By Jessica Russo
Traveling to Thailand? Here's what you need to know before you go!
Culture and customs
Eat off your spoon
It may seem odd, but in Thai culture, it is considered rude to eat directly off a fork. Instead, use your fork (left hand) to push food onto your spoon (right hand), then enjoy!
Yes, Thai people really are that nice
Don't get freaked out if a stranger tries to strike up a conversation with you - that's completely normal in Thai culture!
Don't wait in line
If you try to wait in line for a restroom or a food vendor, you're gonna be there for a while. That's because in Thailand, people don't stand in lines! If you're waiting for something, be sure to crowd up close and pop in when you get the chance. Don't be shy - give up some personal space and you'll have no problem!
Whatever you do, do not talk about the king.
Seriously, just don't.
Take a bow
You'll want to show respect for Thai customs by greeting other with the "Wai." The Wai is the motion of placing your palms togehter at your chest and bowing your head! Try to always replicate this motion instead of pointing at anyone.
If you want to be allowed into temples, wats, and monasteries, you're going to have to cover up. Before you enter any religious site, remove your shoes and make sure that you're wearing proper clothing that covers your elbows and knees. Even if a temple isn't on your itinerary for the day, always keep a light sweater in your bag - you never know when you might stumble across a beautiful Wat you'll want to check out!
Feet on the floor!
Okay, so most westerners don't love when people put their feet up on things, but in Thailand, it's seen as unbelievably rude. So you're really tired and you see a coffee table or a chair - don't put your feet up! What if you're sitting on the floor? Tuck them beneath you or beside you, and avoid pointing them at anyone. It sounds simple, but it'll definitely take some getting used to.
Always carry a pack of tissues
I'm sure you used to laugh when your mom always told you to keep tissues in your bag, but you'll thank her in Thailand. Most public Thai restrooms keep toilet paper in the common area near the sinks. If you're used to it being placed toilet-side, like most westerners are, chances are you'll forget to grab some beforehand. To avoid a few awkward situations, it's better to just be prepared.
Thailand is generally tropical, hot, and humid for most of the year. The area of Thailand that's north of Bangkok has a three-season climate, whereas the southern region only has two. In northern Thailand, between November and May, the weather is mostly dry - however - the northeast monsoons (that don't directly affect northern Thailand) cause cooling breezes from November to February. The southern region of Thailand's two seasons are wet and dry. Now - here's where it get's tricky - these seasons do not run at the same time on both the east and west sides of the peninsula. If you're on the west coast from April to October, you can expect monsoon rains and heavy storms. If you're on the east coast from September to December, well, bring your umbrella.
Find more ideas on best places in Thailand to visit.
Exchange when you get there
Sure, it never hurts to exchange currency before you leave, but you'll get the best exchange rate in Thailand. The country uses "baht," which you can get 24-hours at the airport, at banks, and at most stores and hotels. While many places do take card, it's always a good idea to carry some cash on you for street vendors, tuk tuk rides, etc.
Follow the locals
The most fun part of eating in Thailand is trying all sorts of things from local street vendors! Don't think, however, that all street vendors as equally as good in quality and/or taste. If you don't trust something, don't eat it. Your best bet is to always follow the locals and eat what they eat. Which cart has a crowd around it? Eat there.
Can you handle the heat?
You don't know spicy until you've tried a Thai person's version of spicy! Even if you normally like a little kick in your food, it's always better to start off mildly and add spice if you'd like. You want to enjoy Thailand's delicious food - not have your tongue on fire.
Yes, these are the little open-air, toy-looking taxis you've seen in the movies. Tuk Tuk drivers price according to distance, and they are often much cheaper than actual full-size taxis. With that being said, drivers know that tourists love to take Tuk Tuks, therefore they might try to rip you off. Drivers price according to distance, but it's completely okay to try to bargain the fare down a bit. In general, you may want to avoid peak (rush) traffic hours if you're looking for a really cheap ride.
In Bangkok, keep your eye out for the BTS Skytrain, an immaculate, quick, air conditioned way to get where you want to go - and a perfect way to appreciate Bangkok's breathtaking city skyline. There are many options, in terms of pricing: you can pay per ride, or purchase a refillable card.
According to locals, the MRT, Thailand's underground subway system, is seen as the most convenient way to get around the city. It even connects to the BTS Skytrain at Asok and Saladeng! In order to find out which train works best for your trip, take a look at the schedules and plan away.
Now, if you're venturing off on a longer haul, let's say, from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, the overnight train is a great option. These trains are so clean, many Thai people think of them as "hotels on wheels." You can snag tickets in advance at the Hua Lamphong Train Station, online, or at other select locations.
Try your best, but don't sweat it.
Thai, also known as Siamese or Central Thai, is the official language of Thailand. Rest assured, many Thai people do speak and understand some English, more so in Bangkok and major tourist areas. With that being said, you should definitely try to know some key Thai words and phrases, such as "Pood Thai mai dai" meaning "I cannot speak Thai," "kow jai mai?" meaning "do you understand?" and more. It's never a bad idea to keep a small dictionary or list of phrases with you. While you might rely on your phone, you never know when you'll lose service or battery!
Does it seem too good to be true?
It probably is. Markets and street vendors are awesome ways to snag crafty souvenirs and interesting food, but beware of scammers. This goes for taxis and tuk tuks, too! If a deal seems off, simply move on. Thai people are rarely dangerous, but they sure can be slick.
Bargain, but bargain fairly.
Sure, it's fun to hear local craftsmen, cab drivers, and cooks lower their prices - saving money is always fun! Western travelers should remember, however, that this is not a game to these vendors; selling goods is their livelihood! So, have fun, but try to be as fair as possible when going souvenir-crazy at the floating markets.
Here's some more locations to think about what to put on your bucket list for Thailand.
Avoid animal exploitation
Who doesn't want to play with elephants and monkeys when visiting Thailand?! Of course, most people do - but - be sure to research all "wildlife sanctuaries" before attending. Thailand is filled with many animal-friendly sanctuaries, yet unfortunately, it's also filled with shady ones that are only looking for money and treat the animals very poorly. With a little bit of research, you'll find the perfect wildlife experience that you can feel good about and remember forever.
Eat lots of mangoes
Yes, seriously - eat tons! Did you know that Thailand produces over 2.5 million tons of mangoes per year? Be sure to try at least a few - they're unlike any mangoes you've ever tasted before.