In 2012, I decided to pack my bags and embark on an adventure of a lifetime. So I booked a one-way ticket to Thailand. Known for its unsurpassed sandy beaches, emerald waters, tasty street food, and the rich cultural history, Thailand has become one of the top holiday destinations in the world.
While the country is very hospitable towards newcomers, there are a few things we should know beforehand, and after living in Thailand for several years, I thought it was time to put together 9 tips for your first trip to the land of smiles.
Tourist Visas are Easy
If you have chosen Thailand as your next holiday or travel destination, visas are pretty much easy to obtain. For the American, Canadian, European, Australian, and South African passport holders as well as many others, you receive a 30-day visa upon arrival at the airport. Ensure that your passport is valid for at least six months and has a few blank pages and you’re set.
For those of you wanting to stay longer and explore a little more, you can head to an immigration office and extend for an extra seven, 15, or 30 days. Furthermore, applying for a 60-day tourist visa at any Thai embassy outside the country, and before your intended travel dates, is easily done and allows a further 30-day extension.
Other options include heading to Laos via minivan or plane from Bangkok and applying at the Thai embassy in Vientiane. It’s quick and easy and a great way to see another Southeast Asian country.
Best Time to Visit
Thailand has a tropical climate with three distinct seasons. The hottest time of year is during the three-month school holiday and over Thai New Year – from March to May. This time of year can be brutal but is amazing.
November to February is the most popular season with cooler temperatures and a bit of rain here and there, so check the weather when booking tours, especially at sea. The rainy season changes every year but usually begins from about June and dissipates around the end of October.
The budget-friendly time of year to travel is definitely during the monsoon season as you’ll find plenty of deals on tours and accommodation. As high-season starts picking up, prices go up and accommodation becomes difficult to source, so I would plan well in advance if you’re travelling between November and February.
Buy a SIM card
Unlike many countries, Thailand offers excellent access to quality Wi-Fi, which makes it easy to connect while travelling. However, sim cards are easy to come by and cheap — well-worth buying when you arrive. There are three major network providers in Thailand, True Move, AIS, and DTAC. All of them are good. However, True Move and AIS have a wider 4G coverage — good for those who might be touring the countryside.
SIM cards and data plans are relatively cheap and range from about 49THB for seven days to about 599THB for 30 days – which is between USD1.50 and USD20.00.
Learn some basic Thai
A large part of travelling is the complete cultural immersion you get through connecting with the country’s people and language. I have found that Thai people gain so much joy from travellers who make the effort and try to speak their language. Whether it’s to say hello and thank you or ordering food and drinks, you’ll be making someone’s day just by trying.
Check out Learn Thai with Mod for some fantastic tips and lessons on how to speak Thai.
Getting from place to place in Thailand is fairly simple as transportation is efficient and budget-friendly. Flight deals are always available, and my favourite website to use is AirAsia. You can sign up for Big Member Points and earn when you travel. Land travel is also easy and fun, especially with Lomprayah who handles bus and boat trips in one swift booking.
When you need to get around the town you’re staying in, using local transport couldn’t be easier. Tuk-tuks are easy and available on most street corners, and those brave enough to hop on a motorbike taxi will zip past traffic and be at your destination in no time. There are also songtaews which cost about 10THB and usually run every 15 to 30 minutes along the main stretch of road.
What to Pack When Visiting Thailand
When you travel to Thailand, certain essentials should make the packing list. Thailand is a tropical country with high humidity, and so easy-dry clothing is a must. When visiting temples, you should carry a scarf or a sarong to cover your shoulders, chest, and knees, as this is a sign of respect and should be followed.
Mosquito spray, sunscreen, and a rain jacket are handy to have with you, as well as slip-on shoes. Buses and trains are often air-conditioned and get quite chilly, especially those travelling long distances, so be sure to pack something to keep you warm.
Say Yes to Mosquito Spray
Thailand is known for the swarms of mosquitoes, especially during the monsoon season. My advice is to either pack a repellent or buy one when you arrive. The pink spray bottle in 7/11 works very well, is compact, and affordable. Carry it with you at all times. If you have forgotten it, don’t worry. Most restaurants and bars have mosquito repellent on site.
Sample the Street Food
The street food in Thailand leaves nothing to be desired. The authenticity and variety of dishes that are found on the street are amazing and with the delicious taste comes the Thai hospitality. Street food vendors are friendly and always smiling, making the experience so much more powerful than just trying exotic food. Dishes like Kway Tiew and Phad Thai are served in portions big enough for two and cost as little at 30THB, depending on where you are.
Animal Tourism in Thailand
Tourism is a large part of Thailand’s revenue stream. In recent years, several not-so-ethical activities have been boycotted and for good reason. Avoid elephant rides or supporting an unethical animal sanctuary when visiting Thailand. There are conservation camps that save elephants from cruel lifestyles and provide natural habitats for them to flourish in without chains and whips.
Additionally, petting tigers is not an ethical activity, as it has been rumoured that the tigers are drugged to become more docile around humans.
If you have any tips for first-time travelers to Thailand, let us know in the comments below.