“If any of your friends visit Asia and have blonde hair, tell them to dye it.” Is what my college lecturer told me. Asia has become swamped with tourists over the recent years with people wanting to “discover themselves” or “hug a tiger”.
Once an untouched country that only the most experienced traveller would visit, Thailand has now become commercialised due to the sweeping number of Westerner’s visiting.
The words of my college lecturer have always stuck with me but it never swayed me or my blonde-haired friend, Connie from wanting to go. Thailand has become a safe and even comfortable place for visitors and has become an increasingly popular destination for solo travellers.
Solo travel can be a daunting experience, especially if you are not highly knowledgeable with travelling in the first place. City breaks in Europe are different to three weeks in a different continent, new cultures, religions, food and ways of life excite the heart so it skips a beat, but petrifies the brain to the point you may haemorrhage.
A question often asked by first time travellers is whether they should plan their trip with an Excel spreadsheet or do it like the movies and hope everything will work out. If anything else in your life has played out like a Hollywood movie than be my guest and wing it. Otherwise, it’s always best to plan some activities and accommodation before you go. In Thailand’s larger cities (Bangkok, Chiang Mai) hostels and hotels can be found in practically every corner however, in small towns and by the beaches you may find it hard to stumble across shelter for the night. Try Air B&B or a guest house if you plan on staying out of the cities and book in advance for a stress-free experience.
Hostels are a great way of travelling solo, they’re cheap, relatively clean and you’ll be able to meet other solo travellers.
Hannah Durden, an avid traveller cancelled her plans to travel Asia after her and her boyfriend broke up, as she didn’t feel safe travelling there alone. “I think you really have to do your research before visiting a continent like Asia, laws, attitudes towards women. I would definitely book through a tour company such as STA Travel.” Hannah finds planning helps build excitement for the trip, and pre-books some activities whilst leaving other days free to explore the country without feeling restricted by a schedule. “Booking ahead means I can make the most of my time in a country, whilst knowing I’m checking off all the must-sees!”
Thailand has an array of activities from kayaking, snorkelling, trekking or looking after elephants, you can enjoy these activities on your own or by doing a group tour. Most international flights land in Bangkok so it’s best to start there. Bangkok offers water markets, temples and is one of the biggest Asian cities. You won’t want to stay in Bangkok for too long as the hustle and bustle of the city will leave you feeling drained. If you want to get away from Bangkok, visit Khao Yai National park where you can spot tigers, elephants and monkeys roaming around in their natural habitat, you’ll also be able to visit waterfalls that you can dip in to whilst being immersed in the incredible natural scenery.
Next make your way to Chiang Mai, this northern city hosts national parks, jungles and rides with elephants. Be careful where you book though, there are only three recommended elephant sanctuaries as most tend to cater for the tourist. Not the elephants. Patara, Elephant Nature Park and Elephant Jungle Sanctuary are all recommended sanctuaries that are ethically run.
Flight of the gibbon offers tours and zip lines through the jungle that offer panoramic views you thought you would only see watching Planet Earth. If you aren’t afraid of heights, or even if you are, it’s worth flying the sky. The only thing you’ll be left disappointed with is that David Attenborough won’t be there to narrate it.
Phuket is often full of tourists and overpriced accommodation, not great if you’re on a budget. Head towards the Phi Phi islands on a speed boat tour, Ko Phi Phi has an encapsulating night life that will have you dancing around your backpack in a bar for the entire night. If your head isn’t feeling too fuzzy the next day head over to monkey beach where you can get up close to, you guessed it, monkeys. The tour costs around £14 a person including lunch. Don’t bother bringing along snacks unless you’re willing to have a fight with the monkeys. The tour also offers snorkelling above a live coral reef. Head to the north coast of Phuket and visit the Khao Phra Thaeo National Park where you can spot Thailand’s largest waterfall, Bang Pae.
If you want to experience Thailand’s beaches head south towards the lower gulf, islands such as Ko Tao offers snorkelling and diving lessons without the crowds, and is one of the best and cheapest places to go to get a diving certificate.
Thai food is known for its explosive flavours, it varies region to region but the cuisine throughout the country focuses on sweet, salty, sour and spicy flavours to entice the mouth.
You will find most Thai food you’ve already tasted in Bangkok, because of Bangkok’s exposure to other cultures there are a multitude of dishes inspired by foreign countries. You’ll find plenty of Kao Rad Gaeng in Bangkok, a dish which consists of curry rice and numerous amounts of toppings that you can mix together. It’s a favourite with locals who are in a rush, which is most of the time in Bangkok.
Chiang Mai is most famous for their dish, Kôw Soy, a curry noodle soups that is spicy with a hint of sweetness from coconut milk, the ingredients often change due to the excessive climate changes in the region. In Phuket and the lower gulf, you will find the spiciest food in Thailand, Tom Yam Goong is a mixture of spicy prawns and a sour broth, you’ll find that they add different meats to the soup but spice will be a consistent. If you’re looking to try mango and sticky rice, a popular Thai sweet treat, head to the north east where you’ll taste the sweetest mangos your taste buds can handle.
When solo travelling through Thailand, especially as a woman, it’s important to remember the cultural differences that you are faced with. Thailand is a highly religious country and they value and respect their temples and Buddha monuments above all else. If you are planning to visit them remember to dress modestly, covering from your elbows to your knees as a sign of respect. Monks are not allowed to be touched by women, it’s highly suggested that you move out of their way if you are walking past each other, or move if they sit next to you on public transport. Although Thai money seems a joke to us (the exchange rate is unbelievably good) Thai money has pictures of the monarchy on them, so they treat it with the utmost respect. Treating money poorly could have dire consequences as it is illegal to defame the monarchy and could land you in jail.
Thailand – officially known as the Kingdom of Thailand – is the South East Asian country jam-packed with excitement and adventure ready for the next budding solo traveller to take on. Although some are scared to visit Asia alone, a place so seemingly outside of their comfort zone, it isn’t dangerous, keep your wits about you and follow your instinct as you would in any country. Thailand has become a cultural hub and Western tourists have become a way of life, the tourism industry has boosted Thailand’s economy and they’re grateful for it – so you’ll be a very welcome visitor. Don’t ever waste the opportunity to explore an incredible country purely because you’re scared of going solo, or because you don’t want to dye your blonde hair, it’s not the country it was 30-years ago. You do have to keep a few things in mind however, such as although hugging a tiger may seem like a great profile picture for Facebook, it’s highly unethical. If it was ethical, you couldn’t get close enough to hug it without losing a limb.