Home to elaborately built temples, postcard-perfect white sand beaches, delicious street food, and rich cultural heritage, Thailand is a country that has something for everyone. Whether you want to explore its rich history, get lost in its bustling cities, or plan an island getaway, there are several things you need to know before traveling to Thailand. This guide is packed with all the necessary Thailand travel tips to make your stay here as comfortable and hustle-free as it can be.
Essential Thailand travel tips
Located in Southeast Asia, Thailand is the world’s 50the largest city bordering with Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, and Malaysia. The country has a maritime border with India and Indonesia through the Andaman Sea, and with Vietnam via the Gulf of Thailand.
Theoretically, Thailand is a parliamentary democracy and a constitutional monarchy, however, due to the unstable political situation, the country has been turned into a military dictatorship for the past several years.
The capital: Bangkok
Population: 69.43 million (2018 census)
Official language: Thai
Writing system: Thai (Abugida system)
Currency: Thai Baht (THB)
Do you need a visa?
Generally speaking, visitors coming to Thailand must have a visa obtained from one of the Thai diplomatic missions unless they are from a visa-exempt country or can get it on arrival. Currently, citizens of 64 countries and territories can travel visa-free to Thailand, while citizens of 18 countries can get a visa on arrival. Check this document for a detailed list.
Those who can apply for a visa on arrival can stay in the country for 15 days, while others are given a 30-day stay period. Only the citizens of five countries (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, South Korea, and Peru) can stay in the country for 90 days.
Most of those visas are extendible except for those obtained upon arrival. Those citizens who can get a visa on arrival can apply for an e-visa, however, there are only certain checkpoints that can issue the e-visa including Chiang Mai, Phuket, and both of Bangkok’s international airports.
Is Thailand safe to travel to?
One of the most frequent Thailand travel tips I am asked is how safe the country is. Generally, it is very safe to go to. There are few scams that lots of foreigners fall for, however, if you do your research and read about them, you’ll be fine.
There are few incidents of petty crime as elsewhere to general precautions apply here as well – always be attentive and keep your belongings at sight.
In terms of your health safety, it’s always a good idea to have proper travel insurance to cover unexpected incidents. I recommend SafetyWing as one of the most budget-friendly services.
Best time to visit Thailand
Thailand has two seasons that greatly affect the cost of your travel and how much you’d like to travel around. If you are a budget traveler and want to avoid the crowds, then plan your travel to Thailand in the monsoon season that falls from May till October.
Even though the weather is rainy most of the time, the prices for accommodation, flights, and various activities do drop. It should be noted that due to the rain, you might not be able to visit particular places or do some activities, but the rainfall lasts only for a few hours.
For those of you who want to have perfect sunny days to do island hopping, plan their honeymoon in Thailand, or visit various cities without worrying about the rain and bad weather, plan your trip during November to April – the dry season. This is the time which also brings lots of tourists, the warm temperatures, and low humidity.
Thai festivals to attend:
- Songkran, Thai New Year celebrated as a water fight – April. Here’s your perfect guide for surviving Songkran
- Loy Krathong lantern festival all over the country – dates vary
- Yi Peng lantern festival in Chiang Mai – November
- The Vegetarian Festival in Phuket – October
How to get to Thailand
Getting to Thailand by air should not be a problem as there are various airline companies flying in and out of the country from all over the world. The main concern here is the price.
Thailand has nine airports, two in Bangkok (Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueng international airport), and the rest in Chiang Mai, Phuket, Chiang Rai, Koh Samui, Hat Yai, Krabi, and U-Tapao serving domestic and international flights. If you are somewhere in Asia try finding good deals on Air Asia.
Getting to Thailand by land is possible from Cambodia, Malaysia, Myanmar, and Laos. Land borders are divided into international crossings (for foreigners with a valid passport) and local crossings (only for Thai citizens).
One of the Thailand travel tips you need to know is that the main limitations on overland crossing in and out of Thailand are defined by the permitted land crossings and visas. Always double check before traveling what documents you need for Thailand and make sure you have the right paperwork with you.
Thai-Cambodia border share six land checkpoints to enable international travelers to travel to these countries. The most frequently used checkpoint is via Poipet, which has an organized public transportation system to go to Siem Reap, Phnom Penh, and Sisophon.
Thai-Lao border has five checkpoints that enable travelers to get to various cities of Thailand including Chiang Khong, Nong Khai, Nakhon Phanom, and Mukdahan to name a few.
There are four border crossings between Myanmar and Thailand, out of which Myawaddy-Mae Sot is the most frequently used by travelers in terms of easy access to the main cities.
And traveling from Malaysia to the easter part of Thailand is quite easy with regular bus and train services from western Malaysia.
For more detailed information check out Lonely Planet’s overview
It is possible to visit Thailand via train from Malaysia, Cambodia, and Laos. However, they are not direct and require either change to another train or arrange a car service.
Do note that, the border crossing from Malaysia to Thailand’s Sungai Kolok, isn’t advised for travelers due to ongoing violence in Thailand’s deep south.
Thailand travel tips: know before you go
Is Thailand expensive?
Generally speaking, Thailand is a cheap destination for many travelers coming from different parts of the world. However, it can also be as expensive as you want it to be. That’s one of the charms of Thailand – catering to all kinds of budgets.
Here, you can spend from $3 per night in the dorm or up to $1,000 in a resort. Similar goes to food where street food costs pennies, while a nice meal in the restaurant might be several hundred.
So basically, whether Thailand is expensive or not, greatly depends on how much you’d like to spend and what kind of traveler you are.
Do Thais speak English?
The short answer to these questions is Yes and No and depends on where you want to travel to. People in major cities and islands that see lots of tourists do speak English as they are in the tourism industry.
In rural areas and northern Thailand, English is less common. However, this shouldn’t stop you from exploring. Smile, learn some basic Thai words, and master your charades skills 🙂
Learn basic words in the Thai
Thail is a tonal language, which means that the same word might have a different pronunciation to convey different meanings. For foreigners, its a bit hard to grasp, plus knowing the basics is somewhat enough in Thailand.
Another thing is that it’s very important to be polite wherever you say. Female and male speakers add a special ending to the words and sentences. If you identify yourself as a female, you’ll need to add ‘ka’ and in case of men ‘kub’ or ‘krub’. For instance, Hello is Sawaddee, so female would say ‘Sawaddee Ka’ and male ‘Sawaddee Kub’
Also, it’s important to put your pulms together as a Namaste gesture when greeting an older person and bow your head. The gesture in Thai is called ‘wai’ and is a sign of respect. There is no need to do it with a younger person, but if that person does it to you, you need to bow your head and repeat wai gesture in politeness.
- Hello – Sawaddee (plus gender ending)
- Thank you – Kob kun (plus gender ending)
- Yes – Chai
- I am sorry / excuse me – Kaw toad (plus gender ending)
- It’s okay / don’t worry – Mai pen rai
- No – Mai chai
Where to go in Thailand
Thailand is one of the biggest countries in the world boasting hundreds of tropical islands, intricate temples, and history-rich cities. It’s definitely hard to pick a destination when visiting Thailand, however, here’s a short list of places to consider:
- Islands: Koh Samet, Krabi, Phuket, Koh Tao, etc
- Buddha Park in Nong Khai
- Khao Sok National Park
To better plan your Thailand itinerary, check out more than 30 beautiful places in Thailand
Thailand travel tips on public transportation in Bangkok
Bangkok has several public transport options available, such as BTS Skytrain (a raised up fast transit system), MRT Subway or metro, buses, motorbike, and usual taxis, tuk-tuks, express boats, and songthaews (adapted pick up or larger truck into a shared passenger vehicle).
BTS Skytrain has two lines, Silom and Sukhumvit, that connect at Siam station. At Asok station, you can change to MRT Subway, while bus stops are at various BTS Stations to take you to your destination.
The cost of the BTS Skytrain ticket is around 15-52 THB for a single journey that also depends on a number of zones you’ll cross. Day Pass costs 130 THB
Similar to the BTS, Bangkok’s metro has two lines, blue and purple, and is connected to the BTS at Asok station. The ticket prices depend on the stations you’ll be passing through and range from 15 THB to 40 THB.
Chao Phraya Express
These express boats are used to carry travelers on both sides of the Chao Phraya river. There are three lines – orange, green, and yellow. The closest pier to the BTS is Central Pier / Saphan Thaksin. You will need to use the boat to see Wat Arun temple on the other side of the river.
The cost of the tickets depends on the line and the distance you’ll be traveling:
- Green – 13-32 THB
- Orange – 15 THB
- Yellow: 20-29 THB
You can buy tickets on board or at the ticket office of the pier.
Before the MRT or BTS, the favorite mode of transport for many was this three-wheeled vehicle called tuk-tuk. It still is a popular way of getting from one point to another for locals, while for foreigners it’s more of an experience rather than a convenience. The prices vary depending on the distance, time of the day, and mood of the driver, therefore it ranges anywhere from 30 THB to 200 THB and more. Moreover, many tuk-tuk drivers try to scam travelers, so be careful, don’t accept the first offered price and bargain!
Bangkok taxis have meters and the price starts from 35 THB, while the cost of the freeway tolls ranges from 25 to 120 THB depending on the distance. Download the Grab app and order yellow-green taxis for a cheaper option with a meter starting from 20 THB.
Thailand travel tips on getting around the country
One of the things to know before going to Thailand is how easy it is to travel around the country. Cross-country transportation is fairly easy, efficient, and budget-friendly.
The most convenient, quickest, and a bit more expensive would be to fly into your destination, or to the nearest airport. You can find cheap flights from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, for instance, for as low as $25 one way, especially if you book as early as possible.
The most frequently used means of transport in Thailand is the bus. They are air-conditioned with comfortable chairs and are very budget-friendly. Sometimes buses are the only option depending on the destination.
Another great way to travel around the county is by train. Compared to the other countries in the region, Thailand has a relatively decent rail network covering more than 4,000 km. It is one of the cheapest and best ways to get around the country, however, the journey is quite slow as there are no speed trains. For example, a night train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai takes around 12 hours with a distance of 690 km. Day trains are even slower as they make more stops and wait at stations longer.
Ferries are the only option to get to the majority of the islands. You can buy tickets on board, online, or at the pier. Most hotels and hostels will be able to help you out if you need assistance.
Other practical things to know before going to Thailand
One of the Thailand travel tips to consider is not to drink the tap water straight away. It’s better to buy bottled water or pack a reusable water bottle and fill it up at your hotel or water dispenser spots in the streets. These dispensers cost a couple of Baht.
Also, avoid washing vegetables and fruits with tap water for a couple of days after your arrival before your stomach gets accustomed to it.
Electricity outlets in Thailand have flat or two-prong round sockets. The country uses 220V AC electricity. So make sure to pack a travel adaptor to charge all your electronic gear.
ATMs and Money Withdrawal
Most of the Thai banks charge an additional withdrawal fee (either 150, 180, or 200 THB) on top of your banks’ withdrawal fee in a foreign country. The majority of banks in Thailand limit the withdrawal to 20,000 THB, while others have a maximum amount of 10,000 THB. So in order to avoid these extra fees, make sure to withdraw a few times and bigger amounts.
One of the scams to avoid when withdrawing money from Thai ATMs is to let the machine charge you in the local currency (Thai Baht) and not of your home currency. Charging you in Thai Baht will be less expensive than letting it convert to your home currency. If you accept it to charge you in Baht, you won’t see the exchange rate, but it will be much less than if you’d let it convert.
You can use your credit/debit cards to pay for goods in shopping malls, hotels, restaurants, and 7/11 convenience shops in major cities. However, carry cash when going to markets, buying street food, or when exploring smaller islands, rural villages, and remote areas.
It is relatively easy to find free Wi-Fi at the hotels, bars, and restaurants of the major cities in Thailand, but getting a sim card with a tourist package to have the internet on the go, is yet another practical Thailand travel tip. For the fastest internet, buy the AIS sim card. They have different packages ranging from 160 THB to 599 THB.
Thailand travel tips on what to eat
Thai cuisine focuses on light meals with strong and flavorful ingredients and species. Neighboring countries have influenced the cuisine where the majority of popular dishes have a Chinese origin. The country’s cuisine generally falls into four categories: boiled dishes – tom, spicy salads – yam, pounded foods – tam, and curries – gaeng, while stir-fries, steamed meals, and deep-fries come from Chinese culture.
Meals to try:
- Khao phat – the most common rice dish with the meat of your choice.
- Khao soi – curried noodle soup enhanced with coconut milk
- Phat Thai – pan-fried rice noodles with chopped walnuts, egg, and fish sauce
- Tom yam – sour and hot soup with meat.
- Tom yam kung / tom yam goong – tom yam but with shrimp
- Som tam – spicy green papaya salad
Drinks to try:
- Cha yen – Thai iced tea.
- Krating Daeng – the origin of Red Bull.
- Nam maphrao – young coconut juice served inside the coconut.
- Oliang – Thai black iced coffee.
- Satho / Sato – a traditional rice wine
Here’s the complete guide to Thai Cuisine and some of the best meals to try
Do’s and don’ts in Thailand
Don’t ride elephants or take a selfie with a tiger
Riding an elephant was a popular tourist attraction a few years ago. However, thanks to multiple reports showcasing the cruel treatment of those animals, people started to be more conscious of the experience. And if you must encounter with elephants, make sure to go to an elephant sanctuary in northern Thailand that rescues brutally treated species.
Make sure you do the research and visit a famous sanctuary, as there are scams all over the country marketing themselves as sanctuaries.
Similarly to elephant riding, petting a tiger and taking a selfie with the king of the jungle in Thailand is (sadly) another popular experience among local and foreign tourists. Here as well, tigers are treated harshly with no proper care. Tiger Temple was even raided and closed due to the cruel conditions tigers were kept at.
So don’t encourage unethical animal tourism and don’t pay to be part of it. Make a change instead. Check out these animal sanctuaries that focus on ethical animal tourism.
Don’t feed animals and pet them either
I know how cute they might be but Thailand has many stray dogs and cats. So avoid physical encounters as much as possible. Also, don’t feed monkeys either if you see them at the temples, they tend to get anxious and aggressive
Don’t touch a Thai person on the head
Head is the most significant part of the body in Thailand, therefore touching someone’s head is very rude and offensive. Also, don’t point to a person, an image of Buddha, or the King with your feet.
Don’t criticize the royal family
Talking negatively about the royal family is against the law, so not abiding it means serious jail time. Also, don’t mention King Bhumibol Adulyadej in a disrespectful way. Even though he passed away, Thai’s LOVED their King, so if you need to talk about him, make positive remarks.
Do have proper attire when visiting temples
Visiting gorgeous temples in Thailand has its ethics and dress code. Don’t show up wearing clothes that show too much skin, it’s very disrespectful and you won’t be allowed to enter. This applies to both men and women. Pack clothes that cover shoulders and knees, along with a shawl or scarf just in case.
Also, you’ll be asked to take off your shoes while entering the temples, so pack a comfortable shoe that is easy to put on and off.
Do stand up when you hear the anthem
When a royal anthem starts, you need to stand up and pay your respect. If you happen to go to the movies in Thailand, the hymn will play there too before the movie starts. So do like others, and stand up. Otherwise, you may end up in jail.
Do lots of bargaining
Thai people tend to rip off foreigners as elsewhere. So if the price seems inappropriate, bargain and try to drop the price to half. Sometimes, buying several items makes it easy to negotiate.
Do eat with a spoon and not fork
A spoon is a preferred utensil when eating Thai food. Even though they will serve you both fork and spoon, the first is there to help you to push meat or rice onto the spoon, as nife does for westerners. Don’t stab veggies or meat with a fork, scoop them up with a spoon. And master your chopstick skills as local vendors and restaurants only give chopsticks as utensils for various meals including noodle-based ones.
Don’t skip the street food
One of the important Thailand travel tips that I can give you, is not to skip the street food. The country has some of the best street foods in the world that are also flavorful, fulfilling, and extremely cheap. Usually, these meals are made from fresh and locally sourced ingredients. We never had any stomach problems after indulging in various street meals.
Do avoid scams
Even though we weren’t victims of any scams during our travels throughout Thailand, it’s good to know that they exist and many fall for it. One of the most common ones is tuk-tuk scams that I mentioned above. Drivers tend to take you around to various merchants to get you to buy something to get a commission from those stores. They also tend you to drive you around and take longer routes to get more money out of you.
Other scams include claiming that you paid with a fake Baht when they quickly exchange it to actual fake money without you noticing. A random passerby might stop you and offer a good bargain for gems, don’t fall for it.
Another one is “It’s closed today” when the driver takes you to a famous temple and suggests driving you to another one. However, you’ll end up not in a temple, but elsewhere to get you to buy something or do an activity.
Don’t buy Buddha statues as a souvenir
Technically speaking, taking any Buddha statue or image out of Thailand is illegal unless you have an export license. An exception is the small ones worn around the neck. The reason for this is that Buddha image is a religious object, therefore authorities and citizens don’t like seeing them as a home decoration item. People might tell you that they have taken Buddha statues out of the country without a problem, which might be true. BUT if you are stopped at Customs, the object might be confiscated or you might face serious charges.
Prepare for the trip
To ease your travel planning, check out all the posts about Thailand travel. Additionally, here are some of the websites and services I use when preparing for my next adventure anywhere in the world.
– Book affordable flights on Kiwi.com, a platform that shows the best routes and flight deals to your destination. There’s a money-back guarantee if you miss the flight!
– Check iVisa to see if you need a tourist visa to visit Thailand, how to apply online if applicable, or where’s the nearest embassy or consulate
– Find budget-friendly deals on all sorts of accommodation types on Booking and Agoda, or find a cool apartment on Airbnb and get $34 off on your first stay (my invite expires in 30 days after you sign up! )
– Buy the most flexible and budget-friendly travel insurance, SafetyWing, to cover all sorts of health problems on the road
– Book in advance some of the best city walks, floating markets, snorkeling tours, or day trips to maximize your stay and experience here