A month of eating Pad Thai, learning scuba diving, and shopping. What more do you want to do in Thailand?
First things first, context
Thailand has been on the shortlist for countries I have been meaning to visit. The proximity to India, the rich cultural heritage, and the sheer diversity in the landscape make it a thrilling tourist destination for many. My trip to Thailand was in July-August 2022 and it was a total duration of 31 days. I stayed & worked this time around in an apartment in Bangkok for 18 days and the rest I traveled to Pattaya (3 days), Krabi (5 days), and Koh Tao (5 days). On the trip, I trained to be a scuba diver and am now certified as a PADI open water diver qualified to dive up to 18 meters of depth. I met amazing people, the cities were great and the food was amazing. First things first.
Without a doubt, Thailand may well be one of the most famous places to visit. Hence, for most nationalities, it provides a visa on arrival for tourism purposes. If you intend to stay for more than 15 days in Thailand, then you have to apply for a tourist visa through the proper channels which is what I did. This information can get outdated so do check the VFS site for new updates on this policy.
I had a month-long trip planned hence I applied for a single entry, 60-day visit, & 90-day validity tourist visa for 3000 INR. The process was quite straightforward, and the embassy will reach out to amend your application if you miss something. The best part for me was that you don’t need to visit the VFS office to apply for a Thai visa, a representative or agent could do that. I can’t say enough how much I value this part of applying for the visa. I got my visa in 4 working days.
My friend had a unique, possibly isolated incident of getting in a queue at BKK airport to get the visa on arrival but having to pay no VoA fee. Not quite sure what happened there but I guess he just got lucky.
Safe to say, Thailand wants you to travel in their country, and almost everything is geared towards making things as tourist-friendly as possible. This comes with no surprise for a country where tourism contributed to 5.65 percent of the GDP and Covid meant that the industry came to screeching to a halt.
The currency in Thailand is called the Thai baht or baht. It comes in the following denomination: coins of 1, 2, 5, and 10 bahts, and banknotes of 20, 50, 100, 500, and 1,000 Thai bahts.
Due to the long, tourist-heavy nature of this trip including my family visiting Krabi with me. I decided to exchange a fairly big amount of cash since I was getting a discount. I would not recommend this for any trip from now on. Getting the cash directly out of the ATM is one of the cheapest ways to get foreign currency in my opinion. Using forex cash cards or cards like Niyo Global helps you cut down on ATM + conversion commission fees easily all the while providing really good rates. I have started using this now more than ever and I really like it.
Carrying a huge amount of cash anyway is a headache. A thousand Thai baht should last you a week if you are taking metros & not eating fancy every single day. A cup of coffee is 60 Thai baht. And, meals at good cafes are an easy 1k Thai baht or thereabouts. So is partying at the many “Soi”‘s Thailand has to offer. You can follow any lifestyle in Thailand with ease as the day-to-day gets relatively cheaper when you get out of tourist centers into rural areas or towns.
I keep it super simple and get my insurance from Care Insurance. I usually don’t buy travel insurance while booking flight tickets as I like to keep those two things separate. Getting insurance from Care is extremely fast & cheap. I greatly prioritize peace of mind in my decision-making for travel insurance.
Touchwood, I have never been in a position to file a claim with Care Insurance. That would be the true test of how good Care insurance promises to be. Hopefully, I never do. Their support is also pretty good.
I am always looking to try new things on my travels and Thai cuisine doesn’t disappoint. The spice level was real and very well matched how I like things. Eyes tearing up, ears turning red, and panting for breaths is the spice level I respect and uphold. Having a bowl of Thai curry, noodle soup or even some ramen constituted the vegetarian meals I had along with the reliable Pad Thai, spring rolls, and Som Tam Thai. There are a lot of fluids available such as coconut water, shaken-up Pepsi, cold coffees, and tons of smoothies in very long glasses. Great stuff.
I didn’t fully learn how to eat with chopsticks but instead learned my way around the many 7-eleven stores present at every nook and corner of Thailand. These stores are the ultimate life-savers and my heart opens up every time I see them. Cream rolls, butter cakes, and Croissants were my breakfast for several days on end. Another thing to try is the variety of street food Thailand has to offer. It would mostly consist of non-vegetarian and seafood cuisine. But, be careful as Thai people consider fish vegetarian sometimes. So always ask if you can.
A good thing to note is you won’t be dropping in the deep end if you are vegan either. Check out the app list at the bottom for how I find vegan food on my trips.
Lots of great options here. From hostels to villas to apartments you can rent. Some cities in Thailand like Bangkok have strict policies that prevent or outright bans folks to rent Airbnb to tourists. So don’t expect to find one but there are plenty of other options that can fit into everyone’s budget. Here’s where I stayed.
- Bangkok – River Heaven Apartments (Got family there)
- Chiang Mai – My friend rented an apartment there for a month of work. Read his experience.
- Pattaya – Ozo North Pattaya (Went a little fancy)
- Krabi – The Scene Cliff View Villa (a 5-star resort in Krabi near the city center. Amazing location)
- Koh Tao – The Dearly Koh Tao Hostel (The best hostel on the island)
This list has several high-end properties because YOLO is a guiding principle I apply frequently. You can find cheaper, and possibly better properties too. I am happy sleeping in a bunk bed with 6 other people if the location is sublime as I am happy in a 5-star resort with all the amenities available 20 kms away from the city center. I am highly flexible. The important part is: Money spent did result in gains over here in Thailand and I appreciated that.
Funny story in Krabi. Like every tourist ever, I used to ransack my clothes to find what I should be wearing for the day and make sure I am covering all scenarios. On my first day at the resort in Krabi, I came back to find all my clothes, accessories, and bags completely sorted out and ordered back into a pile by the staff. Shirts on hangars, jeans folded down. I was shook. Never I have ever seen this happen and I absolutely loved the staff at that resort for going the extra mile. They deserved the huge tip I left in the end.
Bangkok: Shrines, Shopping, and Shots
Let’s start talking about the cities themselves, and first on the list is the capital. The shopping experience in Bangkok is legendary as is the multitude of temples you get to see in the city. I didn’t go to see each temple in the city since after a few it felt repetitive. The only temple I would recommend would be Wat Phra Chetuphon (Wat Pho) which is the template of the lying Buddha.
I surely missed out on the top landmarks part of every tourist’s checklist but managed to at least see every major market in Bangkok. I like local markets & food streets more in metropolitans. From malls bigger than entire city blocks to narrow markets on the streets to even evening markets. Soi streets of Bangkok are a great place to see all shades of nightlife available in Bangkok.
As the night turns darker, you will get to see all shades of the city turning grey real soon but an amazing quality of the mega city between the tall buildings and narrow streets was that I never felt unsafe and it was a real thrill walking the many streets of Bangkok at 2 am in the night. The parties were thrilling and I immensely enjoyed my time there.
From IconSaim mall, I managed to see the fireworks that happen every Thursday evening and bought the new iPad for cheap. I brought home some dry Thai chilly which tastes as chilly as advertised. I also got several snacks, bhoot jholakia lays chips, Ramen, wonton sheets, and more. From clothes to crockery to accessories to watches to electronics. We were carrying back two suitcases filled with “loot” from our month in Thailand. I also got a 13-inch wok which I love using these days among some carbon steel black chef knives. The self-serve automatic laundromats in Bangkok and the street guavas are some random things I miss.
Why so much shopping? The Thai currency is 2x compared to the Indian rupee and there are VAT refunds for tourists. So why not shop?
Bonus: Friend’s trip to Pattaya.
TLDR: Skip this town.
Pattaya is what I call a shadow town. A popular tourist destination that over the years has become a shadow of what it truly was. Covid has truly done a number on several tourist hotspots in Thailand. One look at Pattaya and it’s evident the city hasn’t fully recovered yet.
My 3-day detour was to meet a few friends who were also on a 6-night tour of Thailand. The dates overlapped and Pattaya was the place we decided to meet. Pattaya wasn’t a total waste of time. The city while dead was undergoing a mega concert. It was 3 concerts running parallel on Pattaya beach with stages every few km. Diverse artist lineups, managed crowds, and good vibes. Other than, that I can’t recommend much of the city.
Apart from the obvious walking street which is what Pattaya is famous for. I patted myself on the back for walking up and down the beach come sun, wind, or rain. The only other thing memorable to do in Pattaya is the Sanctuary of Truth. It’s a one-of-a-kind massive wooden museum that is still under construction. Quite possibly the only thing to check if you visit Pattaya.
Next Stop: A 5 day vacation in Krabi x Phi Phi islands
After returning from Pattaya, we took a flight from Bangkok to Krabi for a family trip I was undertaking. The airport is far away from the city center so most of the transportation to the city center is pre-arranged and will be needed. During our time in Krabi, we did kayaking in the Mangrove forests, snorkeling at Monkey bay, and had coconut ice cream in Phi Phi. The private tour we took on the speedboat had us having lunch on a private island in the middle of nowhere. The meal was fulfilling, vegetarian, and healthy. Safe to say, I haven’t had this much iced tea ever in my life.
Each day it was a boat ride to the many islands in and around Krabi and doing our planned activities. The people were thrilled to see us as tourism again begins to ramp up. After every night, we went on the lookout for a place to eat and thankfully found many Indian places to eat in Krabi for my mother’s sake.
We watched the sunset on an island near the 3 beach island and ended up doing night snorkeling as well. It was a great opportunity to see the water light up when you move your hand around with bioluminescent plankton near Railay Beach lighting up. Save to say our daily tours helped us explore everything about Krabi both on the mainland and seas surrounding it.
The resort was amazing and the Indian food was a welcome sight to behold. We used to come back all tired only to have a nice hangout in the swimming pool right in front of our villas built right next to cliffs hundreds of meters high.
When someone asks me to do a choice between Krabi or Phuket, from what I have seen and heard. I recommend going to Krabi. That’s at least more interesting and closer to the real fun that you can have in Thailand which I intend to cover in the next section.
Meet the 3 islands: Koh Phangan, Koh Samui and Koh Tao
If you don’t have a month in Thailand like me, and you ask me for an itinerary. These are the only 3 places REALLY worth visiting in Thailand in my humble opinion. Now, I might be biased since I have scratched only the surface of what Thailand has to offer and there could definitely be more. But, I feel these three islands are the perfect combination of shrines, scenery, and shots.
Koh Samui is an island with waterfalls, beautiful spots, and lots of serene hotspots to visit. The island can easily be checked out by renting a scooter.
Koh Phangan is a THE party spot in Thailand that looks for excuses to host larger-than-life parties. Look up, the immensely popular full moon party and you shall understand.
Koh Tao is where I went and it’s the island known worldwide for being one of the cheapest places to go scuba diving with over 40+ dive spots to choose from in and around the island. Peaceful, serene, and calming overall. Takes 20 minutes on the scooter to cover the entire breadth of the island. The best part is, you can talk to anyone on this island with just one topic to start from. I will let you guess what that is.
Scuba Diving in Koh Tao
Thailand, especially Koh Tao boasts to be the cheapest destination for Scuba Diving. From knowing nothing about Scuba diving 2 weeks before my flight, my colleagues at balena convinced me to pursue PADI’s Open Water diver course at Koh Tao and I am so glad they did.
ELI5 on PADI Open Water?
Scuba Diving is a professional skill that you can learn through training and taking courses. PADI is a globally recognized organization that decides the course curriculum, keeps it updated, and certifies divers when they complete a course. PADI Open Water is a beginner-level course that new divers can undertake without any prior training or experience. To get started, visit a PADI dive school that teaches the course you are looking for, pay the fees and begin training.
The course was only 3 days long, with confined water dives for Day 1 and open water dives for Days 2 and 3. I did my course with Black Turtle Dive School in Koh Tao. And, I am now certified to dive up to depths of 18 meters. The course is quite thought out, well-paced, and keeps you interested. It’s not fun and games mind you. It’s hard work, training, and discipline. There is some theory that needs to be learned before the actual training for an MCQ exam happens. But you can opt for the online option to the training online using videos to save one full day.
My trainers, Jordan and Georgie from Black Turtle were outstanding. I learned a lot from them while having a ton of fun. The course is no slack either and leaves no stone unturned in getting you ready for the experiences ahead. I can now select, inspect, assemble, de-assemble, and even properly clean my Scuba Diving kit, I can troubleshoot issues with my kit underwater like draining water in my mask, or the regulator not working. I can almost stay neutrally buoyant underwater, maintain trim and navigate using the compass. I did over-equalize my left ear during dive 3 but it was harmless.
Safe to say, an extraordinary experience through and through. Not just for yourself, but for your mind, body, and soul. The fact that your brain has to comprehend the reality of actually existing underwater and seeing a world never seen before is positively unreal. The island itself is amazing and the two places I would recommend are The Fishbowl for the party and In Touch restaurant for the great food especially how it has plenty of choices for vegetarian and cheap too. I intended to extend my trip for pursuing the Advanced Water Diver course but couldn’t since I booked all my tickets beforehand. I enjoyed scuba diving a lot.
Okay, what did it cost?
This much. The numbers are approximate and contain expenses for all destinations including a private tour we took up in Krabi. As usual, the values might be hazy but rest assured the total is accurate. As I pull up all my statements and add them up. I do feel the trip was quite affordable considering everything I have packed into one trip.
With limited planning, and the number of things I was able to cover I have no regrets but a return trip would rather have me spending time in the comfortable luxury of Abu Dhabi and only coming to Dubai for a weekend if not at all.
- If I am going again to Thailand, I will be spending a month on the 3 islands. No question. I think they are one of the best places. Take up a bungalow, rent a scooter and live. Possibly complete my Scuba diving advanced course and volunteer at a local hostel.
- Do people ask for licenses when you drive? It depends on your luck.
- Need cheap bus tickets? If you don’t want to book in advance, then get a ticket directly from the counter. It was 30% percent cheaper for me than booking through 12Go website.
- What clubs would you recommend in Bangkok? Ask the locals. Clubs close down all the time.
- Liquor is unsurprisingly very available and can be consumed publically on the streets. Not that this is a recommendation from my side.
- Don’t wear touristy clothes and expect to bargain hard. Few words in Thai especially if you can explain that you do live here as an expat is a tremendous advantage. Thousands of rupees were saved.
- Make sure to drive safely. The traffic is rowdy and cruel. I saw many Europeans injured and trips ruined. You drive slow, steady, and focused. Leave out all the drag racing for later.
- Check out the list of scams that can happen in Thailand to get ready mentally. Make sure to rent a scooter with a video of its entire condition and never put your passport in as a deposit.
- Ask more questions to be added as tips
What I used
Rule of thumb, travel light in Thailand. What you don’t have, you can easily buy in Thailand. They would be cheaper, surprisingly good in quality (especially luggage), and worthwhile.
I bought a 50-liter backpack for 35 dollars at the BKK mall and the shopkeeper threw in a waterproof day pack that comes with a battery bank inbuilt into the bag. Cosmetics, clothes, accessories, and fake shoes. Markets bigger, better, and cheaper than Dubai are going to be there. Here are more particulars I used:
- Cash is king. Some places will ask to add 3% more if you pay by card.
- Reusable water bottles. Water can be a bit expensive but available.
- I got my sim from the airport which was a 1-month pack of True mobile 5G (has an elephant logo, the best part is True mobile to True mobile calls are free of charge)
Apps I used:
- 12go to book trains and buses. Viabus for transit maps
- Bolt, InDriver, and Grab for taxi-hailing and fare estimates
- Foodpanda for food delivery.
- BTS Skytrain and Bangkok MRT for metro
- Klook for tickets to attractions
- True Service for checking sim balance
- PADI for tracking my Scuba Diving Training
- HappyCow to find vegan food
- Getyourguide and Viator for Klook alternatives
- GPSmycity and SmartGuide for free walking audio tours
- Google Translate is a lifesaver.
- MAPS.me for offline maps
- Agoda for all hotel bookings including hostels
My take on this trip.
I will be definitely coming back as a traveller again. I am positive I have seen what I intended to see in Thailand this time around and I prefer to very much live here.
The people were welcoming, the overall experience was safe & I want to feel the cool winds from the beach hitting my face again. The food could be an issue but not a major one.
I say this is a top contender for a semi permanent stop, I intend to make.
I click a lot of pictures and keep a daily log of my travel using Instagram. Uploading 80 pictures on WordPress is a hassle, hence I highly recommend checking out my highlights for insights about Thailand as I spend my days figuring things out. While writing this, I am completing Day 28 of my Thailand workcation. So I try to stay busy while traveling. If you do send a request, then please ping me somewhere. I am not in the habit of accepting requests from people I don’t know. Thanks!
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This is my best documentation of a journey yet.— Vipul Gupta (he/him) (@vipulgupta2048) December 4, 2022
I feel like I am closer to finally building a blueprint to write these documented versions of my trips faster for future Vipul and for anyone else to use.
Next up, we going to Mexico.https://t.co/GTRcH2rFC3