Thailand is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. Filled with beautiful islands, charming hill towns, delicious food, friendly locals and an unending energy which will exhilarate you and win you over. Being the major getaway to South-east Asia, it is inevitable that some of your travel plans may involve routes via Thailand. But the country deserves at least one proper visit from any traveler. We have visited Thailand thrice now (!!!) and still can’t get enough of it. We wrote these travel tips for Thailand to share our experiences and mistakes.
Visiting a new place and experiencing a different culture is the adrenaline that drives travelers. But the new and the unknown bring with them a lot of questions. Before our first visit, we made the mistake of planning inadequately and did not have much information about a lot of things. Being Indians, we thought we did not need any travel tips for Thailand. Big mistake! Now after three visits to the country, we can certainly dish out a few things that every first time traveler to Thailand must know before their trip. These tips are not going to give you information on where to stay and what to visit. Rather, these are practical and cultural pointers to help make your holiday smoother. So without any further ado, let’s get down to it.
7 TRAVEL TIPS FOR THAILAND
1. SCHEDULE YOUR TRAVEL DATES CAREFULLY:
I know that you will be booking your trip dates according to your vacation schedule. But before you sit down and book that all important flight ticket, take a moment to check whether your dates are clashing with any important Thai ceremonial events.
Our first time in Bangkok had coincided with Buddha’s birthday, known locally as “Big Buddha day”. And this almost ruined our holiday. Why? Because in this three day celebration, most shops in Thailand remain closed and alcohol is prohibited from being sold in shops as well as in restaurants and pubs. Now, we are not alcoholics, but we sure do love a drink (or a cocktail in my case!) with our dinner especially on vacation. No cold beers after a morning of sightseeing in the hot humid weather was frustrating. You can stock up beforehand and drink in the confines of your room but that’s totally depressing.
And all you teeotolars who are smirking at me, do know that most temples also remain closed for these festive celebrations so your sightseeing plans will be ruined. We are a full time working couple and our blog focuses on short term travel plans for working professionals. So it is highly important for us to plan our short trips very carefully so as to avoid these pitfalls and waste precious vacation days. Big Buddha day falls in June-July and dates vary every year. Check your calendar for that as well as other Thai Royal ceremonies and functions which cause temple closures.
If you want to escape the crowds, avoid peak seasons when most of the popular places become inundated with tourists making it a nightmare for people like us who like our holidays to be peaceful and relaxing. Try for shoulder season, maybe march or october-november to to enjoy the best weather as well as the relative lack of tourists.
On the other hand, if you love soaking up in the local atmosphere, there is no better time than ‘Songkran’ (Thai New Year) when the whole country is in a state of celebration and there is revelry in the air. Do note that a lot of establishments remain closed during this time so it is essential to plan beforehand and avoid inconveniences.
2. THE WEATHER FACTOR
The weather will play a big role in making or breaking your vacation, so plan carefully taking the weather factors into consideration. Thailand on the whole is a tropical country and the weather remains hot and humid most of the year. A lot of your time will be spent outdoors, be it relaxing on beaches, exploring mountains or sightseeing in cities. So if you are not a fan of muggy weather, steer clear of summer.
If Central Thailand (Bangkok/ Ayuthuya/ Kanchanaburi/ Sukhothai) or the southern islands are on your wishlist, aim for October-March when the weather remains pleasant and the humidity wont sap out all your energy. Monsoons generally see intermittent showers throughout the day and most beach activities are closed. If you can manage your leave only during summer, include a visit to the Northern Thai cities of Chiang mai and Chiang rai which experience cooler climes thanks to their hilly locations. Bangkok in summer is extremely hot and humid, but we have explored as well as survived in that heat with these tips.
Make sure to head out early and limit your outdoor sightseeing to a few hours in the morning before hitting an air conditioned mall to get some respite and gulp down food. Carry enough water and apply adequate sunscreen for your protection. Wear hats or carry an umbrella. Sipping a cold beer works it’s magic too!
3. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE CHEAP TRANSPORTATION OPTIONS
Tourism is Thailand’s biggest industry, so the country abounds with a number of cheap and mid-budget transport options that can make your holiday smoother. There are multiple budget airlines connecting different parts of the country as well as hot spots abroad. Utilize your precious vacation days by booking cheap domestic flights using budget airlines like Thai lion, Tiger airways, Nok air or Air Asia. The time that you save will enable you to see more of the country in a short span while spending only a little extra. Use the multi city flight booking option so that you don’t have to waste time returning back to your original port.
For trips outside Bangkok to Ayuthuya or Kanchanaburi, make use of the trains that are cheap and fast. We used the local train to travel from Ayuthuya to Bangkok and it was cheap and convenient. There are rapid trains too which are faster and air conditioned. For airport transfer from Suvarnabhumi airport use the skytrain and for transfers from Don Muang, use the train or bus. We have travelled through both these airports and used the skytrain and the train for our transfers without facing any problem.
4. RESPECT BUDDHISM AND THE MONARCHY
A very important travel tip for Thailand, and not just Thailand but for anywhere you go. Every traveler should respect the culture of a place and one of the best ways to find out more is by reading. I always love to read up on the history and culture of a new country before visiting as it gives me a much better understanding and this in turn makes me a better traveler.
Thailand is a Buddhist country and a constitutional monarchy with strict laws for any disrespect or insult shown. At the airport itself you will get to see guidelines prohibiting any disrespect to Buddha which also include buying Buddha head souvenirs or getting tattoos. In the trains, railway stations and the metro/skytrain lines there are designated reserved seats for monks. Refrain from sitting there. If you come across any monk show some respect.
For Thais, their monarch is not just a human, but rather a demi-god. Suffice to say, any criticism of the royal family is not tolerated. The country has strict laws called ‘Les Majeste’ which protect the royal family from any sort of criticism. Be on the safe side and avoid any conversation about the royal family. If unavoidable, refrain from any negative comments.
5. DRESS CODES FOR VISITING TEMPLES
Thailand abounds in beautiful temples and you will (and should) visit a few Wats (temples) during your stay. Every region has their fare share of these beauties. While Bangkok is home to quite a few stunners including Wat Pho(of the Reclining Buddha fame) and the utterly gorgeous Wat Arun on the riverside, Chiang Rai has the stunning White temple(Wat Rong Khun) and the Blue Temple(Wat Rong suei ten) while Phuket has it’s own mountaintop Big Buddha. In addition, the ancient ruins of Ayuthuya and Sukhothai which are UNESCO world heritage sites are must visits on any temple hopping itinerary.
While I am not religious, I love visiting temples to check out their architecture and know more about their history. There is a defined dress code for visiting any temple in Thailand (including the royal palace). Shoulders and knees have to be covered. No shorts, mini skirts, tight/ripped jeans/leggings, no cleavage, vest/ halter or strapless tops. The dress code is enforced with varying degrees of strictness at different sites.
The temples in Bangkok are the strictest with no entry for exposed shoulders or knees. In Ayuthuya the enforcement is a little lax. I saw sleeveless tops and vests being allowed. Keep in mind that Erawan museum and Ancient Siam theme park also have this dress code though the enforcement is lax. In general I felt that exposed legs were the bigger problem than exposed shoulders in the temples outside Bangkok. There are small shops selling sarongs and tops outside most temples so it’s easy to buy at the spot in case you are improperly attired. I will ask you to keep it easy breezy: loose tees and loose pants work best in the hot humid weather while taking care of all dress codes.
6. TICKLE YOUR TASTE BUDS WITH THAI FOOD
Trying out Thai food for the first time was one of the highlights of our trip and we fell in love with it. Now, food is one of the reasons why we go back again and again. It has given us great pleasure to introduce our family and friends to the cuisine when they have travelled with us!
Thai food is a mix of sweet, sour and spicy: in short delicious and I can go on and on about it. Start with ‘Pad Thai’, the national dish which is thin rice noodles served with some meat and veggies which tastes refreshing. ‘Tom Yum’ is a famous Thai soup usually cooked with prawn. Another big favourite is ‘Som Tam’: a spicy green papaya salad. There are a great variety of noodles to try out: flat rice noodles, thin rice noodles and egg noodles being a few of them. Most come topped with veggies and meats or are based in a broth. ‘Pad See Eiw’ (stir fried wide rice noodles with meat and cabbage/broccoli) is a must try noodle dish. The ‘Boat noodles’ of Ayuthuya are a local specialty and not to be missed. For rice lovers, there are a variety of dishes, be it the basic Thai green curry or Red curry, stir fried minced chicken and pork with rice (Pad Kra Pao) or Pineapple fried rice, everything is worth tasting. Different regions have their own local cuisine. The islands will give you lots of fresh sea food options, while Northern Thailand is famed for it’s ‘Khao Soi’ (meat in a coconut based broth topped with crunchy noodles).
One of the best and cheapest ways of tasting is through the local street markets. Check out the stalls having lots of local customers. Try out Thai street staples like various satays, grilled pork skewers (Moo Ping), oyster omlettes and fish/pork balls. Indulge your sweet tooth with ‘Mango sticky rice’ and coconut ice cream.
For people with peanut allergy: Some dishes have peanuts sprinkled on top while others come with a peanut sauce dip. You can mention your peanut allergy before ordering by saying “Pom pay too eh lee song” (guys) and “chawn pay too eh lee song” (girls). For the super cautious who would like to completely avoid Thai food, there are plenty of other food options from different cuisines (Western/Indian/Italian) so you won’t have to stay hungry!
7. GET OFF THE BEATEN PATH
The best travel tip for Thailand that i can give ! Being a top tourist draw, it can be difficult to get away from the crowds in Thailand. Popular sites are usually packed during peak seasons and it can get overwhelming for a first time visitor. Do not let that mar your trip. Every place has a few unknown attractions. We usually try to include a mix of popular spots along with a few off beat ones to make our trips well rounded.
Always try to reserve a few days for less popular but interesting sites and you will get to see many beautiful spots without people buZZing around. In Bangkok, there are many smaller temples and places that are equally charming. For some beach fun, ditch the crowded islands of Phuket and Phi Phi and head for one of the many smaller and relatively unknown islands with better beaches and tranquility. For the popular spots, make sure to head early so that you can beat the crowds. It is best to find out the opening hours beforehand and reach then. Avoid weekends and holidays for the most crowded places.
Thailand is a beautiful and interesting country. There is much more to it than shopping and entertainment. Take the time to learn about the history, explore the ancient locations and dig into the amazing food. The friendly people are just the icing on the cake. Plan ahead for your trip and take note of these travel tips for Thailand that we have mentioned to make your first visit a beautiful experience. You will come back wanting more !
Have you visited Thailand before? What was your travel experience? Share your experience and tips for visiting this beautiful country in the comments !
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WELCOME TO TWO FLASHPACKERS
Full time Doctors, part time travelers : We are Two Flashpackers out to explore all we can in the little time we have ! We travel independently, without resorting to tour packages as we feel this is the best way to truly explore a place. Our blog focuses on mid budget and short term travel for working couples and how to make the most of limited vacation days. All our articles, posts,itineraries and guides are written to inspire you to travel and explore places on your own while balancing your job and family commitments. Happy Travelling ♥