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12 Things I wish I knew before visiting Thailand

More than 30 million people visit Thailand every year and that number keeps growing. Subsequently, the number of articles, videos, and other content about Thailand keeps increasing. You’ll find a lot of articles online with tips for your holiday in Thailand from people that believe they share intimate knowledge about Thailand, when in fact, they barely scratched the surface. Even if you think you know everything one should know before visiting Thailand, this country will still always find a way to surprise you. It might appear western on the surface but deep down, Thailand is very Asian. It’s quite enigmatic.

I’m not writing this article to tell you how to spend your holiday in Thailand and I don’t claim to be some kind of a travel-to-Thailand guru. You should spend your holiday in Thailand the way you want to. Just keep in mind that Thailand really can be a paradise but it can also be a disappointing place filled with drunk foreigners, tourists scams, and false promises. That’s why you should have an idea of what to expect before you arrive in Thailand (and also know which things you shouldn’t do). Here are some things to know before visiting Thailand.

Don’t always go for cheap deals

things to know before visiting thailand
Being the tourist heaven that it is, a lot of outbound tourist agencies on the internet will offer deals that might seem very cheap at a first glance. Even though some of these offers seem more than affordable, the cost of living in Thailand is relatively low and if you’re good at managing your budget, more often than not, you can spend even less if you organize your holiday by yourself. I would also suggest you to.

Avoid all-inclusive accommodations

things to know before visiting thailand
There are so many places in Thailand where you can have mouth-watering, dirt-cheap food and you’ll be missing out if you go for an all-exclusive.
Talking about things to know before visiting Thailand, I have to tell you that an all-inclusive package in Thailand is like a flight to Venice that comes with a car rental. Not only do you not need this but you’ll actually be missing out if you take this offer. Instead, go to the street markets, find a place with no windows and walls, filled with locals and try it out. You won’t regret it. So, if you ask me, I’d just book a hotel (accommodation is relatively cheap in Thailand) and plan my own meals.

One thing I struggled with in the beginning was the breakfast. Thai people don’t have what you’d call a traditional breakfast. Most of them start their day with a full meal. That’s why traditional breakfasts in Thailand are relatively expensive and tourist-oriented. Many times, my western breakfast ended up costing more than my lunch. As you’re starting to see…

Dining in Thailand is very different from what you might be used to

dining in Thailand
First of all, if you want to be polite, you should eat off the spoon, not the fork. Use your fork to push the food onto the spoon.

Next, when you’re dining out with friends, it’s not ’what are you having’ but ’what are we having’. In Thailand, everyone shares the food which you ordered. Before ordering, everyone at the table agrees on a selection of meals to share. It’s awesome because you get to have a mini buffet at the table and you can never regret making a poor meal choice because there are more options. Another thing I noticed in a restaurant was that…

Thai people are very fast-paced and expect you to be too

thailand street
This came as a culture shock for me because before coming to Thailand, I spent a year living in India, where things are done in the slowest way possible. I was expecting a similar way of doing things in Thailand too but I was wrong. When I took a little more to make a decision about an order in a restaurant or even at the market I could see the look on the employee’s face. It was kind of embarrassing. Another thing that you should also know about Thais is that…

People aren’t used to standing in lines

Thai people don’t like standing in lines at all. Instead of queuing up, you’ll see people forming a crowd in many places. And when they absolutely have to line up, they’ll place their shoes in the queue and sit somewhere nearby.

It’s important to stand your ground, avoid arguments, and get used to the lack of personal space and the Thai way of doing things. After all, you are in Thailand and not back home.

The most famous places can be the most disappointing ones

beach crowded
If you’re a seasoned traveler, you might not like places like Phuket, Pattaya, and Koh Samui. These are hyper-touristic places that often bring up the worst of Thailand. Such places have zero authenticity, are completely westernized, and very expensive. All that is fine but they are being marketed as if they are not. A lot of people come here with high expectations and get disappointed. That’s exactly what happened to me when I visited Phi Phi Island.

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Instead of going for these touristy destinations, get off the beaten track in Thailand and head to the Northeast. The Issan Region which is the least visited region in the country might not have pretty beaches like some other places in Thailand but it’ll give you the real authentic slice of Thailand.

Also, take note that Chiang Mai is not a sleepy mountain town. Maybe it was once upon a time but not anymore. Today, it’s one of Thailand’s largest cities with dense traffic, busy night markets, haze, and a lot of con artists, just like Bangkok. It’s still a pretty town but don’t expect too much. While we’re at the topic of typical touristy things to do, you should also.

Avoid elephant rides or so-called sanctuaries with wild animals

avoid elephant rides
I know you want to document your exotic trip to Thailand and have a nice picture of you riding an elephant or hugging a drugged tiger. Don’t. Stay away from places that keep wild animals captive and limit their freedoms. You might not be informed but trust me, if you see how these animals are treated “behind the scenes”, you won’t want to have anything to do with these places. If you want to learn more about this, check out one of my previous articles about the truth about riding elephants. And since I’m talking about avoiding things.

Avoid massage parlors with “girls” in their name

common tourist scams in Southeast Asia
First-time visitors just can’t get enough of Thai massages and I really can’t blame them. Nothing can help you recover after a long day like a Thai massage and some of the parlors are so cheap, it’s ridiculous. However, you shouldn’t just walk into any massage parlor. If you see a massage studio with names like “Nice girls” or “Happy Girls”, I would recommend you to skip it. That is, unless you’re searching for a brothel.

Don’t trust taxi/tuk-tuk drivers

thai tuk tuk
I’m not talking about them over-charging you. I think that bargaining before getting into a tuk-tuk is common sense and I shouldn’t even discuss it here. I’m talking about a situation in which you’re walking down the road looking for a tourist attraction you want to visit which you know it’s nearby and a tuk-tuk driver who’s trying to convince you that “the monument is closed today” and that he knows a better place.

The monument isn’t closed 99% of the time. If you agree to go with the driver, they’ll take you to their friend’s jewelry shop, their friend’s boutique, their friend’s souvenir shop, and when they see you’re getting tired, they’ll take you to a restaurant. It’ll be an expensive restaurant and there won’t be any other places to eat nearby. This is one of the most common scams in Southeast Asia. And since I mentioned scams, let me tell you.

How not to waste money every time you go to the ATM

thailand travel tips

In my opinion, one of the most important things to know before visiting Thailand is the fact that ATMs in this country use Dynamic Currency Conversion. In case you didn’t know Dynamic Currency Conversion (DCC) happens when an ATM machine converts the local currency to the currency you have in your ATM card. That’s why every time you go to the ATM, there will be a pop-up saying “continue with conversion”. Most foreigners are in a rush when they go to the ATM and they just click O.K. without knowing that they can choose the option “continue without conversion”.

Keep in mind that every time you go ahead with the DCC, you lose 11-12% of the transaction’s value. That’s a huge cost. Every time you go to the ATM to withdraw 10,000 baht you are effectively losing 1,100 baht if you don’t choose the skip option. That’s enough money for food for a week, if not more! Do not accept the ATM’s conversion rate. If you want to save even more money.

Consider visiting around April

thailand beaches
Some people might tell you April is the worse time of the year to visit Thailand. The humidity is ridiculously high which means you might have to pack a few extra items for your Thailand trip but the rainy season still didn’t start and there aren’t many tourists around. That means everything is cheaper, including the airfare and hotel rates. It’s so cheap that you won’t have to stay in hostels to save money. Talking about hostels.

In Thailand, every hostel is also a travel agency

Well, not in the traditional sense of the word but they can arrange anything you want them to. It’s a great way for them to earn some extra money. Most of them even have restaurants and this makes them a true one-stop-shop. This is great because you don’t have to spend time searching for tourist agencies and planning activities. You can do everything at your hostel. Sure, they’ll charge a small, invisible fee for this service but they’ll never rip you off.

On the other hand, activities such as trekking, snorkeling, diving, rafting, etc. are surprisingly expensive compared to Cambodia, Vietnam (check out some affordable resorts here), and even Malaysia. This can make your trip a lot more expensive, so keep this in mind when you’re planning your budget.

Enjoying this post? Then you’ll surely like this post featuring things I wish I knew before visiting Cambodia.

Did you know that the official year in Thailand is 2561?

thai new year
Since the mid-20th century, Thailand officially accepted the western New Year as a public holiday but the real Thai New Year happens between 13th and 15th of April. The festival is called Songkran and the reference point is the birth of Buddha (543 B.C.). This means that currently, it’s not 2018 in Thailand. It’s 2561. This is another good reason to visit Thailand in April. There will be a lot of colorful events, parties, and the most insane water fight you ever saw.

The best-dressed woman in a given public area is probably a ladyboy

ladyboys things to know before visiting thailandWhen talking about things to know before visiting Thailand there are a lot of things that can be said about ladyboys. One of them is that This is that the best-dressed woman in a given public area is probably a ladyboy. This is not an insult to Thai women, who by the way are absolutely beautiful. It’s rather a compliment to the styling of ladyboys. My theory about this is as follows: when a guy gets drunk and is looking for some action, he’ll inevitably notice a woman who’s dressed up and approach her. Many drunk foreigners make this mistake and wake up with regrets the next morning.

Finally, don’t say a single word about the king


Questions about the history of Thailand will be welcome and lead to a nice conversation but do not interject your own opinion about the royalty, even when someone asks you about it. In Thailand, there are defamation laws against speaking or even writing improperly about the royal family. The royal family united the country through multiple difficult political situations in the past and they are seen as their own family by Thai people.

Useful resources for visiting Thailand

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For budget accommodation options in Thailand, this Booking discount coupon can get you 15% off. Need something more fancy? No problem- book three nights at all Radisson hotels in Thailand and get one night for free with this coupon.

Get 15% off on all car rentals in Thailand with my AutoEurope coupon.

To save on all bus, train or ferry rides in Thailand, use 12goasia and save up to 15% (for more info check out our 12go Asia review here).

Check whether you need a Thai visa on IVisa. If you do, you can apply and get one for only $15. For more info about iVisa, check out our review of this company.

Finally, use this World Nomads coupon to get a great travel insurance deal.

Did you ever visit Thailand? What do you think about this guide to visiting Thailand on a budget? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Have you ever been to Thailand? Do you think there are some more things to know before visiting Thailand that are worth mentioning? Did you like my list of things I wish I knew before visiting Thailand? Let me know in the comments!

things to know before visiting Thailand
things to know before visiting thailand
things to know before visiting thailand


Tuesday 8th of November 2022

Very informative and great tips, I am glad I read this before booking a holiday. I have never been to Thailand before, so great advise. Not sure what to do now for booking. Thank you.

Passport Symphony

Monday 21st of November 2022

thank you Claudine, I'm glad you enjoyed the post and I hope you have a great time in Thailand. Please feel free to check out our other Thailand content where you can find a lot more information about booking accommodation, tours, flights, etc.

Carla Sosa

Thursday 21st of March 2019

I would add the fact that Thailand is not credit card friendly, I had no idea about this, every time you want to pay with your credit card they have to add 3 to 4% and not many places take them =(. Great article by the way! hugs from Canada =)

Passport Symphony

Saturday 30th of March 2019

You're right, Carla! I don't know if banks offer this in Canada but some US and EU banks issue credit cards that one can use abroad without paying commission in exchange for a yearly fee. Thank you for stopping by and commenting :)

Archana Singh

Monday 7th of January 2019

These are such good and practical tips for someone visiting Thailand for the first time. Thai food is one of my favourites and i would never miss that mouth-watering, dirt-cheap food for an all-exclusive package in Thailand. I love going by the flow and exploring offbeat nuggets. So, this is exactly what i do.

Passport Symphony

Tuesday 8th of January 2019

Thank you, Archana- I'm glad you think that :)

Emilio Marcos Sierra

Sunday 6th of January 2019

My girlfriend is Thai so I spend a lot of time in Thailand. Since August 2017, I have spent about 8/9 months of my life there so have come very accustomed to the traditions and culture. Honestly, your article is spot on and fantastic! About the elephant riding, I could not agree more! I have met so many people who try and show me their picture and say "I don't know how they're so calm to let you ride them." This ignorance really annoys me. I am a huge believer in banning elephant riding and volunteered at sanctuaries in Chiang Mai! Loved loved your article

Passport Symphony

Tuesday 8th of January 2019

Thank you, Emilio- I really appreciate it and I'm glad to hear you liked this post.

Parnashree Devi

Sunday 6th of January 2019

This is such an impressive post. I have been to Thailand twice so far and completely agree with you on each point, especially the Tuk Tuk driver fact. My last visit to Thailand was in April and I can see a sea change in terms of tourists during that time. Its always a better to travel in off seasons and offbeat places to explore in your own pace. Just wondering about your comment on the slowest part in India. I believe that India is not the country where you life moves slowly.

Passport Symphony

Tuesday 8th of January 2019

Thank you, Parnashree. As for the comment about India, I was mostly referring to the concept of Indian time and not being able to do things on time (ex. it took 3 weeks to legally verify my stay in India, it took a week to open a bank account, buses/trains are often late etc.)