Here is the ultimate guide to planning your Thailand trip. It includes everything I learned, researched, and experienced!
When people ask me about Thailand, I always pause and chuckle. Thailand will challenge you and amaze you at the same time. Being an American in a new country with a different culture and a language you can’t speak, read, or understand will do that to you. Getting around and trying to understand and communicate was frustrating. Letting go of expectations and exploring fearlessly was eye-opening.
We picked Thailand for a few reasons: the incredible food, the beautiful scenery, and the scuba diving opportunities. As you’ve seen from all my Thailand posts, all of it did not disappoint! Thailand has a rich history, a variety of environments, and an adventurous journey to offer you.
- The best time to visit Thailand is November through February. May to October is hotter and wetter.
- The Thai currency is the Baht (THB). One United States dollar (USD) equals about 35.57 baht. Yes, most things are very affordable!
- The time difference from Austin, TX (Central Standard Time) is 12 hours.
- Make copies of your passport. This is useful if you lose your passport or if a vendor asks to hold your passport as a deposit. You can also try offering 500 baht as a deposit.
- Cash is easiest for doing business in Thailand. Do currency exchange at banks.
- It will always take longer than you think. We booked a handful of tours for our trip and the transport to the attraction was always at least an hour. We probably spent at least 12 hours in that two weeks on a bus or car. When you’re booking excursions, look for the estimated time of transfer and think about if it’s worth it. If possible, book a private car for a direct trip.
- Adjusting to the time difference after the trip was awful but adjusting upon arrival in Thailand was not bad. Sleeping on the plane will help.
- Use the Maps.me app for a free maps app without Wi-Fi. It helped us get around!
- Uber exists in Thailand!
WHERE TO VISIT
- Chiang Mai – Great city in Northern Thailand for culture, history, and outdoor adventures
- Chiang Rai – Take a day trip here to see the White Temple
- Phuket – This is the jumping off point for most islands and there are many beaches here
- Bangkok – A very busy city. We spent three days here.
- Similan Islands – A great place for scuba diving. Most trips are organized through liveaboards.
The main attraction of Thailand is its beautiful beaches and islands, which I wish we had the time to indulge in! If you’re looking for beaches, consider Phi Phi, Krabi, Koh Samui, and Khao Lak.
WHAT TO DO IN THAILAND
Check out my post of the best things to do in Thailand. It includes scuba diving, the beach, and temples.
WHAT TO EAT IN THAILAND
Check out my post of the best things to eat and drink in Thailand. I got my fill of noodles, spicy soups, and sticky rice with mango!
PLANNING YOUR TRIP
- Use Agoda to book your hotels. Agoda is a third-party hotel booking website. Many hotels don’t have their own websites but use Agoda. You can see reviews and star ratings of each hotel, and hotels also post low rates on this website. After I picked the hotel I wanted on Agoda, I looked them up on the Internet to check their own website for any specials and to confirm it was where I wanted to stay.
- I booked all of our excursions before our trip, but most tours are flexible with bookings and you can book last-minute. Most of our tours were paid for at the time of booking.
- Since we would be scuba diving, we used Dive Assure for our travel insurance.
Good luck! No, really. We flew from Austin, TX to Bangkok and back. Going there was by way of Austin to Washington DC to Tokyo to Bangkok (about 27 hours including layover time) and back by way of Bangkok to Tokyo to San Francisco to Austin (about 25 hours including layover time). Our flight was about $1,120 each person, bought through the Chase Rewards portal (dollars not points). Adjusting to the time difference after the trip was worse than adjusting when arriving in Thailand. Of course, you can try for a flight with fewer hours for more money.
TRADITIONS AND ETIQUETTE
- Tipping is not customary but small gratuities are appreciated. Most restaurants and hotels already include a ten percent service charge.
- Spirit Trees are trees with hanging ribbons and fabric and offerings beside the tree. The trees are thought to have spirits of those who have passed living in them, so they leave clothes and food for the spirits.
HOW TO COMMUNICATE AND GET AROUND
- Use Uber! This will save a lot of time and frustration!
- Communicating with taxi drivers was the biggest frustration with Thailand. Have your hotel front desk write down the address of where you want to go in Thai and have the hotel address in Thai for your return. Have the phone number of the location handy in case the driver wants to call and confirm directions.
- There was traffic ALL THE TIME in Bangkok, so plan ahead and allow yourself extra time.
- Print out every confirmation email or form, such as hotel bookings through Agoda and tour confirmations. More times than not, the hotel or tour guide asked for the confirmation in hand. Pulling up an email would save paper but printing it out would save time and ensure you have it if there wasn’t Wi-Fi.
- Print out your hotel addresses in Thai. This was most useful for taxi drivers when leaving the airport. Most taxi drivers do not understand the English translations of addresses.
HOW TO NOT GET SCAMMED OR ROBBED
- I recommend a crossbody bag as your day bag. Always carry your bag in front of you.
- Always make sure taxi meters are running. Ask for it to be used before you get in.
- Negotiate the price. Know what the average cost should be and negotiate. Also, decide on a price with the driver before you get into a taxi or on a tuk tuk.
- Take the time to count the money you’re giving and the change you receive.
WHAT VACCINATIONS TO GET
We stayed in Thailand for 12 days and got the recommended shots of Typhoid, Hepatitis A, and Tetanus. (Tetanus wasn’t necessary but it had been a while since I got one.) The shots, depending on your insurance, total $100-500. I know people who did not get any shots and were fine. I would rather be safe than sorry. Here is the recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control.
WHAT MEDICATION TO BRING
We brought diarrhea (Pepto Bismol tablets) medicine for emergencies and took them preemptively the first few days of our trip. I also had a $10 3-day prescription of diarrhea medicine from when I saw the doctor for my vaccinations. Thankfully, I didn’t get sick on the trip but my stomach is pretty resilient. I’m still glad I had the vaccinations and had medication on hand for if I had gotten sick. Although I used Deet wipes off and on, I did get mosquito bites but didn’t get sick from them.
HOW TO NOT GET SICK
- Don’t drink the tap water, don’t use it to brush your teeth, and don’t open your mouth in the shower.
- Be wary of raw foods like salad or tomato with skin. Most places should have washed it in purified water and not tap water.
- Avoid foods that have been sitting out or not cooked over high heat.
- For street food, watch vendors prepare food for several people before ordering. If something looks dirty or questionable, walk away.
- Drink lots of bottled water to stay hydrated.
A BIG thank you to my friends Annie, Kate, and Sharon for all their recommendations to help me plan our trip! From locations to activities, they gave great advice!
Whether or not you are a type-A planner like me, I hope my Thailand posts are helpful for your future trip to Thailand. I also recommend these resources:
- Tourism Authority of Thailand – official tourism organization
- Richard Barrow – local travel blogger with a wealth of information, including current statuses
Have any additional questions about Thailand? Let me know if the comment section or send me a message and I’d be happy to help!
P.S. The Thailand fun doesn’t stop here! Check out all my Thailand posts here.