The thing about travel is…you never know what you’re going to learn. You have NO IDEA going into a destination, what the customs are, what the people are like, how you should act in public to fit in or at least be polite. That’s why it’s so fun! You can do all the research in the world, but until you get there, you really have no idea what it’s going to be like.
I visited Thailand for a couple of weeks (Bangkok and Koh Samui) and want to share with you what I learned, so you’ll at least be a little more prepared than you were going to be. Here’s what you need to know about customs, language, transportation and overall preparation before traveling to Thailand.
The Thai language is BEAUTIFUL. Just look at it: ราชอาณาจักรไทย. It’s also very difficult for us Westerners to understand. Here are a couple phrases I used on the daily while in Bangkok and Koh Samui. Would be good to practice before you go, cause you’ll need it (not a lot of fluent English is spoken over there).
Hello: Sawatdee Kha (if you’re a woman); Sawatdee Khrap (if you’re a man).
Thank you: Kohp Kuhn Kha (if you’re a woman); Kohp Kuhn Khrap (if you’re a man).
No: Mai Chai
Excuse me: Kho Tod Kha (if you’re a woman); Kho Tod Khrap (if you’re a man)
As for body language, bow your head in acknowledgement of a “hello” and if you want you can put your hands together at your chest and bow your head when greeting someone or saying “thank you.”
You need to bargain at the outdoor markets (not at malls, food vendors or stores with pre-set prices). Bargaining starts with cutting the price in half, so if something is 100 Baht, ask for 50 Baht, and they will usually bring the original price down, maybe to 75 Baht. Only bargain one or two times per item and don’t start bargaining unless you’re sure you’re going to buy the product.
Generally, 35 Baht is equal to $1 USD. The rule I used was every 100 Baht = $3.Worked out great!
What to wear:
Unfortunately, I sucked at packing for this trip. I’m thinking “ok it’s going to be hot, bring shorts.” But that was dumb. While there, I visited both Bangkok and Koh Samui (an island) and while shorts and short dresses were ok in Koh Samui, Bangkok is not as relaxed. The culture in the big city is a little more conservative. One of the main reasons for this is the Buddhist religion. You’ll be visiting many temples during your trip, so you’ll always need a scarf/shawl in your bag. I brought only one pair of pants, but it was so sweaty out there during the day, I bought another pair while there.
Clothes to pack:
Pants (light material, 2 pair)
Sandals with backs (can never show the back of your ankles in a temple)
Shawl (can’t be see-through)
T-shirts (not tank tops…shoulders are a little too SCANDALOUS)
The subway in Bangkok is cleaner and easier than the New York crap-tastic MTA system. Learn to use the subway AND Skytrain. Traffic is terrible in Bangkok, so you’ll not only be getting to your destination faster, but also cheaper than a taxi.
Taxis are super cheap in Bangkok though. Before we used the subway, we got stuck in 30 minutes of traffic in a taxi (not fun), but the whole ride was only $5. PLUS THE TAXIS ARE PINK AND GREEN – YAYYYYY.
Tuk tuks (pronounced took tooks) are 3-wheeled rickshaws (basically a dude on a scooter with a seat in the back). Super fun for shorter distances, but one of the more “expensive” forms of transportation. A 5-minute ride was $3 for two of us. Either way, you have to do it, it’s hilarious.
On the islands, a truck with seats in the back (Song Tao) is the perfect ride. Easy, breezy…cheap.
Like in any big city, pick-pocketing is a possibility. Just don’t act like an idiot, and trust your gut. A zippered, cross-body purse is smart to use if you’re worried. Try this small, cute bag from Mango.
We stayed at well-rated hotels and resorts with security guards at the entrance and safes in each room. It’s a good option to do a 4 or 5 star hotel in Thailand, because they’re actually quite cheap in comparison with U.S. prices. We kept our passports and extra money in the safe while we were out – it’s smart to bring a copy of your passport with you when you leave the room – you never know if you’ll need to remember the number.
For this trip, we booked with Affordable Asia. The deal was about $1,500 and included flights, hotels and a welcome tour on the first afternoon in Bangkok and the first afternoon in Koh Samui. We thought we’d just stick around for those few tours, and use them to make sure we got to the airport in time. But the tour guide, Ten Porradee, was SO AWESOME that we actually purchased two additional tours with her. Benefits of purchasing with this tour group?
- We were introduced to Thailand by a real local (Ten)
- We met some fun people along the way
- We were able to still do our own thing on the days we didn’t have tours
- It was nice to have someone accounting for us. When you go so far from home, yes, it’s wonderful and exhilarating, but it’s also kind of scary. Being with a group (even if you didn’t see them everyday) gave us peace of mind.
If you have never experienced jet lag before, remember to act like the clock tells you to act. If it’s 4 a.m., you should be asleep. Never say “Wellllllll it’s technically 5 p.m. in New York,” because that will just mess you up. Bangkok is 11 hours ahead of New York City, so you’re basically flipping your entire life.
This flight attendant music video will help you stay awake:
THE PLANE SUCKSSS, so just be patient, stretch a lot and catch up on ALL the movies. The flight I took was 15 hours to Taipei, Taiwan and then another 3 hours to Bangkok. If you’re arriving in Thailand at 11 am, be sure you sleep on the plane so you can be awake for an entire day. Likewise, if you arrive at 11pm, you want to be ready to sleep when you arrive so try to stay awake for a few hours at the end of the plane ride.
Other things to know:
- Wear sunblock all day, erryday. IT IS NOT THE SAME SUN AS THE JERSEY SHORE SUN.
- Carry bottles of water and drink it like crazy. There are lots of 7-Elevens (weirdly enough) so just keep drinking and buying bottles (basically 10 cents per bottle).
- Bring a little travel-sized bug spray if you’re headed to the islands.
- Don’t ever insult the King or Queen. In fact, don’t talk about them, just so you know you’re not saying anything badly of them. They are regarded very highly in Thailand.
- It’s rude to take pictures of monks – you can ask them first if you’d like.
Ok so that was my word vomit of everything I learned and would have liked to know before traveling to Thailand. Hope it helps. More Thailand posts to come!!! And let me know if you’ve ever been to Thailand or want to go!