How to travel in Thailand like a local

One of the most daunting things about traveling to a country where you don’t speak the language is getting around. From planes, trains and taxis to ferries, longtail boats and tuk tuks traveling through Thailand is a major part of the adventure. Getting lost every now and again is also a part of the fun. Here are a few tips and tricks I learned that helped me travel through Thailand like a local.

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Longtail boats in Koh Phi Phi

Getting from the airport to the hotel seems like it would be as easy as hailing a cab, but it’s a little more complicated than that. If you go outside on the top floor of the Suvarnabhumi (BKK) Airport, you’ll find a fleet of private cars which will run you about 1000 baht. Save yourself a few hundred baht and head downstairs for a metered taxi. Get in line to get a ticket for a van or sedan then head to the line number on your ticket. Note: There is a 50 baht airport surcharge going to or from either of Bangkok’s airport.  

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Traffic in Bangkok

In general, communicating with taxi drivers was pretty easy because most of them know a little bit of english. However, good luck getting to your hotel or hostel by showing them the address in english. The most helpful thing EVER for this was the Agoda App. After you book or locate your hotel on this app, you can select Taxi Helper and it will display your hotel address in Thai.

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Agoda App’s Taxi Helper showing hostel address in Thai

Now, you’re all checked into your hotel and the first thing you want to do is start exploring. There are two apps that saved my life and my budget and they were Here We Go and Rome2Rio. Both of them will tell you how far you are from your desired destination and how long it would take you to walk or drive there. Here We Go works offline after you download the country map and is great for step by step directions whether you are driving or walking. I used Rome2Rio often to gauge how much a taxi should cost from one location to the next. It’s also best if you plan on using a train or bus to get around.

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Rome2Rio App showing the price, time and transportation options

When your cab driver figures out where you’re going, he’ll probably give you a quote. The first thing the locals do is ask for the meter. Many drivers will have a meter but would rather quote you a more expensive price. However, if you don’t see a meter, haggle. This is when the Rome2Rio app comes in handy, because you can check in advance to get an accurate quote of what it should cost. After you settle on the price, open up the Here We Go App and get turn by turn directions to make sure your taxi is taking you to the right place.

After a day of sightseeing in Bangkok, my plan was to fly down to Krabi and do a little island-hopping. When booking my flight to southern Thailand I saved money by using local airlines for domestic travel. I booked through Kiwi.com and flew down on Nok Air and back up to Bangkok on Thai Lion Air for less than $100 roundtrip. It was only an hour flight, so unlike taking a bus or train, I didn’t lose any vacation time.

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Nok Air flight from Bankok to Krabi

One night in Krabi and I was ready to head to Koh Phi Phi for two days of fun in the sun on one of the most beautiful islands in the country. The only way to get to Phi Phi is by Ferry or private boat. I opted to take the ferry which was 700 baht roundtrip. That price included being picked and dropped up at my hotel and the ferry tickets.

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Ferry from Krabi to Phi Phi

There are no cars or roads on Phi Phi, so the only way to get around is to walk, take a longtail boat or speed boat. One of the other islands I wanted to visit was Ko Lanta, but there is only one boat to Lanta a day from Phi Phi which was 300 baht and only one way. So I would have had to stay the night there. Which wouldn’t have worked because I’d already booked two nights at my hotel. I also could’ve booked a half day boat charter to take me there for 1500 to 3000 baht for 3-6 hours.

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Longtail Boat Taxi’s on Phi Phi

For my return trip from Phi Phi to Krabi I had to be at the pier 30 minutes before the ferry departed which is only two times per day. The lesson I learned, do a little research on how often ferries travel to and from the islands you want to visit. You can also wait until the day of to book accommodations, so if you decide you want to check out another island you’re not worried about losing money on a hotel.

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Ao Tonsai Pier in Phi Phi

The truth about tuk tuks is, they’re a novelty. Is it something you should experience? Yes. Is it something you should take for a long period of time? No. I found that tuk tuks were a little more expensive than taxis and they don’t have meters, so it’s all about bartering. I would suggest taking it back to the hotel after you’ve walked to dinner instead of taking it from one landmark to the next, that’s how they get you!

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Tuk Tuk ride

Believe it or not, taking the Bangkok Skytrain (BTS) is much easier than it seems. If you’ll be in Bangkok for a few days, spending a little time on these super quick, affordable and crowded vessels is a must if you want to travel like a local. Getting from one place to the next on BTS could cost you around 30 baht and take less than 20 minutes, where getting to the same place in a taxi could cost 200 baht and take an hour because of traffic. I dared myself to take BTS on my last day and it was one of the best things I could’ve done. Stay tuned for a more complete guide on taking BTS to explore Bangkok.

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View from Nana BTS Platform

There’s nothing better than feeling secure and confident. Especially when exploring unchartered territories. I hope my tips can help you do so. I also found an awesome and accurate video on 5 Tips on Taking a Taxi in Bangkok. The most helpful things, how to spot an available taxi and the correct way to wave one down.

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Sunset from the Saphan Taksin Station

Guest author: Annette from the travel blog Xtra Lush.
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