Thailand is an exciting and exotic destination, but you do yourself a disservice if you show up unprepared; it’s important to properly plan in advance, for everything from the practical side of what to pack, to preparing for cultural differences.
Thailand is a glorious, mysterious, and wild country, full of things to do, places to visit, and experiences to be had. Traveling this year? Here are a few things you need to know before your plane lands.
Things to Know Before Visiting Thailand
Understand Local Customs
Before you visit Thailand, it’s important to read up on local customs. Citizens around the world have every right to be angry at foreigners who visit their homeland and disrespect their culture, and Thailand is no exception.
This doesn’t mean you have to become an expert in Thai history or culture, but rather involves learning what mistakes to avoid so that you don’t end up ruining your own vacation.
For starters, respect the monks and refrain from making physical contact with people who are in the midst of meditation or prayer.
Similarly, dress code is something taken extremely seriously at religious sites – when visiting temples you’ll need to cover your shoulders and knees.
As with most Asian countries, shoes are taken off when entering certain buildings, especially temples. And public displays of affection like kissing are usually avoided in public (a specific note is to never touch a Thai persons head – this is viewed as sacred).
Taking some time to learn about what not to do in Thailand is not just a matter of respect, it could also mean you avoid getting arrested. For instance it’s against the law, and a serious offence to disrespect the monarchy.
Know What to Bring
It goes without saying that you should know what to bring whenever you travel abroad, but a frustratingly large number of tourists visit Thailand with improper clothes and then complain about it as if it’s anyone’s fault but their own.
While you can purchase clothing and other essentials once you arrive, it’s likely to be expensive, as tourist destinations are famous for ripping off those travelers unlucky enough to forget their essential goods at home.
Knowing what to pack for a trip to Thailand can make the difference between a successful, enjoyable trip and a disastrous and expensive one. Slip on shoes, for instance, are both comfortable and acceptable in many local destinations that may otherwise frown upon other types of footwear.
Clothes that you don’t mind getting wet will also be required for some of the more exotic destinations in Thailand. And bug spray and sunscreen are an absolute must, as well as a refillable water bottle.
If you’ve booked a Thailand tour as opposed to traveling independently, they will typically provide you with a packing list, and you can depend upon their expertise as a local travel provider.
Learn About It’s History
Yes, we know we said you don’t have to become an expert on Thai history, but Thailand is a country steeped it, and when you understand the significance of the historic landmarks ahead of time, it offers a far more immersive, and completely different experience.
Places like Sukhothai are all over Thailand; an ancient city which was discovered in the 13th century and is renowned as being the first independent Thai kingdom. When you get lost amongst the maze of mind-blowing monuments and temples, it’s not hard to understand how mighty it once was.
The ancient ruins of Ayutthaya (the capital city of the Kingdom with the same name) is another historic highlight; once known for being the most spectacular city in the world, most of the remains are temples and palaces, as those were the only buildings made of stone at that time.
There are UNESCO World Heritage Sites all across the country, and even if you’re visiting one of the bustling cities, there are historic temples, markets, and museums that allow you to dive into the heritage of the country.
Elephant Tourism Is Controversial
Elephant tourism has long drawn travelers to Thailand, though over the last decade has become highly controversial as awareness has spread as to the cruel treatment of animals in industries such as trekking, elephant rides, and animal shows.
Many people around the world, including tour agencies now question the ethics of riding elephants, as well as the methods used to train them, and elephant tourism is contributing to their gradual extinction in the wild.
There are many ethical ways to interact with elephants while in Thailand, like bathing and feeding them at elephant camps and sanctuaries around the country, however it’s culturally accepted now that you should never ride them.
These are not domesticated animals, but captive, wild elephants who need to be ‘broken’. Elephants as young as 18 to 24 months old are chained up and beaten with bullhooks as part of this breaking in process.
The best sanctuaries for a responsible and ethical elephant experience includes the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation in Chiang Rai, the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, and Elephant Hills in Khao Sok.
It’s Common to Take Your Meals on the Street
Thai street food is well-known and an experience that really shouldn’t be missed. It’s a chance to enjoy authentic food at incredible prices, to eat what the locals eat, and soak up an experience that is at the heart of the country.
Don’t hesitate or be put off by the inelegant surrounds, just dive in and breathe the heady aromas of frying meats, steaming soup and noodles and let your taste buds decide the rest.
Street vendors will have all the classics from Som Tam or raw papaya salad, Kaprao Moo Grob or crispy pork belly and holy basil, Isaan sausage (pork with sticky rice), Pla Pao or grilled fish stuffed with pandanus leaves, lemongrass and grilled over charcoal, and of course a variety of pad or noodles, pork and chicken skewers and soups.
For dessert there is the delicious mango with sticky rice flavored in coconut milk, sugar and salt and cold coconut milk to wash it all down.
Ultimately, there are many things to know before visiting Thailand, but this article should have provided an overview of the main points. Use this as a framework for further guiding your pre-trip research!