The almost palpable aroma of spicy street food, a blur of colourful tuk tuks and the all en-compassing hubbub of vendors and tourists doing the song-and-dance of a typical Thai barter… Thailand is a feast for the senses. There is simply no destination quite like it. This buzzing country promises an adventure around every corner – whether you’re looking for nightlife in Bangla Road or to escape to a secret cove away from the sociable commotion of the city. We spent a whirlwind week discovering the highlights of Phuket, Krabi and Phi Phi Island and uncovered a few fast facts about the incredible “Land of Smiles”…
1. The truth behind the “Spirit Houses”
While travelling through Thailand, you may notice the colourful miniature temples outside just about every building you pass. These are known as “spirit houses” or a “place for the tevoda spirit”. Found throughout Thailand, Cambodia and Burma, these small shrines are typically located in the corner of a house or business and are usually in the form of a small temple mounted on a pedestal and decorated with tiny statues, candles, incense and flowers. The spirit houses you’ll see on your travels may differ in size and ostentation depending on the wealth of the owner. They are intended to provide a shelter to appease evil or mischievous spirits in order to protect the home or the success of a business.
2. Book your transfers in advance
Island hopping through Thailand isn’t simply about booking your flights and hotels and being done with it. There can be many hidden costs involved if you don’t plan your road and water transfers between hotels and islands before you leave home. And unless you prefer the flexibility of travelling where you want, when you want, trying to book a last-minute taxi on your phone late at night adds an extra layer of stress to your holiday that you just don’t need.
Tip: Our Thailand experts can book your ferry, road or water transfers before you leave. Call us today to book your hotel and transport in advance.
3. Enjoy the fresh fruit smoothies
Take advantage of the incredible array of fresh colourful fruit grown in Thailand, from spiky litchis to the unusually shaped dragon fruit. You can pick up a fruit smoothie (you will watch them blend pure fruit pieces of your desired fruit with ice) for just 20 Baht, the equivalent of about 44p.
Tip: If you’re visiting the Wat Chalong Temple in Phuket, we’d recommend picking up a Kiwi soda – it’s slightly more expensive at 50 Baht (£1) but it’s one of the most delicious fresh juices we’ve ever tasted.
4. Always shop around
One thing you will notice when you get to Thailand is the surprising disparity in pricing. For example, you can hire a scooter for the day for just 250 Baht but you can expect to pay 100 Baht for an ice cream. When shopping in the local markets, keep in mind that the Thai are used to tourists and for this reason, some of them will be hesitant to let you barter with them. If that’s the case, move along as you will likely find exactly the same thing at the next store.
Tip: Most vendors will double the price of a garment or item when you first ask. Always try and barter down to half the price. Keep a smile on your face as this is the Thai way. If they try to rip you off, use the term “mi di” (pronounced my die) which means “cannot” and walk away.
5. Learn a bit of Thai
Despite being a popular tourist destination, there are still many places and even high-end hotels in Thailand where they still don’t speak a lot of English. We’d recommend learning a bit of basic Thai before you go. If you don’t have time, buy a phrase book or download a translation app. Most transfers and local tour handlers (such as long tail boat tour drivers) will simply be drivers so don’t expect them to offer any information about the area you are passing.
6. Hire a scooter
Getting around Thailand can be expensive. Hiring a scooter is by far the cheapest mode of transport. You can hire a scooter for 250 – 300 Baht for 24 hours (£5.50 for a day!) with a full tank of gas and you simply have to refill the tank when you’re done which will cost you around 40 Baht, less than a pound! The hire price includes a helmet. Don’t be fooled by the locals not wearing them – the driving in Thailand can be erratic.
Tip: Most scooter hire places will ask for your passport as collateral. NEVER give away your passport. Some places will allow a cash deposit instead (3,000 – 5,000 Baht) which will cost much less than the price they could make you pay if the scooter is damaged and they have your passport. Take photos of any scratches on the scooter before you leave – and make sure they see you taking them. You then have proof to show if the scooter was scratched beforehand.
7. Taxi vs bus vs tuk tuk
If you’re looking to explore, make sure you consider your options. Various companies offer cheap tour travel such as the Baht Bus which travels along specific routes with fares starting at as little as 10 Baht. Beware of tuk tuk drivers wanting to rip you off – we wanted to do a bit of sightseeing (Karon viewpoint, Big Buddha, Wat Chalong Temple and the Upside Down House) and took a walk through Kata to find a good price. We were offered 2,000 Baht for an hour or two by tuk tuk. Instead, we hired a taxi for the day at 1,500 Baht for 5 hours and we could go wherever we wanted. Always make sure you negotiate your route and price beforehand. That being said, a ride in a tuk tuk is a must while you’re in Thailand.
Tip: If you’ve left things to the last minute, you can usually book taxis online just a few hours before your departure. We used www.alextaxiphuket.com and www.krabishuttle.com for door to door transfers and tours.
8. Hang out at 7 Eleven
The 7 Eleven was one of our favourite lunch and late night haunts. It’s a great place to pick up cheap beer for much less than you’d pay at the bars and each shop has toasted sandwich makers – you can get the best ham and cheese toasties for just 25 Baht, around 50p!
Tip: Despite their name, most 7 Elevens stay open all night and it’s a great meeting place at 2am.
9. Maya Bay isn’t all it is cut out to be
You know the famous scene from the movie The Beach? Maya Bay is certainly an attraction you have to visit once but in reality, it’s far less exciting than your imagination would have you believe. Take a long tail boat here early before all the crowds arrive and enjoy the view from your boat. You will have to pay a 400 Baht parking charge if you want to go onto the beach and the view is just as good from the water.
Tip: If you’re adamant about getting onto the beach, boat around behind the island to a small bay where you can swim and climb ashore through a small cave without paying the parking fee. If you’re visiting Maya Bay as part of a tour, this parking fee is usually included in the price.
10. Stick to Thai food
You will pay exorbitant prices for mediocre western food in Thailand. Always stick with the Thai food – it’s really good – and try something different every night. Don’t forget to try mango sticky rice!
11. Ask the locals
Take your time to stop and chat to the locals in Thailand – whether its the ladies checking you into your hotel, your local tuk tuk or longtail boat driver (provided they speak English) or other travellers. They will likely have plenty of great advice to offer you. Here’s a few tips I gleamed during my stay…
- Try a banana roti for breakfast and taste the Thai iced tea with condensed milk – Sunny, resident manager at the Tubkaak Boutique Resort Krabi.
- Look out for the Jasmine rice with caramel sauce served in a leaf at breakfast. It tastes just like rice pudding! – Kim, a fellow traveller.
- Taste the blue butterfly pea flower tea – it’s great for your hair! – Our friendly check in concierge at Avista Hideaway Resort & Spa.
- Definitely visit the Phuket Town Sunday Market and try the street food there! Beware of the perfumes they sell there – they are not authentic! – Anne, director of sales at Kata Rocks.
12. Visit the Upside Down House
The Upside Down House is not widely publicised in Thailand. Most tour companies don’t advertise it and having been there, I’d definitely recommend it. Located on the main bypass road from the airport in Phuket, it’s great for a fun day out– especially if you have kids. Everything in the house is suspended from the ceiling or turned upside down – even the fish swim upside down in the fish tank!
Tip: There are great photo opportunities to be had here. Ask someone to take a photo of you holding one of the objects hanging from the ceiling. When you turn your phone upside down, you will look as though you are standing on your head!
13. Dress appropriately
There are so many expats and tourists in Thailand that you can usually get away with wearing whatever you want. In most beach towns, people walk around in bikinis through the markets, however make sure you dress appropriately when visiting the religious areas such as the temples and Buddha statues – as a highly religious country, you can offend people by wearing skimpy clothing here. A tip we read was to “cover your sexy” – your shoulders, cleavage and knees.
Tip: Most places such as the Big Buddha will provide free scarves and skirts to those who have forgotten them.
14. Take off your shoes
In Thailand, the head is believed to be the most spiritual part of the body and as such, the feet being the furthest away are regarded as the least spiritual. Temples, spas, tourist attractions, local homes and some hotels will require you to take off your shoes before entering. Some places will have a sign requesting you to take off your shoes but other times it may be less obvious. As a rule of thumb, whenever you see a shoe rack outside the door, always remove your shoes. In some hotels, there will be pots of water where you can rinse the sand or dirt off your feet when you step off the beach or before you enter your bedroom.
15. Religious etiquette
As 95% of Thailand are Buddhists, it’s important you take note of the expected etiquette when visiting a Buddhist site or religious temple. Besides dressing appropriately and removing your shoes, you should also remember to never turn your back on a Buddha statue – always back away from it. Another thing to remember: you are not equal to a monk! Never face your feet towards a monk and women should never touch a monk. For the most part, as long as you are respectful of the way you act and the way you dress, you shouldn’t have any problems in Thailand.