20 Essential Thailand Travel Tips (Part 1, 1-10)
Thailand is the most visited country in southeast Asia, with about 25 million tourists coming last year to experience the sunny climate, pristine beaches, rich culture and warm-hearted, smiling people. Most visitors end up flying into or out of Bangkok, the capital and largest city in Thailand, with its two major airports, Suvarnabhumi Airport (code BKK) for international flights and Don Muang Airport (DMK) for domestic flights.
Since itâ€™s the travel hub for all of Southeast Asia, there are always plenty of inexpensive flights into Thailand, transferring to other popular parts of the country like Chang Mai and Koh Samui, or to other tourist destinations like Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, and Indonesia.
Popular airlines that serve Thailand include Air Asia, Thai Air, Tiger Air, Nok Air, and Jetstar. Itâ€™s also easy to book an overnight train or comfortable luxury bus if you prefer to travel overland.
2. Two distinct seasons
Thailand and all of Southeast Asia is a region with two distinct seasons, unlike the four seasons we experience in America, Europe, and many western countries. From October To April, the weather is coolest and driest (but still warm). That also happens to be the high season for tourism, when prices escalate and everything is more crowded, so travel arrangements and accommodations need to be secured in advance.
However, from May or June through about September is the monsoon, or rainy, season. While there may be plenty of downpours, the rain is refreshing, itâ€™s never cold, and it sometimes only rains for a couple of hours a day. Some visitors love coming to Thailand during this period because itâ€™s far less crowded, they have more to choose from, and prices generally go down.
Bonus Thailand trivia!
Bangkokâ€™s full name official name in Thai is â€śKrung Thep Mahanakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahinthara Ayuthaya Mahadilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udomratchaniwet Mahasathan Amon Piman Awatan Sathit Sakkathattiya Witsanukam Prasit.â€ť
Literally translated, that means â€śThe city of angels, the great city, the residence of the Emerald Buddha, the impregnable city (unlike Ayutthaya) of God Indra, the grand capital of the world endowed with nine precious gems, the happy city, abounding in an enormous Royal Palace that resembles the heavenly abode where reigns the reincarnated god, a city given by Indra and built by Vishnukarn.â€ť
Itâ€™s also holds a place in the Guinness Book of World Records as the longest city name in the world!
3. A note on Songkran:
Thailand has many national holidays and festivals, but none are quite as spectacular as Songkran. This Thai New Year celebration between April 13 and 15 (but stretching to a week or more in some parts of the country) transforms the nation into one giant water fight, as dousing yourself and others with water is symbolic of washing away the old so you can bring in the new year cleanly. During that time of year, youâ€™ll get drenched from head to toe within minutes of leaving your hotel and the water fight is impossible to avoid (nor should you ever take offense to it). So wrap your phone, wallet, and any valuables that canâ€™t get wet in waterproof pouches for safety.
4. What to pack:
Thanks to the tropical climate, you donâ€™t need to over-pack for fear of missing something when you travel to Thailand. Most tourists spend a good portion of their time at the beach, but packing a few nice shirts and dressier, yet comfortable, outfits for nice dinners or nights out might be a good plan. Make sure to bring along one pair of lightweight pants (long pants are required when you visit temples) and shawls or long sleeve shirts for woman (who shouldnâ€™t show their bare shoulders, arms, midriffs, or legs at temples and religious sites).
Shopping might as well be a national sport in Thailand, so youâ€™ll be able to easily pick up plenty of souvenirs. I recommend under-packing and bringing along an empty carry-on bag to fill up and bring home.
Speaking of shopping, open-air markets, modern malls, and local bazars are ubiquitous in Thailand, with everything you could imagine to be had, including authentic Thai handcrafts, art, clothing and cultural goods. Just be aware that there is a thriving counterfeit industry on the streets of Thailand, so that designer LV purse youâ€™re buying for $10 USD may not be real!
Itâ€™s common practice to haggle for lower prices in Thailand when buying anything on the street or in a market. Keep it friendly and civil and have fun, but aggressive hagglers usually can barter discounts of 30-70% off the quoted price, especially if you buy more.
Most Western passport holders can easily get a 30-day visa upon arrival when they land in Thailand. Tourist visas can be extended for 7 days at any immigration office or most travel agencies for a fee. Overstaying your tourist visa will result in a small per-day fine, nothing more serious. If you need more than 30-days or want a business visa, apply through the Thai Consulate before you leave home.
Tipping is not a common Thai practice, nor is it expected from tourists. But that doesnâ€™t stop Thai establishments from graciously accepting tips! Just be careful because in some higher end restaurants, a 10% VAT or service fee might already be added to the bill.
The standard voltage in Thailand is 220 V and the standard frequency is 50 Hz. Outlets in Thailand accommodate both flat prongs (like in the U.S. and Japan) and round prongs (like much of Europe and Asia). If you need a converter, theyâ€™re easy to find at a local store or market.
9. Banking and currency:
The national currency in Thailand is the Thai Baht, with the symbol â€śŕ¸żâ€ť. Common bank notes include ŕ¸ż20, ŕ¸ż50, ŕ¸ż100, ŕ¸ż500, ŕ¸ż1000 bills.
Currently, the exchange rate is about 35 Baht to one US Dollar, 40 Baht to the Euro, 55 Baht to the British Pound, and 25 Baht to the Australian Dollar.
ATMs are easy to find and accept most international bankcards, though you usually get charged a local ATM fee and a significant international fee from your bank. Withdraw the maximum every time you take out money to minimize these fees and consider opening up an account with a virtual bank like Charles Schwab or Emigrant Direct that reimburses all foreign transaction fees.
You can exchange other currencies for Baht at banks, official moneychanger kiosks, or your hotel, but avoid changing money on the street. Most restaurants and establishments donâ€™t mind if you pay in US Dollars, and then will give you change in Baht.
10. Medical care:
You donâ€™t require any specific shots or vaccinations to enter the Kingdom of Thailand, though in some border or dense jungle areas of the country, malaria and dengue fever could be concerns.
The good news is that medical care in Thailand is fantastic, and youâ€™ll see numerous hospitals, clinics, and pharmacies everywhere you go. You can easily walk in and see a doctor in a timely fashion, and good medical care by well-trained doctors â€“ many of them Western trained â€“ is shockingly inexpensive. In fact, tens of thousands of people from all over the world come to Thailand every year just for surgeries or medical procedures.