Thailand is a country that is known for their harmonious food dishes, quaint rice paddies, sprawling jungle forests, idyllic villages, stunning coastline, and the devout connection to Buddhism. The country is located in southeast Asia and it boasts a unique mix with the past and modernity.
Tourists can tour the ancient ruins and extravagant temples, or they can step into the busy urban landscape. It is also a country where you can transcend into nature and relax on some of the world’s most beautiful beaches.
ยินดีต้อนรับสู่ประเทศไทย – Welcome to Thailand
Bangkok is the capital of Thailand and it is known for being modern, but still honoring tradition. A few large temples and the Grand Palace are scattered amongst the urban skyline. While contrast is abundant in the streets, you can easily slip into different worlds by just turning the corner. Hidden markets are a unique experience and they are where you will taste some of the best street food. With its bright lights and bold colors, Bangkok is a must-see destination.
Culture and Language
Once known as Siam, Thailand has a long history that starts back in prehistoric times. Ancient civilizations began to form and during the classical period from the 10th to the 14th century, the Khmer ruled the area. Towards the end of the classical period, Tai tribes began to travel southwards, before the Burmese wars in the 16th century. After the war is when Siam began to unify and restore itself.
But Thailand has had its dark days too. The fight for democracy and the power of the military has led to multiple coups throughout the years and they have had issues with dictators. Since the early 1900s, Thailand has experienced periods of democracy and military rule, with the military once again in power and the political struggle returning to a deadlock.
Yet with every challenge, Thailand has become stronger and today, their culture revolves around religion, language, and their monarchy. Often called the “Land of a Thousand Smiles”, Thai people are happy and eager to welcome visitors to their country and share their culture. Visitors to Thailand will find that the majority of the population is deeply ingrained in Theravada Buddhism, which has taught the people deep respect and a connection to their family. National pride is also displayed from playing the national anthem to displaying the national flag.
For visitors, the best way to honor Thai culture and immerse yourself is to show respect. Thai people are forgiving and understand that foreigners may make mistakes and mean no offense. But every mistake is a learning time for tourists to learn to practice proper Thai culture.
Thai is the official language of Thailand. Most of the nationals will speak Thai and English is not common throughout the city. In touristy areas, you may encounter people speaking English, but at the infamous street food stalls, don’t expect English to be spoken. But the language barrier is only part of the experience and with Thai people being very welcoming towards visitors, they are more than willing to do their best to accommodate tourists.
For US citizens who are interested in visiting Thailand, you will not need a tourist visa if you plan on staying less than 30 days. However, you will need a valid US passport and proof of a return ticket. It is also suggested that your passport be valid for 6 months past the date of your departure from Thailand.
If you plan on staying longer than 30 days, you can extend your visa once for another 30 days. In order to extend the visa, you must apply at the office of the Thai Immigration Bureau in Bangkok. The fee to extend your visa is about $60 US dollars.
It is also important that you have proof of funds for the duration of your stay. Just to enter the country, you will need to have about $320 US dollars in cash to prove that you can stay and travel in the country. For families, you will need about $630 US dollars in cash.
For tourists who want to stay longer than 30 days or apply for a 60- or 90-day tourist visa before they arrive in Thailand, the Royal Thai Embassy accepts applications and can assist you with the process. It is very important that you stay in Thailand with a valid visa. If you overstay your visa, you will be charged $16 US dollars for every day that you overstay. That fine must be paid before you will be cleared to exit the country. You also run the risk of being arrested and put in jail for overstaying a visa.
While the visa is one of the most important parts of planning your trip, it is also crucial that you think about your spending budget for the time that you are in Thailand. Thailand is an affordable country to visit and you can make it even more affordable if you are willing to travel on a backpacker’s budget. The most important parts of your budget will include the airfare, accommodation, food, drink, and transportation.
It takes a lot of energy and time to fly to Thailand because it is so far away, which also means that tickets are expensive. Plus, depending on where you live in the United States, multiple connections can increase or decrease your ticket price. Normally, the more connections you make, the less expensive the ticket is going to be, but you’ll have to sacrifice time with long layovers and deal with airport stress for longer. Most flights from Los Angeles to Thailand are about $600 US dollars. However, there is always a range and some flights can cost as little as $400 US dollars, while others are over $1,000 US dollars.
Tourist high season for Thailand runs from November to March, so you will likely see an increase in airline ticket prices during that time. In the off season, like April to June or September to October the weather can be just as nice but have fewer tourists and more affordable airline ticket prices. Planning ahead is also better and booking your airline ticket in advance can save you money. Airlines may also run special deals, which will lower the price of a ticket.
While airline tickets can be quite expensive, you’ll find that Thailand is a world of extremes when it comes to accommodation. You can stay in extremely affordable locations or go all out and stay in extremely expensive resorts. Some hostels can cost as little as $3 US dollars per night, but the average price is $10 US dollars per night. In cities like Bangkok, expect the prices to go up. A hostel in Bangkok may cost $20 US dollars per night.
A nice hotel in Thailand will cost about $70-$100 US dollars and up to $130 US dollars in Bangkok. Hotels may be your typical block style or there are plenty of jungle bungalows too. Nice hotels are expensive, but they shouldn’t break the bank. Luxury resorts and accommodations will drastically increase your budget as they can cost hundreds of dollars per night, if not thousands.
Airbnb is another option to find private accommodations and houses in Thailand and prices can be affordable. Apartments or private rooms may be rented for as little as $20 US dollars per night but expect houses to cost more. However, keep in mind that Airbnb is “illegal” in Thailand. While the law has ruled against the company, it won’t stop you from finding plenty of listings with prices from $20 US dollars to $500 US dollars or more per night. It will be up to you to decide if you want to use Airbnb.
Once you’ve decided on your flight and accommodation, the next most important considerations of your budget are food and drink. Thai food is famous around the world but having authentic Thai food definitely thrills tourists. Similar to the country as a whole, you can experience inexpensive but delicious meals sold by street vendors or stick to pricey, 5-star dining establishments.
Thai food is normally divided by region and most people will say that Northern and Southern Thai food differ from each other. Rice is eaten throughout the country, but in the south Jasmine rise is preferred. In the north, sticky rice is the go-to. Southern food tends to be spicier with thicker curries and full of seafood. In the north, seafood is less common because of the geographic location and they tend to use plenty of vegetables and herbs that are unique to the cooler climate.
Most Thai food is also categories into four parts: boiled dishes (tom), spicy salads (yam), curries (gaeng), and pounded food (tam). Deep fried dishes are popular, as are meats or seafood with noodles and vegetables. Tom yum goong is a spicy shrimp soup, while a milder soup would be tom kha kai or chicken coconut soup. Khao pad is fried rice, while pad thai is the world-famous noodle dish.
Good food doesn’t have to be expensive and one of the most unique experiences to dining at street food stalls. Most tasty dishes in Thailand will cost $1-$6 US dollars if you are sticking to the streets. Restaurants can cost up to $20 US dollars for a meal, while the most prestigious dining locations can cost hundreds of dollars. Most people are happy to spend about $10-$20 US dollars per day on food, if they are not going on a luxury vacation. But you should also expect eating out to cost more in big cities if you are going to fine dining establishments. Resorts are also likely to have their own restaurants, which could be rather pricey.
If you want to get out at night and head for drinks, it’s also important to balance that into your budget. Most drinks in Thailand will cost $1-$3 US dollars. In nicer places, the prices will be higher, but most people are happy with spending $3 US dollars. Sky Bar in Bangkok is a world-famous establishment that gives you an amazing view of the city. But with the reputation, expect to pay about $20 US dollars per drink. A completely unique bar that is half the price, would be The Iron Fairies, which promises a rustic feel. Finally, HOBS is one of Bangkok’s most popular bars where they serve 30 varieties of beer from all over the world. At HOBS a bottle will cost about $9 US dollars.
Overall, Thailand can be extremely affordable or experienced with luxury. Backpackers can spend as little as $25 US dollars per day, but a more comfortable budget would be $50 US dollars per day. If you want a more Westernized experience and stick to the touristy areas, you should expect to spend $100-$150 US dollars per day. Luxury trips to Thailand will costs hundreds or thousands of US dollars per day.
How to Get Around
Thailand isn’t enormous, but it is still big enough that it takes a little planning for you to travel around. Most people will want to travel between destinations and how you travel will affect your overall budget.
For those who are looking to explore more in less time, domestic flights are the way to go. There are 6 international airports in the country, alongside 23 domestic ones so that you can always find a close connection. Domestic flights are also affordable with most tickets costing about $60 US dollars. Air Asia and Bangkok Airways are two popular companies that have domestic routes throughout the country.
If you are willing you take more time to travel to save some money, buses and trains are the best way to go. Trains can cost as little as $0.50 US cents and it will get you to far away locations. If you want to stay in a nicer class on the train, tickets will cost up to $25 US dollars. Third class is affordable and costs about $10 US dollars.
Buses can also transport you throughout the country and tickets will cost anywhere from $0.33 US cents to $3 US dollars for a journey. While local buses are abundant in big cities, some of the smaller islands may lack public transportation. So, when you can’t find a bus, it may be better to look at renting a scooter. Most scooters are very affordable and can be rented for $7-$8 US dollars per day.
If you are traveling within one city from destination to destination, your best transportation options would be a taxi or tuk tuk. Taxis are fairly affordable with a 13-mile ride costing about $5 US dollars. Tuk tuks are a lot less than a taxi, but are generally considered to be less safe, so ride at your own risk.
In Bangkok, they have the Metro and Sky Train, which are the best options to get around. With tickets costing from $0.20 US cents to just over $1 US dollar, you can explore all the street corners with an affordable budget. Walking is also great because its free and gets you out onto the streets to experience the culture and local lifestyle.
Top Places to Visit: Cities
While most think of Bangkok, there are plenty of other cities to visit in Thailand. Here, we will give a brief overview of the top city destinations for tourists.
Bangkok is crowded but it is always on the top of the list for tourists to visit in Thailand. The city is known for their temples, modernity, and food. The Grand Palace and Wat Arun Ratchavararam are two infamous buildings that are a must-see. The Temple of the Emerald Buddha holds a sacred shrine and they worship a reclining Buddha statue. Into the new world, Khaosan Road is popular for shopping and backpacker’s accommodation. From the street food to the markets, there is always something new to encounter in Bangkok.
Closer to nature and located in the northern mountains, Chiang Mai is the perfect area for you to hike, eat, and visit ornate temples. The city is a mix of thrilling sports, night markets, and religious serenity make Chiang Mai a top destination where tourists can get a taste of everything.
Pattaya City rests on the east Gulf coast of Thailand and it was once a small fishing village. But once its beauty was discovered it became a top tourist destination. Today, the beach is lined with high rises, resorts, shopping malls, restaurants, and busy clubs. Often considered to be the Sin City of Thailand, tourists can indulge in fun or relax into nature and dip into the blue water.
The clear waters of Phuket make it a stunning location where tourists flock to get the perfect snapshot. While it is an island, it does belong to Thailand and stands as one of the country’s most popular beaches. Now, the island is filled with luxury accommodations, resorts, spas, and restuarants. Though you can see a glimpse of the past and explore markets in Phuket City.
Located in southern Thailand, Hua Hin has become a resort destination for adventurous tourists. The area, like Pattaya City, was once a small fishing village but then the Thai royal family began to build their summer palaces. Now, the beach is a large draw for people who want to indulge in watersports and luxury vacations.
The emerald green waters make this Thailand island a huge hit with tourists. Koh Tao is known for being laid back and a perfect place to go scuba diving. With beautiful views and relaxation, you’ll fall in love with this little spot of land.
Pai is the best place to relax in nature and where the hustle and bustle of the city fades away. The area is filled with mountains, the Pai canyon, and the Pai hot springs so you can have the best of everything. The night market is also a great place to fill a hungry belly where you’ll find local and international snacks.
Points of Interest
While cities are always fun to explore, you may find that there is a specific point of interest that draws you in for a peek.
Phi Phi Islands
Located in the Krabi province, the Phi Phi Islands are one of the most popular places to visit in Thailand. The sheer cliffs and vibrant greenery rise out of pristine water, which only enhances the natural beauty. There are plenty of hotels, resorts, shops, and restaurants to explore, so be prepared to spend some time exploring the area.
Close to Phi Phi and within the same area, Railay Beach is less crowded but just as beautiful. The same limestone cliffs and jungle backdrop make this beach an absolute stunner. Rock climbers love the area, while animal lovers will enjoy observing the monkeys. For a little relaxation, Railay Beach is perfect.
Khao Yai National Park
Khao Yai National Park is in central Thailand and it is famous for being depicted in the movie, The Beach. The park is filled with waterfalls, grasslands, and forests. A diverse wildlife includes bears, gibbons, elephants, and a variety of birds. With plenty of hikes, you can disappear into nature and experience this World Heritage Site with your own eyes.
Sukhothai Old City
Sukhothai Old City is a small-town north of Bangkok that was once the capital of the country. The land will take visitors back to the past with ruins of ancient temples that can be explored, along with other historical sites. The Chao Phraya River only makes the landscape more beautiful and peaceful so you can relax in the “Dawn of Happiness”.
Ayutthaya is the place to go if you want to see sprawling ancient ruins. The park is filled with old temples, monasteries, and statues, which all lay within 3 rivers. Once the capital of the Kingdom of Siam, visitors can now explore Thailand’s old world and dramatic past.
Throughout all of Thailand are floating markets, which are a sight to behold. With small boats and vibrant colors of goods, the markets are a great way to experience the local lifestyle. Plus, you can indulge in fresh fruit, vegetables, spices, and authentic goods. The floating markets near Bangkok, Amphawa, and Damnoen Saduak are the most popular locations to visit.
Get Out and Go
Thailand is a country with stunning beauty but a strong contrast. The modernity of Bangkok clashes with the quaint villages, while the pristine beaches are a tranquil backdrop. With plenty to do, see, and explore, Thailand is a top destination that will surely take your breath away.