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Thailand Travel for First-Timers

This Thailand Travel for First Timers guide will help you prepare for your first visit to the Land of Smiles.

What Makes Thailand Special?

Thailand is one of the most beloved countries and has a special place among the hearts and minds of travelers worldwide. Because of its centralized location in the Southeast Asian region, dynamic culture, and diverse landscape, Thailand has a bit of everything for everyone. In ‘The Land of Smiles‘, you can expect warm tropical weather, fantastic cuisine, exciting culture, and friendly people. Now, let’s get you ready for an unforgettable adventure with this Thailand travel guide for first-timers.

Where Are the Best Places to Visit in Thailand?

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

Best things to do in Chiang Mai

Thailand for First-Timers
Doi Inthanon at Chiang Mai,Thailand

Chiang Mai is the cultural hub of northern Thailand and the second-largest city in the country. It’s loved by many travelers for its smaller size (compared to Bangkok), nearby mountains,  delicious northern Thai food, and rich Lanna heritage. Chiang Mai is an “all-in-one place” that has a great mix of culture, city life, and outdoor activities. Some activities worth considering include:

Visiting Temples

Visiting some of Thailand’s incredible temples can be a breathtaking experience. Specifically, if you are nearby, see Wat Phra SingChedi Luang, Doi Suthep, and and the Twin Pagodas at the mountaintop Doi Inthanon National Park (“The Roof of Thailand”).

Nature Hikes

Take a trip to Doi Inthanon (Thailand’s highest peak) and enjoy getting out of the city. Chiang Mai has a big hiking community if you want to meet up for a walk in the hills.

Experience Lanna Culture

Enjoy a traditional northern Thai Khantoke dinner and musical performance. In addition, the region offers many excellent and affordable “dinner and show” options that provide a slightly more unique experience not found in central and southern Thailand. 

Best Things to Do in Bangkok

Wat Phra Kaeo and Grand Palace, with a Kinnaree (birdman) sculpture in the foreground.

Bangkok is a major global city, so travelers can expect everything that a vast modern city should be and then some. Bangkok is also a foodie paradise and sensory extravaganza! It’s a fast-paced environment, but on the other hand, there is an extensive choice of fun vacation memories to collect. Consider these activities:

Thailand for First-Timers - Bangkok is the street food capital of the world
Bangkok is THE street food capital of the world and a foodie paradise!

Do a Bangkok Street Food Tour

See (and taste) why so many people consider Bangkok one of the world’s foodie capitals. Formal street food tours are a great way to get a broad sample of local food and multitask with your lunch or dinner for the day. 

Thailand for First-Timers: Chao Phraya River in Bangkok during Songkran
Chao Phraya River in Bangkok during Songkran (Thai New Year)

Take a River Cruise

Take a cruise on the Chao Phraya River at night and enjoy seeing the city lights. Particularly nice is taking a river dinner cruise with someone special.

Bangkok for the Adrenaline Addicts:

If you’re brave, try the MahaNakhon skywalk. Not for the faint-hearted, the observation deck is 314 meters up!

Bangkok has all the big city attractions necessary to keep you entertained. As no surprise, most travelers typically begin their Thailand vacation here before exploring the other regions. In fact, Bangkok has consistently been ranked among the greatest travel cities in the world for years and when you visit, it will be easy to see why!

Best Things to Do in Phuket

Thailand Travel for First-Timers - Phuket Old Town Night Market
Phuket Old Town Night Market

Phuket is the largest and most famous island in Thailand. A top-rated destination for both families and those wanting a party, sun, and sand! Phuket is known for having a great range of hotels, resorts, and water-based activities for any type of crowd. It’s got some of the best beaches in Thailand, lots of great food, and clubs/bars if you want a party, BUT it also allows for time to unwind. Here are some activities in Phuket to consider:

Thailand for First-Timers: Sea Cave in Phang-Nga Bay Thailand
Sea Cave in Phang-Nga Bay Thailand

Explore Phang Nga Bay on a Kayak or Tour Boat

Phang Nga Bay is an incredible site to see and gorgeously lush (it’s perhaps the single most-beautiful spot in all of Thailand). When in Phuket DO NOT miss a chance to go kayaking or boating through the enormous sea caves!

Thailand for First-Timers: Ko Tapu (James Bond Island) at Phang-Nga Bay Thailand
Ko Tapu (James Bond Island) at Phang-Nga Bay Thailand

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.

Best Things to Do in Pattaya 

Man at the Pattaya city sign viewpoint

Pattaya is one of Thailand’s most popular tourist cities – just south of Bangkok, and is well-known for its enjoyable nightlife scene. Pattaya is also a great seaside location with a superb beach. Of course, you can also expect incredible seafood in Pattaya.

Best Things to Do in Koh Samui

Thailand for First-Timers - Resort in Koh Samui
Resort in Koh Samui, Thailand

Koh Samui is often cited by travelers and tourist publications as the best island in Thailand. It’s an island paradise you won’t want to miss! Expect lots of incredible seafood dishes in Koh Samui and some genuinely unbelievable sunsets! Locals in Koh Samui have a very laid-back vibe. For somewhere not so “touristy,” take some time to explore the provinces and cities of eastern Thailand.

Thailand for First Timers - Phuket - Maya Bay
Boat at Maya Bay on Ko Phi Phi – scene of The Beach

Boating Around Koh Phi Phi Leh

Consider taking a boat tour across the waves to the nearby island of Koh Phi Phi Leh. Stunningly beautiful beaches and clear blue water await you here on one of the most famous islands in the world. You may recognize the incredible scenery filmed here from The Beach, starring Leonardo DiCaprio.

Asian elephant in Koh Samui Thailand

Samui Elephant Sanctuary

Samui Elephant Jungle Sanctuary provides a compassionate environment for the elephants and is supported by the Tourism Authority of Thailand (Best Animal Welfare Award winner) and Asian Captive Elephant Standards. EJS is an excellent option if you want a great place to see Asian elephants up close and in a more natural and sustainable environment. 

Things to Know About Animal Tourism

Animal tourist attractions should be approached with caution. In recent years, mindsets have begun to change, and steps have been taken to reduce unsustainable commercial aspects and highlight eco-tourism. Not that long ago, elephant riding was on seemingly every traveler’s to-do list; now, but has justifiably become less popular. 

Tigers, monkeys, elephants, and many more animals were the subject of mass tourism. This involved these amazing creatures performing in ways that aren’t natural. So it’s worthwhile and responsible to research the types of animal tourism organizations you visit and what your money could be funding.

Thailand for First-Timers: Phang Nga
Sunrise in Phang Nga

As you can see, in Thailand – there’s something for everyone. The best things to see and do in Thailand are wide-ranging, and you’ll be entertained no matter where you go. Chiang Mai vs. Bangkok? Phuket vs. Pattaya? These are all among Thailand’s most popular tourist spots and, not surprisingly – host the best locations for activities and entertainment. 

Forest waterfall in Thailand

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.

November, December, and January are often the best times to visit Thailand, since temperatures are a little cooler, and there’s less chance of rain.

  • In November, you’ll also have the chance to see the two of the biggest festivals in Thailand: Yee Peng (sky floating lanterns) and Loy Krathong (lanterns floating on the water).
  • April is often the hottest month of the year in Thailand, but it’s also when you can experience the Thai New Year – Songkran. Seemingly in response to the often stuffy heat of the season, Songkran is THE world’s biggest water fight and not to be missed.
  • In northern Thailand seasons – The burning season is in full swing from February to April, and it might be worthwhile to avoid the north if you can in favor of the southern islands. However, if you are a determined traveler looking for natural beauty and bargains, this can be a great time to experience much of what Northern Thailand offers.  
  • The wet season in Thailand is a great time to visit as tourist numbers drop a little bit, and believe it or not – there are still more than enough hot, sunny days in the wet season to enjoy your holiday.
Thai Baht (THB) banknotes

Tips for Saving Money on your Thailand Trip

The amount of money you need to bring to Thailand is relevant to how long you plan on staying and what you want to experience. Despite its popularity, Thailand is a relatively affordable place to visit. Even during the high travel season, people love going to Thailand for a vacation because they know their money will go far. Be considerate of where you travel and what you want to do. If you’re trying to get the best bang for your souvenir-buck, also consider visiting northern or eastern Thailand. Many travelers choose to spend more time in Chiang Mai over Bangkok because the costs of most things are lower.

How to Make Your Money Last on Your Thailand Trip:

  1. Eat as locally as possible.
  2. Avoid western food if you can.
  3. Always pay with cash.
  4. Travel with a friend.
  5. Experience Free events and festivals.
  6. Refill water at water dispensers.
  7. Don’t buy the first thing you see.
  8. Try using a fan instead of an air conditioner.
  9. Haggle, but don’t overdo it.
Thailand for First Timers: Thai food is tops when it comes to presentation
Thai food is tops when it comes to presentation

Where to Find Cheap Food in Thailand

Eating Thai food is the most cost-effective option, plus it’s healthy and delicious. Budget a minimum of USD 15 per day for three decent meals.

In Thailand, you can expect to find a massive variety of food to eat and many different places to buy it. Local markets are prevalent, and many locals often eat Thai food at street food stalls for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Check out our “Thailand for Foodies” guide to dive deeper into this world-renowned foodie pool.  

In Thailand, there are many high-quality, low cost hotels to choose from. (Courtesy of @oakisaurus for B.A.G. Travel)

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 that are also cheap places to stay. Thailand has a wealth of hospitality choices to suit any budget.

Thailand for First-Timers - a Tuk Tuk is an easy and cheap way to get around
Thailand for First-Timers – a Tuk Tuk is an easy and cheap way to get around

How to Get Around Thailand Cheaply

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

  • Songthaew – The songthaew is basically a pickup truck with covered seating at the back. This is a widespread way that locals tend to get around. However, you need to know your destination and expect to negotiate as this is not a metered service.
  • Tuktuk – The Tuk Tuk is a famous vehicle to get around in Thailand. It’s a three-wheeled motorbike with open-air seats. Think of it as an evolved, motorized rickshawSame as with the Songthaew – be ready to negotiate a fee to reach your destination.
  • Scooter – To get around in Thailand, many people hire a scooter. In particular, they are very popular with travelers to the islands.
  • Car – A car is still a great way to get around Thailand. Specifically, hiring a car can be cost-effective if you plan on staying somewhere for more than a few days.
  • Bus – The bus is a common way to travel around the country, for example, from Chiang Mai to Bangkok.
  • Train – Taking a train is a wonderful scenic experience, and Thailand has an extensive rail network. Bangkok has an excellent BTS and MTR system in place.
  • Flying – Flights are a good way of long-distance travel in Thailand; you can get one-way flights from Chiang Mai to Bangkok for as little as USD 25.
  • Ride-Share – Grab is the most popular ride-hailing service in Thailand. Very similar to Uber. 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

Like other Asian countries, Thailand is still reasonably conservative and has many social and religious customs you should know before going there. We’ve put together two simple lists to help keep you prevent some awkward situations:

Thailand Travel for First-Timers – Things to DO:

  1. Do take your shoes off before entering a home or business. If you see shoes sitting at the front door, take a hint.
  2. Do give and receive money using both hands. It can be perceived as rude to use one hand as it’s abrupt.
  3. Do give tips to anybody who has provided you with good service. Thailand is a cash economy, and tipping is very customary. 
  4. Do always have your passport and insurance documents with you.
  5. Do expect dual pricing (Thai/Foreigner) at many places. 
  6. Do always be polite and use good manners.
  7. Do learn some of the local language and gestures. This will help you along the way and be respected as a knowledgeable tourist.

Thailand Travel for First-Timers – Things to NOT Do:

  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. 
  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.
  4. Do Not publicly criticize the Thai monarchy or government. For the most part, Thais hold deep appreciation and respect for them.
  5. Do Not be overzealous with haggling.
  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 point your toes at monks or anyone else. In fact, do not use your feet to do things other than walking.
Nope…

Thailand Travel for First-Timers

Thailand for First-Timers: The Bhumibol Bridge in Bangkok
The Bhumibol Bridge in Bangkok

Thailand is among the best Asian countries to visit because of its central location, tolerant society, and affordable travel. Travelers around the world love visiting Thailand, and there always seems to be too little time to discover it all. As long as this info on money-saving tips, cultural do’s and don’ts, festivals, and places to visit are packed along with the luggage…Thailand travel for first-timers can be a (tropical) breeze!

Visit a Must-See Bucket List Location Next Door in Cambodia:

The Legendary Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat Temple near Siem Reap, Cambodia
The enormous and legendary Angkor Wat Temple near Siem Reap, Cambodia. This is only one of many stunning temples within the Angkor Archeological Park

One of the most famous places to visit in the region is Angkor Wat – near Siem Reap, Cambodia – a UNESCO World Heritage site. Angkor Wat is one of many incredible temples within the world’s largest temple complex: Siem Reap’s Angkor Archaeological Park. Angkor is a bucket-list destination with innovative architecture, sculptures, and carvings that absolutely must be seen in person to believe! Several of these fantastic structures were re-popularized with the masses through such blockbuster films as Tomb Raider and Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Ta Prohm Temple (a.k.a. the Tomb Raider temple) at
Angkor Wat Archeological Park

Getting to Angkor Wat is a simple direct flight from Bangkok’s Don Mueang airport. It’s only a 1-hour flight; flights can be as cheap as USD 72. 

While in Cambodia, spend some time learning about the tragic history and how Cambodia is working hard to create a better future. Then, check out these five museums in Siem reap worth visiting.

 

Ready to go? Check out B.A.G. Travel’s posted global tour events, or contact us for a customized group tour.