Thailand is widely regarded as one of the safest countries in the world for travel. The combination of a pacifist Buddhist culture, genuinely friendly people and a relatively stable political environment mean there’s very little chance of running into trouble during your holiday. Women, in particular, often report that Thailand is one of the safest places to go, and thanks to its very tolerant society, gay people also find the Kingdom a very welcoming place to visit.
Nearly all international travelers arrive in Bangkok, at the capital city’s shiny new airport. With the recent emergence of low cost budget carriers such as Air Asia, air travel has emerged as the most popular way to get around Thailand. Even small tourist towns like Pai and Krabi have air strips, making it easier than ever to cover long distances in a matter of minutes.
Travel tips for getting around Thailand
Of course, there’s always the extensive and relatively efficient bus system if you want to see some of the countryside along the way. Buses reach even the most most remote corners of the Kingdom at incredibly low prices. They come in three classes, ranging from comfortable direct air-con coaches to hard seat local buses which stop every five minutes. One rule of thumb when travelling in Thailand is don’t skimp on your transport. If you think the two dollars you save by taking a second class ticket is worth it, you’re painfully mistaken.
One of the most enjoyable ways to travel between major destinations around the country is by train. The state-run railway network is not exactly a high speed supertrain, but it is safe, reasonably comfortable and full of character. There are several classes of seat, including decent sleeper units for overnight trips. The train has a limited route network but it’s a great way to get from Bangkok to Chiang Mai as you pass through some of the best scenery in the land.
Renting motorbikes and cars is another popular way to get around Thailand, but it must be said that driving conditions in the Kingdom are quite hectic, bordering on dangerous. Renting a vehicle for local transport is fine, and the country roads in northern Thailand are great for motorbiking, just be on your guard at all times and avoid driving anywhere outside the towns after dark.
Health and safety travel tips in Thailand
There are few health concerns for visitors to Thailand thanks to the government’s efforts to control communicable and insect-borne diseases. Malaria and Dengue Fever do occur but are mainly limited to remote jungle regions, particularly around the Cambodian border near Trat. A little bug spray at night is sufficient to keep the mosquitoes at bay.
The biggest health worry is food and water sanitation. Water should be assumed unsafe to drink anywhere in the country, so stick to the bottled water which is available everywhere. Hygiene standards are very inconsistent in Thailand’s restaurants, so use your best judgment when scoping out a place to eat. Make sure your meat and seafood has been thoroughly cooked, and avoid fruit skins and leafy greens unless you’re in a nice restaurant.
Crime is rarely a problem in Thailand, although like in all large cities around the world, there is always a slight risk of theft. Be careful with your belongings, and never leave anything of value in your hotel room, as this seems to be where most of the theft takes place. Violent crimes against foreigners are extremely rare, so you should feel free to walk about most of the cities at night. However, law enforcement here is very lax, so try not to get on the wrong side of the locals.
Visa tips for Thailand
Thailand is one of the last remaining countries in Asia which issues tourist visas on arrival for free. Just about anyone can visit Thailand for 30 days with a valid passport and a return ticket.
Tourist visas can be extended for an additional 10 days at local immigration offices, or you can cross the border into Burma or Malaysia for a couple of hours and get an new 15-day visa upon reentering Thailand. However, you can only stay in the country for 90 days total within a six month period.
Free visas are just one of the financial benefits of traveling in Thailand. The cost of lodging, usually the most expensive part of any holiday, is quite affordable in the kingdom. Budget guesthouses can charge as little as US$5 a night for a basic room, and if you are willing to spend US$100 or more you can really indulge yourself. Food is also cheap, with simple outdoor restaurants serving Thai dishes for a dollar. Even a hearty meal at a Western restaurant will only set you back US$10 or so.
Thailand etiquette tips
Etiquette is one area where all visitors to Thailand should be properly educated. Thai culture has a number of very serious social rules which everyone follows, and it’s in your best interest to do the same.
Always take off your shoes when entering someone’s house or a temple. Pointing with your feet or fingers is considered very rude, as is touching someone on the head. Respect the local Buddhist religion, and by all means, don’t say anything about the king or the royal family. Thais truly love their king, so it’s best simply not to discuss him at all.
Thais are also very keen on keeping their cool. No matter how frustrated you may get, always try to speak softly and control your anger. In general, Thais are a conservative people, so keep this in mind when getting dressed in the morning. Revealing clothes are frowned upon, so keep your skin to yourself unless you’re at the beach, which has a much more relaxed set of rules. Thais are friendly, so don’t hesitate to chat with someone or accept an invitation to their home.
Climate – tips on when to visit Thailand
Thailand has a warm tropical climate, so you can count on warm to hot weather throughout the year. In the northern regions, December and January can actually get chilly at night, but the rest of the country stays a balmy 30 degrees even in the dead of winter.
April and May are the hottest and driest months, so be prepared. March is another unpleasant month, because this is when the farmers burn their fields resulting in a choking haze that lingers over much of the country until the first rains of the season arrive to clean things up in May.
The southern islands have a different monsoon pattern than the north, but typically November through April is the dry season, and May through October is the rainy season. June is one of most pleasant times of year, as the rains bring a welcome relief, but for the ultimate weather plan to visit during late November and December when the temperatures are simply perfect and the skies unbelievably blue.