Thailand Travel Guide: What to do in Thailand

Wat Benjamabhopit temple one of the best places to visit in Thailand

For a unique culture, tropical beaches, delicious food and friendly smiles, look no further than Thailand. Whether you’re looking for a party destination, to get great bargains or relax in the sun, Thailand has something for everyone.

In this travel guide, we share our best practical tips, top Thailand experiences, and how you can stay safe on your journey.

To get started, here's some useful vocabulary:

  • Sà-wàt-dee kráp: Hello or good evening/morning for males
  • Sà-wàt-dee kâ: Hello or good evening/morning for females
  • Baai baai: Goodbye
  • Chai-yoh: Cheers! (formal)
  • Kòp kun: Thank you
  • Mai pen rai: No worries!

Thailand travel tips

When should you visit?
The best time, climate-wise, is from November to February – this is when the rainy season has finished, but the temperature is still cool and the forests are lush.

How can you get around?
Tuk tuks are available throughout the country, starting at 30 baht for shorter trips, but the rate should always be negotiated before you get in. Taxis are cheaper for longer trips, but often take longer due to the traffic. In Bangkok you can also use the public transport network, while there are bus and rail links between cities.

Do you need a visa?
Yes, you’ll need a 30-day tourist visa, but you can get this on arrival when arriving by air. For longer stays, you can apply for a visa in advance. Just keep in mind that if you overstay your visa, the penalties get tougher the longer you overstay.

Should you tip?
Tipping isn’t traditional in Thailand, but it is becoming more widespread. Aim for 10% on food and drinks and 20 baht for porters/concierge. Note that larger tips may offend.

Thailand tours by tuk tuk

Facts and stats about Thailand

  • Dialing Code: +66
  • Electrical device: 220V with two pins (you’ll need an adaptor for Australian devices)
  • National Language: Thai
  • Driving: On the left side of the road
  • Currency: Thai Baht (one Australian dollar is about 29 Thai Baht)

Did you know…

  • Thailand is the only country in southeast Asia that wasn’t colonised by Europeans in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
  • 136,411 locals participated in the world’s largest bicycle rally on Queen Sirikit’s 83rd birthday on August 12, 2015
  • Thailand set the world record for the most expensive pet wedding in 1996, after spending 400,000 baht on a wedding ceremony for two cats (the record has since been broken).

Thai culture and customs

The people of Thailand are very friendly and respectful, and have a non-confrontational attitude, all traits that are influenced by the Buddhist religion, which is practiced by 90% of the population.

However, Thai also love to have fun, and the more laid back you are, the more authentic your interactions with the locals will be.

Note that the head is considered to be the most sacred part of the body in Thailand, so avoid patting or touching anyone's head. At the opposite end of the body, the feet are the least sacred, so avoid pointing your feet at people and religious pieces.

Finally, the royal family is highly respected, and any disrespect towards them will attract criminal penalties.

Tropical Thailand climate beaches

Top Thailand experiences

Thailand is one of the most popular overseas destinations for Aussies, and it’s easy to see why. With great deals to be had at the local markets, the hustle and bustle of the cities, and the tranquillity of the beaches and rainforests, there’s something for everyone.

Best places to visit in Thailand

  • Chiang Mai: Chiang Mai is encompassed by mountains and rich countryside, and is known by locals as the ‘Rose of the North’.
  • Kanchanaburi: If you love nature, Kanchanaburi is for you with its beautiful waterfalls and national parks open to the public.
  • Bangkok: Bangkok is a metropolis with no shortage of hidden gems for the keen tourist, including palaces and temples, malls, food, markets, and night life.
  • Phuket: Phuket is one of the largest islands in Thailand, and is home of the party spot Patong, as well as many stunning beaches.
  • Ko Samui: Known for its natural beauty, in Ko Samui there is plenty of variety to keep you stimulated if you don’t fancy sitting on a beach with a cold drink all day.

Beaches, parks and jungles

Many Aussie travellers flock to Thailand for the beaches alone. The tropical weather is a perfect match for the cool, crystal waters, and with hundreds of beaches to choose from you’ll be able to find your dream beach with research and word of mouth. For party animals, check out Pattaya, Patong, and Koh Phangan. For those who want to relax, try Ko Lanta or Prachuap.

But beaches aren’t the only way to connect with nature in Thailand – central Thailand’s Khao Yai National Park is popular for trekking and wildlife, while Doi Inthanon is Thailand’s tallest mountain and is covered with stunning waterfalls.

Then there are the jungles, featuring elephants, exotic birds, and monkeys, with hill tribes still living traditionally.

Finally, don’t miss out on the abundance of green rice fields. (And, while you’re there, be sure to try the rice – as one of Thailand’s largest exports, the locals believe it’s the best in the world.)

Thai street food

You can’t visit Thailand without enjoying the incredibly tasty (and incredibly cheap) street food on offer).

Feeling adventurous? Then try Larb Mote Daeng, which is prepared with red ants and their eggs. Other choices are Durian, a fruit so well known for its strong smell that many hotels ban it, and fried crickets, grasshoppers, and scorpions on skewers.

Meet the locals

Beyond the Thais themselves, there’s a large variety of wildlife in this tropical oasis. One experience is visiting an elephant sanctuary in the north, where you can meet orphaned and rescued elephants who are getting a second chance. You can also see the Giant Mekong catfish play cat and mouse with the fisherman on the Mekong river, or the monkeys in Lopburi thrive in the November Monkey Festival, which features banquets of food presented to honour them.

Experience the temples

Thailand is home to approximately 400,000 Buddhist temples,, so you can’t help but visit at least one temple during your stay. Known as ‘wats’, the temples are usually a collection of buildings, shrines, and monuments surrounded by a wall.

In Bangkok, the must-see temples are Wat Pha Kaew, the temple of the Emerald Buddha in the Grand Palace grounds, and Wat Pho, the Temple of the Reclining Buddha hosting a 46m long golden Buddha.

Thai massage

If you love being pampered, a Thai massage in Thailand is a must. A traditional Thai massage involves deep pressure applied by hands, elbows and even feet! Your masseuse will also pull you into a number of stretches, after which you’ll feel relaxed with loose muscles and improved energy.

Festivals in Thailand

Thailand is home to many festivals throughout the year, which can add some extra fun as well as local culture to your holiday. The most popular festivals include:

  • Songkran (April): Songkran is the celebration of the Thai New Year, tourists love joining in as you see people armed with water guns and buckets splashing water on everyone.
  • Loy Krathong (usually November): When the sun sets on the day of Loy Krathong, people start to float flowers in the waters and lantern balloons float up into the night, taking your breath away.
  • Phi Ta Khon: Also known as the Ghost Festival, locals in the Dan Sai district dress up in colourful costumes and masks and dance all night.

Muay Thai boxing

Muay Thai boxing is the most popular spectator sport in the country, and in the cities you’ll often encounter small vans topped with speakers advertising that night’s matches.

Keen to take part? Check if you're covered before participating in any potentially dangerous activity.

RACV Travel Insurance, choose from our comprehensive range of travel insurance plans

Staying safe in Thailand

Being such a popular travel destination, Thailand is a reasonably safe country to visit. However, it’s important to be aware of potential risks and to keep yourself safe.

Before you go, remember to organise your travel insurance. While we hope there aren’t any unexpected mishaps on your trip, having the right travel insurance in place will keep you and your valuables protected just in case. Make sure you keep your policy details on you at all times as well, as some hospitals won’t treat you without proof on insurance.

Also remember the number 1155 – this is an English-speaking number you can use to contact the ‘Tourist Police’ and ambulance services.

On your trip, here are some considerations to keep in mind.

Crime

Petty crime is common in Thailand, especially in tourist areas, and may include theft from hotel rooms, pickpockets, and bag snatchers in crowded areas. It’s also important to check your travel insurance inclusions as, depending on your travel insurance policy, unsupervised items may not be covered.

With this in mind, keep your valuables on you and regularly check on them, or lock them in the hotel safe.

Food and drink

Tap water isn’t always safe in Thailand, so stick to bottled water, and check that the bottle is sealed before drinking.

While Thai food is delicious, some meals can be prone to food poisoning and gastro issues. When choosing your dish, avoid raw fish, meat, salads and cut fruit as they’re not always washed, or may have been washed in unsafe water. A general rule is that if a stall or shop is packed, it’s a good sign.

Animal safety

Like most tropical destinations, Thailand is a mosquito hot spot, so make sure you have your travel vaccinations for common diseases like malaria and Dengue fever, use a strong insect repellent (and top up regularly), cover your skin in loose fitting clothing, and ensure your accommodation has fly-wire screens or mosquito nets (or air conditioning, so you can leave the windows closed).

Also be careful around larger animals, like dogs, bats and monkeys, as they might carry rabies and other fatal diseases that can spread through bites and scratches.

Staying safe on the road

Thailand doesn’t have a very strong road safety record, with some arguing that road rules are non-existent. When crossing the road, look everywhere – left, right, front and back, even if you have a green light – as the hazards can come from anywhere.

If you’d like to rent a motorbike, be wary as many rental companies can be lax on safety in their eagerness to get your money. If you have a valid licence, choose a bike and helmet you’re comfortable in and wear protective clothing, keep to the speed limit and don't drink and drive. Read some more tips about driving overseas.

If you don’t have a valid licence, note that you might not be covered by your insurance policy if you have an accident. In this case, it’s best to leave the driving to the locals, especially since you might not be covered by your insurance policy.

Party safe

Thailand is known for its party scene, especially Koh Phangan's large-scale Full Moon party. However, at large parties, the risk of assault, arrest, theft and injuries increases, so don’t get carried away.

Homemade cocktail buckets may seem like a good deal, but they are best to avoid as they may contain insecticides and narcotics. Buy your own drinks and keep an eye on them being prepared to avoid spiked drinks. If you do attend the Full Moon party, arrivals often involve a boat so make sure you’re comfortable with its safety standards.

Water activities

Thailand has plenty of water activities to enjoy on the hot days, but be wary of scams and safety issues. There have been cases where hire operators demand cash for damage that wasn’t caused by tourists, and safety standards aren’t as tight as in Australia and some activities have the potential for severe injuries.

Also keep in mind that some adventure activities may not be covered by certain insurance policies, so if you have adventure in mind, it’s best to check your policy to see if those activities are included.

RACV Travel Insurance, choose from our comprehensive range of travel insurance plans

More destination guides