THAILAND TRAVEL GUIDE
Thailand has a rich cultural history as the only nation in Southeast Asia never to be colonised, retaining a strong identity that can be seen from the ancient kingdoms to the street food stalls serving up authentic and delicious favourites. Though parts of the country are a bit more touristy than other countries in Southeast Asia, Thailand is the perfect place to begin your Southeast Asian travels, and to return to again and again. In 2008 we did a 4-week backpack trip for our honeymoon (yes, we're those people) and also got our scuba certification. Since then we've been back again and again and loved every visit! Thailand is just one of those countries that has something for everyone and can be an easy introduction to South East Asia for family travellers.
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THAILAND QUICK FACTS
- Currency: Thai Baht (THB). Current conversion rate here.
- Electricity: 220V AC electricity. Power outlets are usually two-prong round or flat sockets. Be sure to pack a universal travel adaptor. Be sure to carry a universal travel adaptor so you can still use all your electronic devices. If you are from a country with 110V as a standard be aware that you will need a voltage converter.
- Visa: Generally speaking visitors from most countries are given a free 30-day visa when you enter Thailand by air and 15 days if you enter overland. If you would like to stay in Thailand for longer than the provided visa-free option, you can look at applying for a tourist visa in any Thai embassy beforehand (this gives you 60 days). Sadly the days of arriving with a one-way ticket and a backpack are over and Thailand, as most countries in Southeast Asia, now will require proof of onward flights before allowing you to enter the country. The latest entry requirements are available here.
- Safety: Thailand is generally a safe travel destination. Yes, there are a few scams here and there but as long as you take the time to read about them beforehand, you’re good. The Thai islands have been gaining notoriety for accidents induced by alcohol so just be a little bit cautious. If you plan on renting a scooter make sure to read our guide here first. The most common accident in Thailand has to be scooter related. What most people don’t realize is that even if you have travel insurance, if you don’t have a valid motorcycle license, most policies won’t cover you so make sure you look into this before your trip. It's probably best to also get an International Driver’s license (IDP) beforehand. Whatever you do, don’t travel without travel insurance! We would suggest checking out World Nomads or SafetyWing, for travel insurance as they have the best coverage for active travellers.
- Language: Around the islands, English is a lot more common as a lot of people are in the tourism industry. In Northern Thailand and in more rural areas, there is however a good chance that you will encounter people who don’t speak English. It helps to know some basic phrases - you will find our useful guide here!
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THAILAND PUBLIC HOLIDAYS
- 6 April, Chakri Day
- 13–15 April, Songkran (New Year)
- 1 May, National Labour Day (banks only)*
- 5 May, Coronation Day
- 1 July, Midyear Day (banks only)*
- 12 August, H.M. the Queen’s Birthday
- 23 October, Chulalongkorn Day
- 5 December, National Day (H.M. the King’s Birthday)
- 10 December, Constitution Day
Holidays falling on a Saturday or Sunday are observed by banks on the Monday following.
Also, Buddhist holidays, including Makha Bucha Day, Visakha Bucha (Visakaha Day), Asarnha Bucha Day and Chinese New Year. * Check for actual date of observance.
FESTIVALS IN THAILAND
Thailand definitely has no shortage of holidays - mostly related to Buddhism and the monarchy. However, Loi Krathong and Songkran are two festivals in Thailand that we highly recommend people to experience at least once.
- Songkran Water Festival - Undoubtedly the most fun holiday in Thailand - is the celebration of the Thai New Year, sometime in April (officially April 13th to 15th, but the date varies in some locations). What started off as a celebratory ritual to wash away the sins of the prior year has somehow evolved into the world's largest water fight, which lasts for three full days. Squirt guns, water pistols of all sizes and giant Super Soakers are weapons of choice and you will find it on sale everywhere. The best places to experience the celebrations and to participate are Chiang Mai, the Khao San Road area in Bangkok and holiday areas like Pattaya and Phuket, or popular islands like Ko Samui and Ko Phi Phi. Be advised that you will get very wet, this is not a spectator sport! Put away your fragile electronics, grab a bucket and join in the fun!
- Loy Krathong- Festival of Light - Falling on the first full moon day in the twelfth month of the Lunar calendar, usually in November, when people head to rivers, lakes and even swimming pools to launch flower and candle-laden banana-leaf floats called krathong. The floats are meant as an offering to the river goddess who gives life to all. To the North, Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, have their own unique traditions of floating Kom or launching lit paper lanterns. This sight of thousands of launching lanterns can be breath-taking - although we probably should reflect on the resulting pollution of this popular activity.
- Wisakha Bucha - Falling on a full moon in the sixth lunar month, which is usually in May or sometimes June, it commemorates the birth, enlightenment, and death of the Lord Buddha. On this day, Thai Buddhists visit a temple to make merit in the morning and listen to sermons (Dhamma) by monks. Candle-lit processions take place at most temples across the country around sunset.
- Chinese New Year - Chinese New Year is a time of abundant feasting with the best places to visit Bangkok Chinatown's Yaowarat Rd to fully embrace the festivity.! Chinese Thais, celebrate by cleaning their houses and offering food to their ancestors.
BEST TIME TO VISIT THAILAND
The climate of Thailand can be a somewhat complicated matter due to its stretched geography and exposure to both the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand. However, broadly speaking Thailand is governed by three seasons:
- Rainy Season (approximately from May through October), caused by the southwest monsoon;
- Cool Season (approximately from November through February;
- Hot Season (approximately from March through May).
The rainy season can be the least predictable but you although you should consider your timing when planning your visit the length and intensity of the rainy season can dramatically vary from year to year. It's hardly a case of the heavens opening in May with never-ending showers until October. You're more likely to find rain on most days, but often it will only be for a few hours during the afternoon or overnight. The rains usually pick up in intensity from June and the rainy season peaks around September / October. One thing to note is that the Andaman coast of the southern peninsula (which includes Phuket, Krabi, Ko Lanta and the popular islands of Phi Phi and Lipe) can be hard hit by rain from as early as April.
The cool season is the most pleasant time to visit, but you should know that 'cool' is a relative concept in South East Asia! Temperatures can still easily reach a scorching 30°C in the middle of the day but generally speaking, you will experience overall manageable temperatures and less rain, with waterfalls still running in full spate and the best of the upland flowers in blooming season. However, this time is also the busiest tourist season, so some forward planning is essential.
Within this broad scheme, you will find slight variations in the weather in some regions. The northeast seems to experience the worst of summer with high temperatures and humidity in addition to dust-clouds forming over dry farmlands. In the southern parts of the country, temperatures are more consistent throughout the year, with even less variation the closer to the equator.
The Gulf Coast of the southern peninsula lies outside the general weather pattern and can be a good alternative destination when the southwest monsoon hits the Andaman coast. This part of the coast and its offshore islands is more affected by the northeast monsoon, which brings rain from October through January and peaking in November.
SPORT & ACTIVITIES
HIKING & CYCLING IN THAILAND
The climate in Thailand depends on where in the country you are: North, South, Coastal or Inland. Most parks open for hiking from October to May with the driest time usually from November to February or April, depending on where you are.
BEACH OPTIONS IN THAILAND
Thailand is packed with stunning beaches and no matter the time of the year, the weather should be good somewhere. The Andaman coast and the Gulf of Thailand (Koh Samui) is best from November to April, with March and April being particularly hot. Although the weather is hot from May to October, it can be very rainy, particularly along the West coast!
SURFING IN THAILAND
You can find some great surf in Thailand. April to October is the best time to surf on the West coast (Phuket), and October to December is better along the East coast.
KITESURF IN THAILAND
You can find suitable wind for kitesurfing almost throughout the year somewhere in Thailand. The main kitesurfing spots are Koh Phangan (Jan-May & Jul-Oct), Hua Hin (Nov-Mar), Phuket (May-Oct & Nov-Mar), Koh Samui (Jul-Oct), Chumphon (Oct-Jan), Rayong (Nov-Jan & Jun-Sep), Pattaya (Nov-Jan) and Pak Nam Pran (Nov-Jun).
For more details on kite surfing in Thailand expand this section!
HEALTH RISKS IN THAILAND
Be aware of possible health risks in
Zika Virus - Zika is spread mostly by the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. These mosquitoes bite during the day and night. Zika can be passed from a pregnant woman to her fetus. Infection during pregnancy can cause certain birth defects. There is no vaccine or medicine for Zika.
Malaria - Malaria is a serious and sometimes fatal disease caused by a parasite that commonly infects a certain type of mosquito which feeds on humans. People who get malaria are typically very sick with high fevers, shaking chills, and flu-like illness. Although malaria can be a deadly disease, illness and death from malaria can usually be prevented.
Dengue - Dengue is spread mostly by the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. These mosquitoes bite during the day and night. About one in four people infected with dengue will get sick. For people who get sick with dengue, symptoms can be mild or severe.
THAILAND TRAVEL COSTS
Travel in Thailand is very affordable, downright cheap some might say. One of the most popular destinations in Southeast Asia, the combination of incredible beauty and affordability are no doubt reasons why. If you’re happy sleeping in a hostel and eating street food, you can easily get by on $25-35 a day. As in most Asian countries, you can travel around for as cheap or as expensive as you want. Food is relatively cheap, especially if you stick to local street food (with one plate of Pad Thai costing you as low as $1) and avoid expensive drinks.
If you want to get an idea of how much we spend travelling see our Budget Report section.
THAILAND TRAVEL TIPS
Thailand is a large country, and if sitting on a bus for 11 hours is not your idea of a fun time, you may well want to consider domestic flights. Skyscanner.com or Kiwi.com are handy tools for finding great flight deals. Alternatively, you will most likely end up using a combination of bus, boat and private car transfers to get around. We advise checking bus, boat and train schedules ahead of time using BookAway or 12Go website.
SIGHTS & HIGHLIGHTS OF THAILAND
Thailand is a country that has a little bit of everything for everyone. Despite being frequented by throngs of tourists every day, there is still a large portion of Thailand that remains largely unexplored. Here are a few of the best things to do in Thailand.
Get Lost in Bangkok
Bangkok will be the start of many visitors' itineraries, and while it's a modern city, it has a wonderfully rich cultural heritage. It sounds cliche but you either love Bangkok or hate it. How much you enjoy your time in Bangkok might have a lot to do with where you stay in Bangkok. You should avoid the overcrowded, scam prone area of Khao San and rather stay near Siam Square with good access to transport and sights. First-time visitors should at least visit the Grand Palace, where you will find a fine collection of highly decorated buildings and monuments. It is home to Wat Phra Kaew, the most sacred Buddhist temple in Thailand that houses the Emerald Buddha.
A few of the most popular things to do in Bangkok is to visit the famous Wat Pho Temple, Wat Arun and the Grand Palace. Shop in the widely diverse Chatuchak weekend market or many malls and eat some delicious street food available all over the city.
Exploring Bangkok: If it’s your first time in Bangkok, it can be a tad bit overwhelming. I recommend you “ease” into the city by going on a tour which will save you having to travel all around the city. Here are a few of our recommendations:
Take a Cooking Class
The food in Thailand is some of the best in the world which is why taking a cooking class is one of the best things you can do while in the country. Seize the opportunity to get to know more of the incredible flavours of Thai cuisine with a fun Bangkok cooking class. Awaken your culinary creativity, explore the world of Thai flavours, and enjoy a lot of healthy Thai food!love.
Famous for its diverse and rich underwater marine life, Thailand is one of the best (and cheapest) places to learn how to scuba dive. When we started our scuba diving experience we first got our PADI certification in Koh Tao. Since then we've done some amazing dives around Thailand including in Koh Phi Phi, Phuket and Koh Lipe. If you are an underwater enthusiast, you will experience some of the best scuba diving in Thailand when doing day trips or from doing longer liveaboard dives in the Similan Islands.
Go Island Hopping
Between the many islands to choose from, there is no shortage of beautiful beaches and underwater life in Thailand. Whether you want to party it up in the full moon in Koh Phangan, visit Ang Thong Marine Park, or simply explore some of the best beaches in Thailand, a trip to a Thai island is a must. While visiting Phi Phi, Phuket, and the rest of the popular places can be rewarding, if you're looking for uncrowded beaches which aren’t too touristy, Thailand luckily has heaps of other options worth visiting. Our personal recommendations include (but are not limited to) Koh Chang, Koh Yao Noi, Koh Pha Ngan, Koh Tao, Koh Samui, and Khao Lak. Whether it’s a quiet, isolated beach or a party island that you are looking for, there has to be an island that fits the bill.
Play With Elephants
One of the exciting parts of visiting Thailand is the prospect of interacting with elephants. We have all seen those photos of tourists interacting with animals - the idea of getting up and close with those beautiful, regal creatures is indeed very exciting. However, what nobody shows is that like most animal tourism, one has to be very careful to do it ethically and we have to take care that we will be spending our money on programs that make the lives of these animals better, not worse.
If you are looking for an ethical way to interact with rehabilitated elephants Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai is a wonderland. The park looks after those elephants that have been injured in the logging industry or those badly treated for tourism, used for begging or those found abandoned fending for themselves. Each elephant at the park has a dedicated, stick-free mahout who makes sure the elephant is happy and healthy and they have plenty of room to roam, wash, and enjoy. The park also has volunteer options available if you want to make this experience part of your Thailand trip.
WHAT TO PACK FOR THAILAND
The biggest thing to remember when packing for Thailand is that it is going to be hot, humid, and often wet. Bring lightweight, comfortable walking shoes, breathable, quick-dry clothing clothes and a scarf for visiting temples and other religious sites. Also, pack a travel umbrella and poncho! Not only will you use it for when it rains but it comes in handy to shield yourself from the sun.
Do not forget to pack your mosquito repellent! The humidity of Thailand brings with it many mosquitoes! While most of Thailand is considered low malaria risk, in forested and hilly areas mainly towards the international border and in inland areas of Surat Thani province and parts of the southern border with Malaysia all year round there is a definite risk - make sure to take the necessary precautions before you go.
WHAT TO EAT IN THAILAND
Thai food alone is almost reason enough for a trip to Thailand! Curries, fruit shakes, stir-fries, fresh fish made a million ways - and that's just the beginning. Food in Thailand can be as cheap and easy as a 25 baht Pad Thai from a street stall or as expensive and complicated as a $100 ten-course meal prepared by a royal chef served in one of Bangkok's 5-star hotels.
Since most backpackers will be sticking closer to the first than the second, one of the great things about Thailand is that food from stalls and tiny sidewalk restaurants are usually quite safe. Unlike in some Asian countries, travellers to Thailand should worry more about overeating (or too much chilli!) than worry about unclean kitchens and bad food. In fact, street restaurants and food stalls, where you can see what you'll get, where locals congregate and everything are cooked on the spot can often be the safer option than at a restaurant.
Keep an eye out for the following must-try foods:
- Pad Thai - Literally meaning "Thai stir-fry" - thin rice noodles fried in a tamarind based sauce. Ubiquitous, cheap and usually excellent - and as an added bonus, it's traditionally chilli-free (you can just add some yourself, or simply ask to do so if buying from a street vendor). It can easily be vegetarian or made with shrimp, pork, or chicken. You will find Pad Thai available in almost every street food cart and it's a dish you can never go wrong with.
- Pad Krapow Moo - stir-fry made from minced pork or chicken dish cooked with lots of basil, garlic, and chillies served on top of a piping bowl of white rice and served with a fried egg.
- Som Tum - Shredded and pounded raw papaya is often considered a classic Thai dish, but it actually originates from neighbouring Laos. However, the Thai version is less sour and sweeter than the original, with peanuts and dried shrimp mixed in. Usually, it comes mixed with green beans, garlic and chillies marinated in a vinaigrette type of sauce topped with peanuts - eaten as a side salad with grilled dishes.
Recommended Food Tours
If you’re a foodie, you should go on a food tour at least once during your trip! The local insight of the guides are amazing and will give you a better insight into the history of the ingredients the complexity of the cuisine. Listed below are a few of our recommended food tours (located all over the country!).
- Chiang Mai Food Adventure by Bike – If you’re looking to burn off those calories…while getting an insider’s take on the best meals in Chiang Mai, definitely check out this food bike tour which takes you to some of Chiang Mai’s best food spots!
- Bangkok’s China Town Food Tour - If you love street food, this food tour is for you! The local guide will take you on some of the best food stalls all over China Town, giving you an overview of the incredible variety of food available!
WHERE TO STAY IN THAILAND
From $4 hostels to $100 hotels, Thailand has a huge variety of accommodation options. You will find everything from rustic hill-tribe huts, floating raft houses in forests, bamboo beach huts and family-run home-stays to boutique 5-start resorts on a paradise island. Hotels in Thailand don't always follow or fit European star ratings and you should take care to read reviews before paying top-dollar. In more rural areas you’re most likely to find simpler accommodations like basic guesthouses.
Airbnb Travel Tip: Airbnb is recommended for an apartment- or villa-style accommodation. Check out our full article on how to get $65 coupon code for your booking or simply click here to get our coupon code to apply on your next booking.