Thailand vs. Vietnam: Cost of Living Comparison:

Thailand has been one of the world’s top countries for expats for some time, attracting everyone from digital nomads to backpackers. However, recent changes to visa rules and the rising economies of other countries in Southeast Asia have dulled Thailand’s shine somewhat, at least when it comes to potential destinations for expats.

One of these rising countries is Vietnam. Home to one of the world’s fastest growing economies, Vietnam has emerged as one of Southeast Asia’s most popular destinations for expats over the last few years.

Recently, Vietnam even ranked in the top 10 countries for expats according to an HSBC survey — a first for the country.

One of the most important factors in a potential country for expats is the cost of living. Below, we’ve compared the cost of living for expats looking to move to Thailand or Vietnam using a variety of different data points.

To provide a fair comparison, we’ve compared the cost of living in Bangkok (Thailand’s largest city) to the cost of living in Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam’s largest and most economically important city). Our comparison uses data from international indexes and local businesses to provide a more realistic, accurate snapshot of how much you can expect to spend in either city.

Apartments and Housing

Apartments in Ho Chi Minh City are cheaper than those in Bangkok on a like-for-like basis. However, factors such as public transportation access mean that a top-of-the-line apartment in HCMC may not be as convenient as a similar property in Bangkok.

For example, this Grade A apartment in Sukhumvit (a popular expat area close to the center of Bangkok) is priced at 85,000 baht, or $2,800 USD, per month. Comparable apartments in Ho Chi Minh City’s Thao Dien area — a popular expat hub — are significantly less expensive, such as Masteri Thao Dien (three bedrooms available from approximately $1,100 USD per month) and The Vista An Phu (from $1,200 per month). Larger developments outside Thao Dien are also comparatively more affordable. For example, Vinhomes Central Park apartments range in price from $750 to $800 all the way up to $2,000+ for family units.

At the lower end of the price scale, both Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh City offer a range of affordable apartments. In fact, Bangkok’s larger supply of cheap, expat-friendly apartments in the sub-$250 range may make it a better city for expats on a strict budget.

Food and Groceries

Both Thailand and Vietnam offer affordable food and groceries. These costs can be accurately compared using the Cost of Living Index, as we’ve done below:

  • Thailand’s current cost of living index is 49.86, a moderate score.
  • Vietnam’s current cost of living index is 38.17, indicating that most goods and services are slightly less expensive than they are in Thailand.

As Thailand is a more internationalized country than Vietnam, many goods and services that may be of interest to expats, including imported goods, may cost more in Vietnam than in Thailand due to limited availability.

Other Costs

In addition to food and housing, prices in Vietnam are also lower for most immigration expenses. For example, expats with an American passport can apply for a one-year visa at a cost of $60 plus $135 stamping fee, providing a total of up to one year in Vietnam at a cost of under $200.

For other nationalities, visa pricing can vary, although most expats can stay in Vietnam while spending less than $500 per year on visa-related expenses.

In Thailand, visas, transit and immigration fees can be significantly more expensive. For example, although Thailand tourist visas currently only cost approximately $35, visa holders are required to either apply for a new visa (required leaving the country) or purchase an extension every 60 days. This can add up to a significant amount over the course of one year or longer.


Overall, the cost of living in Vietnam is lower than Thailand, even in a major city such as Ho Chi Minh City. As an expat, you can expect to pay about 20 to 30% less than you would in Thailand, although not everything will be more affordable.

Phuket 101: A Full Guide to Beaches, Nightlife and More

Thailand’s biggest island, Phuket is also its most popular vacation destination. Home to some of the world’s best beaches, amazing beach clubs, wild nightlife and amazing food, Phuket has something to offer for every type of traveler.

Our guide to Phuket covers all of the island’s most popular beaches, as well as the best places to stay, things to do and areas to visit.

Phuket Beaches

Phuket’s most popular beaches can be found on the western side of the island. Most of the beaches are connected by a coastal road that stretches from Kamala and Surin all the way down south to Nai Harn and Rawai.

We’ve covered all of Phuket’s top beaches below:


Patong is Phuket’s busiest and most developed beach. It’s the island’s nightlife capital, with a mix of nightclubs, beer bars and go-go bars. This is where you can find Phuket’s infamous Bangla Road. Expect lots of crowds, plenty of touts and the most “touristy” feel of any beach on Phuket.

The beach at Patong is nice, but not world class. Still, there’s a great range of hotels here, from five star resorts to some of the island’s cheapest accommodation. If you’re planning on meeting someone new here, this is also where you’ll find most of Phuket’s guest friendly accommodation.

All in all, Patong is the best part of Phuket to stay in if you’re visiting for the nightlife and don’t mind a touristy, busy vibe.


Located just south of Patong, Karon is chilled out, peaceful and aimed primarily at families and couples. The beach is long and less developed than Patong, but still has its fair share of hotels and resorts. The vibe is calm and easygoing, aimed more at families than hardcore partygoers.

All in all, Karon is best for couples and families that want a long, sandy beach with a good mix of restaurants, cafes and other places to eat, but don’t want the loud nightlife or huge crowds of Patong.


Further south of Karon is Kata, one of Phuket’s most popular beaches. Another good option for couples and families, Kata is more developed than Karon but doesn’t have the same level of mass development as ultra-busy Patong.

Kata Beach is split into two areas. Kata Yai, the bigger of the two beaches, is a great place to swim and a decent surfing spot during low season. Kata Noi, the smaller beach, has a more upmarket feel and is home to several of Phuket’s most luxurious hotels, including the stunning Shore at Katathani resort.

Nai Harn

More popular with locals and expats than tourists, Nai Harn is Phuket’s southernmost beach. The level of development here is lower than on the other beaches and the vibe is much more local, with a variety of seafood restaurants and other dining options right by the water.

While the rough waves here mean Nai Harn isn’t ideal for swimming, it’s a great surf beach and a fun place to enjoy Phuket’s great weather. It’s also a good beach for avoiding the huge crowds on Patong, Karon and Kata if you’re visiting in high season.

Things To Do

Tired of going to the beach? Don’t worry. Phuket has a lot more to do than just spend time in the sun and on the sand. Some of the island’s most popular activities include:

  • Elephant Trekking with KokChang Safari Elephant Trekking, which lets you get up and close with elephants in a safe, humane environment.
  • Cable Wakeboarding and Waterskiing at Phuket Wake Park, Southern Thailand’s biggest cable ski park.
  • Experience a Thai Culture Show at Phuket FantaSea, Phuket’s most popular theme park and show, held in Kamala Beach.
  • Explore Underwater with a snorkeling and island tour by Offspray Leisure, which visits some of the most popular islands and snorkeling locations around Phuket.


Phuket is one of Thailand’s nightlife capitals, with some of the country’s best bars, nightclubs and other nightspots. While it isn’t as huge as Bangkok or as wild as Pattaya, Phuket’s nightlife scene is a major attraction for many visitors to the island.

Almost all of Phuket’s nightlife can be found in Patong, with the majority of bars and clubs around Soi Bangla. This is also where most of the island’s “naughy” nightlife can be found. If you’re planning on partying in Phuket, you’ll want to stay in Patong so that you’re close to the action.

You can also find nightlife in Karon, Kata, Nai Harn and Rawai, although it’s smaller and much quieter than the bustling nightlife of Patong.

Tired of Thailand? 5 Surprisingly Accessible Short Holiday Destinations From Bangkok

Need a break from Thailand? We hear you. As fun, exciting and interesting as Thailand can be, we all need to escape from time to time — whether for a visa run or simply for a change of pace.

Below, we’ve listed five Asian, Middle Eastern and Australasian destinations that are all within a night’s reach of Bangkok, making them perfect for 4-5 day breaks.

Hong Kong

Flight Time: 2 hours, 40 minutes
Visit For: Food, Views and Shopping

Hong Kong is one of the world’s densest, most bustling cities, making it great for short breaks but far from ideal for living. If you’re looking for constant activity, great shopping (especially for electronics) and views of the world’s best skyline, two to three nights in Hong Kong makes for the perfect getaway from Bangkok.

Hotels in Hong Kong are a little on the pricey side compared to Thailand’s major cities, although sacrificing room size — which you’ll have to do anyway, thanks to the city’s incredible density — makes it easier to save on pricing. The best areas to stay in? If you’re visiting for shopping, Tsim Sha Tsui and Causeway Bay are hard to beat, while Central is ideal if you’re aiming for the ultimate Hong Kong Island experience. Can’t work out where to start? Tommy Oi’s guide to things to do in Hong Kong is a great resource for planning your trip.


Flight Time: 6-7 hours
Visit For: Shopping, City Views and Overall Experience

Dubai is the most cosmopolitan city in the Middle East, and it’s also the easiest to get to from Thailand. Believe it or not, although Dubai can feel like the opposite side of the world from Southeast Asia, it’s only a 6-7 hour flight from Bangkok. That’s a quick nap and a movie, making it tolerable for 3-4 day trips.

The key attractions here? The food is great, as are the shisha cafes. Jumeirah Beach, with its perfect sand and world class shopping, is also worth a visit. While Dubai’s nightlife isn’t quite as crazy as Bangkok’s, the city does have its wild side (although you’ll want to make sure your hotel approves first). Overall, a great place to “escape” from Bangkok’s hustle and bustle for a few days and enjoy the sun.


Flight time: 2 hours, 30 minutes
Visit For: Food and Shopping

The closest destination to Bangkok on our list, Singapore is also the cheapest and easiest to visit, with numerous flights available on budget airlines and a short and simple flight time. If you’re looking for a place to visit for the weekend, it doesn’t get much better.

Like Hong Kong, Singapore is dense and bustling. However, it has more of a relaxed vibe than its other Southeast Asian neighbors, with a “perfectly managed” feeling that makes it a great break from the noise and activity level of Thailand. Thanks to its low taxes, it’s also a great place to shop for clothes, electronics and other items that are taxed a little too heavily elsewhere in Southeast Asia. If you’re visiting for the first time, check out The Pinay Solo Backpacker’s guide, which covers everything there is to know about Singapore as a destination.


Flight time: 5-6 hours
Visit For: Food, Atmosphere and Uniqueness

Tokyo is a city like no other. It’s dense and crowded, yet full of expansive parks that feel like they’re miles from civilization. It’s expensive and commercialized, yet full of friendly local restaurants offering incredible food at excellent prices. It’s modern and neon-lit, shot like a 1980s cyberpunk movie yet full of ancient history. In short, it’s an incredible city and the perfect 4-5 day destination.

Thanks to changes to Japanese visa requirements, it’s also an easy destination to visit with Thai friends (who now no longer require a visa to enter Japan for trips of 15 days or less). The best places to stay? Stick to the major stations on the JR Yamanote Line for the best experience and the easiest access to the city’s top attractions.


Flight time: 9 hours, 30 minutes
Visit For: Harbor Views, Nightlife and Sightseeing

The furthest destination on our list, Sydney is still within a night’s reach of Bangkok — just be sure to book an overnight flight and wear some comfortable clothes. One of the world’s most dynamic and interesting cities, it’s also as “different” as you can get from anything in Southeast Asia, offering a mix of Western architecture and a modern, multicultural vibe.

The food? Good, but not on Bangkok’s level (although the wine is excellent). The shopping? Also good, but beaten by Hong Kong and Singapore. However, for an all-round city experience, Sydney is tough to beach, provided you’re willing to tolerate the long, overnight flight there and back.

Like Hong Kong, Sydney is a little pricey when it comes to hotels. Wikitravel has a good guide to the affordable side of the city that includes a few choice affordable accommodation options. Be aware that Sydney is much more spread out than other cities on this list, making central accommodation worth the premium.

Nespresso in Thailand: Machine and Capsule Guide

Nespresso, one of the world’s most popular capsule coffee systems, recently made its way to Thailand after years of being unavailable.

In this post, I want to give a quick rundown of the availability of Nespresso in Thailand, as well as the best shopping options for Nespresso machines and capsules.

Nespresso machines in Thailand

There are two ways to buy Nespresso machines in Thailand. Nespresso Thailand’s official website lists a variety of machines available to order online, although prices are somewhat inflated compared to what you’d pay in the United States.

For example, the Nespresso Pixie, which barely costs $100 in the USA, is priced at the equivalent of almost $300 in Thailand. Other machines are similarly expensive when purchased from the official Nespresso website.

At the moment, the cheapest Nespresso machine available in Thailand is the Inissia, which costs 6,500 baht.

Another way to buy Nespresso machines in Thailand is by using Lazada, which is Southeast Asia’s local Amazon/eBay copycat. There are several Nespresso compatible machines available from 2,000 baht, which is a fraction of the price you’d pay for the authentic model from the official Nespresso website.

Finally, Nespresso has a boutique in Siam Paragon that sells both the machines and capsules, although the prices are similar to what you’d pay on the official website.

Nespresso capsules in Thailand

Nespresso capsules are available from the official Nespresso website for 22 baht each, which is relatively similar to international pricing. 

You can also buy Nespresso capsules from the Nespresso boutique in Siam Paragon for the same price as the official website.

At the moment, we haven’t seen Nespresso capsules for sale in any supermarkets. The larger Nescafe Dulce Gusto capsules are widely available, as are Dulce Gusto machines (almost always at far lower prices than their Nespresso counterparts).

The Best Weekend Breaks From Bangkok

Tired of the noise, bustle and pollution of Bangkok? While Thailand’s capital truly defines big city living, it’s quite close to several great beach destinations and upcountry retreats that make great weekend getaways.

Need to get out of the city? Pick from any of these four destinations, book a taxi and enjoy a peaceful or wild (depending on your choice) weekend away from Bangkok.

Hua Hin

Located three hours from Bangkok by road, Hua Hin is a family-oriented beach resort city that’s popular with Thais and tourists. The beach here is lined with upmarket hotels, such as the Hilton Hua Hin and Intercontinental.

Since Hua Hin is on the quieter side, it’s best for couples and families. Solo travelers might find the nightlife here a little dull, since options are limited and closing times are fairly early compared to elsewhere in Thailand. Further south, Pranburi is a great choice for couples.


Thailand’s party capital, Pattaya is two hours from Bangkok by car and by far the most popular beach resort close to the capital. This isn’t the place for a quiet getaway, but if you opt for Jomtien or Wongamat instead of central Pattaya, it’s possible to avoid most of the noise.

If you plan on going out and partying, make sure you pick a guest friendly hotel in Pattaya, as many brands forbid non-registered guests. If you’re traveling with your partner, pick a hotel around Wongamat Beach for a quieter experience with a nicer, more refined atmosphere.


Famous for its ancient temples, Ayutthaya was once the historical capital of Thailand. The entire city was destroyed by the approaching Burmese armies many hundreds of years ago, creating the archaeological park that covers large parts of the city today.

One of the most popular tourist destinations near Bangkok, Ayutthaya is better for day trips than weekend getaways. We recommend this one if you’re only able to get out of the city for a single night and don’t have time to travel further afield. Take the train for a fun, more local experience.


Further north than Ayutthaya, Kanchanaburi is one of the most relaxing upcountry tourism destinations within easy reach of Bangkok. Minibuses depart from Bangkok’s Victory Monument to Kanchanaburi frequently throughout the week and make the journey in about three hours.

Great attractions include the famous bridge over the River Kwai, Hellfire Pass and many other WWII-related sights. Some of Kanchanaburi’s most famous resorts are located along the side of the river, offering beautiful views and a relaxing atmosphere.

Gear Recommendations for Travel in Thailand

Thailand is one of the world’s most popular backpacking destinations, and as a result it suffers from a familiar problem for travelers: people severely overpack.

If you’ve traveled in Thailand before, you’ve no doubt seen the type of people I’m talking about. They walk around Khao San Road with massive backpacks — often two, with one on their back and a second, smaller backpack on their front.

Even if you’re backpacking around Thailand as a budget traveler, you don’t need to pack as much as you think. Most of the items you’ll need for your journey are available here, often at a lower cost to back home. You can save a lot of money, discomfort and baggage fees by packing light and picking up the extras once you arrive.

Before we share our gear recommendations, here’s what you don’t need to pack for your trip to Thailand:

  • Non-prescription medicines (they’re all available here at a lower cost to any Western country)
  • More than 4-5 t-shirts, pairs of shorts and underwear. Laundry services are abundant in Thailand and you can buy extra clothes from the markets for very low prices.
  • Travel guides. Books are heavy and cumbersome. Pack a tablet or install the Kindle app on your phone, then read your guides digitally to save weight.
  • A money belt. Thailand isn’t 100% crime-free, but it’s a safe destination and you’ll be find keeping your wallet in your pocket or bag.
  • A backpack. Unless you’re going to explore the islands, you can travel around Thailand using a wheeled travel bag, at least in most major cities. Only use a backpack if you plan on visiting the islands.
  • Sunscreen, toothbrushes and other toiletries. They’re all available in 7/11, again at a much lower cost than back home.

As for what to bring, here are our recommendations for items that aren’t easily available in Thailand or are only available at a high price:

  • Luggage. If you need to buy another backpack or bag here, expect to pay a higher price than average.
  • Boots, shoes and other leather goods. Any imported fashion products in Thailand are more expensive than back home, so we recommend bringing a good pair of walking boots (especially if you plan to visit the North) and a good leather belt for wearing with jeans from home.
  • Technology. Smartphones, computers, cameras and other consumer electronics cost more in Thailand than they do in most Western countries, so buy your tech before you travel.
  • Winter clothing. Thailand is a tropical country, but the North can get quite cold during the cool season. Since good quality winter clothing isn’t readily available, it’s better to bring a thin, breathable jacket from home instead of buying one after you arrive.

On the whole, there’s no need to pack too heavily when you visit Thailand, since everything you could need is easy to find (if, in the case of imported products, a bit expensive). Bring a mid-sized suitcase or light backpack with enough clothing to last you for five days at a time and you’ll have a great trip without the weight, discomfort and back pain of the travelers you see with supersized backpacks.

The Best Hostels on Khao San Road

Khao San Road is Bangkok’s backpacking capital, with more cheap hotels than you can shake a stick at. Despite this, finding hostels on Khao San Road is surprisingly difficult. There are much more cheap hotels on this street than there are hostels with shared bunk beds and dorm rooms.

Still, it’s possible to find hostels in and around Khao San Road if you look hard enough. We’ve partied pretty hard on Khao San Road in the past and stayed in many of the streets best backpacker hostels. Below, we’ve recommended the best hostels on and near Khao San Road for you to choose from if you’re staying in Bangkok.

By the way, all of the hostels listed below are rated more than 7/10 on by previous guests, guaranteeing that they’re good places to stay. No matter which one you choose, you’ll get a clean bed and a pleasant environment for a reasonable cost

Hostels on Khao San Road Itself:

Khao San Road itself only has a few hostels, since most of the accommodation here is of the private guesthouse variety and the few hostels that are there, well… they mostly aren’t particularly nice.

Still, there are a couple of amazing diamonds in the rough (both of which opened very recently in 2015), which we’ve listed below. Both hostels listed below are very popular and fill up quickly, so make sure you book in advance. We’ve seen people get turned away upon arrival without bookings, which is never fun. 

Nitan Hostel Khaosan (Highly Recommended)

Nitan Hostel Khaosan is a really stylish boutique hostel located right on Khao San Road. It’s close to all the street’s best bars and restaurants, giving it one of the best locations on all of Khao San Road.

The best thing about Nitan Hostel Khaosan is that it’s brand new.This hostel opened up in 2015 and feels extremely clean and well cared for. Prices are very affordable and the hostel is overall extremely nice. Previous guests rate it very highly and we agree with them.

Rooms in Nitan Hostel Khaosan are made up of 10 bunk beds, with mixed and female only dorms available. The hostel is fairly quiet for accommodation right on Khao San Road, making it a good choice if you want a nice night’s sleep. This is by far our most recommended hostel on Khao San Road itself.The only other hostels that compare aren’t located directly on Khao San Road, and are a 2-5 minute walk away.

View Current Rates and Book Online for Nitan Hostel Khaosan

The Pillow Hostel Khao San

The Pillow Hostel is another modern hostel on Khao San Road that opened in 2015. As you’d expect from such a new hostel, the facilities are in excellent condition and the whole place is very clean, modern and well cared for.

This hostel is located on a small alley off Khao San Road, making it a bit sheltered from the noise and hustle of Khao San Road itself. If you want a hostel that’s right on Khao San but isn’t too noisy, it’s a good choice.

Rooms at The Pillow Hostel are six bedroom mixed dorms. There are also private rooms available, including triple and quadruple bed rooms. Prices are VERY good (think 300-400 baht per bed, per night) making this one of the best value options for a clean, well maintained bed on Khao San Road.

View Current Rates and Book Online for The Pillow Hostel Khao San

Hotels Near Khao San Road (Within Five Minutes Walk):

The best hostels aren’t actually on Khao San Road itself, but near Khao San Road. By staying in a hotel that’s a short walk away from Khao San Road on a street like Soi Rambuttri, you can stay close to the bars and restaurants while being far enough away to get a good night’s sleep due the lower noise level.

There are several amazing hostels near Khao San Road, including some of Thailand’s top hostels. We’ve listed the best of the best (hostels rated 8+/10 by guests) below for you to choose from. Like the hostels directly on Khao San Road, these nearby hostels fill up quickly and often turn away guests without reservations, so make sure you book online before you arrive. 

 Full House Khaosan (2-3 minutes to walk to Khao San Road)

Full House Khaosan is a beautiful hostel close to Khao San. It’s located on a quiet street that’s about two minutes walk from Khao San Road itself, making it a great choice if you want to get a good night’s sleep.

This hostel was renovated in 2015 and has an amazing design, with teak wood surrounding the beds and extremely clean rooms and common areas. Guests have consistently rated it 9+ out of 10 because of its quality. A great alternative to staying directly on Khao San Road.

Beds are available at Full House Khaosan in shared rooms with bunks, or in private rooms. The shared rooms offer the best value for money, while the private rooms are a good option if you want some more space to spread out and relax while staying close to one of Bangkok’s most exciting streets.

View Current Rates and Book Online for Full House Khaosan

Baan Bovorn Khaosan (2-3 minutes to walk to Khao San Road)

Baan Bovorn Khaosan is a modern hostel near Khao San Road that’s about two to three minutes away from the area’s top restaurants and hotels. It’s also really close to Soi Rambuttri, which is a more chilled out, bohemian alternative to crowded Khao San Road.

Rooms at Baan Bovorn are pretty simple, with male and female dormitories, as well as mixed dormitories available. One of the biggest advatages of Baan Bovorn compared with other hostels around Khao San Road is that it’s very clean, with good maintenance and a nice atmosphere.

View Current Rates and Book Online for Baan Bovorn Khaosan

Hospitals in Thailand: Are They Any Good?

Every year, millions of people visit Thailand. Some are here to relax beside the beach in resort hotels and tropical islands. Some are here to have their big adventure. And many are here to get medical care.

Lots of people don’t know this, but Thailand is one of the world’s most popular and affordable countries for medical tourism. Every year, hundreds of thousands of people come here for plastic surgery, dental work, laser eye surgery and hundreds of other procedures. The biggest draw is the cost (it’s much less expensive to get medical treatment in Thailand than in the USA or Australia) but another draw is the surprisingly high quality of medical care in Thailand.

Thailand might not sound like the kind of country where you’d expect to find world class hospitals. After all, the traffic in Bangkok is beyond description, pollution is a serious problem, and many of the country’s most popular islands are becoming overdeveloped at a scary pace. But despite this, Thailand’s hospitals (at least the private hospitals tourists have access to) aren’t just not bad; they’re really good.

Two of Bangkok’s biggest international hospitals are Bumrungrad, which is near Nana BTS Station, and Samitivej. Both have outstanding facilities that go beyond the expectations of their clients (think of pianists and personal limousines, for example) and both deal with tens of thousands of patients every year. Bangkok has a large variety of other private hospitals, all vying for part of the international medical trade.

It’s not just hospitals that are competing for foreign customers. Dentists in Bangkok are increasingly marketing to foreigners, especially for procedures like crowns and veneers. Like the country’s hospitals, Thailand’s dentists are qualified for the job, with some of the country’s clinics reporting an impressive 91 to 98% success rate for dental implants and other cosmetic procedures.

So, if you’re in need of high quality medical care, particularly for cosmetic and other elective treatments, give Thailand a try. While most are familiar with the appeal of low prices that Thailand offers, the country’s medical and dental industries also have a great deal of expertise to offer.

5 Essentials for Successful Travel to Thailand

So you’re finally visiting Thailand, huh? Thailand is one of the world’s most popular travel destinations, and for plenty of good reasons. It has amazing beaches, a huge, exciting city, gorgeous mountains, some of the world’s finest food and a fun way of life that makes spending time here an amazing experience.

It also has a reputation as a bit of a backpacker destination — the type of wild, off-the-beaten-track country where you need a gigantic backpack, camping roll, cooking set and other life-in-the-wilderness type accessories to survive.

Sorry to burst your bubble, but for the most part Thailand is a pretty well developed country with the infrastructure and services for an easy stay, even if you don’t bring your jumbo sized backpack. So leave the huge hiking bag at home and instead bring the five essentials listed below when you visit Thailand:

A small backpack or suitcase

There is absolutely no need to bring a gigantic backpack with you to Thailand. Using a huge backpack not only makes you weighed down with stuff you’ll never use — it also makes you an obvious mark for touts and scammers.

It’s far better to blend in with a small backpack (under 25 liters) or a suitcase. If you plan to spend most of your time in Bangkok, Phuket, Chiang Mai or Koh Samui, the backpack is a waste of time. If you’re visiting any of the smaller islands, stick with a compact bag you can comfortably carry around without destroying your spine.

Good sunglasses

Thailand is hot and sunny, so pack a pair of sunglasses. Why are sunglasses such an important thing to bring? Because high quality, brand name sunglasses cost a fortune in Thailand due to import taxes, while the cheap sunglasses that you can buy on the beach here break in five seconds.

Before you leave, pick up a pair of decent Polaroid or Ray-Ban sunglasses for your trip, especially if you’re visiting Southern Thailand. Your eyes will thank you instead of hating you after spending the entire day squinting against the tropical sky.

Some semi-formal clothes

Sounds silly, right? After all, who dresses up to go to Thailand? While we’re not talking about a three-piece suit, it’s worth bringing at least one nice shirt and pair of pants or a nice dress to Thailand. The reason for this is that many of Thailand’s nicer bars and restaurants have a fairly strict dress code, at least compared to the West.

Show up in fisherman’s pants and sandals to most nice hotel bars on Phuket or in Bangkok and you’ll be politely turned away. Bringing some nice-ish clothes doesn’t mean you need to wear them, but it expands your options and gives you access to a much better range of nightlife and dining venues.

Also, casual summer clothes

Thailand is hot. Like, really hot. If you dress for a Northern European winter, you will cook. Bring some light t-shirts that breathe easily, especially if you plan on spending any time on the islands. If you prefer a long sleeved shirt, avoid cotton in favor of lighter, more breathable linen instead.

Likewise, a few pairs of shorts will help you a lot throughout your time in Thailand. It’s best to pack two to three versions of everything, as you’ll need a second (or third) pair of shorts when your first two are drying after a long hike and an unexpected swim at one of the world’s most amazing beaches.

Your smartphone

Seriously, bring your smartphone. Thailand has excellent mobile coverage and it’s easy to get a signal pretty much anywhere in the country, even on some of the most remote islands. If your phone is unlocked and accepts a sim card from anywhere, it will be a godsend while you’re in Thailand.

All of the major Thai phone networks — DTACAIS and True — offer tourist plans that are prepaid and provide access to the country’s mobile network. Having your phone will make it much easier to look up reviews and recommendations, saving you from having to cling to your Lonely Planet guidebook the whole time you’re here.

Lights, Beer, Bars! Inside Bangkok’s Red Light Districts

Thailand is probably the world’s most well known destination for sex tourism. Mention you’re visiting and you’ll be the butt of endless ladyboy jokes (at least I was) and have to explain to your friends that you’re not visiting Thailand for that reason.

It’s a shame that Thailand has this reputation, because it’s an amazing country and sex tourism is something that can easily be avoided by spending time away from the 0.1% of Bangkok that’s home to the city’s red light districts.

But what if you don’t want to avoid this? It might not be politically correct to talk about it, but lots of people visit Bangkok specifically to spend time in the red light zones, whether for people watching and a fun night out or to meet someone special — or at least temporarily special.

Below, we’ve profiled Bangkok’s “big three” red light districts: the always seedy Nana Plaza, the neon-lit Soi Cowboy, and the neo-tourist attraction Patpong. If you’re in the mood for a crazy night out in Bangkok, pick your poison:

Bangkok’s seedy capital: Nana Plaza

Of Bangkok’s three foreigner-focused red light districts, Nana Plaza is probably the seediest. Well off the tourist trail on Sukhumvit Soi 4, Nana Plaza is surrounded by guest friendly hotels in Bangkok (update 2017: a more detailed list is available here) and generally attracts more sexpats and sex tourists than innocent “people watchers” by a factor of about one thousand.

Unlike Patpong and Soi Cowboy, which are short streets, Nana Plaza is an outdoor complex with several floors. The lower floors are mostly beer bars with a few strip clubs thrown in for good measure, while the upper floors are a mix of go-go bars and “kathoey” ladyboy bars aimed at serious customers.

Like most red light districts in Bangkok, most of the dancers in Nana Plaza aren’t nude. Some of the girls wear nipple covers and pasties, while others are nude in some of the bars on the top floors.

Glitz, noise and plenty of neon: Soi Cowboy

Located close to Sukhumvit MRT station, Soi Cowboy is probably the cleanest of Bangkok’s red light districts. It’s brightly lit with a massive amount of neon lighting turned up to a blinding intensity, filled to the brim with young women in various cute and sexy (and occasionally silly) outfits, and home to several go-go bars and rock music pubs.

If you’re not a serious sex tourist and just want a night of fun with a seedy side, Soi Cowboy is a pretty good pick. There are fewer sex tourist hotels nearby, more of a fun atmosphere, and a great selection of bars. It’s also the easiest of Bangkok’s red light districts to get to using the MRT or BTS Skytrain.

Old, worn out and touristy: Patpong

Thirty (or maybe forty) years ago, Patpong was the capital of Bangkok’s go-go bar scene. Duran Duran blasted out of the street’s strip clubs and passersby popped in and out of each bar to enjoy the city’s budding nightlife. Today, however, Patpong is mostly past its used by date, with a touristy market the main “attraction” of this area.

Patpong still has a few go-go bars and clubs, but they’re not as good as the alternatives in Sukhumvit and scams are all too common here. Fun as a place to people watch or shop for overpriced trinkets, Patpong is Bangkok’s historical red light district, but probably not your first choice for a crazy bachelor party today.