It’s been getting so cold in Arizona and it’s making me dream of the sunshine and our trip to Thailand. Okay, so my version of cold is it getting down to 32F at night. I’m an Arizona baby, so if I can see my breath, it’s too cold! This felt like the perfect time to reminisce of our time in Thailand and it got me thinking about all of the things I want to share for those of you planning a trip to Thailand. Here’s my top tips:
1. It’s hot and humid
I know you’ve probably heard that it’s hot and humid in Thailand, and so did I, but I didn’t really mentally prepare myself (or properly prepare my wardrobe). If you grew up or have spent a lot of time on the East Coast, you probably won’t be in for a huge shock. But if you’re like me and live somewhere with cooler weather or somewhere like Arizona where it’s a “dry heat,” don’t underestimate the humidity.
When you are packing for your trip, keep the humidity in mind. Bring clothes that are breathable and lightweight. You will most likely be outside in the sun while you are adventuring in Thailand, so don’t forget sunscreen and a hat. Thailand has tons of affordable markets and shops, so you can also buy a hat when you get there.
We normally walk everywhere when we travel, exploring the city and stumbling upon different places, but it was a little bit different in Thailand. I would recommend exploring the city and temples early in the morning. It won’t be quite as hot, and bonus: there will be less people. It would also be wise to have a plan of where you’re going to go, so you don’t end up getting lost and having to walk far in the heat. We headed down a road in Bangkok, just to explore, and ended up in a taxi dead zone. It was this long high-way type road that taxis and tuk-tuks can’t stop on. We must’ve walked 2 miles up and down these roads trying to find a place for a taxi to pick us up. Let me tell you, we were drenched in sweat.
The humidity will definitely make you sweat like crazy. The first few days we were in Bangkok, I felt pretty crummy. One of our guides recommended drinking Gatorade or coconut water every day to replace the electrolytes you lose through sweat. I mean, it makes sense! I felt so much better after I started doing that. Plus, I love coconut everything.
2. Dress respectfully
The Thai culture is much more modest than Western culture. Even though it is hot and humid, you will get a lot more respect from the locals if you dress respectfully. This is especially important if you are going to be visiting temples. Most temples have strict dress codes-covered shoulders and covered knees. My go-to outfit was a light-weight maxi skirt and a casual top that covers the shoulders.
We saw that in some of the bigger temples they have shawl and skirt rental. But you don’t wanna be that person.
3. Learn a little Thai
In general, many places you travel with high tourist areas will have people who speak English. If you want to get off of the beaten track (which I highly recommend), you may not find many people who speak a lot of English. It is handy to know a few phrases, and a simple hello or thank you will go a long way and show the people that you are making an effort to learn part of the culture. Here’s a few simple phrases you can use:
Hello = sawasdee (pronounced saw-wah-dee)
Thank you = kap kun (cop-coon)
In the Thai language, you also add either “kap” or “ka” to the end of phrases depending on your gender. For males, you say “kap” and for females you say “ka.”
So if you’re a woman: hello = sawasdee ka (saw-wah-dee-kah) and thank you = kap kun ka (cop-coon-kah)
If you’re a man: hello = sawasdee kap (saw-wah-dee-cop) and thank you = kap kun kap (cop-coon-cop)
4. Don’t just eat pad thai
Don’t get me wrong, the pad thai is great! But there is so much other amazing food that Thailand has to offer. As a general rule, I find that places in foreign countries that don’t have English words on the menu are the best, most authentic meals. If you are in a place with a lot of tourists, venture beyond and pick a place with a lot of locals!
Some must-try dishes are pad kra pow (spicy basil pork), green curry, panang curry, green papaya salad, kanom beung (sweet crunchy crepe/fortune cookie dessert-you may find this at a street market!), thai milk tea (in a bag, not a glass), roti (kind of like strings of cotton candy).
And make sure you try some mango sticky rice! We tried it every day… 😉 The most famous and most delicious mango sticky rice we had was in Bangkok at a little place called Mae Varee Sweet Sticky Rice with Mango. Here’s the address:
1 ซอย สุขุมวิท 55 Khwaeng Khlong Tan Nuea, Khet Watthana, Krung Thep Maha Nakhon 10110, Thailand +66 2 392 4804
The local markets and street food are also an absolute must. When you’re choosing meats at street stands, pick something that is on the grill, rather than sitting in a tray, or eat somewhere with a lot of people so you know the turn over is pretty fast. The street food markets are crazy amazing. We found this amazing website called Withlocals.com, where you can get a food tour from a local! Get $30 off of a withlocals.com tour here. Our guide’s name was Big, and I’d highly recommend him!
While you are in Thailand, eat as much fresh fruit as you can get. It’s all so incredible! They also have a lot of different kinds of fruit that we don’t have in Western countries. If mangosteens are in season, try one. And make sure you try a rose apple (looks like a funny shaped red bell pepper) and the purple dragon fruit (deep purple with dark seeds). If you’re heading down to the islands at all, grab a fresh watermelon shake to drink on the beach.
5. Bring toilet paper
Public restrooms are very different in Thailand than in Western countries. In most of them you will not find toilet paper, so if you are like me and you are someone who uses toilet paper, get yourself a little zip-lock baggie of TP for your bag. On that note, hand sanitizer would be a smart choice as well as many places don’t have soap.
6. Wear the right shoes
Comfortable shoes are a must for any trip, especially a place where you will be walking through markets and exploring temples. I was under the impression before visiting Thailand that shoes should be closed toed or at least have a strap over the heel. That’s definitely not true. In fact, I would recommend comfortable shoes that are easy to slip on and off. In Thai culture, the feet are furthest from the head and so they are the lowest physically and spiritually. Many temples and even restaurants or shops will have signs outside to remove shoes. This is proper etiquette and will be easiest if your shoes slip on and off. I wore my Tevas most of the trip, which are super comfortable for walking, but a pain to take on and off. Keep this in mind when you are choosing your travel shoes.
7. Traffic is crazy
The traffic in many areas of Thailand, especially Bangkok, is crazy busy! Unless you are extremely comfortable driving on the left side of the road and in this part of the world, I would opt for alternatives to driving yourself. There are a lot of different options. There are taxis, tuk-tuks, and they have a company called Grab Cab. Tuk-tuks are small vehicles like golf carts. You can hire them for one location, or pay by the hour to go to several places. Always try to bargain with them! Grab Cab is the same sort of idea as Uber where you order and pay for the car on your phone.
If you’re in the city, there is also a good public transportation system as well, depending where you are going and it’s all reasonably priced! We went from Bangkok to Ayutthaya (82 km) by taking public transit to the last stop, catching a taxi to the bus station, then taking a mini-bus to the city for less than $5 per person total.
If you are going to be spending time on one of the island of Thailand (and you definitely should!) it’s a fun experience to rent scooters. The traffic is much more manageable in the smaller, more rural areas. We had a blast scootering around the island, exploring different places.
8. Bring bug spray
The mosquitos in Thailand are no joke. If you don’t put bug spray on, you will get bit. The mosquitos there can carry a lot of diseases you don’t want to get, so pack your bug spray so you don’t have to worry about it. Your trip will be much more pleasant if you don’t have annoying itchy bug bites.
9. Have cash
Thailand is very much a cash economy. You will not find any credit card readers at local restaurants, markets or shops. I was even surprised that the airport at Chiang Mai only accepted cash at their stalls and vendors. Make sure you plan ahead to have enough cash for your day.
10. Do some research about the time you are visiting
Thailand has a lot of different festivals throughout the year in different parts of the country. When you plan your dates for visiting, do some research to see if there are any festivals taking place so you can arrange to stay in the cities that have events. When we visited, we were fortunate to have the good timing to be in Thailand for the Yee Peng festival, or the lantern festival. We ended up rearranging our travel plans to be able to attend the festival and it was one of the most incredible experiences!
If you have been to Thailand and have other tips to add, I would love to hear them. It’s a beautiful country with kind and genuine people, and I will definitely be back one day!