A Solo Woman’s Guide to Thailand
I salute any woman who travels Thailand alone. On a solo trip, she faces the challenges of navigating an exotic country, language and culture. In addition to this, she will notice that while Thailand can be fawningly friendly to visiting males, it’s harder for the lady tourist to find her place in the scheme. Still, every girl’s experience of Thailand should be a great one. From the bustle of Bangkok to the blissfully lazy islands, here are a few tips I’ve amassed along the way.
DO be prepared to get stared at
For Westerners this may seem rude, but in Thailand, it’s appropriate to comment frankly on a person’s appearance. Step into a clothing shop and your body will no doubt be scrutinized aloud by saleswomen. This is sometimes done with whispers, sometimes with an uncomfortable poke in the stomach. Back home it would be invasive and rude. In Thailand, however, this is not unusual behaviour.
Likewise, a white woman will hear the line “you’re so beautiful” on a daily basis. While it might make you blush, this comment is mostly harmless, made by leering men and gawking schoolchildren alike. Many Thai people don’t bother concealing their fascination with other races. Don’t be alarmed when people touch your lighter skin or wavier hair.
DON’T be careless when it comes to possessions
Bag theft is common in Southeast Asia, and women are especially vulnerable, since purses are worn over one shoulder, and can easily be grabbed or cut. If you’re using this advice as an excuse to shop for new purses, I’d recommend a bag with thick straps that fastens or zips shut. Hold your bag close to your body, especially in tight crowds, and remember to carry a one-shouldered bag on the inside of the street. Thieves will sometimes attempt a drive-by grab by motorbike
DO know when to blow the budget
It’s true that by Western standards, goods and services in Thailand are fantastically inexpensive. Still, any tourist worth her malaria meds can tell you a story or two about getting ripped off. Few things are more frustrating than trying to haggle a price with a smugly unsympathetic cabbie or waiter. Sometimes, however, it’s best for your own safety to suck it up.
Walking at night to avoid inflated taxi costs is a bad idea, period. Opting for a guesthouse that’s cheap but shady is also unadvisable. You’ll likely be fine, but the risk just isn’t worth it. If you must compromise something on the budget, try eating at local foodstalls instead of tourist restaurants for a few days. There’s no point in compromising safety to save a few baht.
DON’T be afraid to lie a little
East or West, there are some universal truths. Despite cultural differences, any man should know that “I’m meeting my boyfriend” is a nice way of saying “stop talking to me, please.” However, there’s no need to whip it out like a can of mace for every man who tries to speak to you. Sometimes you’ll meet solo male travelers looking to chat, or local men who are simply trying to be kind. While it’s smart to keep some details to yourself, like your guesthouse and room number, many of these conversations will turn out to be harmless. Despite what your grandmother might have warned, men aren’t always after one thing.
DO seek the company of other solo females
You’ll not only have an ally in finding cheap rooms and worthwhile sights, you’ll be in great company. It takes an independent spirit to embark on a solo trip, especially as a woman exploring cultures in which gender roles are so different from those in the West. Nine times out of ten, women who travel alone are a cool, confident bunch. Don’t be shy about striking up a conversation at random, as most solo travelers are also seeking to socialize. You can also share your insights on other woman-friendly travelspots, or laugh over tales of trying to pronounce the Thai word for “tampons.” (It’s tairm-porn)
DON’T get too disheartened
Yes, Thailand boasts beautiful landscape, humbling temples, and fantastic cuisine. However, one can’t help but notice that some tourism is geared at less innocent pursuits. The prevalence of hostesses and go-go dancers in the most relaxed of bars can make a girl uncomfortable. Most women who travel through Thailand leave with a new perspective of Asian tourism, often a negative one. While it’s hard to ignore, I can only advise that female travelers seek out good company and take it in as a learning experience. Bear in mind also that this industry is a small portion of Thailand’s national identity. At the very least, it gives a girl a new appreciation of equal rights.
Anne Merritt is Canadian and has an English Literature degree. She has worked as a journalist for a university newspaper. She is currently living in Ayutthaya as an ESL teacher and is sharing her experience of Thailand with KhaoSanRoad.com.