10 Things ALL First-Time Travelers To Thailand Do
Whether it's splashing about in waterfalls or shaking trunks(?) with an elephant, partying on moonlit beaches or getting pampered in the massage parlors, Thailand has a selection of things that every first-time visitor seems to simply have to do.
1. Party down Khaosan Road
Ever since The Beach showed a youthful Leo DiCaprio letting loose between the pulsing house bars and the sprawling Chang drinkeries, this strip of steaming food stalls, gaudy massage parlors, neon-lit clubs and sleepless party dives has been the epicenter of the Bangkok backpacking scene. It's the place to go to feel the throbbing energy of Bangkok at its most…well, throbbing. Yep, Khaosan Road is now considered nothing less than a rite of passage for first-timers in the Land of Smiles. Don't miss it!
2. Meet an elephant
You'd have to be crazy to come all the way to Thailand and not at least have the urge to meet the nation's great gentle giant. Galumphing through the forests of the north and the south alike, elephants are not only darn cute to the T, but also a sacred icon of the Land of Smiles. These days, getting up close and personal with one of the hulking beasts of the Thai wilds is always close to the top of the menu for many a first-time visitor. LBW know that, but we also know it's important to travel ethically, which is precisely why we ONLY visit ethical elephant sanctuaries, where riding is totally prohibited, mahouts (elephant owners) don't use sharp tools, and there's minimal impact on the environment!
3. Get a massage
If that long-haul hop across the Pacific to Bangkok has gotten your back in a muddle, or the heady fray of Khaosan Road has you all tensed up, then don't worry because Thailand has the perfect answer: the traditional massage. Spines will twist, bones will click, shoulders will be twirled around and you'll be bent this way in that into shapes you didn't even know were possible. You're sure to come out feeling all the better for it though, and only about $5 lighter for the whole hour. Nice.
4. Go to the Chiang Mai night market
All first-time visitors to Thailand pine after the quirky second-city of the nation, Chiang Mai. And ALL first-time visitors who go there usually dutifully head for the frenetic medley of jewelry sellers, Rasta-Buddha craftspeople, knock-off sportswear hawks and vintage clothes emporiums that makes up the famous night bazaar. Go for your Chang vests, your elephant-print hippy pants, your tote bags, your dungarees and more, not to mention a clutch of raucous live music bars and Aussie pubs.
5. Full Moon Party…of course
Some decades ago, a few hippies started partying on the remote gulf island of Koh Phangan. Word spread of their moonlit shindigs on the sand and the rest, they say, is history. Today, these mega beach blowouts are one of Thailand's top draws, magnetizing neon-painted revelers and LBW tours alike with their medley of fire shows and sloshing bucket cocktails. Under the gaze of the great glowing orb in the sky, you'll party to reggae mashups and twirl in the tropical heat, waiting and wallowing until sunup.
6. See a fire show (on Phi Phi preferably)
Thailand's after dark parties are defined by a couple of things: bucket cocktails (another thing all first-timers do); dancing on the beach, and – of course – fire shows. Twirling Dervishes of the Thai variety can often be seen striking a match and lighting whole skipping ropes, juggling flaming skittles, breathing plumes of smoke and shooting conflagrations into the night sky. We reckon some of the best fire shows are to be seen on the island of Koh Phi Phi. But hey, what do we know? We've only been traveling Thailand for 10 years…
7. Be wide-eyed in a temple
With its deep religious character and adherence to the mystical schools of Buddhism, Thailand comes packed with awesome and eye-opening spiritual sites the likes of which you could never see at home. That's probably why so many a first-timer in the Land of Smiles will pack in a visit to one of the great shrines of the nation. We recommend a jaunt to the famous Temple of the Emerald Buddha (also known as Wat Pra Kaew) in Bangkok, or a tour of the crumbling ancient Khmer stupas of Ayutthaya (a whole city that's a UNESCO World Heritage Site) for some of the best.
8. Eat pad Thai from a roadside seller
As you wander the tight-knit alleys of Bangkok's Banglamphu or stroll the Old City of Chiang Mai, you're sure to encounter the twisting, turning scents of peanut sauce and sizzling shrimps, of chili flakes and fresh lime garnish. These are the ingredients to the most famous of all Thailand's national dishes: the pad Thai. It's a must-try. The best places to get it are straight from a roadside stall. We like to chuck on loads of extra nuts and beansprouts, just for good measure. Ah goodness, mouth's a-watering now.
9. Go exploring on a scooter
If you're qualified and have the necessary licenses, there's arguably no better way to get around Thailand's towns than by scooter. With the obvious exception of traffic-choked Bangkok, these purring two-wheeled machines can easily rumble up the local lanes to reveal hidden waterfalls and temples. They are ubiquitous, too. You'll find them for rent in the smallest backwaters for just a handful of baht a day. One warning: be careful! Too many stories of broken legs and doctor's visits come out of scooter riding in Thailand. Keep your wits about you and only hop on if you're certain you can handle it!
10. Take a dip in a waterfall
From the cascading terraces of the Erawan Falls in the south – a real favorite of our time in the river town of Kanchanaburi – to the hidden forest falls around Chiang Mai and the muddy canyon cataracts of Pai, Thailand is packed with breathtaking waterfalls. With the scorching heat of Southeast Asia hemming you in all around, there's really nothing for it but to strip off (not entirely though please, some of these spots are sacred) and take a dip. Yep, you'll often find our LBW groups swapping regular showers for awesome tropical waterfalls and wild swims with macaques on our Thaiventure and Treasures of Thailand tours.
If you can remember something you did the first time you visited the Land of Smiles, or are thinking of hitting Thailand this year and have never been, we'd love to hear about your memories/plans in the comments below. Or, if you think it's time you finally hit the road and traveled the country, it'd be great to have you on an LBW Thailand tour!