Thailand is known for its beautiful beaches, friendly people, and its, cheap, delicious food. Not surprising that it is a top-rated destination among backpackers. But if you’ve never been to Thailand, all the stories that you hear about it may not work in the country’s favor … Is it really thát beautiful? Is it not too crowded with tourists? And what about those famous travelers scams? In this article, I will share my 13 tips for traveling to Thailand!
If your first trip to Thailand, is also your first trip to Asia, get ready to experience a whole different culture. Not only the food and religion of the local population differ from ours, but also the customs, the daily routine, and the mentality. As a European, it might be a significant change when you get off the plane in Thailand. But if you can adapt a ‘go with the flow’ mentality, you’ll manage for sure.
Forget The Beach
Okay, first things first: if you’re traveling to Thailand to see the idyllic beach from The Beach, you’ll be disappointed. That beautiful beach that was the setting for the film more than 20 years ago is now a tourist attraction that you should avoid at all costs. Just to set foot on Maya Beach on Koh Phi Phi, you’ll have to pay. Then try to imagine that Leonardo DiCaprio is somewhere in his hammock, while hundreds of tourists try to take a selfie. Right, forget it!
Traveling to Thailand? Skip Bangkok
No, I don’t mean you should skip Bangkok all together, but at least save the city for a later moment during your trip. The chances are that your flight from Europe lands at Bangkok’s biggest airport Suvarnabhumi. But I flew directly to another destination in Thailand. In our case, this was Chiang Mai. But you can fly pretty much everywhere from Bangkok. Before we flew back to the Netherlands, we planned three days in the city. And I have to say: that is fine. Bangkok is a hot and noisy city; there’s a lot to see and do, and there’re a lot of tourists. We found it easier to get rid of our jetlag and acclimatize in a less crowded place. If you visit the Thai capital at the end of your trip, the culture shock (and jetlag) is a lot less than when you go directly to Bangkok.
When you do visit Bangkok eventually, it’s probably the smells that stay with you. From terrible stench to delicious smelling meals and from the air of gasoline to the spicy scent of incense. It is precisely these smells (and colors) that make your trip to Thailand special.
Pay attention to where you use the ATM or change money
Sure, with your European bank card, you can easily withdraw cash in Thailand. But not with every bank you get the same amount of bahts for your euro or other currency. Banks with the best exchange rates are currently Krungsri Bank and Bangkok Bank. If you use their ATM’s, you’ll get a few baht more than you would at other banks’ ATM. It seems like a small difference, but if you stay in Thailand for a few weeks, it can eventually become a considerable amount. Do you want to check the exchange rates at the various banks on when you’re there? Then download the app Thai Baht Exchange, it’s available for iPhone and Android.
Taking your local currency from your home country and exchanging money in Thailand is also a good option. This gives you a better exchange rate than when you withdraw cash at the ATM. There is a currency exchange office at Bangkok airport that offers decent rates: Super Rich 1965 (with an orange counter). When you visit the office, you’ll have to pay attention, because there is an office with almost the same name next to (Superrich Thailand). You can find the exchange offices in the basement of the airport. To get there, follow the signs ‘Airport Rail Link’. If you take money with you, opt for banknotes with the highest possible value (at least € 50). The exchange rates are slightly better than when you have banknotes worth a lower amount.
7-Seven eleven will be your favorite supermarket
There is a 7-Eleven on almost every street corner in Thailand. Whether you are in busy Bangkok or somewhere on a tropical island, the nearest 7-Eleven is never far away. In this supermarket, you will find the most interesting products, such as chips with squid flavor, grass pudding, rice burgers, or a huge peanut cake (which is very tasty, actually). The 7-Elevens are open 24 hours a day. So you can get your strange flavored chips at any time of the day!
Backpacker-tip: at the 7-Eleven you can buy all kinds of grilled cheese sandwiches (sandwich with strawberries, anyone?) and immediately grill it for only 25 baht (around €0,60). Now that’s what we call a cheap lunch. Not surprising that these grilled cheeses are very popular among backpackers traveling to Thailand.
Thai people never say ‘no’
The Thai people are by far the friendliest people I have ever encountered during my travels. The country is called the land of the smile for a reason! But a ‘drawback’ of that smile is that most Thai people will do everything for you, even if that is not the right choice for them. You can ask anything; nothing is too crazy. I only found out why that is after my trip to Thailand. Thai don’t say ‘no’. This may have something to do with culture (a Thai puts the interests of the group above their own), the avoidance of confrontations or the fear of disappointing others. As a traveler, and certainly as a down-to-earth Dutchman, you might use this to your advantage (without meaning to). If you get an elusive or vague answer to your question (something like ‘I do not know’ or ‘let me check that’), he or she probably won’t want to disappoint you by saying ‘No’.
The fact that Thai people don’t like to say ‘no’, is clear from their vocabulary: ‘yes’ is chai, but they don’t have a word for ‘no’. What comes closest to ‘no’ is mai chai, which literally means ‘not yes’.
Do your research
If you’re reading this blog, researching is probably precisely what you’re doing. Reading about Thailand’s destinations is a perfect way to prepare for your trip. But look a bit further than the places you see on most blogs. Especially those lesser-known islands or certain parts of the mainland are really worth your while. Make sure to take the time it takes to travel into account. If you have two weeks, it may not be feasible to discover both the north and a few of the islands in the south.
When traveling to Thailand, I really liked the islands Koh Ngai and Koh Lanta (you can easily combine the two). I wrote an article about everything you can do when you visit bounty island Koh Ngai (spoiler alert: nothing but relaxing :)) and how to get there.
Take the weather into account
Not every season is ideal for visiting Thailand. Try to keep that in mind when you’re planning your trip. But at the same time, Thailand is a big country. If it is rainy season in the north, the weather on the islands in the southwest could be fine. Generally speaking, the best time to go to Thailand is between the end of October and April. During this period, most areas in Thailand are great to visit. Although it can still be relatively cold and humid in the north.
Do you have to travel during the summer holidays? Then your best option for good weather, are the islands in the Gulf of Thailand. For example, Koh Samui, Koh Phangan (yes, you can do a lot more than taking part in the Full Moon parties) and Koh Tao. But it’s important to know that the rainy season doesn’t mean it’s raining all day long. It often rains for an hour in the afternoon, and it’s dry for the rest of the day. If you are really unlucky, you’ll get a full day of rain during a two-week vacation. Maybe you can comfort yourself that the accommodation you booked was a lot cheaper than if you had visited Thailand outside the rainy season 😉
Do you want to experience Thai holidays like the Thai new year in April or Loy Krathong in November or December during your trip? Take that into account when you’re planning your trip. Loy Krathong, for example, is by no means celebrated everywhere in Thailand as exuberantly. It would be a shame if you missed out on the festivities because your preparation was not good.
Are you visiting a Thai temple? Cover yourself
Are you planning to visit a temple or a palace when you’re traveling to Thailand? Make sure that your elbows and knees are covered. It’s always useful to have a jacket or vest with you. So that even if it was not planned, you could enter that beautiful temple. Are you not sure whether it is necessary to also take off your shoes? Check what the locals are doing. Do they take off their shoes? Then so should you!
Pay attention to tricks and scams
If you have googled a bit on Bangkok and Thailand, you will soon come across the tourist scams in Bangkok. It is mainly the tuk-tuk drivers who often want to take you to large jewelry or clothing stores outside the center where a big sale is in progress. And that temple you actually wanted to visit? Well, unfortunately, it is closed today … Do not believe everything your tuk-tuk driver tells you. And make sure you’re never going to other places than you had in mind.
Thai markets are a must-visit
Thailand is bursting with markets where you can buy lot’s of local products, but also nice souvenirs at a favorable price. But don’t be fooled. Those very cheap designer clothes or jewelry are simply fake! Bargaining on the market is normal, so do not agree with the first price you get. Charming markets to visit are the Tha Kha floating market near Samut Songkhram, the Maeklong market in Samut Songkhram (where the train drives over the market) or the Sunday market in Chiang Mai. Another tip: if you want to experience the authentic version of the floating market, go at 6 o’clock in the morning. At this time, the locals do their shopping, and you’re not annoyed by those busloads of tourists because they’ll arrive around 8 o’clock.
The traffic in Thailand…
You don’t want to drive in Bangkok. Period. On average, there are 80 traffic deaths per day in Thailand, and I guess that most of those accidents occur in Bangkok. The taxi drivers still drive reasonably well, but the tuk-tuk drivers sometimes act as if they’re participating in a game of Mario Kart (including the banana peels because they do not always understand pollution in Thailand).
But when you’re traveling to Thailand, you can drive yourself in some places. On various islands, for example, it is nice to rent a scooter to explore the island. Pay attention; often, you get a scooter with a 125cc engine or more. Because this is a motorcycle, you’ll officially need a motorcycle license. The Thai hardly ever ask for that, but if you do get in an accident, you are not insured!
Enjoy a massage or two
One of the things the Thai’s are famous for their massages. Massages in Thailand are very cheap and very good. When you’re traveling to Thailand, enjoy a massage or two. How about a foot massage? A hand massage? Or a nice shoulder massage? A little tip: often, you can choose from different types of massages. Would you like to relax? Then it is better to skip the typical Thai massage. A traditional Thai massage has initially been used as a medicine, and as you might suspect, it is not really gentle …
Avoid visiting massage parlors with signs containing texts like “nice girls”, “happy girls” or anything with ‘girls’ for that matter. You’ll get something entirely different.
Street food? No problem!
In Thailand, street food is one of the most normal things in the world; everybody eats on the streets. Especially in cities like Chiang Mai and Bangkok, but also on some islands, eating on the road is very common. If you’re a bit worried, check where the locals order their food and whether the food is made fresh. You always have to pay attention, but you do not have to be afraid of illness in Thailand. So order a tasty Pad Thai or a spring roll with that friendly, smiling Thai behind his stall. Thai don’t really do desserts, so you don’t have to save any room for that 🙂
Do you eat in a restaurant? Don’t expect that all plates will be served at the same time, or that you first get your starter and followed by your main course, like in Europe. In Thailand, they serve food as soon as it is ready.
Oh, just a final note about food. If possible, eat as many mangos as possible while in Thailand. And bananas. And pineapples. Or actually all the fruit! It’s delicious 🙂
Are you traveling to Thailand? What places are you visiting?