Ultimate Guide of Things to Know Before Visiting Thailand!
Welcome to Thailand also known as the land of smiles! We absolutely loved this country and I know you will too! Thailand was our first Southeast Asian country, so as you could imagine we experienced quite a culture shock. With that said, I put together a list of the 15 things you should know before visiting Thailand.
Hopefully, this will prevent you from the embarrassing cultural blunders that I made when visiting Thailand.
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
- Ultimate Guide of Things to Know Before Visiting Thailand!
- 1. Thailand Culture and Religion
- 2. The King in Thailand
- 3. Transportation in Thailand
- 4. Be Prepared to Bargain
- 5. 7/11 is Everything in Thailand
- 6. Wrong Answers
- 7. Water, is it Safe to Drink in Thailand?
- 8. Food Stalls in Thailand
- 9. Toilets in Thailand
- 10. Thailand Sim Cards
- 11. What to Wear in Thailand
- 12. Wai Thai Greeting
- 13. Driving in Thailand
- 14. Animal Tourism in Thailand
- 15. Weather in Thailand
- Getting To Thailand
- Getting Around Thailand
- What to Know Before Traveling to Thailand: Wrap-up
1. Thailand Culture and Religion
Thailand is mainly a Buddhist country. To show full respect to their culture and religion, there are a lot of “DO NOT DO’s” things to know before visiting.
- Don’t touch people’s heads. (not sure why you would…. but.. lol)
- Don’t touch or sit next to monks. (if you’re a female)
- Do not put your feet on the furniture.
- Don’t point with your feet.
- Don’t step on Thai money.
- Don’t step over people or their things.
- Take your shoes off at religious sites ( and at stores if you notice other shoes are at the door)
- Cover elbows and knees at religious sites.
The head is viewed as the most sacred part of the body in Thai culture. This is why it is considered very rude to touch someone’s head even with the sincerest intentions.
On the other hand, the feet are considered dirty and impure since they are the lowest part to the ground in Thai culture. This is why there are so many “Don’ts” that include your feet. Even stepping on money could cause distress.
2. The King in Thailand
If you learn anything before visiting Thailand, it’s to NOT talk about the King….like ever. Also, if they are doing the national anthem, stand up.
They take their King very seriously and repercussions can follow with ill talk of the King. Unlike other countries where we complain about our leaders, Thailand is not one of the places to do it.
3. Transportation in Thailand
Don’t be surprised when taxis and tuk-tuks( kind of like a golf cart but with 3 wheels) almost crash to ask you if you need a ride.
Seriously, if you’re not Thai they will be reversing down the street while honking to ask if you need a ride!
If a taxi driver says their meter is broken, it’s likely a scam. Always ask for them to run the meter. If they won’t, get another car.
If it’s a tuk-tuk, don’t forget to bargain. Any price they give you is usually higher. If they don’t take your demanded price walk another block and you will find another. They are everywhere.
If you find you keep getting shut down with your desired price, then you’re asking for too little, so try to find a happy medium. If you would like to hire a car through a car app, download Grab which is most commonly used in Asia.
Also, DO NOT always believe the driver if they say your destination is closed. Do your own research before you visit a place.
True Story – we had a man walk out to us from the Grand Palace in Bangkok to tell us it was closed. He said he had a great tuk-tuk deal that would take us to numerous places and bring us back when the Grand Palace reopened.
Once we declined and said we would rather walk around, the tuk-tuk driver got very angry saying “ there’s nothing to see that way” He almost wouldn’t take no for an answer. We continued walking anyway and of course, the Grand Palace was open.
4. Be Prepared to Bargain
It’s easy not to want to bargain when everything seems so cheap but it’s just a way of life in Thailand. You don’t want to be looked at with dollar signs hanging over your head.
We walked by a man on the street selling these silk painting scarf things. He stopped us and asked for $600 bht, almost $20 US dollars. We really didn’t want anything he was selling but he kept pulling out things to show us.
As we made our final escape, he went down to $100 bht which was about $3 dollars. Although we still didn’t buy it since it was not our style, I’m sure many people purchased it for much more!
With that said, you should, of course, be fair with your price suggestion as people everywhere are just trying to make a living.
5. 7/11 is Everything in Thailand
If you need anything, seriously anything, you can most likely buy it at a 7/11. You can buy your groceries, get a sim card, toiletries, really just about anything. And the best part about 7/11 is that they are everywhere. Kind of like Starbuck in NYC. There is never a 7/11 too far away!
6. Wrong Answers
Another one of the things you should know before visiting Thailand is that asking locals for help is not always helpful. This might sound a little harsh, but it is not uncommon.
Don’t be surprised if you ask a local a question and they give you the wrong answer. This doesn’t always happen but it’s always best to do your own research.
If you happen to ask where the temple is and they don’t know or don’t understand you, they might still point you in a direction that’s incorrect. This is not because they want to lie to you. The Thai culture just doesn’t like conflict.
Also, if for any reason a disagreement arises, it is not out of the ordinary for Thai people to just walk away since the culture does not like conflict.
7. Water, is it Safe to Drink in Thailand?
This is a question I researched a lot before visiting Thailand. The answer is, no. However, the water and ice are safe to drink when being served at restaurants, but not the tap water. So brush your teeth from your hotel from sink water.
To travel more sustainably, look into a refillable filtered water bottle such as Lifestraw or other filtered water systems that kill bacteria and viruses. This is the best way to go to help reduce plastic waste.
8. Food Stalls in Thailand
You will see food stalls everywhere in Thailand. They are a part of the Thailand culture and the food is cheap! What you will want to know before visiting the Thailand food stalls is if there is a line, the food is probably good and safe to eat. If the cart is empty and there’s food just laying out … let’s go on a hard pass.
9. Toilets in Thailand
You will likely come across squat toilets and toilets with a hose instead of toilet paper. Yep, you read that right. This means that you will not find toilet paper in the toilets.
Generally, you will find a hose that sprays water or even a bucket with water next to it. If you would rather not finish your business having wet areas, I would suggest carrying tissue or toilet paper with you!
10. Thailand Sim Cards
Another commonly searched question for people before visiting Thailand is about getting cell phone service and sim cards. Sim cards are super cheap and easy to get. Just make sure your phone is unlocked and able to accept a sim card.
I would recommend using the AIS sim card. The service is exceptionally reliable. We were able to use our GPS throughout the entire trip.
You can purchase one at the airport when you arrive, but it will likely be more expensive. You can also find them at a local 7/11 which generally will have a better deal.
11. What to Wear in Thailand
Before visiting Thailand, it’s important to know they have a more conservative dress code, especially in sacred sites.
The most important thing is to cover your knees and shoulders. I hear you saying, ” so you’re telling me I need to be fully covered on extremely hot days with insane humidity? Are you crazy?!” Yes, but here are some tricks I learned.
Women Packing Ideas
For women, make sure to bring a scarf, shawl, or sarong to cover your shoulders and or knees if be. This way you can wear a tank top or shorts, and then if you go somewhere a dress code is necessary, you can pull it out of your bag. I also found wearing lightweight long skirts and dresses worked well in the heat.
Men Packing Ideas
For men, I would suggest a lightweight t-shirt with shorts. You can buy the “famous elephant pants” you see everyone wearing and just bunch them up in your pocket or bag if you’re knees need to be covered.
You can find a ton of additional Thailand Packing Guide tips here!
12. Wai Thai Greeting
This is an easy one to learn before visiting Thailand! Wai is the Thai greeting with hands pressed together in a prayer pose with a slight bow. It is a common way to show gratitude and you will see it a lot. It is kind to show gratitude and reciprocate Wai.
13. Driving in Thailand
Before visiting Thailand, we had only seen cars drive on the right side of the road. In Thailand, the cars are on the left. Being an American and driving on the right, it took me a long time to get used to this!
I wouldn’t be lying if I said I almost got hit by a car looking the wrong way! Additionally, most tourists will not rent an actual car to get around Thailand, but renting scooters is very popular. So if you rather not rely on tuk-tuks or Grab, you can rent a scooter for a very reasonable price.
If you do rent a scooter, please be very comfortable riding a scooter and I would recommend wearing a helmet.
Additionally, I would make sure you have health travel insurance in case of an accident. I actually used my travel health insurance to see urgent care after eating some “contaminated food”.
My insurance paid me back the full cost of my doctor’s visit. A popular travel insurance to check out is World Nomads Travel Insurance.
14. Animal Tourism in Thailand
Any time you do any tourism with animals it’s important to do research on the companies. In Thailand, it is very popular to ride elephants or play with tigers, but these animals are not always treated humanely.
Riding elephants are usually treated with very poor standards, chained, and go through a scary and painful process to be trained to let people sit on them. Additionally, an elephant’s back is not designed to be sat on and causes them pain.
To learn more about it, I highly recommend a documentary called, “Love and Bananas” which goes into depth about the treatment of riding elephants. There are, however, excellent sanctuaries that you can go volunteer your time for feeding, petting, and bathing the elephants.
Another popular attraction is being able to lay with tigers. These tigers are usually heavily sedated and not treated in the most humane way.
What I am getting at, is please do your research before interacting with companies that use animals as a tourism spot. If the animals are doing unnatural tricks, question it, google it, and cross-reference.
15. Weather in Thailand
Another one of the things you want to take into account before visiting Thailand is to understand the seasons around the country.
Thailand can have very different weather in the North than the south and even the southwest to the southeast. One thing they all do have in common is the heat and humidity!
In general, North and Central Thailand weather are dry from Mid- Oct through May. However, keep in mind if you are up North around Chiang Mai, they have a burning season.
This is when all the farmers burn their crops making the breathing quality very poor. The burning season starts around mid-February through mid-April. August and September usually see the most rain in the North.
Southwest Thailand’s monsoon season starts around May through October. True story: We stayed in Krabi in May and out of nowhere it poured so hard all the electricity went out. Even the hotel! It was about 10 minutes until it came back and this is very normal. South West includes Krabi, Phuket, Koh Phi Phi, and Koh Lanta.
Southeast Thailand has mainly 3 seasons. Monsoon Season is September and October. Expect the warmest weather March-May and the most desired weather December through February.
If you are traveling during the summer months (June – August) and want Island life, this side of Thailand is your best bet!
Koh Samui, Koh Tao, and Ko Pha Ngan are some of the most popular to see.
Getting To Thailand
My go-to to find the best flights are always through SkyScanner! You simply put in your dates (which can be flexible for the whole month) and a destination. Then Skyscanner will show you the best/cheapest flights for your dates!
Getting Around Thailand
There are a couple of ways you can get around Thailand. The quickest is to fly from city to city which is generally inexpensive compared to the states.
You can also take trains or sleeper trains. Trains make their way through some of the big cities. We actually took a sleeper train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai! You can find the train info here! Also, if you plan to take the same sleeper train, check my Chiang Mai guide where I go into detail!
Buses and sleeper buses are other options you have in Thailand, especially if you are traveling long distances! You can use 12GoAsia for bus schedules as well!
Lastly, you can use Tuk Tuks or Grab car services for short distances as discussed above.
Finding Accommodations in Thailand
For finding accommodations in Thailand, we have found the best booking source to be Agoda, although we always check booking.com just in case.
Feel free to check out my recommended places to stay in Thailand here, which are budget-friendly! Furthermore, you can check the below links to compare pricing for hotels in Thailand!
What to Know Before Traveling to Thailand: Wrap-up
Now that we have gone through my 15 things you should know before visiting Thailand, you are on your way to starting your trip out right! Looking for more Thailand Guides? Click here to find all my guides on Thailand!