Thailand offers a variety of experiences, from idyllic beaches to the hustle and bustle of Bangkok streets and everything in between. No wonder it draws thousands of Australians every year.
Thai Cities to visit
Chiang Mai - Known as the ‘Rose of the North,’ Chiang Mai is encompassed by mountains and rich countryside.
Kanchanaburi - Made famous by the hit movie The Bridge on the River Kwai, Kanchanaburi has beautiful waterfalls and national parks everyone can access.
Bangkok - The capital city has no shortage of hidden gems to discover, including temples, palaces, malls, food, markets, and night life.
Phuket - One of the largest islands in Thailand, Phuket has plenty of stunning beaches and the well-known party spot Patong.
Ko Samui - Known for the natural beauty of the island, there is plenty of variety to keep you stimulated if you don’t fancy sitting on a beach with a cold drink all day.
There’s a large variety of wildlife in the country. Many visitors to Thailand plan a trip to see one of the numerous elephant sanctuaries in the north. It is an incredible experience, meeting orphaned and rescued elephants who are getting a second chance. The Giant Mekong catfish play cat and mouse with the fisherman on the Mekong river and the monkeys residing in Lopburi thrive in November during the Monkey Festival, which features banquets of food presented to honour them.
Thai street food
Everyone coming to Thailand has to experience the street food scene around the country. You’ll eat anything? Try Larb Mote Daeng; it is prepared with red ants and their eggs. Durian is known for its smell, banning you from taking it into many hotels. Fried insects are abundant with crickets, grasshoppers, and scorpions as popular choices.
Thailand loves to celebrate with festivals held throughout the year. Some of the most popular are:
Songkran (April) - Celebrating the Thai New Year, tourists love joining in as you see people armed with water guns and buckets splashing water on everyone.
Loy Krathong (usually November) - When the sun sets on the day of Loy Krathong, people start to float flowers in the waters and lantern balloons float up into the night, taking your breath away.
Phi Ta Khon - Also known as the Ghost Festival, locals in the Dan Sai district dress up in colourful costumes and masks and dance all night.
Hundreds of beaches
Australians flock to southern Thailand for the beaches alone. The tropical humid weather is appreciated, with beautiful waters ready to cool off tourists. Everyone will be able to discover their ‘dream beach’ with research and word of mouth. To start, there are the party beaches of Pattaya, Patong, and Koh Phangan. For those who like to relax in beachside bungalows, Ko Lanta or Prachuap may be your ‘dream beach’.
Fields and jungles
Central Thailand’s Khao Yai National Park is popular for trekking and wildlife observations. If you want to get up high, Doi Inthanon is Thailand’s tallest mountain. It's covered with plenty of beautiful waterfalls. The jungles may not be as ‘wild’ as Africa, but there are elephants, exotic birds, and monkeys about, with hill tribes still living traditionally. There’s an abundance of rice fields making for awesome photos. As one of Thailand’s largest exports, the locals believe their rice is the best in the world.
A country of temples
With approximately 400,000 Buddhist temples scattered around the country, you can’t help but visit at least one temple in Thailand. Know as a wat, they’re usually a collection of buildings, shrines, and monuments surrounded by a wall. The must-see temples in Bangkok are:
- Wat Pha Kaew, the temple of the Emerald Buddha in the Grand Palace grounds
- Wat Pho, the Temple of the Reclining Buddha hosting a golden Buddha, it measures 46m long and 15m high
If you love a good massage, a Thai massage in Thailand is a must. A traditional Thai massage is a deep massage including stretching on the floor. At the end of the massage, you can expect lower stress levels, reduced tension, loosened muscles, high energy levels and improved energy. Not a bad way to start a holiday after a long flight!
Watch Muay Thai boxing
Muay Thai boxing is the most popular spectator sport in the country. You can watch professionals every night of the week use their martial art skills to take on one another. Attracting both locals and tourists, the passion of the fights is matched with the musical and ceremonial pieces accompanying the fight. As the fighters enter the ring the ram muay commences. Ram muay is a personal ritual that looks like a dance, with music providing rhythm for the boxer. One of the best places to watch a fight is the Lumpinee Boxing Stadiums, considered the home of modern Muay Thai.
You can follow the path of our ANZAC’s in Kanchanaburi in three ways.
- Walking over the Bridge over the River Kwai
- Walk through the Hellfire Pass tracks, where Australian Prisoners of War worked
- Visit the Australian-owned Death Railway
Safe Travelling In Thailand
Thailand is a ‘fairly’ safe country to travel in. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t remain self-aware of what is going on around you. Common issues involve theft, scams, and arguments over prices, especially when there is alcohol involved. The food and drink regulations aren’t as tight as in Australia, therefore, take care of what you’re eating and drinking, and choose activities carefully.
Before you arrive:
- Write down the number: 1155. This is an English-speaking number you can use to contact the ‘Tourist Police’. You can also reach ambulance services with this service.
- The quality of Thailand’s hospitals and medical facilities vary and you may not be treated without proof of travel insurance. It’s always a good idea to have your policy details with you at all times.
- Depending on your travel insurance policy, unsupervised items may not be covered. Therefore, keep your day pack with you and lock valuables in the hotel safe.
- Insurance policies don’t always cover all adventure activities in case of injury. If your policy doesn’t include these, ask if it’s possible to be added on for a fee.
Petty crime situations involve theft from hotel rooms, pickpockets, and bag snatchers in crowded areas. It’s best to keep your valuables on you and regularly check on them.
Eat and drink
Tap water isn’t 100% safe everywhere. With the price of sealed bottled water being so cheap, it's a good idea to play it safe and drink bottled water. Just make sure the bottle was sealed before drinking.
7/11, Tesco and smaller convenience stores can be found everywhere. Thai food is a favourite of many Australians but there are some meals prone to food poisoning and gastro issues. When choosing your dish, best practices to use involve avoid eating raw fish, meat, salads and cut fruit as they’re not always washed or may have been washed in unsafe water. If the stall or shop is packed, that’s a good sign.
Mosquitos like the tropical climate of Thailand and you never know when a mozzie bite might give you a nasty disease like Dengue fever. Best practices include:
- Using DEET-based insect repellent regularly
- Selecting accommodation with screens, fans, a/c or mozzie nets.
- Cover your entire body with loose fitting clothing (elephant pants)
A number of animals in Thailand can possibly carry rabies and other fatal diseases, which can spread through bites and scratches. Think twice before petting, playing and feeding animals like dogs, bats, and monkeys.
Thailand’s road safety record doesn’t make for pretty reading. It’s almost as if road rules don’t exist at times. When you’re crossing the road look everywhere, left, right, front and back as the hazards can come from anywhere. Got a green light to go? You still need to check as driving through red lights is a regular occurrence.
There are thousands of motorbike rental shops around the country, eagerly wanting your money. In order to make the deal sweeter for you, they might leave out key safety and legal information. If you have a valid licence, choose a bike and helmet you’re comfortable in and wear protective clothing. It goes without saying, keep to the speed limit and don't drink and drive even if you see others doing so.
Note: if you don’t have a valid licence, you may not be covered by your insurance policy if you have an accident.
The party scene in Thailand is great, headlined with Koh Phangan's Full Moon party. During these large parties, the risk of assault, arrest, theft and injuries increases so don’t get carried away putting yourself in dangerous situations. Homemade cocktail buckets may seem like a good deal. It’s best to avoid them as they have been known to contain insecticides and narcotics. Buy your own drinks to avoid getting your drink spiked and keep track of your friends. The Full Moon party arrivals often involve a boat, make sure you are comfortable with the safety standards of the boat and don’t get on one if it’s overcrowded. Importantly, keep the swimming to the day when you aren’t drinking.
Note: Travel insurance may not cover situations occurring when you’re intoxicated.
The Thai beaches and waters are amazing, especially on an extra hot and humid day. There are plenty of excellent water activities to enjoy, just be aware of scams and safety issues. There have been cases where hire operators often demand cash for damage that wasn’t caused by tourists. Again, safety standards aren’t as tight as in Australia and with potential for severe injuries, take care when on any vehicle in the ocean and cliff jumping.
Australians looking for an adventure and new experiences, Thailand can give you exactly what you need.
Most tropical beaches cater for tourists, but you can find seclusion on some islands. Or you might prefer to head north, where the cuisine is unique and you will pass rural towns among the rolling hills. You really need to discover all corners of this country bordered by Malaysia, Cambodia, Laos and Burma.
Thailand has one time zone (UTC+7). A fun fact, in 1920 Thailand moved forward the clocks by 17 minutes, 56 seconds. This matched the rest of Southeast Asia.
Culture and customs
The Thai culture is shaped by their religion, with 90% of the population being Buddhist. The values they hold highest are respect, self-control and their non-confrontational attitude, which you’ll see in various ways when visiting Thailand.
- The royal family is highly respected, with any disrespect towards them attracting criminal penalties.
- The head, being the highest point of the body, is the most sacred, therefore avoid patting or touching anyone's head. The feet are the least sacred, therefore avoid pointing your feet at people and religious pieces.
- Sanuk! The Thais love to have fun. The more laid back you are, the more authentic your interactions with the locals will be.
- When referring to locals, they are Thai. Example: you met one Thai today, and 10 Thai yesterday.
Words to know
- Sà-wàt-dee kráp: Hello or good evening/morning for males
- Sà-wàt-dee kâ: Hello or good evening/morning for females
- Baai baai: Goodbye
- Chai-yoh: Cheers! (formal)
- Kòp kun: Thank you
- Mai pen rai: Basically no worries!
General travel advice
Best time to visit
November to February is when the climate is cooler and everything is lush. This is when the rainy season has finished, making it the best time to visit.
The weather is hot and humid in most of the country most of the year (there’s always exceptions). Rather than spring, summer, winter, and autumn, Thailand names their seasons hot (Mar - May), cool (Nov - Feb) and rainy (Jun - Oct).
Bangkok is a large city with a network of public transport served by bus and light rail. Tuk tuks are available from 30 baht for shorter trips, always negotiate before you get in. Taxis will be cheaper for longer trips but will take longer due to the traffic. Uber and Grab exist in larger cities. Bus and rail serving long distances are popular for their low cost.
- Thailand is the only country in the region that wasn’t colonised by Europeans in the 19th and 20th centuries.
- On Queen Sirikit’s 83rd Birthday, 136,411 locals participated in the world’s largest bicycle rally.
- 400,000 baht was spent on a wedding ceremony in 1996. For two cats. The record for the world's most expensive pet wedding has since been broken.
- Dialing Code: +66
- Electrical device: 220V with two pins. You’ll need an adaptor.
- National Language: Thai
- Driving: Left side of the road
- Currency: Thai Baht AUD$1 - ~THB29
Visas: Australian citizens can get a tourist visa on arrival for 30 days when arriving by air. If you want to stay longer, you can pre-arrange a visa. If you overstay, the penalties get tougher the longer you overstay.
Tipping: It’s not customary, but it is becoming widespread. 10% of food and drinks is fine (or round up) and 20 baht for porters/concierge. Note: large tips may offend.
The Drinking Age: 20 or over. Although this isn’t heavily regulated, you are breaking the law if you buy alcohol and are under 20 years of age.