I went for the first time in my life in Asia, to Thailand, solo. And I relied on my phone to help me a lot. I didn’t get lost, found a cab when I needed it and was able to communicate with locals who didn’t speak English. So here is my list of apps I encourage you to download before your big adventure! Bonus: they are all free! It’s 2019 and using our smartphones on holidays are part of the experience.
Disclaimer: I was not paid nor will I get any form of retribution for this article from any of the companies mentioned. I have tried all the apps myself and I am sharing my personal user experience.
Do we still need to present the queen of all the navigation apps? This free navigation app will help you anywhere in the world to find your way from A to B, whether you are walking, riding a bike or driving. In some places, it can even help you with finding your way using public transportation (not in Bangkok though).
What I love about Maps.me is that you can download the map of the city you’re interested in and use the app offline. That’s a lifesaver in a foreign country when you don’t have wifi and using your data would cost you a monthly rent (Europeans, I’m with you, I feel your pain)! I have used it constantly both in Bangkok and in Chiang Mai.
Another thing that is extremely useful is that you can mark places so that you can plan your visits. Before flying to Bangkok I prepared a list of all the interesting places, cafés, museums, temples, parks… that I wanted to see and saved them on maps.me. This helps me see what is in the same neighbourhood so I have a rough idea of how to organise my days. That way I can also see what is simply too far away and leave it for another visit so I can focus on other places more easily reachable and optimise my time. And I will never lose or forget the address of the place I’m staying at. It can come very handy to be able to show it on the map to your Tuk Tuk driver or in the cab.
If you’ve been looking at going from city to city in Thailand or other SEA countries, you’ve probably come across 12go Asia’s website. I strongly suggest you download the free 12go Asia app before you leave as well. This website is the gold mine of figuring out your way in Thailand. It gives you all the ways to get from A to B using any mean of transportation: plane, bus, ferry, train, and even taxi. And it gives you every combination possible. Let’s say I want to go to Koh Tao from Bangkok:
I know immediately that taking the bus would be my cheapest option in combination with a ferry. I know from which bus station the bus would be departing, how long it should take, what are the facilities available in the bus (you might want to be sure you’ll get air-con!). There is an “info” button going with each option with lots of important pieces of information, like how to find your bus or ferry, if there will be changes of vehicles or stops on the road…
The other great thing about having the 12go Asia mobile app is that you can book directly on the website and get your ticket on your phone. It’s fast and easy and it’s paper-free!
The Uber of Thailand. Grab works basically the same way as Uber. I strongly recommend you always make sure you have an app to order a car when travelling. First of all, it is very affordable in Thailand and Grab is even cheaper than using a regular taxi. Second of all, it saves you lots of energy. You don’t have to explain to a driver that might not speak English where you want to go. You won’t stress about having to hassle the price for the course. You won’t have to stress about the fact that you might be being taken advantage of as a foreigner.
With Grab, you enter your position and your destination and you will know approximately how much it will cost you. You can also register your credit card, so no need to look for the money fallen at the bottom of your bag at the end of a night of partying.
You can choose different options, for instance, if you are a large group, and request a bigger vehicle.
Grab also offers its service Grab bike to pick up whatever you need to be picked up for you in the city (food, packages…). Quite a time saver!
Having a reliable way to get a ride is very important, especially for a solo traveller and even more a female solo traveller. It is way better to order your ride from inside the club/bar/restaurant and get in only when the car comes, rather than look for a free cab in the street when it’s late and you’re drunk. Besides, it means that there is a digital trace of where you are, where you want to go and who is picking you up. Unfortunately, there is always a risk that your Grab driver will be a prick, but the risk is much lower as you will be easily able to report him (or her) than if you take a random taxi.
Last but not least, and I cannot stress this enough: always check the plate number on your app and before getting in the vehicle.
Why do you need Google Map when you have Maps.me? Because Google knows the public transportation system in Thailand, Bangkok’s bus-boats included. In Belgrade I use Moovit and I’m in love with it, but it proved unreliable in Bangkok and in Chiang Mai.
With Google Map, you can use the “itinerary” function to search how to get to your destination from your location by public transportation. There are two lines of BTS (also called Sky train), one metro line, many buses and even boat-buses to take you everywhere in the gigantic Bangkok. It can take time to get places and not getting lost or being able to find the best and quickest way there will save you lots of time you’ll want to spend on actually visiting.
I used it hundreds of time and it always worked, although it might not be aware of changes due to construction work for instance. You can always show your itinerary to a local and ask them if you’re on the right path.
You can also see how much it would cost you to get a Grab, so you can even decide if it’s not even worth it jumping in a cab rather than taking the BTS.
Thailand has a problem with pollution. It’s not the only country in the world tackling such a challenge, but when it is the country you’re spending your holidays in, having a look at the air quality in the cities you’re considering staying in becomes essential. You have limited time and cannot choose between Chang Mai and Krabi? Have a look at the free app Air Visual and take the current level of pollution into account when making your decision.
Air Visual is a simple tool to check the level of pollution and is very easy to read with the IQA (the lower, the better), a face that illustrates the danger and a one-word description like “medium” or “hazardous”. It gives you the last available data for most of the cities of the world, providing there is a reliable monitoring structure in the area. You can register in several cities so you can compare. While I’m writing, Belgrade has an IQA of 67 which is a “medium” level of pollution, while Bangkok is “good” with 35 IQA. I would definitely report my trip to Chiang Mai though because the IQA there is 179!
As a bonus, you get a forecast for the next seven days and also the weather forecast!
You might not have the time to learn how to have a proper conversation in Thai, but getting the basic “hello”, “please”, “thank you” and “goodbye” will always be useful and appreciated. Not many people speak good English in Thailand but being able to be polite and respectful will at least get you half-way in a conversation. Everyday Thai will teach you the basics and even more if you have the taste and the time for it.
The app is divided in different sections: basic, grammar, shopping, food & accommodation, getting around, people & communication and culture & leisure. If you go in “basic” and in the sub-section “essentials”, you will get the minimum knowledge with an explanation of the female and male polite particles and the general greetings.
What I really like with the free app Everyday Thai is that you can click on an item and hear it pronounced! This is very useful when trying to learn a few words in a language that is completely foreign to you. Also, if you’re looking for, let’s say, the bathroom but can’t remember how to say it, you can always look it up on the app and show it to someone as everything is written in Thai first, then translated into English. There is even a section for decoding the menu! So easy and life-saving!
For the Eaters among us! Eatigo helps you find good deals on meals pretty much anywhere in Bangkok! The app lets you search by areas and types of food and all you have to do is browse through all the participating restaurants and find one you like to make a reservation through the app. Then all you have to do is show up and enjoy the food!
Every place will offer some special deal on specific meals or a discount, depending on the day and time of your reservation.