Seven Travel Tips For New Thailand Travelers
So you have decided to finally travel to Thailand. Good for you! However, you have these questions rolling around in your head of how the trip will go and what you will have to experience when you first get there. I was in your shoes once myself when I finally decided to go there solo and I was a little apprehensive at first; but I decided why not, I’m going! ’Do Thai people speak English’ I wondered? Yes, a lot of them do in Bangkok and other major areas foreigners travel to; however, if you venture into some areas not frequented by westerners, especially the rural areas, there’s a good chance they don’t. No worries! You will find that Thai people are very warm and friendly toward you and they are more than willing to help you out. You’ll also notice that Thai people smile a lot too; hence the nickname “The Land of Smiles”. I had no guidance of what to expect when I first arrived in Thailand except that I would “fall in love” with ‘her’; and I did.
I have put together for you, ‘New Thailand Traveler’, a rather long, and detailed, post on what to expect starting at the plane you are flying on to your arrival at your hotel or your final destination. I have traveled to Thailand numerous times and I draw all this information from my own experiences over the years. I wanted to share this information with you, the first time visitor, to try and put your mind at ease. From there; Thailand is yours to explore and enjoy. :-)
Pre-arrival into Thailand
- While on the aircraft, sometime during the flight, you will receive an “arrival and departure card” to fill out; they are attached to each other. This is for people who will be staying and visiting Thailand. Hopefully you brought a pen with you or you can ask the flight attendant to borrow one. The flight attendants may be limited in the number of pens they have on hand so keep that in mind.
- Fill these cards out as soon as you receive them or you can ask for them in advance once the aircraft has leveled out. The cards are self explanatory and the information asked for is your name, passport number, flight you came in on, flight you will depart on, etc… Thats why it’s best to fill it out while you have time to do it.
- These cards are going to get through immigration / passport control and some people tend to wait until they get in front of the passport control officer and then try to fill them out. That’s not going to happen. This wastes your time, the immigration officers time, as well as the people waiting behind you. The immigration officers will send you back out of the line to fill them out. Keep in mind the lines are very long usually and move slowly, so if this happens to you, you just wasted a bunch of your own time getting through the process. Also, you don’t get front of the line privileges because you had already been at the immigration counter. You go to the end of the line and after a long flight you will be mad at yourself especially if you are traveling with children.
Arrival at the airport - Suvarnabhumi
- Psych! You made it! Depending on how long the flight is you’re probably exhausted by now, but your excitement to finally arrive in Thailand overcomes this. Your feet and legs are tired; your ankles may now resemble “cankles”; and your butt may be sore because you got pinned in by the window most of the flight, but you eagerly move forward with the crowd to get to immigration / passport control and beyond.
- Get ready for a long walk and just follow the overhead blue “immigration” signs. (see picture above) In Thailand they have luggage carts usually waiting near te gate exits to use and they are FREE to use unlike some airports. There are also moving walkways along the way to immigration, but these sometimes are to no avail because some of the other weary travelers that just came in with you group up on them and ride it instead of moving to the side or walking with it, and they block the way. ”No problem!” you will think. I am here in Thailand and I refuse to feel grumpy! As you walk along you may notice how clean the airport is and maybe marvel at the beautiful steel and glass terminal you are now in.
Immigration / Passport Control
- Finally immigration / passport control is in sight! You have to leave the luggage cart at the bottom of the ramp now and carry your bags to the immigration / passport control stations. This is also when you will first see the immigration / passport control lines… UGH! Be aware there are lines for “foreign passport holders” and lines for “Thai citizens”. Make sure you get in the correct line. You will definitely know you are in the right line because the foreign passport holder lines are always the longest. I am so happy to travel to Thailand with my wife because she still holds her Thai passport and I get to go with her through the Thai citizen stations which are always the shortest. I also get looks from the other people waiting in those long lines, but hey! This is one of the perks you get when you decide to marry a Thai! :-)
- When you get to the top of the ramp, look to your left and look for the shorter foreign passport holder lines. A lot of people, and I believe this is because everyone is tired, tend to pile up at the first lines they come to at the top of the ramp.
- The immigration process can be very slow and tedious at this point and can be aggravating. This is also when you will start to see the people ahead of you who haven’t filled out the arrival / departure cards out and are now sent away from the immigration / passport station by the officer to fill it out. Now YOU can say, “Thank you Vacation Wanderer for the info!’ :-)
- At the immigration / passport station, once the person in front of you gets cleared by the officer, you can approach the desk or they will wave you forward. Your passport and arrival / departure card is checked, your photo is taken, and you get stamped in with a 30 day tourist Visa. Check your Visa expiration date because sometimes it is shy one or two days and you don’t want to get caught on an overstay. Be advised some countries are required to buy a Visa, so best to check if you do or not. This can be purchased prior to the passport control stations and is found along that long walk you just took. Just look again at the overhead, blue immigration signs for directions. U.S. persons and U.K. citizens I know for sure do not have to purchase a Visa.
- Once through passport control is luggage pick up. Self explanatory.
- Once you have your luggage proceed to “Customs”. Head toward “Nothing To Declare”. Most times you don’t get stopped, but they do have spot checks. PLEASE be advised the drug laws in Thailand are very strict and penalties are severe to include the death penalty or life in prison. It’s not worth it to you or your family who you will leave behind.
- Once you clear Customs you will come out into the main hallway / greeting area. More than likely than not you will be approached by a very friendly Thai person and will be asked if you need a ride / taxi. If you stop and listen, they will show you a limo, van, or town car in a notebook or brochure and they will always be very pleasant. It’s TOO expensive though. Just smile and say no thank you and that will suffice. :-)
- Go up to the next floor and go outside to the taxi stand; if taking a taxi is what you plan to do. Just a side note, there is also the “Bangkok Airport Train” and “Airport Bus Services” neither of which I have experienced. I prefer a taxi myself because I just want to get to where I am staying and get out of the clothes I have been in for hours, clean up, and maybe eat.
- When you go outside of the terminal on the second floor, head toward the people lining up in queues and where the the taxis are standing by. This is the start of your trek into Bangkok (“Kreung Thep“). There is a desk where the taxi queue is and you will be asked where you are going. These are legitimate, with meter on taxis. Please note I am not saying that the services offered inside the airport are not legitimate; they are just more expensive.
- The taxi desk clerk will hand you a taxi slip that is in Thai and English that you will give to the driver at the end of your ride. You will be responsible for all the road tolls. There are two or three toll booths and I believe they are 20 Thai baht (THB) apiece (less than one USD). There is also a 50 THB surcharge for airport travel (around $1.25 USD) on top of your final fair which is a legitimate fee. Try and have some small bills for any ground transportation you take while in Thailand. The drivers usually don’t carry that much change with them. Foreign visitors always try and hand them 1000 THB notes and the drivers will run out of change quickly or just don’t have the change when you go to pay for your ride.
- The taxi drivers will generally help you load your bags into and then out of the vehicle. A ride into Bangkok which is approximately 35 to 45 minutes depending on traffic and how fast the taxi driver drives. The cost will be +/- 350 THB, just over $10.00 U.S. The taxi / limo services inside the airport terminal are asking I believe 1000 THB for a ride.
- Taxi’s in the Thailand have a small, red, neon light on the drivers side of the windshield. If the neon light is Illuminated, it is available, so just try and flag it down. Not all of the taxi drivers speak English, so make sure you know where you are going in advance.
- IF a taxi doesn’t want to give you a ride using the meter and you negotiate a price YOU are happy with, go for it. This goes for all of your future taxi, “tuk tuk”, and motorcycle taxi rides. If you ever get in a taxi and don’t see them turn the meter on, ask them to. If they say no or don’t, tell them to stop and get out and take your bags. Time to find another taxi. Some taxis may refuse to take you where you want to go which is usually based on where you are in Bangkok, where you want to go, and the time of day due to traffic jams. Traffic in the afternoon into the evening in Bangkok is crazy to say the least. The taxi drivers are not supposed refuse to give you a ride and risk a ticket per recent Thai news stories, but don’t be surprised if this happens. If the elevated train is nearby, and you can figure out the stops in the vicinity of where you are going, its worth taking the train and then take a taxi to your final destination during rush hour.
- I usually like to tip 50 to 100 THB for the airport run. (Hotel help can also be tipped too for future reference and really appreciate it. Size of the tip I base on what I have asked them to get or do for me or for lugging bags; 20 – 50 THB is good. This is all up to you. :-)
- Best to book your hotel reservation online. You will definitely save money and you can do this even if you are still a guest of the hotel and want to stay another night. Try talking to the reception desk staff first and see if you can get the same rate you were happy with for your first reservation. I was told by a hotel staffer at a recent hotel stay that it would be cheaper to “reserve again online”. I thought that was pretty nice of her so I did from our room and it was a lot cheaper than what she quoted me.
- I don’t recommend you try the tourism desks at Suvarnabhumi airport. It usually costs more than what you can find online and sometimes they say no rooms are available at a hotel you may inquire about. If you are returning to a particular hotel and you find they have no rooms when you contact them by email, call and tell them you stayed there before and you really would love to stay there again. Somehow a room may become available and MAYBE with a free upgrade! :-) The Montien Riverside Hotel did that for me and that was pre-starting my travel blog. That’s why I did a free write up on them because they have always been very helpful and I have enjoyed our stays there. Make sure you let your hotel know if you will be checking in late because of your flight arrival time too. It can’t hurt.
- Do you have an unlocked GSM phone? There are carriers with prepaid SIMM cards at the airport on the same floor you came out of Customs onto. I like “AIS – 1-2-Call” because I believe their reception is better. It’s a good idea to have for your hotel number, etc.. with you if you get lost ‘not on purpose‘. :-) You can call them and they can talk to the driver for you. Using internet and other data services in Thailand on prepaid mobile service is VERY expensive; just an FYI. Turn off any data pushes and data services when you don’t need them. SMS service isn’t too bad.
- I have never had any problems with ATM’s in Thailand; ‘knock wood’. They have several ATM’s at the airport as well as currency exchanges. MAKE SURE you contact your bank / credit card company before you leave home and let them know when and where you will be going and how long you are going for so they don’t put a STOP on your cards when you try to use them in Thailand. This is VERY important. Even if you do notify them, don’t be surprised if they still deny a charge or ATM transaction and you will unfortunately have to call them. UGH!! I am relaying experience here. That’s why I have SKYPE. :-)
- As of today, one USD is equivalent to 30.98 THB; one British pound is equivalent to 50.17 THB. Remember your bank(s) may charge an “international transaction fee” for shopping with credit cards and debit cards; to include ATM withdrawals. There may also be fees charged by some of the Thai banks ATM’s you use as well.
- You can always check my website for the latest money exchange rate. This rate may be a little more than what you will actually receive at a money exchange due to the exchanges fees and exchange rates. It should be close though.
Travel Tips For New Thailand Travelers. Although this post may be long and detailed, it should get you to your first destination, or hotel, upon your arrival. My first trip to Thailand was solo and I remember opening the drapes of my room on the 18th floor of my hotel, looking out at Bangkok and thinking ‘What have I gotten myself into?!’ Bangkok is huge to say the least, but there are a lot of places to explore while there so keep that in mind. Now it’s time to figure out what you will see and do now that your there. Be sure you check out the new “ASIATIQUE THE RIVERFRONT” shopping area.
Tons of shopping stalls and lots of varieties of food to sample. Bangkok is also a good transit point to explore other regions of Thailand by car, taxi, bus, train, or plane. You’re going to fall in love with Thailand I am sure as many before you have.
Happy and Safe Thailand Travel!