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What are the best travel tips for Thailand?
Thailand is an absolute paradise for travellers; backpackers, flashpackers, and those in pursuit of something a little more luxurious included. Abundant with chaotic cities, tropical beaches, diverse wildlife, extravagant temples, lush-green jungles, a rich culture and history, and the friendliest of humans, it’s a no wonder that people from all around the world flock there. But no matter what you are in search of, there are certain things about Thailand you must know before you go! So whether you are a first-timer looking for a beginners guide to Thailand or a seasoned traveller, here are the top travel tips for Thailand to help you get the most out of your trip to the Land of Smiles!
1. Avoid drinking tap water
Drinking tap water is one of the things to avoid in Thailand, as it is often not safe enough to consume. You can buy travel filter water bottles which will purify tap water to cut your plastic usage. But make sure you do your research to find a high quality one which will actually get rid of the bad stuff so you don’t get sick. Alternatively, you can buy bottled water in shops like 7-Eleven. You can buy 5 litre bottles of water to refill your smaller bottle with, so you don’t buy an absurd amount of small ones.
2. Respect temple etiquette
Temples (known as Wats across many countries in Southeast Asia) tend to have dress codes. The general rule to follow when visiting temples is to ensure your shoulders and legs are covered. A top packing tip for Thailand is to ensure you slip a sarong into your luggage, and then carry it with you when you are out in case you stumble across a temple you’d like to see.
When visiting temples in Thailand it is common to take your shoes off before entering. Temples are sacred places of worship, and are quiet spaces for meditation, prayer and reflection. Therefore, it is advised to keep noise to a minimum. So perhaps pop your phone on silent before entering (no one wants to be that person, do they?). Some temples have specific areas where women are prohibited and there are usually signs to raise awareness of this.
Tip: The Grand Palace in Bangkok has a particularly strict dress code. To avoid waiting in a queue to borrow some trousers (for a small deposit of Thai Baht), dress appropriately on the day! Avoid tight fitting, cropped, and sleeveless clothing. Make sure your legs, torso and shoulders are well covered too.
3. 7-Eleven is your best friend
7-Eleven is a chain of convenience stores which are abundant across Southeast Asia and in particular, Thailand. And they will be your best friend! When you are in a major city or town, you will never be far from a 7-Eleven. If you are getting a bit hangry but are suspicious of the street food or are unsure of where you can locate a decent restaurant, just nip into a nearby 7-Eleven. They stock a whole lot of snacks, both hot and cold, such as grilled cheese toasties, steamed buns, sandwiches and instant noodles, which can quench the hunger until you find something more substantial!
4. Carry toilet paper with you (one of the must know travel tips for Thailand)
Believe me when I say that this is indisputably one of the top tips for Thailand travel (and Asia for that matter)! You might be fooled into thinking that just because you are in a toilet, you will be blessed with the presence of toilet roll! Well that’s not the case in Thailand. Quite often in Thai toilets, there is a stark absence of toilet tissue. So to avoid getting into a tricky situation, always make sure you have a packet of tissues tucked inside your bag (trust me, it’s often a godsend).
5. Reconsider animal tourism
Unethical animal tourism is an ongoing issue in Thailand, and contributing to this as a tourist only exacerbates the problem. There are countless so called ‘elephant sanctuaries’ and places which you can ride elephants in Thailand. Please be a responsible traveller and don’t ride elephants. They are often mistreated in order to tame them and can be subjected to horrendous conditions.
One of the top travel tips for Thailand is to make sure you do your research before you go, so you know that the elephant sanctuary you are visiting is one where these beautiful animals are treated correctly and are free from harm. There are many ethical elephant sanctuaries across Thailand, like Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai (the rescue centre which I visited). You will get the opportunity to interact with the elephants in an ethical way, by feeding them, bathing them and walking amongst them. It’s a sustainable way to see such majestic creatures and is one which is definitely for the Southeast Asia bucket list.
Tip: It’s not just elephants that are at the centre of unethical animal tourism in Thailand, but other wildlife such as Tigers too. Think carefully before you contribute to any type of animal tourism in Thailand, unless you are sure it is ethical.
6. Wear your bag securely
One of the best safety tips for travel in Thailand is to ensure you keep your bag around the front of you where you can see it and wear it securely. Although Thailand is generally a safe country for travel, there is still crime there like anywhere else. It’s sensible to take your own precautions to prevent losing any of your belongings.
Pickpocketing is something which can happen in Thailand, so make sure you wear your bag around the front of you where you can see it and hold on to it in busy places. Bag snatching is another crime which can occur, usually from tuk-tuks or motorbikes. To try and avoid this happening to you, wear your bag securely on your body. If you just have your bag balanced on your shoulder, it’s easy to snatch! Money belts are a good option to keep money concealed up and under your clothing, but don’t get this out in broad daylight, which leads me onto the next of the essential travel tips for Thailand…
7. Only keep a small amount of cash in your wallet
It’s inevitable that when you travel to Thailand, you are going to have some cash with you. But you don’t need to keep all of this in your wallet for the world to see when you pay for your Chang (Thai beer). A visible wad of cash in your wallet may attract unwanted attention and make you a target for crime. Instead, keep a small amount in your wallet and replenish this out of sight as and when needed. Keep the rest securely out of the way, like in a money belt underneath your clothing or in a safety deposit box at your hotel room.
Tip: Don’t take stacks of cash with you to Thailand because if the worst happens you will be without any money at all. It’s a good idea to take a mix of both cash and card. Keep your cash separated too – for example some in your wallet and some in a money belt. That way if you lose your wallet or it gets stolen, you will have a plan B!
8. Pace yourself
Thailand is big. When you are planning your itinerary for Thailand it might be appealing to try and squeeze everything in, but one of the top travel tips for Thailand is to resist the temptation! Although exhilarating, the chaos of Thailand makes it an exhausting place and the heat makes it even more tiring! Coupled with it being a big country, if you try to see every single place that tickles your fancy you are likely to burn out and not enjoy your trip at all! Unless you have the gift of time, then focus on either the north or the south of the country.
9. Pack an insect repellant
Insect repellant is a non-negotiable item on your packing list for Thailand. Mosquito born diseases such as Dengue Fever are present in Thailand. The best way to avoid catching these is to take preventative measures so you don’t get bitten, as this is how they are transmitted. Precautions that you can take alongside wearing a good quality mosquito repellant are covering up and sleeping underneath a mosquito net!
10. Get travel insurance
Travel insurance is an essential part of travel, regardless of the country you are visiting! If you want to travel, it’s sensible to have travel insurance. A good policy can cover a wide range of eventualities, like making sure you can access medical help if required, loss or theft of luggage or personal possessions, and repatriation. Don’t go to Thailand without travel insurance and just hope for the best, because these things can happen at anytime to anyone anywhere!
11. Smother on the sun cream
Thailand is a hot country and it’s likely you’re going to be beneath the rays a fair amount. Another essential item for your Thailand packing list is sun cream that has a high SPF. I noticed on my trip to Thailand that a good brand of sun cream with a high SPF was rather expensive compared to the UK (and it’s not cheap here)! Whenever I travel to Asia I always pack a couple of bottles of sun cream because I top it up a lot (especially when I’m by the beach or in the pool)!
12. Be scam savvy
Before you visit, it’s a great idea to research known scams in Thailand to avoid falling prey to these. Scams are ever changing, but there are some common ones which don’t seem to vary such as being told by a tout that an attraction (such as the Grand Palace or Wat Pho) is closed in an attempt to take you somewhere else which is probably going to be pricey (like on a boat tour, or to a gem or tailor shop). The bottom line is, if it sounds to good to be true then it probably is, and if it doesn’t feel right in your gut then it probably isn’t!
13. Ask the taxi driver to use the meter
Talking about Thai scams leads on to another one of the need-to-know travel tips for Thailand… If you take a cab, ensure you ask the taxi driver to turn the meter on before you agree to the ride. Taxi drivers in Thailand should use their meters, but this doesn’t mean they do! A common scam can be for taxi drivers not to activate their meter, only to charge a higher fixed rate for the journey. If the taxi driver refuses to turn on their meter, then say no thank you and signal another passing taxi to stop until you find a driver who is willing to use this (note: at the time of writing, taxi meters seem to be rare in Chiang Mai so this is the exception to the rule).
Tip: I always take a photo of the driver’s license which is usually displayed in the taxi, just in case this is ever needed!
14. Avoid dogs and monkeys
In Thailand, dogs and monkeys are plentiful. You will find dogs freely roaming the streets living their lives, and monkeys around temples, on beaches and at waterfalls. A good piece of travel advice for Thailand is to steer clear of them, no matter how cute they may be! The dogs may not be friendly. And ultimately the monkeys are wild so they can become vicious. No one wants a monkey or dog bite on their Thai vacation, do they?
Tip: Keep your belongings with you when the monkeys are around. They like to borrow things for indefinite periods of time!
15. How much?
It is common place to haggle for goods in Thailand (especially in markets), unless you are in a shopping centre, supermarket or restaurant with clearly fixed prices! Never accept the first price the vendor states, because this is usually inflated. A calculator is the popular method of communicating prices between seller and buyer. Simply think of the price you are willing to pay, offer a bit lower, and then communicate with the vendor via calculator until you reach a price that you are both happy with! If you can’t reach an agreement, then you can say no thank you and walk away. Sometimes when you walk away, the vendor will call you back with a new lower offer!
Tip: Manners cost nothing and Thai people are very friendly. Always approach bartering with a smile on your face and be polite even if you can’t reach an agreement! And be reasonable… after all that few Thai Baht that you are haggling over could make a real difference to the vendor!
16. Be cautious of street food in Thailand
Street food is abundant across Thailand and can be very tasty. But one of the best travel tips for Thailand is to approach with caution! Sometimes, the food has been left basking in the hot Southeast Asian sun for hours. This can be the source of food poisoning and can make you very unwell, and no one wants to be sick on holiday. So if you want to sample street food in Thailand, make sure you pick a vendor which is busy. A busy vendor means fresher food! And make sure you have clean hands before eating, which leads me on to the next piece of travel advice for Thailand quite nicely…
17. Always carry hand sanitizer
It’s quite common for there to be a lack of hand washing facilities available, especially when you are out sightseeing and fancy a snack! Furthermore, as with the absence of toilet paper in Thai toilets, more often than not soap is not present either! Hand sanitizer will be your savour when travelling Thailand with nowhere to wash your hands. To make sure you stay healthy in Thailand and to help prevent sickness, always use hand sanitizer before eating if you cannot wash your hands!
Tip: Carrying hand sanitizer is not only one of the top travel tips for Thailand, but for anywhere in the world! You never know when you are going to be without hand washing facilities!
18. Get a room with a safe
Book a hotel room with a safe to avoid leaving any valuable belongings in the hotel room unsecured. If you take a day trip to somewhere where you could risk getting your passport wet like Erawan Waterfalls or where you may need to leave your money on a boat whilst you swim like at Ao Phang Nga National Park, you’re likely going to want a room with a safety deposit box so you can leave these items behind. And having a safe in your room will give you piece of mind that your valuable items will be in your hotel room when you return!
19. …and air conditioning
As we have already established, Thailand is hot hot hot! And you are going to be so thankful to be able to return to a cool room after a long day in the sun! Without air conditioning, a room will be hot and stuffy which is probably going to impact on how well you sleep! No one wants to start a new day of sightseeing feeling tired and grouchy! So one of the best travel tips for Thailand is to book a room with air conditioning. Air conditioning may cost a fraction more than a room with a fan, but trust me, the investment is worth it!