1. Don’t exchange your money at home or at the airport
For peace of mind, you may want to exchange $20 or $30 before you leave, but by exchanging any more than this, you are just throwing money away. Bring your local currency in cash to change once you arrive. Avoid using the airport companies as they give terrible returns. Check XE.com for the normal rate and compare it with the exchange rates in the city – we usually find ‘Super Rich’ has the best deals.
We recommend bringing several forms of payment with you. For example, at least 2 credit or debit cards (make sure you tell your bank you plan to use it abroad and check the fees).
2. Forget data roaming and get a local sim card with internet
Assuming your phone carrier is unlocked, getting a local sim card is easy. You can just walk into one of the many 7-11 shops, ask for a sim card with data, show them your passport and let them set it up for you. We use ‘TrueMove’. A 30-day 4G data plan will cost you about $10. The connection is very fast and you’ll save a pile of cash.
3. Buy travel insurance, or at least health insurance!
It is easy to forget about travel insurance or to think it is not worth it, but this could end up costing you a lot more in the long run. It is fairly easy to get good medical care in Thailand, but if you don’t have travel or health insurance, you could end up paying 1000’s of dollars in medical expenses if you needed to spend a few days in the hospital. It isn’t expensive to buy travel insurance, so you might as well get it done.
Check out our guide to buying travel and health insurance for Thailand for more.
4. Keep important directions and addresses in your phone
The Thai language is very difficult and some locals can’t speak English. Keep directions to your hotel on your phone. If they’re written in the Thai language, even better – this will help you to get back home if you’re lost. Try an offline map app like ‘Maps.me’ and save key locations in there. Combined with GPS – which you don’t need internet for – you’ll find your way back, as long as you have a charged phone… which leads me onto the next tip…
5. Carry a portable power bank with you
A power bank is basically a portable battery that you can use to charge your electronics. Make sure it’s fully charged when you are around a power source, and then use it to charge your phone or other devices when you are away from electricity. This will come in very handy when you are lost in the middle of nowhere and your phone dies.
6. Know which numbers to call in an emergency
More people die on the roads in Thailand than almost anywhere else in the world. On top of that, we drink, we party, and we jump over ropes which are on fire at the same time. The least we can do is have emergency contact numbers ready (which you’ll be able to call if you have that sim card we mentioned earlier). It might save your life or somebody else’s life.
Check out our list of useful numbers here.
7. Research how to use taxis and download the Grab app before you arrive
How to get around – including Taxis – changes from city to city. Learn how taxis work ahead of time, using our destination guides, starting with Bangkok. Some of the bigger cities, like Bangkok and Chiang Mai, use an app service called ‘Grab’. This service is very similar to Uber and it can be very convenient for foreign tourists.
8. Be aware of scams in Thailand
Scams are common around tourist hubs such as The Grand Palace and Khao San Road in Bangkok. Read our post about scams in Thailand here to be ahead of the game! Here is a quick breakdown:
- Don’t go to tour shops unless you decided to go there by yourself.
- No, you don’t need a suit (when they ask).
- If someone tells you something is closed, it probably isn’t.
- Don’t buy anything from random people, and take their directions and information lightly.
- If you want to get a taxi or other forms of transport, flag it down yourself.
- Check the next tip:
9. Ask for prices before you buy something or use a service
It is very common in Thailand to be charged the “foreigner” price. Let’s say you have just ordered that delicious Pad Thai from the friendly street vendor. You enjoy your meal and then go to pay, but the price they charge you is three times more than you expected. Yup, you have just been charged the “farang” price (farang is the word that Thai people use to describe foreigners). This can happen when ordering food, booking bus tickets or any other service you may need.
The best way to avoid this and not get overcharged is by asking for the price before you commit to buying. That way, both parties know what you will pay at the end.
Don’t mistake this for attractions such as temples etc. There generally are two different prices for locals and foreigners at a lot of these, which is quite normal.
10. Learn a few words in Thai
The Thai language is fascinating. It is difficult, but learning some basic phrases will bring you closer to the locals and gain you more respect. It will also make certain situations easier as well, such as paying for food etc. ‘
One of our favorite resources for starting to learn Thai is a free app called Ling App. Short of immersing yourself in Thailand while also attending a language school, we find Ling to be the best all-around way to learn Thai for beginners. The strong focus on correct pronunciation is crucial if you actually want to understand Thai, and be understood.
11. Keep your valuables with you whilst traveling
Many tourists have had their most valuable possessions stolen while in Thailand. The country is generally a fairly safe place to travel, but theft happens everywhere. Make sure you have a small bag with everything you can’t afford to lose in it – This will usually be your passport, money, expensive electronics etc. When you travel on buses, keep this bag with you and don’t leave it with anybody you don’t know. It happened to me. I left my bag – containing the money I had just withdrawn from the ATM – with a tour operator while I went to go eat. When I searched for it the next day, the money had gone.
Don’t make the same mistake I did. Read our post on how to keep your valuables safe.
12. Book hotels ahead of time, especially in the high season
One thing you may want to book ahead of time is hotel reservations. Many backpackers we’ve met on our journey prefer to just turn up and find somewhere to stay. We’re here to tell you that, although this is possible, you’ll have a much more stress-free experience if you book in advance. You can also usually save money and get a better place to stay. By using a popular booking site, you can check out reviews, compare prices and you will know you definitely have somewhere to stay. This is a particularly good idea in the peak season and Thai holidays, such as Songkran.
It can also be a good idea to book flights in advance to save some money.
13. Consider flying instead of taking the bus
Airfares are very affordable in Thailand and South East Asia, often costing less than the bus or train to the same destination. Flying is the safest, sometimes the cheapest and almost always the fastest way to travel between destinations in Thailand. If you are after a more local experience, try taking the train. They are much slower and probably less comfortable, but it can make for an interesting experience.
For train journeys of 6 hours or less, go for a cheap third-class ticket. For longer journeys overnight, treat yourself to a sleeper bunk with aircon. You will be comfortable and you will save money on a night’s accommodation.
If you do decide to take a bus, go for a big VIP bus. They are safer and more comfortable than taking a minivan.
If you have no other choice and you need to take a minivan, try to sit on the front row and put your seatbelt on. The back is cramped and is directly above the rear wheels, making for a very bumpy ride.
14. Learn more about Thai culture/etiquette and laws before you arrive
This is an important tip for any new country you visit. If you want to stay out of trouble, be a well-behaved tourist. Thais are very forgiving and welcoming with foreigners, but there are some seemingly normal things you may be able to do in your home country which will land you in jail for many years in Thailand. Read our guide on Thai law and etiquette in Thailand.
15. Avoid putting your feet up on the backs of chairs and tables, etc
An easy mistake to make, and fairly common. We put our feet up on chairs in front of us because it’s comfortable, but raising the soles of your feet near another person is very disrespectful in most places, especially Thailand. Thais are very forgiving but let’s fix the reputation of other misbehaved tourists.
16. Don’t buy any tours before you arrive
I can’t think of anything we’ve ever done in Thailand that we had to book ahead for. In fact, most of the time, we didn’t book at all. We just turn up. If you want to book, go directly to the tour provider once you arrive, or another nearby tour shop if the price looks right. You can also book tours through your accommodation but make sure they are offering you a fair deal. If you are not sure what the price should be, a bit of research online can usually answer that for you.
17. Know some basic foods. Forget McDonald’s and head to a local restaurant
If you can help it, skip Subway, Burger King and the ‘Thai’ restaurants serving french fries and eggs on toast. If you want to experience the real way Thais eat, check out our guide on identifying restaurant types and visit as many of them as you can. They’ll be cheap, authentic and – if other locals are eating there – clean.
18. Ask for your iced drinks less sweet
Thai people love their sugar! This means that unless you say otherwise, you are going to receive your drink full of the stuff. If you want to try and be a bit healthy whilst on your travels, then ask for your drinks ‘waan nid noi’ – ‘Waan’ = sweet, ‘nid noi’ = a little bit. You can apply this technique to all kinds of drinks, including; juices, tea, coffee, and fruit shakes. Asking for the drink to be just a little bit sweet is very common amongst locals trying to cut down on sugar as well. If you can’t remember how to say the Thai phrase, just say it in English and hope that they can understand you!
19. Single? Get a dating app
If you’re single, download Tinder and start swiping. It’s easy and fun to date in Thailand, you might even end up with a new travel buddy!
20. Go to places that weren’t recommended to you by other travelers and the Lonely Planet guide book
I am not saying you should ignore these pieces of advice, but they will generally just lead you to the spots where all the other tourists are going. Ask the locals for advice on where to go, or ask the hotel staff. They will often give you tips on more authentic things to do and see. You could always just rent a car or motorbike and just go exploring, get off the beaten track and see what you can find.
Have you accidentally stumbled upon a unique and interesting place? What tips would you add to this list? Let us know in the comments below!