So you're planning a trip to Thailand…Exciting, huh? Yep, I know that feeling, and I remember my first trip…6 years later and I'm still here!
One thing I wish I had back then was some solid travel advice, other than the Lonely Planet. I mean, not one guidebook told me not to book a hotel fro a rep at the airport, or to never accept a “20 Baht – see everything” ride from a Tuk Tuk.
Yes indeed, It sure would have been useful to learn from someone more experienced.
But that's all in the past now, and since my initiation into the Land of Smiles, I have traveled to every corner of its beauty; North, South, East and West.
As you can imagine, I've picked up a solid few tips about trips on planes, trains and automobiles, and how to navigate the Kingdom in a fun and safe way.
This compact travel guide will give you a crash course in safe travel, ensuring you have a happy, rewarding, cost-effective, and most importantly, safe trip.
Arriving At The Airport & Getting To Your Hotel
The likelihood is you'll be arriving through the gates of BKK (Suvarnabhumi) airport. You may be jetting straight off to an island, but I'm sure you will stay in Bangkok at some point, so be aware of this.
Ignore taxi touts asking if you want a taxi downtown, they will give a fixed price, triple that of what you should be paying. Instead, make your way to the first floor and queue for a public taxi. As soon as you come through, walk round to your right and you'll see a sign right above the escalator that says “Public Taxis, 1st Floor”.
Public taxis incur a 50 Baht surcharge, which will be added to your fair by the driver. Note that the taxi driver may ask if you want to take the tollway. This will significantly speed up your journey, particularly during rush hour and on Saturdays. It's only 25 Baht per toll, so accept this offer by all accounts. You will need to hand the money to the driver as you approach the toll.
The taxi will be metered, so you are only obliged to pay what is on the clock. My airport trips usually end up being about 200-250 Baht, and I always round it up to 300 as a tip.
If you are light baggage then why not take the new airport link? Click here to find out where it stops in relation to your hotel.
Taking Taxis On The Islands
Taking a taxi from the airport at Koh Samui or Phuket, for example, is a different story entirely. The fares are a fixed price; no meters. Expect to pay an approximate set price of 400-800 Baht depending on the journey. There will be a minimum, no matter how short the journey.
If you're on a budget, use your smarts. Call ahead to the hotel and arrange a transfer. It will probably be free, or cost between 150-200 Baht. Even if the hotel doesn't do transfers, the likelihood is that they know a local taxi or company that will do it cheaper than the standard fare for you.
Taking Tuk Tuks
Tuk-tuks are fun, and sure, you're going to want to experience a ride or two, but sadly the drivers are notorious for scamming tourists. In particular beware of Tuk Tuks outside the Grand Palace and other tourist hotspots like Pratunam and Sukhumvit in Bangkok. for example.
Avoid any problems by fixing the price before you get in. Make it clear you want to go straight to your destination, not to any suit shops or seafood restaurants on the way!
Beware of the “20 Baht – see everything” line. This basically means the driver will take you to shops and restaurants where he can get a commission on your purchases. If you can't be harassed into buying anything, you can be sure that 20 Baht ride will turn into something more like 300-400 Baht.
Avoid taking tuk-tuks home late at night after clubbing or bar hopping. It's not a safe way to ride in the small hours, on your own, around a city you don't know Stick with meter taxis, or better still, use Uber. Read more about that here.
I know this all sounds a little alarmist, but the fact is this: Thailand is a very safe place to travel, but occasionally tourists do fall foul of a scam or a negative situation because they lose their sensibilities. Bangkok is like every other major city in the world, and the islands are like any other beach destination too; you do occasionally cross the path of people with bad intentions. To avoid such people and negative situations, always take the sensible pathway.
Taking The BTS & MRT In Bangkok
If you're in Bangkok, by far the easiest way to get around is the BTS (overground) and MRT (underground) transit systems. Cheap, clean and air-con fitted, why sit in a taxi in traffic for hours when you can zoom around hassle free.
When the platform is busy, you'll be expected to queue orderly with everyone else. This means standing behind the yellow line and away from the yellow no-stand boxes (applies to the BTS). Getting off the train is more unorganised. In general, Thais seems to panic way before the train has stopped and try desperately to get to the door, leaving you unbalanced as you try to politely move, while at the same time thinking, “Why don't you just wait until the train has stopped and I'll move”. It's a Thai-ness thing 🙂
Priority seating is given to children, monks, the elderly and pregnant women, so be sure to keep your eye out and give up your seat to anyone who falls into one of these categories.
If you plan to take a lot of journeys, you may choose to invest in a card. But bear in mind that you won't save much at all, and you'll need a separate card for the MRT and BTS systems.
Taking Motorbike Taxis
Fast to get around and cheap as chips, motorbike taxis are not for the feint hearted. While these guys are generally great riders, you should be aware that the majority of road accidents in Thailand involve motorbikes, and are usually caused by cars driving recklessly.
Cars rule the roads in Thailand, and often give little thought for pedestrians – don't think that zebra crossing actually means the cars will stop for you!
Personally, I would avoid trips on motorbike taxis if you can, but if you need to get somewhere fast and the roads are choc-a-block, it's probably your best option. As a foreigner, it's best to fix your price before jumping on. I've not come across much dual-pricing when it comes to motorbike taxis, but you may end up paying 5-20 Baht more if you don't know the local pricing.
Make sure you hold onto the back of the seat, keep your legs tucked in and be careful of the hot exhaust pipe as you get off!
Air travel is of course by far the quickest way to get around Thailand, and it's really not that expensive. Thailand has airports in all major destinations such as Chiang Mai, Samui, Phuket, and Krabi, but also in more remote places like Pai and Chiang Rai.
If you're on a budget choose Bangkok Airways over Thai Airways; the food is usually better and the lounge for domestic departure offers free WIFI, cakes, savoury snacks, coffee, juice and more. It really is worth every penny.
If you can afford to get a plane over a mini-van/VIP bus, do so. It's far safer, and means you get to spend more time at your destination.
Thailand has a nationwide train network reaching out to all corners of the country. First class isn't quite what you will be used to, but it is a very cheap way to travel and see the country en route.
Perhaps the most popular train ride on the traveler trail is the overnight sleeper to Chiang Mai. If you're a light sleeper don't expect to arrive fresh, but if you can sleep through any bumpy, noisy ride, you'll love the experience.
A word of advice; do not be tempted to hang out of one of the doors for a smoke or to look at the scenery. There has been a few tragic accidents related to this in recent years.
It's inevitable that somewhere on your journey you'll have to take a mini-van ride, be it to the border, down to Hua Hin or Kanchanaburi, perhaps.
The problem is not the mini-vans, but the sleep-deprived drivers put on a tight schedule by a greedy, no-nonsense boss. The drivers work long shifts with little regulation on breaks and sleeping, thus the high number of accidents each year.
You'll also find that the vans are often over loaded with luggage, and make regular stops to pick up “packages” and people. Do yourself a favour and limit mini-van journeys to trips that take less than two hours. And if you go somewhere by bus, pay that bit more for the VIP bus with a premium service.
Getting Reliable Travel Insurance
Thailand is safe place for the sensible traveller, but it's also a country where hygiene and safety standards leave the mind boggling at times. which means you'll need reliable travel insurance.
You'll also need to make sure you're covered for the type of trip you're making, which I assume is either backpacking around Asia or spending a good couple of months in Thailand.
Every year thousands of travellers end up not being fully covered because they don't read the small print/don't get a suitable policy. Perhaps the most classic error is not having a return flight date. Yes, thousands of travellers each year put in a claim, only to get the reply; “your insurance is invalid because you didn't have a return flight date when you left”.
It took me 4 years to realise I'd been travelling uncovered by my policy. When I found out I did some research and found two awesome companies, perfectly suited to the requirements of modern nomads; get a quote from World Nomads and True Traveller.
Booking A Hotel
Don't make the same mistake I did when I first arrived, booking hotels on a whim, at the airport or through a local who said they could get me a “good deal”. Trust me, it will only amount to an over-priced disappointment. Even if it's last minute, jump online in a cafe, read some reviews and get a great deal.
I know there's something rather romantic about just turning up in a town or city without knowing where you might sleep and who you might meet, but the last thing you want is an air-con unit full of germs, a dirty mattress and cockroaches crawling over you during the night.
When it comes to hotels in Thailand, Agoda is pretty much always the cheapest place to book, because as a Thailand-based company it is able to land the best deals with local operators. Click here to browse hotels at your destination.
If you have any questions about travelling in Thailand, voice them in the comments box below and I'll get back to you at the next WIFI spot.