Traveling Solo in Thailand: A Guide for Solo Woman Travelers
Thailand is fast gaining popularity among budget travelers, and understandably so. With the Baht at record lows, and everything from ancient Ayutha temple ruins in the South to breathtaking sceneries in Chiang Mai to entice travelers, this is one great country to visit. "Should women travel alone in Thailand?" Many of my friends have expressed doubts about the safety of a woman traveler in Thailand, citing the drugs and prostitution problem as a major concern, but I consider Thailand one of the safest countries for the solo woman traveler. Drugs and sex are available if you search hard enough, but then these vices are omnipresent in many other countries too. Thailand is working hard at shedding its "sex and drugs" image, and social reforms include a ban on dancing in pubs and a legislation making it compulsory for nightspots to close by 2am.
During my travels around the world, I've talked to countless solo women travelers and most tell me that Thailand is one of the more comfortable places for solo female travelers. One reason for this is that Buddhism places great emphasis on respect for females and encourages harmonious relationships between the sexes. Thais are generally shy people who have a deep fear of shame; this discourages much of the sexual harassment common in more fundamentalist countries. And Thailand's crime rate is much lower than that of any Western nation. Though Thai males seldom hassle Western females, there are some things you can do to minimize the hassle: dress conservatively, only show skin on tourist beaches, avoid prolonged direct eye contact, keep cool, not flirtatious, and use humor to diffuse potentially difficult situations.
In fact, I felt more comfortable wandering around Thailand than I did in some parts of Melbourne! Despite language barriers (English is not widely spoken here and Thai script is not easily understood), I have always enjoyed my holidays in here. Here are some travel tips for a memorable holiday in Thailand.
Dressing Up (or Down)
Thailand may be hot and you'll probably sweat a lot due to the humidity, but wearing skimpy clothes is not acceptable to most Thais. Leave your tiny tank tops, midriff-baring T-shirts and shorts at home. Ideally, tops should cover your shoulders and not body hugging. Skirts and shorts should reach at least just above the knee. Your swimsuit is only suitable for the beach or by the poolside and topless sunbathing remains frowned upon. Try covering up on your way to or from the beach with a huge towel or sarong (a long piece of cloth made from cotton, commonly used around Asia). When traveling alone on public transport, long pants and a t-shirt would probably be most suitable. You will see people who break these "rules" in Thailand but that doesn't mean you should too!
An Interesting Place to Stay
There is a large range of accommodation arrangement for the single woman traveler, but one that is unique to Thailand is a "home stay" at Buddhist temples. Many temples around Thailand provide such opportunities to non-Buddhist, you should be dressed properly (no shorts!) and go on a non-meat diet during your stay at the monastery. In some rural areas, many locals are willing to allow single travelers to stay with them for a small payment. Other good choices would be university dormitories or rest houses run by religious and non-profit organizations. (Refer to the list below)
Thai food is well-known all over the world. Among the popular ones are Tom Yam Kung (Prawn Tom Yam), Pad Thai (Glass Noodles wrapped in an egg) and Yam Ma Muang (Mango Salad). Remember to ask the stall keeper not to add chili ("Mai Sai Prick") to your food --- besides being delicious, Thai food is notoriously spicy too! I remember chooking and crying profusely after eating Tom Sap, a seafood dish originating from the Isaan region that's similar to Tom Yam, only much spicier.
Things To Do
Go shopping...Spend your money on items you will treasure forever. There is a lot of Thai products out there going for a song, you'll see a million and one bargains in the markets. There are dolls that resemble classical dancers and hill tribesmen in costume. Artificial flowers made from silk, coconut fiber and silkworm cocoons are beautifully realistic. Woodcarvings depict elephants, mythical figures and angels. Brass and bronze souvenirs range from miniature bells to large sculptures. Good buys include Thai silk (better ones from shopping centers and Jim Thompson specialty shop, cheaper ones from the local market), handicraft items, gold jewelry and precious stones (get the last two items from a Tourism Authority of Thailand approved shop to ensure you're getting the real thing).
An evening at the cabaret... For a truly fun, truly Asian experience, the professional transvestite cabaret shows is a must-see. They are the closest you'll come to a comedy club in Thailand --- catering to international audiences with fantastic costumes and songs from the US, Europe, Japan, Korea and China, as well as slapstick comedy that leaves everyone laughing, even if they don't speak English or Thai! The most famous cabaret acts are in Pattaya at Alcatraz and Tiffany's. In Bangkok, try Calypso at the Asia Hotel or Mambo on Sukhumvit Road. Down South in Hat Yai, the Carmen cabaret show is considered really good. As a single traveler, you should arrange for a cabaret tour with a reputable tour company (usually those based in five-star hotels). For a small fee, they'll pick you up from where you're staying and drop you off after the show.
Nature beckons...Adventure lovers should take advantage of the Baht and try out adventure sports such as sky-gliding, scuba diving and jungle trekking. Among the top dive spots in Asia is a region called the Tarutao Marine Park, which stretches along the Andaman Sea from the Malaysian border up to Phuket. Another good place (though a bit overrun by tourists) is Koh Samui in the East, along the Gulf of Thailand. Sky-gliding is available around Phuket and Pattaya.
Pamper me...After all that shopping and adventure sports, how about pampering yourself at the Thai spa? Besides the usage of unique Thai herbal concoctions in the spa treatment, a day-long treatment starts from as low as 1000 Baht (US 38), a steal even when compared to other Asian countries.
If you run out of money during your stay here, why not try your hand at teaching English at the many language schools around Thailand? As long as you're a native speaker, with a reasonably good command in grammar and not too strong an accent, it'll be easy to find a job as an English teacher. Degree holders command a higher salary, so take a certified copy of your certificates along if you intend to teach.
Besides the extra cash, teaching the locals is a great way to experience the local culture. My friend Sabrina, who taught English for a month in Phuket, got invited to seven houses and got a dinner treat almost every night during her stay there! Some language schools also provide hostels for their teachers, so this is another good way to befriend and travel with the other teachers --- most being seasoned backpackers.
You can get into trouble in Thailand, like anywhere else in the world, if you're not careful enough. Look after your possessions, don't flash too much cash or jewelry, and don't get drunk in a pub --- even if the beer prices are really cheap. Don't be confrontational with people, and avoid wandering round unlit and unpopulated areas after dark. It's simple really, and if you need to be told these things, you probably shouldn't be traveling alone at all!
If you get into trouble, contact the Thai Tourist Police at freephone 1155. They speak English and are experienced in dealing with normal tourist problems, so this is your first port of call if anything goes wrong.
Places to Stay:
Hostels available in major cities: Bangkok, Rayong, Chiang Mai and many other locations. Rates start from 70 Baht (US 1.80) in the dormitories to 280 Baht (US 7) for a single room with air condition. Good place to find a travel partner and meet new friends, for these hostels are very popular among backpackers.
T. E. A. C. H. Hat Yai (email: email@example.com)
Situated around the business district in Hat Yai, this is an English-language center cum dormitory run by Grace Missions International. The place is run by two mission workers, who organize English classes for university students.
Department of Student Affairs,
Chiang Mai University,
110 Intawaroros Road,
Chang Mai 02000,
For homestays at temples, enquire at the Buddhist temple at the town you're visiting. Tourists are only accepted on certain times of the year.
* * * * *