Thailand has long been a Mecca for students and travellers venturing outside Europe for the first time. Unofficially, it is home to the gap year traveller, with thousands flocking to the white sand beaches, spicy street vendors and mountain jungle wildlife to truly immerse themselves in Thailand before returning to the UK or moving on. But it's not the beautiful scenery, diverse culture, stunning temples and friendly locals which entices students here year after year (although they might have something to do with it), it's the cost of living in what is essentially paradise - Thailand is so cheap, and perfect for the gap year traveller.
Staying in Thailand
With a booming tourist trade throughout the country, Thailand has a huge variety of accommodation for weary travellers. The best prices are during the country's off-peak season, which coincides with the monsoons of May-August, with trade, and prices, picking up again during December- February. Popular island beaches will be difficult to find cheaper accommodation on, but their prices still only come to around 400 Thai baht (£7.30) a night.
The Bamboo Bungalows are located on a 3km crescent of white sand on the west of Ko Phayam. There's a variety of these beachside bungalows at this laid-back and engaging location - from basic A-framed shell huts, to comfortable villas with more contemporary Thai furnishings. Along with the huts comes the kayaks, snorkelling equipment and the restaurant is said to be one of the best on the island. Rooms here go from £4.50 a night.
Koh Chang island is home to the Mangrove bungalow operation, situated on Bailan Bay. Everything at Mangrove is very low-key and natural. Hammocks are strewn across terraces around the resort area and the bungalows themselves are wooden and fan-cooled, with cute furnishings and attached outdoor bathrooms. Although the beach itself can get a bit narrow at high tide, the atmosphere of total relaxation and affordable seclusion makes up for it. Excellent food, cold drinks and ice cream are also available at the resort which rents bungalows from £17 a night.
For flashpackers - backpackers with a little more to spend, you can get more luxurious accommodation in a large tropical garden close to the centre of Chiang Mai. The relatively new Imm Eco hostel is about as far as you can get from the traditional visions of scummy communal showers and re-used sheets. Instead, the hostel has been created with ecological and environmental awareness. Rooms are decorated in a contemporary Thai style, with wooden floors and furniture and range from 12-bed dormitories to private rooms with separate bathrooms. The hostel has it's own swimming pool in the middle of the tropical gardens, a library and gallery, television room with DVD player and a 24-hour convenience store. A shuttle service and bikes are provided for transport into nearby downtown Chiang Mai and a twin room with private bathroom costs only £19 a night.
How do you get around in Thailand?
Air Asia has great coverage of international and domestic routes in Thailand and you can get significantly discounted tickets, so long as you book well in advance, but prices tend to rise the more the planes fill up. Flying across the country, and indeed to neighbouring countries can be cheaper than the bus or the train if booked enough in advance.
Although slower, travelling by train across Thailand can be relatively slow and prone to delays. You can get tickets that allow you a sleeping bunk and you can pick up food, drink and fruit at most stations. Tickets are cheap, but it isn't a particularly comfortable way to travel.
Thailand's roads are notoriously dangerous, but are still much better than Mynamar, Laos and Cambodian roads. Drunk driving, speeding and reckless passing are commonplace, and bus and taxi drivers work inhuman shifts, taking drugs in order to keep them awake. Motorbikes and even police drive close to the curb on the wrong side of the road and death and accident tolls sky-rocket during major holidays and festivals. It is advised that you avoid or minimise overnight travel by road, and try and use as little road transport as possible.
Buses travel throughout Thailand and most have a terminal in any province of significant size. Generally, buses are the best option for both price and comfort. It's worth being aware of illegal bus companies which operate in tourist areas and subsidise slightly cheaper tickets with worse amenities, schedules and safety. Also, non-government 'VIP' buses usually turn out to be cramped minivans.
A variety of small and lightweight vehicles come under the 'tuk-tuk' name. Most have three wheels, some are partially based on motorcycle components, but they aim to serve the purpose of carrying passengers in an open-air roofed seat through the streets of Thailand.
Where is the best place to eat in Thailand?
Street vendors are easily the best place to eat in Thailand. They're everywhere, offering meals for less than the equivalent of 40p, and they're probably the cleanest places to eat. As everything is cooked out in the open, you'll be able to see your food be cooked, which is pretty safe.
A traveller's favourite, anyone who's been to Thailand loves to tell others who haven't how amazing this meal is. Noodles are dressed up with tofu, bean sprouts, onion and peanuts ground into dust. You can also add the final touches of fish sauce, sugar, chilli powder or crushed peanuts to cater to your taste.
Thai grilled pork on a skewer, this is another favourite. The pork is marinated in oyster or dark soy sauce, and other things like chickpeas, cilantro root, garlic, condensed milk, honey and pepper can also be used.
Tom Kha Gai:
The world's most-refreshing soup, Tom Kha Gai is basically boiled chicken combined with coconut milk, lemongrass and galangal (similar to ginger).
Fried rice with added extras. Choose between meat (shrimp and chicken are most popular), egg, onion, cilantro, garlic and tomatoes. If you prefer your rice spicy, add the chili sauce the vendors provide.
This concoction of coconut milk, potatoes, roasted peanuts, bay leaves, sugar, cinnamon and tamarind sauce. The meat is usually beef or chicken but because it's embraced by the Buddhists in Thailand, pork can also be found.
What can I do on a budget?
If you're travelling to Thailand, there's no avoiding Bangkok, and whilst you might be itching to get to the beaches and stuffing your face with Pad Thai, there really is nothing to compare to this glorious city. It's best to just embrace the hive-like atmosphere and immerse yourself in the markets and ridiculously cheap street food that intoxicates your senses every time you walk past a steam grate.
Wat Pho and Wat Traimit are both religious sites that most tourists to Thailand visit. Wat Traimat a 3-metre tall, 5.5 tonne solid-gold Buddha image that was discovered 40 years ago, and is thought to have been crafted before Thailand even became an official country.
The Banyan Tree Hotel's Moon Bar was the one that kick-started the rooftop drinking trend, and as Bangkok continues to thrive at an increasing pace, the view from 61 floors up only gets better. Arrive well before sunset and grab a seat right at the front to see Bangkok's impressive night-sights.
Wicked Diving, is located around Khao Lak, and runs environmentally-conscious diving and snorkelling overnight trips. Conservation trips for whale sharks, mantas, turtles, reeds, sharks and rays are run in conjunction and they also run the PADI Diving courses, should you want to learn.
For those of you who enjoy a good party, the Full Moon Party on Ko Phangan is The Place To Be when you're visiting. Full of travellers, the beach tends to attract between 5,000 and 30,000 party-goers each full moon, each painted with glow in the dark paint, enjoying the music and dancing the beach has to offer.
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