Thailand might be one of the world’s favourite travel destinations in Asia, but there’s plenty to know before touching down in this Southeast Asian nation. As locals, we’d say that our team knows more than the average Joe about arriving, travelling in and enjoying this beautiful country we call home. From our team of locals to you, these are our top tips and insider answers to those burning travel questions!
“Visa or no visa?”
Good news! Thailand allows passport holders from 48 different nations to enter the country without a visa – but there’s a catch. If your trip is under 30 days, you won’t need to get a visa before entering. More than that, and you’ll need to plan on getting yourself set up for a visa.
The no-visa list includes: Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, UK, USA and many more…
“What should I pack?”
That depends a bit on you, and what your travel plans are. Make sure you’re considering what activities you’ll get up to in the country. Thailand is a tropical country, so that means it’s damp and warm. Make sure your footwear, clothing and attitude is ready for it!
For all travellers to Thailand, though, your suitcase should include these top-priority things:
– Casual clothing suitable for 28-33 Celcius degree weather, and certainly a swimsuit or two
– An umbrella in the likely chance of scattered rain
– Personal medicines, a toothbrush and some toothpaste, as only five-star hotels will provide them
– Flat shoes and sandals you’re used to wearing – new shoes means painful feet
– Landmarks like the Grand Palace and Golden Pagoda require conservative clothing, so be prepared with clothes that cover your shoulders and knees and shoes that cover your whole foot
– Bring a small bag for storage of passport and cash, since you won’t want to leave them in your hotel in case of theft
– Have a few 20 Baht notes handy, since it is common courtesy to tip this amount to those that carry your luggage in and out of the hotel
– Smaller carry-on sized bags for domestic flights in Thailand, since they will have different luggage allowances than international carriers.
“What’s the deal on smoking and littering?”
Unlike some of Thailand’s neighbouring countries, Thailand takes littering and smoking seriously in areas where it is banned. Signs will mark areas where smoking is not allowed (even if it’s outside), and littering is not permissible anywhere on the road. Find a rubbish bin instead!
“What should I know about shopping in Thailand?”
Hardly anyone makes it out of Thailand without enjoying a little bit of retail therapy. Shopping here is a bit different than in the West, though, so there are some things you should know:
– Bargaining is allowed when buying at shops or in the market, but if the seller has an employee ID card, it is not allowed.
– If you have a calculator on your phone, this makes a very convenient tool for bargaining to avoid the language barrier!
– In Bangkok, home appliances and household items can be bought at a suitable price, but watch out! Electrical items are very expensive, so maybe save these purchases for your home country.
– Almost every store and supermarket in Thailand opens at 10 or 10.30am, and very few open at 9.30am. Be prepared to wait a bit if you’re an early riser!
– Shopping in Thailand is entertaining but you should visit different stores to compare prices, especially when buying jewellery and precious gems. All stores have price tags, but you should bargain! You can bargain from 10% up to 40% cheaper than the original price.
– You should always take the receipt and check it carefully before leaving the store. Stores with a good reputation will give customers the ability to return unwanted items up to 90 days, and if a store does not have this policy, you should look for another place to buy!
– Thai people value politeness and a sense of humour. With patience and a friendly smile, you can buy items at a cheaper price, even if you’re not a Thai speaker! Most sellers speak a good level of English in the cities, and shopkeeps will usually try to stay friendly with other shops (no forcing or stealing customers from each other!). You can relax and bargain until you make a purchase you’re happy with.
Pro tip: For many higher-scale stories, if you make a purchase of over 3,000 Baht, tourists will be given a VIP card from the store, which usually entitles you to a 5% discount for every following purchase within 2 years!
“Where should I shop in Bangkok?”
Stand almost anywhere in Bangkok, and there will be some kind of shop, market or street seller within arms’ reach. That said, some shopping districts are better than others, and these are the tried-and-tested favourites for locals and visitors alike!
This is a very large shopping centre in Bangkok, with items ranging from cheap to expensive, including all kinds of clothing, jewellery and electronics… plus some great spots for entertainment, too!
Central World Plaza
This is one of the most developed centres in Thailand. With more than 500 stores, 50 restaurants, 21 cinemas, a bowling alley, a playground of kids and two big shopping sites and the biggest supermarket in Asia, Central World is by-and-far the top spot to shop in the city. You can find many popular brands here like Rolex, Adidas and Calvin Klein.
Siam Paragon has the widest shopping area in Bangkok, the biggest stores and the largest gathering of cinema complexes – simply put, it is the heaven for shopping in Bangkok! There is also a large food court with a huge variety of international dishes with fairly affordable prices, if you find yourself hungry during your shopping excursion.
Charn Issara is well known for clothing, cosmetics and consumer goods – and less well-known than Siam Paragon and Central World.
There are many types of items in this older shopping centre, with reasonable prices that are less likely to break the bank.
This market mainly focuses on selling clothes, so this can be a great place to shop if you’re on the hunt to beef up your travel wardrobe.
“How does this tax return work?”
For foreign visitors shopping in Thailand, you can have a tax return in airports within Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Hat Yai and Phuket when purchasing a minimum of 5,000 Baht in one day. This total can be calculated from multiple receipts purchased on that day, so make sure you have these saved and organised to redeem!
But remember, you should ask the shop to give you the tax refund form, which should be filled in by the seller within the day of purchase. When leaving Thailand, visitors need to get custom stamps on the tax refund form before checking in. After passing the passport check point, visitors can get their tax money back by showing this stamped form.
“How do I make international calls?”
You should buy an international phone card of Thailand (hint: it’s yellow) and use public phone booths to make calls, which is much cheaper than doing so on your mobile phone. The cheapest card costs 300 Baht.
An alternative is to purchase a Thai Sim card to use with your mobile phone, which costs about 200 Baht. There is a small amount of credit included, and you will have an option to use 3G service as well. This can be bought in any convenient store such as 7 Eleven, where you can also top up the card should you run out of credit.
“What should I know about the exchange rates?”
Thailand’s currency is called Baht. 1 USD is equivalent to roughly 32.5 to 32.7 Baht, and 1 Euro is equivalent to around 40 Baht. 1 GBP is equivalent to 47 Baht. Since these can fluctuate, downloading an app on your phone to quickly and easily find exchange rates is recommended for shopping.
“What are the biggest ‘Do’s’ and ‘Don’ts’ in Thailand?”
Thailand might be a popular tourism destination for people from around the world, but it is still a Southeast Asian country with a very different culture. It’s important to remember that not all things acceptable in your country will be acceptable in Thailand. These are the biggest yes’s and no’s in the country.
– Wear polite clothes (no shorts or tank tops) when visiting pagodas and temples.
– Do not climb onto Buddha statues to take photos.
– Do not offend the king and queen of Thailand as they are highly respected by Thai people.
– Always respect those who are older than you.
– Be polite with those who you bargain with, and don’t forget to smile!
– Leave your footwear outside before entering a house. If you aren’t sure if this is customary at a home, just keep an eye out for other shoes left outside.
– Be patient in the post office or in a bank, where calm is highly valued.
– Don’t use your foot to point towards a person or object. In Thai culture, this is very impolite!
– Don’t touch a child’s head! The head is a sacred part of the body for Thai people, and though patting on the head might be a sign of friendliness in the West, it is not so in Thailand.
– Avoid public displays of affection in Thailand, where couples are usually more reserved.
– Avoid yelling in public, as this is considered very rude.
– Beware cat-calling! Making inappropriate noises to catch a woman’s attention is a big no-no.
– Never accept a request from a stranger for a tour or service. These almost always turn out to be scams!
– Never buy jewellery or antiques on the streets. There’s a good chance they’ll be fake, so make these purchases in larger stores or malls to be safe.
– Never use a gesture with your fingers faced upward when communicating with a waiter. This is equivalent to a particular offensive gesture in Western countries, so make sure you close your hand or face it downwards.