Thailand is the perfect introduction to long term travel and backpacking and these Thailand travel tips will help you prepare for your first adventure to Southeast Asia.
The land of smiles has a special place in our hearts. It was the first extended trip we took as a couple in 2000 and we have been back several times since.
Thailand has been a popular tourist destination for decades and with good reason. It has beautiful beaches, a friendly and exotic culture, historic temples and a lot of adventure.
It has a strong tourism infrastructure, yet it is exotic and exciting enough to make you feel that you have stepped into another world.
But when traveling to Thailand, there are many rules and cultural differences you need to know before you go.
Armed with this information, you’ll be able to focus on having a good time in Thailand while traveling safely and responsibly throughout the country.
Thailand Travel Tips
Thailand has a very strong infrastructure for tourism and it is easy to travel on any budget. With a good tourist bus system, train system and flights, internal travel in Thailand is organized and affordable.
Don’t take elephant rides, do not go to tiger temples. Avoid staying on Kho San Road, but definitely visit it.
We avoid drinking tap water in Thailand without purifying it first. We use a Steripen to purify our drinking water. Its ultraviolet light purifies water in seconds making it safe to drink.
1. Don’t Ride the Elephants
Elephants that are used for tourism and work have been abused and live in miserable conditions chained to poles.
They are forced to walk in circles and have been broken to obey their mahouts.
Instead of riding elephants, visit an elephant sanctuary where you wan witness retired tourist and logging elephants in their natural environment.
They may never be released back into the wild, but at least they will live out their days in peace while having some freedom to roam.
Read all about our Elephant Sanctuary Visit
Also Read: The Human Elephant Conflict
2. Do Not Take Selfies with Tigers
I was surprised to learn that the tiger temples are still open. I knew of them when we first visited Thailand, but I assumed they closed long ago.
But sadly, tigers are still being exploited in Thailand for tourists to take selfies with them.
Unlike the elephant sanctuaries that are giving safe haven to retired tourist elephants, places like the Tiger Kingdom are raising tigers and tearing cubs from their mothers to be poked and prodded by tourists.
They are not in a natural environment and they are kept in cages.
Instead, go searching for Tiger’s in their natural habitat like Altitude treks did in this post. (photo above courtesy of said post)
3. Cover up
Whether you are male or female, skimpy clothing is frowned upon. Especially when visiting temples and places of worship and in rural areas.
Make sure to respect the culture and cover your knees and shoulders when entering a temple or wat.
A sarong is a great item to carry with you. I’ve wrapped it around my waist to use as a skirt and put it over my shoulders to use as a shall.
Wearing long pants and long sleeves that are made of silk or lightweight polyester will keep you cooler than dressing in shorts and protect you from the hot sun and mosquitoes.
So go for it, dress like the locals!
Note: In beach areas and on hikes, it is fine to wear bathing suits and shorts, but when in cities and temples, cover up.
Don’t be “that backpacker” that looks like an ignorant tourist knowing nothing of the places they visit.
4. Take Off Your Shoes
When entering temples, some shops or private homes, take off your shoes.
Flip-flops are a completely acceptable form of footwear in Thailand, and they are easy to slip on and off.
A good rule is if you see a bunch of flip-flops at the door, this is probably a place where you should take off your shoes.
5. Do Not Mention the King
Even though King Bhumibol Adulyadej passed away, he was revered by the people and to show any disrespect could get you thrown you in jail.
When talking about the royal family, it is best to not bring him up at all or if you do, be positive. But isn’t that a good rule for life in general?
6. Eat with Your Spoon
Image by SoleneC1
The preferred choice of utensil for eating Thai food is the spoon.
The fork is used to push the rice or meat onto the spoon and then put the spoon in your mouth. People do not stab their meat or veggies with a fork, they scoop it up with a spoon.
Chopsticks are used for things like Pad Thai and other noodle dishes, but when sitting down to eat in Thailand, you will most likely have a fork and spoon only at your table setting.
7. Food Service is Slow
Another thing to be prepared for at Thai restaurants is that your food will never come out at the same time.
If you order separate dishes they will come out when they’re ready meaning one of you is sure to get your food before the other.
Someone may be finished eating, by the time the next plate comes out.
Our advice, share it and eat family style like the locals.
8. Eat the Street Food
Thailand has some of the best street food in the world. It is cheap and delicious.
Just be sure to follow the rules of eating abroad and you’ll be fine. If it is cooked you are good. If you can peel it, you are good.
Usually, street food has such a high turnover, the food is fresh and delicious.
9. Don’t Rent a Motorscooter – Unless you Have Experience
We often see tourists riding around on mopeds without helmets.
They’re wearing tank tops and t-shirts and next thing you know they crash into the harsh reality of realizing they don’t have the experience that they think they do.
Thailand has one of the highest traffic fatalities records on earth and it is a hairy place to drive.
You’ll be sharing the road with everything from tuk-tuks to transports, there are no rules and the roads can be quite bad.
So, unless you really have a lot of experience on a motorcycle, hire someone to drive you instead.
10. Take a Tuk Tuk
That said, you still need to experience riding in a tuk-tuk once in your life.
It can be overwhelming but taking a tuk-tuk ride is a rite of passage!
Just be sure to agree on a price before you get in the Tuk Tuk and don’t let them talk you into stopping at any shops.
11. Watch out for Scams
Speaking of Tuk-tuks, watch out for the tuk tuk scam.
If the price seems too good to be true, it probably is. That means they’ll be taking you around to perfume shops, antique dealers, jewelry stores and anything else they can get you to buy.
Tuk-tuk drivers receive commissions from stores, so they will drive you all around the city except for the place you wanted to go in the first place.
These tuk-tuk drivers can be really aggressive, so just say no.
Other Thailand Scams
The fake baht scam – shopkeepers claiming you have paid with a fake note and then they exchange it with an actual fake note while inspecting it.
The Gem Scam – random strangers telling you about bargains for gems until you think it’s too good of a deal to pass up. They are good at duping tourists.
It’s closed today scam: When you are about to enter a famous Wat, someone will tell you “it is closed today”, but they “can: bring you to another temple that is just as good. Instead of going to a temple, you’ll be stuck going on a wild goose chase in search of jewelry and gems.
See our full list of Travel Scams
12. Traveling Thailand
Thailand is cheap and easy to travel around.
If you have a short amount of time, we suggest flying from place to place.
If you don’t want to fly, the trains are efficient. We have often take overnight sleeper trains to places like Chiang Mai.
The buses are also good. Thailand has a lot of first-class sleeper buses that can get you from point A to point B.
It’s easy to book at a travel agent anywhere in Thai cities and islands.
13. GrabTaxi App
We used to take tuk-tuks when looking for cheap transport around Bangkok and other cities, but now the way to go is with the app GrabTaxi.
GrabTaxi is like Uber. It’s similar service, just a different app.
It is much cheaper and you don’t have to barter with the drivers. It’s also far better for your lungs.
A tuk-tuk’s two-stroke engine can leave you gasping from exhaust fumes in the hot sun.
14. Go Shopping
So on that note, go shopping in the markets. Thailand’s clothing costs haven’t changed much (in the markets, that is) since 2003!
You can get sarongs, fishermen pants, skirts, and shirts for a couple of bucks. And the materials are so light, the extra clothes take up very little space.
15. Go to a Festival
When planning your travels, look into what festivals are happening and be sure to go.
There are several festivals around the country throughout the year, but these are a few to possibly plan your visits around.
- Songkran happens in April and is amazing! It’s the world’s largest water fight. (all over the country)http://happens in November (Chiang Mai)
- Loy Krathong – Lantern Festival all around Thailand
- Yi Peng Lantern Festival – happens in November (Chiang Mai)
- The Vegetarian Festival is in October (Phuket)
- Chinese New Year (Jan or Feb)
16. Take Long Tail Boat
Long Tail Boats are a major way to get around in Thailand, and you’ll be missing out if you don’t take a ride on one somewhere.
Luckily longtail boats are used in both the North and the South.
17. Protect from Mosquitoes
This is not to be taken lightly in Asia.
We know more than one person that has caught Dengue Fever during our travels, so be sure to wear light colored long sleeves and pants, wear insect repellant.
If you are staying in hostels or cheaper guest houses, bring your own mosquito net.
18. Get Your Zen On
Things are a bit slower in South East Asia and you should start letting things slide off your shoulders from the moment you land.
Schedules will most likely be behind, service will be slow, food will come at all different times and things will most likely not go as planned.
So, get into that happy place and go with the flow, you’ll have a lot better time and a lot less stress.
19. Pack a SteriPen
You can drink the water is some places, but a lot of times you have to worry about old pipes even if the water is treated.
Most establishments use commercial ice that has been purified so it is often safe in reputable places. If in doubt, ask for no ice and drink out of the can or bottle.
20. Have a Valid Passport
This may seem straightforward, but make sure your passport is valid for at least 6 months before you leave your home country.
Customs may not let you in if it is about to expire in the next few months or weeks.
21. Live the 5 Star Life
Even if you are on a budget it is worth it to splurge for a night or two on a five-star hotel. Thailand is the place where you’ll have the chance to live the five-star life on a mid-range budget.
So go for it, you won’t be able to have the same experience downtown New York or in Tahiti, but Thailand has options for beautiful hotels that the regular middle class American/Canadian can afford.
22. Never Touch Anyone’s Head
This may seem straightforward, but when I did a quick Google search to see what I missed, I saw this on many other lists.
So, I’m putting it in because I guess some people lack common sense.
I wouldn’t touch a stranger’s head period, but apparently, tourists need to be reminded not to touch someone’s head.
I know people love to give kids a quick pat on the head, but even for children, don’t do it.
23. Do Not Purchase Buddha Statues
They are everywhere and you’ll be tempted to bring a Buddha home but to bring a Buddha image out of the country is illegal (unless you have a license) so instead stick to buying elephant statues like the rest of us.
24. Avoid Petting & Feeding the Animals
I know how cute they can look, but avoid feeding or petting monkeys, cats, and dogs.
So as much as you want to let that kitten snuggle in your lap, it is best to give it space.
And don’t feed the monkeys, they can become vicious and their scratches and bites carry disease.
25. Have a Massage – Many Massages
Massages are cheap in Thailand and you can get a massage anywhere and they are heavenly.
We’ve had cheap massages on the beach and massages in a five-star spa and all have been great! A Thai massage will work out all the kinks.
26. Full Moon Parties
For the ultimate party experience, you might want to go to a Full Moon Party on Koh Phangan.
Every month, thousands of people head to the islands to celebrate.
There’s a lot of drugs, drinking and debauchery. Keep your wits about you and you’ll be fine, but be careful, things can get out of control.
Be sure to book your hotel in advance, it fills up quickly on Kho Phangan during this time.
27. Pack a Padlock or PacSafe
When traveling on a budget in Thailand, we always bring an extra lock and a PacSafe bag protector.
It adds extra weight but if you are staying in dorm rooms or questionable guesthouses, it is good to have peace of mind when you are out.
We just wrap the cage around our packs and our electronics, cash and camera gear
28. Explore Thailand’s National Parks
Thailand has 127 national parks and you must make sure to visit some of them to go hiking to waterfalls.
There are bamboo rafting excursions, rock climbing, wildlife watching and camping. Our favourites to visit were Doi Inthanon and Khao Sok.
29 Get Scuba Certified
If you have always wanted to take a scuba diving course, Thailand is a good place to do it!
Thailand is one of the cheapest places to learn how to scuba dive. Popular places to learn to dive are Koh Tao, Koh Phi Phi, Phuket.
Koh Tao certifies more people than anywhere in the world in diving. It’s filled with backpackers and good deals.
Once you are certified, head out on a liveaboard to The Similan Islands. Operators run out of Phuket and Khao Lak.
30. Thailand is Big
There is a lot to see in Thailand and even a month isn’t enough to take it all in.
If you want to really take in the culture, we recommend going north to Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai.
If you are looking for beach life, head to the South Islands and choose a couple of different destinations.
You can’t see all the amazing beaches of Thailand in one trip, but you can enjoy a few.
Our favorite islands of Thailand are:
- Koh Lanta, Koh Lipe, Koh Samui
- Phuket Island is busy, but it is the biggest and we enjoyed ourselves there too.
- Railay is attached to the mainland, but it can only be reached by boat, so it feels like an island.
- Koh Phi Phi is the epitome of what every one has seen on travel shows aboutThailand.
31. Bring Your Own Toilet Paper
In cities and higher-end restaurants and hotels, there is toilet paper these days, but when going more off the beaten path, or to markets, you won’t find TP in the toilets. Carry your own to be safe.
32. Go With the Flow
Thailand can be overwhelming and when you first go you can experience culture shock. But if you take a deep breath and give yourself room to change plans, you’ll be fine.
It’s an exciting destination so relax and go with it!
And that is our list of all the Thailand travel tips you’ll need to know before you go!
What to Pack for Thailand
Pack as little as possible, you can buy what you need for cheap at open-air markets and it is cheap and easy to get clothing washed all around Thailand.
Packing List for Thailand
- flip flops – you will wear these all the time in Thailand
- sarong – this works great in a pinch for visiting temples and wats
- ear plugs – It can be loud on transportation and in some guesthouses.
- We recommend hiking shoes as opposed to boots. Keep it lightweight, breathable and waterproof.
- Bathing suits, shorts, t-shirts, a long skirt for women, long pants for men.
- Dry bag – Protect your electronics on boat rides, rains and water festivals.
- pegless clothesline – we often dry our bathing suits and sarongs at our beach bungalows.
- Sweater – Bus and train rides can be freezing with air conditioning blasting.
If you are starting your trip in Bangkok check out our suggestions for where to stay in Bangkok.
Where to Stay in Bangkok
Sheraton Royal Orchard – We loved staying directly on the Chao Phraya River. Free boat shuttles to Skytrain and excellent amenities.
Where to Stay in Chiang Mai
Ratilanna Riverside Spa Resort – Excellent luxury hotel overlooking the river. Complete with Infinity pool, traditional rooms and superb breakfast
Suggested Tour Operators in Thailand
Get Your Guide – Offers great day tours and multi-day tours all over the world.
Viator – Viator is another excellent tour operator that offers day tours and multi-day trips that we have also used often and can recommend.
Lonely Planet – This is an excellent travel guide book to take with you through your travels in Thailand.
TripAdvisor – Compare and check out hotels as well as find reviews and book on TripAdvisor.
Budget for Thailand
Budget: You can find a number of backpacker hostels in the range of 250-700 baht per night. ($8 – $25 USD)
Mid Range: Expect to pay 1,500-2,750 baht ($50 – $80 USD) baht per night and enjoy extra amenities.
High End: Upscale hotels will range from 3,00-12,000 baht per night ($100 – $300 USD)
- Budget Travel: Expect to pay 90-150 baht per meal ($3 – $5 USD) in a restaurant
- Street food: 30-90 baht ($1- $3 USD) per dish for street food.
- High-end restaurants can range to Western prices to 450-600 baht ($15 – $20 USD)
Thailand Phrases – Quick Reference Guide
Tuk-Tuk – Three Wheeler motorcycle that is used as a cheap taxi.
Songthaew – Public transport. A pickup truck that has a covered box where passengers sit.
Thai Greeting – Bow your head and put hands in prayer position and then say “sawadee ka” (for women) or “sawadee cup” (for men)
Muay Tai – Is Thai Kickboxing
Khoa San Road – Bangkok’s most famous street. A Backpackers hub full of shops, bars, and cheap hotels.
Wat – A Buddhist monastery or temple
Thailand Quick Tips
- Thailand power voltage is: 220 V; Plugs A & C
- Thailand Currency: is the Thai Baht and is around 30 baht to 1 USD
- ATMs can be found everywhere but take out large sums at a time as Thailand banks charge a 150 baht ($5 USD) fee above and beyond your bank’s service charges.
- SIM Cards are easy to buy at the MBK Centre in Bangkok for your unlocked smartphones. Data is cheap and fast.
- English is widely spoken in Thailand but it is nice to learn a few Thai phrases before you go.
- Thailand mainly has two seasons, rainy season and dry season. It is a tropical country that is hot and humid all year long.
Have you been to Thailand? What’s your best Thailand travel tip? We are always learning about new tips that pop up and we’d love to have you share them below!
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Featured Image by kod88