Top Ten Tips for Thailand
1. “Bao bao” – the most important Thai word you’ve never heard
Before heading to Thailand you’ve probably mastered your sawatdee ka/krup and maybe a bit more, but if you’re heading for a Thai massage and have only the most basic knowledge of the local lingo, I implore you to learn (and use) “bao bao”. “Bao” = gentle, and “bao bao” = gently. Why is this important? Mainly because your standard Thai massage can, at times, be so bone-bendingly painful, you’ll be desperate to make it stop – or at least, scale it down a level or two. More importantly, if you have any kind of injury or soreness around a particular area, pointing to it and stating “bao bao!!” will get the message across to any masseuse.
2. Find out where your local laundry is – and use it!
Being able to get a pile of laundry cleaned, neatly folded and smelling fantastic for a couple of pounds is surely one of life’s great luxuries. (I still daydream about how great your clothes smell after getting them laundered in Thailand). Long-term travellers will already have scoped this out in advance, but even if you’re visiting the country for a fortnight, you’ll still go through clothes faster than you can say ‘betty swallocks’. Always look out for a local laundry option – it will be vastly cheaper than getting your hotel to wash clothes (if such a service is offered) and they usually offer a very quick turnaround. Remember to time this tactically if you are only stopping a few days however, and always check when clothes will be ready – you don’t want to be jetting off to your next destination with a load of washing left behind.
3. Taxi drivers in Thailand (probably) won’t know where you’re going – but here’s how to tell them where you’re from
As I’ve written about elsewhere (Getting from A to B in BKK), taxi drivers are surprisingly bad at knowing where places are, particularly in Bangkok. Even if you give them directions written in Thai. And a map. Anyway, as we discovered, it’s far easier to tell them where you’re from, believe it or not. This trick may just work for UK residents, but most of the taxi drivers we came across in Thailand had a ridiculously detailed knowledge of football teams – next time you’re asked “Where you from?” and want to make polite conversation, try giving the name of your nearest major sports team as a reference point. You might be surprised what they’ve heard of.
4. Don’t bother buying mosquito repellent beforehand – get the good stuff on arrival in Thailand
Before our first trip to Thailand I stocked up on industrial amounts of mosquito repellent and bite cream, only to find that both (particularly the bite cream) were fairly useless. Surprisingly enough, they sell mosquito repellent in Thailand too! (Who’d have thought it?). Not only is it cheap and easy to find in most convenience stores, we found it generally worked better than our UK-bought stuff. I also can’t recommend their bite cream enough – it brings down all manner of massive swellings. There are usually plenty of pharmacies dotted around towns and cities, and staff are generally helpful. If language is an issue, pointing to a large mosquito bite and miming ‘itchy’ usually works!
5. Snake Brand prickly heat powder is genius
Likewise, I highly recommend grabbing a box of this when you arrive. Like the products mentioned above, any convenience store or pharmacy will usually have a shelf full of the stuff, and I personally found that it works wonders. Not only does it do away with prickly heat, it works like a talcum powder so cools and dries skin, as well as having antibacterial properties. Smooth a light dusting on to skin after having a shower, and enjoy cool, rash-free skin!
6. Take advantage of cheap short-haul flights
This is one for the planning stage, but when piecing together a Thailand trip be sure to look into flight options across the country and from north to south. Flights within Thailand are usually cheap and frequent, and it is easy to build an itinerary without doubling back on yourself. Travelling between Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phuket and Krabi is particularly straightforward, and you’ll see a great range of what the country has to offer. Elsewhere, look for easy alternatives to get around, such as trains on the mainland or ferries between the Andaman Sea islands (Koh Phi Phi, Koh Lanta etc). Thailand is a relatively cheap and simple country to travel through, with organised infrastructure in the popular areas, so be brave and don’t plump for an organised tour or itinerary.
7. Buy some hippie trousers
Chances are, as soon as you arrive in Thailand you’ll see folks sloping around in the most ridiculous baggy, colourful trousers – probably with elephants and all sorts of crazy patterns daubed on them. You’ll most likely laugh derisively, or maybe shake your head, but sooner or later you too will find yourself haggling for a pair of these beauties. And of course, so you should. Not only is buying a pair of terrible hippie trousers part of the Thailand experience, they are also hugely useful for (1) visiting temples – no knees allowed – and (2) keeping mozzies away from your ankles at night. Last, and by no means least, they are hugely comfortable and very light and cool. Who’s laughing now?
8. Ditch the 7-Elevens and support small shops
I’m not going to lie – 7-Elevens are a lifesaver in Thailand. Air-conditioned to the max, stocked with all of life’s essentials and with prices clearly marked, they are a godsend to the culture-shocked traveller. But on my last trip to Thailand, I was speaking to a local who was saying how the spread of 7-Elevens was putting many smaller neighbourhood shops out of business. These are shops where you can generally find your essentials (water, snacks etc) alongside some super quirky local eats and treats – so why not be brave, take the plunge and see what you find? You’ll be helping a local business and getting a more authentic taste of Thailand, even if only in snack form.
9. Be canny and find out the costs
One of the reasons that I was always reluctant to follow the above, and dive into a streetside shop, was my fear of getting taken advantage of. There are lots of instances in Thailand where prices won’t be clearly marked, or where taxi meters ‘don’t work’. One way around this is to use local knowledge, or do a bit of your own research. Make sure you know roughly what you pay for bottled water or snacks in your 7-Eleven, and make a note of the price. Ask around at a few of those hippie trouser stalls before making your purchase, and know what a good deal sounds like. If you’re planning a taxi or tuk tuk ride somewhere, ask at your hotel or hostel reception what it should cost. And if said taxi or tuk tuk driver stands firm, I’ve found that the phrase “But I only paid [xx] baht to get there last night!” tends to blow their cover. (It doesn’t matter whether you went last night or not. Just make that bit up).
10. Know where the fuel tank is in your moped!
This one is pretty self-explanatory – but no less essential! Mopeds zip around all over Thailand, and are particularly useful if you’re staying in a more rural area or on an island, where they can generally be hired quite cheaply. Before you depart however, have a good look over the vehicle, make sure you borrow a helmet, and get a thorough overview of the controls and need-to-know functions. We found ourselves on a quiet road on Koh Lanta with little fuel in the tank, and even less of an idea where to find said tank. A local saved the day, but we could have been far less lucky!
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