Thailand is more than a place to spend an awesome drunken night, despite what Hangover 2 taught you. So while you may not be able to become fluent in Thai (the country’s official language) in a few weeks, you can learn enough about the region to completely upgrade your experience.
Whether you’re backpacking or ballin’ out, Thailand is overflowing with great eats, spas, nature and culture. Mulling over planning a trip to this Southeast Asian paradise? This quick and dirty guide will give you all the basics you need to not end up in a dirty hotel room with a smoking monkey and a face tattoo.
THE CHEAT SHEET
Where to Fly: The three main airports most people use are Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK) in the country’s capital of Krung Thep, or as we foreigners call it, Bangkok. Phuket International Airport (HKT) and Chiang Mai International Airport (CNX). All are served by most major airlines and several budget carriers, including Air Asia and Bangkok Airways.
Weather Report: Thailand is pretty much awesome year round with November-March being the region’s high season (remember, more visitors mean the prices are too damn high). April-June and September- October are what’s called the “shoulder season” (the sweet spot) and every other time is the low season (it can range from sun showers to full on monsoon, but ish is dirt cheap).
Passports and Paperwork: If you’re traveling on a U.S. passport and will be in the country for less than 30 days, you’re good. But if you plan to be around for longer than that, you can extend your free visa for an additional 30 days by paying 1,900 Baht to Thai immigration. All other travelers should check the passport requirements before heading out.
Money: The local currency is the Thai Baht (฿). The current exchange rate on XE.com has 1 Dollar equaling 33.9619 Baht.
Language: Three helpful Thai phrases: Hello (Sawadee), khrup/ka (male/female), No (Mai, khrup/ka) and Where is the restroom? (Hong nam yoo tee nai khrup/ka?) Word of advice, many Thai bathrooms, especially in rural areas, do not have toilet paper, so stock up on those baby wipes.
Sex Trade: Despite the somewhat strict appearance of the government, prostitution is plentiful in Thailand, especially in Bangkok.
Most first timers, and even some repeat offenders, tend to focus on three key areas for a well-rounded taste of Thailand:
Bangkok: They say NYC is the city that never sleeps…they lied. It’s Bangkok. You can land in this city at 3:45 a.m. and find bars popping bottles, clubs jumping and entire families eating Pad Thai at a local food stall. Bangkok is a lot. It’s crowded, traffic is terrible and sometimes it smells. But there’s tons of culture, the street food is second to none and the people are some of the friendliest around.
Chiang Mai: Located in Northern Thailand, this city is a blissfully calm and laid back escape from Bangkok. Full of temples galore, pristine rainforest reserves, waterfalls, peaceful country villages, as well as adventure camps and elephant sanctuaries, the region gives you a glimpse into rural Thai life.
Phuket: This island is where the party is at in Thailand. Though there are literally hundreds of islands to choose from, this is a good choice, particularly for first timers. Full moon parties, beautiful beaches and island hopping will dominate your time here.
Taxis: Traffic in Bangkok is a nightmare, so driving should be avoided at all costs. However, since most flights from the U.S. land in Thailand late at night, this is your best option. UBER and Grab are the go-to apps, or you can follow the signs to “PUBLIC TAXI” on Level 1. Bangkok taxi meters ALWAYS start at 35฿ and this is outside of any tolls for using the expressway and the mandatory 50฿ airport tax/surcharge.
Skytrain (BTS): Fares are based on the number of stops and start at 15฿ and top out at 40฿ for a one-way journey. It runs from 6 a.m.-12 a.m.
Metro-Subway (MRT): One way fares on the MRT start at 16฿ and go up to 41฿. There are rechargeable and multiple use tickets.
Tuk Tuks: The Thai version of the popular indie-owned dollar van or car ride services in some cities in the states, Tuk Tuks are only used for short drives within the city or in local villages. They are cheap, quick and not for the faint of heart.
WHERE TO STAY
Hostels: If you’re looking to save a few coins and meet some cool new people, hostels are for you. Don’t let your mind wander to some scary backpacker horror film, these days hostels can be almost as nice as big chain hotels. Hit up Hostelworld to look for properties and reviews before you book.
Airbnb: As usual Airbnb is king when it comes to finding accommodations that will give you that local feeling when traveling abroad. From single rooms, to entire villas along the beach, Airbnb has got you covered.
Hotels/Resorts: Definitely a best bet for solo travelers, those needing a bit more amenities to assist in their do-nothing vacation and those looking to make friends back home jealous. From the Amari Watergate in Bangkok and Four Seasons in Chiang Mai to the Mandarava Resort in Phuket and ultra-swanky Soneva Kiri in Koh Kood, there’s something for every budget.
EAT, PRAY, TURN UP
Temple Tours: Visit famous temples like Wat Arun and Wat Pho. Viator is good for deals on temple tours all over the country.
Elephant Tours: Enjoy an all-day private elephant interaction tour where you will spend time learning how to be an elephant keeper for a day at Blue Tao Elephant Village in Chiang Mai.
Massages: You can find little massage parlors in the city and along the beaches (legit ones, get your mind out of the gutter) offering a Thai body massage or a foot, head and shoulder massage for as little as $6.50. Want something a bit more posh without breaking the bank? The totally zen Oasis Spa lives up to its name.
Stadiums: See a Muay Thai fight at the historic Rajadamnern Stadium.
Nightlife: Party with locals at the rooftop lounge of the Banyan Tree Hotel or get your Hangover 2 fix on the 64th floor of luxury hotel Lebua at State Tower. Love it or hate it, spending a night along Soi Cowboy or watching a ping pong show (Google at your own discretion) at Nana Plaza have become just as big of a tourist attraction as the temples—folks love the Red Light District. The seedy aspects of this area of nightlife are not for everyone, but we’re all adults, so choose wisely.