It never ceases to amaze me how few Americans travel to Thailand. I recently returned from my second trip to Thailand and of the millions of westerners that travel there every year I’d estimate that maybe 2-3% are from America. By far, the majority of westerners are European and my god do they come in droves! Australians, New Zealanders and Canadians certainly love to travel to Thailand too. And yet, even though it’s been a tourist mecca for several decades now, if you’re from America, chances are you still may not know much about it.
When I decided to go this past winter for five weeks, not surprisingly, several friends and family members thought it strange. Many were curious and asked if it was safe (YES a thousand times over), how I could afford to not work for so long when I’m self-employed and what the heck there is to do in Thailand.
Well, let me start by saying that I did work. I now count myself among the growing number of those who consider their office anywhere with an internet connection. And while I wouldn’t consider myself a full-time digital nomad yet, I knew a month in Thailand would cost me about the same as staying home in America (see reason #3).
So why not travel AND work at the same time? The challenge of course, is actually doing work on your computer when there’s SO MUCH TO SEE AND DO.
Thailand has so much to offer! There’s truly something for everyone. My first trip was spent traveling all over the country for four months and seeing as much as I could. This past trip was spent mostly on a beach, writing for my blog, planning my next book projects and preparing a presentation for a conference. And yet, I never felt bored or that I wasn’t experiencing something new every day.
I could probably write a list of a hundred reasons to travel to Thailand. But I’ll keep it simple and give you my top seven.
There’s just nothing like Thai food. And since this IS a food blog, of course #1 is going to be the food! There’s just something so magical about eating a country’s native cuisine in that country.
Freshly prepared Thai curry pastes have a flavor that can’t be matched when shipped overseas in a jar or can. Same for all those classic Thai herbs and spices like lemongrass, kaffir lime, Thai basil, galangal and of course, fresh chilies.
I just couldn’t get enough of it. You could spend years in Thailand and try something new every day. As a broths and soups fanatic, I fell in love with the all the Thai soups and coconut curries. I took a few cooking classes and was surprised how easy they are to make. I’m even thinking of writing a short book on simple Thai soups adapted for Americans!
From my personal favorite, the spicy and sour Thai classic, Tom yum soup…
to the incredible variety of colorful coconut curries like this red coconut curry with squid…
to the incredible variety of noodle and rice dishes…
to the fresh whole fish dishes, grilled up daily with a variety of Thai herbs, spices and sauces…
to the one and only pad Thai, Thailand’s most famous dish…
you’ll never get tired of trying all the different types of incredible Thai food.
Of course the food is great. But seeing how that food gets to your plate is an entirely different experience.
For me personally, there’s no ancient golden temple, no awe-inspiring Buddha statue (of which there are thousands) and no tropical island sunset (as you’ll soon see) that can compare to the thrill I feel at a Thai food market.
The energy is absolutely infectious. The exotic foods and smells and the hustle and bustle of people, animals, carts and mopeds zipping in and around each other in a highly chaotic but strangely ordered way is at once thrilling and overwhelming.
My first five days in Thailand all I did was explore the Bangkok markets and street food.
But beyond the assault on the senses, the food markets are also a glimpse into a very different food culture. The markets are the lifeblood of the Thai people. And it’s fascinating to observe a food economy that’s so different from our own.
Fish and shellfish are everywhere and they’re always fresh and always whole.
All parts of animals are on display and used in Thai cuisine. It can be certainly be a little shocking compared to American supermarkets!
One morning I got up early and visited the Klong Toey market in Bangkok. It’s the largest wet market (meaning fresh meat and produce) in all of Bangkok and it’s estimated that it supplies the entire city with half of its food.
It was the most incredible food market I’ve ever seen. Rows upon seemingly endless rows of every type of food imaginable – fresh herbs, spices, fruits, vegetables, dozens of different types of fish and shellfish and every possible cut of chicken, pork and beef there could be.
To prove it, here’s the most epic display of chicken parts I’ve ever seen…
But it’s not all blood and guts. At every food market there’s always tons of colorful fresh fruits, vegetables, spices and curries too…
If you ever go to Thailand, make sure you spend some time exploring a few food markets. It may just be the most memorable (and perhaps shocking) thing you do.
In my five weeks in Thailand I’d guess that I spent what most people would spend for a one week vacation to the Caribbean, or Europe or god forbid, Florida.
On average, a meal on the street will cost about $1 – $2. A meal in a Thai cafe or restaurant will cost run you about $3-$6. You could certainly splurge and pay more in fancier places. But you could easily get by on $10 a day for all three meals if you really wanted.
A cheap bare bones budget accommodation will run $10 – $25 per night depending on where you are. Mid-range places with all the comforts of a typical hotel will cost a little more. I splurged the first few days I was in Bangkok because I wanted something comfortable after a 24 hour sleepless flight. I spent $50/night for a nice hotel room that would easily run $150-$200 in America.
On the tropical island of Koh Lanta, where I spent most of my time, I spent $24/night for a room just off the beach with air conditioning and hot water. I could’ve spent a lot less.
And traveling around is cheap too. Taxis, buses, trains and even flights within Thailand are all very budget friendly.
This is Thailand’s dry season and the time when most westerners come to visit. There’s nothing quite like going from freezing cold and snow to instant summer! This was probably my biggest reason for going this time around. After two of the coldest (I’m talking so cold it was scary) winters I’ve ever experienced, I knew I had to get out of New England or risk being the first ever reported case of death by cabin fever.
Here’s a screenshot from the weather app on my iPhone during a week in February…
That’s pretty much how it was every day for the entire 5 weeks I was in Thailand. I didn’t see a single drop of rain.
And yes, it’s hot during the dry season, to put it mildly. But compared to New England in February, a little heat was just fine by me, especially when you go here….
The islands of southern Thailand are a tropical paradise and it’s the #1 reason westerners visit.
You can choose any type of island and beach that fits your lifestyle and budget. There’s crazy party scene islands that attract hordes of young backpackers, islands with upscale resorts that cater mostly to the rich (and even famous) and places with a more quiet, family friendly vibe.
Personally, this is the type of beach scene that fits my current lifestyle…
Yup, that’s me taking it easy on the island of Koh Lipe where I spent four days snorkeling, chilling out and getting these….
$10 for an hour is pretty universal around Thailand, give or take a few bucks.
And man are the massages AWESOME.
My favorites were the foot massages and in many places, you sit right on the street…
But the nightly massages right on the beach were the absolute BOMB. There’s nothing quite like ending your day getting a massage to the sound of crashing waves, a warm ocean breeze and this…
I spent most of my five weeks on Koh Lanta on the Andaman Sea coast and I have never in my life seen more spectacular sunsets. Every night I would walk up and down the beach with my camera as the light from the setting sun cast a soft glow on everything. And as the sun got closer to the horizon, myself and hundreds of others would sit on the beach and watch (and click) in awe.
So have I peaked your interest in traveling to Thailand? I hope so. It’s a magical place and there’s so much to explore. If you ever get serious about visiting there’s tons of travel websites but I still like having an actual physical book that I can highlight and bookmark. I love the Lonely Planet travel series. They do a nice job covering all the basics and the different cost options for food, hotel and transportation.
I used this book extensively both before I went to Thailand and as a guide when I was there.
And this one is more comprehensive to all of Thailand beyond just the beaches.
Have you ever traveled to Thailand? If so, where did you go? I’d love to hear from you!
Craig Fear is the creator of Fearless Eating and the author of three books, The 30-Day Heartburn Solution, Fearless Broths and Soups and The Thai Soup Secret. After years helping clients with digestive issues, Craig decided to pursue writing full-time. He intends to write many more books on broths and soups from around the world! Click here to learn more about Craig.