How do I get to Thailand?
Thailand is located in the heart of Southeast Asia, bordering Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and Malaysia. The biggest international airport is Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi (BKK), which is well connected to various cities around the world and often used as the gateway to Southeast Asia. The average flying times to Bangkok are:
- London to Bangkok takes around 12 hours
- New York to Bangkok takes around 19 hours
- Sydney to Bangkok takes around 10 hours
- Los Angeles to Bangkok takes around 20 hours
- Toronto to Bangkok takes around 22 hours
Thailand is very well connected with both international and domestic airports. The main airports in Thailand are Suvarnabhumi International Airport (BKK) and Don Mueang International Airport (DMK) which are both located outside Bangkok. Chiang Mai International Airport (CNX) is the biggest in Northern Thailand and Phuket International Airport (HKT) serves travellers looking at going to Southern Thailand. Other important airports are Krabi Airport and Samui Airport for travellers visiting the islands. Overall Thailand has an excellent airport infrastructure so it’s worth researching the closest one to your destination.
landscape of Thailand
Thailand encompasses just over 514,000 square kilometers, making it the second largest country on mainland Southeast Asia after Myanmar. The landscape varies greatly between each region, from the lush jungles to the white sandy beaches, rural villages to bustling cities.
The north of Thailand is much more mountainous, with Doi Inthanon being the tallest in the country, while the south is known for its palm fringed beaches and islands. Around 30% of Thailand is covered in forest, providing stable homes for various flora and fauna. Many of the forested areas are protected in national parks. Lastly, a large percentage of the central belt is home to rice fields and farming; around 40% of the population make a living through agriculture.
Thai Culture, religion
There is good reason Thailand is known as the “Land of Smiles”, as it is one of the most welcoming countries in the world. The country is for the most part, ethnically Thai, with descendants of Chinese, Malaysian, Lao and Khmer. While Buddhism is the most prominent religion in the country, it is not mandatory except for the king. Nevertheless, around 94% of the population follow Buddhism.
Respect is important in Thailand – respect for elders, other people’s homes, respect for the king and royal family, overall respect for everyone. You will rarely see Thai people lose face in public – yelling and arguing is seen as disrespectful.
Family is extremely important in Thailand and almost always comes above everything else. Many of the festivals and events held in the country are centred around family meals and gatherings. Small businesses are normally family run and families can be quite large – there is no word for cousin in Thai so they tend to think of them as brothers or sisters. Young family members are expected to help care for elder members, and more often than not when the next generation move away for work, they will continue to support their family back home.
Etiquette in Thailand is important and there are definitely some things to be aware of so that you don’t accidentally offend someone. In addition, observing the local culture will provide an even more authentic experience on your holiday. Below are a few things to know:
- Don’t touch someone’s head. The head is considered a sacred part of the body. Don’t ruffle or touch anyone’s hair, even children!
- Don’t disrespect the king. Don’t speak out about the monarchy in a negative way, and never disrespect any image of the king. In fact this can actually land you in jail!
- Don’t show anger. This is frowned upon in Thailand, why else would they be known as the Land of Smiles? Don’t lose your temper in public, simple.
- Don’t show too much skin when entering temples. Legs and shoulders must be covered.
- Do remove your shoes before entering temples or someone’s home. It is considered disrespectful not to.
- Never use your feet to point as this can greatly offend people.
- Do stand for the national anthem. It is played at events, festivals and in many public spaces when the flag is raised or lowered. It is considered disrespectful to sit or talk during this.
- Do show the most respect to monks. Women should not walk next to them, in front of them, or touch them.
Learn some Thai! It is courteous to know some simple words – even if it is just hello (sawadee khaa for women, sawadee khrap for men) and thank you (khup kun khaa for women, khup kun khrap for men).
Shopping in Thailand is excellent fun! From the huge shopping malls in Bangkok to hidden markets in Chiang Mai, you will definitely need to leave a little space in your luggage for goodies you pick up on your travels. Khao San Road, Bangkok, comes alive at night with stalls selling weird and wonderful objects and anything in between. MBK and Siam shopping centres are both centrally located, with plenty of both Asian and international stores to explore. Siam even has it’s own floating market! Another popular shopping spot is the fascinating Terminal 21, mirrored after airport terminals with each floor having a different theme. Start in Paris, walk up the stairs to Rome or wander around Tokyo. While the shops are more expensive and you will find more chain businesses, just experiencing it is great. The lower ground is also a huge food court! Another popular attraction is the Chatuchak Weekend Market in Bangkok, selling everything and anything – it’s considered the most expansive market in the world! Things to look out for are jewellery, wraps or scarves, small handicrafts and colourful clothing.
Photography in Thailand
Thailand is a wonderland for photography lovers, from the scenic landscape and alluring sunsets to the chaotic food markets. Once you touch down in Thailand, you will quickly realise there is so much more to see than just the postcard images of tropical beaches. Bangkok has a host of rooftop bars and restaurants that offer fantastic city skyline images, while the islands that surround Phuket dish up azure waters and palm fringed coastline. From the picturesque to the downright weird, Thailand is one place where you won’t want to put the camera down. There are however a few rules that you should obey:
- Don’t photograph any official or military looking personnel.
- Ask members of the public before taking a photograph of them. While you might sometimes get someone in the background, if you are focusing your image on that person, for example a street vendor, politely ask first. If they are okay with it, say thank you with a slight bow.
- Ask yourself why you are taking the photo, and whether it showcases the country or person in a negative light. Aim to share images on social media that do not degrade the country.
- Obey all signs about photography in temples – often it is not allowed. If it is allowed, ensure the flash is off as this can damage murals and distract people in prayer.
- Don’t photograph local children without the permission of the parent or adult with them. It’s sometimes common to forget boundaries when travelling, but would you want a strange tourist taking up close images of your child back home without your knowledge?
- If you wish to use a drone in Thailand you must research the local laws beforehand. It is often forbidden and you will likely need to apply for a permit from the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand.
Languages spoken in Thailand
It is thought that there are around 73 living languages being spoken in Thailand. These are made up of tribal languages, minority languages, regional dialects and Thai – the sole official and national language of Thailand.
Most of the people in major cities will have some form of English, especially if they are selling to tourists or work in the hospitality and tourism sectors. However if you visit more rural areas in Thailand, you will come across people who don’t speak English at all. It’s good practice to learn a few key words and phrases.
Thailand’s Capital city
The capital city of Thailand is Bangkok, with a population of 8.3 million people. Bangkok is served by two airports and is considered the gateway to other countries in Southeast Asia, as well as being the starting point for tours around Thailand.
Bangkok is the perfect example of where old meets new in Thailand. The city is scattered with temples and beautiful pagodas, as well as the opulent Grand Palace. Quaint, traditional homes make way to modern skyscrapers and local food markets meet high-end restaurants. One thing’s for sure – everything you need can be found in Bangkok!
Population of Thailand
The population of Thailand is 69 million people.
Bangkok’s full ceremonial name “Krung Thep Mahanakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahinthara Ayuthaya Mahadilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udomratchaniwet Mahasathan Amon Piman Awatan Sathit Sakkathattiya Witsanukam Prasit.” is recognised by the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s longest place name. Fortunately it is more often than not shortened to “Krung Thep” for locals and Bangkok for foreigners for obvious reasons.
The currency in Thailand is the Thai Baht. Coins come in denominations of 1, 2, 5 and 10 while notes come in denominations of 20, 50, 100, 500 and 1000 baht.
It’s advisable to carry cash with you in Thailand, at least for emergencies should there be any problems with your card. Get some notes in small denominations when you change money to help when paying for taxis, entrance fees, snacks and temple donations. Traveller’s cheques aren’t widely accepted in Thailand so it is best not to rely on them.
Many countries have strict rules on the age and quality of foreign cash. We therefore recommend if you can buy them locally, you bring only new, unmarked and undamaged bank notes. This includes your Local Payment on tours where required.
Tipping is not uncommon, but it is not customary in Thailand. It is not a common habit of the locals however with the rise of tourism brings the expectations that international tourists tip. It is appreciated by local guides if you have booked their service, and should be considered at restaurants if you have received excellent service. Smaller establishments, taxis, hotels and markets do not expect tips and will not bat an eyelid if you give the exact money, however again it is always appreciated if you enjoyed the service. Spas are generally the only place where tips are almost expected, even by locals, as the services are usually cheap and the staff work for very little.
Most hotels, restaurants and shopping centres accept credit cards. American Express is accepted in larger hotel chains and occasionally other establishments so it is always recommended to also travel with a universal credit card such as mastercard. Markets only ever accept cash, as do some smaller cafes and restaurants. Services such as taxis and guides will usually also only operate with cash.
ATMs and banking
ATMs are widely available in major towns and cities across Thailand, less so in the countryside, and most (though not all) should accept international debit and credit cards such as Visa or Mastercard. For security, only use ATM machines that are attached to banks or major hotels. It is recommended not to withdraw all your money at once, while paying ATM fees are an inconvenient expense the peace of mind of not carrying all your cash on your person at once should be worth it.
Most ATM’s in Thailand actually dispense your money before returning your card, which is opposite to most other countries. Always remember to wait for your card too!
In Bangkok, banks are usually open from 08:30 to 15:30 Monday to Friday. On Saturdays, some banks are open for the morning only. All banks are closed on Sundays.
Do I need a visa to visit Thailand?
The first thing to know is that visa information and requirements can change at short notice and you should always check the most up to date information before you travel.
British passport holders arriving by air can enter Thailand for 30 days without a visa – this is known as a visa exemption. This also applies to Australian passport holders, American passport holders, Canadian passport holders, New Zealand passport holders and many other EU nationalities. It is paramount that you bring documents that prove your onward travel and that you are leaving Thailand within the visa exemption allocation, otherwise you may not be allowed in. All nationalities require at least 6 months validity on their passports.
Vaccinations & travel health for travelling to Thailand
Travel health advice may vary slightly according to your country of origin. In the UK, travellers are recommended to stay up-to-date with routine vaccinations (including but not limited to) MMR (measles-mumps-rubella), and diphtheria-tetanus-polio vaccine.
Most travellers are recommended to have tetanus, typhoid and hepatitis A vaccinations for visits to Thailand. Some travellers may be recommended to have vaccinations for hepatitis B, Japanese Encephalitis, rabies, and tuberculosis. You may need proof of having had a yellow fever vaccine if you’re arriving from or have recently travelled to a country with a risk of yellow fever.
Take precautions to avoid mosquito bites, especially at dusk when they are most active, as there are some mosquito-borne diseases such as dengue present in Thailand which cannot be prevented by vaccines. If you do develop flu like symptoms while travelling Thailand, visit a doctor who may refer you for a blood test if they suspect Dengue Fever.
We recommend that you speak to your GP or local travel health expert for country specific, professional medical advice, ideally 4 to 6 weeks before you travel. It is also recommended to check the World Health Organisation website when planning your holiday to Thailand.
Is it safe to drink tap water in Thailand?
Unfortunately it’s not safe for visitors to drink the tap water in Thailand due to the risk of illness from water borne diseases, bugs and parasites. Bottled water is widely available in shops, hotels and restaurants and is very low in cost. Many hotels will also provide free bottled water in the rooms. Be cautious when buying bottled water off locals selling it on the street or near attractions, and make sure the cap is sealed. The use of ice can be more tricky, however most restaurants and cafes buy ice from companies and so it is safe to drink. If you are unsure always ask for your soft drink without ice. Brushing your teeth in the water is a personal choice – while it is fine for the most part if you have a sensitive stomach you should stick with bottled water.
Electricity and plugs in Thailand
Do I need an adaptor for Thailand? Yes! Thailand uses 220 volts at 50hz with either a round 2-pin, flat 2-pin or round 3-pin. A universal travel adaptor is the best thing to carry however you can pick up adaptors in airports or most convenience stores.
It is always a good idea to have a few important numbers saved on your phone in case of emergencies. The most important ones in Thailand are:
- 1155 is the number for the tourist police
- 191 is the number for the police service
- 1554 is the number for the ambulance and rescue service
- 199 is the number for the fire service
Travelling solo in Thailand
Is Thailand a safe destination for solo travellers? In short – yes! In general Thailand is safe for all travellers and the majority of local people are kind and welcoming. It is good practice to be cautious in big cities and crowded areas and always keep your valuables in a bag with a zip, carrying it on your front. Petty theft is common in any major city and Thailand is no exception. Since Thailand is one of the most visited countries in the world and welcomes tourists all throughout the year, you will never truly be alone. Join group tours, stay in hostels, join local excursions and simply be open to making friends! Below are a few top tips to ensure your safety when travelling in Thailand:
- Call home Make sure at least one person knows where you are and when you are supposed to call next. Give them the names of the hotels you are staying so that if you fail to call them, they can check on you.
- Don’t worry if people stare Staring is not an offensive action in Asia in general, most of the time it is just an expression of curiosity, especially if you have a unique look such as bright blonde hair, so don’t be alarmed. If you feel that something isn’t quite right, move away from the situation.
- Women are not allowed to touch monks. This means that you should not sit next to them, or walk with them, as this is considered disrespectful.
- Buy a local data SIM card which are available at the airport or most local mini markets. That way you can easily contact someone should you need help.
- Dress appropriately – especially in places of worship. Maxi dresses, long flowy pants and skirts will be your best friends. Ensure your legs and shoulders are covered when entering temples, this applies to both men and women.
- Be careful when buying make-up and skincare in Thailand. A lot of products contain skin bleaching chemicals and can cause reactions if you are not used to these kinds of products. Always read the ingredients.
- Don’t leave your drink unattended and if you do, leave it be and buy another. Better safe than sorry.
- Don’t publicise your room number. The world doesn’t need to know you’re in room 13 as a single female.
Travelling solo is invigorating and exciting – it just means adding in an extra dash of caution!
If you’re heading out at night, it’s a good idea to travel with others. Joining hostel evenings or getting together with members of your group tour is a great way to explore the nightlife. Let your hotel and/or Tucan Travel tour leader know where you’re going and take a licensed taxi that has been recommended and booked by your hotel. It’s not advisable to take an unknown taxi alone late at night. In any case, change to a different one if you’re concerned about the driver or the standard of driving.
Group tours provide an opportunity to make new friends travelling on a common itinerary – for instance, 60% of Tucan Travel tours are made up of solo travellers enjoying the company of like-minded adventurers.
Keep your friends and family up-to-date with your adventures on social media, text or the odd email – they can always raise the alarm if they don’t hear from you as expected.
WI-FI, internet access and data roaming in Thailand
WI-FI is available at most hotels and guesthouses in Thailand, although rarely in homestays. Free public Wi-FI is common in many cafes and restaurants and this is usually advertised at the entrance. It is fairly common to pop into a cafe for a coffee just to use the WI-FI.
Mobile data is fairly quick in larger towns and all cities (around 3G) however this can be very costly so check your payment plan before switching on data roaming. If you plan on being in Thailand for a long period of time it is advisable to purchase a cheap local SIM and pay as you go. For keeping in touch with friends and family back home – stick to WI-FI!
Thailand (IST) is 7 hours ahead of London (GM T/UTC), 4 hours ahead of Sydney and 12 hours ahead of Toronto. Thailand does not have a daylight saving time clock change, as it observes Indochina Time. To calculate the time difference from your current location, visit timeanddate.com.
Getting around Thailand
Thailand has a huge range of transport options – planes, trains, buses, tuk-tuks, bikes, pretty much anything you can think of. Trains are often the most scenic way to travel around, however catching short flights will cut down on travel time.
Bangkok is an excellent hub and often the gateway to Southeast Asia. It is served by almost 70 airlines including various budget operators who offer low cost air travel throughout Southeast Asia. While Bangkok has two of the most important airports in Thailand there are various other international airports including Phuket (HKT), Chiang Mai (CNX) and Koh Samui (USM). Air Asia is one of the most popular low cost carriers and it is possible to find very cheap tickets, especially if you opt for basic fares and omit the meals and checked luggage.
Getting around Thailand by bus is relatively easy although the journeys can be longer. Buses vary drastically from crowded basic ones to VIP tourist buses that provide meals and air-conditioning. It’s best to book bus tickets either online or direct at the bus station – avoid the “travel agencies” located throughout the cities that markup the price and often scam you with fake tickets.
Hopping on a train is one of the most popular and cost effective ways of exploring Thailand. The country has a great rail system and most of the cities and towns are connected via train. Overnight trains are also a great way to keep your travel costs low as you combine transport and accommodation in one! Thai trains are comfortable, fun and a great way to have an authentic experience. They can be notoriously slow so it’s worth checking if a bus can get you there faster. If not, sit back and enjoy the ride! Below is a breakdown of the different classes you can book:
- 1st class often private cabins with air-conditioning, however these are not available on every route or train.
- 2nd class offers more choice, with a sleeper fare you will get a fold down bed and a curtain which is along a corridor. 2nd class seats are comfortable for shorter journeys.
- 3rd class generally the least comfortable but can also be the most fun. The seats are usually wooden benches and there is no air-conditioning. Only recommended for shorter journeys!
Taxis, Grab and tuk-tuks
Taxis and tuk-tuks are a great way to get around the major cities and both should be used depending on your situation. For longer journeys, a taxi is normally preferable as tuk-tuks tend to stick to inner city Bangkok.
Grab is a popular app which is much like Uber – you create an account and link your card for payment. It is very low in cost however you do need a connection to book it so you will either have to be connected to WI-FI or using data roaming. Tuk-tuks are a fun way to see a city – just make sure to agree a price before you set off to avoid any riffs at the end of the journey. Tuk-tuk scams are still prevalent in Bangkok and drivers might stop off at their friend/families store to try and sell you things. Be firm on your destination and politely decline if this happens.
There are certain, more remote locations in Thailand where exploring by bike is an incredible experience. Think cycling through the ruins of Ancient Sukhothai, exploring dusty roads in Chiang Mai or riding along the coast in Phuket. Thailand is beautiful, and seeing it at a slower pace on the back of a bike is a true highlight.
Guesthouses and hotels will often have rental bikes on offer or speak to reception about local rental shops.
A Brief History of Thailand
Thailand has a long and fascinating history, dating back to around the 6th century. The earliest inhabitants focussed on agriculture, with rice cultivation being the most prominent source of food. In the 13th century several smaller states formed to create the Kingdom of Sukhothai, now known as Ancient Sukhothai. This was considered the first Kingdom of Thailand. By the 15th century, Sukhothai was in decline and was soon replaced by Ayutthaya which continued to grow and became very powerful during the 14th and 15th centuries, even defeating the Kingdom of Angkor and ultimately causing its decline. During this time the country was known as Siam, with influences from the Khmer and Malay cultures.
By the 19th and 20th centuries European colonial powers arrived, vying for the colonies of Southeast Asia. Thailand successfully managed to remain the only country not to fall under colonial rule at this time.
Siam officially became Thailand in 1939, after reforms which transformed the country from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy. Over the last few decades Thailand has seen political powers shift, often because of revolutions or coups. King Bhumibol Adulyadej was crowned Head of State in 1946 and was the longest reigning monarch in the world until his passing. When he died in 2016, Thailand entered a year long period of mourning. The current king of Thailand is his son, King Maha Vajiralongkorn.