Last Update: March 2023
Thailand Travel Guide Quick Menu
It’s easy to understand why Thailand is one of the most popular travel destinations South East Asia. With an agreeable climate and price level, delicious food and ample attractions, Thailand has something to offer for everyone. According to the Thai ministry of tourism a whopping 40 million tourists visited the land of smiles in 2019. Mind you, that’s more people than the total population of Canada!
From the stunning white sand beaches on the Islands to the rural landscapes of the Isan province, Thailand has it all. Jungle in the Western and Central parts, while venturing Northwest you’ll find yourself surrounded by forest clad mountain peaks. And what about the infamous golden triangle? Emerald green rice paddies are literally everywhere and jagged limestone rocks popping out of the turquoise colored seas offer spectacular scenery.
During all my travels in South East Asia I have spent more than a year (on and off) in Thailand. Well, now you know why. Here’s my Thailand Travel Guide.
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General Info – Thailand Travel Guide
The list of highlights in Thailand seems endless. However, with so many other tourists visiting, you know you won’t be alone. Don’t worry about it too much though. The infrastructure at the most visited attractions in Thailand is generally well developed. As a result, visiting the highlights remains the best introduction to Thailand.
You can experience life in the fast lane and indulge in the big city pleasures of bustling Bangkok, which probably has the best night life of South East Asia. Thailand’s second city Chiang Mai is more laid-back and the natural surroundings typically attract a more outdoorsy crowd (though not exclusively).
Furthermore, the sunlit beaches of Koh Phi Phi and Phuket are among the most beautiful in the world, while the vast temple sites of Ayuttaya and Sukothai represent the rich and impressive history and culture of Thailand.
And the food, ah the food. Thailand is deservedly renowned for its excellent and abundant street food. Moreover, you will soon find out that Thai gastronomy is so much more than just pad thai and spicy curries.
Additionally, Thailand remains very affordable if not dirt cheap compared to Western price levels.
Reasons to visit/avoid Thailand
Reasons to visit Thailand
The many highlights make it near to impossible to ever get bored in Thailand. There’s always a next place to see;
Thailand boasts an incredible food scene. Street food stalls, food markets, Mom and Pop eateries, Michelin starred restaurants and everything in between;
Tourism infrastructure is well developed with efficient and affordable transport, as well as accommodation for every budget;
Some of the most gorgeous beaches in the world are in Thailand. Both tranquility seekers and party-goers will not have any problem finding their favorite beach;
Also culturally, Thailand has a lot to offer. From abundant religious temples, be it new or ancient, to plenty of museums. Metropolitan Bangkok displays modern Thai society, while the rural areas offer a peek into Thai village life. Folklore and modern festivals are organized year round throughout the country.
Reasons to avoid Thailand
Although still affordable compared to Western price levels, accommodation, food and transport on the more popular Islands can be quite expensive;
Some of the most popular highlights suffer from over-tourism in peak and high season;
If you don’t thrive in hot weather, then Thailand might not be for you. Except for the mountainous areas it’s hot and humid all year round;
For longer stays, visa extensions can be difficult and might require leaving the country to re-entry.
When to go – Thailand Travel Guide
Traveling to Thailand? Quick-check the up-to-date entry requirements
There is a difference between the North and the South with the latter receiving significantly more precipitation over the year.
Rain season in the South runs roughly from mid April until October with precipitation up to 400mm per month. Temperatures might be a few degrees down from dry season, but because of the humidity the feel temperature remains high.
Rain season in the North starts around May to end in mid November. Precipitation isn’t as bad as in the South with about 150/200mm per month and it usually comes in afternoon showers.
In March and April the temperature in Thailand reaches its peak up to 33C/36C. You might be fine at the beaches, but any inland activity could be less comfortable.
From mid November until February the weather is mostly sunny for the majority of the day with lower humidity and moderate temperatures between 28C/30C.
Read: “Fight for your bike in Thailand”
Thailand has a large number of public holidays. They normally won’t interfere with your stay, unless you can’t do without your alcohol. Some of the religious holidays also bring a national ban on alcohol. Don’t worry, there aren’t a lot of those alcohol free days.
From 13th to 15th of April the Water Festival (Songkran) is celebrated. It represents the Thai New Year and people are having festive water fights in the streets.
High season starts mid November until March, which coincides with the better weather conditions. As it also coincides with the European and Northern China Winter season, the influx of holiday makers is easily explained.
From mid December to February is the absolute peak season. Air tickets to Thailand and accommodation rates will be at their highest, especially on the Islands. Be aware that many Thai hotels charge a mandatory outrageous fee for Christmas and New Year’s eve dinner, whether you attend or not.
Read: “15 Fun things to do in Krabi, Thailand“
So, when to go?
Weather wise, December to February is the best period to visit Thailand. However, it’s also the busiest time and certainly the most expensive. Just to let you know, I visited Thailand at any time of year and always had a good time. Don’t let a bit of rain stop you, unless it’s torrential and causing floods. Since the South sees the most rain, maybe stay up North during the wettest months?
Typical Cost – Thailand Travel Guide
As said, Thailand is very affordable. It’s fairly easy to travel on a budget, but then again the saying “what you pay is what you get” holds a lot of truth here. Still, accommodation, food and also transport are all very cheap, depending on your desired level of comfort of course.
The Thai Baht (THB) is used for currency. US$ 1 will get you between THB33-35 and 1 Euro goes for approximately THB36-37.
ATM’s are abundant in Thailand, but not all of them allow international withdrawals so always make sure you have some cash left when planning your next ATM run. Also, most Thai banks that do allow international withdrawals often charge a hefty fee for the service. As this is usually a fixed fee per withdrawal it might be a good idea to withdraw the maximum allowed amount.
Rates for accommodation may start at THB150 for a dorm bed to THB350/500 for a basic guesthouse. Expect to pay from THB600 and up for a 3-star hotel room while 5-star hotel rooms will start around THB1500.
Airbnb is definitely an option to consider. Especially Bangkok has a huge selection.
Note that prices are definitely higher in tourist areas. Bangkok is typically up to 50% more expensive and accommodation on the popular Islands in the South can even be twice as high.
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Food in Thailand is found on practically every street corner at mostly cheap prices. THB50 will buy you a decent meal at any street food stand and sometimes even in restaurants in the rural areas. Western fare is more expensive and goes for THB150/250 on average. Of course the more touristy or fancier it gets the more expensive it will be.
If your budget is really, really tight, head for the local markets. Food prices here are usually the lowest and there’s unlimited, ready to eat fresh produce. I once bought 2 pounds of mangosteen (the queen of fruits) for just THB20. Mind you, mangosteen is considered an expensive fruit in Thailand.
There are several transport options and they all come with a different cost. Therefore, one simple way to balance your costs in Thailand is by smartly managing your transportation.
Bangkok is a busy air-hub and its two airports receive both international and domestic flights from literally anywhere. Also buses and trains easily find their way through the country. Long distance transportation from let’s say Bangkok to Chiang Mai can be done by plane for as low as THB1000, by coach from THB630 and by train THB300 (from Don Muang airport). If you plan to travel to the Islands, don’t forget to budget the boat fare.
Ticket prices are easy to check and book online with transport planning portals like 12Go.asia and Bookaway.
Prices for getting around in cities are difficult to list since they vary from town to town. Bangkok transport is the most affordable in the country with TBH8 for short bus rides, THB15 for metro/skytrain (only in Bangkok), THB40 for motorbike and THB70 for metered taxis. Tuk-tuks will do between THB100 and THB200 depending on your negotiating skills.
Beware of Bangkok tuk-tuks though! If you are offered a fare that is too good to be true, it probably is. Before you know it they haul you from one tailor to another gem shop while the driver pockets gasoline vouchers and commissions. Don’t bother protesting as the driver suddenly doesn’t understand English anymore.
Transport on the Islands is the most expensive, because the local tuk-tuk
mafia lobby is very successful in keeping out any competition. This way they can inflate prices, since there aren’t any serious transport alternatives.
Using a taxi app is really worth considering as it eliminates the issue of negotiating. Grab is the most popular and widespread taxi app in Thailand.
Wait! I’ll give you another option and it’s up to you if you want to use it. You can always rent a bicycle or a motor bike, although a bicycle might be less of a great idea in Bangkok, because of traffic. Rent prices vary, but it’s almost always very cheap.
Note that proper document requirements for tourists riding a motorbike are very confusing. Not having the right documents will most likely invalidate all insurance you might have. Check out this explanation on regulations.
Some independent travelers might be horrified by the idea of booking a tour. I get it, I really do, where is the adventure in that? However, if you don’t have a lot of time a tour might actually not be a bad idea. It allows you see all the highlights in a condensed time frame. Also, for jungle treks and alike it’s always wise to at least hire an experienced local guide.
Prices for tours will differ greatly, depending on the area and the sort of activity. Keep in mind that often the larger your group, the lower the price per person. In the Things to do in Thailand chapter I have listed a few great activities.
Where to go – Thailand Travel Guide
Thailand has so many places worth visiting. Maybe if you could stay forever you can see them all. Since most of us aren’t that lucky, I put together a neat selection of destinations in Thailand to help you create your ultimate itinerary.
Unless you’re a full-time traveler and time is not an issue you’ll have a hard time deciding which destinations to cover. Most visitors start in Bangkok, which is a highlight in itself. After that, it’s either down South for some of the most gorgeous beaches in the world, North for mountains and rain-forests or East for the rural villages of Thailand.
Things to see/do – Thailand Travel Guide
So much to do, so little time. Yep, life is all about choices. I have listed a few of my favorite activities down here. Maybe this helps to make up your mind on what to do when in Thailand. Have fun!
Islands – Things to see/do
Learn how to surf
At Kata beach on Phuket the waves rarely reach higher than 3ft. Seasoned surfer dudes (and babes) might laugh at this, but it’s perfect if you’re new to surfing and want to learn in a controlled environment. In fact, when I tried it at Phuket Surfing the only ones laughing were a few 10 year old local boys that I’m sure just envied my cool surf shorts. Well that, and maybe because they were naturals while I was really struggling.
At Phuket Surfing they rent out surfboards and provide lessons. And if surfing is not your thing, they have paddle boards as well. Find them at the Northern tip of the Kata beach.
Trat Islands hopping
Some of the more famous Islands such as Phuket, Koh Phi Phi and Koh Samui are absolute tourist magnets. If you prefer a more tranquil setting then opt for the Islands in the East of Thailand (Trat province). Koh Mak, Koh Kood and (large parts of) Koh Chang are less commercialized, but every bit as beautiful.
More Island things to do
- Diving on Koh Tao;
- full moon parties on Koh Phangan;
- snorkeling in Ang Thong marine park on Koh Samui;
- Jay Festival on Phuket;
- a visit to Old Town on Koh Lanta;
- jungle trek on Koh Chang;
- drink booze from a bucket on Koh Phi Phi.
Bangkok – Things to see/do
Bangkok by bike
Just minutes away from the tourist hustle and bustle is Bangkok’s best kept secret. You will be amazed once you steer your bicycle into the green tranquility along the khlongs (canals). But to get there you will first navigate the small alleys of Chinatown.
The first time we went on this bicycle tour I was amazed by how much fun it was. Locals smiling and waving as we literally cycled through their backyards in Chinatown. Once we crossed the bridge we ended up in an unsuspected peaceful world of small canals and lush greenery. Ever since, I go cycling every time that I’m in Bangkok.
Grand Palace and iconic temples
An absolute must see for every first timer to Bangkok is the Grand Palace and the iconic temples that surround it. The palace, the national museum and three of Bangkok’s most impressive temples all within earshot of each other.
Chiang Mai – Things to see/do
Soft-trek the Northern mountains
Incredible scenery, powerful waterfalls and Thailand’s highest peak. Immerse yourself in nature, cool down in a natural pool and meet up with the local hill tribes.
Cook like a Thai
Do you want to replicate those tasty Thai dishes at home? Learn how to cook like a Thai and have fun while you’re at it. Chiang Mai is definitely the best location for a Thai cooking class with regards to atmosphere, price and quality.
Mae Hong Son loop
A 600 km bucket list route from Chiang Mai to Mae Hong Son, then looping over mountains and over 1800 bends back to Chiang Mai. It is said that motorbike is the way to go. However, speaking from experience I can say that the Mae Hong Son loop by (self drive) car is a fantastic experience as well.
Other areas – Things to see/do
Rent a car and self drive
Experience the ultimate sense of freedom driving your car through Thailand. Renting a car in Thailand is easy, cheap and safer than you think. Explore the Islands, discover rural Thailand in the East or take on the green mountains in the North. The Thai road network is excellent. Especially with kids, driving your own vehicle is sooo convenient.
Read: “Renting a car in Thailand”, How to? – The Ultimate Guide.
Visit Phang Nga Bay
This photogenic area of Thailand is accessible from most of the popular beach destinations. Words can’t describe the beauty of the limestone formations jutting out from the sea. Phang Nga Bay is an absolute must see when in Thailand.
More things to do – Thailand Travel Guide
How to get to Thailand
There are several international airports in Thailand with Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok as the main hub for intercontinental flights. Other international airports are Phuket, Chiang Mai and Don Muang (also in Bangkok). They mainly receive domestic flights and flights from within the Asian region. The Skyscanner website is an excellent source for flight schedules and the best ticket fees for incoming and outgoing flights.
For international travel by bus into Thailand from neighboring countries Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia it’s very convenient to use an online transportation portal to book your tickets online. Especially during high season and public holidays it makes sense to book ahead to secure your seat(s). Skip the lines at the bus station!
There are several portals, but usually 12Go.asia and Bookaway come back with the best results. The tools are incredibly easy to use, just fill out your place of departure, your destination and travel date. It will show the complete schedule and ticket fees of all related transport. Make your choice and book instantly!
Food – Thailand Travel Guide
Every time I get off that plane upon arrival in Thailand, I can’t wait to settle myself on the street side patio of a cozy restaurant. Then, whilst enjoying my ice-cold beer Singha and spring rolls I just sit and observe the local scene go by. The tropical temperature and the effects of my 12 hour flight are having their drowsy way with me. And all I can think of is…..What’s for dinner?
I totally love Thailand for a million reasons, but admittedly the main reason must be the food. Are you with me?
Read up on Thai food in the articles below and order with confidence in a restaurant next time you visit Thailand.
Health – Thailand Travel Guide
The quality of health care in Bangkok is generally ok. Certainly private hospitals are the better choice for tourists as they can avoid the long cues and out dated equipment of the public hospitals. Bangkok even attracts a lot of medical tourism for cosmetic surgery and dental work. Not only is there a reasonable standard of care, but also the cost is more friendly compared to Western care.
However, the further you venture from Bangkok the more the quality of care deteriorates. In rural areas, health care is practically non-existent.
Pharmacies are abundant in the cities and even in most smaller towns. In many cases a prescription is not needed. Beware though of Chinese counterfeit drugs.
No, no, no, don’t you dare to skip this part, even if you think that travel insurance is boring. Any serious injuries or ailments will most likely involve expensive medical transport, payable upfront if you lack proper insurance.
Always make sure to travel with the right travel insurance. One that covers your medical care abroad and includes evacuations and repatriation. Don’t just assume that your regular insurance covers adventurous activities.
At least get a non-committal instant quote in under 30 seconds.
Safety -Thailand Travel Guide
Overall, Thailand is a very safe country. That doesn’t mean however that crime is non-existent. The ever so general advice to “be aware of your surroundings” applies like in any other major city. The same goes for not showing off your valuables and don’t wander into dark alleys late at night when you’re alone and/or intoxicated.
Crime usually comes in the form of pick pocketing, although bag snatching has been reported in Bangkok recently. Similarly, violence against tourists is not very common, but does occasionally occur in the form of muggings. Again, do not show off any valuables and take a taxi back to your hotel after drinking late at night.
Police make very small salaries and often seem more interested in fining you for not wearing a helmet on your rented motor bike. For them it’s a way to make an extra buck. Normally you just pay them THB 500 and you’ll be on your merry way. No use trying to argue, you won’t win.
However, do not think you can bribe your way out of everything, that is definitely not the mindset you should bring to Thailand. Bribery is as illegal in Thailand like anywhere else and if you get caught up in a dispute with a local it’s best to be very cautious.
Your bribe might backfire, because the first instinct of the Thai police will be to side with the local. That being said, the police can prove to be extremely helpful in dire situations as long as you are respectful to them. Tourists can especially rely on the Thai Tourist Police. Dial 1155 for free from all over Thailand.
No doubt about it, Thailand and Bangkok in particular, has some of the most congested roads in the world. According to studies (never mind the source, I’ve been there, it’s true) this is caused by the car vs road ratio (duh). Other reasons are accidents, floods and the bad driving habits of the Thai drivers.
Thailand drives on the left side of the road by the way. There’s an urban legend saying that this is due to the fact that the first car in Thailand was a gifted to the Thai King by the Queen of England, and thus a right-hand-drive.
Another story tells that in the old days men on horses preferred to pass on the left side. Hence, their right hand was free to attack with their swords. Right side, left side, whichever it is, I’m saying that Thai usually drive in the middle of the road.
Ok fun aside, traffic can be dangerous in Thailand. It’s very busy on the road and many drivers lack reasonable driving skills. So, watch yourself when crossing the road and be extra careful at night. Thai bus and truck drivers often work long hours and have been known to take amphetamines to stay awake so they can keep driving. Needless to say that their responsiveness and judgement are somewhat clouded at the least.
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