After four weeks of travelling in Thailand, I’m in a much better position to comment than I was when I wrote of my Thai expectations. I was looking forward to the newness, the un-Europeanness, the un-Americanness. I was looking for something different. And yes, I found it. But in that newness, there was also a sameness. Anyway, I thought I might save you some angst and share with you my travel tips for Thailand.
Travel tips for Thailand – Bangkok
- Do your homework. Read up on the scams in Bangkok before you go so that you’re ready and able for sneakiness shrouded in helpfulness. If a lovely local stops you on the street and asks if they can help and then tells you that wherever it is you’re going to is closed because of a Buddhist holiday… run.
- Upload GRAB to your phone. This Thai equivalent of Uber works in Bangkok and up north. You get the option to charge or pay cash. Even if you never use it, it’ll give you a ball-park figure for the taxi ride you’re planning on taking. We used a GRAB to get from Bangkok DM airport to Kanchanaburi as the train/bus option would have taken forever. If you value your time, GRAB is the way to go. Be prepared to pay toll charges in addition to the fare.
- Use metered taxis – they’re by far the cheapest way to travel in Bangkok. But make sure the meter is set to 35 baht when you start out and then confirm with the driver that they will use a meter.
- Avoid TukTuks or use one for a short journey if you fancy the experience. As in Bangalore, many are in cahoots with local traders and you’ll find yourself hijacked and at their mercy.
- Try the street food but choose your own – don’t just ask for chicken or you’ll likely end up with skewers of chicken livers. Point and smile.
- Pick your temples. There are so many that it’s easy to succumb to sensory overload.
- While in Bangkok, venture down Susie Q walking street to the street that runs parallel to Khao San Road – less populated, with better food and drinks.
- If you plan on entering and leaving Thailand from Bangkok, you may be able to leave some stuff you thought you’d need but don’t or even the winter clothes you wore in. Pack them separately and leave them at the hotel for collection when you return. It’ll save you lugging them around.
Travel tips for Thailand – General
- Learn how to say please and thank you, hello and goodbye – politeness is big.
- Bring earplugs – not for the noisy lot in the room next door, but for the bullfrogs that come out in full volume in the monsoon rains.
- Book train tickets well in advance or you’ll end up stuck in 3rd class or standing.
- If you’re travelling by plane internally, use Bangkok Airways at least once, just for the experience. Loads of room. Tasty food. VIP lounge for all passengers. Loved it.
- Take the time to talk to some monks. You’ll see them everywhere in Bangkok and Northern Thailand. Not so much down south. Don’t ever sit in seats reserved for them. The inevitable ejection is embarrassing (and no, I didn’t but I saw it happen).
- Pack lightly – but be sure to have clothes that cover your knees and shoulders if you plan to visit temples. Wear slip-on shoes or sandals – undoing and redoing laces is a pain.
- Pretty much everything gets cheaper as you move from Phuket and Krabi to Bangkok to Chiang Mai.
- For regional travel up north, use Green Bus.
- Everywhere other than the Post Office charges 20 baht for stamps. The Post Office charges 15 baht – the additional 5 baht is a standard handling fee. Just sayin’.
- Shop around for currency exchange. Check a few places and use the one with the narrowest spread between the buy and sell rate. Downstairs in SUV airport in Bangkok, near the Skytrain, is where I saw the best rate. But as it was still in the airport, I didn’t expect it so passed it by.
- Thailand doesn’t do diet – so no light or sugar-free sodas.
- Sangsom is not a whisky (even though it’s what you’ll get if you ask for a Thai whisky) – it’s a rum.
- ‘Maybe tomorrow’ works better than just saying no!
- Avoid PDAs, especially if you’re down south.
- Do at least one cooking course... it’s a great way to have dinner.
- Check your travel insurance – most policies won’t cover motorbike accidents in Thailand.
- Reduce your fluid intake before you travel by train unless you’re travelling 1st or 2nd class. If you’re not, pack a handkerchief liberally sprayed with perfume or bring some menthol lip balm to rub beneath your nose.
- Before a massage, do some squats to rid yourself of any excess wind that could pop out later.
- Read up on the malaria situation – am not at all convinced that we needed to take (very expensive) malaria tablets.
Am I glad I went? Yes. I am glad to be leaving? Yes. Did I get the difference I was looking for? Yes. Would I do it again? Not sure.
No, that’s not true. I’d definitely go back to visit my friends in Chiang Rai and maybe check out Laos and Myanmar while I’m up there. If I went again, I’d spend more time in the mountains and less time at the beach. although I could do a month on an island if I had my own kitchen. Next time though, I’d be smarter, surer, and better prepared for that difference I craved. This time, it took a lot out of me.