As the a first-time visitor to Thailand, you will find surprises and quirks aplenty to spice up their tropical holiday. Here’s what you’ll discover if you look beyond the packaging:
The traffic is terrible – and dangerous
Three phone-wielding monks and a dog weaving through traffic astride a 50cc scooter might be an amusing sight, but Thailand has a horrifying road safety record, with 80 lives lost every day – the second highest number of traffic fatalities in the world. Unlicensed and drunk tourists only add to the statistics.
The food will be even better than you expect
You may think you know Thai food … until you get to Thailand. Generally, local menus offer a broader selection, unusual combinations of ingredients and a much spicier palate. Wave chicken and cashews goodbye, and experiment with more adventurous choices.
But some dishes should be avoided
Some Thai menus may not offer English translations or illustrative pictures – and it’s these that you should approach with caution. There are some Thai dishes, for instance, that will leave delicate farang stomachs wrenching – such as Kai Yiew Ma (eggs preserved in horse urine), or Goong Ten (a live shrimp salad). Maybe stick to Pad Thai after all.
It’s the original home of pop-up restaurants
Every night, the footpaths of Bangkok’s major thoroughfares become pop-up dining rooms as food vendors set up shop, complete with plastic tables, rickety stools and toilet-paper napkins. Do as the locals do and join the budget feast – guaranteed authenticity, as well as great theatre.
You can’t buy alcohol in the afternoon
While beer sits alongside bottled water in every servo, 7-11 and supermarket, liquor sales can only officially be made between 11am-2pm, and from 5pm-midnight – so avoid getting thirsty during the afternoon.
The language is ridiculously difficult
Thank goodness most locals speak English. While it’s polite to offer your khob khun kas and krabs, more ambitious attempts at the Thai language usually result in fits of giggles. The word ‘ma’, for instance, can mean dog, horse or come, depending on the tone.
You won’t see elephants on the streets and that’s good
Fortunately, the sight of dejected elephants begging for bananas in large cities is now rare, with most mahouts and their pachyderm charges seeking alternative employment in tourist camps. Finding an ethical sanctuary where elephants are treated with dignity and kindness, however, may involve travel off the beaten track to the north of Thailand.
Thais are generally conservative
Despite widespread acceptance of flesh-flaunting bikinis in appropriate settings (ie, the beach and by the pool), more modest attire is expected in public. Shoulders and knees must be covered to enter wats and palaces, with shawls and fishermen pants often made available for forgetful tourists.
Thongs are OK to wear, all the time
Gotta love a country where rubber thongs are not only acceptable footwear, but by far the most practical choice! Since shoes are discarded inside every home, temple and many shops, it makes sense to wear something you can just slide on and off.
Locals are patriotic
The Thais are a proud people, with great respect for king and country. The National Anthem is played publically every evening at 6pm, bringing activity to a one-minute halt; spot the tourist, wandering confused through stationary crowds, oblivious to protocol.
Coffee is better than you expect
Coffee snobs rejoice – Thailand serves a halfway decent drop, with a burgeoning café culture and homegrown beans grown under Royal decree. Even in rural areas, there are chained coffee shops (or ‘huts’, as they are known) attached to gas stations, so you can get your caffeine fix on the run.
Season to Travel
To step into that cloudless postcard image of Thailand (you know the one: long tailed boats, limestone islands) plan your trip sometime between the end of November and the end of April. While Thailand’s rainy season typically begins after July and runs through October, it isn’t unlikely for major storms to arrive as early as May.
Travelers should also be wary of booking stays in April and early May. This is what is considered the “hottest” season in the hot, hotter, and hottest classification of Thai climate. Temperatures can surpass 104 degrees, so if you can’t handle the heat, plan your trip for a few months earlier.
Generally, flight prices and accommodations will be cheaper during low season (between March and October), though June and early July see another spike because of summer break. According to the airfare prediction app Hopper, the cheapest flights to Bangkok are in September and April, when travelers can find savings of up to $500.
Beaches will always be my favorite in any destination I travel! The video below is my peaceful idea of a good time.