Holidays can be as simple as buying a plane ticket, booking a hotel, packing a suitcase and hopping on a plane. But if you want everything to be hassle free and stress free when you arrive in a foreign country, especially one that you’ve not been to before, it’s worth doing some additional reading on what to expect. Which is where these travel tips for Thailand will come in handy.
It’s taken for granted that you’ll have researched at least the basics of Koh Chang or wherever you are planning to visit. So these tips so the small bits of useful practical or cultural information or knowledge that will make life easier for you. Things which it’s easy to forget about or overlook as you’re counting down to your holiday beginning.
So here are 25 Thailand travel tips to make your life easier. (And to impress your partner, spouse, friends with your advance planning skills.)
These aren’t in any particular order as I’m just writing them down as I think of them. More a collection of random useful things to know before you travel to Thailand, than a hand crafted list based on hours of research. :-)
My Essential (and some non-essential) Thailand Travel Tips
Only Exchange Money Once You’re in Thailand
Resist the temptation to exchange money at a bank or the airport before you leave your home country. You’ll get a far better rate anywhere in Thailand and that includes the rip off exchange rates at Suvarnabhumi Airport.
And you can avoid being ripped off at the airport exchanges if you head down to the basement level and follow the signs for the trains into Bangkok. Go to any of the exchange booths which are clustered nearby along the walkway leading to Novotel Suvarnabhumi Airport Hotel. You’ll get better rates here than pretty much any bank in Thailand.
(Superrich are the best known of these currency exchanges. They have various branches elsewhere in Bangkok and it major cities. See Superrich1965.com for their rates and locations. )
Tell Your Bank You’re Visiting Thailand
And if you’re from the UK, tell them a second time, just to make sure they made a note of it the first time you told them. As Brits seem to have more problems with debit and credit cards not working than people from other countries. Banks can be overzealous in blocking them for suspicious activity.
So bring a couple of different cards you can use to withdraw cash. There are ATMs all over Thailand so withdrawing cash isn’t a problem. The typical limit is 20,000 Baht per withdrawal. Although your home bank might put their own limit on overseas ATM withdrawals per day which is lower than this.
So if you have a large bill to pay, say for a two week stay at a guesthouse, plan on withdrawing cash over 2 or 3 days, just in case you can’t get it all out the same day.
Try to Avoid the 220 Baht ATM fees
It’s very easy to withdraw cash. But hard to avoid the 220 Baht withdraw fee that all Thai banks add on. This is in addition to any fees your own bank charge you.
So don’t withdraw small amounts. Make one large withdrawal instead. Or, to avoid having to pay the fee, go into any bank branch with your card and passport and get a cash advance over the counter. this will take a little longer but you will avoid paying 220 Baht fee.
Get a Thai SIM Card
Assuming your phone is unlocked then it’s easy to swap out a SIM and use a local SIM when you are on Koh Chang or travelling around the country. You’ll get a 4G signal pretty much everywhere you go. Tourist SIMs from the three telecom companies True, DTAC and AIS can be bought at the airport when you land or in any 7-eleven or minimart in the country.
All all offer packages of calls and data. They are similarly priced and can be topped up easily. I use True and never had any problems. A 2 week pre-paid SIM with 30GB data is 599 Baht – more info Get one when you arrive in Bangkok and forget about expensive roaming fees.
Avoid Over-sweet Iced Drinks
It’s a hot day and you need a fruit shake to cool off. You spot a coconut shake stall and order one. After the first sip, you’re overcome with remorse. Why? Because you didn’t read this tip about always ordering your drinks with less sugar in them.
Thais put sugar in everything. No dish can be too sweet. And that applies to things like fruit shakes too. Vendors will nearly always throw in a good measure of syrup. ( Of course the wise vendors will learn that most foreign visitors are a bit strange and don’t like a lot of syrup in their shakes.)
But it’s always better to say “Waan nit noi” or “Waan noi” after you order your shake. This just means “A little sweet”. Use it for pretty much any iced drink you order.
Be Aware of the Common Scams in Thailand
There are various scams that have been going on for years and are in all the guide books but people still fall for them.
On Koh Chang you’ll be fine. The only scams here involve the minibuses going to Siem Reap where travelers will be subject to several attempts to extort money from them during the trip. (More info on doing the journey and the scams)
But if you’re going to Bangkok for the first time there are a few things to watch out for . . .
- Random Thai guys won’t usually want to befriend you. If one approaches you, they’ll be a scam involved somewhere. In fact, if anyone comes up to you and starts a conversation, there’s probably a scam involved somewhere.
- If you want to take a taxi, get one yourself. Don’t let someone else get you a taxi, unless they’re staff at your hotel.
- If someone helpfully tells you that a temple or attraction is closed, it almost certainly isn’t.
- You aren’t lucky enough to get the chance to buy discounted gems at a sale that is only on today.
- There’s no such thing as a 20 Baht tuk-tuk tour of Bangkok – and if there is then it definitely involves a couple if stops at jewelers shops and tailors shops.
There’s a good rundown of scams here.
Learn How to Use Taxis in Thailand
There aren’t any public taxis on Koh Chang. Just the shared white pick up truck taxis, called ‘songtaews’. You flag these down on the street. (Songtaew guide) But if you’re going to Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Pattaya, Phuket etc then you’ll probably take a taxi at some point.
Taxis have a mixed reputation, some can be a crazy price – for example in Phuket, some can have drivers who will rip you off. There’s a fixed 35 baht charge for the first 2Km and then a fee of around 5-6 baht per kilometres after that, Plus around a Baht/minute when you’re sitting in traffic jams.
One way to avoid too many taxi hassles is to use the Grab app. Grab is similar to Uber only that as well as regular cars you can also get a grab taxi. This is a regular taxi but the driver is a grab driver, so more accountable for his actions. Download the app and give it a go. (Again, it doesn’t work on Koh Chang, the nearest grab drivers and taxis are in Pattaya.)
Don’t Forget to Pack a Power Bank
A phone isn’t a phone anymore. It’s your camera, video recorder, GPS and thing you use to watch tik tok videos when you’re bored on a bus. As such, you’ll need to keep it charged and so it’s definitely worth packing a power bank to ensure you aren’t spending your days worrying if 27% will last the next few hours. And if not, which social media you’ll have to forgo to avoid the phone dying. (More ideas about what to pack for a trip to Koh Chang, or anywhere in Thailand.)
Save a Couple of Emergency Numbers
Two useful numbers to have on your phone are : 1155 & 1669. You probably won’t need them, but the roads in Thailand are among the most dangerous in the world and scooter accidents are very common. Plus
1155 is the Tourist Police. If you have any problems it’s far better to call them initially rather than the real police. You’ll get English speaking officers who are used to dealing with tourist related problems.
1669 is for an ambulance. It’s a central call center and they have English speaking staff. You just have to give your location and they’ll contact the relevant authorities in your area.
Travel and Health Insurance are Worth Having
Again, for peace of mind more than anything else. If your Ipad gets broken or phone gets mislaid, it’s not a good situation, but it’s a lot worse if they aren’t insured. Likewise if you have an accident. Fall off a scooter on Koh Chang and the local international clinic will patch you up. They’ll do a good job.
But it costs a crazy price. If you’re presented for a 50,000 Baht bill for bandages and medicine, that’s going to put a big hole in your holiday cash. Far better to have the insurance company pay for it.
Fly Instead of Taking the Bus
Koh Chang is an exception here, as the nearest airport in Trat is privately owned by Bangkok Airways, so airfares are expensive. But for most destinations in Thailand you can fly from Bangkok for around 1,000 Baht or less (assuming you’re planning in advance and not travelling at peak times).
More expensive than the bus, but for older travellers, the novelty of a 12 hour bus ride has long since worn off. Being able to hop on a plane for a 1 hour flight is a much more attractive proposition. Airasia, Nok Air, VietJet, Thai Smile and Lion Air are the major budget airlines flying in Thailand.
Check Prices Before You Buy
You’ll notice that many street vendors and foodstalls don’t have prices displayed. You see Thai folks buying stuff, think that it must be good and inexpensive and you decide to buy. But you;re surprised at the price you are given. Because you have just been charged the tourist price.
The easy way to avoid this is just to ask the price first. The best thing that can happen is that the vendor will give you the correct price. The worst thing is that you still get the tourist price, but you can at least decide if you want to pay that or not.
It’s OK to Order French Fries in a Thai Restaurant
Because that’s what the locals do. Thais love their French fries. And there’s no shame in ordering them along with various Thai dishes. You’ll see Thai families and groups doing this everywhere you go.
You use WhatsApp to chat and send photos messages for free. Of course, you can use that in Thailand. But the problem is very few Thais or Thai businesses use it. LINE is king of the chatting apps here. Because you can send cute bear and rabbit stickers. Swallow your pride, learn to love Cony and Brown – the rabbit and bear – and download it.
Then you can send messages to guesthouse owners or any Thais you meet on your travels. The apps also used by businesses and government departments. For example, all Immigration departments will be on LINE and sending them a message is usually much easier than calling. ( The LINE ID for the Immigration department in Laem Ngop, which covers Koh Chang is : laemngopimm )
Another app that’s super popular in Thailand. Wongnai is a restaurant review app. (Similar to Yelp and with far more places than you will find in Tripadvisor)
Most content is in Thai but you can change the language to English. That, plus using the map function, makes it easy enough to find restaurants that the locals love which are in your vicinity. Most reviews have photos too. So it’s infinitely better than relying on Tripadvisor if you want to discover good Thai food or cool new cafes etc.
Book Your First Hotel in Advance
I’m not saying book all your accommodation on Koh Chang of Thailand months in advance. Outside peak season, late-December to mid-February, there’s not much point in doing that unless you find some very good deals or know for sure which specific resort or bungalow you want to spend all your holiday.
And at the other extreme, arriving somewhere you haven’t been before, without a booking and planning on wandering around until you find a place you like rarely ends well in reality. You’ll be tired and hot and will just end up with the first place in your budget that has a vacancy or will trust a local tour agent to find you a room, And they’ll just send you to either the place they get the most commission from or a friend’s bungalow.
So try booking just the first few nights, then when you are at your destination, explore the area. Are there other places that are better or more your style? Have you seen and done everything in a few days and so don’t need to stay longer?
Don’t Put Your Feet on Chairs or Tables etc
Something that is very common in Western countries but is a big no no in Thailand. Don’t put your feet up on any tables chairs, plane or bus armrests etc. It will piss off the locals. Most likely no-one will say anything. But if someone is really pissed off then expect them to surreptitiously take a photos, which will be spread around the Thai interwebs as a prime example of a disrespectful foreigner.
Most are forgotten quickly, but some go on to make it into the Daily Mail like this one did.
What’s the White Stuff on the Table?
Learn to tell the difference between salt, sugar, and MSG when you’re at a foodstall. As many places offer all three. Salt has the smallest crystals and will be in an obvious salt shaker. Sugar and MSG will be in little jars with a spoon you can use to ladle it into your noodles or whatever. MSG crystals are longer and are a hexagonal shape. Sugar looks like you’d expect sugar to look.
Bring a Reusable Water Bottle.
No-one drinks the tap water in Thailand. Bottled water is king. So get used to either buying bottles of water, or, as an eco-friendly alternative, bring a reusable water bottle with you and fill that up as you go. Many places offer free water refills. Especially in areas where Trash Hero operates, as they encourage local businesses to offer this to reduce garbage from plastic bottles.
Check National Holidays
There are a lot of public holidays in Thailand. Some are related to the monarchy, others to Buddhism and others to national holidays. Regardless of the reason, if you’re travelling and it’s a long weekend holiday, expect transport to be packed and hotels in popular tourist destinations to be far busier than usual. Especially those within a few hours drive of Bangkok.
Every year there are often bonus holidays announced by the government for some reason or another. For example, if a holiday falls on a Thursday, then they’ll throw in a Friday to keep the workers happy and allow for a four day weekend.
You can buy sunscreen in Thailand but it’s usually far more expensive than you’d pay at home. So stick a couple of bottles in your luggage before getting on the plane. You’ll need sun lotion with Factor 30 or more. Most Thais will use Factor 50.
Get Value for Money on National Park Visits
In some areas of Thailand there are small National Parks close to each other. Meaning it’s possible to visit a couple on the same day. Or on Koh Chang, there are two entrances to the National Park – at Than Mayom waterfall on the east coast and Klong Plu waterfall on the west coast. So try to visit them both on the same day.
Why? Because you only pay a National Park entrance fee once per day. So you can either visit the same park a couple of times the same day without paying extra, i.e. for the two waterfalls on Koh Chang. Or could visit two separate National Parks in the same province the same day and only pay once. the 200 Baht entry fee once. Just be sure to keep your ticket as proof you have already paid.
Keep Your Sweaty Bits Rash-free
Fun fact – you’re going to sweat like you haven’t sweated before in Thailand. One night in Bangkok not only makes a hard man humble, it also makes him sweat profusely. Even more so, if you’re staying in a very humid area, such as the jungle clad island of Koh Chang.
One problem that many people have is chaffing, especially around the upper thighs. As it’s hard to keep skin cool and dry in areas which don’t get much air flow. The simple way to avoid getting an annoying, itchy heat rash is to use Prickly Heat Body Powder, available in 7-elevens and any supermarket.
Throw a bit of this down your underwear in the morning and you won’t be tempted to scratch yourself in public.
Don’t Discuss Thai Royalty
It’s best avoided. You’ll see images of the current and previous Kings in most homes, shops and businesses around Thailand. If you’re ever asked your opinion on Thai royalty keep it simple and say that they do a lot of good things for the country or something banal like that. Don’t get into any arguments about modernising the royal family or discuss what’s going on in Germany etc
You’ll Need an Adapter Plug
Thailand uses both the flat bladed plugs common in the USA & Canada, as well as the round pin plugs used in continental Europe. Most wall sockets take both styles. But note that grounded sockets (three pins) are not very common. So it’s better to get an adapter with only two blades or two pins. Photos and more details of plug types.
You can buy a universal adapter online easily on Amazon or Ebay. Or, they are easy to find once you’re in Thailand. Simple adapters cost from 20 – 40 Baht. They’re available at minimarts in any areas where there are tourists or any supermarket will also sell them.