A trip to Thailand has been on the radar of a lot of people for decades. The tourism is thriving. People travel to the beach destinations and visit the many ways. Some just go to Bangkok, which is a main hub for traveling farther to other countries of South East Asia.
With so many people going on a trip to Thailand, it caters to tourism. This can have some positive and some negative sides. You can find great accommodation options at good prices, can find many options to travel around, and there are numerous restaurants. On the other hand, there are a number of scams and theft (as in any popular tourist destination). One way or another, you will need to be well prepared before traveling.
Here are some tips that may help you plan your trip and avoid any difficulties.
When to go?
Thailand doesn’t have four distinct seasons. It’s always hot, so the only difference in “season” is rainy or dry. Rainy season lasts from April to October. The dry season, and hence the most popular time for a trip 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 this, as I can hardly scrape together enough vacation days to travel this far. 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 there are annoyingly many mosquitoes even at this time of the year.
Visa for Thailand
Thailand has established a visa-free program 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 (this is what I had to do). 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. The fee for this visa is waived for everyone until April 2020. I am not sure if they will extend the waiver. Otherwise it would cost 2000 baht (about 65 US dollars).
Whether you need a visa or not for your trip to Thailand, 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 when you leave the country. They will also take your fingerprints upon arrival, as well as departure.
These fingerprint procedures may result in a huge loss of time during the passport check at the departure. We literally stood in the passport queue at Suvarnabhumi airport for 50 minutes. As a result we had no time to spare at the airport but 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.
Do not listen to anyone who will approach you to tell you 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 US dollars, which is absolutely unnecessary. The waiting time in the regular line was 15-20 minutes. The immigration officer 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 departure flight from Thailand.
By the way, I have read on several forums and heard from people that immigration asked them to have 20.000 baht (about 650USD) in cash, when arriving in Thailand. I am not sure if this information is correct as we were not asked about the means to support ourselves. 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 planning a trip to Thailand.
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 than the exchange points. The best rate we found in January 2020 was 30 baht per 1 USD in Krabi. Unlike in Cambodia you will be better off bringing 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 a remotely acceptable rate.
Using ATMs 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 try not to withdraw cash often.
Where to stay on your trip to Thailand
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. 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, but I chose not to as it isn’t easily accessible by public transport. At the seaside locations it’s best to stay near a beach. If you plan to do day trips, preferably stay in a location with public transportation close by.
Safety on your voyage
Thailand is quite safe overall. However, there are a number of things you need to take into consideration during your trip to Thailand. I have read about numerous scams around the country. As I mentioned above, one of the scams is offering to do a visa on arrival by the tour agencies.
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 us the rest of the money.
Theft, especially pick-pocketing, is 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 the 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.
Other Things to be Aware of in Southeast Asia
Mosquitoes can be very annoying and can carry diseases. Be sure to apply mosquito repellent often. Many diseases can be avoided by preventing mosquito bites. There are three preventive options: the products containing deet, the products with picaridin, and the natural options (citronella, lemon eucalyptus, etc). Based on my research and the advice of healthcare professionals, deet works best. So I bought several options with deet. We also had picaridin based lotions, but we didn’t use them.
Be aware of deadly box jellyfish, which are present in the seas of Southeast Asia. The cases of people being stung have been rare, but they happen more often with the seas getting warmer due to climate change. The sting needs to be washed with vinegar very fast. There are also higher numbers of so-called Portuguese jellyfish (Man-O-War). These are deadly only in rare cases, but can cause severe pain and long, thin, open wounds. We have seen signs that they are present at the Phra Nang cave beach, although we didn’t encounter any of them. By the way, a Man-O-War sting, as the signs on the beach say, should be washed with sea water only.
Dress Code in Thailand
There is no special dress code. Around Bangkok you can wear anything you like. You find people dressed very differently, all covered up or in short shorts. The same goes for the most of seaside places in the South of Thailand.
However, if you are visiting any temples 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. I was wearing the dresses that end just above the knee and that was acceptable. But if you are wearing short shorts or sleeveless tops you will need to at least bring scarves to cover up with, otherwise some temples may request you to rent clothes on the spot. This can be rather expensive.
The Royal Palace in Bangkok has more strict rules about clothing. 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 along a jacket, otherwise I would have had to buy their 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, therefore I brought my crocs flats. On the seaside I wore my crocs sandals with straps. That way I didn’t need to take them off even when in the 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 and a great reason for a trip to Thailand . It can often be very spicy for my taste, but I do find things that I like. Those are mainly the fried rice and noodle dishes.
It’s good to follow some basic rules. If you eat street food, make sure to get the cooked and hot dish. If you are eating uncooked food, make sure that it was washed in clean water. As for drinks, they may be making ice from tap water which may be non potable. When in doubt ask for no ice in your drink.
Other tips for your travel 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 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 probably see the squat ones.
Tap water is not drinkable. Some say that you can at least brush your teeth with it, but I still used 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 on your trip to Thailand. It’s a serious offense 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. I would carry thick socks specifically for this reason. It was nice to 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.
Despite having a full time job, I always try to make time to hit the road and visit as many places, as I can. Travel is not just my passion, but a necessity for my mental health 🙂 Having lived in 3 cities and visited 50 countries so far, I want to share my experiences and travel tips with the fellow travel junkies.
Follow my journeys on my blog hittheroadket.com and on Instagram @hittheroadket