What I Wish I Knew Before Going to Thailand

Before I had gone to Thailand I asked everyone I knew that had been for tips, recommendations, stories or just anything about Thailand they were willing to divulge. This trip was a year and a half in the making so there was a lot of build up. Luckily, it had lived up to our expectations and then some! I felt quite prepared when going but still had quite a few surprises once there. Here are three things I wish I knew before going to Thailand.

People don’t know English as well as I was under the impression they would

WHICH IS TOTALLY FINE. I do not expect everyone (or even most people) in a country whose mother tongue is not English to know English. However, having known many people who have been to Thailand, no one forewarned us about how much of a language barrier we would stumble upon. When we were in Chiang Mai we encountered people working in the hospitality industry with very little English (tourist booths, hostel reception, taxi drivers). This was very much unexpected as their professions involve working with tourists. Twice within 2 days be had taxi drivers drive us out of the city because they didn’t understand what we were saying. Granted this could have been a little ploy they had made in order to take us to some tourist trap but we strongly believe it wasn’t. They both ended up calling people who knew better English to translate and one was very apologetic. Even a woman in a tourist booth had difficulty understanding questions we had about where a nearby restaurant was. Again, it’s totally fine that residents in a non-English speaking country don’t know English. I talked to many people about their Thai holidays and not a single person mentioned to me they encountered comparable scenarios. However, once we came back and mentioned this to them they disclosed they had similar experiences in certain places.

What we ended up doing was taking the business cards from the hostels or restaurants we liked and wanted to go back to so when we needed to ask for help or ask a Tuk Tuk to get us home they knew exactly where we wanted to go. Although you could take a screenshot of the address you want to go to while you have Wi-Fi or take a photo of a business card with your camera I would still recommend snagging a business card. Your phone or camera may die or you may break it while you are out and about. Then you’re out of luck trying to get around. My phone was borderline broken and very unreliable when I went on my Southeast Asia adventure. There was no way I could trust a screenshot saved in my photos. Besides, once you’re done with a city you could always pass on the business cards to someone else to spread the word of an awesome place!

The sunscreen is crazy expensive

Many people going to Southeast Asia do a backpacking trip with only a carry on (myself included). Meaning you have to leave behind any liquids over 100mL. This is a major bummer since sunscreens in Thailand (and Indonesia) are seriously overpriced compared to Canada. For a 150mL bottle it would cost approximately 15-16$ CDN. For a 250mL bottle in Canada, it would cost 8-9$ CDN. That’s quite the difference.

Next time I go back and if I only have a carry on I’m going to buy a couple 100mL bottles and fill them up with sunscreen while still at home. You do not want to end up on your last day of holidays without sunscreen thinking you have a good enough base tan so you don’t need to splurge on a bottle and then wind up with the second worse sun burn you’ve ever had and all your hard work tanning over the last month gone because of intense peeling. Sigh.

The massages are painful

I’m sure if you have done any bit of research in Thailand you will have read about their inexpensive massages. My co-worker had gone to Thailand about 2.5 months before I did and she told me in her 21 days there, she got 13 massages for only a few dollars each. The excitement was real. On our first day in Thailand, we asked our hostel owner where to get a massage. Conveniently, there was a salon literally next door (and then two additional ones on our very short street). My sister and I decided to try the Thai massage (full body) for our first experience. And wow did it ever hurt. My sister actually got bruises from it.

The next day, at a different parlour, we decided to get back/ shoulder massages. Again, they were equally as painful. We both even tried to tell our masseuses for less pressure/more gently but due to the language barrier they didn’t know what we meant. We could not believe how painful both massages were as we’ve heard it is such a luxury to get when visiting Thailand. Finally on our third try we settled with foot massages. Fortunately, these were amazing! I almost feel asleep during mine. Every foot massage we got after that was equally as enjoyable and highly recommended by both my sister and me! As a little extra tidbit of information, when we were in Bali, Indonesia we pulled up our boot straps and decided to try a Balinese massage (full body). Hint – it was amazing and only 6$ CND! But as a warning, while lying on your back, your masseuse may pull down your blanket with your breasts exposed. While I do not really consider it a big deal, that is not something that would ever happen in Canada. Keep this in mind if going to Bali as I could understand why it might make some women uncomfortable.

Some honourable mentions:

  • If you use your credit card, expect a 3-5% fee added to your bill
  • You WILL get food poisoning (it’s basically a right of passage in Southeast Asia)
  • Certain (populous) parts of Koh Phi Phi smell like sewage, beware when booking accommodations there
  • There is one ATM on Railay beach, none on Tonsai Beach
  • Electricity is scarce in certain regions with an outage between 6am – 6pm. Do some research and book accordingly
  • Many Long Tails won’t start sailing until there are a certain number of people on board. What we encountered was a minimum of 6 people at 50 baht (2$ CND) a head; or you could pay 300 baht and they’ll take you right away
  • If you intend to rent a scooter, the company will ask you for your passport (or a big chunk of change) as collateral. If you have an expired one, bring that on your trip. We heard sometimes businesses will accept that
  • If you’re going to the Full Moon Party read this entire post. You’re going to need to know all of these

I hope this post has made you feel a little more prepared on your Thailand adventure! Although I had a great time it would have been nice to have a heads up on at least some of these. Maybe what I wish I knew before going to Thailand will help you have a more enjoyable holiday.

If you would want to read about the ultimate 3 week Thailand itinerary, click here!

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