1. Know a little bit of the language
Many Thai, especially in the service industry seem to know decent English so if you’re an English speaker I would not be nervous about people understanding you. That being said, it’s good to know a bit of the local language. Goodbye/hello and thank you are the most common phrases you will hear in Thai so it’s good to learn them to respectfully respond. To say hello and goodbye you say Sawasdee (Sah-wah-dee). Thank you is khob khun (kob kun). For both expressions, women would add “ka” and men “krab” at the end. I spoke with a foreigner who has lived in Thailand for five years and she also suggested learning, “how much,” and the basic numbers. I’ll explain why this is important next.
2. Compare prices and negotiate
People get ripped off a lot in Thailand, it’s a known thing. However, if you know the basics of the language when it comes to money, they’ll find you less of a target and shouldn’t rip you off as much. Knowing how much things costs would help a lot obviously but unless you traveled there before, have a friend who lives there, or found pricing on an internet search, it’s a challenge to know how much is fair. I would ask around for different prices to get an idea. For example, one taxi driver may quote you 800 and another quote 500. This happened to two people in our tour group.
Also, it is completely ok to negotiate pricing when it comes to clothing or souvenir street vendors. These elephant pants? Got them for 250 Baht compared to the 350 originally quoted. If there’s not much foot traffic you’ll probably get a better deal but if you visit a super touristy area they will probably not negotiate too much. Another thing, many vendors don’t have price tags on their items so you have to ask, some do have prices marked though.
3. Be mindful of the alcohol
The local alcohol in Thailand, we were told, is known to mess people up. People can get drunk very quickly off the local alcohol and I saw it happen to several people. I recommend sticking with brand name liquor such as Smirnoff vodka or beer. Also, for the full-moon party I would just stick with beer as we were told some vendors will pour local liquor into brand name bottles when you pick and order a bucket from the vendors. Buckets are like what you would build a sandcastle in. Getting buckets in other areas seem generally safe, especially at bar establishments.
4. Use the ATMs
First off, if you are going to go to an ATM or convert money, try not to do it at the airport because like any other place, they will have higher fees. Secondly, I am not a fan of carrying a lot of cash and converting it as you go as it just does not seem like a safe idea to me. Also, the fees for converting could easily outweigh the ATM fees depending on the type of bank or credit union you’re with. Personally, I would take out money once a week using an ATM. The fee is 220 Baht typically which equates to around $7 USD so you’ll want to limit your ATM usage but the fee is likely less than what you’d pay for converting. Also, the exchange rate of course changes daily but one USD is around 30 Thai Baht. As of 11/22/18 it’s 32.96. Depending on how much alcohol you want to consume and the amount of excursions and shopping you do, you can typically get by on $30-$60 USD a day. Without shopping, excursions, and not too much alcohol, $30 USD is very doable. I should note that you will need Baht because Thailand does not accept other currency, which is to be expected.
5. Bring personal protection from the environment
I’m talking mosquito repellant and sunscreen here! It was mainly cloudy when I was in Thailand but on those sunny days you could get burned easily so make sure you pack sunscreen. You can get it over there but some of them have whitening agents which are not good for the reef if you’re going swimming. See how pretty that water is? If we all are just a little conscious of the environment and make eco-friendly choices we can preserve the beauty. Now onto those annoying a**sholes…you can buy mosquito repellant in Thailand. I don’t believe it has deet in it so I brought my own but some of the guys in the group bought repellant in Thailand and said it seemed to work well. You’ll definitely want repellant because those mosquitos do not play.
6. Don’t overlook the hostels
There is some lovely lodging around Thailand. One of the hotels on Koh Phi Phi was gorgeous and there are undeniably swanky hotels in Bangkok. However, you can find accommodation pretty cheap in Thailand, especially if you go with hostels. Before Thailand, I was only in a hostel once so I was apprehensive but some of the hostels we stayed at were great for such a low price; a couple even had rooftop bars. My favorite was Savage Hostel in Koh Tao. It was very well maintained and there were plenty of comfortable seating areas and a bar on the roof with a pool looking out at mountains one side and the ocean on another. If you’re looking for cheap lodging, don’t be shy to look into hostels.
7. Be mindful of the customs
One thing to note is that when you go to a restaurant, it can take quite a while to get your food and you typically have to ask for your check. Some places I ate had very fast and friendly service but overall, Thailand is not known for their service. In several restaurants, it took almost an hour to get a dish. The thing to note here is that they are non-confrontational people so it’s kind of best just to sit and wait. I asked politely once if the food was almost ready after waiting 40 minutes and he got pissed off because it’s viewed as embarrassing them in front of people (I learned this after). You also typically have to ask for a check which in one way is nice as they are not rushing you out.
8. Try the street food and Thai food
Speaking of food, I’ll cover more about food in the final installment of this series but I just want to note that the street food seemed very safe and tasty. Personally, I loved the pad thais you could get and they were usually a lot cheaper than if you went to a restaurant. If you go to a market you do not have to get dinner before or after because there will be plenty of tasty options. There’s plenty of food options so you’re bound to find something familiar or something that you will like at least but I recommend trying the local food. My favorite is the green curry and khao soi.
9. Pack light and bring one conservative outfit
It’s warm in Thailand and if you want to get a flight in the country you’re usually limited to 7 kilos. Since it’s warm you really don’t need that much clothing and there are numerous place to do laundry (usually between 40 and 80 Baht). I was there for 3 weeks and brought 2 shorts, a pair of jeans, several shirts, and undergarments. There’s also a lot of shopping options so the lighter you pack the more you can bring back. I also recommend bringing a conservative outfit that covers your shoulders and knees if you plan to visit any temples or other religious areas. There are different things you can buy at the markets if you forget so don’t worry.
There’s so many great restaurants, islands, markets, nature spots, etc. Make sure to get out and explore them. Thailand isn’t the place to just stay in your hotel. I mean, you can do that if you want but I really recommend getting out and exploring. Whether you are in Bangkok and visit the floating market or are island hopping or going to the different wonders of nature near Pai, just get out there and experience the culture. Also, talk to to the locals; some of them are very sweet and like to talk about their customs.