Thailand is an amazing country with much to offer for all sorts of travelers. Nature lovers rejoice in its beautiful beaches and astonishing landscapes; party animals won’t find a better nightlife than the one in Bangkok; foodies can treat their palates to the delicious Thai cuisine; backpackers find ease in their pockets with the affordable lifestyle of Thailand; and yogis are delighted with the deeply ingrained spiritual culture in this part of the world.
It is a fantastic destination for yoga practitioners. There is a wide variety of yoga studios, yoga retreats and workshops held year round, along with massage training programs, meditation retreats, organic permaculture farms, natural healing and Ayurvedic offerings.
No wonder why, in recent years, Thailand has steadily become one of the most visited countries in the world. In fact, according to the World Tourism Rankings by the UN, it is currently the second Asian country with most visitors per year (32,588,303 in 2016), just behind China; and it is ranked 14 in the world above some highly touristic nations like Austria, Greece or Canada!
At BookYogaRetreats.com we want to provide you with all the tools you need if you’re planning an unforgettable yoga experience in Thailand. That’s why we partnered with some bloggers who have lived in Thailand and love yoga the way we do, to share some of their best kept secrets in this insider’s guide to get the most out of your time in the Land of Smiles. They’re Anne and Brandon from The Yoga Nomads; Amélie from Mostly Amélie; and Alana from Paper Planes, who have given their advice to travel in Thailand like a true yogi!
Thai Traditions You Should Be Aware Of
First and foremost, it is very important to know the traditions of Thai people before you arrive. And while there are many aspects that are different from the Western side of the world, there is one thing you should never forget: beware of your feet! “Pointing your feet at others, touching the feet and propping your feet up on a chair or table are considered rude in Thai culture,” warn Anne and Brandon.
But why is it that feet are so problematic in Thailand? To understand this ideology a bit better, Alana Morgan explains that “Thais believe the feet are the lowliest, dirtiest part of the body and it's seen as disrespectful and offensive to show the bottom of your foot.” That’s why it is also disrespectful to leave your hiking boots dangling on the outside of your backpack, so be careful if the purpose of your trip is a hiking adventure.
You should also bare in mind the following tips to blend in the Thai culture and make sure you don’t disrespect anyone:
Despite being hot and sunny all year round, people in Thailand dress modestly and are usually covered up. While showing skin is expected at the beach, and areas that see a lot of tourists are used to the way Western tourists dress, wearing strappy yoga gear out in public isn't appropriate.
Many Thai people greet one another by placing their hands, palms together at heart center. It is a sign of respect.
It is not uncommon to take off your shoes before entering a temple or spiritual dwelling. It’s important to take note of this as you enter various places during your travels and remove your shoes.
Always dress modestly when visiting holy sites. Cover your knees and shoulders. And never point your feet at the Buddha when sitting!
Must Dos for Yogis in Thailand
Most visitors head down to the islands of Koh Phangan, Koh Samui or Koh Tao. And they’re popular for a good reason. The North of Koh Phangan Island is Amélie’s personal paradise. “Many people know only of the full moon party; the northernmost part of the island is still very unknown to a lot of people. There are amazing yoga schools, secluded beaches, vegan restaurants, and magical untouched forest all around. There's also a Buddhist temple that offers a ten-day silent Vipassana meditation retreat high on a mountain. Definitely a must!” she describes.
Alana Morgan, on the other hand, is a blogger who has lived in Chiang Mai for the past five years and has completely fallen in love with northern Thailand even though it doesn’t have a beach. “I could never get sick of the jungle-covered mountains and rice fields outside of town. The greenery and welcoming atmosphere more than make up for the lack of beach and there is a ton to do - from checking out the town's burgeoning cafe scene (coffee grows in the mountains), to visiting Elephant sanctuaries, to indulging in some of the tastiest and cheapest food in the country.”
The Yoga Nomads agree with Alana, and they think Chiang Mai and Pai are the two places to visit for yogis. “These two northern cities are conducive to the yogic lifestyle with a variety of places to find healthy food and plenty of spots to practice yoga. If beaches are more your thing, Koh Lanta hasn’t been overrun by tourism quite as much as the other islands, yet still has stunning views and wildlife,” they say.
Best Place to Meditate or Do Yoga
There are so many beautiful places throughout the country and such an emphasis in living here and now, that it's hard not to feel inspired to practice yoga anywhere in Thailand. However, our insiders have shared their favorite places to relax, find peace and be mindful:
Yoga Nomads – Mar Ngat Dam and Reservoir.
Amélie – Koh Phangan.
Alana Morgan – For meditation, all Thai Buddhist temples dotted across the country. For yoga, a studio in Chiang Mai that's situated in a traditional wooden Thai house surrounded by a tropical garden.
More Adventurous Activities for Yogis
If you’re looking to add some adrenaline to your visit and complement your yoga practice, there are some activities that will definitely enrich your stay in Thailand. The Yoga Nomads recommend snorkeling, diving and rock climbing. “Thailand is known for their turquoise beaches and stunning limestone cliffs, which are great places to do these activities. Yoga compliments each of these in unique ways, but one common way is by using your breath. Creating awareness in your body and mind around your breath can influence your performance.”
And if you have a truly adventurous soul who want to try something very unique, Amélie thinks that you definitely need to try free diving. “Free diving, or free immersion, relies on your ability to calm your mind, breathe deeply, and hold your breath until resurfacing. It is such a calming and soothing experience, and pranayama exercises really come in handy. Truly the best yoga companion.” She explains.
Tips for Travelers on a Budget
Having an insider’s advice when traveling is very helpful to have a better grasp of the culture, visit not-so-popular places, and of course, to not overspend your money in touristic places or restaurants that aren’t normally worth a visit. Though the cost of living in Thailand is already quite affordable compared to most western cities, it never hurts to have some tips to make your money go further.
Stick to Thai food. Don’t you worry about eating in the street. Often times it can even be better than restaurants since it is typically made to order (read: fresher) and always dirt cheap! “We recommend seeking out the street food stands that are busy and have a lot of locals in front,” say the Yoga Nomads.
Buy at the local farmer’s market. You can get very affordable fruit and veggies as snacks on the go.
Use local transportation. It will always be cheaper than flights, taxis or private cars. Riding scooters is very common and you'll likely find yourself driving one or sitting on the back of one.
Find a roommate. Either your travel partner or a new friend. Finding a private room for two (or dorm style if that’s your thing) is a way to cut costs on accommodation while traveling in general.
Unfortunately, yoga classes at studios in Thailand aren't much cheaper compared to other destinations, but they're worth the splurge for practicing in some gorgeous, tropical spaces.
11 Things You Must Bring
For your convenience, in collaboration with our insiders, we’ve put together a list of things that will make your life easier while in Thailand. Don’t forget to include these items on your packing checklist:
A travel yoga mat.
Light loose clothes. Preferably air-wicking and fast-drying yoga clothes (it’s humid in Thailand!).
Reusable water bottle. It’s hard to get safe drinking water in Southeast Asia. Instead of buying a lot of plastic water bottles, which hurt your budget and the environment, bring your own.
A carry-on size backpack. The last thing you want to do is lug around 50 pounds’ worth of stuff you won’t use. A small bag not only lightens the load physically, but mentally, too.
Journal. A place to write your thoughts as you experience, learn and grow in ways you never imagined before.
A big-ass knife for foraging coconuts in the forest – as literarily suggested by Amélie.
Bikini or swimming trunks.
An open mind. It is difficult to get the experience you want if you don’t have an open mind.
Patience. Things here are different than home and often run on Thai time (later than expected), but that's part of the country's charm.
Alberto G. Guitron
Alberto is a writer for BookYogaRetreats.com. He is a committed yoga practitioner who still can’t touch the ground with his heels in Downward Dog. One day he’ll do it and he will probably write a story bragging about it.
Images copyright © Amy Rollo. Read about my time spent at Island Yoga on Koh Yao Noi.