Thailand Travel for First-Timers

Discover how to make the most of your first visit to the Land of Smiles with this comprehensive Thailand guide. Let us help you plan your dream vacation from stunning beaches to vibrant cities.

by Oak Mahavan·Mon 22 Jan 2024

What Makes Thailand Special?

Thailand is a popular destination among travelers from all around the world. Thanks to its central location in Southeast Asia, varied landscape, and rich culture, it offers something for everyone. Known as “The Land of Smiles,” Thailand boasts warm tropical weather, delicious cuisine, vibrant culture, and friendly locals. Thai hospitality is renowned, with affordable luxury and a relaxed, easy-going wellness mindset called “sabai sabai.” If you’re planning your first trip to Thailand, this travel guide will help you prepare for an unforgettable adventure.

Where Are the Best Places to Visit in Thailand?

Thailand has a lot of amazing things to see and do. Chiang Mai, Bangkok, Phuket, and Pattaya are popular tourist spots with plenty of activities and entertainment. 

The best places to visit in Thailand will vary per traveler, but favorite lists often include:

Best things to do in Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai, known as the “Rose of the North”, is a city located in northern Thailand. It is the second-largest city in the country and has become a popular destination for travelers. The city’s smaller size, proximity to nearby mountains, delicious northern Thai cuisine, and rich Lanna heritage make it a favorite among many. The culture of Chiang Mai is unique, as it is a blend of Myanmar, Laos, the Xishuangbanna “Yunnanese” region, various hill tribes, and the local Lanna kingdom, setting it apart from other Thai regions. Chiang Mai offers a mix of culture, city life, and outdoor activities, creating a very relaxing pace compared to Bangkok and Phuket. Visitors can enjoy a variety of activities, including:

Visiting Temples

Exploring the magnificent temples of Thailand can be a truly awe-inspiring experience. If you happen to be in the vicinity, you should definitely visit some of the most iconic ones, such as Wat Phra Sing, Chedi Luang, and Doi Suthep. Additionally, if you have the chance, make sure to check out the Twin Pagodas located at the mountaintop Doi Inthanon National Park, also known as “The Roof of Thailand” (as shown in the photo above).

Nature Hikes

Escape the city and hike in the hills with Chiang Mai’s big hiking community or take a trip to Doi Inthanon, Thailand’s highest peak.

Experience Lanna Culture

Lanna was an ancient state in northern Thailand known as “the land with a million paddy fields.” The Lanna artistic culture, mainly associated with Theravada Buddhism, flourished between the 14th and 19th centuries. Influenced by Mon’s Theravada Buddhism and Pala & Singhalese styles of Indian art, Lanna’s aesthetic design was greatly modified.

Thai Khantoke Dinners

Experience a unique and affordable Khantoke dinner and cultural show in northern Thailand, unlike anything found in central and southern Thailand.

Best Things to Do in Bangkok

Bangkok is a bustling cosmopolitan city that offers everything a modern metropolis should and more. It is highly regarded as a food lover’s paradise and an immersive sensory experience. Though it’s a fast-paced environment, there’s an abundance of exciting vacation experiences to choose from. Some of the top activities to consider include:

Do a Bangkok Street Food Tour

Discover the culinary delights of Bangkok, one of the world’s foodie capitals, with a focus on the famous Chinatown “Yaowarat” and Talat Phlu “Ban Tad Thong” district. A street food tour is an excellent way to experience a wide variety of local cuisine while also enjoying lunch or dinner. The street food culture in Bangkok is highly valued as the recipes have been passed down from generation to generation. The Bangkok street food scene has been recognized by Michelin guides and reviews.

Hungry for some Thai cuisine? Bangkok is the world’s street food capital

Take a River Cruise along The Chao Phraya

Enjoy the city lights of Bangkok on a Chao Phraya River night cruise, especially with a special someone during a dinner cruise.

Bangkok for The Adrenaline Addicts

If you’re feeling adventurous, you should definitely check out the MahaNakhon Skywalk. However, be warned that the observation deck is located 314 meters above the ground, so it’s not for the faint-hearted!

Bangkok is a bustling metropolis that offers a plethora of attractions to keep you entertained. It’s no surprise that most travelers begin their Thailand vacation here before exploring other regions. In fact, Bangkok has consistently been ranked among the top travel cities in the world for years, and once you visit, you’ll understand why it’s so highly regarded.

Best Things to Do in Phuket

Phuket is the largest and most famous island in Thailand, known for being a top-rated destination for families and party-goers alike, with its sun, sand, and great range of hotels, resorts, and water-based activities. It boasts some of the best beaches in Thailand, offers great food, and is home to lively clubs and bars for those who want to party, but it also allows for plenty of opportunities to unwind. If you’re planning a trip to Phuket, here are some activities you might want to consider:

Explore Phang Nga Bay on a Kayak or Tour Boat

Ao Phang Nga Bay is an absolutely stunning destination with lush greenery and is arguably the most beautiful location in all of Thailand. If you’re in Phuket, make sure not to miss the chance to go kayaking or boating through the vast sea caves!

Snorkeling in Phang-Nga Bay

Phuket has some excellent snorkeling activities that are both affordable and enjoyable. The great thing about this activity is that you’re experiencing marine life in its natural habitat.

Nightlife at Bangla Road near Patong Beach

At night, the road is lined with diverse entertainment options that make it one of the best nightlife destinations in the world. You can find everything from jazz cafes and disco clubs to Russian-owned bars, legal cannabis cafes, go-go bars, live music venues, and video game cafes. This street has something for everyone, and it’s no wonder why people from all over the world come here for a unique experience.

Best Things to Do in Pattaya

Pattaya is a popular tourist destination in Thailand, situated just south of Bangkok. The city is well-known for its vibrant nightlife scene and the world-famous Tiffany Show Pattaya, featuring ladyboy performers. Besides its nightlife, Pattaya is also a great seaside location with a beautiful beach. Moreover, you can expect to enjoy incredible seafood in Pattaya.

Best Things to Do in Koh Samui

Many travelers and publications frequently refer to Koh Samui as the top island in Thailand. It’s a heavenly island that you simply cannot afford to miss! Expect to indulge in a wide array of incredible seafood delicacies in Koh Samui, and witness some truly breathtaking sunsets. The locals in Koh Samui exude a laid-back vibe that is very welcoming. If you’re looking for a place that is not too touristy, consider exploring the provinces and cities located in eastern Thailand.

Boating Around Koh Phi Phi Leh

Consider taking a boat tour to the nearby island of Koh Phi Phi Leh. This island is famous for its stunningly beautiful beaches and clear blue waters. You may recognize the incredible scenery from the movie “The Beach,” starring Leonardo DiCaprio.

Samui Elephant Sanctuary

Samui Elephant Jungle Sanctuary (EJS) is a safe and nurturing space for elephants, backed by the Tourism Authority of Thailand (awarded Best Animal Welfare Award) and Asian Captive Elephant Standards. If you’re looking for an opportunity to see Asian elephants in a sustainable and natural environment, EJS is an excellent choice.

Things to Know About Animal Tourism:

Tourist attractions involving animals should be approached with caution. In recent years, there has been a shift in mindset towards reducing unsustainable commercial aspects and promoting eco-tourism. Not too long ago, elephant riding was a popular activity for travelers, but it has now become less popular due to justifiable ethical concerns.

Tourism involving animals such as tigers, monkeys, and elephants can be harmful. These creatures are often forced to perform in unnatural ways. It’s important to research animal tourism organizations before visiting to ensure that your money isn’t funding activities that exploit animals. So, be a responsible and informed tourist and help protect these amazing creatures.

What is the Best Time of Year to Visit Thailand?

The best time of year to visit Thailand depends on what you want to experience.

In Thailand, there’s a Season for Everyone.

Visiting Thailand during November, December, and January is recommended as the temperatures are slightly cooler and there is a lower chance of rain.

  • Thailand hosts two of its biggest festivals in November: Yee Peng, where sky-floating lanterns are released, and Loy Krathong, where lanterns are floated on the water. 
  • April is typically the hottest month in Thailand, but it’s also when you can experience Songkran, the Thai New Year, which is the world’s biggest water fight. Don’t miss it! 
  • In northern Thailand, the burning season lasts from February to April, and it might be better to avoid the north during this time in favor of the southern islands. However, if you’re an adventurous traveler looking for natural beauty and good deals, this can be a great time to experience much of what Northern Thailand has to offer. 
  • The wet season in Thailand, between June and October, is a good time to visit as tourist numbers are lower and prices for lodging and airfare are cheaper. There are still plenty of hot, sunny days during this time to enjoy your holiday. Additionally, if you’re a fruit lover, the wet season has the most available tropical fruits to offer.

Tips for Saving Money on your Thailand Trip

Thailand is a relatively affordable travel destination, even during the high travel season. To make the most of your money, be mindful of where you travel and the activities you want to do. If you’re looking for souvenirs, visit northern or eastern Thailand. While Chiang Mai is more cost-effective than Bangkok, many travelers choose to spend more time there for an authentic Thai experience.

How to Make Your Money Last on Your Thailand Trip

  1. Try to avoid Western food and franchises. Check out our “Thailand for Foodies” article for some delicious local food recommendations. Eat as locally as possible. Fresh markets, food courts, street food, and local restaurants.
  2. Always pay with cash.
  3. Travel with a friend. Sharing food family-style is the best way to experience it. You can sample more dishes together and save money.
  4. Attend free events and festivals whenever possible. Some events may have premium prices, but paying more can save you time and ensure a higher level of quality.
  5. Only refill your water bottle with established water filtration devices like those in hotels and airports. You can buy water bottles in bulk or at convenience stores to avoid paying inflated prices at tourist sites.
  6. Don’t buy the first thing you see. Take some time to look around and compare prices from different vendors.
  7. If possible, use a fan instead of an air conditioner to save money.
  8. Haggle for items without set prices at local vendors, but be respectful. Avoid haggling for street food or items with marked prices, as these are usually already priced fairly. Over-haggling can lead vendors to refuse selling to you or your group.
  9. Word-of-mouth recommendations from locals and expats can be valuable. In addition to online reviews, ask those with first-hand experience or referrals for recommendations. Reputation and word-of-mouth are important for businesses in Thailand.

Where to Find Cheap Food in Thailand

Eating Thai food is a great option that is both healthy and delicious, and also cost-effective. You can plan a budget of at least USD 15 per day to have three decent meals, depending on your preferences.

When you are in Thailand, you will find a wide variety of food options available to you, with many different places to buy them. Local markets are very popular, as are street food stalls where locals often go for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and late-night meals. You can also check out the 7-Eleven stores that are open 24/7 and offer some interesting and affordable modern eats.

For more information and to explore Thailand’s world-renowned foodie culture, please refer to our “Thailand for Foodies” guide.

Low-Cost Accommodations in Thailand

Finding cheap places to stay in Thailand is easy and stress-free. The country has a wide variety of affordable places to stay, regardless of where you go. Due to demand, you will have a better chance of finding cheaper places to stay in Chiang Mai than in Bangkok or Koh Samui – but that may be an opportunity to use the savings to reward yourself with a nice little ‘splurge budget.’

The cheapest places to stay for the younger crowd would be backpacker hostels, which can be found for as little as USD 2 per night – including breakfast. Oh, yes…you read that correctly. Thailand is one of the world’s top global travel destinations due to the overall outstanding balance of price and quality. Affordable accommodations are widely available, and you can get very nice rooms and cheap places to stay. In addition, Thailand has a wealth of hospitality choices to suit any budget.

How to Get Around Thailand Cheaply

There are various ways to get around in Thailand, no matter where you go. Your daily budget for transportation may be around USD 10, but this depends on where you are, where you want to go, and how you want to get there.

Here are some ways to get around in Thailand:

  1. Songthaew Rideshare: Songthaews are solid-colored pickup trucks (red, yellow, blue, white, etc.) with covered seating at the back. Locals often use this method of transportation, and it usually starts at 30 THB. However, since it’s not a metered service, you need to know your destination and expect to negotiate the fare. This mode of transport is prevalent outside of Bangkok.
  2. Tuktuk: Tuk Tuks are famous vehicles in Thailand. They are three-wheeled motorbikes with open-air seats. Like Songthaews, you will need to negotiate a fare to reach your destination since it’s not a metered service. Tuktuks tend to target tourists with higher premium prices than metered taxis or Songthaew trucks.
  3. Scooter/Motorbike Service: Many people hire a scooter service (those wearing orange vests) to get around in Thailand, especially in Bangkok city and the islands. These modes of transport are good for high rush hour traffic and going through smaller streets that cars cannot access.
  4. Car/Taxi/Limousine Service/Van: Hiring a car can be cost-effective if you plan on staying somewhere for more than a few days. It’s also recommended to hire car services when traveling long distances since local transports are limited. During peak high season, reservations are recommended.
  5. Bus: Buses are a common way to travel around the country. For example, you can travel from Chiang Mai to Bangkok by bus. Bus transport from city to city can range from a premium coach to a very low-cost tier where buses have no seats. It’s recommended to charter a private car/van or fly unless using a bus is necessary due to time, road conditions, and safety.
  6. Train/City Train: Taking a train is a beautiful, scenic experience, and Thailand has an extensive rail network. Bangkok has an excellent BTS (skytrain), Airport Link Express (airport to city), and MTR (underground) system in place. Trains from city to city are not as advanced as Bangkok, but they are cost-effective compared to flying and require more transport time.
  7. Flying: Flights are an excellent way to travel long distances in Thailand. You can get one-way flights from Chiang Mai to Bangkok for as little as USD 25 based on low-cost airline promotional prices. If you plan on flying during traveling peak high season (Nov-Jan), it’s recommended to book early to avoid tickets selling out or very high prices based on demand.
  8. Ride-Share: Grab is the most popular ride-hailing service in Thailand, very similar to Uber. However, you pay the taxi/service provider on the spot. Downloading the Grab Super App (iOS or Android) to your smartphone when traveling in Thailand is highly recommended.

Do’s and Don’ts of Thailand Travel

Thailand, like other Asian countries, has social and religious customs you should know to avoid awkward situations. Here are two simple lists to help you.

Thailand Travel for First-Timers – Things to DO:

  1. Always show respect to locals and their culture.
  2. If you’re visiting a home or a business, take off your shoes if you see shoes/sandals sitting at the front door.
  3. When giving or receiving money, use both hands if possible. Avoid throwing or tossing money as it’s considered rude and can damage business relationships.
  4. Tipping is very customary in Thailand. Give tips at a marketable rate to anyone who provides you with good service.
  5. Always carry your passport and insurance documents with you. If you can’t carry the actual passport, have a copy handy.
  6. Dual pricing (Thai/Foreigner) applies to many places. Remember that you’re a guest and don’t pay local taxes, social taxes, etc.
  7. Always be polite and use good manners. Avoid showing negative emotions and being loud unless the environment is suitable.
  8. Learning some of the local language and gestures can be helpful and may earn you respect as a knowledgeable tourist.
  9. Dress appropriately for the environment. Proper clothing that covers the legs and shoulders is required when visiting a temple or government institution.
  10. Be aware of Thailand’s laws regarding the sale and consumption of alcoholic drinks.
  11. Take time to adjust to the slower pace of things in Thailand.
  12. When eating street food, observe how locals are buying and how food is prepared and maintained on the spot.
  13. Have some small denomination notes handy instead of only carrying large bills. This will help you avoid problems with change.

“Respect locals, follow their lead.”

Thailand Travel for First-Timers – Things to NOT Do (Please! Please! Please!):

  1. Do Not be confrontational towards Thai people. This is a major embarrassment and disrespect for them. Like in many countries, saving face is important in Thai culture.
  2. Do Not raise your voice to Thai people, like previously mentioned. It’s not likely to do you any favors and shows you as out of control.
  3. Do Not expect credit cards to be accepted everywhere, so it’s wise to always have enough cash on you for your daily outings. Credit cards are usually accepted at malls and premium establishments.
  4. Do Not publicly criticize the Thai monarchy, government, and religious institutions. For the most part, Thais hold deep appreciation and respect for them.
  5. Do Not be overzealous with haggling. Vendors may decide to refuse the sale to you.
  6. Do Not touch people’s heads. The head is considered sacred. If you do need to touch someone’s head, first ask permission.
  7. Do Not use your feed to point or move things. Do not point your toes at monks, Buddha status, or anyone else.

     
  8. Do not use your feet to do things other than walking. The feet are considered the most non-sacred part of the body in Thai culture.
  9. Do Not drink the water out of the tap. It is recommended to drink filtered water or bottled water.
  10. Do avoid taking leftovers after a meal, especially perishable food, due to the current hot temperatures and humidity.
  11. Do Not take photos of monks without their permission, especially taking photos with them. Monks have a special social position and should be respected. Females cannot touch or hand things to monks directly.

Thailand Travel for First-Timers

Thailand is a great Asian country to visit, with a central location, tolerant society, and affordable travel. Travelers worldwide love visiting Thailand, but there’s always too little time to see everything. To make the most of your trip, pack info on money-saving tips, cultural do’s and don’ts, festivals, and key places to visit. Thailand travel for first-timers can be a breeze with these resources!

Psst! Did you know there’s a must-see place to check out next door during your Thailand visit?

It’s The Legendary Angkor Wat Archeological Park in Cambodia

Angkor Wat Archeological Park, located near Siem Reap, Cambodia, is one of the most famous places to visit in the region. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site and home to the world’s largest temple complex. The iconic Angkor Wat Temple is just one of the many incredible temples within the complex. Angkor is a must-visit destination with its innovative architecture, sculptures, and carvings that must be seen in person to be believed. Some of these magnificent structures gained popularity through blockbuster films like Tomb Raider and Raiders of the Lost Ark.

It’s easy to reach Angkor Wat with a direct flight from Bangkok’s Don Mueang airport. The flight takes only an hour and can cost as little as USD 72.

When in Siem Reap, Cambodia, it’s worth taking some time to learn about the country’s tragic past and its ongoing efforts to create a brighter future. To gain a deeper understanding of Cambodia’s history, you should visit these five museums: the Angkor Panorama National Museum, the Siem Reap War Museum, the Cambodia Landmine Museum, the Cambodia War Remnant Museum, and the Genocide Museum in Siem Reap.

Are you ready for your Thailand Adventure? Check out B.A.G. Travel’s posted global tour events, or contact us for a customized group tour. 

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