Outside of swanky restaurants, luxury malls, and high-class hotels, Thailand is very much a cash-based society. There’s certainly little point heading to a market, for example, with a credit card. Many smaller accommodations also expect payment in cash, as do local restaurants and many attractions. Even some tour operators prefer traditional payment methods over plastic. Make sure you carry enough cash to pay for your everyday needs. ATMs are generally widely available, even in smaller towns, but if you’re heading to more off-the-grid locations or remote islands, it’s best to replenish your funds before setting off. It also pays to have a good stash of smaller notes and coins for low-value purchases; many smaller stores and taxi drivers don’t have much change.
As with most places in the world, there are some common scams and tricks that abound in Thailand’s tourist areas. And, few things can ruin a great day on vacation as fast as realising you’ve been well and truly conned. Thailand’s laid-back atmosphere and smiling locals can make it easy to fall into a false sense of security. Keep your guard up, though, and maintain a healthy level of skepticism. It also helps to gen up on the most common scams too—forewarned is forearmed.
While many tourists in Thailand rent scooters to explore, it really may not be the most sensible of moves. Just look around in places like Pai, Chiang Mai, and the islands and you’ll almost certainly spot people sporting bandages, bruises, cuts and scrapes. Inexperienced riders coupled with Thailand’s terrible road safety records do not go well together. Plus, unless you have a motorbike license from your home country (and, even that’s not a guarantee) you probably won’t be insured. While a small bump can be easy to laugh off, being unable to hike / swim / snorkel etc. for the rest of your trip really could spoil things. And, that’s if nothing worse happens. If you are adamant about renting a scooter, never, ever ride without a helmet; a full-face helmet is highly recommended. Wear closed footwear and long items of clothing.
It can be easy to neglect your health when you’re having a great time travelling. Things like drinking enough water and regularly applying sun cream can easily be forgotten… but, you’ll likely regret it later! Mosquitoes can be pesky, especially during the wet season. As well as being an annoyance, they can also spread nasty diseases. Don’t forget the bug spray for evenings outdoors and trekking adventures through the jungles. Wearing long clothing can also help with bite avoidance. Thailand has many stray animals, and it can be tempting to want to pet a cute little kitty or pup. Rabies (and other illnesses) are a real risk in Thailand. Leave the animals alone! Monkey bites can also be a hazard. Is it worth risking a bite just to get that “cute” picture of a wild monkey perched on your shoulder?
With so many awesome things to see and do, it can be tempting to try and cram as much as possible into your Thailand travels. If time is limited, though, don’t attempt too much. You’ll just end up wasting time on transportation, dashing around sites, and feeling exhausted. If you’ve just got two weeks, for example, it’s better to focus on either the north or the south, plus a few days in Bangkok, rather than trying to do everything.
Haggling is common in many (non-food) markets around Thailand, and you should master the art of negotiation if you want the best deal on your souvenirs. Even something as simple as taking a tuk tuk often requires a little bit of discussion to reach an agreeable price and, although they really should be using a meter, many taxi drivers will try and settle on a fixed price too. Good haggling skills can also help you get bargains on tours, activities, and even accommodation.
The laid-back way of life in Thailand can be both endearing and frustrating. But jai yen yen (literally, cool your heart): getting angry won’t fix your problems. In some cases, losing your temper can be risky. Thais can react quite badly to losing face, which can happen if a foreigner starts yelling at them in public, and things can quickly escalate. In any case, yelling in public isn’t cool. Accept that some things are different to back at home and go with the flow. Your bus is incredibly behind schedule? Read a few more pages of your book. The restaurant put chicken in your fried rice rather than pork? Politely point out the error and ask them to fix it. The server didn’t tell you there was actually no pork left so decided to swap for chicken? Mai bpen rai (no worries). Stifle the urge to rant and choose something else… or enjoy the chicken! It’s okay to be firm, but do it calmly and with a smile on your face.
Although English is widely spoken in many of Thailand’s most popular tourist areas, like Phuket, Bangkok, and Chiang Mai, you often don’t need to travel too far from the tried-and-trodden track to find that language barriers can be a problem. Nobody is suggesting you become fluent in Thai for your trip—it is, after all, a tricky language to learn. Do, however, make full use of translation apps and phrase books. If you have any specific dietary requirements or allergies, it can also be well worth having somebody, for example a hotel receptionist, write these down in Thai to carry with you. It also pays to be able to show addresses for accommodations and attractions in the Thai script to bus conductors and taxi drivers. Many Thais are keen to help tourists, but help them to help you and be prepared for potential communication difficulties.
You might not think you need a sweater or jacket in a tropical country like Thailand. Thailand seems to have a love for air-conditioning, however, which can make being indoors rather chilly. Buses, minivans, and trains can also be colder than you would expect. Pack at least one lightweight sweater or jacket and have it handy when using public transportation. You might also feel the benefit if you’re spending hours hunting for bargains in large malls. Additionally, some areas in Thailand can actually get pretty cold in the cool season, especially destinations in the north. In Loei province, for example, temperatures can dip to zero degrees Centigrade! Mountain areas tend to be cooler than other places, and even the islands can feel chilly come evening time, especially after a day in the hot sun.
There are many places in Thailand where you need to take off your shoes before entering. Temples are a prime example, though some government buildings, shops, museums, and other establishments also make visitors remove their footwear; wearing shoes that are easy to slip on and off can be really convenient for days of cultural sightseeing. If you’re going trekking, however, sturdy boots or trainers are recommended. Flip flops don’t really offer the best grip for scrambling up waterfalls or protection when hiking through jungles. Keep in mind too that flip flops can be lethal during the rainy season! Planning on visiting one of Bangkok’s swanky sky bars or high-class restaurants? You’ll need smart shoes. Think about your preferred activities when packing your footwear.
Of course, you’ll also need to think about your clothing choices when visiting Thailand. Many cultural sites won’t allow people inside if they are seen as being improperly dressed. As a general rule, wear clothes that cover your shoulders and reach to at least your knees, when visiting temples, major museums, and similar. Steer clear of see-through clothes too. Carrying a sarong or scarf can be a great way to cover shoulders and wear as a wrap-around scarf. Attitudes towards dress are fairly relaxed nowadays in areas that see a lot of tourists, but if you head into more rural areas you should dress fairly modestly to avoid causing embarrassing to both yourself and to locals. Another golden rule to remember: beachwear is only for the beach!
Keep these tips in mind when travelling around Thailand and have a fantastic time in the Land of Smiles.