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Since we moved to Thailand, we get a lot of questions about the country we’ve chosen to call home for a bit.
“Can you drink the water?”
“Is Bangkok really like ‘The Hangover’?”
“What do you mean there’s other Thai food besides Phad Thai?”
While we could write post after post answering questions about Thailand, most of them can be easily Googled.
Instead, we decided to put together a list of our most practical tips.
You may not see these tips come up on Trip Advisor but they’ll ensure that your trip goes smoothly. So consider these your 5 “Must Knows” before arriving in the Land of Smiles!
As a general rule of thumb, it’s wise to learn at least a few key phrases of the local language when traveling. I have plenty of great stories about communicating with strangers using only gestures but this obviously isn’t the most reliable.
Additionally, we’ve found that people generally appreciate you having taken an effort to learn a little bit of the local language rather than expecting everyone to conform to your needs.
These are just a few key phrases to get you started on simple things like ordering food or politely declining a tuk tuk ride.
*Because Thai uses a different alphabet, you will likely see many of these phrases written different ways. We’ve kept these as simple as possible for you to be able to be understood. Thai is a tonal language, so I recommend watching a YouTube video just to get an idea of the sounds.
As soon as you leave the airport in Thailand, you will likely be looking to take a taxi to your accommodation. This will be the first of many you take throughout your time here so here are a few things to keep in mind if you want to avoid spending more than you should getting around.
Metered Taxis are Key: Use metered Taxis where available; this is especially true in Bangkok. All taxis in Bangkok are required to use their meters, although many of them will try not to since they assume you don’t know any better. The meters start at 35 baht for the first km (the airport taxis start at 50 baht). If a taxi driver offers you a fixed price, insist that they use the meter. If they are reluctant or outright refuse, pick a new taxi. There is no need to be angry or combative, as there is definitely no shortage of taxis.
Tourist Area Traps: Taxis parked outside tourist attractions (Grand Palace, Wat Pho ect.) or hotels are the most likely to offer significantly higher fixed prices because, like it or not, tourists are way more likely to fall for and pay an inflated rate.
Examples: When we arrived at the bus terminal in Bangkok, we had a taxi driver offer to take us to our hostel for – get this – 400 baht. The metered taxi we opted for instead? 135 baht. Trying to grab a taxi to the train station was a similar situation being that we were near the backpacker hub, Khao San Road, at the time. The first driver attempted to politely load our bags into his cab before informing us that the ride would cost us 200 baht. The very next (metered) taxi brought us there for 55 baht.
Again, I’m not advising that you argue or make stern demands (I’m actually actively advising against this). I’m simply saying that yes, everything seems cheap. But why waste money? That baht that you saved on a taxi ride just bought you another plate of Phad Thai or a toastie from 711. Choose wisely.
We always strongly suggest that you have your hotel/hostel/friend/Google write down thename of your destination in Thai. Your accommodation will usually have cards in the lobby already.
This can be a real life saver when your pronunciation is off and your driver doesn’t speak a lot of English.
Ah yes, the tuk tuk: You know, that scooter/golf cart/taxi hybrid you saw on your friend’s IG when she went to Thailand. Great for pictures, not so great for getting around cheaply. Tuk Tuks do not use meters, instead they operate off flat rates. This already puts you at a disadvantage (see Metered Taxi section above). Now, I didn’t ride my first tuk tuk for a long time, as I had a local friend who informed me that this was essentially an overpriced option for tourists. However, I also understand that for a lot of people, it’s part of coming to Thailand, so go nuts! I would just recommend that you at least have a sense of what you should and are willing to pay. You’ll also benefit a lot more if you learn a few Thai numbers. Which leads me to my next point…
If you thought your Thai lesson ended with “Useful Phrases”, well I’m not sorry, but I’m sorry you had to find out this way.
But seriously, you will be at a huge advantage as a traveler if you can learn your Thai numbers 1-20 and variations of 100. This may sound daunting but it’s more than manageable in the long plane ride over, and it will in turn save you tons of baht.
In Thailand, the prices of things are often negotiable, especially if you’re in a popular area where you’re probably getting the tourist price off the bat. Again, this isn’t a hard and fast rule everywhere and I’m not telling you to play Pawn Stars when getting street food. If your Phad Thai is 40 baht, pay your 40 baht, say thank you, and keep it moving. This is primarily a tip for markets and tuk tuk rides. Although, we did end up paying 2,000 baht less for our apartment thanks to a little negotiating.
More on that here Apartment Hunting Process in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
You’ve almost certainly seen pictures of people visiting Thailand in those loose fitting fisherman pants with elephants printed all over. Like tuk tuks, they’ve become a part of the experience of coming to Thailand for a lot of people (you can even get them on Etsy now, but they are 3x the price!). Don’t worry, you’ll have your pick since you can find them in just about every major city and market in Thailand. While many people no doubt wear these by choice, another reason for their popularity has less to do with fashion and more to do with dressing respectfully.
Temples are a huge part of Thai culture and you are bound to visit many while traveling here, so there are a couple rules to keep in mind when packing and dressing for the day.
Cover your Shoulders and Knees
Since it is hot, many people wear flowy pants or long dresses and scarves to comply with this rule. Certain temples are more strict than others and may require women to wear an actual short sleeve shirt rather than a scarf.
Remove your Shoes
This is a common practice in both temples as well as many homes and offices. Embrace it and think ahead of time so you don’t wear shoes that are hard to take on and off. Also, don’t worry, no one is going to steal your shoes.
More about Thai culture and customs.
Example: (SEE ABOVE) In my experience, the Grand Palace is the most strict in my experience in its enforcement of these requirements. People are turned away constantly because of inappropriate dress, only to walk across the street to the vendors selling elephants pants to a steady stream of ill-prepared tourists. Amanda actually wore a shawl our last time there and, because her shoulders were still bare underneath, was told that it was still inappropriate. Because we were already inside and had purchased tickets, she bought a plain white T shirt from a woman whose store sits right before the ticketed entrance.
We Know it is HOT!! Yes, Bangkok is hot. Like, hotter than hot. As a guy who sweats in any weather above 60 degrees, I get it. Wearing long pants in 90+ degree weather seems like nothing short of a punishment for me. But don’t think of the need to dress appropriately as an inconvenience, but rather being respectful of local culture and customs. Yes, guys can occasionally get away with longer shorts at other temples. But why risk it? Embrace your personal sauna and cover those shoulders and knees.
You didn’t ask about them but I’m going to tell you anyway. Though first, I’ll say that Thailand – especially popular areas like Bangkok, Chiang Mai, or island destinations – is perfectly modernized. Many bathrooms have toilets of the western variety. However, when you’re in a more rural area or your overnight tour bus stops at a rest stop, you may swing open that door and find the ever intimidating “squatty potty”.
Now, I’m not here to give you a step by step guide on how approach this new and exciting experience. I’m just here to tell you that you can do it!
Beyond the squatty potty, even if your bathroom furnishings look familiar, there are 2 additional things to know:
Do not assume that your stall or even bathroom will have toilet paper, because it often won’t. Toilet paper here is sold at 711 and most other stores here and is likely to come in a square package that looks more like a pack of napkins. At some markets, there is even an attendant who may be selling packages of toilet paper when you pay your 5 baht bathroom fee. Carry some around with you at all times!
The Bum Gun: I kind of don’t want to ruin the surprise for anyone but in Thailand, attached to your toilet you’ll notice a hose with a top that looks like the kind you used to see on kitchen sinks in the states. Yes, it’s there for the reason you think it is. I’ve heard different ways of referring to these, such as a Thai bidet, but my personal favorite has always been the “Bum Gun”. Similar to the squat toilet, I won’t be giving you a beginner’s guide to the Bum Gun. However, if you search Google, you’ll definitely find plenty of helpful tips. Though you may want to make sure safe search is on…
I could easily add 100 more things to this post and not be finished but I wanted to keep it short. Thailand is an amazing country that absolutely deserves its status as a popular destination for travelers everywhere. Hopefully these tips will make you feel a little more prepared to enjoy your time in this beautiful country!
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