8 main things to know before you travel to Thailand

things to know before traveling to thailand

Sometimes, in major tourist places, temples, airports there are drinking water taps – these are set up by the government and are safe to use. So it’s a good idea to have a reusable bottle with you.At the first glance Bangkok is a city of indescribable chaos – one shouldn’t be surprised seeing a street vendor cooking food right near the entrance to a 5-star hotel, or a car driving through what appears to be a dining street full of people.

Still, Bangkok is a great place to travel to and definitely a fun one for those seeking exotics. Anyone will find something appealing here – from exploring city’s rich culture to experiencing famous bustling nightlife.

But even though Thai are welcoming, smiling and polite people, I always had the feeling that the city is trying to trick me. And it’s quite easy to fall for all the lies around, if you don’t do your research.

Here are some tips from my experience which can help you to stay smart, save some money and problems and return home without a stain on the vacation.

1. Don’t disrespect Buddha and the King

Just don’t.

This is the first thing you are reminded when travel to Thailand (doing or smuggling drugs aside). And for a good reason too – Buddha and the King are considered as national pride and you can be criminally punished for making fun of, or insulting these icons.

By criminally punishing I mean you can literally go to Thai jail which is considered one of the worst places in the world to end up in.

Simply avoid making any funny pictures next to King’s statues and Buddha figures and avoid sitting with legs pointing at Buddha.

2. Watch out for scams

I’m not sure if it’s how I look, or every foreigner gets the same treatment, but somehow I got too much attention from local scammers, who offer all kinds of good “deals” which of course are only targeted to strip you from money.

A rule of thumb is simple – if someone is asking you “where are you from”, “where are you going”, or is offering to show you good places without you asking for it, say “no, thank you”, or lie your way out. Imagine a country and a name, or say you’re just walking around and don’t need a help. Most importantly, don’t engage – as soon as you involve yourself in the conversation these people will talk you into buying anything.

Here are the most popular scams to watch out for:

The temple is closed today scam

A very popular and complicated scheme involving several people, which starts by someone approaching you and asking where are you going. After you mention a popular attraction the person says “what a pity, today is a national holiday/Buddha day and the temple is closed until afternoon”, which is a lie. Don’t trust it – temples are open every day.

After this you will get offered to see other places instead and the tuk tuk driver that appeared suddenly will take you to those. Some of these are popular tourist locations (so you don’t get suspicious from the start), but one of the stops will be a tailor, or a gem shop that fortunately has a season sale ongoing with good prices. Along the way you will “randomly” meet a person who happened to buy a suit or gems just recently. In reality, the shop you will stop at will have very persuasive and active salesmen and it’s quite hard to walk out not buying anything from there.

Boat cruise or floating market scam

During your visit you will most probably get many offers from people on the street to get a river cruise or a floating market tour at a good price. Watch out for these – the tour itself may be very nice and cheap indeed, but at the end the captain will stop 100 meters from the pier and won’t go anywhere unless you pay 1,000 baht. Since the only opportunity to get to land is by swimming, people usually pay the requested amount ending up overpaying and leaving with bad memories.

Tuk tuk scam

A very popular scam which can be easily overseen in city’s chaos. The driver will offer you a very cheap price (around 40 baht) to get to your destination on the condition that you will visit his friend’s shop on the way. Just avoid these offers, as you will be driven to a shop with very strong and persuasive salespeople who will make you buy something you don’t need and overpriced and won’t let you out easily.

Tuk tuk scams are very popular in Bangkok
Tuk tuk scams are very popular in Bangkok

3. Beware of petty crime

Bangkok is considered quite a safe city (in case you don’t walk around much late at night in deserted places). Yet still some minor crime, like pickpocketing gangs, exists. It mostly happens in touristic locations and in general in places with many people – just constantly take care of your belonging and don’t let anyone distract you.

In Bangkok there’s also a growing popularity of bag snatchers who approach people while driving a motorbike and steal their bags in an instant. For this the only advice would be not to carry a bag on the road side and for ladies not to take any fancy purses when going out to explore the city – you may never know where these snatchers will approach you.

4. Use bank cards and the Internet

Unless you are buying souvenirs on the street, it’s always better to use a bank card for payment instead of paying cash. First, you won’t pay 180 baht (around 4-5 EUR) on top of your bank charges for withdrawing money from the ATM several times (this is the case for any ATM in Thailand) and second, you avoid being tricked.

Whenever you pay the full amount in cash, you won’t be able to get it back in case you’re scammed – the seller won’t return you the money and the police won’t speak anything but Thai.

When booking tours, I always give priority to those that use PayPal as a means of payment – with this you’re always protected from those who take the money, but don’t provide the service at all. In Phuket, for instance, some dishonest tour companies don’t provide the service reasoning that when they came to pick you up, but you were not there. With PayPal, in this case, you can always notify the administration and receive your money back eventually.

Check reviews

Using the Internet to check if the seller or a tour company is credible is a very good habit as well. When traveling around Thailand always do that, even if you believe that the company looks honest. I had experience when the salesperson and the company looked very credible, but there were a lot of reviews saying that the company did not show up for the tour and won’t return the money already paid.

Also, if you are asked to buy something on the spot (for instance, the price offered is very cheap), try to ask for wifi to “check your bank account status”, but use it to search for reviews and check if it’s not a scam instead.

5. Familiarize yourself with the traffic

Bangkok has the traditional Southeast Asia’s hectic driving style which is much different from the West. To begin with, the driving is on the other side of the road and to make things worse, the traffic goes to any direction: forward, backward and even sideways. So, if you’re a pedestrian in this city, you have my sympathy.

It gets better as soon as you get used to it and stop thinking of cars as 2-tonne death balls. If you want to cross the road – don’t look for pedestrian crossing sign (they don’t work anyway). Simply start crossing wherever you need, but do it slowly – that way cars and motorbikes coming at you will gently drive around you (kind of like water flowing around the stone). Also if you are walking through a crowded place, or where there is no pedestrian pathway don’t be shy to use the road – in the end cars are not trams, they can go around you.

Yet still, when walking around, make sure you look in all directions before crossing: left, right, front, back. You may never know if there’s no motorbike standing behind you and waiting to cross the street.

Be creative use alternative means of transport
Be creative use alternative means of transport

6. Haggle

Haggle hard. Remember that almost everything is negotiable and even if the price is listed it is only for indicative purposes. A good sign that the price is quoted too high is when you ask a salesperson about it and he doesn’t reply right away (probably calculating in his head the amount he can fool you for).

I came to a conclusion that the best strategy is to offer a ridiculously cheap price in return (often less than 30%) and then haggle from there. In case you don’t reach the agreement you at least will know the approximate “actual” selling price and will be able to haggle from that with the next vendor. Don’t be afraid to walk away not buying anything – sometimes it’s a good trick and the salesperson will follow you and agree to your price in the end.

In any case, you will see that most of the salesmen are providing more or less the same stuff and you may only need to walk another 10-20 meters to find the exact same thing you are looking for. The only difference will be that you will know the approximate real price already and can even refer to it during negotiation.

7. Check out transport possibilities

This is mostly related to big cities, like Bangkok that have big and developed public transport network. Sometimes you do need to switch means of transport to get where you want to, though.

For example, the city’s futuristic skytrain and MRT system will get you to most of places in the city center and also to Bangkok’s main airport. But if you want to visit the old city (to see temples, mainly), or go somewhere outside the city you can’t do that so easily. In such cases tourists are usually suggested to take taxis and for a good reason. Taxis are cheap and efficient, but drivers almost never speak English and sometimes won’t use the meter, resulting in an overpaid amount.

Tuk tuks are a good alternative to taxis, but the fare is always negotiable and will be higher than the one you would pay in the metered taxi. The advantage is, of course, experiencing Bangkok’s iconic means of transportation and the fact that tuk tuks rarely follow the traffic rules. Don’t be afraid if they will go in the opposite lane and out to smaller, poorly-lit streets – that’s just how they can get you to your destination faster.

For travelling outside the city the best way is to use the taxi, although in some cases hot and steamy buses and minibuses are available as well.

Use alternative means of transport

The trick to not overpay and still see some culture is to use canal boats for transport. It’s a fun and cheap way of getting around the city and seeing the real life of people in Bangkok at the same time. You can take a smaller “ferry” while going through city’s canal network and the bigger “ferry” to travel on Chao Praya river. The latter can be even used as a substitute to a river tour.

public boats are good alternative to taxies
public boats are good alternative to taxies

8. Drink only bottled water

One of the cornerstones of keeping you healthy is not to drink anything but bottled water, which is very cheap in Thailand. If you don’t believe me, just check out what people are throwing in the river and think of how it is possible to get clean water from the tap in such environment. To me it’s impossible for a small businesses like restaurants and cafes. So I always make sure I get closed bottled water when I need it (and not a refilled one).

Sometimes, in major tourist places, temples, airports there are drinking water taps – these are set up by the government and are safe to use. So it’s a good idea to have a reusable bottle with you.

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