This page contains entries related to traveling throughout the Kingdom of Thailand. For entries more generally about the food, the people, the culture, and the experience of living in Thailand, please visit the Thailand section of my site.
Bangkok-specific information: Here is what I recommend you do if you are a first-time visitor to Bangkok. Looking for Bangkok restaurant recommendations or hotel recommendations? Just click the links.
General Information about Travel in Thailand:
- Geography of Thailand
- Weather and What to Wear
- The Monarchy
- Social Norms
- Tipping and Bargaining
- Health and Food
- Safety and Scams
Geography of Thailand
Thailand is divided into 4 natural regions:
- The mountainous North, with its profusion of multicolored orchids, fascinating native handicrafts, and winter temperatures sufficiently cool to permit cultivation of temperate fruits such as strawberries. Popular cities to visit include Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Pai, and Mae Hong Son.
- The high Northeast Plateau, which still jealously guards its many archaeological and anthropological mysteries, includes the Issan region where Thailand’s spiciest food comes from. Popular cities include Ubon Ratchathani, Udon Thani, and Khon Kaen.
- The Central Plain, one of the world’s most fertile rice and fruit-growing areas with colorful traditional culture and way of life as well as the sandy beaches of the East Coast including Pattaya, and vibrant cosmopolitan Bangkok.
- The peninsular South, where the unspoiled beaches and idyllic islands compliment economically vital tin mining, rubber cultivation, and fishing. Popular destinations include Hua Hin, Koh Samui, Krabi, and Phuket.
Weather / Climate
Thailand enjoys a tropical climate. With the exception of the South, the country has three distinct seasons:
- Hot and dry (well, “dryish”) from March through June (average daytime highs 35°C / 95°F with nights not much cooler);
- Rainy with plenty of sunshine from July to October (average daytime highs 32°C / 90°F and 90% humidity)
- Cool from November to January (average daytime highs 29°C / 85°F and overnight lows of 20°C / 70°F with a pleasant drop in humidity)
If you are in the mountainous areas, temperatures can be much cooler at night in higher elevations.
If you are in the South, there are two distinct seasons – dry and monsoon (wet).
- Monsoon on the Andaman coast (the west) runs April to October
- Monsoon on the Gulf of Thailand (the east) runs September to December
What to Wear
Light, cool clothes are sensible. Shorts, sleeveless shirts, tank tops and other beach-style attire are considered inappropriate dress when not actually at the beach or in a resort area. When visiting temples or royal places, stricter dress codes apply.
Generally, to fit in with the expectations of locals, skirts, jeans, khakis, or slacks are appropriate. Blouses, T-shirts, or polo shirts are appropriate, but should not be too tight-fitting, expose your mid-drift, or be sleeveless.
Thai people have a deep, traditional reverence for the Royal Family, and a visitor should be careful to show respect for the King, the Queen and the Royal Children. Jokes or critical comments of the Royal Family are never appropriate and are actively punished using lese majeste laws.
Don’t make the assumption that Thais will be comfortable discussing the monarchy, even in a non-critical way, just because you are closer to someone or are in private. Generally, Thais are raised to believe it is not their place to discuss such matters and may feel very uncomfortable doing so.
Thailand is about 95% Buddhist with notable Muslim and Christian minorities. Additionally, there is much influence from Animism, Hinduism, and Bramanism.
Visitors should dress neatly in all religious shrines. They should never go topless, or in shorts, hot pants or other unsuitable attire. It is acceptable to wear shoes when walking around the compound of a Buddhist temple, but not inside the chapel where the principal Buddha image is kept.
Each Buddha image, large or small, ruined or not, is regarded as a sacred object. Never climb onto one to take a photograph or do anything that might indicate a lack of respect. For example, taking a picture standing behind one of the old Buddha images whose head had fallen off, is highly offensive to Buddhists.
Buddhist monks are forbidden to touch or be touched by a woman, or to accept anything from the hands of one. If a woman has to give anything to a monk, she first hands it to a man, who then presents it, or she sets it down in front of the monk, who can then pick it up.
Thais don’t normally shake hands when they greet one another, but instead press the palms together in a prayer-like gesture called a wai. Generally a younger person wais an elder, who returns it. While it is polite to return a wai from hotel employees or other service workers, it is a sure sign that you are a foreigner when you go around initiating a wai with every Thai you encounter, especially when they are junior to you.
Thais regard the head as the highest part of the body, literally and figuratively. Therefore, avoid touching people on the head and try not to point your feet at people or any object. It is considered very rude. (In fact, Thais disparagingly refer to feet as “foreigner’s hands”.) Shoes should be removed when entering a private Thai home.
In general, overt public displays of affection are frowned upon.
The Thai unit of currency is the baht. For current exchange rates, here is a link to Bangkok Bank’s foreign exchange site.
- 1 baht is divided into 100 satang, although you will rarely use satang in your visit.
- Notes are in denominations of 1,000 (brown), 500 (purple), 100 (red), 50 (blue), 20 (green) and 10 (brown) baht although the 10-baht note is no longer printed.
- Coins consist of 25 satang, 50 satang, 1 baht, 5 baht and 10 baht.
All notes and coins have the image of the King on them – as such, take care to avoid defacing, damaging, or otherwise treating the money in a way that could be construed as disrespectful.
Major currency bills and travelers cheques are cashed easily at hotels, tourist shops, all provincial banks, shopping centers, and moneychangers. You will generally find that for the best rates, withdrawal your money from a local ATM. Most ATMs in Thailand accept foreign cards with 4-digit PIN numbers. Thai banks do levy a service charge to use their ATMs, usually about 150 baht per transaction.
When withdrawing money from the ATM, it is helpful to withdraw in 900-baht increments (i.e. 3,900 baht instead of 4,000) because a 1,000-baht note is quite large and small shops and services may find it difficult to make change.
If you are exchanging cash, two of the best chains at which to do it share a name: SuperRich. One has green signs and the other orange and both have better rates than the banks.
Tipping is not a usual practice in Thailand although it is becoming more common. Major restaurants add a 10% service charge to the bill. Taxi drivers do not require a tip, but the gesture is appreciated. The usual guideline is that if a few coins are given as change to a bill, you will leave the coins as the tip. At air conditioned restaurants, a 20-baht bill or two can be left if the service was especially good. At quite fancy restaurants, a 100-baht bill should be sufficient.
Fixed prices are the norm in department stores, but at most other places such as the Weekend Market, bargaining is to be expected. However, this practice is fading and some vendors within markets have signs indicating no bargaining. Generally, you can obtain a final figure of between 10-30% lower than the original asking price. Much depends on your skills and the shopkeeper’s mood. But remember, Thais appreciate good manners and a sense of humor. With patience and a broad smile, you will not only get a better price, you will also enjoy shopping as an art.
The electric current is 220 volt AC (50 cycles) throughout the country. Many different types of plugs and sockets are in use. Your electric shavers, hair dryers, tape recorders and other appliances will require a transformer and your computer or other variable-voltage device may need a plug adapter. Electrical outlets that accept the US-standard 3-prong plug are quite common especially in major chain hotels and plug adapters are easy to find, if needed.
Food / Health
Tap water is clean for bathing and brushing teeth, but drinking from it directly should be avoided. Bottled water is recommended. Eating food from street food vendors is generally safe, and it is safest to buy foods that are cooked at high heat immediately before being served. Use your common sense and observe the setting: busy vendors that demonstrate relatively good hygienic habits should be safe to eat from.
Ice in drinks in Bangkok and most major cities is made from filtered water and can be considered safe. In general, ice that is in cube form (versus shaved ice) is made from filtered water.
It is advised that you carry tissues and hand sanitizer with you as not all public restrooms provide toilet paper and/or hand soap, although both are increasingly common.
Safety and Scams
Generally, Thailand is a very safe place for visitors, except for the extremely high road fatality rate. You are especially advised against renting or riding on motorcycles or motorbikes. Too many tourists are injured or die while driving unfamiliar roads on an unfamiliar vehicle. While you should always use caution (walking through unfamiliar, deserted areas at night for example), there is generally a high degree of safety.
Unfortunately, the reputation of the friendly and helpful Thais is tarnished a bit by the surprisingly high number of touts and scam artists. Be aware of people who approach you from out of the blue, speaking remarkable English, telling you that a particular tourist attraction is closed, suggesting that you visit another temple that is open just one day a year, or recommending any “government approved” sales of gems, gold, antiques, etc.
If a tuk-tuk driver or taxi driver asks you where you are going, they are not the people you should ask for help with directions. If you are uncertain where to go, walk into a hotel, a shopping mall information counter, or into an unrelated shop (not a tailor, jewelry store, etc. – choose a restaurant, a music store, or something that is unlikely to have any big ticket sales to make from you) and ask for directions there.
There are Thais who will legitimately offer to help you, but in general, you need to be suspicious because most of the time, you are the target of a scam. We don’t want you to be untrusting of the generally genuinely friendly and helpful Thai people, but are constantly amazed by the stories of otherwise smart people who fall for the most obvious scams.
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