Tips For Planning A Trip To Thailand

A lot of people ask me for tips about planning a trip to Thailand so I thought I’d put together my guide.

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.  Foreigners are not permitted to work in Thailand without a work visa. 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 very 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 this year after having spent almost 7 months in the country.  You want to do everything you can to avoid these viruses.


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.
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 on hand for taxis or small vendors who do not accepts cards.


Q. How Should I Get Around The Country?

A. 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.  Bangkok Airways calls itself Thailand’s Boutique Airline and they are probably the most similar to Jet Blue.   Similar to Southwest:  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. The airport is slated to undergo massive renovations, but until that happens, I personally am avoiding that airport.  The airport is chaotic and disorganized and there are very, very few amenities.  Alternatively, you can get all airlines (with the exception of Air Asia) from the new massive Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK.)


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 at the time. I asked what the best way was to avoid travelers stomach (upset stomach) when in Thailand.  Of course, you can not drink the water, he said. 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!


What questions do you have about Traveling to Thailand?

9 Comments on "Tips For Planning A Trip To Thailand"

  1. What are the major tourist attractions in Bangkok? Where do you recommend that a first time visitor stay?

  2. @Smitty06 – I wrote a post about the top things to do in Thailand, you can check out the ideas here:

  3. I had an awesome guide for that days that I was there. Opened up many doors and avoided many pitfalls for a very reasonalble fee. Let me know if you want his name.

  4. would absolutely love a recommendation for a tour guide. I am on flyertalk and milepoint under smitty06

  5. I’m bummed about LM Khao Lak not being SPG next year anymore. What other islands/hotels would you recommend? My fiancee and I are looking for relaxing beach and spas. Thanks!

  6. @Mark – It is very disappointing that the LM is leaving SPG. But it’s really gone down hill in the last year. If you’re looking for Starwood, I would suggest the Westin Siray Bay (west of Phuket). I really enjoy it and I’ve always gotten an upgrade there. I like the Le Meridien Koh Samui as well. If you want other brands, I can suggest the JW Marriott Phuket. It’s really great for relaxing and has an amazing spa. The property is huge and has a private beach.

  7. Tuk-tuks were definitely a memorable part of my stay in Bangkok. Racing through the manic traffic in tuk-tuk can be a real adrenaline experience, I tell you that! Especially at night. But yes, you need to be cautious unless you want to be ripped off. The best thing is to negotiate the price beforehand..That worked quite well. Also, don´t let the drivers sway you to go where you never intended to go. Stay firm and stick to your plan, that´s probably the most important rule!

  8. Thanks for previous answer! How far out should I plan to book hotel rooms in Bangkok? I’m interested in the LM Bangkok and W Bangkok. I’m working on getting flights for December 2014 hopefully soon.

  9. @Mark, you won’t have trouble getting availability.

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