If you’ve never visited Thailand or Southeast Asia before, planning your trip can certainly be a bit stressful. Many people believe they need to do a ton of research, otherwise, their trip could fall apart and quickly become a disaster. This doomsday situation is never the case and the only real planning necessary will become a quick process after reading this article.
This article will highlight the myths behind ‘best time of year’ to visit Thailand. We’ll discuss what to pack, how to use your money in Thailand, phone usage, the cost of your trip, how to conquer jet-lag, power adapters, and so much more.
Many of these travel articles read the exact same. They’re indistinguishable from one another. We make an effort to change that paradigm and provide necessary and useful tips that will drastically improve your trip if followed correctly.
Best Time of Year to Visit Thailand
As someone who has lived in Thailand, I get asked this question a lot. It’s highly subjective in my opinion. Many say that the best time to visit is during American winter months. While that might prove to be a nice escape from blizzard-like temperatures in your hometown, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is the best season to visit.
November to early April is referred to as the cool and dry season in Thailand. This is great for those who are intimidated by the crazy hot Thai sun. However, it’s worth noting that the hoards of tourists often try to visit during this time, as well. The temperature may be nice, but your odds of having a beach to yourself are quite slim during these months.
As you enter the Southern part of Thailand and reach the beautiful islands that have made this country a world famous tourist destination, you should recognize that the climate on the Eastern coast varies from the climate on the Western coast. One of these coasts is within a relatively protected bay (the Andaman Sea) and the other has the Indian Ocean bringing waves to the shore.
Monsoon season is an awfully scary name for those unaccustomed to this normal Southeast Asian season. While it is true that these months can rarely bring in a large and intimidating storm, 98-99% of the time this is not the case. In most situations, ‘monsoon season’ simply means that your city of choice will experience a single hour of rain in the afternoon.
It’s been my experience that this afternoon shower was needed as a break from the hot sun. If you read information about monsoon season and fear you should change your vacation date, fret not. You’ll still have a great time and your experience will hardly be interrupted at all. In fact, you might even be able to cut down on the lines or crowds thanks to smaller tourism numbers.
There is a substantial exception to this rule. Once a year around early March, the air quality in Chiang Mai (Northwestern Thailand) takes a sharp turn for the worse. In a country that’s known for pollution masks and poor air quality, Chiang Mai says “hold my beer”. All jokes aside, the air quality is so dangerous that I recommend avoiding this area at all costs. If you already have a trip planned, make a detour for Pai.
While this might seem trivial if you’re only there for a few days the reality is much more serious than that. The smog is sometimes so strong that you’re unable to see past 100 feet in front of you. Visitors consistently get rashes and those with asthma find they need to refill their inhalers often.
So why does this smog get so bad once a year? The farms that surround Chiang Mai are intentionally burned once a year. The nearby mountain range holds in the smog. It is only rain that can drive smog out of this valley tucked between the mountains. Unfortunately, the rainy season is several months after the beginning of March – so the burning season often lasts 2 months.
The farmers do this as a way of bringing out nutrients in the soil to assist their crops in the coming year. However, a lot of these farms are rubber plantations. Is there any plant that could be worse for a city to burn? It’s easy to dismiss these warnings as unimportant or over-exaggerated. They are not. Do your due diligence and try to avoid this area during March and April.
Everywhere else in Thailand is fantastic to visit no matter the time of year. In 2019, it is expected that 42 million tourists will visit the country on vacation. You probably won’t have the hotel to yourself if you visit during a low month. As people realize this ‘best time to visit’ is largely created in our heads, more tourists are visiting regardless of the season. Every time of year is beautiful and captivating in Thailand.
Many tourists flock to Thailand because they can stretch their dollar so far. One week in the United States often costs the same as one month in Thailand. It should be noted that the country is only cheap if you act frugally and purchase with intention. Otherwise, it could end up costing you just as much as your experience in Europe!
If you want to keep costs low, there are a variety of different places to eat that keep costs low. Thailand is known for having countless Michelin-starred restaurants. These fine-dining experiences actually don’t have to be avoided! If you don’t want to break the bank, do some research and make sure that the Michelin restaurant you’re visiting is one of the cheap ones. The majority of these dishes cost less than $6 USD.
If you really want to stretch your dollar, we recommend eating street food as often as possible. In a place like Thailand, you won’t be hard-pressed to find a dish that makes your mouth water for an extremely affordable price. Many actually argue that the food one can purchase on the street is significantly more delicious than the alternatives available in a restaurant.
Great cost-effective purchases certainly don’t end at a food stall. They extend to many different areas of life in Thailand. For example, one can purchase a bucket of mixed drinks (yes, an actual bucket with multiple straws) for $5-10 USD. Beers often cost only a dollar. If you go to a hipster bar in Thong Lor, you can expect to pay LA prices.
You have several different price ranges to accommodate your accommodation needs. One could opt for a budget room and realistically spend less than $8/night (although, budget in Thailand has a different meaning than budget in the US). Alternatively, you could stay in a fully serviced hotel room (complete with a frequently visiting maid) for closer to $30/night. Like anywhere, you can find discounts if you decide to stay for longer periods of time.
Most people on a budget opt for the hostel experience. They will save money and they will be able to easily meet friends. However, there are plenty of rooms that will charge significantly more. Bangkok, Thailand is the size of New York. Phuket is one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations. As such, you can find luxury accommodations around every single corner of Thailand.
Even transportation is decently priced. Most use the MTR or BTS, but even the tuk-tuks and taxis aren’t going to empty out your coffers. Motorbike rentals can end up costing as low as $6/day if you rent. Albeit, you’ll likely get a bike that reflects that low price. If you spent a wallet-busting $10/day, you can get a brand new bike. If you do this, be safe.
I always prefer Grab rides. Grab is the Southeast Asian equivalent of Uber. The only difference is that you pay with cash instead of your card at the end of the ride. When you factor in hospital prices associated with your first experience on a Thai motorbike, you’ll quickly recognize just how cheap Grab rides can cost. In Bangkok, a 30-minute ride only costs $5.
All in all, Thailand is very cheap if you try to save money. If the price is no concern, you can always spend your money on luxury accommodation. In fact, that’s why so many families and couples visit the country. Their dollar is stretched so much further. They can afford the luxuries that are normally out of reach.
A normal hotel room in America could cost between $100-$200 USD. However, that same price range will buy you access to a phenomenal and exclusive resort in Thailand. A Marriot facing a parking lot in Boston would cost the same as a giant hotel room in Phi Phi islands facing the most majestic ocean sunset you’ve ever seen.
How to Use Your Phone
When you are in a new country, it can be challenging to get from point A to point B. Most tourists do not know have a solid understanding of where they are in the city at any point in time. It’s crucial to use the maps feature on your phone if you’re lost. If taxis aren’t nearby your current location, it’s important to call for a Grab ride.
There are countless situations where it is incredibly important to understand how you will be able to receive cell service in the country. Without phone data or the ability to call in case of an emergency, you could easily find yourself lost, stranded, or in the worst situation imaginable (God forbid) — unable to post that killer Instagram photo you just took.
If you use Google Maps, I highly recommend downloading the offline version for Bangkok (or whatever Thailand city you are visiting). This will allow you to get directions and find your bearings when you are lost.
If you opted for the unlocked iPhone when purchasing your phone, the easiest way to get cell service in Thailand is through buying a SIM card at the airport. This will cost you about $25 for the SIM card and a surprisingly great data plan.
If you fly into any of Thailand’s large airports (Suvarnabhumi, Don Mueang, Chiang Mai, or Phuket), you will be able to find stalls for the largest three carriers in the country. There is a good chance that they’ll be yelling the phrase “Do you need a SIM card?” at every person who walks down the aisle. All these businesses offer competitive prices for tourists. They might charge a bit more than the equivalent in the city, but you can’t argue against the ease of purchase available at the airport.
If you don’t have an unlocked phone, there are still plenty of reliable options for you. For example, new laws have come into place in the US. You can now request your carrier to “unlock” your phone, but only if your phone is completely paid off in full. You can ask your carrier to unlock your phone for you before you leave on your trip.
If you do not own your phone outright and it is locked, then you have a few different options. The easiest option (albeit, maybe more expensive), would be to purchase international cell service through your provider. If you have T-Mobile, you’re in luck because the company offers an amazing international plan that is available with a large number of their normal data offerings.
For those of you who like to think outside the box, many people who arrive in Thailand actually just buy a used phone. A flip phone is dirt cheap but even an old iPhone would only run about $70. These options are incredibly convenient.
There are many ways to communicate with people from all over the globe while you are traveling internationally. In Thailand, you’ll find that 95% of restaurants offer WiFi. Most people prefer to message via an app called ‘WhatsApp’. With WhatsApp, you can call and text with anyone, simply by accessing the WiFi. You won’t be charged a dime for your messages, calls, and video chats.
If you do wish to make an international call to the US, make sure to add a “+1” to the phone number. If someone from the US wants to ring you, make sure they use the Thai country code of “+66” before dialing your Thai phone number. If both participants have iPhones, you can get some face-to-face action using FaceTime. This video-chat option also uses wi-fi, and will not rack up a hefty international bill.
Beyond using WhatsApp or old-fashioned calling and texting, you can easily communicate with friends and family using other websites/apps like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, WeChat, and Skype. Most of these applications allow for messaging, calling and video-chatting services. You’ll quickly realize that technology has solved this problem many times over. It’s just a matter of asking yourself – which app do you prefer?
How to Use Your Money (ATM vs Bringing Cash)
Every time you travel out of the country, you should ensure that you tell your bank about your travels. Otherwise, they might deny your purchases or ATM attempts. There’s not a worse feeling than having your credit card declined while in a foreign country. Many banks don’t even offer 24-hour services to reach out to a customer support line. If you’re on a 12 hour time difference in Thailand (as compared to CST), this can prove to be challenging.
Many people prefer to bring their own cash to avoid situations like the one mentioned above. This is a foolproof method but if you exchange your US Dollars for Thai Baht at the airport, you’ll probably get cheated a bit on the exchange rate. You’ll certainly get a worse rate if you try to exchange your money into Baht before you leave your home country.
The other option for travelers is to simply use your ATM card. There’s an important note to consider before you take out the money in Thailand. Thai ATMs charge $8 for every withdrawal which is nothing short of highway robbery. With this in mind, only withdraw money in large quantities (in a safe place like the airport). Otherwise, you’ll be charged an exorbitant fee every time you withdraw $50. This will add up quickly.
In my experience, the best method is to combine these two practices. Bring a few hundred dollars to exchange at the airport and test your card at an ATM immediately when you arrive. If anything goes wrong with the withdrawal, you will have more than enough cash to last you until you can sort out the issue with your bank. Always account for having a plan B when it comes to your money.
I recommend using a lock on your bags, especially if you are traveling in hostels. Additionally, I suggest that you spread your money out. Keep some on your person, another amount in a specific pocket in your bag, and even more in a different section within your luggage. In case something bad happens, you’ll have a backup.
How to Conquer Jet Lag
There are many different ways to counteract jet lag in Thailand. There are some approaches that are just plain wrong. For example, landing and going straight to drink a ton of alcohol on Khao San Road after your flight is a bad idea. You’ll just further confuse your already struggling body. In fact, you should be drinking water (the opposite of drinking alcohol).
There are lots of different suggestions we have for you. We highly recommend avoiding alcohol on your flight. Some people opt for a sleeping pill like a NyQuil for the flight, which can be a great way to land feeling rested. Try to drink a lot of Vitamin C before your flight, as this can assist you to hit the ground running.
If you’re like me, you could buy an extra seat on the plane and hire a masseuse to sit next to you for your whole flight. While you relax for the 16 hours of flying, your masseuse can massage your achy back to ensure you arrive feeling energized. Just kidding – of course. I wouldn’t do that even if I did have the money.
One of the best things you can do is indulge in a Thai massage when you arrive. Thai massages are considered world-famous and you can find these small spas on every street corner of Thailand. If you arrive and are feeling tired, get a massage to work out the tension you held in your body during the flight. The cost is super affordable. There are some people I know who have opted to get a massage every single day they were in Thailand.
Above all else, stay hydrated and don’t be afraid to take a little nap during your visit. If you’re feeling exhausted, indulge yourself in an afternoon sleep session. Make sure you set an alarm clock. The beauty of visiting Bangkok, Pattaya, or Phuket lies in the idea that the city never sleeps. If you wake up at 11 pm upset that you missed the day, just go out for a few hours at night!
Many people purchase a fancy power adapter before traveling to Thailand. Unlike many other countries in the world, Thailand actually has outlets that work with both flat-pronged plugs and round-pronged plugs. If you have US-specific chargers or European-specific chargers, you’ll have no issues while in the country.
Thailand uses 220 voltage electricity at 50 Hertz. If your devices cannot accept this voltage, then you will need a converter. It’s worth noting that many cheap power adapters and converters get dangerously hot. Many aren’t great for your devices and the health of the batteries within said devices. If you’re worried that your adapter might harm your electronics, reach out to a specialist and see what they recommend for your specific product.
What to Pack
As someone who has packed incorrectly for Thailand multiple times (yes – I’m a tad embarrassed about it), I now hold the knowledge necessary to make well-informed decisions and offer good insight about what to pack for your trip. For example, don’t follow my example and pack only long sleeve shirts. Not sure what I was thinking there…
If you visit Thailand, it’s going to be hot. You need to pack t-shirts. If you exclusively pack tank tops, there’s a good chance you’ll get denied to the classier bars and clubs. Of course, if you exclusively pack tank tops, you’re probably not the type of person trying to enter classy bars and clubs.
You should pack a rain jacket or poncho. Thailand gets frequent showers during their monsoon season and you should be prepared for this. As you will likely spend time at the beach, you should pack sandals or water shoes, instead of just tennis shoes.
While Thailand is quite hot, we offer an unexpected piece of advice for you first-timers. Bring pants. You will not be allowed into any of the Thai temples, palaces, or nicer buildings if you are wearing shorts. In Southeast Asia, it is considered inappropriate to wear shorts or clothing above the knee. If you are wearing pants, you will not encounter any problems. If you wear shorts, you will be denied entry to many establishments.
I know the above rule is challenging due to the heat, but you can find plenty of thin pants. Outside most temples, there is a small business capitalizing on the idea that tourists won’t remember this important rule. You can always buy some cheap elephant pants right there.
All in all, your Thailand trip might seem intimidating to plan. However, upon doing the right research, you’ll quickly realize that everything will fall into place easily. Millions and millions of tourists visit Thailand every single year. The country has been used to tourism for so long that it has prepared for it entirely.
You won’t run into any situation that hasn’t been solved before your visit. The Thai economy has tourism built into so many different aspects. You can fully expect people to be warm, friendly, and happy to help in any situation. Thailand is known for being the ‘land of the smiles’. You’ll soon realize why the name fits so well.
What are internet speeds in Thailand like?
Thailand has the 8th fastest internet speed in Asia. The average speed found in Thailand is around 19.91 Mbps. Most cafes, hotels, and restaurants have wi-fi available. The average internet speed is surprisingly fast. In many places, the speed has leapfrogged what is available in Western countries.
Do I need a Visa to enter Thailand?
If you are from the United States of America and visiting for less than 30 days, you do not need a visa to enter the country. You will be given a visa-exemption entry. There are other visas you can apply for that allow you to stay for longer periods of time. Some countries require a visa on arrival program.