Visiting Thailand

Unless you are travelling 5-Star and staying in insulated resorts and never leave the hotel grounds, it is a very casual country.

                                                        Pack light!

I mean really light. If you want an easy life, go for the regulation airline hand luggage weight of 7.5 kilos. Everyone wears shorts and sandals. It is also very hot and humid, so a t-shirt is about as covered up as you might need to be. Along with your essential items, electronics, etc, I would recommend:

hand-luggage size backpack/bag that you can put on your knee    1310

          2 t-shirts or blouses                                                  

          2 singlets/tank tops

          2 pair of shorts, light cotton trousers or capris

          Sandals

          3 changes of undies

          swim suit

Everything else, you can buy there if you need. Women do dress conservatively, so keep boob-age and shorts to a respectable level; especially when in the Muslim south.

Be aware that you need to have knees and shoulders covered to enter temples or Wats.841

You can buy a massive array of sarongs, or loose cotton trousers for a couple of dollars. Topless sunbathing is a big no-no; as are short shorts, and strappy tops worn away from the beach.

As far as toiletries go, 7-11 and Tesco Lotus will supply you with tiny 100 ml sizes of everything except shaving gel.  You can buy tiny bags of washing powder, teeny deodorants, all the major labels of shampoo and conditioner, toothpastes and creams.  There are numerous sunscreens and lotions, Deet and mosquito formulas, and talc. If you hit heavy rain, they have rain ponchos by the till.

You will find pharmacies everywhere, who can advise you on all kinds of stomach or headache pills you may need.  English is widely spoken and the opening hours are long.  An over the counter sleeping pill will help you get over jet-lag.

Manners

Never raise your voice or lose your temper.  Even when discussing a problem, keep yourself calm and a smile on your face.

Talk quietly and do not drink to excess.  Listen to the locals and you will realize they never let their conversations raise above a certain volume.

Do not touch the top of anyone’s head or point at them with your feet.

Shoes are to be removed before entering anyone’s house, or even their shop.  If there are a pile of shoes outside the door or shop, this is your clue. For this reason, the best shoes to wear are cheap flip flops.

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Thai is a tonal language, making it very difficult for foreigners to master. I was annoyed at how few tourists try to use the basic niceties, as they are much appreciated. For the correct pronunciation, just listen to the locals.

Be aware that in polite conversation, females should end a phrase with the word ‘kah’ and men with the word ‘kap’.  Even when speaking English, add these words to the end of your sentence, as in, please put the meter on Kah/Kap. For hello, a woman says Sawadee-kah and a man says, Sawadee-kap.

If a local puts their hands together in front of their chest and bows, this is a sign of respect.  There are rules to it, as in an adult never bows to a child, and how high the hands are held, indicates the level of respect. Let’s say a local has sold you something for a good price; as a thank you, they might hold their hands about chin level and give a deep bow.  You would respond to this with hands held about chest level, a smile and a small nod. If you don’t want to do this, a nod and a smile will suffice.

Different ways of thinking

If you trip over a curb and notice a group of locals giggling at you; they are not taking the piss.  This is done to preserve your dignity or save face. If you are getting a massage and the lady makes you cry; if she giggles, it is for the same reason.  Save face for your indignity. This is also why you keep a smile on your face at all times.

Because Thailand has a strong Buddhist culture, children are taught to meditate, and stay in the moment.  As a culture, this brings its own set of problems, where things we would pre-plan, are not done.  I have heard of a shop having to close because no one bought extra light bulbs in case one blew out. This falls into pre-planning for infrastructure and over development.  There is a huge problem with too many hotels and not enough concern over sewage, or plastic bottles and what to do with them.

This live in the moment idea, does make it easy for us who like to plan our trip as we go along.  We were able to walk into a travel agent at 8pm at night, and make full travel arrangements for the next day.  We booked a cooking class the night before too. If it is something you really want to do, it is good to book at least 24 hours before, but you can be lucky.

Prices

When shopping in the markets, you will be expected to haggle or barter.  Keep that smile and offer 50% less than the first price given.  Then work up to 70-80%.  It is a good idea to do your homework and kind of have an idea what things should cost. If you do agree a price, then you should buy the item.

There is a two tier pricing system for Thais and foreigners (or Farangs).  A local might pay 20 baht for a bowl of soup you paid 50 baht for.  Remember the average wage is around 300 baht for a 10-14 hour day. When entering museums, your ticket might be clearly marked as 20 baht local, 200 baht foreigner.

Tipping is not really the done thing, except for maybe Masseuses, or if you go to a western type sit down restaurant.  Some waiters have started to expect this due to the kindness of unaware tourists, but it is not their way.  You don’t need to tip for street food or market food.

Basically everything is very cheap, and there are market stalls everywhere.  Just walking down a normal street in Bangkok, you can buy a bag of cut mango or a smoothie, a phone cover, some new shoes, shorts and t-shirts, a copy watch and sit down for a steaming hot bowl of soup. Meanwhile you will have said no thank you to 2 taxi drivers, 3 tuk-tuk drivers and 15 Thai masseuses.  Everybody works and everyone is busy.

Dining

One of the first things you will notice, is everyone is eating all the time.  They eat little and often, with 445takeaways presented in little plastic bags, and fold up tables and chairs on every street corner.  Street markets are a fantastic way to peruse the local delicacies, with everything from fried fish, fruit smoothies, curries and even woks full of fried crickets and cockroaches.  A dish can cost as little as 40 BT, and seafood is very cheap.  Fish, chicken and pork are the main meats, with beef a bit harder to find, as many Thais do not like to eat large animals.

 

Some soups will have dumplings floating in them, which are the equivalent of what we call ‘crab sticks’ or the equivalent with pork.  Sort of glutinous versions for a little extra taste and protein.

For vegetarians or vegans, be aware they use a lot of oyster sauce and shrimp paste for flavor.  You can ask for soy sauce instead.  Be aware this is a country of yes, yes, if they don’t understand.  For this reason, if you have any dietary requirements, get them written out on a card, in Thai.  Everything is made fresh and in minutes, so there should be no problem with having a specific request.

In eating places, you might find 4 jars on the table. They are the 4 major components of Thai cooking:  sugar for sweetness, chili powder for heat, fish sauce for salt and chilies in vinegar for sour.  They are mainly used in soups, but if you like a bit more seasoning, you can use them in anything.  If they don’t supply them, you can ask for them.  They may assume that because you are a Farang, you can’t handle spice. You can ask for mild, medium, spicy-hot, or Thai hot.  If not sure, ask for medium and add your own chilli powder to taste.

Don’t get annoyed when food comes out randomly as it is cooked.  That’s just how they do it. You may order a couple of dishes and rice.  In this case, use the rice plate and put maybe one or two spoonfuls of the other dishes on the plate.  You eat by pushing the food onto your spoon with your fork. You then eat with the spoon.  Everything is bite size, so you will rarely see a knife.

One of the most disappointing things to do, is to order Western food.  The only people who can serve a good western style meal, will be those who have had really good training, and it is illegal for Farangs to work. The best thing to do is adapt to their marvelous fresh food offerings and leave western food to when you get home.

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I highly recommend attending one of the zillion cooking classes available throughout Thailand.  Check out trip adviser for the more professional set ups.  They pick you up at your hotel, and usually the first stop is a local market where they run through all the food available, and how it is used. This will give you a good appreciation of how much love goes into the cooking.

Some of the nicest drinks to try are the fruit shakes: fresh blended fruit and ice, with either cane syrup or condensed milk. A real treat is a whole young coconut. After you drink the juice, use a spoon to scrape out some of the jelly like flesh.  If you like iced coffee, 7-11 have drinks machines in the back where you can pour your own for less than 20 BT.

Safety

I recently read a damning article warning me the dangers of travelling through Thailand with anything valuable, so left my iPhone at home.  When we arrived, everyone was on iPhones and wifi was everywhere.  I never had a feeling of danger or of being somewhere I shouldn’t be, and I kicked myself everyday for not having my iPhone and good camera with me.

When in Chiangmai, I noticed lots of people even left their keys in their ignitions, or their purse down as they walked away for a few minutes.  I don’t recommend trying this, but it is a very safe country.

Unless the govt has changed when you read this, the country is controlled by the military, so there is a big military presence in public places; especially in Bangkok.  There is also a curfew, where everything closes by midnight.

I don’t want to go into it, but the bad things that have happened to tourists in Thailand, can happen anywhere.  We don’t know the full story, or who the real perpetrator was due to cover ups.  Much of the bad stuff occurs in seedy areas or during raucous parties; same as in our own countries.

Hotels

If you want to stay in a 5 star hotel, at 2-3 star prices (compared to home), Bangkok is the place.  There are so many hotels, in every price range and sort; you will be spoiled for choice.

Most people use the internet to book ahead, and great deals are to be gotten if you book 2-4 weeks ahead.  We have walked into hotels and they have told us to go online to book the room, as the price is cheaper and they don’t always know what they have available.  ‘Tripadvisor’ will give you a selection of hotels, and the prices on all the main sites.  Check them as they can vary quite a bit, even for the same hotel on the same night.

Bangkok:  I found the most ease with hotels that are close to sky train stations.  I have also found, the best place to be is near the river. This is due to the air quality and ease of getting around.  But, if you want to have a more authentic experience, chose Chinatown.  If you want an Aussie experience, chose Khao San Road.  If you want a good hotel near the river and the sky train, pick the Silom area.  If you want new hotels, lots of shopping malls and lots of life going on around you, chose Satunam.

Sukhumvit Road is another main area for tourist hotels, and the sky train gives it great accessibility, but it is very polluted.

Be aware there are taxes on hotel stays, and the online sites have to tell you if these are included, or to be paid on arrival.  Also be prepared for pollution taxes.  When getting off a ferry, you will be singled out and sent to a desk where you need to pay a nominal amount for pollution control. I think it was 20-40 BT per person, and you get an official receipt.