We had the best time in Thailand! It’s definitely one of the most popular destinations for Black travel in 2018, so we’re happy that we had the opportunity to experience it for ourselves and share with you what we learned along the way. This trip had been in the Universal vortex for quite some time and it was both Stephen and my (Erin) first times exploring Southeast Asia, so it’s a blessing that we finally manifested it into physical reality.
We spent two weeks there and split our time among Phuket (one week + Phi Phi Island overnight), Bangkok (four days) & Chiang Mai (2.5 days…not enough time). We’d recommend visiting for at least two weeks, but a month is honestly ideal because there is so much to experience.
We took every possible mode of transportation with the exception of a helicopter (9 flights, motorbike, taxi, Uber, tuk-tuk, river taxi, ferry, longtail boat…you get the picture).
We love the ocean and the water surrounding Phuket is tantalizingly turquoise and warm like bathwater (definitely head south & island-hop if you can). We saw some of the most spectacular sunsets of our lives from lookout points and the beach. We were underwhelmed or should we say overwhelmed by Bangkok. That city is absolutely sprawling and the traffic is awful (it makes NYC look puny in comparison, ha!). Definitely visit Khaosan Road while you’re there for cheap shopping and street food (try scorpion on a stick or durian….or don’t, lol).
Chiang Mai was by far our favorite stop, once we landed there, we collectively let out a sigh of relief after leaving bustling Bangkok. There is something healing and calming about the mountains that surround the second largest city of Thailand. We found the city to be more down-to-earth, and quite hospitable for foreigners probably because of the amazing night markets and bazaars, a plethora of coffee shops with dope latte art offerings, vegetarian and vegan-friendly restaurants & a community of welcoming Black expats and travelers that made us feel more at home.
We have to admit, although we had some delicious dishes during our stay, we were a bit underwhelmed by the Thai food (particularly the Pad-Thai) and the cocktails (they weren’t strong by American standards, but enjoying a Piña Colada or a chilled Chang or Singha beer ocean-side more than makes up for it). Maybe we came with too high of expectations…actually we’re spoiled with some pretty-top-notch Thai food back in the states.
And of course, it was amazing to step foot into Thailand’s majestic temples with gigantic golden Buddhas (the standing and reclining ones were our faves) and gongs to swing at for good luck.
All in all, Thailand is certainly worth the long-haul flight (23+ hours) and is quite English & budget-friendly ($1 USD = 31 baht), so we assure you that it’ll be time well spent. We imagine, it won’t be our last time visiting.
Here are 20 tips from our time in the “Land of Smiles:”
1. Acknowledge other Black travelers you see. We were amazed that we saw so few of us during our time in Thailand, and of the ones we did see, they didn’t speak unless spoken to or completely looked the other way. It was only when we got to Chiang Mai that we felt a sense of community (Re: Sunday dinners). Let’s aim to be unified at home and abroad (eye-contact, a wave, a nod, a Wakanda salute…something).
2. Learn a few Thai phrases to help you to be better received. Thank you “kob khun ka (women)/krub (men)” will take you far.
3. Uber is no longer operating in Thailand, so download app Grab instead, it’s the cheapest and easiest way to get around. No negotiation or direction issues.
4. If you take a tuk-tuk, negotiate hard. For Songthaew aka red trucks, tell them where you’re going (they drop off in the vicinity) & just give them 30 baht if traveling within Chiang Mai proper & be out; otherwise you could pay 150+ baht if you ask for the price or try to negotiate.
5. Bring a Select Wisely card & state your dietary restrictions before ordering if you have food allergies or are vegetarian or vegan.
6. Pack light so you have space in your suitcase to bring souvenirs back with you (you’ll absolutely want to). You’ll be charged if your suitcase weighs more than 7 kilos (approximately 15 lbs) on Thai domestic flights. Bring comfortable and breathable clothing, Thailand is hot and humid!
7. Book tours in advance for convenience & structure or book when you get to Thailand for price negotiation & flexibiity.
8. Book a place to stay before you arrive because immigration will want the exact address for clearance…but when booking Airbnbs on the ground (i.e. Phi Phi island) use Instabook, so you can check in right away without needing to get pre-approved by the host.
9. Don’t hop in a tuk-tuk in Bangkok if someone comes up to you speaking English, talking to you about Obama & tells you all these places you need to see or a temple that only happens to be open that day….it’s a scam and you’ll likely be taken to the export center for a tailored suit and the gems gallery for jewelry! If you do travel by tuk-tuk, which depending on the situation can be convenient, be prepared to breathe in exhaust from all the cars and scooters. It’s definitely a Thailand experience!
10. Bring plenty of mosquito repellent or be eaten alive (no one wants to bring malaria or dengue home as a souvenir). Depending on where you are staying, use a mosquito net.
11. Eat probiotic yogurt when you arrive to avoid stomach upset and to help you stay regular & only drink bottled water (this goes for brushing your teeth too).
12. Don’t ride the elephants or do elephant trekking & skip Tiger Kingdom. The animals in these operations are subjected to cruelty. Don’t injure an animal or get injured just to get an Instagram shot; let’s be humane stewards of the Earth and her animals (they are our friends!).
13. Consider skipping Phi Phi island, it’s mad touristy & under melanated (and we didn’t see the fire-dancing that other blogs raved about). While beautiful, there are better islands to visit like Koh Samui and Koh Lanta if you’re looking to chill (but the ferry times take longer, so budget your time accordingly).
14. Save your departure card when entering, you’ll need it to exit the country. It’s 100 baht if you lose it.
15. If you’re sensitive to spicy foods, bring papaya enzyme pills (natural remedy) or Tums. Also consider packing Immodium if you get the runs.
16. Buy a sarong and carry it with you to wear at the temples (ladies, arms and legs are expected to be covered to show respect). Remove shoes and hats when entering temples. Don’t take pictures of the monks without asking first, it’s considered disrespectful (we were told by a former Monk).
17. We had the best fruit juices and fruit smoothies of our lives in Thailand! If you’re worried about fresh water contamination or exposure, ask your travel clinic or doctor for a prescription of Doxcycline, and only eat peeled fruit.
18. Phuket can be pretty touristy too, particularly the Patong Beach area (Bangla Rd.), so if that’s not your speed, then consider staying on another part of the island like Panwa and visiting other beaches like Nai Harn (or take a swim at sunrise at Patong Beach to beat the crowds).
19. Motorbiking is a common and convenient way to get around in Thailand (250-300 baht per day for a rental and 30-40 baht for gas…but be aware you may have to leave your passport or pay a hefty deposit), though we don’t necessarily recommend it if you don’t have any biking experience. But the only way to get experience is to hop on and say a prayer. Motorbiking accidents do happen (we had one of our own and thankfully weren’t seriously injured). So be sure to wear a helmet, go easy on curves, and make sure you don’t accidentally gas when you mean to brake or vice versa. It certainly helps to have traveler’s insurance!
20. When in Bangkok, the floating markets only happen on the weekends. Don’t do what we did and take a 90 minute Uber ride to the middle of nowhere on a Friday only to find out that the market ain’t floatin’ (no worries though, we made the best of it…photo shoot time!!!).
[Bonus…get multiple massages while in Thailand, you can’t beat the quality (full body Thai massage with oil) or the scenery (if you get one by the ocean like we did) or the price. It’ll set you back 200-400 baht (less than $12 USD). And leave a good tip (20 or 40 baht could do).]
As always, #BlackTravelMatters! Were these tips helpful? What would you add to this list? Let us know in the comments! Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want more insider info ????.
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