Travel in Thailand
Please note that this is our advice, and only that. You must make all decisions based on your own research and common sense. Things change in Thailand very fast. Please let us know if you find information here that is not up to date. The Naga Center takes no responsibility for anything that befalls you on your adventure in Thailand, but we do hope you will have a wonder-filled time. For links and phone numbers to things like travel agents and guesthouses please see the links box on the right side of most pages.
Don’t over-pack! Whatever you have just put in that suitcase, take most of it out. Thailand has just about everything you need! Leave lots of room for all the things you will buy, for even if you are not the shopping kind, you will buy stuff in Thailand; it’s impossible not to. Bring Doctor Bronners Peppermint soap. You will love us when you are super hot and showering in its cooling minty soapiness. Also, bring baby wipes. We like the kind that you can get in health food stores that are all natural, with no perfume. So nice for refreshing your face and hands when you have been on a plane for 12 hours, or a dusty train, or an endless bus ride.
Dressing appropriately for classes and for excursions to the temples (wats) is very important. Shorts and skirts should never reveal the knees. Shirts must have sleeves. Short sleeves are okay, but tank tops will be considered offensive. Shirts to be worn in temples and in classes should not reveal cleavage on women. Darker colors such as navy blue and black are not encouraged in temples, nor are they allowed in some classrooms. Closed toed shoes are considered more polite in general – but in most places shoes are removed before entering so there is some wiggle room on this one. Bring shoes that come off easily. These dressing tips are for those who wish to present themselves in a manner that generates respect among Thais. Many travelers prefer to dress in a manner that they feel represents their individuality, or will be appealing to other travelers. We recommend considering who your host is.
Please check with a Thai consulate in your country as visa laws are subject to change at any time, and this website may not have current visa information. As of the time of this writing, if traveling from the U.S.A. you do not need a visa to enter Thailand for 30 days or less. If you are planning on staying longer, you must contact a Thai consulate to acquire a visa, or you must plan on leaving the country and re-entering. Many people do this by visiting neighboring Southeast Asian countries.
Enroll With Your Embassy
U.S. citizens can enroll their trip with the U.S. Embassy Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (S.T.E.P.). This is highly recommended as the U.S. Embassy will contact you should you need to be alerted of travel dangers such as natural disasters and civil unrest, and will help your loved ones find you in an emergency (this is one of the reasons the guesthouses always get your passport info!). We have first hand experiened how incredibly helpful the U.S. Embassy can be to its citizens in Thailand and cannot recommend this enough.
If you plan to bring your cell phone, make sure it is a tri-band phone and get it unlocked before leaving. Don’t pay for international service unless you have a good plan, just get it unlocked so that when you get to Thailand you can get a local sim card (easily gotten at any cell phone kiosk in any mall or at any corner cell phone store). Or you can just get a used cell phone in Thailand at the mall for between $15 and $25.
Thailand works on 220 volts. If coming from the U.S.A, your electric toothbrush, cell phone charger, computer power cord; all should work just fine with no need for an adapter. You may wish for one though, if you have a long layover in another country.
Vaccinations and Dengue Fever
There are no required vaccinations for traveling into Thailand unless you are coming from a country that has yellow fever. If you are worried about malaria it is our advice to get your preventative medication for it IN Thailand. The doctors there know far more about malaria than most doctors in the U.S. do, plus they know where malaria is located in Thailand; which is not very many places. Also, medical care in Thailand is excellent and cheap. We have found that the CDC, when called, will advise travelers to get many vaccinations, repeatedly referring to Thailand as a “third world southeast asian country” and grouping it with all surrounding countries. We would not call Thailand a third world country. They have excellent medical care and it is not difficult to stay healthy while traveling there.
Do beware of mosquitoes and use repellent during dusk and dawn times as dengue fever is quite prevalent in Thailand. We recommend using a natural repellent during the daytime when it is easy to reapply frequently, and a stronger repellent during the night. For chemical stronger repellents we recommend picaridin rather than deet, as it appears to be a gentler yet equally effective option. Picaridin has only recently entered the U.S. market but has been used in other western countries for some time now.
Please be aware that dengue is transmitted by a mosquito biting someone who has it, and then biting another person, so public spaces are the most likely places to be infected. For this reason dengue tends to be spread frequently in guesthouses, hospitals and schools. The best way to prevent it is to use mosquito repellent when in these sorts of places. We cannot stress this enough; dengue is an extremely painful disease that is preventable. It is particularly dangerous for children, elderly, and those who have already had it once before. Most tourists traveling to Thailand for a short stay will not get it, but taking precautions is important.
It is impossible to tell someone how much money they will need for a trip to Thailand as we cannot know what sort of traveler you are, but here are some general guidelines:
Guesthouses can be found for as little as $7 per night, but we prefer the more comfortable mid range ones that cost around $10 to $16 a night. These often have two beds, so friends can easily share the cost. Bangkok and popular islands cost a bit more. In Chiang Mai you can certainly find lower cost accommodations, but check online reviews and check the sheets for bedbugs before committing. If you are more of a hotel person you will find very nice hotels at far lower prices than what you would pay at home.
ATMs are fairly abundant and you can just use your debit card from home. There is no need to get travelers checks when traveling to Thailand, and American dollars are pretty much useless.
We like to get a little bit of Thai baht before heading out to Thailand just to arrive with some local currency in pocket, but even this is not really a necessary precaution as there are ATM machines at the airport.
Food can cost as little as $5 a day and goes up from there. Alcohol tends to be expensive, so if you like to imbibe this will raise your budget needs. Restaurants aimed at the tourist crowd are more expensive, so if you want to eat on the cheap, it may take a bit more work figuring out where to go.
Most things in Thailand are very cheap including clothes, medical needs, transportation, gift items, food and lodging. Electronics, books and alcohol come to mind as being expensive.
It has been our consistent experience that any Asian airline will provide far superior service to any U.S. domestic airline. To date we have flown many times on China Airlines, Air China, Korean Air and Asiana Air and they have all been incredible, even in the cheapest back of the plane seats. Our current favorite is Asiana Air, but really they all rock.
Nephyr and Django once had a 34 hour layover in Korea. They discovered the following:
• There is a secret sauna in the basement (B1); one for women, one for men.
• The fourth floor has these huge wavy chairs designed for sleeping on.
• There are free internet lounges everywhere, but the best one is near gate 14 – it has laptops and comfy chairs.
• The only vegetarian food in the whole airport other than fries is a Korean dish called bipimbop. Make sure they don’t put beef in it if you are veg., and make sure they don’t put a nearly raw egg in it if you are vegan. and beware, that side dish of kim chi has fish in it and that little bowl of soup has beef stock.
• You can make (and keep) fun little cultural art thingies in the cultural center – for free!
• Korea has the best airport ever!
Mmmm, they have yummy sushi in the airport (with and without fish)!
When you arrive in Bangkok, after you have gone through immigration and gotten your luggage, you will go downstairs and outside. If you are not being picked up you will either take the skytrain or a taxi into town.
Taking a Taxi From the Airport
Be sure to do this at the official Taxi stand. You will see people sitting at a desk/table outside on the sidewalk near where all the taxis are on the downstairs level. Go up to these people and tell them where you want to go and they will connect you with a cab. Also, make sure that your cab driver has the meter on. If they try to convince you that it is better to agree to a flat price, they will be cheating you. It is nearly always better to go by the meter price. Taking taxis in Thailand is generally very cheap, but taking them to and from airports costs more. So don’t let your first cab ride put you off to taking cabs; unlike in western countries, they are often the least expensive way to get around!
Skytrain from the Airport
The new skytrain is great. It’s fast, cheap and sort of easy. I say sort of, because while it is easy to catch from the airport, it does not go many places. So it can get you into town from the airport faster and much much much cheaper than a taxi, but it is likely that once you are downtown you’ll still need to catch a taxi to reach your final lodging destination. This is easy in the daytime, but if you arrive in Bangkok in the middle of night it’s probably better to just take a taxi from the airport.
To catch a taxi somewhere other than at the airport, look for the little lit up red sign in the passenger side front window. If it is lit, the taxi is available. If it is unlit, then the taxi either has a fare, or is off work. To hail a cab, stand with your arm down just out from your side, and wave your hand up and down. Don’t wave your hands in the air.
Arrival in Chiang Mai
When you arrive at the airport, you will get in either a taxi, a tuk tuk or a songtow (red truck). Just go outside and they will either be there hassling you right away, or one will come along. If you get in a taxi, just make sure they use the meter, and you will not be taken advantage of. Taxis are cheap in Thailand – in many cities they are truly the least expensive way to get around other than walking. But taxis coming and going to airports often have a surcharge that you don’t experience taking them other places. Don’t worry about it – even if you get totally scammed, it will be a scam that costs you something like $10 or $15 – if it gets you to your guesthouse, all is good, no real harm done. Sometimes when exhausted and lost it’s worth it to just not fret too much since you know you won’t be paying these prices normally.
If you get a tuk tuk or a songtow, you will have to agree with the driver on a price before you get in. Don’t get in without agreeing to a price. To give you an idea of reasonable perimeters, 100 baht would be a very expensive ride ($3), and 40 baht would be cheap since it’s from the airport. But if there is more than one person in your group, this may cost more.
Transportation in Thailand
Traveling around the country can be great fun, but the roads in Thailand are probably one of the most dangerous things you will experience there. Thailand has its share of poisonous animals, criminals and infectious diseases, but you are far more likely to encounter road accidents than any of the other possible dangers. For this reason, in going over various transportation options, we will include a bit about safety for each.
As mentioned above, this is often the cheapest way to get around if you are in a city that has them. Make sure the meter is on unless you are going to go a very long distance or have hired the taxi for an all day tour, in which case it’s usually better to negotiate a flat rate. A long cab ride from one side of Bangkok to the other will most likely only cost a few dollars. Taxis around town are generally quite safe, but they do tend to drive at breakneck speeds when loose on the superhighway.
Tuk tuks, the little three wheeled open sided covered motorcycle engine thingies, are usually the most expensive way to get around. But they are fun, and they are everywhere, and sometimes they are your only option. Plus they only take you, so it’s direct. If you have more than one person, they can end up being the cheaper option since it’s a flat rate based on where you are going, not a per person rate as the songtows are. Also, if you are in a hurry, they can often get you there quick as they have more wiggle room in traffic. Tuk tuks are vulnerable vehicles, but they generally are just used around town, and even a “wild” tuk tuk ride is not usually going terribly fast.
Songtows in Chiang Mai (red trucks)
Songtows exist in most towns in Thailand, but the cost, color and the way they function varies from town to town. I am providing information on songtows in Chiang Mai here as this is the town that most people studying Thai massage spend a lot of time in, and because songtows are heavily used in Chiang Mai.
Normally getting around Chiang Mai, if you need a vehicle, you just flag down a red truck and tell them where you are going. Sometimes they nod and you get in, sometimes they shake their head no and drive on. don’t be offended, it just means they don’t want to go that way, or they already have a passenger who is going a totally different way. If they don’t stop when you flag them down, it’s not personal – they might be on the way home for a snack for all you know. If they just nod yes to your destination, then don’t ask about price, just get in – this shows that you know what the price should be, and that way you won’t be overcharged – if you ask, they might charge you more than they should. If no price is said, then it is going to cost 20 baht. That is the normal fee for going around town. If you are going someplace further away, like out to the Arcade bus station, or the airport, they will tell you a price. This price is usually negotiable. Knowing the base of 20 baht for around town will help you in negotiating. Songtows will pick up multiple people as they drive around, so you may end up going out of your way before you get to your destination as the driver drops various people off at various places. Sometimes this makes a short trip long, so be prepared.
Songtows come in different colors. The red ones have no set route and are everywhere. They are the main ones you will use. the blue, white and yellow ones have set routes. You will take a yellow songtow if you are going to Pichest’s but other than this mostly you will stick to red ones. Songtow means two benches. They are pickup trucks with two benches in the back for passengers to sit on. Songtows around town are a very safe mode of transportation.
If you are traveling on the cheap long distances can be covered by train. 2nd class sleeper cars are a great way to cover ground without paying for hotel accommodations that night. Try to get a bottom bunk; they are far more comfortable than the upper bunk and tend to cost only a few dollars more. Price is not the only reason to take the train though. They can be a great way to see the country, meet other people, and enjoy the journey as much as the destination. Trains in Thailand have been derailing a lot lately. This said, they are still statistically a far safer option than long distance bus rides. Also, because the trains in Thailand tend to be fairly slow moving, injuries and fatalities are rare when they derail. While they definitely need to improve the tracks, we would still rate train travel as safer than most road travel in Thailand.
Air conditioned buses are another way to cover long distances cheaply. They are often faster than the trains, but do not have a way to lie down at night. We prefer the trains, but then we tend to have a romantic leaning. Also, the buses are generally considered a more dangerous option. If you can avoid long distance bus rides, do so – there are too many bus accidents in Thailand, with too many drivers on speed, and buses with inadequate brakes. A couple of exceptions are the Green Bus Company, which tends to have very sane drivers and well kept buses, and the Nakhon Chai Air bus company.
You can usually fly between Bangkok and Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai or Phuket for around $80 -$100 one way on local airlines. The trip is short and comfortable, and relatively cheap if you compare what it would cost to cover a similar distance in the states. For long distance travel around Thailand planes are statistically the safest option.
These are sometimes a cheap quick way to get around, but be careful; they are also frequently a way to get hurt. Most of the time helmets are not provided.
You can get many places by mini vans that come with drivers. While sometimes the drivers are safe, they frequently are not, and mini vans can be an excellent way to experience a car crash in Thailand.
If you don’t have experience with a scooter, we don’t advise it. Even if you have years of experience with scooters and/or motorcycles, we still don’t advise it because you probably don’t have experience driving in Thailand. Actually, given how many Thais we see get into scooter accidents, even if you have experience driving in Thailand, we STILL don’t advise it. Yes, it’s super fun, we agree. But the reality is that a ridiculous number of tourists get in scooter accidents in Thailand. Really, we’ve seen some gnarly stuff, so be careful okay? This is probably the most dangerous mode of transportation around Thailand.
Studying Thai Massage In Thailand
If you are interested in studying at one of the many schools, or with an individual teacher in Thailand, we are happy to advise you. Please feel free to e-mail us with inquiries about schools and teachers. We advise based on your individual needs and wishes, so tell us as much about yourself as possible.
Please note that this is our advice, and only that. You must make all decisions based on your own research and common sense. The Naga Center takes no responsibility for anything that befalls you on your adventure in Thailand, but we do hope you will have a wonder-filled time.