Thailand travel Advice & Tips
Guide to travel to Thailand, our travel advisors get together with best things to do, see and tips on how to plan your stay in Thailand. The Kingdom of Thailand draws more visitors than any other country in southeast Asia with its irresistible combination of breathtaking natural beauty, inspiring temples, renowned hospitality, robust cuisine and ruins of fabulous ancient kingdoms. Few countries are so well endowed. From the stupa-studded mountains of Mae Hong Son and the verdant limestone islands of the Andaman Sea, to the pulse-pounding dance clubs of Bangkok and the tranquil villages moored along the Mekong River, Thailand offers something for every type of traveller.
Best Time to Visit Thailand: Climate Guide
Thailand’s monsoons arrive around July and last into November (the ‘rainy season’). They can be uncomfortably, unpredictably sticky. This is followed by a dry, cool period from November to mid-February, followed by much higher relative temperatures from March to June.
By far the best time to visit is between November and February when the weather is kind and the beaches are at their finest. This period is Thailand’s main season for national and regional festivals.
The peak season is November to late March, with secondary peak months in July and August. If your main objective is to avoid crowds and to take advantage of discounted rooms and low-season rates, you should consider travelling during the least crowded months (April to June, September and October). On the other hand it’s not difficult to leave the crowds behind, even during peak months, if you simply avoid the most popular destinations (eg, Chiang Mai and all islands and beaches). This is also the prime time for diving in terms of visibility and accessibility.
Weather in Thailand
Climate-wise, the best time for traveling most of Thailand is between November and February when it is not too wet and not too hot. The south is best visited when the rest of Thailand is miserably hot (March to May). If you’re spending time in Bangkok, be prepared to roast in April and do some wading in October – probably the most challenging two months, weather-wise, in the capital.
Thailand Travel guide: Itineraries
Just The Highlights
Even if you’re only doing a Thailand ‘pop-in’, you’ve still got lots of sightseeing choices thanks to the affordability of domestic flights. Luxury travel Thailand is on high demand, so, we recommend to start in Bangkok and then head off to the tropical sea breezes of either Ko Samui or Phuket. If you need a more bohemian setting, hop over to Ko Pha-Ngan from Samui or Ko Yao from Phuket. Thailand’s popular beach destinations are quieter, and some say better, during the low season but the near-constant rain can be a vacation dampener. In general, the Andaman gets more rain than the Gulf coast, so be prepared to hop across the peninsula. If a multi-day soaker is coming your way, check out the beaches of Ko Samet or Ko Chang on the Southeastern Gulf, which tends to get less rain than the peninsula. Once you’ve tired of sand between your toes, fly up to Chiang Mai for a Thai cooking class and temple wanderings. Hike up to the top of Doi Suthep to a popular religious pilgrimage site. Rent a car or motorcycle to explore the mountains and villages nearby, including Chiang Dao and Doi Ang Khang. Before buzzing back to Bangkok to spend your last baht, stop at Sukhothai, a former ancient capital with picturesque temple ruins.
Southern Thailand’s culture has been spiced up by ancient traders from China, India and Arabia. It makes a perfect stop for mixing up your beach fun. Hop down to the port town of Surat Thani, the launching point to the string of Gulf islands: Ko Samui, Ko Pha-Ngan and Ko Tao. Or make a side trip west to Khao Sok National Park, one of Thailand’s most important rainforests.
Further down the Thai-Malay Peninsula, visit Nakhon Si Thammarat, cultural capital of the deep south, then head to Songkhla for seafood and Thai-style beachcombing. Saunter across the peninsula to Satun, the departure point for boats to the Ko Tarutao Marine National Park.
The Andaman celebrities of Krabi, Ko Phi-Phi and Phuket are lined up in a row. But if you need more solitude, check out Ko Lanta or Ko Yao. Pay your respects to the tsunami-recovering beach at Khao Lak/Lamru National Park, where whale-sized boulders decorate a turquoise bay. Then hop over to the Similan Islands Marine National Park for some of Thailand’s best diving.
Remote North of Thailand
Misty mountains and a mix of ethnic hill-tribe villages continue to attract trekkers and ethno-tourists to the northern apex of Thailand. From Chiang Mai wander outside of the city to Chiang Dao for a spooky cave walk or hike through the jungle. Then hop over to Chiang Rai, where ecotreks visit hill-tribe villages. Catch a ride to Mae Salong, a Yunnanese mountaintop settlement – from here you can follow a network of roads high along narrow mountain ridges all the way to Doi Tung, in the infamous Golden Triangle area where opium poppy was once grown, and then on to Mae Sai, a border town with Myanmar. Follow the border to Chiang Saen, where boats navigate the Mekong River all the way to China. You can head downstream to Chiang Khong and loop back to Chiang Rai. Catch an overnight bus to Nan, a remote provincial capital surrounded by hill-tribe villages not found in other parts of northern Thailand.
Drop south to Phitsanulok, a charming market town and transfer point to Thung Salaeng Luang National Park. Keep heading east to Loei Province to catch the spirit festival at Dan Sai. Continue northeast to Chiang Khan, a mellow riverside village, and the Mekong darling of Nong Khai, a gateway to Laos, and take an overnight train ride back to Bangkok.
Tips on Money & costs in Thailand
For buying baht, US dollars are the most readily acceptable currency and travelers cheques get a better rate than cash. British pounds, Euro and generally other major currencies are the next-best option. Credit cards are increasingly acceptable in quality shops, hotels and restaurants. Visa is the most useful, followed by MasterCard.
Where to change money?
Banks or legal money-changers offer the best rates. ATMs that accept Visa and other credit cards are widespread throughout Thailand, and many exchange booths will give you a cash advance on your credit card.
Staying in comfortable hotels and eating at restaurants should budget around ฿1000.00 – ฿1500.00 a day outside Bangkok and around double this amount when in the capital. If money is no object, you can spend to your heart’s content in Bangkok, since the capital has several of the world’s most sumptuous hotels and some unbeatable shopping diversions. Your spending levels will be curtailed by the scarcity of luxury accommodation and quality restaurants when you get off the beaten track. Items sold by street vendors in markets or in many shops are flexibly priced – that is, the price is negotiable. Thais respect a good haggler. Always let the vendor make the first offer then ask ‘Is that your best price?’ or ‘Can you lower the price?’. This usually results is an immediate discount from the first price. Now it’s your turn to make a counteroffer; always start low but don’t bargain at all unless you’re serious about buying. Negotiations continue until a price is agreed – there’s no set discount from the asking price as some vendors start ridiculously high, others closer to the ‘real’ price.
Tipping in Thailand
Tipping is not generally expected in Thailand. The exception is loose change from a large restaurant bill; if a meal costs ฿488.00 and you pay with a ฿500.00 note, some Thais will leave the change. It’s not so much a tip as a way of saying ‘I’m not so money-grubbing as to grab every last baht’. At many hotel restaurants or other upmarket eateries, a 10% service charge will be added to your bill and tipping is not expected. Bangkok has adopted some standards of tipping, especially in restaurants frequented by foreigners.
Baht notes come in denominations of 20 (green), 50 (blue), 100 (red), 500 (purple) and 1000 (beige). There are 100 satang in one baht; coins include 25-satang and 50-satang pieces and baht in denominations of 1, 5 and 10.
Getting Around Thailand: Transportation Tips
It may be a bit pricey to get to Thailand by air, but once you’re there you can take advantage of bargain-basement flights – Bangkok is one of the cheapest cities in the world to fly out of. Just bear in mind that flights in and out of Thailand are often overbooked so confirm, confirm and reconfirm.
Thailand shares land borders with Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia and Myanmar. With improved highways, it is also becoming easier to travel from Thailand to China. Plans for land and rail links between China and member countries of ASEAN, including Thailand, have been increasing since the turn of the new millennium.
Thai-Cambodian border crossings are typically straightforward. Most visitors cross at Poipet (Cambodia) to Aranya Prathet. This is the most direct land route between Bangkok and Angkor Wat.
The Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge spans a section of the Mekong River between Nong Khai, Thailand, and Tha Na Leng (near Vientiane, Laos) and is the main transport gateway between the two countries.
Due to the unrest in the southern provinces of Thailand, many border crossers are opting for flights from Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur, Penang or Singapore instead of crossing by land.
The land crossings into Myanmar have peculiar restrictions that often don’t allow full land access to the country.
You can enter Thailand by bus through Laos and Malaysia at the moment – your bus will stop at a Thai immigration post at your point of entry so that each foreign passenger can receive an entry stamp in their passport. Thai visas are not normally included in bus fares. For overland routes through Cambodia, you’ll need to hire a shared taxi. You can exit Thailand into portions of Myanmar by bus or shared taxi.
All foreign-registered vessels, skippers and crew must check in with the relevant Thai authorities as soon as possible after entering Thai waters. Although major ports throughout Thailand offer port check-ins, most leisure boating visitors check in at Phuket, Krabi, Samui, Pranburi or Pattaya. Because Phuket’s Tha Ao Chalong brings customs, immigration and harbourmaster services together in one building, Phuket is the most popular check-in point nationwide. Before departing from Thailand by boat, you must also check out with immigration, customs and harbourmaster. Vessels caught without harbour clearance may be fined up to ฿5000.00 .
There are several ways of travelling between Thailand’s southern peninsula and Malaysia by sea. The simplest is to take a boat from Satun to Kuala Perlis or the island of Langkawi.
Road passage into Thailand is possible through Malaysia, Cambodia and Laos. Passenger vehicles (eg car, van, truck or motorcycle) can be brought into Thailand for tourist purposes for up to six months. Documents needed for the crossing are a valid International Driving Permit, passport, vehicle registration papers (in the case of a borrowed or hired vehicle, authorisation from the owner) and a cash or bank guarantee equal to the value of the vehicle plus 20%. For entry through Khlong Toey Port or Suvarnabhumi Airport, this means a letter of bank credit; for overland crossings via Malaysia, Cambodia or Laos a ‘self-guarantee’ filled in at the border is sufficient.
It’s legal for non-Thais to cross the Mekong River by ferry between Thailand and Laos at the following points: Beung Kan (opposite Paksan), Nakhon Phanom (opposite Tha Khaek), and Chiang Khong (opposite Huay Xai). It is possible to float along the Mekong River from the northern Thai town of Chiang Saen to Jinghong in China’s Yunnan Province.
Many visitors bring their own touring bicycles to Thailand. No special permits are needed for bringing a bicycle into the country, although it may be registered by customs – which means if you don’t leave the country with your bicycle, you’ll have to pay a huge customs duty. It’s essential to bring a well-stocked repair kit and be sure to have your bike serviced before departure.
The only rail option into and out of Thailand is via Malaysia. The State Railway of Thailand (www.railway.co.th) and Malaysian Railway (www.ktmb.com.my) meet at Butterworth, 93km (58mi) south of the Thai-Malaysian border, a transfer point to Penang or Kuala Lumpur. It’s not possible to buy through-fare tickets for rail journeys between Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur or Singapore, unless you ride the luxurious Eastern & Oriental Express, but the trip can be made on express trains via the Thai-Malaysia border at Pedang Besar. The journey usually requires an overnight stop in Butterworth in order to comfortably make train connections.
While the prices of flights to Thailand are competitive from Australia, New Zealand and Europe, it can be quite expensive flying to Bangkok from other points of departure. The good news is that once you’re in the city you can shop around for an inexpensive return ticket. A host of international carriers land at the new Suvarnabhumi Airport, which has replaced Don Muang as Bangkok’s major airport terminal. Flights in and out of Thailand are often overbooked so it’s imperative that you reconfirm ongoing flights as soon as you arrive. All passengers leaving Thailand on international flights are charged a departure tax, which is not included in the price of air tickets, but paid at a booth near the passport control area. Only baht are accepted. However, the departure tax is slated to be included in ticket prices. The departure tax on international flights is waived if you’re in the country for less than 12 hours.
Motorcycles can be rented in major towns and tourist centres. Always check the condition of the bike thoroughly before you take off, and remember that the Thais are notorious scoff-laws when it comes to road rules – but, in actual fact, it is reckless tourists who come off motorcycles most frequently, especially in places like Ko Samui and Phuket..
Top travel experiences in Thailand
Bangkok Thailand travel
The modern Asian metropolis at its steamy and exciting best. Travel advice Thailand and on Bangkok which has dominated Thailand’s urban hierarchy as well as its political, commercial and cultural life since the late 18th century. Distinctly modern and Westernised, Bangkok is still a sleepy Thai village with a louder soundtrack of traffic and nightlife. Bangkok proper seethes on the east side of the Mae Nam Chao Phraya (Chao Phraya River), drawing rural Thai folk into its cluttered fold daily. The city is reportedly sinking at a rate of 5cm (2in) every year, but there’s too much sànùk (a Thai sense of fun) going on for that to get anyone down. While there’s really no bad time to visit Thailand’s capital, rain and extreme heat are less frequent between November and February. April is only recommended to those with portable air conditioners. The rains typically start in July and October brings the heaviest downpours with frequent flooding in the capital. The tourists flock to Bangkok in December and August, while the least crowded months tend to be May, June and September.
A Top Day in Bangkok: Thailand Travel Advice & Guide
Wake up in Bangkok and know that anything is possible. My perfect day would begin with a walk down the busy streets to select the best egg noodle soup with wontons and red pork, a delicious, ubiquitous dish and an excellent hangover cure. A trip down the river is next on the cards, a wonderful breezy way to see the city and its monuments without choking to death. A stop at a riverside restaurant is always scenic and delicious – I’d probably seek out some soft-shelled crab with glass noodles at In Love restaurant at Thewet pier.
Jumping off the ferry at Saphan Taksin, I would skytrain it up to Siam for some shopping, making sure there’s time at the end of the day for a calming swim, a Thai massage and a bag of mangosteens. Bangkok is all about alternating the pampering with the hard yards, the chic heights with the seething streets. An ideal evening, therefore, involves somewhere very fancy for drinks, like sunset at Vertigo (the rooftop bar at the Banyan Tree Hotel) and then local street food – say spicy salad and sticky rice, red curry squid and morning glory – on plastic chairs in the warping heat. The car park on the corner of Ratchadamri Road and Soi Sarasin, near Lumphini park, is great, as are many places in the Samsen sois in Banglamphu.
Alternatively, I’d go for cold beer and salty beans at the little makeshift bars that line the Chatuchak weekend market (wonderful post-shopping ambience as the market is closing) followed by an inner-city restaurant. Dinner cruises run by the fancy hotels are super-touristy but a great treat for visitors. If there’s a night out on the cards I would begin it with G&T;’s at Cheap Charlie’s bar on Sukhumvit Soi 11 or Admakers (great live music) on Soi Lang Suan, and let the random and glorious energy of the city decide the rest. A midnight snack and a walk down the human zoo of Khao San Road is always entertaining, especially when the bars close and the messy hordes spill into the street.
Chiang Mai Thailand Travel Tips
Old-fashioned Thai-style hospitality in a thriving metropolis. Chiang Mai has a striking mountain backdrop, over 300 temples and a quaint historical aura. It’s also a modern, friendly, internationally-flavoured city with much to offer the visitor – food, accommodation and shopping are all top quality and cheap, and the nights are relatively cool.
Thailand’s second-largest city and the gateway to the country’s north was founded in 1296. You can still see the moat that encircled the original city. Doi Suthep, topped by one of Thailand’s holiest wats, rises behind the city, providing a dramatic backdrop and fine views of the city.
When to go Chiang Mai Thailand
Unless you don’t mind almost daily torrential rain, the best time to visit Chiang Mai is between October and April, with the other months a virtual monsoonal washout. Festivals occur throughout the year, with the bulk of them between late December and April. These provide a great opportunity to immerse yourself in the colour and spectacle of traditional Thai culture. Chiang Mai is a particularly fun and refreshing spot to experience the wetness of the Songkhran festival.
Day tour sightseeing in Chiang Mai
The Thais are growing excellent coffee these days, so I like to start the morning off with a steaming mug of fresh-roasted arabica and a plate of French toast at the Libernard Café. After reading yesterday’s Bangkok Post and watching local monks shuffle by on their morning alms rounds, I’ll pedal my bike across the street as mist rises off the 150-year-old moats surrounding the old city.
Chiang Mai luxury travel visiting once past the restored brick remnants of Pratu Tha Phae, I aim my handlebars for the geographic and cultural heart of Chiang Mai. First I stop at the Three Kings Monument to pay my respects to the founding fathers of Chiang Mai’s Lanna kingdom. Afterwards I bike into the compound of the 1924-vintage provincial hall, a masterpiece of post-colonial Thai architecture now serving as a space dedicated to northern Thai art and culture, to check the latest exhibits. If I’m in the mood to contemplate more fine architecture, I’ll head for one of the 33 historic Buddhist temples located inside the old city quadrangle.
The side-by-side Wat Chedi Luang, home to the tallest stupa (conical shaped Buddhist monument) in Chiang Mai, and Wat Phan Tao, assembled from exquisitely carved wooden panels taken from a Thai palace, never fail to inspire. Dodging traffic in the old city incites hunger, so I’ll stop in at either Si Phen or Heuan Phen for a lunch of Chiang Mai sausages and flaming green chilli dip. Fuelled for further city explorations, I’ll scoot through the narrow, winding soi (lanes) at random, ever marvelling at Chiang Mai street life, the noodle vendors, the laughing schoolchildren, the European backpackers searching for a guesthouse and young housewives hanging out their laundry.
As the late afternoon traffic and heat get to be a bit much, I’ll pack the bike into the back of a red săwngthăew (pick-up truck taxi) and ask the driver to head for the lower slopes of Doi Suthep, just west of the city. At the Huay Kaew Restaurant I’ll enjoy a cold Singha while watching a waterfall tumble over tree-shaded rocks.
Ko Chang Thailand Travel advice
Ko Chang’s mountainous interior is home to a Jurassic Park of flora and fauna.
Ko Chang is bursting with biodiversity: exotic reptiles and technicolour birds are as much a part of the experience as watching sunsets on idyllic beaches. A sandy coast skirts the island revealing postcard-perfect bays. Jungle-encrusted mountains are veiled under a shroud of mist.
Ko Lanta Travel Thailand
Morning beach strolls, afternoon elephant rides, and partying till the wee hours.
Long relegated to the back seat by tourist draws like Phi-Phi and Pha-Ngan, Ko Lanta first became popular with backpackers looking for something a bit different. And while it now has loads of accommodation for pockets of all depths, Ko Lanta remains a friendly, relaxing place to stay.
Ko Phi Phi travel
Scenic hills, awesome limestone cliffs and long, long beaches. Consisting of two islands, Phi-Phi Leh and Phi-Phi Don, Ko Phi-Phi is the Thailand of holiday dreams and tourist brochures. The emerald waters and remarkable sea- and bird-life are sublime, but rampant over-development of Phi-Phi Don threatens to spoil the island’s riches.
Ko Samui Travel guide
Beach paradise central. Party island Ko Samui has long been the locale of choice for paradise-seeking voyagers of all stripes. Its turquoise waters and sun-bleached, sandy bays are lined with multiple bungalows and resorts, a plethora of restaurants to satisfy hungry epicureans, and thumping nightlife providing a soundtrack to the temperate, starry nights. Ko Samui is not everyone’s cup of tea; some revel in its coastal buzz while others cringe at the Khao-San-by-the-beach bustle. But even as the most popular beaches attract the sorts of crowds most people come here to escape, the large island somehow manages to maintain its relaxed atmosphere. Pockets of calm can still be found by those willing to look.
Phuket Thailand Travel
Pearl of the South in the Land of Smiles. Dubbed ‘Pearl of the South’ by the tourist industry, Phuket is Thailand’s largest, most populous and most visited island. A whirl of colour and cosmopolitanism, Thailand’s only island province revolves around and thrives on tourism, but still retains a spark of the real Thailand. There are a hundred and one ways to pass the day in Phuket. There are also more tourists here than on any other Thai island – it certainly knows how to cater to tourists’ every whim. Most flock to the beaches on the southwestern side, which are loaded with amenities and entertainment options. Book luxury travel and resorts in Phuket
Events & celebrations in Thailand
Many festivals are linked to agricultural seasons or to Buddhist or Brahman rituals and follow a lunar calendar. New Year/Songkran, is celebrated in mid-April by ‘bathing’ Buddha images, paying respects to monks and elders by sprinkling water over their hands, and generally tossing water in the air for fun. Expect to get soaked, unless you’d prefer to skulk in your room.
The sowing and harvesting of rice has given rise to a cycle of festivals. To kick off the official rice-planting season in June, the king participates in an ancient Brahman ritual in a large field (Sanam Luang) in central Bangkok. A Rocket Festival is also held in June in the country’s northeast, using a volatile mixture of bamboo and gunpowder to convince the sky to send rain for the new rice season; and the rice harvest from September through to May leads to joyous local celebrations throughout Thailand. The Vegetarian Festival in Phuket and Trang, during which devout Chinese Buddhists eat only vegetarian food, runs for nine days from late September to early October.
Merit-making processions are the most visible expression of this festival, but there are also ceremonies at Chinese temples. The Elephant Roundup in Surin in November is a festival popular with the kind of people who enjoy watching pachyderms play soccer. During the Loi Krathong Festival, held after the rainy season (usually in November), candle-lit floats are cast into waterways to bring good fortune for the coming year. Bangkok and Thailand’s northern provinces are especially good places to catch this celebration. The exact dates for festivals may vary from year to year, either because of the lunar calendar or because local authorities have decided to change festival dates.
That Phanom Festival
A 10-day homage to the northeast’s most sacred Buddhist stupa (Phra That Phanom) in Nakhon Phanom Province of Thailand. Pilgrims from all over the country, as well as from Laos, attend.
Bangkok International Film Festival
Films from around the world, with an emphasis on Asian cinema, are screened in the capital. Events end with the awarding of the festival’s Golden Kinnaree in a range of categories.
Chiang Mai Flower Festival
Held in JAN/ FEB, Colourful floats and parades exhibit Chiang Mai’s cultivated flora.
Phra Nakhon Khiri Diamond Festival
One of the most celebrated festivals in Thailand. This week-long celebration of Phetchaburi’s history and architecture focuses on Phra Nakhon Khiri Historical Park, a hill topped by a former royal palace overlooking the city. It features a sound-and-light show and presentations of Thai classical dance-drama.
Chinese New Year in Thailand
Called trùt jiin in Thai, Chinese all over Thailand celebrate their lunar New Year with a week of house-cleaning, lion dances and fireworks. Also, this festival is one of the most celebrated in the region, read more about Vietnamese Lunar New year
Held on the full moon of the third lunar month to commemorate Buddha preaching to 1250 enlightened monks who came to hear him ‘without prior summons’. A public holiday throughout the country, it culminates with a candle-lit walk around the wian thian(main chapel) at every wat.