After quitting my job and deciding to travel around the world for three months, I flew halfway around the world and started a backpacking adventure in Southeast Asia. One of my first stops in the region was Thailand where I had a budget of only $20 per day!
While Thailand’s beautiful islands, full moon parties, and delicious street food made it an unforgettable trip, there are a few things that I wish I had known beforehand.
Here are my 10 tips for your first trip to Thailand!
You Don’t Need a Visa
If you’re a US citizen traveling to Thailand, you don’t need to apply for a visa. You’ll get one on arrival as long as your passport is valid for at least six months and has two blank pages.
You’ll get a free 30-day visa at the airport or from one of the overland borders. If that’s not long enough for you, it’s possible to apply for a 60-day visa at any Thai embassy before you enter the country.
Read More: How to Expedite Your U.S. Passport Renewal
Check The Weather
Thailand has two distinct seasons that will greatly impact the cost of your trip and what you want to do. If you’re traveling to Thailand on a shoestring and you want to spend as little as possible, plan your trip between May and October.
It’s the country’s monsoon season and when it receives most of its yearly rainfall. The less than perfect weather means you’ll easily pick up excellent deals on flights, accommodation, and activities.
Plus, the rainfall only lasts for a few hours, so your entire day isn’t ruined!
If you want picture perfect weather for island hopping adventures and excellent scuba diving conditions, book your vacation to Thailand during the dry season. From November to April, you can expect high visibility at dive sites, warm temperatures with lower humidity and Thailand’s massive water fight festival, Songkran.
The only downside is that its high season. Airlines increase their prices for flights, hotels, hostels can book out, and there will be large crowds at the top attractions.
Read More: The Ultimate Thailand Travel Guide
Don’t Drink the Tap Water
Thailand’s tap water is not safe to drink – unless you want Delhi belly. Instead, pack a reusable water bottle and fill up at your hotel or the water dispensers in the street.
The dispensers only cost a couple of Baht, and you can fill up one liter at a time!
It’s also a good idea to avoid eating fruits and vegetables that have been washed with tap water. It’s how a lot of people get sick during their trip.
Don’t Ride The Elephants
A few years ago, riding an elephant was on almost every person’s bucket list for Thailand. However, since multiple reports have come out on how cruelly these animals are treated, it’s an activity that must be avoided at all costs.
Luckily, there are elephant sanctuaries in the north of Thailand that are rescuing these animals from the tourist camps and giving them a chance to lead a natural life. Do your research and visit a reputable sanctuary instead.
You can go home knowing that your money has contributed to the conservation and well-being of these creatures and not towards an industry that physically and mentally torments them.
Go Island Hopping
Some of Thailand’s best destinations are the country’s islands in the south. Phuket, Koh Phi Phi, and Koh Pha Ngan are some of the most famous places to visit, but there are plenty of lesser-known gems to discover in between.
However, you’ll want to be strategic about your island hopping itinerary (especially if you’re on limited time) and wrap your head around the ferry system.
Read More: The Ultimate Guide to Island Hopping in Thailand
Buy a Sim Card
While it’s easy to find Wi-Fi at most bars, restaurants, shops, and hotels in Thailand, it’s still a good idea to buy a local sim card once you arrive. You can get a tourist package for 40 days that comes with 3 or 6 GB for between $15 – $25!
It’s a small price to pay to make sure that you’re always connected.
Try the Street Food
Thailand boasts some of the best street food in the world! It only costs a couple of dollars to fill your plate up with massive portions of Phad Thai, sticky rice and mango and Tom Yum Goong!
Paying between $1-3 for a meal is what helped me stick to my $20 backpacking budget. But be warned – Thai food is a different level of spicy! Play it safe and order your dishes mild.
Read More: The Beginner’s Guide to Thai Street Food
Pack Mosquito Spray
Mosquitoes are everywhere in Thailand, especially during the wet season. Before you hop onto your flight, be sure to pack a repellent that is at least 50% deet.
Once you’ve arrived, you can lessen your chances of being bitten by covering up between dusk and dawn. Pack a long-sleeved shirt and a pair of long pants that you can wear during the night.
Respect Thai Culture
In Thailand, the head is considered the most important part of the body. Don’t touch a Thai person on the head; it’s considered very rude and offensive.
Another thing to avoid is pointing with your feet towards a person or an image of Buddha or the King.
Keeping face is also an important part of Thai culture. Raising your voice and getting angry with the locals will get you nowhere.
It’s also against the law to speak negatively about the royal family. If you’re caught criticizing the monarchy, you can face serious jail time.
Pack Clothes for Temple Visits
If you’re planning on visiting any of Thailand’s beautiful temples, you’ll need to have the correct attire. It’s considered disrespectful to show up in clothes that show a lot of skin, and you won’t be allowed to enter.
When packing for your trip, be sure to pack an outfit that will cover your shoulders and knees for temple visits. I’d also recommend bringing along a scarf or a shawl that you can keep in your bag in case you stumble across a temple that you really want to explore!
Read More: The Ultimate Bangkok Travel Guide
Do you have tips for visiting Thailand? Let me know in the comments below!
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You have such a great blog for first timers…thanks so much. I was wondering what you think about waiting to be in Thailand to book my hotels, would that be a good idea ?
Hi Steve! It totally depends on how you want to travel. Some people prefer to have all their accommodations sorted before they go and like having that reassurance, but if you’re doing more of a backpacking trip or wanting to jump around places and see where the day takes you — then it would make more sense to see what you can get the day of.
Hi Kiersten! What a fabulous content you have and seems you were living your life there in Thailand. Agree 100% with the no elephant riding. I had a bad experience in one of the elephant riding attraction center, and this is long before i knew that they mistreated the elephants. Also +1 on knowing the weather beforehand prior to the trip. The weather in Thailand can vary greatly throughout the year and there might be some months travelers need to avoid because the chance of heavy rain is high!
Hi Ariena! Thank you for the kind words. I definitely enjoyed my time in Thailand. And yes — super important to know about ethical animal encounters and which ones are not.