5 Things to Know Before Visiting Thailand

Nomad Ronan offers his advice on understanding Thai culture, useful Thai phrases to learn, how to save money, how to stay safe, and the best time of year to go to Thailand.

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Longtail boats on Railay Beach, Thailand. Photo © Getty Images / Deejpilot

Before you head to Thailand, here are five tips to help avoid trouble and make the most of your trip, gleaned from my eight years of living on and off in Thailand, where my wife was born and raised.

Always respect Thai culture

On my first trip to Thailand, I learned a swift lesson: never say anything disrespectful about the Thai royal family. I watched a drunken Englishman get slapped in the face and dragged out of a Phuket bar after making a joke about the Thai king.

Don’t be that guy. Refrain from making negative remarks about the Royals in Thailand and be sure to join Thai people in standing silently to attention for the national anthem, which is played at 6pm every day in public spaces.

Another tip: be relaxed and polite when haggling. Some travelers take this activity very seriously, and it fails them. Meanwhile I’ve always had great success by being jovial while bargaining with Thai vendors, who enjoy a friendly back-and-forth exchange about price.

Thai people take hygiene very seriously, so you should too. Many Thai people shower up to three times a day, to ensure their cleanliness in the hot and humid environment. They’re also meticulous with keeping their houses clean, so if you’re invited to visit a Thai home, dress neatly and remove your shoes before entering.

Temples are sacred spaces – treat them as such. Don’t enter a temple when wearing scruffy or skimpy clothes. Be quiet and reserved, and don’t take photos of people when they’re praying. Simple, really.

Don’t raise your voice in public, especially to a Thai person. Showing frustration or anger outside of your home is considered a loss of face in Thai culture, both for you and the recipient of your excess emotions.

How to manage the weather in Thailand

Thai weather can be brutally hot, bracingly humid and, on occasions, very wet. When it comes to dealing with the challenging Thai climate, timing is everything, and it’s important to pace yourself. On my first visit, I was so intent on maximizing my stay that I went out sightseeing from morning to night, non-stop. Within four days I was exhausted and ill. Lesson learned.

Most of Thailand’s best experiences don’t involve air conditioning – exploring temples, markets, beaches, and forests – so you need a gameplan. Thailand’s weather is coolest in the mornings and late afternoons so that’s when you should be at your busiest. In the middle of the day, chill out at your hotel or in a restaurant.

Wat Chaiwatthanaram, a Buddhist temple in Ayutthaya Historical Park, Thailand..
Wat Chaiwatthanaram, a Buddhist temple in the city of Ayutthaya Historical Park. Image credit: Getty Images / Srinophan69

Even more important is picking the right time of year to visit. Thailand’s wet season runs from May to October. Southern Thailand – home to tropical resorts such as Phuket, Koh Samui, and Krabi – gets the worst of that weather. If you travel to Thailand during that period, the north is much drier. One positive is Thailand’s rain tends to arrive in occasional downpours, as opposed to constant drizzling. So, after sheltering during those heavy showers, you can head back out.

Thailand is not as cheap as you think

It’s possible to have an extremely low-cost holiday in Thailand, particularly if you stay in modest accommodation and eat street food. What surprises many visitors, however, is that some things are more expensive in Thailand than they are back home.

Take wine, for example. Bottles of cheap Australian wine that would cost me US $6 (AUD $8) back in Perth, go for US $20 (THB 653) in Thailand. Imported beers, too, are more expensive in Thailand than in Europe, the US, or Australia. All imported alcohol is heavily taxed. Visitors also tend to be shocked by the high cost of foods such as cheese, sliced meats, and imported Western snacks.

The good news is Thai food is consistently excellent and remarkably cheap. Street vendors, basic restaurants, and shopping center food courts all serve delicious dishes such as green curry, basil chicken, and Khao Soi noodle soup for as little as US $1 (THB 33) per dish. And very cheap nights out can be had by sticking to local bars and restaurants, where bottles of refreshing Thai beer start from US $2 (THB 66) each.

Crowds of shoppers and diners at the night market in Bangok's Chinatown.
A night market in Bangkok. Image credit: Getty Images / aluxum

Learn some useful Thai phrases

Thailand has one of the lowest rates of English-speaking proficiency among Asian countries, so you should make the effort to learn some Thai before visiting. There’s no need for you to memorize dozens of Thai phrases, but it’s good to know a few, and the Thai people you meet will appreciate your effort.

Here are some suggestions, in phonetic style. When you meet someone, greet them with “Sawa dee”. To thank them, say “Khob Khun Kap” if you are a man, or “Khob Khun Ka” if you are a woman. Read that last sentence carefully, as for quite a while I mistakenly changed from “Kap” to “Ka” depending on the sex of the person I was talking to, when it was only my gender that mattered. When bidding farewell, sign off with “Chok dee”, which translates to “good luck”.

When ordering food, it’s best to ask for a moderate amount of chili by saying “Mai Pet Mak”. If you ignore that advice you’ll probably be left asking “Hongnam you-tee-nye” which means, “where is the toilet?” You’ll also be desperately asking for some water, which in Thai sounds like “Chan kor diim naam”.

Safety in Thailand

Thailand is a very safe country for travelers who use common sense. Those who don’t can get scammed, sick, arrested, or badly injured.

The most dangerous aspect of Thailand is its roads. According to a 2019 New York Times report, Thailand has the world’s second-highest road deaths per capita, while ranking first for motorbike deaths. Don’t rent a motorbike unless you’re an experienced motorcyclist (and properly licensed to ride a motorbike).

Be extra careful when crossing roads, as many motorcyclists ignore red lights and zebra crossings. And if you hire a car, drive more slowly cautiously than you would back home, as the traffic is remarkably unpredictable. Motorbikes are liable to pull straight out in front of your car without even looking, as I learned myself during one accident.

Never drink the tap water, and be wary of filtered water and drinks with ice in cheaper venues. Most of the times I’ve been sick in southeast Asia have been linked to ice or supposedly filtered water. Avoid eating seafood in towns distant from the coast, as the fish may not be fresh. Finally, when going to street vendors or small restaurants, avoid the pre-cooked foods sitting in pots and pans and instead order a specific dish so it will be prepared right there and then.

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24 Comments

  • lindsay said

    BEWARE OF THE BUCKETS :)

    Reply

  • Marina from MadeInMoments.com said

    Good to know! We're adding these tips to our notes for Thailand. We're planning on going from Feb-March. Wish us luck! :)

    Reply

  • Robert West said

    Also be aware of some expat establishments. There are many expats that will scam you faster than a Thai will. This is because you may trust an expat that speaks your language and fell safe like you do in your own country. There are some really bad expats living in Thailand so beware of them too. Use your common sense.

    Reply

  • Chris Mulhearn said

    I have witnessed thai police selling drugs to bungalow owners who then sell on to tourists. At which point the police get tippped off from bungalow owner and tourist finds themselves behind bars. I saw this one many occasions worst was a German family (Parents and three kids) arrived on Koh panghan and within an hour of checking in were arrested after purchasing a joint from bungalow. The police are some of the most corrupt of the Thais you will find.

    Reply

  • Zeeshan Shah said

    Thailand is exotic ! Generally a friendly culture.

    Reply

  • John Bowen said

    Yes, beware the expatriates, they are generally working in a place like Thailand because they can't conform to the rules of their own country and find it easier in a place like SE Asia to behave in a manner they prefer without the same regulations or chance of getting court

    Reply

  • Vanessa said

    1) Most things are generally fake.
    2) Cabbies and rickshaw drivers trying to cheat you at every turn.

    Reply

  • Gary said

    Check the currency you intend to exchange very closely for imperfections before you leave your home country. Currency exchanges will not accept worn, torn, or even bills with any writing on them. I was amazed that $160 USD was rejected for exchange due to seemingly insignificant details.

    Reply

  • Stefan said

    This is stupid. Learn people to behave themself and be respectfull to them, their King, dance and way of living as it is very important to Thai. Don't step over people to pass your way along!

    Reply

  • Hillary said

    Just got back from Thailand where I was traveling alone. I must say - I felt so safe there! More so than in Europe! People went out of their way to help me and they treated me like I was part of their family. A wonderful place full of wonderful people.

    Yes, it's true that tourist prices are different from local prices but can you blame them? I ate meals for like 20 cents - they were so good that I wanted to pay more.

    Reply

  • Michelle said

    A few things in here are totally wrong. The tuk tuk thing in #1 is not them cheating you. The government tuk tuks offer a reduced fare with the understanding that you will then visit a local shop at the end of your touring around for the day. Talk to your tuk tuk driver and ask how long you need to stay in the shop so they get the rest of their fare from the government. (Usually it is 5-10 minutes, and you are not obligated to buy anything.) In number #4 you suggest the Thais are bad drivers which is also wrong. It is true that the biggest vehicle has the right of way but there are rarely accidents. Be safe, and pay attention to your surroundings. Vehicles can drive on the sidewalks, especially motorcycles/scooters when the drivers don't have helmets. You are right about the buckets... also watch out for the 5 baht shots.

    Reply

  • Carla said

    Buckets and traffic are the two negative I experiences I had while visiting Thailand. Drunk and passed out and got hit by a moped. I woke up in a hospital with no insurance. I had to make my own way home. Never again.

    Reply

  • Paul said

    The buckets are a bigger problem than you mention. There's nothing wrong with the branded rum in the photo but sometimes they switch it to contain industrial enthanol instead. A number of people have died from this.

    Reply

  • Eric said

    @Michelle: If you are careful and keep your witts about you when wandering around a city or town, then yes, it's unlikely you'd be involved in an accident. But by no means could the average Thai driver be considered a good driver. For a start, it's possible to buy your license without qualifying for it. Second, Thailand has the highest annual road death toll of any country in SE Asia, and for the whole of Asia it is second only to China which has a much bigger population and covers a much bigger area. Third, on the highways outside the cities, there's a much higher risk of being in an accident. Blatant speeding, poor driving skills, drunk driving, and long-distance bus drivers (and truck drivers) falling asleep at the wheel, stray animals wandering onto the road causing accidents, etc (and in Thailand a stray animal can be anything from a lizard to an elephant). The roads are the biggest danger you will face in Thailand by far, because there's just so many ways you can get killed on them, and there's loads of video evidence on YouTube to prove it.

    @Paul: That is extremely rare. People just should be vigilant when buying. But as the author suggested, it's better not to buy these at all.

    @Phil Sylvester: As for sharing with straws, hepatitis isn't going to be much fun, and ordinary alcoholic beverages diluted with M150 probably aren't going to be strong enough to kill it.

    The main danger from bucket drinks is that they make it hard to keep track of how much you've had, they encourage over-indulging, and people that pass out from drinking too much are likely to get robbed (and sometimes much worse). Robbers and rapists who prey on bucket victims more often than not turn out to be other foreigners. Thailand is more fun when you're aware of your surroundings anyway. You can get drunk at home. No need to travel all the way to Thailand for this experience!

    Reply

  • B said

    A Thai here.

    Make me laugh with pathetic when I read "..."If you feel like you are unfairly treated by authorities (or people who masquerade as authorities), it's okay to make a big fuss..."

    There are TONS of ways to express your disagree with soimething, yet you do the least appreciate by Thai. No wonder you Westerners always act like this. No respect for the locals. Worst is that you think you are always right and won't listen to us. You think you can do whatever you want.

    Samples? Sure.


    https://youtu.be/JLahbHBtjPg

    https://youtu.be/Rp38knnZtZU

    https://www.facebook.com/js100radio/videos/1577080542315507/

    https://youtu.be/BDGA9In3rww (https://youtu.be/yG8gkAjYxWo)

    https://www.facebook.com/aizhongchina/posts/1048300838634812

    https://pantip.com/topic/35375880


    Typical Westerners.

    Reply

  • Anonymous said

    I remember picking up a long stem rose that fell in the street and putting it back around a yellow ribbon on a tree. A shop lady gave me a very big smile for doing that. I tried not to show the bottom of my feet, but I accidentally did so, and my bus driver pointed it out to me. I believe in the old saying "when in Rome do as the Roman's". We humans sometimes do stupid things that we learn to regret.. When a local in another country behaves badly I try to remember that my countrymen also do bad things sometimes.

    Reply

  • john said

    I've been Living in Thailand almost 5 months. And I have found that a lot of the people who work in the bars or other establishments are liars thieves and cheats! be weary when you go to convenience stores like 7-Eleven or Family Mart because they will try to ring up items twice. This is not always the case but just be weary of it

    Reply

  • MM said

    I found another nice website: www.huahinplaces.com it has many places around Prachuap area and many articles about Hua Hin and Cha Am. Check it out.

    Reply

  • DMT said

    Quite a negative slant on some of these tips? I have lived in Thailand for 15 years and have a Thai wife. I have never had any problems with Thai people...a few with foreigners, but nothing serious. A few more tips would be:
    Wear deodorant...it's very hot!
    Learn to wai...very respectful.
    Stay calm...always.
    Smile...even if you don't feel like it.
    Be respectful.
    Don't get drunk in public places.
    Drive slowly.
    Oh...and B above...just in case you ever read this...we are not all the same :)

    Reply

  • Licky said

    I was lucky enough to live in Phuket for 10 months. Be respectful and you’ll generally get the same back.

    Reply

  • A frequent Thai Visitor said

    Married for 16 years to a Thai lady and thus a frequent visitor to Thailand I am lucky that when out and about in Thailand I am usually accompanied by my wife or my Thai in-laws so generally avoid all the scams etc: However the opinion of B (A Thai here) above is pretty typical of most Thai people. Farangs (Westerners) are only popular in Thailand when they are spending money and behind your back they are giving you the bird. That said...a lot of Farangs behave appallingly because they haven't bothered to learn local customs. The only foreigners the Thais really like are the Japanese. Very close ties between these two countries and most Thai Medics are trained there. You will get along with most Thais if you are calm, polite and respectful as you should be as a guest in any country.

    Reply

  • som said

    thank you for this. Im about to travel to Thailand, my husband is half thailand, so excited.

    Reply

  • lala said

    thank you for this, my husband is half Thailand and we're about to travel to Thailand, beautiful country. so excited, wish us a happy holiyeay

    Reply

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