Thailand has been on the radar of a lot of people for decades. The tourism here is thriving. People travel to the beach destinations, visit the many wats or just go to Bangkok, which is a main hub for travelling farther to other countries of South East Asia. With so many people heading to the country, it caters to tourism. This can have some positive and negative sides. You can find great accommodation options at good prices, you can find many options to travel around, there are numerous restaurants. On the other hand, people here have become accustomed to tourists and it is too obvious that many are trying to rip you off. There are a number of scams and theft. One way or another, you will need to be well-prepared before travelling.
Here are some tips that may help you plan your trip and avoid any difficulties.
When to go?
Thailand doesn’t have distinct four seasons. It’s always hot there. The only thing you will need to check is, if it’s rainy or dry season. The first lasts from April to October. The dry season and, hence, the most popular to travel to Thailand, is from November through April.
If you don’t mind some rain, increased number of mosquitoes and have more time to lose to the rainy days, then you can find good deals during the rainy season. I personally didn’t want to risk losing time to rain, as I can hardly scrape together enough vacation days to travel this far. So I opted for the dry season during the New Year holidays. We got a couple of cloudy days and a bit of heavy rain lasting for an hour on the day of departure, but it was mostly sunny and hot. Oh, and mosquitoes are annoyingly many even at this time 😊
Visa for Thailand
Thailand has established a visa-free regime for many European and American countries. If you are not on the list, then you should check, if you can get a visa on arrival. I personally needed this. The process was not too difficult. I needed to fill in the relevant form, which is available at the entrance to the “visa on arrival” section and have a photo in hand. Until April 2020 the fee for this visa is waived for everyone. I am not sure, if they will extend the waiver. Otherwise, it would cost 2000 baht (about 65 dollars). Do not listen to anyone, who will approach you and tell that they will do a visa for you for cheaper and you can skip the line. This is a scam and the only thing they will do for you is that you won’t have to wait in line. I have heard that many people paid from 10 to 25 dollars, which is absolutely unnecessary. The waiting time was 15-20 minutes. The immigration asked for every detail of my trip, from hotel bookings to the return tickets, so keep in mind that you will need to have everything booked and bring all documents with you. On the other hand, Murat needed no visa and they asked no questions. Although even in this case, they may request that you provide information about your flight from Thailand.
By the way, I have read on several forums and heard from people, that the immigration asked them to have 20.000 baht (about 650USD) in cash, while arriving to Thailand. I am not sure, if this information is correct, as we were not asked about the means to support ourselves in Thailand. I also don’t know, if this happens at certain borders more than others. But I guess it would be best to keep this information in mind, while travelling.
Whether you need a visa or not, you will need to fill in the Arrival and departure cards. The first one will be kept upon your arrival, the second you will need to keep until your departure time, as they will be asking for a filled departure card. They will also take your fingerprints upon arrival, as well as departure.
These procedures with taking fingerprints may result in a huge loss of time during passport check at the departure. We literally stood 50 minutes in the passport queue at Suvarnabhumi airport and, as a result, had no time to spare at the airport, had to directly go to the gate. So make sure you get to the airport at least 2 hours in advance and preferably even earlier.
Cash is needed in many places around Thailand. Unless you are in fancier restaurants and shops, you will need to pay cash in small markets, local restaurants, etc.
You can exchange money for Thai baht at the banks, as well as at the currency exchange points. Banks will give worse rates obviously. The best rate we found in January 2020, was 30 baht per 1 USD in Krabi. Unlike to Cambodia, you will be better off, if you bring the higher denominations of dollar – 50s and 100s. The exchange rate for 20s and 10s are lower, while for 1s I believe it would be almost impossible to get even remotely ok rate.
If you don’t bring cash and plan on using ATMs, that can be an expensive affair. Most atms charge 220 baht per withdrawal. It’s highly unlikely that you will be able to find any cheaper one. If you only bring a card and no cash, it would be best to pay electronically, whenever you can, and withdraw cash the least possible times.
Where to stay
Hotels, hostels, guesthouses and airbnbs are abundant across the country. You can find the accommodation you like almost anywhere.
In Bangkok I suggest finding accommodation near the MRT or BTS stops. Even if the place is far from any central parts, you can easily get to many places by public transport. Our hotel was exactly next to an MRT station and that was extremely convenient, even though we needed about half an hour to get to the riverside to visit the Royal Palace. Some people love to stay at Khao San road in Bangkok. It isn’t easily accessible by public transport. I personally don’t understand the charm of this place, but well, you can check it out, if you like 🙂
At the seaside locations, it’s best to stay near a beach and, if you plan to do day trips, preferably in a location with closeby transport links.
Safety and scams
Overall, if you do usual tourist activities, Thailand can be quite safe. However, there are a number of things you need to take into consideration.
Firstly, I have read about numerous scams around Thailand. As I mentioned above, one of the scams is offering to do a visa on arrival by the tour agencies. Visa on Arrival is actually currently free (at least until April 2020 and may be extended).
Although we didn’t encounter any of the many scams I heard and read about, we are very careful people and follow safety rules. The only thing that happened to us was getting incorrect change at 7-11. The cashier recounted it and gave the rest of money. We also were offered for guide services, driving, various goods, etc. countless times. But we never listen to these people, which is the best strategy to avoid getting scammed and putting yourself in danger. I guess this would be the most comprehensive list of scams you can encounter: https://travelscams.org/asia/thailand/
Theft, especially pickpocketing, are very common around Thailand. You will find signs in many places, including at Wat Pho, warning you about this. In Bangkok in public transport everyone wears their backpacks in front. You need to always be aware of your valuables or leave them at a safety box in the hotel. One problem with leaving your passport at the hotel is that, according to Thai law, you always need to have your passport with you. Although not many people, especially tourists, are stopped, in some cases, you may need to provide your passport.
Mosquitoes can be very annoying, but here in addition to that, they can carry diseases. Be sure to apply mosquito repellent as often as needed. For Health and mosquito prevention, see the dedicated post here.
Be aware of deadly box jellyfish, which are present in the seas of South East Asia. The cases have been rare, but they happen more often with the seas getting warmer due to global warming. The sting needs to be washed with vinegar very fast. There are also higher numbers of so-called Portuguese jellyfish (man-of-war); these are deadly only in rare cases, but can cause severe pain and damage. We have seen signs that they are present at the Phra Nang cave beach, although we didn’t encounter any of them. Btw, in the case of man-of war, as the signs on the beach say, the sting should be washed with sea water and no vinegar.
Transport in Thailand
See the dedicated post here.
What to wear in Thailand
There is no certain dress code in the country. Around Bangkok, you can basically wear anything you like. You find people dressed very differently, all covered up or in short shorts. Same goes for the most of seaside places in the South of Thailand.
However, if you are visiting any temples, then you have a certain dress code to follow. As in most Buddhist temples, in Thai temples you will have to have your shoulders and knees covered. To tell the truth, I was wearing the dresses with the length just above the knee and that is also acceptable. But if you are wearing short shorts or sleeveless tops, you will need to at least bring scarves with to cover up. If you don’t have anything, some temples may request from you to rent clothes at the spot, which can be rather expensive and, well, for me personally, unhygienic.
The Royal palace in Bangkok is the strictest about the clothes. I was wearing a sleeveless top and covered myself with a scarf, but at the entrance the guards told me that a scarf is unacceptable, and I should wear a t-shirt. It was good that I anticipated this and brought a jacket with, otherwise I would have to buy their extremely overpriced t-shirts. Surprisingly, I saw some people inside the palace grounds with scarves, so you may get away with it in some cases I guess, but be sure to be prepared.
As for shoes, it is very hot all around the country, so most people wear sandals. I didn’t like wearing open shoes, so I brought my crocs flats. On the seaside, I wore my crocs sandals with straps, so that I didn’t need to take off even when in sea. I heard from some people that they got fungus from the beaches in Thailand, so I figured it was safer not to be barefoot.
Food in Thailand
Thai food is famous around the world. It can often be very spicy for my taste, but I do find things that I do like, those are mainly the fried rice and noodle dishes.
With food you do need to follow safety rules, especially, if you don’t know what safety standards the vendors follow. If you eat street food (I personally am not a fan of risking it), make sure to get the cooked and hot dish. If you are eating uncooked food, make sure that it was washed in the clean water. As for drinks, they may be making ice from tap water. So when in doubt, ask for no ice in your drink.
I may sound paranoid, but well, so many people get sick with diarrhea and I definitely didn’t want to stay at the hotel with upset stomach, when I had payed a fortune to come here 😊
10-day itinerary tips for Thailand
You will find detailed tips about the best 10-day itinerary for your first trip to Thailand here. If you have more time, you can add numerous other interesting spots to your visit.
Other tips for travelling to Thailand:
- Carry toilet paper and hand sanitizer You will find paper in some toilets, especially in Bangkok malls, restaurants, etc., but if you need to go to a public toilet in Bangkok or especially outside, you will definitely be glad you carry the paper and hand sanitizer.
- The toilets can be squat or a western version. In more touristy places you will find the seats, while at train stations and the like, you will more likely see the squat ones.
- Tap water is not drinkable. Some say that you can at least brush your teeth and it’s not that bad water, but I still brushed my teeth with bottled water to be sure.
- Apparently, touching another person’s head in Thailand is unacceptable and considered offensive. I am not sure, why would you want to touch someone’s head, but still be aware of this 😊
- Another thing that can be offensive is pointing at something with your feet.
- Whatever you do, don’t say anything negative about the royal family. It’s a serious offense in Thailand and can get you imprisoned.
- Carry socks everywhere, trust me you will be glad that you did. If you are entering a wat or some other sightseeing places, you will be asked to take off your shoes. In this heat, I doubt you will have any thick socks on you. So I would wear the thick socks I carried specifically for this reason. Honestly, the grounds wear hardly clean, so it was nice to have something on and not walk around barefoot.
- Carry scarves. You may not need them much, but if you don’t have shoulders and knees covered and decide to visit a wat, you better be prepared.