If you haven’t been to Thailand yet, it should certainly be on your bucket list. Thailand is a country unlike any other. From the food and culture to its incredible people and landscapes, it’s a country that’s easy to fall in love with. But, since it’s so unique, it comes with its own set of things to know. If planning a trip to the land of smiles, these are the things you need to know before going to Thailand.
Things to Know About Thai Culture
Heads and Feet: Don’t go around touching people’s heads. Even though it’s tempting when you see a cute little kid try to resist doing this to them, too!
Take your shoes off! In most places, shoes aren’t allowed indoors. There will most likely be signs telling you to remove your shoes, or you’ll see a pile of other people’s shoes already there. Respect this. Also, try not to point your feet at someone, especially the bottoms of your feet. Don’t kick your feet up on a table as a footrest or something like that, it’s seen as disrespectful. Just be mindful of your feet all around.
Wai-ing: In Thailand, it’s customary to greet people with a small bow. This is called a “Wai”. It seems like a lot of Thai people have grown to not expect this of foreigners (especially in touristy areas), but if you do it, you’ll make their day and they will see you as very respectful!
SMILE: Thailand is called the land of smiles for good reason! Thai people are so friendly and kind. If you smile, I guarantee you will get loads of smiles back.
And finally, whatever you do… don’t offend the King.
First time in Thailand? Check out our First Timer’s Guide to Bangkok for everything you need to know!
Food & Water
TRY ALL OF THE FOOD… not just Pad Thai. Street food is amazing and often the cheapest. However, you should be a bit careful, especially when you first arrive because your body may need some time to adjust to the food.
Don’t drink the water! Bottled water only. The good news is that bottled water is extremely cheap. If you’re on a super tight budget bring your own bottle, or buy a small bottle right when you arrive, you can buy big jugs of water to refill and it will save you money and be better for the environment!
Eating: Silverware etiquette is to use both your fork and spoon. To do this, push the food onto your spoon with your fork and eat off the spoon.
Thai style ordering: In Thai culture, it’s very common when eating in a group for one person to order many dishes for the table and then everyone will just share all of them. In most touristy places they are used to the Western way of ordering (1 dish per person) but if you find yourself with a group of Thai people don’t be surprised if they order Thai style.
7-11 is your best friend. You can buy just about anything you’ll need here. Food (make sure you try a toastie), water, toiletries, medicine, toilet paper, alcohol, the list could go on! They are also very easy to find. There is a 7-11 about every other building.
The pace and way of life in Thailand are very relaxed. There’s no need to be in a rush. Try to embrace that when you are in the country. Try to be more like a Thai person while you are here. Sabai, sabai (it means to relax in Thai). You’ll be surprised how quickly it rubs off on you and how peaceful you feel living this way.
Dress Codes & Clothing
The dress code in Thailand is conservative.
In the big cities or beach towns, you can get away with wearing shorts and tank tops and even skimpy bikinis. They are used to seeing it and it’s hot in Thailand, so it’s fine if you want to wear shorts and tanks! But, try to be respectful. There’s a difference between being at a beach party and being at a restaurant.
One place that this won’t fly, is at the temples. They are very strict and they won’t let you enter the temples if you’re not dressed appropriately. Cover your shoulders and knees. If you’re going to be out and walking around and you don’t want to dress overly warm you can always pack a shall or kimono in your bag and throw it on when you get to the temple! Also, light, loose-fitting clothes in a linen material will be your best friend.
Not speaking Thai won’t be a problem (even in small towns). You can get by with simple English and body language. But, Thai people are truly the best, and they will REALLY appreciate it if you try to speak a bit of Thai.
Getting Around in Thailand
Thailand is a bigger country than you might think, but it’s relatively easy to get around. There are buses everywhere and anywhere, CHEAP flights connecting all of the major cities, and ferries going between all of the islands.
Within each city, there are taxis, Tuk Tuks, and Songteaos. You also easily rent a scooter or motorbike just about anywhere. And you can also use Grab which is Thailand’s version of Uber.
Riding a Tuk Tuk is a MUST-DO! Check out the other items on our Thailand Bucket List.
The currency used in Thailand is the Thai Baht.
Thailand is cheap compared to Western countries, but it can add up if you’re not careful, and conscious of the exchange rate. Look at things in terms of Baht. For example, 100 baht for a meal is more on the expensive side. But if you convert it to USD it’s only about $4, so it seems cheap. If you are in Thailand long-term it’s better not to convert things and just look at them from a local standpoint.
Phone Plans & Sim Cards
Thai SIM cards and prepaid phone/data plans are extremely cheap. A SIM card and unlimited data, with hotspot included for 7 months will only run you about $65. That’s less than $10 a month for UNLIMITED data!
For the majority of the year, Thailand is HOT and it’s extremely humid. In the summer months especially. You have to go there with this expectation. Throw your hair up, put on some sunscreen and sunglasses, and go out exploring anyway. You get used to the heat!
Visa info: Check out your specific regulations, depending on what country you’re from.
For US citizens, you are not required to get a visa prior to coming to Thailand if you won’t be staying longer than 30 days. You will receive a 30-day visa on arrival. If you plan to stay longer (60 days) you can apply for that visa prior to coming. I recommend doing so. It’s very easy and it’s cheaper to do it in advance.
Extensions: You can apply for a 30-day extension on the 30 or 60-day visa once you’re in Thailand by going to the embassy. It’s very easy to do.
Immunizations: There are a few vaccines suggested for travel to Thailand. Malaria (depending on what part of the country you will be in) and Typhoid are two of the most common. You can always check out the CDC website to see what they recommend.
Chiang Mai is located in Northern Thailand. It’s a must-see city while you’re there. Check out our Chiang Mai travel guide for easy planning!
What to pack from home:
Sunscreen: It can be hard to find affordable sunscreen that you’re familiar with within Thailand. It’s all very high SPF and many have whitening cream in them.
A water bottle: You can buy large jugs and re-fill your own bottle to save money AND plastic waste.
A battery pack: The heat here causes your phone to die quicker than normal, it’s nice to have a portable charger with you.
Adapter: Unless you are from the United States – they have the same plugs as the US.
Tampons: These things are HARD to find in Thailand and when you do find them they are quite expensive.
What not to pack: Bug spray and toiletries: you can buy any of this stuff in 7-11 or a supermarket for way cheaper than you can buy it at home.
Now that you’ve read all of the things to know before going to Thailand, it’s time to book the flight, make the arrangements, and get yourself to this unbelievable country. You won’t be sorry!