How to go to Thailand ?

 

You will find here most of the practical information you need to prepare your trip :

   

Getting there & away ?

Air :

Bangkok International Airport is a popular gateway to the country and Asia.  Plane tickets are a big business in Bangkok and prices are indeed among the cheapest in Asia. Just be careful where you get your ticket from as not all the travel agents are reliable (paying the full fare before getting the ticket is always bad idea, so is signing a disclaimer form). Departure tax is an hefty B500. 

    Airports Authority

Land :

The following countries offer land crossing with Thailand :

  • Malaysia : a worry free crossing at four different points including Hat Yai-Padang Besar on the west coast (road or train) and Sungai Kolok-Rantau Panjang on the east coast (road or train). 

  • Laos : five crossing points to choose from. Nong Khai and Chong Mek are actually the only "land" crossing. Other involves a short boat trip : Mukdahan, Nakhon Phanom and Chiang Khong. 

  • Cambodia : Two possibilities. Poipet near Aranya Prathet (Thailand) is the entry point for the adventurers (slightly less now that the road has been improved) who wishes to reach Siem Reap and Angkor Wat by road.  Hat Lek (Thailand) near Krong Koh Rong is the costal entry point for those who wishes to reach Sihanoukville. Both offer visa facilities. The best bet from Bangkok is a minibus-truck combination all the way to Siem Reap for B300 (sometimes even less). See the above localities for more details.

  • Myanmar : possible at two places but restricted to a few places and only for a limited time


Boat : Connections between Satun and the island of Langkawi or the town of Kuala Perlis in Malaysia (west coast)

 

Visa ?

Citizens of most developed countries are welcomed with a 30 days visa-free stay. People from Sweden, Denmark, New Zealand  and South Korea can even stay for 90 days !

Extending beyond this month is however expensive at B500 for a 7 to 10 days additional allowance. Much better therefore to cross any border and turn back : you will be given another 30 days, no question asked ! And you can do that every month for years !

60 days visa are also available for about US$15 plus three photos. Those are extendable for another month maximum for B500 plus one photo. You can apply for it at any immigration office in the country. Showing up 2-3 days in advance is recommended. 

Overstaying a visa should cost B200 per day but it is always a bad idea. 

Backpacker's Tips : Anonymous (Oct 00)
If the visa law says you cannot extend or even your visa stamp says so, it does not mean that you are not allowed to apply for extention. This process gives you some more time,  up to almost a month sometimes. Or when you play it right even longer. Does not work too good on 30 day visa on arrival. But even after the standard 10 days (500B) extention on that one, you can just go back to immigration. My friend got another 15 days (she mentioned studying thai at AUA here)

 

When to visit ?

From the weather point of view :

The best months are November to February, when it is rather cool and sunny.  It can even get cold in the mountains of the north.  
March to October is hot and it gets humid & rainy starting from June.   Summer in Bangkok is hard work but, in less congested places, there is no reason to cancel your trip.
The west-coast monsoon  prevent access to some of the less developed islands from May to October. 

    Weather in Thailand



From the cultural point of view :

Plenty of festivals take place all over Thailand and you are very likely to locally bump into one. Most are centered around the temples.

If all the festivities are worth seeing, one is best experiencing (or avoiding) : the Thai New Year, also know as Songkran Festival, better described as Splashing Festival. It takes place yearly on the 12-14th of April but, in most places, last longer. Perfect with swimsuit but a bit annoying after a while with your non water proof bags. 

Other National Festivals or Events which do not follow the lunar calendar are :

New Year's day : 1 January
Chakri Memorial Day : 6 April
National Labor Day : 1 May
Coronation Day : 5 May
Queen's Birthday : 12 August
Chulalongkorn Day : 23 October
King's Birthday : 5 December
Constitution Day : 10 December
New Year's Eve : 31 December

  Festivals and Events

 

From the crowd point of view :

The best time to visit from the weather point of view is strangely the most crowded.  December to February are the worst months and finding cheap accommodations on the islands becomes a very tricky adventure.  But due to the western holidays, summer is also popular and therefore best avoided. 

  Thailand's Tourism Statistics

 

How long ?

As long as possible off course !

From a practical point of view, the one month allowance is real too short for amazing Thailand but visiting other countries in between will fortunately grant you extensions. 

If touring is what you have in mind, count 1-2 weeks for the Center, 3-4 weeks for the North, 2 weeks for the North-East and 3-4 weeks for the South. Two months would therefore be a minimum for a good circuit of Thailand. Three months would be better.

Retiring on an island, watching all the video of Khao San Road or waiting for a full moon party are not included in the above...

 

Money ?

The Baht (B) has regained some strength to the US$ and is now exchanged at around B40 for one dollar. See the banknotes

Changing money or TC is no problem. Foreign exchange kiosks compete with banks for the best rates and are usually open long after the later are closed. Rates on the islands or in the hotels are usually poor.

The rates are adjusted at least 3 times a day and always after you have finished your market survey...

TC offer a slightly better rate but there is a B23 service charge per cheque. Avoid therefore small denominations. As a whole, TC is the safest bet as it is a bad idea to carry too much cash... 

ATM services are available but cashing money from your western credit card usually involves a few commissions which make the operation costly. Check with your bank.

Credit cards can be used to make most purchase but smaller shops and nearly all travel agents will illegally charge an additional 2-3%.  

  Currency Converter

Backpacker's Tips : Jeerawat Sitsankul, Thai (March 07)
Prices in Thailand has come up a lot in terms of USD as Thai Baht has appreciated from 40 Baht/ US$ to current level of 34 Baht (almost 15%)

 

How much ?

Thailand offer one of the best quality-price ratio in Asia. 

There is however a big cost difference for accommodations depending on the season and the location : islands are expensive by Thailand standard and some like Phuket or Koh Samui are now clearly up market. On other islands, count B100 minimum per night in the off season and B200 in the high season. Do not expect much for those prices. 

A good dinner in a basic "restaurant" should cost around  B30-50 but eating at the night markets should cost you around B20. Beer however is expensive at B40-50 per big bottle. 

Transportation is reasonably priced if you avoid the Super VIP buses. 

Entrance fees to the sights are acceptably priced. 

The National Parks and some natural sights have however recently (July 00) increased their tariffs from a few dozens Bahts to as high as B200 !  Thai people still pay the same as before (see below dangers & annoyances). This certainly will add to the cost of visiting Thailand ! 

On average, if you avoid a long stay on the expensive islands, eat at the markets and drink with moderation, count on US$6 all inclusive a day if you stay in dormitory or US$10 if you stay in a private room. 

See Passplanet's Cost Table for more details.

 

Health ?

Thailand is a fairly healthy country to travel in but precautions should be taken in some remote parts. 

As in most countries of Asia, water straight from the tap is to be avoided.  Distilled water is cheap and readily available everywhere.

Thailand is a good place to complete your health equipment as medicine are cheap and readily available. Avoid small shops however as fake pills do exist. Thai condoms have not a reputation of reliability.

Malaria ? All cities in Thailand are malaria free. However, some malaria can be found in the hilly or forested areas, around the border with Myanmar, Laos or Cambodia and on some Islands (in particular Koh Chang). Risks increase at the rainy season but, with common sense, mosquito net and repellent, it remains low. A leaflet from the Government read that "malaria chemoprophylaxis is not recommended". The hospital for Tropical Deceases is at 420-6 Rajavithi Rd, Bangkok (2469000 ext 414, 415)

Dengue fever ? Dengue infection is common during the rainy season. Aedes mosquitoes lives in the neighborhood of houses and bite during the day so repellent may also be a good idea at this time. Manifestations are fever, rash in the skin, headache and muscle pains. It is usually non-fatal.

    Latest Health Recommendations

 

Danger & Annoyances ?

Thailand is, as a whole, a very pleasant place to visit but this is not paradise and a few things may irritate you from time to time for a couple of seconds or so :

The dogs : usually harmless but always noisy, especially when starting a fight in the middle of the night. In addition, abandoned streets dogs sometimes offer a pity sight to animal lovers. 

The fluctuating bus schedules : what they tell you the day before is likely to have changed when you show up. Never mind, there is usually plenty of other buses !

The anarchy at the bus stations if you do not speak Thai : Most of the destinations are written in Thai only, there is usually no clear billboard and most of the staff, including at the information office, seem to have missed all the English lessons at school (if they ever went there !). Conclusion : you may ask for Loei and get a ticket and a ride to Roi Et instead (it happened to me, see Bangkok's locality for the full story). Asking for Pattaya should be OK though...

The throwing rubbish away locals : not specific to Thailand but annoying anyway when you see the result on the side of the roads. Some people explain this attitude by the fact that the Thai traditionally used ecological banana leaf to wrap their goods and did not yet make the distinction with the actual plastic bags... In Bangkok, spitting or dropping rubbish (plastic bag or banana leaves) is subject to a maximum B2000 fine. It would interest me to know if anyone has ever seen this regulation been applied...

The tourist & backpackers' crowd : sorry but you are late 20 years if you wished to visit Thailand on your own... In some places, you will actually see more foreigners than local people and those who will be there are likely to try to sell you something. Some interesting places are still relatively isolated but they become rare, except maybe in the North-East for a couple of more years...

Not being understood : in tourist area, there are no worries as everyone is trying to cash on the tourists and therefore speak English. A bit more off the track, getting understood may require a little of patience, the time for the local translator to show up...

Not reading Thai : the writing system may not be as sophisticated as the Chinese but the result is the same : you can not spell anything ! Actually, it is even more confusing than the Chinese characters as all the letters seem to look the same. Fortunately, English translations are strategically offered around touristy sights.

The dual pricing system : Entrances to National Parks have increased in July 2000 from B20 to B200. This is the case for the Erawan Falls, Ko Samet or Ko Chang for example. Adding insult to injury, the government went a step further by introducing an outrageous dual pricing system : Thai people still pay the same as before, that is ten times less !  This dual tarrification is also applied with other places & monuments. A strange and sad move at a time when other countries (China) are moving away from this kind of discrimination... 

The hypocrisy behind the smiles : If Thailand is the Land of smiles, those aren't always as sincere as in other surrounding countries and it is rather difficult to make a real local friend, at least on the tourist path (The North-East is more sincere). Tourism is a big business and the smile sometimes not less than a marketing tool to get your money. Truly, looking at the look & behavior of some backpackers or at the tourist crowd (3 millions of people each year aged from 15 to 34 years old out of 5 millions in total), you may understand why some Thai have lost patience and developed interior animosity toward the "dropping of foreigners" ("Farang Kee Nok"). This expression is however (and fortunately) not directed at all foreigners without discrimination but at the ones that are perceived as dirty, low class and disrespectful of the Thai culture (they are usually easy indeed to spot !)

Backpacker's Tips : Kathy, Canada (Feb 01)
Though I loved Thailand I hated all the travelers I met there who mostly were disrespectful to the local people wandering around stoned or drunk and sleeping around with everyone they could... running around with little clothing on.

Other negative aspects of Thailand are slightly more serious and may quite spoil your holidays if you are not careful enough. Fortunately, common sense should protect you :


The various scams : usually restricted to the touristy area, the idea is to make you believe that you can earn a lot of money by buying goods and sell them back home (usually gems) or to lie to you about the cost of a show (huge bill in a go go bar while you were told it was free) or service (being charged 20 instead of the normal 10 on songthaews). As everywhere, never follow or accept food or drinks from a total stranger that you just met "by chance" on the street, ask about the cost precisely and bargain with a smile !

The robberies in paradise : Keeping lots of valuables in your open bungalow while looking at the colorful fishes is definitively a bad idea. Theft do happen and it is usually a westerners' activity. Indeed, you have to keep in mind that a few "travelers" are ready to do anything to be able to stay a bit longer or buy another beer. I had my B100 slippers (that is US$2.5 !) stolen in my guesthouse in Bangkok ! 

The side "products" Thailand is famous for : sex and drugs. Both are easily available but could cost you your life : the first one because the spread of Aids is very high among the professionals and Thai condom not always safe, the second because it is completely illegal to use drugs in Thailand and the penalty goes in theory up to the hanging for possession of more than 100gr of heroin (in practice, you should get a life imprisonment sentence but, in Thai prisons, this is not really better is it ?)

Backpacker's Tips : John Arvidson, Denmark (March 01)
Actually there is no hangings in Thailand, death sentences are carried out by a mounted machinegun, lethal injection is at present being proposed and evaluated by medical doctors, panels, etc. No farangs have been executed in Thailand in the last hundred or more years, but some foreigners from other asian countries, Burma, etc have. By admitting to whatever crime, the death penalty is usually committed to life in prison. Avoid using drugs while in Thailand. I recommend a book: "4000 days" by Warren Fellows, a guy who met the inside of the Thai prison system.

Order 4000 days today ! 4000 Days : My Life & Survival in a Bangkok Prison

An excellent book by Warren Fellows. Order it via Amazon.com (click on the cover) to save money. 

 

The violence behind the smiles : If you like to fight and do not mind the bars atmosphere, then Thailand should run high on your list. Indeed, with so many drunk local people in the evening, the culture of Thai Boxing and the animosity toward foreigners, in particular toward those going out with a Thai lady, it does not take long to start a fight. Thailand is certainly not as safe as the official propaganda would like us to believe and foreigners who have been around for years reckon that Thailand may actually be more dangerous than Cambodia in terms of "accidents" involving foreigners !

The reality behind easy sex : The number of foreign bachelors who have lost their mind (as well as a lot of money) over a Thai lady is impressive. Truly, there is often a lot of naivety on the western side : who is foolish enough to believe that a 20 years old creature picked up in Pattaya would sincerely fall in love with a 40 years old fat guy ? Well, quite a few actually ! Indeed, the experienced ladies are clever enough to make you believe that the impossible is possible and that romance is really filling the air. In reality, it is filling their purse only ! Indeed, it is important to remember that it is traditionally frown upon for a Thai lady to go out with a westerner. By doing so, she take the risk to be physically abused by her countrymen (girls do fight in Thailand) and she will be regularly insulted as "prostitute". Around Pattaya, it should be fine with her as she is really a professional ! And she makes so much money that way that the western guy would have to be real rich or attractive or both to make her quit. Stories of girls writing to several boyfriends (usually to ask them to send more money as their mothers suddenly got sick) while having sex with more guys aren't rare. Nor are short-lived and costly marriage... Please do not get me wrong : true love and successful relationship are of course possible and I have a few examples in mind. But those usually did not start around Pattaya or Phuket and they certainly do not involve people from a different generation !

Notwithstanding the above, let's remind you that 100% of the backpackers we asked said they liked Thailand, that 91% would happily come back and that 98% would recommend it around ! See "Why Go" for more details...

 


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