Thailand Survival & Travel Tips

Ahhh Thailand, that wonderfully exotic location full of mystery, adventure, and good times…

Bangkok-Nov 11 2015-579

Here is what you really need to know about going to Thailand..

Caveat, these my own opinions – based on 13 years of visiting Thailand over eighteen or so trips typically a few months long at a time.  Below is a high level map of most of the places I have been in Thailand.

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Medical/Shots – nothing really needed specifically for Thailand, however its not a bad idea to get started asap on 1 of 3 Twinrix for Hepatitis A & B.  No need for yellow fever shots.. Malaria and Dengue fever are around, and you can take pills for the former, but side effects are more problematic..  Personally I use nothing…  as the best protection is not get bit so bring an effective  repellent (These days, tests show that Picaridin is 96% effective, and much less nasty for you than DEET) – See Also Go Ahead Bite Me, and A Very Honeybadger-like Experience.  Malaria is only an issue in the countryside.. not the major cities.

Travel medical insurance is a must.  Try World Nomads for good price and coverage..   Once I paid $1600 CAD for single night in hospital in Phuket when i had fever of 103 degrees, my previous insurer grudgingly paid after attempting to find a way to cheat me by calling it a “pre-existing” condition, but it didn’t wash as remotely plausible given that I had been traveling and under coverage for two months already.  Lesson is to know your insurance company.

Food poisoning .. mild/moderate cases going to happen (if it doesn’t you are not traveling hard enough or you are not trying the great street food).

Ist line of defense.. once you get that knot in your stomach, is Oil of Oregano capsules (must buy in your own country – and then follow up with a probiotic to repopulate your gut bacteria).  Its great and it doesn’t mess with your resistance to antibiotics etc

2nd line of defense is Ciproflaxen. Can get in your own country from your doctor, but also over the counter in Thailand.. 3 pills a day for 4 days.  Carry your own emerg. Toilet paper.. hand sanitizer.. and Imodium – read up on Asian squat toilets before you go, you will have to use a few.

Money

Lots of ATMs.. but you get nicked at their end $5 and from home $5 on small transaction sizes of $200, which is a 2.5% surcharge that adds up.  Credit cards are usually not accepted without 3% surcharge, except at better hotels and restaurants.. traveler cheques can be cashed at bank booths or banks.. get large denomanation $500, as the price to cash is the same as the smaller denominations, but its not so convenient to find place to cash.

7-11 or Family Mart are your money laundering friends.. for changing large bills into small bills that is… locals usually can’t break high denomination bills. Just buy some gum or something cheap (beer is cheap here, also try the Spy Red coolers etc if you don’t like beer).  Wine can be bought in department stores although its not a good deal.  most stores have specific hours they are allowed to sell booze… family mart doesn’t care..

Transport

NEVER get in a tuktuk or taxi without FIRST establishing the price.  Never take the 40 baht tours offered as you will get stuck at and pressured by some kind of shop. Try to fight for taxi to use meter.. the toll should start at about 35 baht.  You pay highway toll separately.. the trip from Airport to Bangkok is about 350 to 500 baht depending on time and whether you elect to take and pay for the freeway.

Overnight train is pretty safe, and its a pleasant ride and you save a hotel.. must book about a week in advance or so, overnight first class A/C sleeper is the recommended class.

Lots of budget airlines, Nok Air and Air Asia (yes they lost a plane and passengers last year).  You can fly Bangkok to Chiang Mai  or Phuket for about 2000 baht if you book early enough.  You can also get combo air/boat tickets to the islands in the south that take a lot of the hassle out of it.

In the backpacker ghetto and at most travel agents you can get long distance bus tickets fairly cheap, but you are pretty much like cattle. (pales in comparison to the overnight sleeper bus I took in India, that was horrendous)

Destinations

Bangkok and around

Spend a couple of days in Bangkok at the start to get over your jet lag only, and to get your bearings.. Many people, especially younger travelers will stay in the backpacker ghetto of Kao San Road,  its an okay location for the main sights of Grand Palace, Wat Po , Wat Prekaew.  A better area is around Silom as you have access to overhead skytrain (BTS) and MRT underground train.

Jim Thompson house is also a nice informative tour and its cheap.

Dont bother with Authaya, or Bridge over River Kwai, Pattaya is a really rough town/red light place, avoid it unless that is what turns your crank.

Do all your shopping in BKK at the end of trip.   Platinum, Siam Square etc.  Must go to the famous weekend market  Chatuchak or JJ as its called by the locals – something upwards of 10,000 separate booth/stalls.

North West

Chiang Mai is very nice, great vibe, stay inside or beside the inner city,, around Tai Phae gate is a good area, its a huge city though with 1 million or more there.  Lots of temples to see.. try northern thai foods of Kao Soi, Sai Oua, Gang Hung Ley, Nam Prik Ong.  Consider a home stay.

Pai is a nice place and people wind up staying there for a long time (not sure why so long though).

A very nice trip is go north to Thaton, take the long tail boat for the day along the Nam Kok River to Chiang Rai. See the white temple, go north up to the golden triangle, possibly go to Mai Sai, great border town for shopping for cheap Burmese imports of handicrafts

 

North east

Don’t bother, nothing up here unless you get up to Nong Khai and go into Laos, or you have a Thai friend from this area, its mostly flat, and mostly agricultural.

South

Ko Samui and/or Ko Phagna are popular (especially for the infamous full moon parties).  Samui is NOT very representative of Thailand as its very westernized.  Its actually difficult to get any real Thai food like street food in Samui, you have to go to the outskirts of towns where the locals dominate.   Ko Phagna is a nice island – good place for a yoga retreat – be careful about the full moon parties though at Hat Rin at the south of the island. .. have a buddy to keep you safe.  Water and swimming is not particularly great in either place, actually anywhere in the gulf of Thailand is not the best for swimming in terms of water clarity..  Where you want to be is on the Andaman sea side.. anywhere from Kao Lak, through Phuket down to Ko Taratao,  also better possibility for some surfing perhaps..

nice islands are:

Phuket – its big though.. dont stay Phuket town, Patong or elsewhere is better
Ko Lanta – much nicer than Phuket, nice beaches, lots of resorts, thats it
Ko Lipe – not too bad, a bit too like Ko Samui though – lots of pizza, hamburgers etc
Ko Kradan -the absolute best snorkeling.. right in front of the bungalows is good, but walk the path to the south of the island is a superb coral reef, but nothing else to do here but beach, swim, snorkel
Railay Beach – near Krabi – beautiful cliffs.. if you can only go one place in the south this is the place.  Spend one night Krabi town, go for a seafood fest at Boo Damm (Black Crab), then head to Railay by boat.  (forget Ao Nang, Railay west is the place to go)

Other places.

if you can afford it, do a 4 day trip to Cambodia Siem Reap to see Ankor Wat.. its mind blowing.. its the biggest religious complex in the world and was built 800 to 1200 AD and then lost for many centuries.. I call it DO NOT MISS..  great info on planning a visit there at itinerary section of www.theangkorguide.com  A cheap way there used to be to buy Bangkok Air discovery pass while you are in your home country.. three legs, just use two and throw the last one away if need be..  or do BKK to Siem Reap, Siem Reap to BKK, BKK to Chiang Mai (or Phuket)

 

Staying safe
NEVER ever walk alone at night on beach.
NEVER accept cocktails or open drinks from strangers.
NEVER get into a fight or yelling match with Thais or cause them to lose face.. that’s when they lose it and go bonkers.. just keep your cool.
NEVER touch a monk,
NEVER touch a Thai persons head, & dont point your feet at them..  (feet are lowest part of you and are consider very dirty) – two times I got in trouble over this second issue, once when a coin fell out of my pocket and started to roll along the floor, and I used my foot to stop it.  In public, I I had just but the dirtiest part of my body on the face of the king (his face is on the coins). Lots of really bad and ugly looks, but none of the thai’s lost their cool.  Would not guarantee that to always be the case.. and the second time was with some thai friends, we were visiting a temple and bringing food offerings for the monks.  There were covers there to put over food so that the flies would not get at the food before the monks did.  One cover bounced off its plate as we put it down on the temple, and I used my foot to stop it from going flying just out of instinct.  But I had just nearly defiled the food to be given to monks – luckily I had only touched the cover with my foot, not the actual plate. and it was only witnessed by my friends, but they did complain to me about it.
NEVER comment about the royal family (one poor thai guy blogged about the kings favourite dog and is going to court on charges.
NEVER ride an elephant, people get killed doing this.  I am not kidding.  And its incredibly cruel how elephants are mistreated in order to make them “relatively safe” to be in close proximity to humans.
Yes, a certain percentage of the locals are trying to take advantage of you lots of the time.. but not always.  However they will lie and say “attraction closed” or a “hotel no good” etc. so that they take you to there own preferred destination.    EVERYTHING works on commission here.. so tourist info usually means travel agency for profit.
Bartering is the norm for most places, except of course shops in malls.  Start with offering 50% of the asking price.  One thing to ask is if they have had any sales yet that day, if not, you can usually do a pretty good deal as Thai’s believe that the first sale of the day means good luck for the rest of the day, so they are often eager to make that first sale.
Biggest dangers are transportation related.  Bus crashes,  highway accidents.. road rage,  theft.. etc.  Police are generally not your friend.. very corrupt because of the poor pay.  Tourist police might or might not be helpful.

The second biggest danger is being around places serving alcohol and late night.. that’s where foreigners usually get in trouble

Drugs are illegal, although meth amphetamines (yaba) are widely used, and pot is around.. but if you get caught with it, you will have to pay a serious bribe at the police station and that’s if you are lucky.  If you are unlucky, you go to court etc.. and the Bangkok Hilton (the prison, not the hotel) has more than its fair share of sorry foreigners on long term stay..  If you have any prescription medicines, carry the prescription with you, as there are certain locations in Bangkok where the police love to stop foreigners and it will be a problem if you have certain pills without also having the proper prescription for them.

DO try Thai massage
DO try street food
DO support proper elephant sanctuaries that do not use elephants as entertainment, elephants need lots of food and are expensive to keep, the old ones are now unemployed loggers.. so feed them, support them, but don’t ride them or exploit them
DO feel free to go inside Buddhist temples, you are welcome, but you must cover your shoulders & arms – cant be bare, and no shorts or short dresses, bathing suit or anything not modest, and you must take off your shoes..

DO get an international drivers license (have to get in your home country) IF you have a motorcycle license there, then you are good in Thailand to rent a motorcycle.   if not, don’t rent motorcycles – also be aware its bloody dangerous on the roads there, Phuket has 10,000 motorcycle accidents a year alone. and I have many Thai friends who no longer have older brothers or sisters due to motorcycle accidents – ALWAYS wear a helmet

Travel light..  1 suitcase with rollers or backpack.. 15 kilo max.  Bring a sweater/pullover, up north in Feb can be cold, down to 10 c at night

Sim cards are cheap there and internet via mobile can be essential for booking and locating things..  I only book places with free WIFI, and I download a location via new google maps feature so that I can always find my way via my mobile using the cell tower triangulation.

ID – supposed to carry your passport at all times.  Some people carry a photocopy and keep the original in their room. I do the former as technically its the former that is required.   Money & the beach, take only enough you need for the day or half day, and can afford to lose.

Motorcycles – You need to already have motorcycle designation code on your home country license,  and its technically required to also carry and International Drivers Permit (esp. if you are driving a car).  The IDP International Drivers Permit need to be acquired in your home country.  You could probably rent without it, but if there is a problem or trouble, then not having motor cycle license or IDP will likely cost a bribe.  Never give a passport as collateral to rent a motorcycle – that is what they will ask for.. and they will have you over a barrel if there is any kind of problem.  I carry an old expired passport and give them that.  Met a guy on a ferry from Ko Samui who rented  motorcycle, went to the beach & went swimming, came back and the bike was gone.  The people that rented it to him had a spare key, followed him to the beach, took it, and then demanded new price replacement for the beater motorcycle that they had rented him..

Simpler and better to take a tuktuk (3 wheel motorcycle taxi), which in some places you can rent their time by the hour to follow you and wait for you.. used to be about $5 an hour – 150 baht. Songtaew’s (trucks with benches) are really cheap, normally 20 baht, but hard to figure out their routes, and because you are sitting right beside others, pickpockets work them in some places like Pattaya.

Oh.. and NEVER EVER rent a jet-ski, that’s the oldest scam in Thailand, they put dissolving putty on pre-existing cracks and then try to strong arm money for repair.

Ladies had to be careful about over the shoulder purses etc.. bag snatchers on motorcycles will zoom past and cut the strap.. in one case the strap didn’t separate and the poor woman got dragged 100 ft.. well you can guess the rest.

i carry a fake back pocket wallet and keep the real one in my front pocket “underneath” something large and awkward to get around.

Oh, don’t buy any Buddha carvings or images, its illegal to export.. a very old law but now being enforced to some extent as they have big billboards warning tourists.

You can get tourist sim card at arrival at airport, normally good for a couple of weeks, AIS or DTAC are the major carriers.. but she should get one that is good for the duration of her trip, not one that expires half way.  If your phone is not-as-yet unlocked, that can normally be done at any of the main IT locations, like MBK 4th floor, Pantip Plaza, or the IT Fortune Mall near Phra Ram 9 MRT stop.   You can refill at 7-11 or family marts very easily, but the setup options are all in Thai.. so good if you get the seller to set it up on her phone, and then you should confirm that phone works – have clerk ring you, and that internet data plan works before you goes away from the vendors booth.

I use a google mail account to send all my hotel booking confirmations too, so google is smart enough to read them and put the hotel location on google maps for me most of the time.. very useful when navigating some the the back alleys or Soi’s as they call them.  The new google maps “download for locations” is also a godsend.. you can save a local copy of a map for anywhere and then you can use it for navigation via cell tower triangulation even if you don’t have a data plan (or are out of money on the phone account temporarily)

I use Agoda to book hotels in Thailand as I can pay by credit card with my home currency, and you have recourse if there is a problem..  this is the link to my affiliate page..
http://www.agoda.com/?cid=1595742  I get a small commission out of their cut, you will pay the same price if you booked directly.

 

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