5 Tips For Traveling To Thailand

A lot of people ask me for help planning a trip to Thailand so I thought I’d put together my guide of the top 5 tips for traveling to Thailand. Here are some frequent questions:

Q: Do I Need A Visa?

A: If you are a US or Canadian Citizen traveling as a tourist, you do not need a visa.  You will be allowed to stay in the country for 30 days.  Your passport must be valid for at least 60 days after the date of your entry.  Thai officials are known to take immigration policies very seriously, so do not overstay your visit.  Keep in mind that foreigners are not permitted to work in Thailand without a work visa. This includes working for a charity.  Several US citizens are arrested every year, so don’t take any chances.


Q.Do I Need Vaccinations?

A. The CDC recommends that all of your routine vaccines are up to date.  In addition, they recommend that most travelers get the Hepatitis  A vaccine and Typhoid vaccine. Hepatitis A is contracted through dirty and contaminated water and can be contracted no matter where you’re staying.  Similarly, Typhoid is contracted through contaminated food or water and is common in rural areas.

The CDC recommends the following for some groups of travelers based upon many things including what you’ll be doing and where you’ll be going.  They recommend you get Hepatitis B vaccine if you might have sex with a new partner, get a tattoo or piercing, or have any medical procedures.  Japanese encephalitis vaccine is recommend for some travelers who will spend extended time in Thailand, are going to rural areas and visiting locals.  The Malaria vaccine is recommended for most travelers. Mosquitoes are rampant in Thailand and there are frequent outbreaks of mosquito born illnesses.

Dengue and Chikungunya are viral infections transmitted via mosquitoes. These infections are endemic in Thailand, including urban areas, and can make patients feel very ill, and in a small percentage of individuals they can be deadly. Although these cases are more prevalent during the rainy season, they occur throughout the year. Using a mosquito repellent with DEET at least twice a day is effective for mosquito bite prevention.

I can personally attest to the nastiness of Dengue. I got the virus in March of 2013 after having spent almost 7 months in the country.  You want to do everything you can to avoid these viruses and if you feel sick, see a healthcare provider who can properly diagnose you.

Before traveling to Thailand or any part of the world, you should check with the CDC, your doctors and infectious heath specialists about what vaccinations you need. This information I’ve provided is for informational purposes only and not medical advice.


Q. Is Thailand Dangerous?

A. Thailand, like many countries, has some level of crime. Tourists can become the victims of pick pockets, traditional tourist scams, and petty theft. In addition, many taxis are known to try to rip off tourists by charging excessive rates.

Before you get in any taxi make sure they will turn on the meter. If they won’t, find another cab.  Tuk-tuks can be alluring to tourists, but they frequently charge tourists double what they charge locals.  There have been reports of more serious crimes against tourists, so like anywhere, be alert and cautious.

I saw many friends who visited me fall victim to the tourist scams being run at popular attractions. So called tour guides try to arrange private tours for you, except you end up being driven to every tailor, jeweler and market paying a commission to the driver. Stick with licensed operators or ask your hotel to make your arrangements. You don’t want to waste your trip at overpriced stores!  I traveled throughout the country and always felt safe personally, but stay alert and remember you’re in a foreign country with different laws and regulations.


Q. Should I Bring Cash?

A. Almost all hotels, larger restaurants, and shops take credit cards. There are thousands of ATM machines in Thailand and plenty of foreign exchange companies. You can bring cash, but you certainly do not need to. You should always have several hundred Thai Baht, in small bills, on hand for taxis or street vendors who do not accepts cards. Make sure you use a credit card that charges no foreign transaction fee and find out if your bank is part of an alliance that will allow you to withdraw cash from ATMs with no fee.


Q. How Should I Get Around The Country?

A.  My favorite question is, can I take a bus from Chiang Mai to Phuket?  The is technically, yes, but you’d spend 1/2 your vacation time on that bus!  It’s a 19 hour drive from Chiang Mai Phuket.  But don’t worry, once you’re in Thailand getting around is easy. A 60-90 minute flight can get you almost anywhere in the country.  There are dozens of low cost carriers and air travel safe in Thailand.  People often ask me to compare local carriers to US Carriers, so I’ll do my best here.

Similar to Jet Blue:   Thai Airways introduced a low-fare option last year called Thai Smile. They operate domestic flights throughout the day and fares are often significantly less than on Thai itself.  I got a flight from Bangkok to Chiang Mai in July for $38.  Bangkok Airways calls itself Thailand’s Boutique Airline and they are probably the most similar to Jet Blue. They’re a bit more expensive because they’re not supported by the government like Thai Air is. A flight from Chiang Mail to Phuket in July cost me $100.  Both of these airlines fly out of Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK)

Similar to Southwest:  Thai Air Asia, Nok Airways and Thai Lion are similar to Southwest in that you have to pay for early boarding and seat assignments. You could sit next to a business person or a backpacker, you just never know who you’ll meet.

The biggest difference between the airlines is which airports they fly out of in Bangkok.  The old Don Muang Aiport (DMK) is a very old facility servicing only low-fare airlines only. The airport is slated to undergo massive renovations, but currently the airport is disorganized and there are very, very few amenities.  DMK is about a 45 minute trip from BKK and traffic can make the trip much, much longer.


Q. Can I Get VAT Tax refunded?

A. Yes, you can get a VAT refund if you meet these qualifications:  On any one day, the goods purchased from an individual participating retailer are not less than 2,000 Baht including VAT, and the total amount being claimed for refund is not less than 5,000 Baht, including VAT.  5,000 Baht sounds like a lot, but it’s not – it’s only about $160 USD.  The important thing to note is that you must have your goods with you at the airport so that they can be inspected. The inspection booths recently relocated to the front of the check-in counters. You’ll want to make sure you visit those before going through security.


Q.Is It Safe To Eat Street Food?

A. I wrote a whole post about eating street food in Thailand that you can read, but here’s the gist of it: During one of my first trips to Thailand I got a bit of advice from an Australian who was managing the hotel I stayed at.  I asked what the best way was to avoid travelers stomach (upset stomach) when in Thailand.

Of course, you can not drink the water. You shouldn’t really even use it to brush your teeth. But the second piece of advice has perhaps been my saving grace. Be careful, he said, of the type of street food you eat.  He recommended not to eat anything raw from the streets, especially shell fish and crustaceans if you’ve not had Hepatitis A vaccine.  He also recommended eating from stalls vs. carts.  Stalls are known to have better heating/cooking devices and you have a better chance of getting food that is not under-cooked.


Q. What Should I Bring With Me?

A. Lots and lots of bug spray. The CDC recommends using products with DEET to help protect against mosquito born illnesses. Depending on where you are and what type of accommodations you’re staying in, you should wear bug spray all day.  I found the Off Clip On repellent to be helpful, especially at night. Now, it doesn’t have any DEET, but it’s a great extra layer of protection.

I always bring Spray Sunscreen with me. You will not find it anywhere in Thailand. You should also bring any over-the-counter items you might need while abroad.

Bring you prescription medications and make sure you have enough for a few days worth of delays – just in case. While it’s easy to get medicine on the black market in Thailand, you have no idea what you’re getting.  I have a friend who works for the DEA based in Thailand and she’s often said that fake drugs from China and other countries are rampant in Thailand.   Her personal recommendation to me was to always buy over-the-counter drugs like Tylenol at large retailers like Boots. The small mom and pop pharmacies are much more likely to have received bad drugs. To be safe, bring what you need.


Q.  Are There Any Laws or Rules That I Should Know About?

A. Yes, there are many local laws that you should be aware of.  If you run into trouble abroad, you should contact the Embassy for assistance.  In Thailand, there are some specific things you should know.  It is a crime to speak negatively about the King or use his name in vain. It is a jailable offence and many people are arrested every year for this crime.  Even though it is everywhere in Thailand, Prostitution is illegal and in recent years there have been raids on clubs and bars.  Using drugs like Marijuana is also illegal – don’t end up on “Locked Up Abroad” by doing something stupid!