Thailand Vacation

Tips and Essentials to Help You Plan the Perfect Vacation in Thailand

Elephant is Going Home
Photo by Obbchao / Getty Images

The secret is out: Thailand is a beautiful, affordable destination — even for short trips. Although a Thailand vacation sounds exotic, expensive, and potentially out of reach, getting there is easier than you think. Each year, millions of travelers enjoy all that Thailand has on offer.

How Much Will a Trip to Thailand Cost?

A vacation in Thailand can be as inexpensive as a trip to California, Hawaii, the Caribbean, or the usual top destinations for Americans. It may even cost less!

A large number of Thailand's annual international arrivals are budget travelers who get by on less than US $900 for a month in Southeast Asia. You may opt for a bit more luxury on a shorter trip. The good news is that traveling in Thailand scales easily; tourism is well developed. You can find beach accommodation for $10 per night or $300 per night — the choice is yours.

Airfare is obviously the largest upfront cost. But finagling a deal is possible with a little trickery. Use domestic carriers to get yourself to LAX or JFK, then book a separate ticket to Bangkok. Splitting a ticket between two carriers could save you hundreds of dollars!

Once on the ground in Thailand, the currency exchange and cost of living difference quickly compensate for the cost of the airfare. The downside? Circling the globe to Asia will consume a full day (each direction) of your vacation time.

Take a Tour or Plan an Independent Trip?

Although organized tours in Asia may seem the quick-and-easy solution, you can save money by just organizing transportation and activities once you are already on the ground. Doing so is very easy in Thailand — and, no, the language difference won't present any problems. Pretty well everyone who works with tourists will speak good English.

You'll find numerous travel agencies in tourist areas. Simply walk in, tell the person behind the counter where you want to go, and minutes later you'll be holding a bus/train/boat ticket. Commissions charged are trivial.

In the rare event that a travel agent can't be found, the reception at your hotel will gladly book tickets for you.

When Is the Best Time to Visit Thailand?

Weather differs a bit by region, but generally Thailand's driest months are between November and April. Even during the low/rainy season in Thailand, you'll enjoy days of sunshine. Activities and accommodation are easier to negotiate during the low-season months, too.

You may wish to time your Thailand vacation around one of the many big festivals. At least make sure that you are aware — missing an exciting event by just a day or two is very frustrating!

Do You Need Vaccinations for Thailand?

Although no specific vaccinations are required for Thailand, you should get the general ones recommended for all international travelers in Asia.

Hepatitis A and B, typhoid, and a TDap (for tetanus) are the most common jabs international travelers go for — all are good investments.

You will not need rabies, yellow fever, or Japanese encephalitis vaccinations for a regular vacation in Thailand. The same applies for anti-malarial drugs. There is a relatively low risk of contracting malaria in Thailand, especially if you aren't spending extended amounts of time in the jungle.

The biggest risk in Thailand is dengue fever. Until the new vaccination being tested becomes more available, your best defense is to do what you can to avoid mosquito bites.

Zika (another mosquito-borne illness) is not a big threat in Thailand.

What to Pack for Thailand?

Between the expansive malls in Bangkok and outdoor markets in Chiang Mai, you'll have no shortage of cheap shopping opportunities. Leave room in your luggage: you'll definitely want to take home some unique finds! Pack less clothing and plan to buy an outfit or two there.

Buy as much as you can locally to help merchants who need the income more than Western CEOs. Why carry an umbrella 8,000 miles if you can buy one for $2 if it rains?

There are a few things you'll want to bring from home for your trip to Thailand. But beware of the #1 mistake most travelers in Asia admit to making: packing too much.

The Money in Thailand

ATMs are literally everywhere in Thailand; they often compete for space! That's because it's big business: fees have skyrocketed to US $6-7 per transaction (on top of whatever your bank charges).

When using ATMs in Thailand, request the maximum amount each time. Sometimes breaking large denominations can be a challenge. Experienced travelers know to ask for 5,900 baht rather than 6,000 baht — that way they get some smaller denominations, too.

As usual, exchanging U.S. dollars is an option. Mastercard and Visa are widely accepted at malls and larger hotels/restuarants, however, you may be charged an additional commission when paying with plastic. Identity theft is a growing problem, so opt for paying in cash whenever possible.

Haggling is a part of Thai culture, and you should bargain playfully for purchases such as souvenirs and clothing — even in malls. Accommodation and activities can be negotiated, but always keep in mind the rules of saving face. Never haggle for food, drinks, or items with standardized prices.

Tipping is not the norm in Thailand, although there are some rare exceptions. Even if your intentions are good, leaving a tip accelerates cultural mutation and inflates prices for locals.

Prices displayed always include tax. On large purchases, you can request a GST refund as you exit Thailand. Sometimes a service charge may be added to restaurant bills.

Where to Go in Thailand?

Most travelers arrive in Bangkok, but there are plenty of beautiful destinations farther afield.

  • The Thai Islands: No Thailand vacation is complete without visiting at least a couple of the beautiful islands. Thailand gets very narrow in the middle, so you'll have some great island options in the Andaman Sea (west side) and the Gulf of Thailand (east side). Some islands are small enough for only simple bamboo-bungalow accommodation, while others have more than one Starbucks!
  • Chiang Mai: Thailand's northern capital is a favorite for many visitors. It's just a bit more manageable and walkable than Bangkok. The vibe is inarguably different, and positive. Good food, outdoor markets, Lanna culture, and $6 massages are all great reasons to grab a low-cost flight or train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai.
    • Pai: Located around four hours north of Chiang Mai and surrounded by green hills, Pai has transformed in recent years from a quiet, "hippie" village into a major tourist destination. Despite the extra visitors, Pai retained much of its riverside charm. Organic farms and food, surprisingly good nightlife, and yoga/holistic workshops are all great reasons to visit.
    • Ayutthaya: Just a two-hour train ride north of Bangkok, Thailand's former capital is the place to enjoy culture and cycle through ancient temple ruins. You'll often be the only person in a centuries-old temple!
    • Railay: Thailand's rock climbing epicenter isn't just for climbers anymore. The impressive limestone scenery is amazing. But even if you prefer feet on the ground, the powdery sand and isolation (Railay is only accessible via boat) will make you feel as though you're on an island.

    What to Expect on a Thailand Vacation

    Make no mistake: Thailand has changed in recent years. The government has undergone major changes, and widely loved King Bhumibol finally passed away. Regardless, Thailand is as open for tourism as ever. Bangkok has won the title as most visited city in the world for foreign arrivals many years in a row — even beating out New York City and London!

    The tourism infrastructure in Thailand is well established. They've had a lot of practice at accommodating visitors with all budgets and trip durations. But as with many top destinations, things are creeping decidedly upscale as older businesses are demolished in favor of hotel chains.

    Thai food is famous around the world for a good reason: it's tasty! Forget the myth that all Thai food is spicy — most restaurants will ask or allow you to add your own spice.

    There is plenty of nightlife to be enjoyed in Thailand. The cost of a large domestic beer averages $2-3. From epic beach parties to drinking sessions with locals, only a few specific areas are as seedy as is often depicted on television.

    You'll never have to worry about a language barrier; English is spoken in all tourist destinations.

    Thailand is a Buddhist country. You will inevitably end up encountering monks and visiting impressive temples. Don't expect Hollywood's depiction of a Buddhist monk: the monks in Thailand often have smartphones!

    Thailand is a very safe destination. Crime, aside from the usual petty theft, is rarely ever a problem for foreign visitors. Tourism is big business, and Thais will often go out of their way to help you enjoy their beautiful country.

    You can greatly enhance your trip by learning how to say hello in Thai before you go. Also, you should know a few dos and don'ts in Thailand to avoid being "that" tourist who ruins a good thing!