Thailand has a deserved reputation as one of the easiest places to travel in Asia. There’s an amazing amount to see, hassles are limited, English-language signs and menus are commonplace and you can get around easily, at almost any time of day or night.
However, there are a few things every traveler should know. Here are our top tips for making the most of your trip.
Get trusted guidance to the world’s most breathtaking experiences delivered to your inbox weekly with our email newsletter. Rainy-season travel means lower prices and smaller crowds © Manop Phimsit / EyeEm / Getty Images
1. Rainy season varies depending where you are
The June to October rainy season brings heavy showers and regular storms to northern, central and southwestern Thailand, creating dangerous conditions for travel by sea. The southeast coast and the Gulf of Thailand get soaked slightly later, from October to December.
Rainy-season travel means lower prices and smaller crowds, but some accommodations close and many island ferries stop running, including services to the Tarutao archipelago. If this is when you decide to visit, you’ll definitely want to pack some kind of wet weather gear.
2. Check for recommended vaccinations
You’ve probably already been jabbed for COVID-19, but most doctors also recommend vaccination against tetanus and hepatitis A. Also consider a rabies shot – dogs, cats and monkeys can all carry the viral disease. Malaria is present along the borders with Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar and Malaysia. If you visit these regions, use anti-malarial prophylaxis such as atovaquone/proguanil or doxycycline.
3. Sensible travelers to Thailand book ahead
If you have your heart set on a particular boat journey, train trip, trek, tour or boutique stay, book ahead for the busy tourist season from November to March, or during any religious holiday. During the rainy season, call or email ahead to check places are open.
4. Follow local etiquette when meeting Thai people
When meeting locals in Thailand, the standard greeting is the wai – a respectful dip of the head with the hands held palms together in front of the chest. Don’t shake hands unless the other person initiates the handshake. If you get invited into a Thai home – which may well happen as Thais are famously welcoming to outsiders – remove your shoes before you enter and avoid pointing the soles of your feet towards another person.
Thailand is a predominantly Buddhist society © iStockphoto / Getty Images
5. Be respectful of Buddhism, a part of everyday life in Thailand
Some 95% of Thais are Buddhist, and the national religion weaves through every aspect of life. To show proper respect, remove footwear before entering any Buddhist structure, and wear clothing that covers the shoulders and upper arms and upper legs.
Never point the soles of your feet towards any Buddhist image (or monk), and don’t touch Buddha statues on the head. Give way to monks when walking on footpaths, and don’t sit next to them on public transport. It is also taboo for a woman to touch a monk or their belongings.
6. Dress modestly
Thai women and men usually avoid revealing outfits that show off a lot of skin. Swimsuits are fine for the beach, but away from the sand, throw on a sarong or fisher’s pants, plus something that covers the shoulders if you visit religious sites. Topless or nude sunbathing is frowned upon and can attract unwanted attention.
7. Show respect for the king and royal family
The Thais take respect for the monarchy extremely seriously, and lèse-majesté (maligning the royal family) is a criminal offense. Never show disrespect towards the monarch or depictions of the royal family (including on money).
8. Know what to expect at the dining table
When dining out in Thailand, everything tends to arrive on the table at the same time, usually placed in the middle of the table for everyone to share. Thailand abandoned chopsticks in the 19th century. You’ll get a spoon and fork but no knife, but most dishes come as bite-sized morsels, so you won’t need one. Sticky rice is usually bundled up into balls and eaten with the fingers.
Even dishes that appear to be vegetarian may use sauces that include animal products © Brostock / Getty Images
9. Vegetarian is a relative term in Thailand
Fish sauce, oyster sauce and egg are widely used as cooking ingredients in Thailand. The safest bet for people that don’t eat fish or meat is to seek out Indian-owned vegetarian restaurants, or restaurants serving kin jay Buddhist cuisine. If in doubt, ask the person making the food if it is jay – the term mang sa wirat just means food that doesn’t contain pieces of meat or fish but doesn’t mean it’s necessarily suitable for vegetarians.
10. Health risks include stomach bugs, mosquito bites and rabies
The most common trouble travelers face in Thailand is trip-spoiling stomach bugs. Never drink tap water, wash your hands before eating, stick to busy eating establishments and be cautious of ice, unwashed or unpeeled fruit and uncooked vegetables. If you become unwell, seek out private hospitals in larger cities rather than public hospitals.
Mosquito bites can easily become infected in Thailand’s tropical climate. Bring mosquito repellent, and use mosquito nets (or bring your own). Rabies is another risk – always seek medical attention if you are bitten by a dog, cat or monkey.
11. Smart travelers steer clear of drugs in Thailand
In June 2022, marijuana and hemp were removed from the Category 5 narcotics list in Thailand. However, there are still restrictions and smoking marijuana in public is not recommended.
Crossing borders with Class A drugs carries the death penalty, and even the possession of small quantities can bring a hefty prison sentence – it’s really not worth the risk. Also note that smoking in public can attract heavy fines. If you take any prescription medicines, check that these are allowed into Thailand before you travel.
Ask around for an idea of what you should be paying to get you to your destination by tuk-tuk © MooNam StockPhoto / Shutterstock
12. Prices may well be inflated for tourists
In general, Thailand is hassle-free, but tourists are often charged inflated prices for tuk-tuks and unmetered taxi rides – ask a local how much journeys should cost and use that as a yardstick for a fair fare.
Major tourist sites are popular stalking grounds for dodgy cab drivers and touts who will try to steer you towards dubious souvenir shops, fake “tourist offices” and second-rate places to stay, where you’ll inevitably pay more to cover their commission. Book transport directly with the operators to avoid dodgy deals from unscrupulous travel agents.
13. You may be approached by sex workers
Thailand’s sex industry may find you whether you want it to or not. Single male travelers (and even couples) can expect to be approached by sex workers or touts drumming up business, so be ready with a firm refusal.
Be aware that some bars, restaurants and karaoke venues are fronts for sex work – warning signs include red or pink strip lights, large numbers of skimpily dressed female staff and lots of foreign male customers.
14. Political protests can be tense and are best avoided
Thailand can have a lot of protests. When tensions flare up between the government and opposition groups, it can lead to blockades, flight cancellations and sometimes violence. Monitor local news sites such as the Nation for information on simmering political troubles, and avoid protests and other potential flash points.
15. Some government advise against travel in Thailand’s south
The far south of Thailand, along the Malaysian border, has been wracked by a separatist insurgency since the 1940s. Most foreign governments advise against travel to the districts of Yala, Pattani, Narathiwat and parts of Songkhla.
16. Be very cautious when riding a scooter
Thousands of travelers rent a scooter or motorcycle in Thailand, but make sure your home driving license covers you for any vehicle you hire, and carry your passport (or a copy of the ID pages) in case the police ask for it.
Wear a helmet, ride cautiously and make sure the rental comes with liability insurance – every year, hundreds of tourists are injured in motorcycle and scooter accidents in Thailand. Always give way to larger vehicles, and watch out for livestock, potholes and other hazards on the road.
17. Follow local advice if there’s a natural disaster
Thailand is vulnerable to earthquakes and tsunamis, as well as flooding, landslides and cyclones during the rainy season. Heed official advice in the event of a natural disaster, and contact your embassy for up-to-the-minute information on evacuation procedures.