The first time I went to Thailand, I barely made any preparations. I got the required vaccinations, checked if my passport was still valid and hurriedly bought a Lonely Planet at the airport, which I then leafed through on the plane for a couple of minutes before falling asleep.
When I arrived in Bangkok, I had a few setbacks: I got scammed by a taxi driver, paid too much for my hotel stay and the culture shock was huge. It was a pretty rough first day. In hindsight, I could easily have prevented all of this by doing a bit of research. That’s why I made this list of 20 practical tips for those about to travel to Thailand for the first time!
1. Exchange rate
Always check the current exchange rate before you leave. Be smart, and bring banknotes (dollars or euros) with you, so you can exchange them for Thai baht at the basement of Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport – which is a lot cheaper than withdrawing money all the time.
There are a lot of mosquitoes in Thailand. The odds are slim, but a mosquito bite can make you pretty ill. Make sure you protect yourself and read our extensive blog post on mosquitoes; it has lots of useful advice.
Tipping isn’t very common in Thailand. It’s customary to let restaurants keep any change below 20 baht. At street food stalls and in shops you don’t tip at all.
English is spoken in many places around Thailand, which makes ordering things like food or buying day trip tickets relatively easy. However, Thai people really appreciate it if you speak a few words of their language as well. A smile and a simple hello (Sawasdee krap/kha) can go a long way!
5. Cheap accommodations
Compared to the west, Thai hotels are incredibly cheap. For twenty dollars, you can stay in a very decent double room, with a private bathroom, a hot shower, wifi, a large bed, and air conditioning. There are cheaper places and more expensive ones as well. The sky is the limit!
6. Street food
In Thailand, some of the best food is made on the sidewalk. For next to no money, you can dine like a king on any street corner. Generally, the stalls with the most local customers have the best food. We recommend the pad thai, the banana pancake and the tom yam. A dish costs about 40-60 baht. Click here for our top 10 favorite Thai dishes.
7. Spicy food
Most Thai dishes are very spicy, even for those who are used to spicy food. So make sure you order your meal “not spicy”, or tell them in Thai: “Mai tohng phet mahk”.
8. Drinking water
In Thailand, it’s best not to drink water from the faucet. Always stick to bottled water. Rinsing your mouth with it after brushing your teeth is fine though. You can buy bottled water in any market or 7-Eleven, and refill them for a couple baht at water filling stations on the street.
Whether or not to eat/drink ice (cubes) in Thailand is a tricky question. If you want to play it safe, avoid it. We are stubborn however and still drink it. Ice cubes with holes in them are safe.
10. Thai massages
Don’t be fooled into thinking that a Thai massage is nice and relaxing. They generally consist of pulling and tugging on every part of your body until you’re completely black and blue. Ok, maybe I’m exaggerating a little a little, but relaxing they most certainly are not!
Tailor-made clothing in Thailand is very cheap. A good quality tailor-made suit only costs about 6,000 baht. Dresses are about 800 baht. You can find the best tailors at Sukhumvit Road in Bangkok.
In Thai culture, the head is the most sacred part of the body. That’s why you’re not allowed to touch anyone’s head. Even stroking the head of a child is frowned upon. Just don’t do it.
Feet, by contrast, are considered the most impure part of the body as they most easily come into contact with dirt. Take off your shoes when entering someone’s house, never point at anyone with your feet, and don’t strap your shoes to the outside of your backpack. Don’t worry if you get into trouble for this however; Thai people are very forgiving.
14. The royal family
In Thailand, it’s not allowed to speak negatively about the king or the royal family. You can even go to jail for it for a long time!
15. Visits to temples
Cover your shoulders and upper arms when visiting a temple. Often, covering shawls or pants are provided at the entrance. You must take off your shoes; lay them in front of the temple or carry them with your left (impure) hand. Taking “fun” selfies in front of a Buddha statue is seen as disrespectful.
Thai monks are not allowed to be touched, especially by women. If touched by a woman, a monk is obliged to undergo a purification ceremony. So never sit right next to a monk if you’re a woman. If you want to give something to a monk, have a man hand it over or lay it down somewhere.
Thailand welcomes more than 20 million (!) tourists each year. It’s an important source of income. They’ll do anything they can to make you feel as safe as possible. We feel very safe in Thailand and would even go so far as to say that it’s safer than many European capitals. Click here for ten tips for a safe trip through Thailand.
18. Taxis and tuk-tuks in Bangkok
Getting around is really easy everywhere in Thailand, especially in Bangkok. For instance, taxis are super cheap. The way to flag down one is by waving your hand up and down. Ask the driver to turn on the meter and only get in if he actually turns it on. It’s safe and it’s cheap. For tuk-tuk rides, you’ll need to barter. Click here for all our tips.
Both use and possession of drugs are prohibited in Thailand. Penalties are extremely high. Use your common sense and don’t risk it.
20. Ping pong shows
Perhaps I was a little naïve, but I used to think that Thai locals were just as serious about ping pong as the Japanese. Everywhere in Bangkok ping pong shows were being organized and almost every day I would get invited. It wasn’t until much later that I found out that these shows weren’t as innocent I thought and that they were suitable only for those 18 years or older…