tourist info

Here is some info for tourists

Visa

Likely you're from one of the countries which gets an automatic visa upon arrival. If so, you can stay for 30 days. Here's a partial list: Australia & NZ, Most of Europe, Brasil, Canada, USA, UK, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, Turkey & South Africa. If you want to stay longer, the easiest way is to take a visa-run trip to a neighboring country (recommended anyway!) at the end of the 30 days. When you re-arrive you get a fresh 30 day visa. You can only do this 3x (new law). After 3x, you need to leave for a period of 90 days before you come back again. You can get a multiple-entry 90 day visa which you can use to stay for up to 3 months without leaving. But it costs over $100 US and you need to get it at a Thai embassy outside of Thailand. Better to use that money to check out Cambodia, Laos or Viet Nam.

Airport

Go through customs, and walk out the door. Here you'll be greeted by hundreds of Thais looking to pick up their families, or trying to get you to go with them in their expensive taxis. Just ignore the mass and walk through. Go out to the street and get into a regular meter taxi. INSIST he use the meter. If he does not, get out. I'm serious. They will ALL try this game with new tourists. Be firm and forceful.

The new airport, Suvanaphum (pronounced 'sue-waa-naa-poom') just opened in 2006. It's beautiful. You're going to need Baht (Thai money) to pay the taxi driver, and tolls. Go to the ATM inside the airport before you get into the cab.

Bangkok Streets/Crosswalks, etc

Crosswalks are these funny striped things on the road which Thais still haven't figured out a use for. Use them at your own risk. Seriously tho, be careful crossing the road. Walk slowly and evenly, and make sure everyone sees you. If you see a pile of people waiting to cross, go make friends and cross with them. If someone is driving fast in the other lane, they mean to say, "Wait to cross until after I go". Do not by any means run out into the street if you see someone speeding up. If you see a pedestrian crosswalk bridge, use it.

Annoying Tuk Tuk/Taxi Drivers & Touts

tuk tukTuk tuks are these cute little three wheeled taxis which are pretty famous with tourists. The tuk tuk drivers love tourists because they'll pay 10x more than Thais and they have no idea how much a fare should be. Don't use them unless you flag one down yourself, and you have a rough idea of what it should cost. You agree to the fare before you get in. If a tuk tuk or taxi driver stops on the street cuz they see your foreign butt, that means they want to rip you off. Just give them a dirty look and walk on. Do not get into one of these taxis or tuk tuks.

When you go to touristy places (Grand Palace, Wat Po, Siam Square, etc), there will always be people there who tell you the place is closed. It's a scam. They act all nice to you and tell you that they can help you out, and will get a tuk tuk driver to take you on a tour of the city. This is a scam. The tuk tuk driver makes a commission at all the stores you go to (what a tour!). If anyone is overly nice to you at one of these touristy places, it's a scam. What kind of people can afford to not work and stand around talking to tourists anyway? And who would really want to?

Taxis should use their meter. Always make sure they turn the thing on right after you get in. If they say their meter is broken, they're lying. Just get out and find another taxi. Don't barter with them or agree to a price, it will always be much higher than just using the meter. Always flag down taxis, never get into one that's waiting. If they're waiting somewhere, it's to find a tourist who they can scam or rip off. This is especially bad at the night market. I recommend if you shop there to walk outside to the main street and flag one down. Don't get into any taxi/tuk tuk which is inside the night market. Annoying, but it's one small thing you have to deal with in Thailand.

Oh yea, and never buy gems from anyone here. Never. More info here: Wikipedia, everything2, angkor.com, virtual tourist.

Bartering/Shopping etc

All prices (except inside big stores, and all prepared food) can be lowered. Do not barter with street food vendors or restaurants. I don't with veggie markets either, altho I think you technically can. In fact, I don't barter that much unless I'm buying 'crap', ie: stuff you don't really need. But then again, I don't speak with them in English. I think if you use English with them, expect to pay more. Maybe it's like an 'English tax'. Especially in touristy areas such as JJ (the weekend market), the night market, etc. There you'll see a pair of Thai fisherman pants for sale for B250, while you can get the same pair at a local market for B50. Don't expect them to lower their price to B50, but B150 is more reasonable. The best advice is to be nice. I've seen so many rude foreigners speak to Thais in a manner that shames me. For the most part, Thais are good people, treat them nicely!

Food

chilisThai food is spicy. It's probably the spiciest in the world. Thais don't do things subtly, and that's evident in their cuisine. You're going to get a lot of garlic, a lot of sour lime juice and spicy chilies. The Thai food you got back home is a dumbed-down whitewashed version of what you'll get over here. That said, in my opinion it's the best in the world! Don't be afraid to be a little adventurous and try things you see on the street. I've been eating street food for years and have never gotten sick off it.

There is a great website called "Enjoy Thai Food" which shows a lot of common Thai dishes with pictures. It also has audio clips of how to say it correctly in Thai. Fun fun! Check it out here: Enjoy Thai Food Picture Menu & Enjoy Thai Food Talking Menu. If you are interested in learning to cook Thai food at home, check out Real Thai Recipes, a site which I am working on.

If you can't take the spice, you'll want to print out this card and point at whichever one you prefer:
not spicy
You can click on it to get a larger version.

If you are vegetarian, it'll be a bit tricky. Thais are pretty familiar with eating 'jae', but it's different that my concept of vegetarian. People who eat 'jae' over here are so for religion, and they don't eat strong flavors such as garlic, onions, etc. This gets boring fast. Eating jae originates from China, and there's even a big jae festival in October of every year. If you're veggie, that's the best time to come! There is another word for vegetarian, but many Thais won't know it. Mangsawirat is actually a Thai word, for Thai vegetarian (not Chinese vegetarian like jae). It's pretty much the same as western vegetarian. In case they don't know mangsawirat, just point to jae, and they should know that. Most people confuse mangsawirat with jae, so they think you don't want garlic. They then might freak out because they can't make that dish without garlic, or whatnot. They may ask you if you can eat garlic. Just say yes, and they'll relax a bit. One thing to note, if you're strict... People who eat jae eat oysters and oyster sauce.
vegetarian
You can click on it to get a larger version.

Social Don'ts

Feet are considered kinda gross and low, so don't put your feet on the table. Don't 'point' to things with your feet either, use your hands. When you sit next to someone, like on the skytrain, don't sit cross-legged (the style with your ankle touching your knee) with your feet pointing to the person next to you. And take your shoes off when entering a Thai house or temple. When inside a temple, sit facing the front (Buddha statue). Do not point your feet at the Buddha statue. Sit cross legged or sit on your legs.

Thais use a fork & spoon when they eat. They use chopsticks when eating noodles. Usually you eat together, sharing dishes. If there is a serving spoon provided, use that. If not, use your own spoon to get your share. Don't pile your plate tho, just take a bite or two at a time. And make sure your spoon is clean... don't drop bits of rice or whatever else into the shared dish. Gross. For more about eating Thai style, check out this article: How to eat like a Thai.

When paying for something, hand the money to the person. Don't just throw it down on the table. That's kinda rude.

Monks. Ladies, do not touch a monk or his robe, even if the robe is not on the monk. Do not sit next to the monk, even if that's the last seat available. Men can go right ahead, it's fine. There's a taboo in Thai Buddhism where women cannot touch monks. I guess it's way too much temptation for them. In any case, it's a big big social no-no. Feel free to talk to them, they're usually pretty nice. Just don't touch them! If you have to hand anything to them, set it down somewhere so they can pick it up.

Don't go topless on a beach. Thais are a tad more modest than Europeans, and it's kinda not cool do to that here. Don't wear a tank top or short shorts into a temple. In fact, it seems that only foreigners wear tank tops and short shorts anyway.. if you look at Thai women, they generally wear t-shirts and long shorts, skirts or pants. Unless they're in their 20's and live in Bangkok. Then, I guess, it's ok to run around in miniskirts. Oh, and please, no beach wear in the city! I've seen now a few women walking around Bangkok in bikini tops(!), and men walking shirtless. Don't they notice the gaping stares of the Thais? Hello? Not cool!

Squat Toilets

If you've never encountered one before, you're in for a treat. You'll find these at a lot of rest stops on highways and public restrooms. They usually come with no paper and a bucket. Bring your own paper if you're out and about, just in case. When using them, make sure you squat all the way down, otherwise you may pee on your shoes. Flush with the water provided in the bucket. I actually prefer these type of toilets in public restrooms, since you don't have to actually touch anything. Except they're always really wet from people dumping the water all over the place.

Vaccines etc.

You won't need them. I'd recommend Hepatitis A anyway, if you do a lot of traveling. Forget the malaria pills, you won't need them. Medical care here is excellent, so you won't have any problems if you get sick. And it'll cost you 1/10th of what it costs back home.

Further Reading/Links