I am often asked for advice on traveling to Thailand. Having spent the better part of the past three years in Thailand, I might be qualified to offer some advice.
More specifically, I am asked about training Muay Thai in Thailand, as that has been the catalyst for my travels there, and has taken up the bulk of my time.
That said, I always take time to travel the country each time I visit, and have been blessed to have found some pretty amazing places along the way. I will share some of those with you later.
Let's first talk about some nuts and bolts about traveling to Thailand.
Lodging is cheap. Food is cheap. Transportation in and around Thailand is cheap. BY FAR, your biggest expense will be getting there... your airfare to Thailand. This can be relatively inexpensive as well, if you do it right. Obviously, planning ahead will help cut your airfare expense, but being flexible on your travel dates will help as well.
In regard to just about everything I write here, price will be directly affected by the time of year you intend to travel to Thailand... including airfare.
Keep in mind, there is some give and take. You may save some money, but as a result, find yourself being rained on daily, or enduring some pretty hot days. November to February is the most expensive time to travel to Thailand. The weather is AMAZING, but expect restaurants, city streets, beaches, etc. to be packed full of tourists, and prices for everything from lodging to taxi rides to be almost double the price.
Rainy season is May to November. Rainy days in Thailand are actually quite pleasant. Often times, it will downpour like crazy for 30 minutes, and be sunny blue skies shortly thereafter. The streets will flood like rivers, and there will not be a cloud in the skies 20 minutes later. The temperature stays warm, so unless you melt when you get wet, rainy days aren't so bad.
The hot season runs from March to June, and it can get REALLY hot (100 degrees +). Particularly for training Muay Thai, since the training centers are all outside, it can be quite challenging. You will sweat A LOT, and fatigue much faster than in the other times of year.
So, I think your first step in considering a trip to Thailand, would be to decide what it is you want out of your trip. Obviously, if you want to island hop, or party like there is no tomorrow, come during the busy season. But, as I said, you will pay a little more for everything.
If you are coming strictly for Muay Thai training in Thailand, any time of year is just as good as the next. As I said, when it's hot, it's hot, but class sizes are typically smaller, and you get a lot of attention from the trainers. During the busy season, some gyms can be a real madhouse.
Most places you visit in Thailand English is spoken. Obviously, the farther away from cities and tourist attractions, the less English will be spoken. Most street signs and many storefronts are in English as well as Thai. (Although many of the storefronts are somewhat comical as they sometimes will butcher their English translations).
It wouldn't hurt to learn some Thai before traveling to Thailand, but it is a very hard language to pick up. If you remember to finish each sentence with the word 'Krap' if you are male, and 'Ka' if you are female, the recipient of your query will know you are being friendly.
Krap is pronounced somewhere in between 'Crap' and 'Clap'. The 'R' and the 'L' and sort of melded together. Some parts of the country, it will be pronounced 'Kap'.
* 'Sawatdee Krap' = Hello and goodbye
* 'Korp Kuhn Krap' = Thank you
Clasping your hands in a prayer position and bowing your head is also a respectful way to address somebody.
Some tips on the 'prayer position' bow:
* Placing your fingers at your chin = Somebody in the service industry
* Placing your fingers at your nose = Somebody of equal status
* Placing your fingers at your forehead = a Monk or somebody of high status
* Placing your fingers above your head = Reserved for Royalty
**Jutting your chin toward Thais (Like the American 'What's up' motion), can be seen as aggressive by Thais. Nod forward to be friendly.
Four things you DO NOT want to do in Thailand:
1. Challenge a Thai cook to make you something spicy. Even if you like your food spicy... they take it to a whole other level.
2. Tell a Thai massage girl you want 'Strong Pressure'. 98 lb women will make you cry like a little girl if you've never had a Thai massage before.
3. Tell your Muay Thai Trainer you want to go full contact.
4. Play Connect Four with a Barmaid.
Let's talk about those three of those things now (More on barmaids later);
You will never taste more amazingly fresh and delicious fruit and vegetables anywhere. Thai food is extremely flavorful, and very affordable.
They like their food spicy, and another good phrase to remember is 'Nit Noy'. That means a little bit. If you are asked how spicy you want your food, 'Nit Noy' is the way to go.
My personal favorite Thai dish is Tom Yam Goong. It's a soup with lemongrass, chilli, galangal, lime leaves, shallots, lime juice and fish sauce, straw mushrooms and prawn.
I also LOVE Green Curry, but it is hit and miss. Some places knock it out of the park, and others, it is just so-so.
I really like Thai beer, and they have some pretty good whiskey's as well. 'Sangsom' is my favorite whiskey, and 'Singha' (Pronounced 'Sing') is by far my favorite Thai beer (Pronounced 'Beea')
Be very careful not to drink tap water (Nam), and watch where restaurants get their ice. You can get REALLY sick from this if not.
You can find a festival of some sort pretty much any time of year. Thais love to celebrate life, and BUDDHA. There are some VERY strange traditions associated with some of these celebrations. Others are amazingly beautiful, and some that are downright fun.
The strangest celebration I saw was a parade of people that had pierced their bodies with swords and hand guns... literally sticking through their skin, with blood dripping from the fresh wounds. As the parade proceeded down the street, these individuals would stop and accept offerings of food and drink from the people watching the parade.
The most beautiful celebration involved hundreds of people releasing lanterns into the sky at the same time.
And the Most Fun was a gigantic water fight, where EVERYONE had squirt guns and water balloons and the entire town doused each other.
I have no idea what the meaning behind any of these events was, but it was definitely an experience to be a part of.
Aside from these celebrations, there are night markets all over the place where you can purchase everything from amazing street food, to drinks, and souvenirs, trinkets, clothes, electronics... pretty much anything you can imagine, and VERY low process. If you enjoy bartering, you will love these markets. If you want to taste some REAL Thai food, you can enjoy everything from squid to deep fried crickets, roaches, and ants... among other things. Wash it down with a Singha, and it is not bad eating.
If you are looking for a REAL party, however, you will need to head either to the city or the islands.
Every city has it's party street that is packed full of tourists enjoying the decadent side of Thailand... and there is plenty of it. From Ping Pong shows, to Go-Go bars, and every other kind of bar you can imagine, they have them. NOTE: You cannot 'un-see' a Ping Pong show. Try as I might, it's an image I cannot scratch from my memory. I recommend you skip it, unless that is your sort of thing.
The BIG parties take place out on the islands, however. Koh Phangan is home of the Full Moon Party. It is the place to be if you are young and looking for fun. It's a bit of a journey to get there. You will need to fly to Koh Samui, then take a ferry over to Phangan, but it is worth the trip. Primarily tourists from Europe and Australia, the Full Moon Party is among the biggest and best parties in the world. They happen once a month. I have been to three of them, and they have ALWAYS been jam packed with beautiful, fun-loving people!
I did see a lot of drugs being used at the Full Moon Party, but I HIGHLY recommend you steer clear of that notion. Go on YouTube and look at the conditions in Thai prisons look like, and if that doesn't scare you enough to forgo them, you are a big enough idiot to deserve to land there. Thai police take drugs VERY seriously, and they will lock you up and throw away the key. They have been known to make random stops of foreigners, and take urine samples. If you are dirty... away you go! Samsung and Red Bull will get you high enough anyway.
NOTE: Red Bull is a product of Thailand. The Red Bull you get there, will not even resemble to crap you would get in the states. It is like Red Bull on Steroids, and it tastes WAY better.
NOTE 2: ALWAYS watch bartenders on the islands. They will serve you dirty ice (Resulting is VIOLENT illnesses), and short you on alcohol. Make sure they pour it from NEW bottles. NEVER run a tab... they will screw you in the end. Pay as you go. Lastly, if a barmaid challenges you to a game of Connect Four, or any other game, for that matter... unless you plan on buying them drinks... DON'T. They are GOOD. REALLY GOOD. They might even throw the first game to give you confidence, but the stakes will go up, and you will end up paying dearly. It can be fun, but it can also get fairly expensive.
Let's talk transportation for a bit.
There are buses and trains that will get you across Thailand, but I have never been on one. Airfare between cities is dirt cheap, and I have heard the train rides can be pretty uncomfortable.
Ferries between islands are sometimes super crowded. Be sure to go with a reputable company that your hotel referred you to. Going to the pier might be cheaper, but you may be packed in like a sardine.
As for transportation in and around town (This is pretty much standard across the country, with the exception of outlying areas), Tuk Tuks (An open, but covered taxi) is the best, safest way to go.
I know a lot of people will tell you about how much fun it is to ride a motor scooter, and it is. But, here is my case AGAINST renting a motor scooter; Second only to dog bites, motor scooter crashes account for more injuries to foreigners than anything else. (Don't pet stray dogs!!). Additionally, Thai police are known to set up roadblocks and target foreigners for just about anything they can get a bribe out of them for, and if you've been drinking... they don't mess around. If you insist upon it, I know a lot of people who have rented them and had the time of their lives. I know others who have been swindled by the person they rented them from, saying they cause damage to the bike that was already there, and others who have fallen prey to Thai police roadblocks. Rent a motorbike at your own risk.
Tuk Tuks are super cheap, and will get you where you need to get safely. You can pay a little more for a private ride, or often times, people share a Tuk Tuk if you are headed in the same direction.
In many parts of the country, taxis are well known for ripping tourists off. Be sure they turn on their meter regardless of what the driver tells you. The alternative is to negotiate a set price for a ride before you leave.
If you REALLY want to go on the cheap, they have motorbike Taxis that you can ride on the back of... holy smokes, I did it once... never again. These guys are maniacs on there motorbikes!
Once you've gotten where you want to go, here are a few tips on how to act;
Thailand is 93% Buddhist. Most Thais are very passionate about Buddhism. Being respectful of their culture is always a good policy. Buddhist Monks are highly regarded and any disrespect toward one, could find you wishing you hadn't.
NEVER say anything disrespectful about any of the royal family, particularly the King or Queen. There is a ten year prison sentence for doing so, and this is no joke. This is usually a topic best avoided unless you know what you are talking about.
Always remove your shoes before entering a store or business, unless it is otherwise posted.
Stores will not sell alcohol on Buddhist holidays.
Tipping is usually not expected as most restaurants include a service fee, but it sure does make their day when you do. I have gotten tons of mileage out of just giving 20% more on a meal that you paid next to nothing for. Taxi and Tuk Tuk drivers do not expect tips.
One of my biggest pet peeves about traveling to Thailand is walking on a beach, and seeing a young, beautiful Thai lady walking hand in hand with a VERY old white dude. Foreigners come to Thailand as sex tourists, and take advantage of the impoverished women. These women are victims in my mind, and I invite you to feel free to kick any of these old geezers in the shin should you see them.
Must do things in Thailand
1. Thai Massage.
Thai massage is perhaps what I miss most about Thailand. They are an absolute MUST, especially if you are training Muay Thai. First of all, these women are healers- Especially the older ones. They will find injuries you don't even tell them about, and fix them. They find a spot, and go to work on it. The next thing you know, you are as good as new.
Every Thai massage is different, but like Muay Thai, while each gym is different, there are fundamental similarities in each.
To be clear, there are massage parlors where you can get a rub and tug, but that is not what I am talking about here. (If that is what you seek, you will have no problem finding those type of parlors).
A good Thai massage, however, is healing for the body, mind and the soul.
2. Go to the Beach.
Thailand has some of the most breathtaking beaches in the world. I would be writing about them for days if that were the focus of this article. There are too many to list. See them all. They are all out of this world, and they all have their own distinct personality.
3. Visit a Buddhist Temple
Much like beaches, each Buddhist temple is different. Do some research, and find one that interests you. There are some that you can spend a day hiking to, or riding a motorbike through the country to get to, but there are plenty in and about every city in Thailand, that you will not need to travel to. They are themed, so as I said, do a little research and you will find some pretty awesome stuff.
NOTE: There are a lot tourist attractions in Thailand. Some beautiful places, and of course the Royal Palace is pretty cool. I'm not really a tour guide, and there are no short supply of them in Thailand... pretty much one on every street corner. This is only because there really is a ton of neat stuff to check out... they would be better suited to guide you than I.
NOTE #2: Scuba Diving is AMAZING of the island of Koh Tao, as well as many other islands in Thailand.
NOTE #3: Koh = Island. If you see the word 'Koh' before the name of the place you are going to, expect a ferry ride in your near future.
4. Muay Thai
If you haven't figured it out already, I am pretty passionate about Thailand. I absolutely LOVE it. I fell in love with Thailand because I got knocked out by a Thai when I was 18 years old, and have been drawn to Thailand to learn Muay Thai ever since.
Let's spend a little time talking about training Muay Thai in Thailand.
There are several different types of Muay Thai gyms in Thailand. Here is a list of some:
1. There are some real 'Ma and Pop' type of gyms, that are pretty much neighborhood gyms. These are very difficult for foreigners to get into. You would have to know somebody related to someone there, perhaps somebody that now lives near you. Don't expect any of these places to speak any English, and definitely show up in shape, or you will regret it.
2. Larger traditional Thai gyms are all over the place in Thailand. Many of them do not accept foreigners. Those that do, will not cater to them, and English is rarely spoken. Fairtex is a good example of this. Unless you are 'Somebody', their Bangkok location will not accept foreigners, but their Pattaya location will.
3. American and European gyms in Thailand. Believe it or not, there is an American Kickboxing Academy in Thailand, as well as Top Team, and several others that were originally based out of the Us and other parts of the world. They have opened up shop in Thailand, and employ primarily Thai trainers. Many of these places are world class, and have very nice amenities.
4. Tourist Gyms al sprinkled all over Thailand. Thailand has many tourist attractions. Many of them are in remote locations. Most of these places have a Muay Thai gym that specializes in drop in customers, with a few locals that train there regularly. There is usually some 'former stadium champion' that is the resident trainer, that will spend an hour holding pads for foreigners. Be prepared to have him show you pictures of him in his glory days, as well as any trophies he may have won.
5. Tiger Muay Thai. I gave this place it's own category, because it really is in it's own league.
This place is exploding in popularity, with people form all over the world coming here to train. They have top-notch trainers, and amazing support staff, a beautiful (And always growing) facility, and everything you could possibly need. They have their own (Very nice) restaurant, lodging, fitness classes, MMA, BJJ, and Separate classes for beginner, intermediate, and advanced.
They are very foreigner-friendly. The staff speaks English goodly. I highly recommend this place.
There are other great Muay Thai gyms in Thailand. I have been to many, but nowhere near all of them. Below is a link to a site that does a pretty good job of breaking down some of the more well-known gyms in Thailand.
Mike Stidham is a lifelong Muay Thai enthusiast. He has been training and teaching Muay Thai most of his life in Salt Lake City, Utah. For the past 4 years, Mike has been traveling to Thailand to train at the world-renowned Tiger Muay Thai in Phuket Thailand. His current trip is in effort for him to compete in his last fight. He will be 50 years old by the time this journey ends. This story chronicles this endeavor. To learn Muay Thai in Salt Lake City, Utah, visit http://www.UltimateCombat.com.
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