I visited Thailand in February of last year. It was the most fun trip I had in a long time. Being closer to fly by air and cheaper than most other places makes it a destination which I want to go to each year. Based on my personal experiences, here’s a brief travel guide to help you plan your next Thailand trip. Although this post is mainly addressed to Indian travellers, I think it is equally useful for non-Indian travellers too. So read on –
Hinduism in Thai culture
If you’re new to Thailand and are visiting there for the first time, I’m sorry to spoil this pleasant surprise for you. Thailand has a culture which is very close to India in many respects. You’ll find many traces of Hinduism across Thai culture, literature, religion, and history. Here are a few interesting facts about Thailand’s Hindu influence –
1. The Bangkok international airport is called Suvarnabhumi airport. In Hindi it means “The Golden Land”.
2. The airport has a large sculpture depicting the famous “Sagar Manthan” or the Tug-of-war between the Devas and Asuras that is such a popular part of Hindu mythology.
3. The King of Thailand is also known with the name of “Rama”, after the Hindu God.
The weather in Thailand varies as per region. However, Thailand weather is generally hot and humid. The rainy season typically starts from July till October; Not a great time to visit. Winter is the best season to visit. It also suitable for doing some water sports such as diving and snorkeling,
#TravelTip: It is cool and dry in the winters during November to February, which makes it the best season to visit Thailand.
Currency to carry
You should carry only the minimum required amount of Thai currency with you while going. Although ATMs are pretty everywhere except in remote islands, they charge a very hefty currency exchange fee. So I’d recommend avoiding them unless absolutely necessary. Also, forex outlets are aplenty.
#TravelTip: It’s best to have either a international credit card with a good credit limit, or an international travel card with you instead of going around with a thick wad of cash.
Currency rules for India
The Government of India’s limit for carrying Indian currency in and out of the country is INR 25,000. No limits to the Foreign (USD) currency but amounts in excess of USD 5000 needs to be declared at the customs.
Currency rules for Thailand
Thailand requires that the travelers must carry at least 10,000 Thai Baht per person or 20,000 Thai Baht per family. So you should make sure you obtain the currency well before your trip.
Thailand has one of the most liberal visa policies. And it is purposefully so since tourism is a huge chunk of the nation’s GDP. Thailand offers on-arrival visa for a lot of countries including India. Although it seems like a tempting option, I personally prefer and recommend getting a visa beforehand instead of on-arrival. It is not only cheaper that way but will save you a lot of hassle. The visa process is quite simple. I recommend getting a visa via VFS or ThomasCook.
Thailand Cost and Expenses
1 Thai Baht is roughly equal to 2.25 Indian Rupee. Thailand is generally known as a cheap and affordable travel destination. Costs and expenses there are considered to be very low. But what I personally found was something different.
Compared to India, the costs in Thailand are not that cheap. At best, the costs are equal to those in India.
The reason you keep hearing that Thailand is cheap because it turns out way cheaper for western travelers. But not necessarily the case for Indian travelers. However, I’d say it is still a fantastic place for shopping.
Local telephone SIM card
Getting a local sim card is pretty easy in Thailand. When I visited Thailand, I wasn’t aware of this and I ended up enabling international roaming on my local Vodafone number from India. It costed me close to INR 4500 for about 7 days of roaming activation.
#Traveltip: Even if you plan to stay for a few days in Thailand, just take a local SIM card. It will be much cheaper and convenient for you.
AIS and DTAC are the mobile main mobile operators of Thailand and they have good packages specifically crafted for travelers looking to stay for 1-2 weeks in Thailand. You can choose a card from either of them. The cell companies have booths at both the international airports so you can get a SIM card as soon as you land. Buying a SIM card is simple. You’ll only have to show your passport, provide your photo and pay for the SIM.
The Royal family
Thailand has a monarchy system and the King has a special stature here. You’d see his photos and images just about everywhere right from the moment you step out of the airport. People like and respect him as God.
Be warned that you absolutely cannot speak ill about the royal family at any time unless you want to get into trouble. If you disrespect the King or the Royal family in any way, you’re sure to land up in jail pretty quickly.
#Traveltip: Never disrespect the King
Getting around in Thailand
Cabs and tuk-tuks are the main ways of gettings around in Thailand and the rates are comparable to India. A cab from Don Mueang Airport to Sukhumvit cost me around 400 TBH. A tuk-tuk is like an auto-rickshaw of India. Dealing with the cab and tuk-tuk drivers of Bangkok feels very much like India. Drivers refusing to go to your specified destination, trying to charge you more, etc is all very common. But being an Indian, you’ve already been trained to handle this. You can also use your bargaining superpower to your advantage.
#TravelTip: If taking a tuk-tuk, always ask for a lower price than quoted.
Forced Shop hopping
There is one thing you should be aware of regarding tuk-tuks. Often, the drivers insist on taking you to a couple of shops before going to the actual destination. Now, these could be a gem shop or souvenir shop, etc. You’re not expected to purchase anything there but the drivers get fuel coupons from the shops for bringing in the potential customers. If you’re not interested in this, you should tell it strictly to the drivers before you get in the tuk-tuk.
#TravelTip: Uber is not available in Thailand but a similar service called Grab is quite popular here.
Shopping in Thailand
Bangkok is heaven for shopping addicts. There are literally hundreds of malls, some of the biggest I’ve ever seen. If you love shopping you can spend a whole day just strolling across different malls.
The Central World is the largest mall in Thailand. MBK is a place where you can get bargain deals. Emporium mall is where you’ll find the most expensive stuff and high-end brand labels. Apart from these are many other wonderful shopping havens such as the Siam Center, Siam Paragon and Platinum Mall.
Pretty much all the malls are connected to each other with either a Sky train or a Skywalk so you can walk from one mall straight into another non-stop, in case you decide to go mall hopping.
During my trip, we spent most of our time in the Pratunum market and the Platinum mall which is just across the street from it. There are hundreds of small shops here where you can bargain your heart out. We bought some good quality clothes and leather bags from here.
But it’s not just all malls for shopping. Bangkok offers plenty for street shopping enthusiasts as well. For example, the Night market at Khao San is always bustling and busy. You should also check out the Chatuchak market if you get time.
Food in Thailand
I personally like Thai food a lot except for a few dishes which use generous amounts of Galangal and Kaffir lime. Most flavors which make Thai dishes hot and spicy are well suited for the Indian taste-buds.
Veg food in Thailand
If you’re a vegetarian, you’re going to have a very tough time in Thailand. You won’t starve to death completely as you’ll find at least some veg option everywhere. But at a minimum, you should be able to stand watching other people eat some really weird shit like cockroaches, scorpions, and insects while you’re gulping down some rice.
Being a vegetarian myself, Margherita pizza, Burger King and Mango sticky rice were the things that saved my life there.
On my trip to Bangkok, I got introduced to the most popular dish in Thailand – the Pad Thai. It’s rice noodles made with fish sauce, shrimps, chili pepper, palm sugar, and crushed peanuts. I managed to get a vegetarian version of it at a few places.
Som Tum is another dish that we’ve gotten hooked to and now we make it at home quite often too. It is basically a raw papaya salad made with chili peppers, salt, and palm sugar. We sometimes add crushed peanuts to it just to give it a Thai feel.
Street food in Bangkok
Bangkok has many places where you can enjoy authentic street food. Khao San road is one such place. Lots of vendors selling Pad Thai, Spring rolls and other snacks. There is no shortage of bars and joints in this area too. We visited here at night and that seems to be the perfect time to eat and shop and get the best experience of Khao San. If you’re a beer fan, you should try the local beer, Singha or Chang.
If you’re a vegetarian, be warned that the street food of Thailand mostly comprises of seafood and large array of other insects such as cockroaches, scorpions, grasshoppers, etc.
Other local foods
One thing that my wife and I usually do in any new place is to visit the local market and try out the local fruits. In Thailand, you’ll find some tropical fruits which are local to this region such as the Dragon fruit. Although we do get it here in Bangalore too, it not very common and not cheap at all.
It was February when we visited, but there were quite a lot of mangoes in the market. The Thai mangoes taste slightly different from the ones we get in India, so you should definitely try those too.
There is another very interesting snack we discovered in Thailand – the Crispy seaweed. With all the different types of insects on the menu, being a vegetarian, this was by far the only weirdest thing I could eat on the entire trip. These are thin strips of wafers made of actual Seaweed and they taste unlike anything else you’ve ever eaten before. It actually tastes pretty good. Do give it a try when you’re there.
Thailand has one of the most vibrant nightlife scenes. If you’re a party animal, Bangkok, Pattaya, and Phuket all offer ample options for crazy mid-night parties. The walking street of Pattaya is one such famous place. The beach clubs and bars in Phuket are also very popular. Phuket has special bars called Go-Go bars. They are basically strip-clubs. Be careful while travelling with your family and with friends, it can become quite awkward in these places.
Siam Niramit Show
One very interesting way of spending your evening in Thailand is to watch the Siam Niramit Show. You can watch this show in Bangkok as well as Phuket. It is a 90 min show about the history and culture of Thailand. It is performed daily on a very large stage with spectacular special effects and over 100 performers. All dressed in fancy outfits. The show ticket is 1500 TBH (1900 with dinner). Even if the cost seems a bit high, I highly recommend this show. It’s totally worth it. If possible, try going for the Bangkok show than Phuket.
Cities to visit
Thailand has a lot to offer and comprises of many vastly different regions. You should plan your itinerary carefully depending upon the duration of your visit and the things you’re looking to do or experience. Bangkok has a bustling city charm with lots to eat, shop and explore. Pattaya and Phuket are the party goers destination with happening beaches. If you’re looking for calm and peaceful beach time with turquoise waters and being closer to nature, you should explore the multitude of islands of the Krabi province.
I hope this guide will be useful for you in planning your Thailand trip. If you have any questions or suggestions, do let me know in the comments below.