Our Experience suggests…
If you are an independent, especially first time, traveller to Thailand it is useful to know a few things in advance!
Most people arrive at Bangkok Airport (Don Muang). Normally, from here they wish to go to the centre. This can cost from nothing per person up to 1000 baht. “Nothing” is usually the large hotel shuttle buses (but beware, even some of these make a charge).
You can spend 5 baht per person and go by train to Hualomphong in Downtown Bangkok. The station is accessed from Terminal 1, right by the Amari Airport hotel. You can walk there with your trolley and leave it on the platform. Buy a ticket and wait for your train! Journey takes about 40 minutes and is very interesting! You might have decided back home that you wished to have a longer trip by train and the best way to deal with this is to buy your ticket at the station. Try not to do this from your own country. Only agents can arrange tickets in advance on your behalf and they charge anything up to 500% more than the normal fare. Fares are extremely cheap and you should try to book a couple of days in advance, especially if you want to travel up to Chiang Mai or down towards the islands. Go to Platform 1 at Hualomphong and follow the obvious procedure from there.
Prefer a taxi? Make sure you go to the kiosk outside the main Airport entrance. There you will be given a special ticket that ensures the taxi you travel in is official and that the “taximeter” will be used and no bargaining required. The quick route into Bangkok is via the “Motorway” and is a toll operated road. The driver will ask you if you want to go this way (and it is much quicker, 30-40 minutes, as opposed to up to 2 hours) and you will be required to pay the toll. This is about 70 baht depending exactly where you are going. The total fare into Bangkok should be no more than 250 to 300 baht for the taxi. In fact, in Bangkok, it is a good idea to hail a taxi and as long as you insist that he puts on the meter, you should get a proper journey at the correct charge.
Any number of so-called “limos” will be available for 500 baht but our experience shows that the “limo” is rarely more than a very ordinary saloon car!
If you are not careful you could easily pay up to 1000 baht for “unofficial” cars into Bangkok but thankfully these days there aren’t many of those about.
Tuktuks don’t normally operate from the airport. When you arrive at Hualomphong they do! You have to bargain for every trip and a minimum “ask” is 100 Baht. Normally it will be more than this but you should bargain hard for at least half the asking fare. It is a fun way to travel short journeys but not comfortable, particularly if you have luggage. In most cases it will be more expensive than a taxi!
Some tuktuk drivers offer free journeys but there is a catch! They usually want to take you to a “special” shop from where you will be under pressure to buy something and thus provide a commission for the driver. You should politely decline the offer. Unwanted attention of any kind is best handled by polite refusal. If you want to go to a hotel outside the main popular ones it is possible the driver will tell you it is closed or some other reason you shouldn’t go there. He wants to take you somewhere else from whom he gets commission. Be assertive and insist you go where you want or move on to another driver.
There are no such things as “Government shops”
If you want a trip down the river, go by the public boat, easy to tell – that’s what the Thais will be waiting for. The fare is anything from 12 to 25 baht. Any other boat will be 100 or up to 500 baht!! We know, we have fallen for it! If you pay in advance, you are not on the right boat!
Apart from fixed-price shops such as in “malls” plazas, Department stores and restaurants there is a two-tier culture of pricing in Thailand. Some you can overcome and others not. Be aware that in general the price of a product to a “Farang” (usually this means any white Westerner) will be a minimum of double (sometimes a lot more) than asked for from a native Thai. Bargain hard. In the Night Bazaar in Chiang Mai, try offering a third the asking price. Remember that prices change drastically (in your favour) outside the main tourist haunts.
You will discover that the more you shop around the more likely it is that the item you thought was “different” is available everywhere else as well. Be patient with the more expensive things you want to buy and you might well end up with the bargain you were looking for. If you know a Thai person, get them to buy it for you!! The Thais also know the real thing when they see it.
Counterfeit products are not usually claimed by the sellers to be the real thing. They are a fun buy and look good but they won’t last long. You really shouldn’t pay any more than 500 baht for your Rolex or Cartier watch!!
The minimum daily wage in Chiang Mai is less than 150 baht. If you buy an item that costs you 300 baht you can bet that minimum amount has been made!!!!
Having said all of this about prices etc, unless you are greedy, the worst that will probably happen is that you will spend a few more baht than you should have done!
We find it very difficult to justify a trip to Doi Inthanon. This is the highest mountain in Thailand and is hyped as a trip to make. It will take a whole day from Chiang Mai and unless you go with a coach tour will cost you 200 baht each to enter the National Park (20 baht for Thais) exclusive of your travel costs, plus a car of 30 baht and there is very little to do there. It’s true the views are quite fantastic but there are plenty of other places from which there are really great views and they are free! If your time in Chiang Mai is limited we can point you to many other interesting places.
You can eat at any price in Chiang Mai. Try the food halls in Tesco, Carrefour, Big C. The best value of all is at the Airport Plaza where you can eat in extremely pleasant surroundings at the basement food hall from 10 baht and the Kao Soi stall has a dish for 15 baht and you can eat as much as you like!! Sample La Gritta at the Amari Rincome Hotel. You can easily spend 750 baht in here!! It’s a great place to eat and one of our favourites! Not much Thai food here but very much Italian. The Sunday lunch buffet is fantastic value and has the best selection of buffet food we have experienced anywhere including Thai.
The Airport Plaza is an enormous shopping centre which is quite new and you can easily spend more than a day there. There’s lots do: many International restaurants (the Japanese ones are especially good and inexpensive), shops of all kinds and the Northern Thai Village is a great place to see and buy genuine locally made Thai products. A multi-plex cinema and the most gigantic aquarium you have ever seen outside America.
You will have read in your travel guide about the famous Thai smile. You will have also read about the patience of the Thais. Also you will know about the status system that prevails here.
Forget all of this on the road!! The statute book says that a special crossing for pedestrians gives the right to pedestrians to cross the road and vehicles have to stop to allow this right.
The status system as it actually works on the road is as follows: If you are a bicycle you ignore pedestrians, if you are a motor cycle, you ignore bicycles, if you are a car, you ignore motor cycles, if you are a truck, you ignore cars, if you are a lorry, you ignore trucks, if you are a coach you ignore everything! The Thai person who can smile will be the very same person who will be happy to mow you down unless you get out of the way! If there is not a gap in the traffic you will not be given way to, ever!! We can assure you that you can stand in the middle of a crossing and nothing will stop for you. In fact you will be headlight flashed or hooted at not to encroach on the oncoming vehicle’s path. This behaviour is not polite, it is not impolite; it is downright rude and extremely dangerous. Thailand has the worst accident and death record on the roads than anywhere else in the world. Be careful!
Hiring a car with a driver can cost as little as 1000 baht per day. We would advise against hiring your own car for this reason alone. If you hire a motor cycle make sure you get a crash helmet and wear it! In Bangkok about 30% of the people don’t wear their crash helmets and lots of them die in road accidents needlessly as a result. In Chiang Mai less than 50% wear their helmets (they keep them in their shopping basket at the front of the bike and put them on only when they see a policeman). It is the law that helmets should be worn but surely the best reason for wearing them is the safety one!! There is very little lane discipline and cars and motor cycles are always passing on either side. As a farang, if you were involved in accident while you were driving it is extremely likely you will be blamed even if it was not your fault! It seems that the Thai justice system discriminates between people and not points of law or the facts of the case. Have we put you off driving? Good!
You can’t escape noise in Thailand. Wherever you go, particularly public places, “music” will be blaring away, often from different places but, arriving at you in a cacophony of noise which is quite intrusive! You will get used to it, though!
When in the tourist restaurants, if you want water with your meal, ask for “Nam bplou” – this is bottled and nearly always comes free with the meal. Anything else will be charged for at a greater price.
Kop Kuhn Ka (for females) and kop kuhn krap (the “a” is pronounced more like a “u” so not “crap” !! The “kop” is thank, “kuhn” is you and “ka” for females, is the polite way of ending your sentence as krap is for males. In other words Ka and Krap are likely to be heard at the end of sentences by anybody speaking polite Thai to strangers and people perceived to be of lower status.
If you end up in a restaurant with only a Thai menu, you can ask for a couple of dishes that will at least get you a meal that will be probably be “safe” for you. One is “Kow Padt gap goong” and is basically fried rice with prawns. Kow padt gap guyi is the same but with chicken. Padt Thai is a favourite and is basically a noodle dish and is delicious.
There are now many thousands of places offering Internet services. In Bangkok, go off the main roads and pay no more than 30 baht per hour. In Chiang Mai, pay no more than 20 baht. If you go to Carrefour, you can get Internet access for 10 baht per hour!!
It is against the spirit of Thai culture to take from Thailand any Buddha image however serious or trivial the item. It is to do with the principle that every Buddha helps to preserve the integrity of the Thai religion and culture and any image taken away “dilutes” that integrity. There is no such problem attached to you buying one, though!!
Talk to us about very cheap computer software, hardware and DVD’s, VCD’S and CD’s. We are not in the business but we do know the places to go!
If you purchase any item made from tropical woods, apart from carvings, be aware that a western climate will almost certainly affect stability of the item you bought. It will become misshapen because of contraction.
What to bring to Thailand for a holiday? It is often said that you should take half what you thought you would in clothes, and twice the money. We would say, halve that again. Apart from the waste of not wearing it, you will have more room to bring back all the things you want.
At all times of the year, the sun in Thailand is hot! You can easily get a tan but don’t get burnt. Any more than half an hour in direct sunlight is potentially dangerous and your holiday will be spoiled if you only got sunstroke!
The King of Thailand is a wonderful man! Just about 100% of the Thai people think he is and this is borne out by the fact almost every building, house, restaurant, all public buildings such as banks and post offices and lots of other places will have quite a large picture (often accompanied by his wife) occupying a high position on their wall. King Pumiphol (one transliteration) has ruled Thailand since 1949 and is the longest serving monarch in the world. There are shops that sell only pictures of the King and the Royal family with variations on venerable monks of the past. At 8 o’clock in the morning and 6 o’clock in the evening, the King’s anthem (not the National Anthem) is broadcast from all radio stations to many public places. Most Thais will stop what they are doing and stand up for the duration as their mark of continuing respect. Foreigners should try also to do the same. It is the King’s birthday on 5 December – it is a day’s holiday for everyone!!
All Monks are second in status only to the King and should be given the highest of respect whoever you may be.
Most large hotels in the major cities will have Western-type toilets and most of these will have accompanying toilet paper. In the provinces and the villages, there will be “squat” toilets and almost certainly no paper. Best to have some in your bag!
Thinking of going on a trek? Anything more than a fun day on the edge of the forest hills and you will need the minimum of the following: You need to be reasonably fit; you should wear some comfortable trainers; at night, especially in the cool season, it gets very cold in the high hills and you should have a warm top layer of clothing; toileting, see above! Your guide should speak English and be qualified to know the route, understand the conditions and be competent at dealing with emergencies; also there shouldn’t be any more than about six people for each guide. If you like your “creature comforts”, you won’t get them on a trek involving staying away overnight; it’s unlikely that you will even have a proper bed to sleep in!
When you come to Thailand for the first time, most things you experience will be different. Everybody does all the things you do back home – they just do them differently!!!
There is plenty of accommodation in Chiang Mai, hotels in Chiang Mai, guesthouses in Chiangmai, several bed and breakfast places in Chiangmai, but not many resorts in the Northern capital of Thailand. Siam Garden Resort Chaing Mai is one of them.