It’s easy to become blind-sided by an upcoming trip when you are trying to close your work responsibilities, buy travel necessities, compile a packing list, and arrange responsibility for your home, pets, kids, and more. I know (and live) the chaos of working in the office until the last minute. It always seems as though we go from one activity to the next; then finally rushing over to the airport for a 6+ hour flight. If you didn’t have the time to read a single Thailand travel book, no worries. You are not alone here. In fact, I was in a similar place not too long ago. I had worked a full day in the office, rushed home to change clothes, battled through traffic to see Anthony Bourdain’s show in San Jose, and then jammed over to the San Francisco airport in the nick of time to catch my flight. Once I had buckled into my airplane seat, I was mentally and physically drained. I had good intentions of reading up on Thailand, but my weariness (and zombie-like state) left me without a single ounce of will to do anything productive. Luckily, my good friend, you will be much more prepared with this guide on 8 things to know before going to Thailand!
Hello and Thank You
Learning how to greet someone and say thank you is mission-critical in any country. It is a universal sign of respect to show you have made some effort to learn the native tongue (no matter how poor your pronunciation might seem). Thai people are very nice and more than happy to converse with you! Don’t be shy to ask someone how to properly pronounce a term if you are having trouble.
$300 USD or ~10,500 ฿ (Baht) Per Week
This is a solid range of cash to have for the average person visiting Thailand on vacation. Note that this amount does not include accommodations or special activity excursions (such as a speed boat tour, scuba diving experience, etc.). I define the average traveler as someone who will eat mostly at mid-range restaurants peppered in with street food, snacks, juices, coffees, and one or two high-end dining establishments. This person takes taxis, tuk-tuks, and is open to public transportation and opts for a few Thai massages. If you prefer to spend less, it is highly attainable by sticking to street food and public transportation. It’s relatively easy to find ATMs and use credit cards in major cities, such as Bangkok and Chiang Mai. If you feel that your cash is running low, consider paying for larger meals by using a credit card that does not have international fees.
How much should a ride from Suvarnabhumi (BKK) Airport cost?
Nothing says “hey you, I just stepped foot in your country” like hailing a cab at a major international airport while looking just as disheveled as you feel. I’m talking 10+ flight hours, greasy hair, and rumpled plane clothing. As a taxi driver, it’d be foolish not to try and skim off a little extra profit from someone like you. Let’s just say I learned this the hard way. We pulled a ticket and found our corresponding taxi in the queue at BKK. With little knowledge of how much a ride should cost to our hotel, we willingly hopped in without agreeing upon a price upfront. Once we got to our hotel in Sukhumvit, we were charged 750 ฿. Ouch. I came to find out from other friends and through later experiences, that a ride could be as cheap as 450 ฿ from the airport. Ask for the driver to use the meter. Tell them you’ll pay the toll fares, etc. out of pocket. If the person isn’t willing to negotiate, you can always find another taxi.
What kind of food should I absolutely try?
- Spicy cockle salad and other papaya salad variations
- Morning glory with crispy pork
- Fresh watermelon or passion fruit juice
- Mangosteens and longan fruits
- Mango sticky rice (with bonus points if you try durian)
How to flush an Eastern style toilet?
If you have any intention of traveling outside of the major city center or eating local street food, there is a good chance you will encounter an Eastern style, or “squat” toilet. This rings true of many other places in South East Asia. For the ladies, this certainly takes some getting used to– as the name implies, you need to finagle your body into a squatting position. Feels awkward, but totally doable. In these situations, there is almost always a bucket of water nearby with a large cup or bowl in it. The proper way to flush the toilet is to scoop a large cupful of water into toilet vessel so the water pressure pushes your business down. I always do two scoops for good measure. Toilet paper is also fairly common in modern establishments, but be sure to bring some for the moments you might be off the beaten path.
How can I stay connected to the internet?
Beyond accessing WiFi in hotels and modern establishments, you can stay connected by supplying your own signal. I suggest renting a mobile hotspot device through SkyRoam or Tep Wireless before your trip. You can also buy a data sim card for your phone at any local 7-11 store or kiosks at the mall or airport. Be sure to run on airplane mode only to avoid roaming charges.
Tipping is not customary in Thailand; although, in my opinion, this is becoming more of a gray area due to the increase in tourism. In certain areas, I saw people (tourists) tipping larger amounts more frequently. You should expect to give a small tip of 20~50 ฿ for any help or services offered such as massages, hotel porters, tour guides, and waiters. When dining out, it is acceptable to round up the bill or leave roughly 10% for exceptional service. Make sure to give the tip directly to the person helping you, as it is unclear whether the restaurant manager splits tips with their employees. Taxi drivers negotiate their own rates and typically round up. You can tip extra if you had a great experience, but this is not mandatory.
Cover your shoulders and knees at the wat
Undoubtedly, Thailand has an impressive collection of Buddhist temples (also known as wats). In fact, there are over 40,000 wats spread throughout the entire country. It is important to note that you must cover your knees and shoulders out of respect when visiting these sites. Major wats may have wraps that women can borrow to cover themselves; however, it’s best to BYOW (bring your own wrap) if possible. Tuck a lightweight scarf or button up shirt into your daily bag in case you serendipitously visit the temple. I recommend dressing for the day by having at least one region covered so you only have to worry about one area. Maxi dresses and longer skirts are great choices.
Thailand is an incredible country with exceptional street food, colorful events, and astonishing temples. I have no doubt that you’ll ease right into a relaxed and comfortable lifestyle as soon as you arrive. I encourage you to follow your curiosity– take a walk down the winding alley of street vendors, eat food where other Thai people eat (even if the sign is not in English), and ask questions to uncover stories from the people you meet along the way. I’d love to hear about your experience in Thailand, too! Do you find this country as captivating as I do?