Thailand, a country that effortlessly straddles the line between the deeply traditional and the ultra-modern, is a must-visit destination. If you’re travelling to Thailand for the first time, and are looking for advice from people who are ‘in the know’, then we have you covered.
Here, our travel experts share what they wish they’d known before going to Thailand for the first time, to help you make the most of your trip. We’ll be including advice for:
- How to plan your first trip to Thailand
- Getting around Thailand for the first time
- Best food and drink for Thailand first-timers
- Other tips for making your first trip to Thailand even better
How to plan your first trip to Thailand
The perfect trip starts with careful preparation and planning. And, while our Personal Travel Experts (PTEs) help our customers plan the perfect Thailand holiday, they also have these tips for anyone creating their own itinerary:
Research your options first: “Do your research before you travel,” suggests Rebecca Dowdeswell, PTE at Kuoni Cambridge. “There’s so much to see and do in Thailand; to make the most of your time, it’s worth looking into your options and mapping out the sights and activities you’d like to experience. Then you can prioritise and plan where you want to go and how long you’ll spend in each destination.”
Book a multi-centre trip: “On a multi-centre, you’re able to explore several areas of the country in one holiday, so you can enjoy a range of different experiences,” recommends Jared Brown, PTE at Kuoni John Lewis Norwich. Kelly Ruth, Assistant Manager at the same store, has a tip for her favourite multicentre trip: “Start in Bangkok for mouth-watering food and buzzing city vibes, then head to Chiang Rai in the north for the wildlife, temples and culture, before flying south to a beach destination like Phuket or Koh Samui for a relaxing finale.”
Check the weather before you book: “Thailand is such a long country that travelling across it will mean you’ll encounter different weather patterns,” says Josie Doe, Assistant Manager at Kuoni Bluewater. “Anywhere around Koh Samui or above tends to have better weather in our summer. Anywhere below Koh Samui is often better in our winter.”
Think about your flight timings: Kelly also recommends booking a flight that lands in Thailand in the afternoon: “The early morning flights can really mess with your body and you can end up feeling some of the nasty effects of jet lag. If you land in the afternoon it’s easier to get to your accommodation, freshen up, find your bearings in your new location, then aim to get to sleep at your ‘new’ bedtime to rebalance your sleep patterns.”
Getting around Thailand for the first time
Once you’re in Thailand, you’ll want to explore your surroundings and discover all the sights, sounds and tastes it has to offer. Our experts have plenty of tips for getting around Thailand that will help you travel safely and affordably:
Take your time: James Cassidy, PTE at Kuoni Cambridge, advises taking time to appreciate each moment in this gorgeous country: “Of all the things I wish I knew before going to Thailand, I’d say the main one is to try not to fit too many destinations in one trip. Slow down, soak up the beauty of each location and prioritise your activities so you’re not rushing.”
Use local transport: Jared recommends that you “use local transport to travel like a local, it will really immerse you in the culture and the destination. Local taxis, songthaews and tuk-tuks are accessible, convenient and give an authentic experience of the local culture in each area.”
Agree on travel costs first: “Always negotiate your tuk-tuk or taxi fare before you start your journey,” says Ricky Kingwell, Store Manager at Kuoni Milton Keynes, “that way you know exactly how much you’ll be paying and there’s no room for the costs to creep up. Alternatively, if your taxi has a meter, make sure they turn it on at the start of your trip so you can all see exactly how much the journey should cost.”
Taxis are the cheapest option: “Tuk-tuks are great fun, and give a unique local experience, so I definitely recommend giving them a try,” says Faye Woodbridge, PTE at Kuoni Cambridge. “However, you’ll find taxis are much cheaper for general transportation, so stick with them for most of your journeys.”
Download the taxi app ‘Grab’: Rebecca recommends downloading the app ‘Grab’: “It’s a ride-hailing app similar to Uber, so it’s a safe, affordable and convenient way to travel. It’s foreign language-friendly and you can precisely pin your location, so you don’t need to worry about a language barrier. Plus, it saves you standing around trying to hail cabs.”
Best food and drink for Thailand first-timers
If there’s one thing that all our travel experts agree on, it’s that Thailand has some of the best food and drink in the world, so the local cuisine should not be missed. Here are some of their top tips to get the most out of this world-famous food:
Drink local beer: Josie encourages embracing the local beers: “Anything imported will be more expensive, and Thailand has some fantastic local options. Chang is one of the most popular and is a nice light-tasting beer, but Singha is another fantastic option – it pairs perfectly with curry.”
Get involved with street food: “Try the local street vendors and markets,” says Rebecca. “They may look a bit rough around the edges, but I promise you that some of the best food can be found here. Some of my favourite options include moo ping (grilled pork skewers) and kanom krok (coconut-rice pancakes) both of which are delicious and easy to eat on the go.”
Opt for the tasting menus: “Order a tasting menu at a local Thai restaurant”, recommends Faye. “The best dishes I ate in Thailand were from these chef-curated menus, that are usually around five to eight courses – they’re a perfect way to get a full taste of what Thai cuisine has to offer.”
Take a Thai cookery class: If you love the food you try in Thailand, then why not expand your skills and bring some tips home with you? Kay Cross, PTE at Kuoni at John Lewis Norwich says: “There are so many cookery classes to choose from across Thailand, and it’s a fantastic way to learn about local ingredients and techniques. Now I’m able to whip up some of my favourite Thai dishes at home, and every time it reminds me of my experiences in this beautiful country.”
Go for a food tour: Kay also recommends booking a food tour when in Thailand: “Food tours are a great way to get your bearings in a new location and also give a comprehensive introduction to some of the best flavours, ingredients and dishes you can expect throughout your trip. These tours allow you to explore a mix of street food vendors, markets and restaurants - I was able to try menu choices I’d never have picked otherwise and they were all excellent. You’ll find plenty of tour options in most major cities or tourist hot spots.”
Other tips for making your first time in Thailand even better
Sometimes there are tips you didn’t know you needed to know, and our experts are well experienced in how to make the most of their holidays. Here are some of the other tips they wish they’d known before visiting Thailand for the first time:
Swot up on the local language: “Learn a few Thai words,” suggests Heather, “the locals are so friendly and appreciative. Even though many of the locals in tourist areas speak excellent English, arriving armed with the Thai words for phrases like ‘how are you?’, ‘please’, ‘thank you’ and ‘excuse me’ will help to enhance your experience.”
Buy a pre-paid SIM: If you’re keen to stay connected on your trip, Heather also recommends picking up a Thai SIM card: “Mobile data rates in Thailand are incredibly low, so buying a pre-paid SIM online, at the airport or most convenience shops will give you plenty of data, calling and texting credits to use during your trip. This is great for accessing apps, arranging travel, checking booking details and looking up reviews while on the move.”
Carry a light scarf or sarong: Steve Yates, Assistant Store Manager at Kuoni Peter Jones recommends always carrying a light cover up: “There are many beautiful temples in Thailand, including many in Bangkok – you never know when you’re going to come across one to explore. But be aware you need to cover up your shoulders and your legs below the knees when visiting. You can buy very inexpensive (and lightweight) garments in markets everywhere which will be useful to have with you.”
Don’t be afraid to haggle: Haggling is common practice in Thailand, and Jared has some tips for finding the best price: “Start with a fair price in mind – this will make it easier to negotiate and walk away if you can’t find an agreement. Aim to offer around 65-70% of the asking price and you should hopefully be able to meet in the middle. You can haggle at street markets and anywhere the price isn’t marked on the item – don’t haggle in department stores, malls or brand-name shops. But have fun with it – don’t be aggressive or confrontational and negotiate with a smile.”
What are the ‘Don’ts’ in Thailand?
While Thailand is generally a friendly, safe, laid-back country, there are still some legal and cultural rules that you’ll need to respect while you’re there. Our PTEs share some of the main things to avoid on your trip to Thailand:
Vaping: “Surprisingly, vaping is completely illegal in Thailand,” says Heather. “This means both e-liquids and disposable vapes are completely prohibited, so leave them all at home or risk facing a fine or even jail time.”
Drinking the tap water: Josie has a few tips on staying hydrated safely on your trip: “The water quality can vary massively throughout Thailand. While Bangkok tap water does meet international standards, some of the old, damaged pipes can still cause contamination which could lead to stomach problems. Bottled water is really cheap and readily available, and is generally favoured by both locals and tourists.”
Raising your voice: “Thailand is known as the Land of Smiles for a reason,” says Steve. “Politeness and calmness are valued here, and Thais are usually mild-mannered and softly spoken. Raising your voice can be seen as aggressive and disrespectful, even if you’re happy or excited. Staying calm and relaxed will help keep the sense of peace and harmony that the country is so famous for.”
Disrespect the monarchy: “The King is highly revered in Thailand,” says Kay. “It’s best to avoid discussing the monarchy if you can, and definitely don’t say anything negative about the ruling family. If you go to the cinema, you’ll need to stand for the national anthem, and even stepping on a dropped bank note to stop it blowing away would be considered disrespectful – bank notes have the King’s face on them.”
Touch people on the head: According to Buddhist tradition, the head is the part of the body that’s closest to the heavens, so needs to be respected, as Jared points out: “To touch a stranger on the head, even if you’re joking, being playful or light-hearted can be considered offensive to many Thai people.”
This article features expert advice from:
• Rebecca Dowdeswell, PTE at Kuoni Cambridge, is an avid traveller with a passion for cooking and international cuisine. Having previously called Asia home, she brings a wealth of insight into creating exceptional itineraries in the Far East.
• Heather Flanagan, Marketing Team. Former PTE and mum to two active boys, Heather’s an expert travel writer who has travelled extensively in Southeast Asia.
• Kelly Ruth, Assistant Manager at Kuoni John Lewis Norwich, loves helping customers find their dream trip. In her spare time, she enjoys dining in Asian-inspired venues and globetrotting with her family.
• Jared Brown, Personal Travel Expert at Kuoni John Lewis Norwich, has plenty of expertise in travelling around Asia. When he’s not designing adventures for Kuoni customers, he’s out enjoying long dog walks or dining out with friends.
• Josie Doe, Assistant Manager at Kuoni Bluewater, specialises in holidays to Asia including Hong Kong, Vietnam and Thailand. Aside from travel, her hobbies include paddleboarding and enjoying days out with her husband and sons.
• James Cassidy, PTE at Kuoni Cambridge, is an expert in holidays to Asia (amongst many other continents). Away from the travel desk, you’ll find him cheering on his football team or watching the latest blockbuster.
• Ricky Kingwell, Store Manager at Kuoni Milton Keynes, has an impressive 26-years of experience in the travel industry. He enjoys nights out at the theatre and always has one eye on his next adventure.
• Faye Woodbridge, PTE at Kuoni Cambridge has a wealth of first-hand experience in travelling through Thailand. At home, she loves learning to cook new Far Eastern dishes and finding new woodland trails with her dog, Merlin.
• Kay Cross, PTE at Kuoni at John Lewis Norwich, loves sharing her own travel discoveries when helping plan customers' holidays. She enjoys attending music festivals and tearing around soft plays with her two-year-old daughter.
• Steve Yates, Assistant Manager at Kuoni at Peter Jones. Steve is an authority on Asia and a trustworthy source for first-time tips. His hobbies include cycling, sketching wildlife and visiting London’s parks and museums.
If you’d like help planning your first trip to Thailand, our team of experts can help you build the perfect itinerary, as well as book your flights, accommodation and activities. Learn more about our luxury Thailand holidays here, call us or visit your nearest Kuoni store to find out how we can make sure you have the perfect trip.
This feature was created on 18th December 2023. The information within this feature is correct to the best of our knowledge.