Travelling to Thailand is a breeze, as the country has a tourist-friendly policy as well as a vast network of infrastructure and hotels that cater to a diverse array of business and leisure travellers. But before planning your next trip to Thailand, it’s good to know all the essential information about the country, such as when is the best time to go, what to bring, getting around, cultural etiquettes, numbers to call in case of emergencies and all the facts that will help make your journey as pleasant as it can be.
Thailand is relatively hot all year round, although officially it has three main seasons. In Summer (March – June), temperatures can soar above 40 degrees, particularly in the northeast and Bangkok. Thai New Year, or Songkran, falls in April, the hottest month. To relieve themselves from the heat, Thais throw water at each other during the three-day Songkran festival.
The rainy season (July – October) brings lots of downpours and heavy rainfall, usually in the late afternoons or early mornings. Temperatures are moderately high, but it can feel very uncomfortable due to high humidity level.
The most welcomed season is the cool season (November – February), which brings a relatively dry and pleasant climate. Temperatures rarely rise above 35 degrees during the day.
The best time to visit Thailand is between November and February, when the climate is relatively cool and dry (25-32°C). While Bangkok usually sees insignificant temperature drop, the northern and northeastern provinces can be rather cold. And if you plan to take a trip into the mountains, be sure to bring a sweater or warm jacket.
December is the festive season, like in the West. Some of the most colourful festivals, such as Loy Krathong, Trooping of the Colours and New Year’s, fall in this period. Major shopping districts, particularly those in Bangkok, add to the year-end spirit by sporting decorative lights and Christmas-theme décors. The only drawback for arriving during this period is that popular destinations are crowded, and hotel rooms are in short supply. Prices for accommodation, tours, transportation and certain goods are usually bumped up to take advantage of the tourist influx.
Arriving between March and May will put you right through Thailand’s summer, when temperatures can climb above 40°C. Coupled with high humidity, it may feel more like you are actually in a giant heated oven with no escape route, except occasional visits to air-conditioned shopping malls and dining establishments. The monsoon season (June-September) is usually very wet and humid. But the good news is that you can always hide out in a mall, spa or restaurant to escape the heavy downpours which usually don’t last more than a couple hours. Also, the rain breathes new life in the countryside, abundant with rice fields and trees. National parks and waterfalls are usually at their best.
Forget tight pants and clinging dresses (at least during the day) and go for light, loose cotton clothing. Formal dresses, suits and ties may be necessary for business travellers or if you plan to visit exclusive dining venues and official events. When visiting temples, certain museums and the Grand Palace, remember to dress politely; shorts, singlets, spaghetti straps, skirts, tank-tops and open backed sandals are not acceptable.
Though you will find most items in Thailand, it might be a good idea to bring certain personal items from home. Remember also to bring any medicine you are taking. Light cotton clothing is recommended in Thailand's tropical climate, as well as a pair of comfortable walking shoes. Your list should include:
Tourists from many countries (including the US, UK, Germany, France and Singapore) do not require a visa when entering Thailand and can stay for a duration of 30-days. In many of these countries (including the US, UK, Australia, Germany, France and Singapore) you can apply for a 60-day tourist visa before you leave. If you hold a Brazilian, Peruvian or South Korean passport, you are exempted from visa requirements and are permitted to enter and stay in Thailand for a period of not exceeding 90 days.
Citizens of some other countries are required to apply for a 15-day visa at immigration checkpoints on arrival, while others must apply for one before they leave. It all depends on the particular visa arrangement Thailand has with your home country. The best way to find out is to check with either the Thai Immigration Bureau or the Thai Embassy or Consulate in your home country.
Coming to Thailand for business is a whole different story. Check out the Legalities section of our Business Essentials Guide for information about the visas necessary for those looking to work or gain employment here.
Suvarnabhumi International Airport in Bangkok is the main air gateway into Thailand. It serves more than 50 international airlines, representing every major carrier in the world. Apart from Suvarnabhumit Airport, regional airports, such as Chiang Mai International Airport, Phuket International Airport and privately owned Samui International Airport, serve a small number of direct international arrivals and departures each day.
With more than 20 domestic airports in major cities throughout the country, Thailand is well connected by air. Thai Airways has monopoly over most destinations, whereas privately owned Bangkok Airways and budget airlines, such as Nok Air, Air Asia and One-to-Go, serve fewer destinations and fly less frequently. If you are connecting via Bangkok, note that some of Nok Air and One-to-Go flights depart from Don Muang Airport.
All major rail lines originate in Bangkok, at Hua Lamphong, and cover the four regions of Thailand. Faster and more comfortable than buses, travelling by train is the second best option when commuting across the country. Basically, there are three carriage classes to choose from. First Class offers private 2-person compartment with air-condition and wash basin, although bathroom is still shared. Second Class has both air-conditioned and non-air conditioned cabins, all with upholstered seats that are convertible to bunk beds. Third Class cabins are non-air conditioned, have mostly wooden benches, and seats come on the first-come, first-served basis. Note that not all three classes are available on all routes. First Class cabins are usually available on long-distant trains, while those destined for eastern Thailand usually have only Third Class seats. Apart from the carriage type, there are various types of trains, from ordinary trains (usually with only Third Class seats and stops at every stop along the route) to Rapid, Express, Special Express and Diesel Rail Cars. When travelling by train during major festivals and holidays, always purchase your tickets well in advance.
Long-distant buses reach where trains don’t. The government-run Bor Kor Sor is the biggest and offers a variety of bus types, although several private companies provide service to similar destinations. The ordinary buses are suitable for short trips, as they have no air-condition and make virtually every stop along the way. Superior buses range from simple air-conditioned type to comfortable tour buses with reclining seats and hostesses serving drinks. For the routes, each of the main four regional lines depart from various designated terminals. The Ekamai Terminal serves the eastern coastal routes, while Sai Tai Mai (Borom-Ratchachonnani Road) serves the southern routes. Mor Chit Song serves both the northern and northeastern routes. Like the trains, always reserve your tickets in advance when travelling during major holidays.
Renting a car is a good option for those who prefer more privacy and comfort, as well as those wishing to travel off the beaten path. Major international brands provide services in popular tourist cities. Local rental brands are often less expensive and have more flexible rental policies. Be warned, though, that driving in Bangkok is not for the faint-hearted.
Voltage is 220 Volts with either 2 flat blades (NEMA 1-15 or JIS C 8303) or round 2 pin plugs (Europlug CEE 7/16). You can buy an adapter for shavers, laptop computers, mobile chargers, etc., on arrival at most department stores.
While traveling in Thailand is fairly easy, these phone numbers might come in handy. Write them down and keep them in your wallet, for peace of mind.
For emergency numbers, scroll down to Emergencies section.
The official currency is the Baht. Notes: 1,000 Baht (grey); 500 Baht (purple); 100 Baht (red); 50 Baht (blue); 20 Baht (green). Coins: 1, 2, 5, 10 Baht and 25, 50 satangs (100 satangs = 1 Baht).
Tip porters and hotel staff if you've been given good personal service - the amount varies with the kind of hotel. In restaurants around a 10 % - 15% tip is usually the norm, but you don't need to tip in small roadside eating places. Taxi fares should be rounded up to the nearest 5 or 10 Baht, especially meter-taxis who don't earn a lot, are pretty knowledgeable and incredibly patient in the Bangkok traffic.
ATM machines are available at most banks and shopping centres throughout the city. Thai Baht only. ATMs generally have Thai and English language displays and will accept most internationally recognised foreign cards. Many ATM's will also accept cards under the CIRRUS, Maestro, VISA or Mastercard system.
Most traveller cheques can be cashed at banks. Take your passport or ID. Mastercard and VISA are widely accepted by major banks, restaurants and shops. AMEX and Diners tend to be accepted only at upmarket venues.
Value Added Tax (VAT) is payable on a range of goods and services at 7%. If you're visiting for less than 180 days in a calendar year, not an airline crew member, and leaving Thailand by plane, you can claim VAT refund (Non-Thais only) Tel: +66 (0)2 272 6576-79; Fax: +66 (0)2 617 3559.
Since September 1, 2006 all telephone numbers in Thailand have ten digits including the area code. The international dialing code for Thailand is 66 and you must drop the 0 from the area code. International direct connections (IDD) to almost every country are provided by the Communication Authority of Thailand (CAT). For directory assistance in the great Bangkok Metropolitan area, dial 13. For directory assistance in the provincial areas, dial 183. For operator-assisted long distance calls, dial 101 for domestic calls, 100 for international calls.
Using your mobile phone in Thailand shouldn't be a problem if you arrange for international roaming in your home country. Normally the phone charge is calculated from your home country to the destination number and can be very expensive. True, AIS, DTAC are the leading service providers. If you will be staying in Thailand for a while, it is worth considering purchasing a SIM card with a prepaid option – it’s much less expensive than roaming as well as making it easier for local parties to reach you. Cards to upload credit are available from convenience stores (e.g. 7/11) nationwide. A good place to buy a local SIM card or handset is MBK, where an entire floor is dedicated to mobile communications.
Available from most hotels. Check rates, hotels often levy a surcharge. Costs vary with the time of day and charge for a minimum of 1 minute) Dial 100 for Operator-Assisted Overseas. For IDD dial 001 followed by country and regional codes.
Public telephones are found throughout town. International calls can be made at those marked as international phones which are found at the airport and most tourist areas, and generally take credit cards or calling cards which are available at convenience stores.
Most hotels and serviced apartments have internet access, either directly from the room if you plug in your laptop or from their business centre. Charges vary, additional surcharges times may apply, so check first. There are also internet cafes in most shopping areas, which are generally expensive. Connections, however, can be slower than in your home country. As for internet service providers, there are 18 commercial ISPs and a number of non-commercial providers with services ranging from 56K dial-up to ISDN broadband. Both prepaid and subscriptions options are available.
Thailand's postal services are generally reliant and efficient. Post offices are usually open Mondays to Fridays from 8am to 4.30pm, some are open Saturday 8.30am to 12.00. Normal postal delivery and collection services are made twice a day - morning and afternoon. However, some areas are only serviced once a day. Several individual shops offer reliable postal services, but add a small service fee on top of the regular postage. Major hotels provide basic postal services on their premises. International courier services are also available and include DHL, Federal Express, TNT, UPS and Air Borne.
Facsimile services are provided at major hotels and otherwise found at business service centres throughout town.
Standard time zone: UTC/GMT +7 hours.
Thailand is quite generous when it comes to national holidays; many of which are regulated by the lunar calendar, meaning the actual date changes from one year to the next.
The business hours in Thailand vary according to the type of business. Shopping Malls usually open around 10:00 and close between 20:00 and 22:00. Banks open from 9:00 to 15:30 (Mon-Fri), except those located inside shopping malls which open and close a bit later, but usually no later than 10:30 – 20:00 (daily). Smaller businesses have individual hours. Pubs and bars open at different times but close at 01:00, except those located in the designated entertainment zones. Government offices open at 8:30 and close at 4:30, with one-hour lunch break from noon to 13:00.
The sale of alcohol is heavily regulated in Thailand. You can only buy between 11:00 – 14:00 and 17:00 – midnight, no alcohol sale is allowed on the King’s or Queen’s birthdays, election weekends and special religious holidays.
Mosquito bites are annoying enough in themselves, but on top of that, some tropical diseases are insect borne, so applying mosquito repellent after sunset is a must. Gastro enteric problems are among the most common ailments visitors to Thailand complain about. These are generally the result of consuming contaminated food or water, so be careful about where and what you eat.
A funny stomach can also be related to the change of climate. Remember, Thailand is a tropical country and the extreme heat and humidity can affect your overall well-being. In order to avoid dehydration, make sure you drink plenty of water. You'll see that the locals love their drinks with ice, even beer! But you might want to avoid ice cubes or crushed ice, due to possible contamination, and stick with bottled drinks, which are available in most places. Alternatively carry your own.
You'll also find that there is an abundance of food at all times both at day and night. If you eat at any of the roadside stalls, check that your food is freshly prepared in front of you, and you hopefully won't have any problems.
Thai (official). English is fairly widely understood and spoken in most tourist areas. Bilingual Thai / English road signs are found on all road signs, BTS Skytrain and MRT Subway stations and some local buses.
The Thai Royal Family are deeply revered, and you will see portraits of them throughout the country. At the cinema you must stand for the royal anthem before the film is screened. Anger is regarded as crude and lacking in self discipline. Remain calm and smile and you will find all sorts of doors opened. It is considered rude to point your foot at a person or object. Thais regard the head as the highest part of the body and do not appreciate anyone touching them there, even as a friendly gesture. You should dress appropriately when visiting temples. Don't go shirtless, in shorts, hot pants, short skirts or spaghetti straps. Remove your shoes when entering a Thai home or Buddhist temple. Buddha images large or small, ruined or not, are regarded as sacred. Don't take photographs or do anything which might indicate a lack of respect. While on the rise in Bangkok, extreme public displays of affection are often frowned upon. By all means, hold hands if the urge takes you.
Let's hope you will never be in a situation where you require emergency services, but in case you do, rest assured, Bangkok's numerous hospitals can provide help in urgent situations.