They call it the “Land of Smiles.” And from our experiences in Thailand, this saying is very true. Planning a visit to Thailand is on the wishlist for many travelers. We’ve been fortunate to travel to Thailand on numerous occasions, and even stayed here for extended periods of time as digital nomads. Each time we visit Thailand, we find ourselves falling more in love with it.
When you are planning a trip to Thailand, there is so much to see and do. It’s difficult to know where to go in Thailand, especially if you have limited vacation time off from work. From the delicious and colorful foods (like my favorite Sukhothai Noodles), to the friendly people who are happy to share their culture with you. The crazy traffic and endless markets, to the quiet and pristine beaches. There’s hiking, swimming in waterfalls, interacting with wildlife, and or you can visit with a monk and meditate at a monastery. With so many things to do in Thailand, and at such a cheap price, it’s no wonder it’s one of the most popular travel destinations in Southeast Asia!
So from our experience, here’s a quick rundown of the places to go in Thailand. We hope this information will help you with planning your trip to Thailand!
Get In / Get Out of Thailand
There are many ways to travel to Thailand. The most popular route for travel is of course by plane, which is super convenient. Why? There are at least 6 popular international airports in Thailand which have fights from hundreds of nations. Here are some of the most popular airports in Thailand:
Suvarnabhumi Airport, Bangkok
Suvarnabhumi (airport code: BKK) is one of the chief international airports located within the nation’s capital. It is where most of Thailand’s visitors fly into, and is also served by inter-continental flights. There is always an available service and competitive prices for getting to Thailand as almost every airline that flies to Asia, flies into Bangkok. The airport is connected to the city by the Airport Rail Link – an above ground sky-train system. It takes about 30 minutes to get into the city. You can also take buses or taxis – although traffic can make it a long and expensive trip!
Don Muang Airport, Bangkok
The Don Muang (DMK) airport is actually the older airport in Bangkok, before it was replaced by the shiny new Suvarnabhumi. Although it’s an older airport, it is quite busy — mostly with discount air carriers, such as Air Asia and numerous others. This airport is north of downtown, and taxi is the best way to get there. It’s not cheap though, budget a couple hundred baht for the trip (even from downtown).
Phuket International Airport
Phuket International (airport code HKT), which is located just at the top of the Phuket island, offers both international and domestic flights to some of the most popular destinations within Eurasia (Europe and Asia). With its warm and super friendly staff and efficient security systems, you are bound to have a comfortable trip.
Chiang Mai International Airport
If you are heading to the north of Thailand, then likely you will be passing through the Chiang Mai airport (CNX). While this is a relatively small airport, it has many domestic and international flights, including discount airlines. The airport isn’t very far from the old city and major parts of town, and the best way to get into town is to take a taxi or a tuk-tuk.
Krabi International Airport
For an alternative to the busy (and sometimes expensive) Phuket, check out nearby Krabi. Just across the water from famous Phuket, Krabi is just as beautiful (if not more) as Phuket, with far less crowds. And the Krabi airport (KBV) is affordable, small, and convenient to all the action. We often find better flight options and prices to Krabi than Phuket – and we like staying in this area much more. In fact, our favorite beach of all time is not far from Krabi Airport…Railay Beach!
Koh Samui Airport
The popular tourist island of Koh Samui has it’s own aiport (USM). It’s small but offers numerous flights a day to and from Bangkok and nearby international cities (like Hong Kong, Singapore, and Kuala Lumpur). It’s the most convenient way to get to Samui, as well as the nearby popular islands of Koh Tao and Koh Phagnan. If flights are expensive, then you can also take a ferry from the mainland to Samui and the nearby islands. On the mainland, you can also connect to a train or the local airport of Surat Thani. In fact, once we traveled from Samui to the mainland by ferry – then took a cheap bus to Surat Thani where we flew to Kuala Lumpur on Air Asia…only paying $25 USD each per ticket!
Thailand is served by one international trail service, with its services extending to through Malaysia and to Singapore. Though the service is really low cost, it can be a very slow ride. But if you wish to go in finer style and at a faster pace, there is the Eastern & Oriental Express that travels the same route but only once every week.
If you are up for driving in SE Asia (and not everyone is), it is quite easy to get into Thailand if you’re already within the Asia. There are multiple inter-continental highways and border crossings which direct visitors into the country from surrounding nations including Myanmar, Cambodia, Singapore, Malaysia and Laos. The following is a list of the popular highways and border crossings that will take you to your Thai destination:
Myanmar: Ranong/ Kawthoung, Three Pagodas Pass or Mae Sai/Tachileik
Cambodia: Siem Reap highway via Poipet to Aranyaprathet
Singapore & Malaysia: Padang Besar and Sadao in Songkhla, Sungai Kolol
Laos: Friendship Bridge across the Mekong (between Nong Khai and Vientiane)
Thailand Visa Requirements
Visiting Thailand is generally easy for most travelers. For those visiting from the USA (and many other countries), you do not need to apply for a visa in advance of your trip (as of the date of this post). The USA is a part of a visa waiver (visa exemption) program, so you can just purchase your tickets and show up in Thailand. On arrival, simply proceed to immigration with your passport (be sure to fill out the arrivals card before you get to the window). They will review your information and stamp you into the country — no fee.
As of the date of this post, visiting tourists to Thailand from the USA receive 30 days on arrival.
** Note: This is different from the visa on arrival program. So don’t be confused by the signs at immigration – US Citizens do NOT need to do “visa on arrival” at the airport.
Staying Longer Than 30 Days? You Can Apply for a Different Tourist Visa in Advance
If you would like to stay in Thailand for longer than 30 days, then you can apply for the 60 day single entry / multiple entry tourist visa. This visa can also be extended for another 30 days when you are in the country, effectively giving you 90 days. You do need to apply and receive the visa before your visit to Thailand.
Be Aware: Departure Tickets, Overstays & Visa Runs
Technically, you are supposed to have a departure ticket OUT OF Thailand when you arrive. While we have never been asked to show a ticket onward (knock on wood), but we’ve heard that other travelers have been asked. So if you like the freedom of planning your travels as you go, be aware of this requirement. You may need to have a back up plan (train schedules, hotel confirmations in other countries, etc.). If all else fails, you can often buy a refundable plane ticket or a cheap one on Air Asia – which has the flexibility for you to change the date or get a refund later.
Thailand is an amazing place, which is why so many people come to Thailand…and never leave! If you overstay your visa, you will be fined. You can apply for visa extensions when you are here…but the process can be a pain, and it’s not cheap to extend your stay.
Lastly, visa runs are common for longer term travelers in Thailand. Stay for 30 days, then dip into a nearby country (like Cambodia) for a weekend, then return and get another 30 days. However, Thai authorities have really been cracking down on these “visa runs” lately. I admit, we’ve done it before. But even now, we are a little leery of it.
Get Around Thailand
There is so much to enjoy while in Thailand that you may end up using a combination of transportation options in order to maximize your vacation time. This means you could be criss-crossing the country by buses, trains, and plans! Yes, you may have to fly even within the country.
There are numerous cheap flights offered by a wide array of airlines at any of the Thai airports. Many of the discount airlines, like Air Asia, fly to numerous locations around Thailand — and often times, these low-cost flights are actually cheaper and more convenient than taking the train or bus.
Buses in Thailand
Then…there is the bus ride! Not a favorite of many but it is readily available and convenient. Though rides can be lengthy, up to 11 hours, the ride allows passengers to enjoy amazing views along the way. The Baw Kaw Saw, BKS, are the preferred choice as they are government owned buses, and are super comfortable at reasonable prices. All major tourist towns have large bus stations, and you can usually take a bus to just about anywhere! It’s affordable, and often more convenient than the train.
** Note: Do mind your belongings, especially if you are taking a night / sleeper bus. While we’ve never had a problem, we have heard of travelers having their belongings rummaged through when they were stored under the bus all night. So keep your valuables with you.
Trains in Thailand
Thailand’s State Railway covers an extensive area of the country, ranging from the northern end of the island, all the way down to the Malaysian border. Unlike the bus, trains allow passengers a little extra freedom to move around and enjoy the ride. The line offers three classes of tickets and rides; first, second and third, which prices and speed depend on.
Personally, we enjoy traveling by train in Thailand – but you do need to have plenty of time. There is a popular overnight train between Bangkok and Chiang Mai, which can save you a night’s hotel. For a short getaway from Bangkok, take the train a few hours to Kanchanaburi – a beautiful area with national parks, hiking and amazing waterfalls! We’ve also taken the train from Bangkok to the border of Cambodia – and it was a gorgeous journey that we will never forget! We also too an overnight train from Bangkok to Laos.
For more information about taking the train in Thailand (including routes, maps, schedules, and prices), check out this website: http://www.thairailways.com/train-and-travel.map.html
Cars/Driving in Thailand
For those willing to drive their way around, driving is an option though it may be often challenging. In Thailand, they drive on the left side of the road (and right side of the car) This can confuse many drivers from the States, so check out some of our tips for international driving if you are considering this option.
While most major highways are in good condition, side roads may not be. Also, traffic can get a little crazy and some roads might be narrow. Although many signs will have an English translation (especially in the major cities and tourist areas), others may not.
** We’ve rented a car in Thailand before, but only for day trips. You really may not need the car for your entire visit.
Motorbikes in Thailand – A Blessing…and a Curse for Tourists
Motorbikes are one of the most popular modes of transportation in Thailand. You will see them everywhere. While they do offer a convenient way for tourists to easily get around certain areas, they are also the number one cause of injury and death among tourists in Thailand!
In fact, our first time riding a motorbike in Thailand was a disaster (although only minor injuries, luckily). But in later trips, we mastered the motorbike and loved driving our motorbike all around Chiang Mai! Still, you take your life in your hands every time you get on a motorbike…so be careful!
Currency in Thailand
The currency in Thailand is the Thai Baht. It’s easy to exchange for the local currency at the airport or other exchange establishments, although the best rates for exchanging money is just pulling it out of the ATM machine.
One of the reason’s a trip to Thailand is a popular vacation option is because of the exchange rate. As of the date of this post, $1 US Dollar is worth about 35 Baht. While costs vary a lot around Thailand, we have been able to get decent meals for around 50 -75 Baht. Although you can easily eat budget street food (it’s good) for about 30 Baht, you can also get quite a nice meal for 150 Baht and higher.
The same goes for accommodations and attraction tickets. You can find a variety ranging from super cheap, to luxurious. It really depends on just how much you want to spend on your trip to Thailand. Cash is the preferred method of payment in Thailand, especially if you plan on using local transportation and eating street food. But many of the shops and restaurants prefer cash too. So always keep cash handy.
** Note: The King is on the currency in Thailand, and he is revered greatly! So be sure to treat the currency with respect, for example not stepping on it if it’s on the ground — because it’s akin to stepping on the King! And that is a big no-no in Thailand!
Thailand Safety for Tourists
Overall, Thailand is a very safe country to visit. There isn’t much threat to consider when visiting Thailand, as most crimes are less likely to happen than in some countries. However, it is always necessary to consider personal safety when visiting any country – and you should always be vigilant.
Keep your valuables safely with you at all times, and don’t be flashy in public. Be discreet when opening wallets and purse, though pickpockets are rarely a threat in Thailand. Also, remember to keep address cards / translation apps (for your phone) or other items that may help you to communicate with Thai locals in case of emergency (if they don’t speak English). Many Thai people in popular tourist areas will speak some English. But in rural or local areas, it is far less likely.
When visiting beaches, be sure to swim where there are other beachgoers and swim at your own risk, as most Thai beaches do not have a lifeguard present. When taking taxis, it is most ideal to flag down a passing taxi, and ensure that you repeat your destination kindly and slowly. If they don’t seem to know, just move on to the next taxi. Also, be sure to confirm that the taxi driver will use his meter!
There are some scams to avoid in Thailand, mostly regarding taxi drivers not wanting to use a meter (but it is required by law), and a gem / shopping scam in Bangkok around the Grand Palace. Be wary of people who approach you with good English and start asking you where you are going. They may forcefully try to convince you to go to certain places, or get in a taxi / tuk-tuk. While it’s not usually dangerous, chances are they are trying to steer you into a shopping scam where they get a cut. Just politely (yet forcefully) decline and walk away.
Climate in Thailand
Thailand experiences a tropical climate all year round with three seasons; super hot, less hot, and rainy. The average temperatures every year is approximately 82ºF. It can get quite humid in parts of the country, especially in the jungle areas and during the rainy season. The cool season ranges from November to the end of February. It is this time of the year that is most ideal to visit the country and take advantage of the pristine beaches and experience the tropical paradise.
The hottest season falls between March and June, with temperatures as high as 104ºF (40ºC). If you’re a heat lover then you might as well go during this time and enjoy a well-cold drink on the shores. But be careful that Thailand sun – it will get you FAST and the burns are brutal!
Be prepared with sunscreen regardless of the time of year you go.
The rainy season lasts from July to October, and rains in Thailand usually brings heavy waters. If you’re unfortunate to be around in that season, just be sure to keep safe and dry, especially during its peak in September.
** Note: The northern mountains of Thailand can actually get refreshingly chilly at night during the cool season. So if you heading in that direction, bring warmer clothes for the nights.
Thailand is all about culture and experience. One way you can tell is from the vast calendar of festivals and events which occur each year. These events attract a wide range of goers from all across the globe. Here are a few of those renowned and enjoyable festivals you may want to consider:
Chiang Mai Flower Festival
Chiang Mai Flower Fest is all about extravagance and creativity captivated through the vivacious colors of the wonderful floral displays. This event is held in the city of Chiang Mai at the beginning of February each year. It includes a vibrant street parade lined with marching bands and floats, all decorated with beautiful flowers.
If you’re fond of water sports, water activities or just water in general, then Songkran will surely impress you. Songkran is the most popular Thai festival, and is hosted on April 13th every year. This festival started out originally as a gentle way of cleansing the Buddha, yourself, and others with a little water for the new year. Now, it’s basically turned into the world’s biggest water fight! Each year visitors and locals gather up in the streets to get soaked and soak others.
It’s the one time of year you can pelt people with water balloons and nail them in the face with a water gun, and they will thank you for the blessing.
Loi Krathong, is another renowned nationwide celebration in Thailand. It is held in the twelfth lunar month each year, on a full moon night. This celebration is known to be quite enchanting and amazing. The festival usually includes concerts and pageants for all to come out and experience. If you go, you may also catch a sight of families making and arranging their beautiful krathongs for the festival, and sending them down the river.
We visited Chiang Mai during Loi Krathong – and it was one of our best memories of Thailand!
Visakha Bucha Day
This public holiday falls within Visakha month, on the full-moon day of the sixth lunar month on the Thai calendar. This day is the most significant holiday to Thai locals, as it commemorates the life of the Buddhist Lord. Visitors interested in Thai rituals and spiritual experiences often go to see what it’s all about and partake in numerous activities.
For more information, click the following link: http://www.festivalsofthailand.com
Monkey Banquet/ Monkey Buffet
Though it might seem a bit awkward to some, the Monkey Banquet Festival catches the attention and attendance of lots of visitors each year. What happens here? Well, this festival is all about showing gratitude the the population of macaques that live in the Lopburi area of Thailand. Residents gather to feed these monkeys who are said to be descendants of the famous Thai Monkey King. Beware though, these monkeys aren’t afraid to snatch your food, so best be prepared!
Major Places to Visit in Thailand
We could go on and on about things to see and places to visit in Thailand! But since this is just a “Travel Basics,” we’ve included some of the top tourist picks for where to go in Thailand, which offer a variety of things to travelers.
This international city is the capital of Thailand, and is one of the easiest to get to. It is the “hub” of Thailand, and there are many flights, trains, and buses in and out of the city. If you are going to Thailand, chances are you will come through Bangkok at some point.
Bangkok is a bustling city, and a mix of modern high-rises with ancient temples! The old part of the city along the river has some of the most impressive structures, including the Grand Palace and Wat Arun. But there are other popular tourist areas, such as China Town and the infamous tourist area of Khao San Road! There are many popular things to do in Bangkok, but also many unique things to do.
Overall, a visit to Bangkok must include seeing the temples, wandering the floating markets, taking a cruise on the river or canals, and sampling the awesome food!
Kanchanaburi is located just 128km from the capital of Thailand. Nature lovers are quite fond of this area as the scenery and all that the area hosts is truly exotic and beautiful. Visitors can go and take advantage of the available house rafts available for a ride down the pristine rivers. Close by are the famous Death Railway and River Kwai Bridge for history buffs to see. For us, we loved visiting Erawan National Park for hiking and swimming in the amazing waterfalls!
Phuket is one of the most popular beach regions in Thailand. It’s known for it’s gorgeous beaches, and wild parties. While there are many things to do in Phuket, it can get quite crowded, and expensive! For us, we personally prefer the nearby area of Krabi over Phuket.
Krabi is by far our favorite province. Home to our favorite Beach, Railay Beach, other popular areas include Ao Nang, and Krabi Town. It’s also easy to access the gorgeous islands of Koh Phi Phi. We love this area for the sheer natural beauty of the limestone cliffs, soft white sandy beaches, and crystal clear water. Plus, it is much more relaxed and less crowded than other areas. To us, Krabi is pure tranquility!
Chiang Mai is the gateway to northern Thailand. There are many sights around the ancient-walled old city, it even has a moat! The area is full of ancient Thai culture, and there is some great trekking and day trips in the nearby mountains. There are also some waterfalls, hot springs, caves, and numerous elephant sanctuaries not far from town. We actually lived in Chiang Mai for a few months, and loved every minute of it. It’s also one of the most popular places in Thailand for expats and digital nomads to live.
Koh Phagnan, Koh Tao, and Koh Samui
Koh Phagnan is probably most famous for it’s notorious full moon parties every month, but it’s also known for it’s sheer beauty! Both Koh Phagnan and Koh Tao are popular for beach lovers, hikers, and divers. Although, these two islands are remote and take some time to travel to by ferry. Koh Samui is a larger island, and is actually quite popular with tourists. It also has it’s own airport, to make travel easier. We actually stayed on Koh Samui for one month while getting our TEFL certifications in Thailand. We had fun, but it definitely can be an expensive place to visit.
This beach receives swarms of visitors every year! It is situated in Pattaya, not far from Bangkok. The fine sands, clear waters and bright sun make it an even more enjoyable experience. Surrounding attractions include the Chao Mae Sam Muk Shrine and Ko Sichang, a paradise island.
Chiang Rai is at the heart of Thailand’s Golden Triangle. The area is very captivating due to its lush floristry and exotic scenery. You might also be able to try out the elephant tours, bamboo rafting, and trekking around this area. You can also visit many of the hilltribes and even participate in a homestay.
** Note: Please be diligent about your choices of some activities, such as Elephants and hilltribes. There can be a lot of exploitation involved in some tours, and some unethical treatment.
For the adventurous, Ubon Ratchathani is filled with lots of interestingly amazing wonders to behold. This eastern region features Pha Taem and Pha Mon sandstone cliffs and ancient temples that are worth visitings.
Ranong is known to be Thailand’s rainiest province and attracts many to its hot mineral springs. There are also hotels here to host visitors who wish to stay to indulge in these mineral baths. Neighboring islands feature beautiful reefs, perfect for snorkeling and famous resorts
Have Fun Planning Your Trip to Thailand!
Wow – that was a little more than usual for our Travel Basics posts. But we love Thailand…and there is a lot to love about this country! We hope you have fun planning your trip to Thailand. Be sure to check out our complete Travel Guide for Thailand, with a lot more posts, maps, and details to help plan your trip.
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