Thailand- introduction and travel advice

Thailand is a versatile destination which offers something for everyone, from holiday-makers to backpackers. The south of the country is great for the beach bums but also for those who enjoy active holidays. Bangkok and surroundings abound in interesting monuments and the north is great for hiking (combined with visiting ethnic minority villages). Thailand is also a great place to learn Thai Massage or go for a meditation retreat. Some parts of Thailand suffer from mass tourism but there are still plenty of places where you can avoid the crowds and enjoy unspoiled nature. A well-developed infrastructure makes travelling easy and hassle-free.

Golden figures of Buddha on the ledge of a terrace on top of the Tiger Hill in Thailand. Behind them, forested mountains and karst rocks.

What to see in Thailand?

Thailand for beach bums

Thailand is probably most famous for its islands and beaches- deservedly so. The turquoise, crystal- clear waters and white-sandy beaches fringes with palms are almost too perfect to be true. Many of the most famous beaches (Phuket, Phi Phi, Railey) would be crowded and the landscape would be sometimes spoiled with high-rise hotels but there are still lots of smaller islands that are relatively secluded.

A long tail boat moored at the white sand beach on an island in southern Thailand. Karst rocks rise from the  turquoise see in the background.

Thailand for culture-vultures

If sightseeing is your thing, you won’t be dissapointed with Thailand. Head for Bangkok with its wats and the mesmerizing Grand Palace and the nearby ruins of the ancient capital in Ayutthaya. The north with another ancient capital- Sukhothai and hundreds of wats in Chiang Mai is also worth exploring.

Ruins of a brick Buddhist temple in Sukhothai, Thailand. Only  the base, columns, a seated Buddha statue and a stupa survive.

Thailand for adventure- lovers

If you prefer to be active on your holidays, you still have plenty of options in Thailand. It’s one of the best places in the world to learn scuba-diving, for example. Karst landscape around Krabi and in Phang Nga Bay is great for kayaking. North gives plenty of opportunities for accessible hike routes.

A diver coming out of the water into the boat in Ko Tao, Thailand.

Thailand for backpackers

Thailand is an ideal country for backpackers. First of all, its’ cheap to get there: Bangkok has the cheapest intercontinental and international flights in the region.

Thai people learned how to cater to the needs of the budget travelers, whether regarding accommodation (hostels, huts) or street food. Although in theory it is more expensive than the other countries of the region, if you steer away from the pricey activities and choose more budget transportation modes (hard-seat trains, car night ferries) you won’t break the bank.

The author lying on the hammock at the porch of a small bamboo hut for bacpackers on Ko Lanta, Thailand.

Best time to visit Thailand

If budget is your concern, avoid peak times (Dec/Jan) to visit south of Thailand. The shoulder season (April-May) has usually still good weather for half of the prices. The north of the country is much cheaper than the south (especially the islands) and is good to visit almost any time. The north should be avoided in the burning season, though (February-April) when it becomes one of the most air-polluted places on the planet.

Thai culture

No cultural shock

Thailand is a great introduction to Asia as it offers a smooth transition between the continents. Landing in Bangkok won’t cause any electrifying culture shock. Thailand is very tourist- friendly: one can travel here with ease. Tourists don’t cause any sensation- they are part of daily life for the locals. Thais in most parts of the country are used to revealing clothes, too so as a woman you won’t need to worry too much about covering up, though I’d suggest to leave roaming around in very skimpy clothes for the beach only.

Night market in the streets of Bangkok, Thailand

Communication issues

The biggest drawback of the country is that the communication with the locals can be somewhat problematic. Whoever works in the tourism sector can speak at least communicative English but most of Thai people don’t speak English at all. Besides, Thai accent is very strong and it takes a while to get used to it.

No touting but quite a bit of scamming

Thailand is often dubbed ‘the country of thousands smiles’. I believe this reputation was earned by Thai’s perfection of the ‘professional’, customer service smile. Thai people are polite and -most of the time- helpful. You’re unlikely to experience aggressive touting.

On the flip side, Thais also routinely charge the foreigners more than the actual price of products or services. Scams aren’t uncommon.

Cultural taboos

Travelling in Thailand you’d need to remember about a few important culture taboos. Firstly, showing anger is very badly perceived. Don’t get involved in verbal arguments with the locals as it can turn out nasty, particularly that the Thai police is well known for always taking the side of the locals. Secondly, Thais are absolutely crazy about their king so you should never ever say anything critical about him. Lastly, you should never point at people or touch them with your feet and you should never touch people’s heads. Head is a sacred part of the body while feet are unclean.

Monks should never be touched by representatives of the opposite sex. You should take off your shoes and cover your shoulders and legs when you enter a Thai temple.

Thai cuisine

Thailand is a place where you can truly enjoy food. Street food is an important part of the culture. Rich and poor have meals at the simple eateries with a couple of tables and chairs straight on the pavement. Thais don’t tend to eat much so expect the portions in the restaurant to be on the small side. Most of the dishes are eaten with a fork. The only exception are noodles dishes, eaten with chopsticks.

Thai food in an elegant restaurant in Bangkok:  a spic salad and spring rolls.

Thai cuisine is simple yet tasty. Most of the dishes served in any part of the country originate from Isaan, the north-east region of Thailand. Therefore, you won’t be able to notice much regional variation. The dominating flavours in Thai cuisine are those of lemongrass, galangal, ginger and basil. The staple food is pad Thai: simple noodle dish with meat, seafood or tofu. Curry options go far beyond green and red Thai curry widely popular in the West . Thailand is also a real paradise for fruit lovers with a variety of exotic, delicious fruit year round.

Thai food for vegetarians and vegans

Thai cuisine isn’t particularly vegetarian friendly. It consists mostly of meat, fish and seafood and in the southern part of the country even vegetable dishes are prepared with fish or oyster sauce. Luckily, most of the restaurants in the tourist destinations offer tofu dishes and are familiar with the concept of vegetarianism and veganism.

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