Planning a trip to Thailand well in advance, keeping your interests and budget in mind and knowing what to expect, can make the difference between a good and a superb trip.
Here is our list of things to know before going to Thailand:
Planning A Trip to Thailand - 17 Things To Know Before You Go
MONEY EXCHANGE IN THAILAND
Currency: Thai Baht – THB (Symbol – ฿)
Money exchange shops offer the best exchange rate for changing foreign currency to Thai Bahts. Simply hand over your foreign currency, show your passport, and in return get Thai Bahts for the displayed rate. (You DO NOT pay commission). Most major currencies are accepted. Approximate exchange rates: 1$ = ฿32 /£1 = ฿42 / 1€ = ฿38 / 1₹ = ฿.46. Check exact conversion in your currency.
‘Travellers cheques’ are not always accepted. Thai ATMs will usually accept foreign bank ATM cards, however, you will be charged between 150 – 180 Baht (around $5) per transaction (in addition to what your bank’s fee). Changing foreign currency to Thai Baht at the airport will get you about 5% less than at a money exchange shop outside.
If you plan to use your debit or credit card in Thailand, remember to inform your bank about your travel dates. Confirm that your cards will work in Thailand.
Only a few money exchanges will change Indian Rupees (INR) to THB. It’s best to change INR to THB in India, or to carry US Dollars and change them to THB in a money exchange stall.
IMPORTANT THAILAND NUMBERS
Police and General Emergency: 191, Medical Emergency: 1669, Tourist Police: 1155
For medical emergencies, you will need to show hospitals that you have the funds to pay for your treatment. For this reason you should carry a copy of your insurance policy and credit card.
OFFICIAL LANGUAGE & RELIGION OF THAILAND
Thai is the official language. English speakers can easily get by in Thailand, especially in major cities. However, it is always good to learn a few Thai greetings, words and phrases.
Thailand has no official religion, Thai people enjoy religious freedom. The vast majority of Thais, approximately 95% of the population, follow Theravada Buddhism.
BEST TIME TO VISIT
Although Thailand’s tropical climate makes it worth visiting anytime of the year, broadly speaking, November to March, is the best time to visit. These 5 months make up the cool and dry period.
April and May are the hottest months. The monsoon season is unpredictable, but roughly lasts from June to October.
Since the favourable weather from November to March makes it the best time to visit Thailand, these 5 months are also the busiest. Christmas, New Year, and the Chinese New Year (dates vary, based on the Chinese Lunar Calendar), roughly from January 21st to February 20th, is also a very busy time.
Make your bookings at least two months in advance if you plan to travel during this time. If you are on a budget, consider visiting during the non-peak season. Do bear in mind, however, that some activities such as diving cannot be done all year round.
Thai visas are relatively easy to obtain. The ‘Visa Exemption Rule’ permits tourists from 55 countries (UK, US and Schengen passport holders included) to enter Thailand for a maximum of 30 days, only for tourism purposes. Proof of funds, passports validity exceeding 6 months from date of arrival, and confirmed tickets showing that you are flying out of Thailand (open tickets not accepted) within 30 days of your arrival date are required.
Please note: This is just an outline; you must do your own country specific research for Thai visas.
Thai Visa on Arrival (VOA):
Passport holders of 21 countries (including India) can obtain a VOA valid for 15 days, provided they meet necessary requirements They will be required to pay the VOA fee of 1000 – 2000 Baht (the amount varies). For stays beyond 15 days, contact your embassy (each nationality has different regulations).
Remember to carry 2 passport size photos, proof of funds, hotel bookings, return tickets, and pens for filling your forms. If you are opting for a VOA, carry Thai Baht to cover your visa fee. Do not lose the slip you get when your passport is stamped with the VOA.
Getting travel insurance for Thailand and all of Asia in general is a good idea. When in Thailand, you’ll probably indulge in adventure sports and hire bikes or scooters. Not to scare you, but we have seen an alarming number of road accidents in Thailand, and would definitely recommend travel insurance.
After evaluating a few insurance companies, we decided to go with World Nomads. They are reasonably priced and extensively cover adventure activities – in a way, they specialise in travel insurance for travellers, and we like that.
Apart from packing for Thailand’s tropical climate, remember that you will need to protect yourself from the sweltering sun, sand, rain, humidity and insects.
Our ‘ultimate packing list’ includes everything you will need while exploring Thailand’s incredible cities, beaches, islands and mountains.
ELECTRICITY IN THAILAND
SIM CARDS IN THAILAND
Buying a SIM card in Thailand is easy and inexpensive. It’s best to buy one straight from the airport (you will have your passport handy for ID proof), and the airport staff is efficient. Thailand’s three major suppliers are AIS, TrueMove and DTAC. All three offer good coverage and high data speed. AIS offers the best coverage and is reasonably priced.
You can get to Thailand by air, road and sea.
If time is not a constraint, you can consider travelling to Thailand on a cargo ship. Passenger ferries are available from Malaysia.
Thailand has international overland border crossings from Malaysia, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar. The crossing from Myanmar can be closed sometimes for political reasons.
Most people fly to Thailand. Skyscanner is, in our opinion, the best fare aggregator website with the finest meta search engine for flights. Simply put, Skyscanner searches the web and displays the cheapest and best flight deals from available options.
Most international Thailand bound flights land in Bangkok. Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi International Airport (BKK) and Don Mueang International Airport (DMK) are roughly 30 miles (50 Km) apart. The Airport of Thailand (AOT) offers a free bus shuttle service between them from 5:00 am to 12:00 am. A bus leaves every 12 – 30 min depending on the time of the day, and the journey takes 45 min – 1.5 hours to complete (depending on traffic). You are required to display your connecting flight ticket to board the shuttle bus.
International airports in Thailand
THAILAND HOLIDAY COST
Thailand is a budget as well as a high-end destination. A traveller on a shoestring budget can live on 500 Baht ($15) a day, while those who prefer to stay in 2-3 star hotels, eat out and enjoy a drink in the pub, can comfortably get by in under 1150 Baht ($35) a day. There is no upper limit to the amount you can spend, however, a lavish holiday in Thailand costs less than it would in most countries.
If you are travelling with your partner and sharing rooms and meals, your expenses will further reduce by about 20% per head.
Thailand has several accommodation options ranging from budget hostels to 7 star hotels.
That said, it is advisable to book accommodation for your first 2-3 days in Thailand beforehand. Besides getting a better price, this way you can settle down, explore the locality and then decide if you want to continue living in the same hotel and area or move elsewhere.
Generally speaking, hotels in the north are about 30% cheaper than hotels in big cities and southern islands. A very basic guesthouse costing 200 Baht ($6) per night in the North would cost about 300 Baht ($9) in the South. Dorm beds cost between 100 – 150 Baht ($4) a day. A comfortable air-conditioned room in the city would cost about 850 Baht ($25), a resorts on an islands cost about 1,700 Baht a night ($50). 4 and 5 star hotels range between 3,000 – 8,000 Baht ($ 90 – $240).
We have observed that booking.com is the most economical and reliable when it comes to booking any type of accommodation in Thailand and Southeast Asia.
GETTING AROUND IN THAILAND
Public transport by air, bus and train is available for the well heeled as well as the budget traveller. It is advisable to book your travel in advance. 12Go Asia is best for booking budget travel in Thailand. They specialise in train, bus, ferries, transfers and flight bookings not only for Thailand but also for all of Asia.
If you prefer to have the freedom that comes with having your own conveyance, hiring an ungeared scooter is a good and cheap option. Renting a scooter costs about 350 Baht a day (300 Baht after negotiation) ($10). Helmets are mandatory. A medium sized sedan can be hired for roughly 850 Baht ($25) per day, with insurance. Free maps highlighting roads to popular attractions are generally available in hotels.
A word of caution: driving conditions are different to those in the West and discretion is necessary. Be extremely careful while driving in hilly areas. (We have witnessed a number of serious bike accidents in Thailand).
Moving around by tuk-tuk (auto rickshaw) is perhaps the most popular means of city transport in Thailand. It is best to fix the price of your trip beforehand. Remember to negotiate. As a guideline, start by offering 60% of your driver’s initial quote, and settle for about 80%. A 15 – 20 min trip on a tuk-tuk should cost about 70 Baht ($2). Avoid renting a car in Bangkok as traffic can be chaotic.
Local bus tickets start at 7 Baht, making it the cheapest mode of transport. Motorbike taxis cost about 25 Baht for a short trip (after negotiation). Drivers wear red vests so that they can be identified. Tickets for the Bangkok Skytrain can be purchased for 15 – 50 Baht. Day trains cost as little as 50 Baht ($1.5).
BARGAINING IN THAILAND
Although you might think that items are cheap to begin with, be prepared to bargain. The printed or offered price is rarely the final price. Negotiating the best price is part of the shopping experience in Thailand.
Points to keep in mind when you sense that there is scope for a bargain: 1- Smile and be friendly. 2 – If you don’t know where to begin, offer 60 – 70% of the quoted price, and settle for a 20 – 25% reduction. 3 – Look around in other shops to get an idea about how much the cost has been inflated. 4 – Act nonchalant – even if you love the item on display, act as if you are only looking around and it’s not that big a deal. 5 – Don’t fall for emotional blackmail.
Visitors from the West will probably find haggling difficult in the beginning, but it is a useful skill to acquire (especially in Asian countries). And, who knows, you might even begin to enjoy it.
COST OF FOOD, WATER & ALCOHOL IN THAILAND
Thai food is amazing and inexpensive. Both non-vegetarian and vegetarian cuisines are available in most restaurants.
If you stick to Thai street food (which is absolutely delicious), you’ll be spending about 150 Baht ($4.5) a day on 3 meals. A meal for two in a local restaurant will cost about 200 Baht ($6), and the same meal in a slightly upscale restaurant should cost about 300 Baht ($9). Western dishes such as pizzas, burgers, pastas are served in slightly fancier places and a meal for two should cost about 350 Baht ($10.5).
As far as possible eat fresh food, cooked to order. It is safer to eat in restaurants that are busy as it generally means fresher food. Favour places where food is served piping hot.
A word of caution: Thai food, especially in local restaurants, can be very spicy. It is best to request that your meal be prepared less spicy. (If it is too bland, you can add Thai chilli sauce).
Tap water is not safe to drink. You will need to purchase bottled water. If you are staying for long or visiting other countries in Asia, trekking or travelling to rural areas where bottled water will be difficult to find, consider investing in LifeStraw or simply buying some Oasis Water Purification Tablets. This way you will stay safe, reduce your plastic footprint and, in the long run, end up saving money.
Chang, Singha and Leo are the most popular Thai beers. Chang is the cheapest, most popular amongst Thais, and tops the alcohol content chart with a strength of 6.5%. A 500 ml can costs 50 Baht ($1.5) at minimarts. SangSom is the legendary Thai rum, and Mekhong is Thailand’s favourite whisky.
In a restaurant or bar, alcohol costs 10-20% more than the minimart price.
A two-litre water bottle costs 15 Baht, can of coke 14 Baht, and hot coffee 25 Baht at a Minimart.
Our Thailand tipping guide has details about Thailand’s tipping culture.
A day trip on boat (shared) to visit 3 – 5 islands is something you should consider doing. It costs about 500 – 1800 Baht ($15 – 55) (normal boat – speed boat) per person for a full day tour, including snacks and lunch. A guided jungle trek costs 1000 – 1700 Baht ($30 – $50) per day, and zip line charges are from 2000 – 4000 Baht ($60 – $120). Museums cost up to 120 Baht ($3.5) a day. You can also consider going for a PADI dive certification course, which costs about 10,000 Baht ($300).
More Things to do in Thailand.
COMMON SCAMS & STAYING SAFE
Like any country, Thailand has its share of scamsters and conmen. Remember to use common sense and keep in mind the consequences of recklessness and indiscretion. More on Common scams in Thailand
A FINAL WORD OF CAUTION
Thailand’s monarchy is deeply respected and revered. Disrespecting Thailand’s King in any way can result in up to a 15-year prison sentence. Remember that even a discussion about the monarchy can result in an unintended offence.
When we visited Thailand in 2009, we did not pre-book or plan any part of our trip (other than our return flight). We just went with the flow and had a great time.
Almost a decade later, in 2018, when we visit Thailand, we don’t just turn up and find our way. Thailand’s infrastructure is now under pressure because of the surge in tourism. Hotel occupancy is at its highest ever, most activities and tours get booked in advance, and the transport system is under strain. Planning your Thailand trip, well in advance has become essential.
Is Thailand safe? Like any country, Thailand has its share of conmen. Keep these points in mind to stay safe and free from scams in Thailand.
When in Thailand … to tip or not to tip? Our Thailand tipping guide gives details about Thailand’s tipping culture.
These 11 most frequently used Thai greetings, words & phrases are very useful for those visiting Thailand for even a week.