backpacking Thailand
  1. Get a Thai Massage

Similarly, it would be a sin to visit Thailand without getting an authentic Thai massage. Be prepared though, they can hurt! If you have a low pain threshold or don’t want to have your back feeling like an elephant’s just stampeded over it, there are other options in the massage parlours, like a normal oil massage. But make sure to get some form of massage while in Thailand!

A backpacker receiving a Thai massage in Bangkok, another must do when backpacking Thailand

Backpacking Thailand: The Wrap Up

And there you have it, a complete guide to backpacking Thailand.

It is one of the most amazing countries in the world and you will not regret visiting, regardless of how long your trip is. Hopefully, you leave feeling more confident about backpacking Thailand.

Now that you know everything there is to know about visiting Thailand on a budget, it’s time to learn everything about backpacking Vietnam. It’s the best place to go after Thailand.