After almost two years in Thailand, where I live between my travels, it’s about time for my Thailand travel advice. Here we go!
When to go?
From mid-November until mid-February it is not too hot and there is almost no rainfall. In Thailand’s south, from about Surat Thani southwards, it may rain all year round.
On the southern east coast – this applies also to the islands Ko Samui, Ko Phangan and Ko Tao – the best time for a visit is between January and August.
How to get a visa?
Citizens of the United States, Great Britain, the EU, Australia and New Zealand may stay in Thailand without a visa for 30 days upon arrival by plane. Those who would like to stay for longer can apply for a 60-day tourist visa. This can be extended once for another 30 days. If you are not sure whether you need a visa read about it in more detail here.
How to get a cheap flight
For those entering from a neighbouring country I recommend visiting the website of the no-frills airline Air Asia. For long-haul flights to Thailand the best deals can be found on Momondo and Orbitz.
Use the following tricks to get cheaper flights:
- Book your flight more than six months in advance
- Book your flight about ten weeks before you want to travel (as a result of cancellations seats may have opened up)
- Fly Tuesday through to Thursday
- Choose flights with one or two layovers
Five places you should visit?
1 One of the islands in the south of Thailand or even a few more, for example Ko Lanta. You should definitely go on an island hopping tour to be able to experience the countless small islands on the coasts of the provinces Krabi, Phang Nga or Phuket.
2 Thailand’s culture: The most beautiful ancient temples can be found in Sukhothai and Ayutthaya. In southern Isaan, in the northeast of Thailand, there are furthermore numerous ancient temples of the contemporary Khmer empire. Or how about the curious million-bottle temple?
3 The North: Go to Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Pai or Mae Hong Son, explore the jungle in multi-day tours, rent a motorcycle and enjoy the freedom. If you want to do nothing for a few days, Pai is the place to be.
4 Bangkok is not for everyone. One has to be into the kind of city life that one finds there. But if you like going to rooftop bars, want to devote yourself to shopping orgies in one of the shopping centres, like Terminal 21, or would like to visit the attractions of the old city with the royal palace and temples, then don’t let anyone stop you. In Bangkok there are also a bunch of crazy restaurants, such as the robot restaurant, for example, or the Flying Chicken. If you are there on a Sunday and want to invest about 60 USD in highest quality food, a brunch in a five star hotel such as the Sofitel Sukhumvit is a good choice.
5 Visit one of the countless national parks. The most famous is Khao Yai national park northeast of Bangkok. Just next to it is Wang Nam Khiao, which has very appealing landscapes to offer.
How to get around
Larger distances within the country can be covered by plane with no-frills airlines such as Air Asia or Nok Air.
The cheapest and most efficient means of transport in Thailand are buses. Here are more travel tips in detail. There are the following classes for buses:
- VIP, with aircon and on-board toilets, three large adjustable seats per row and eight rows, gets to the destination with few stops in-between, toilet and refreshment stops about every three hours, a little snack for every passenger is included. Journeys on weekends and public holidays are booked up early in advance.
- First Class, with aircon and most of the time on-board toilets, four seats per row, about 45 seats on the entire bus, arrives at destination with a few in-between stops, stops about every three hours for toilet and refreshment breaks.
- Second Class, with aircon, four seats per row, about 50 seats on the bus, gets to the destination with a few stops in-between, on some routes it stops for every passenger, stops about every three hours for toilet and refreshment breaks.
- Third Class, no aircon, instead there are ceiling fans, four to five seats per row, arrives at destination with many stops en route, which sometimes can take quite a long time, stops about every three hours for toilet and refreshment breaks.
Please only take buses that run from the official bus stations. With buses that leave from Khao San Street in Bangkok for example, or other unofficial offers there is the risk that you may be cheated or robbed.
In Thailand there are a few accidents involving buses every week, a few times a year there are fatalities. One can hardly avoid this risk. The bus companies don’t always take safety very seriously.
The bus tickets cost about 3 USD for short distances and up to 10 USD for long distances. VIP tickets cost 10 to 30 USD depending on distance.
If you like nostalgia or would like to test out a 1st or 2nd class Thai sleeper car – something I can really recommend for you to do once – take the train. The trip takes about a third longer. Due to bad maintenance the trains derail every now and again. But most of the time nothing tragic happens since they are going slowly anyway.
For distances of up to four hours you can take the minivan. Minivan stops can be found all over Thailand. There isn’t space for a lot of luggage. Many minivan drivers drive too fast and riskily, which is why I only take the minivan when there are no other options.
The country’s currency is the Thai Baht (THB). In Thailand you can live on 25 USD per day for food and accommodation if you don’t have any special demands. In Bangkok and Phuket it can get a little more expensive. But if you are going out every night and / or are going on day trips, this amount will not be sufficient. To find accommodation I recommend Hostelworld, if you are looking for cheap, and Booking.com for hotel bookings.
Telephone calls and internet
Buy a SIM card and credit straight upon arrival at the airport or in one of the many convenience stores. If you also want mobile internet, get a member of staff at the phone shop at the airport or in one of the larger shopping centres to install it for you. Free Wi-Fi can be found all over the country, even in less touristy places.
Taxi and co.
In Bangkok and a few other cities in Thailand there are taxis with meters. Those are cheap and every tourist is able to afford them without problems. Insist on the meter being set at the beginning of the journey. Not all taxi drivers are honest, unfortunately.
Apart from that the tuktuk is the predominant means of transport for visitors. Outside of touristy areas the drivers are honest and demand reasonable prices. In touristy areas this is a bit of a gamble. It is crucial to negotiate the fare in advance and only get into the tuktuk after a price has been agreed upon.
Rent a vehicle?
Traffic in Thailand is more chaotic than in other countries. Lane changes are, for example, conducted quickly and sometimes abruptly. Outside of Bangkok, however, the use of a rental car is pleasant enough. Most rental car dealers are professional and pleasant to deal with. Drive according to the motto that you have plenty of time and let the others push ahead. You are certainly not going to lose more than five minutes to the hour this way.
Public holidays and opening hours
You are only going to notice the public holidays in Thailand if you want to drink alcohol or need to go to an administrative authority, for example due to a visa problem. Small and mid-size shops are often closed on Mondays, and sometimes on Sundays. During Chinese New Year many shops are closed. Don’t plan a big shopping spree for just those days. Find Thailand’s public holiday calendar here.
Most shops are open between 10.00 and 20.00, shopping centres between 10.00 and 22.00, restaurants from 11.00 until 14.00 and from 17.00 until midnight. Banks and public places are certainly open Monday to Friday from 9.30 until 15.30. Last entry is often already at 15.00.
The official language is Thai. In the northeast, Laotian is also spoken, and Malay is spoken in parts of the southern provinces. In the touristy areas and in hotels you are almost always going to find someone who understands a little bit of English.
No specific vaccinations are needed for Thailand. One should be vaccinated against the usual and certainly also against hepatitis A. Read about the detailed recommendations here.
Crime and annoyances
There are not many muggings in Thailand. Some Thais prefer to rip off the tourists a little when it comes to business! 🙂 Many reports about thefts and fights come out of Phuket and Pattaya. If you apply common sense you should get through your holiday safely.
Trying new foods?
Be open and try many new delights, unless you are going on a longer trip in the evening or the following morning. Hygiene conditions are ok in most places. With street kitchens you should use those that make a clean impression and are well frequented. During the hotter season, from March to May, you should avoid those street kitchens that store pre-cooked food without refrigeration.
At the street kitchens a portion of food costs one to two USD. In a simple restaurant one pays around three USD for a meal. Filtered water with ice is often offered for free.
Outdoors for a long time
Severe heat, sun and high humidity levels can wear you out. Don’t walk around too fast when you are visiting temples and the like and drink plenty of water.
How are the people?
The people in Thailand are very nice. Often they come across as a little dreamy. 🙂 Thais are always ready to help and will be pleased to help you whenever they can.
Sometimes there may be situations where you/they don’t understand properly or one doesn’t come to an agreement. Give up after a few attempts, say goodbye and keep moving. This way both sides can save face, which means a lot in Thailand.
- Upon entering temples and palaces you have to wear at least knee length trousers or skirts and cover the shoulders. It is ok to cover the shoulders with a scarf. This regulation is not enforced everywhere, but should always be complied with out of respect for Thailand’s culture.
- When withdrawing money from an ATM there is an unfortunate Thailand specific fee of 150 to 180 Baht. Read here how you can avoid this ATM fee.
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