Thailand presents one large, ongoing obstacle course for the mobility impaired. In Bangkok, many streets must be crossed on pedestrian bridges flanked with steep stairways, while buses and boats don’t stop long enough even for the fully abled. Ramps or access points for wheelchairs are rare, and given their high kerbs, uneven footpaths and nonstop traffic, roads can be difficult to negotiate.
That said, a number of top-end hotels make consistent design efforts to provide disabled access to their properties. Deluxe hotels with high employee-to-guest ratios are better equipped to cater to the mobility impaired by providing staff and investing in thoughtful building design. Public systems such as the BTS and MRT networks, as well as many of the upscale shopping malls, incorporate elevators, ramps and toilets for the mobility impaired.
Download Lonely Planet's free Accessible Travel guide from http://lptravel.to/AccessibleTravel. Alternatively, some organisations and publications that offer tips on international travel include the following:
- Accessible Journeys (www.accessiblejourneys.com)
- Asia Pacific Development Centre on Disability (www.apcdfoundation.org)
- Mobility International USA (www.miusa.org)
- Society for Accessible Travel & Hospitality (www.sath.org)
- Wheelchair Holidays Thailand (www.wheelchairtours.com)
Thais respect a good haggler. Always let the vendor make the first offer, then ask ‘Can you lower the price?’ This usually results in a discount. Now it’s your turn to counter-offer, and so forth. Don’t bargain unless you’re serious about buying. If you’re buying several pieces of an item, you have more leverage to negotiate. It helps to keep the negotiations relaxed and friendly.
Dangers & Annoyances
- Gem scam We’re literally begging you – if you aren’t a gem trader, then please do not buy unset stones in Thailand. Period.
- Closed today Ignore any ‘friendly’ local who tells you that an attraction is closed for a Buddhist holiday or for cleaning.
- Túk-túk rides for 20B These alleged ‘tours’ bypass the sights and instead cruise to all the fly-by-night gem and tailor shops that pay commissions.
- Flat-fare taxi ride Flatly refuse any driver who quotes a flat fare, which will usually be three times more expensive than the reasonable meter rate.
- Friendly strangers Be wary of smartly dressed men who approach you asking where you’re from and where you’re going.
Bangkok is generally a safe city, but there are a few things to be aware of:
- In recent years, Bangkok has been the site of political protests that have occasionally turned violent; check your embassy's advisory travel warnings before leaving.
- Criticising the Thai monarchy in any way is a very serious social faux pas that carries potentially incriminating repercussions; just do not do it.
- Avoid the common scams: one-day gem sales, special Buddhist holidays, suspiciously low transport prices, dodgy tailors.
- Bangkok's traffic can be dangerous and its drivers rarely yield to pedestrians. Look in both directions before crossing any street (or footpath) and yield to anything with more metal than you.
- Most of Bangkok's street-food vendors close shop on Monday.
- Bangkok's rainy season is from May to October, when daily downpours – and occasional flooding – are the norm.
Bangkok Street Smarts
Keep the following in mind to survive the traffic and avoid joining the list of tourists sucked in by Bangkok’s numerous scam artists:
- Ignore ‘helpful’, often well-dressed, English-speaking locals who tell you that tourist attractions and public transport are closed for a holiday or cleaning. It’s the beginning of a con, most likely a gem scam.
- Tricksters often employ guise. We once saw a most unsuspecting senior citizen reading a newspaper on a park bench turn out to be a confidence artiste working in conduit with túk-túk drivers.
- Skip the 20B túk-túk ride unless you have the time and willpower to resist a heavy sales pitch in a tailor or gem store. Good jewellery, gems and tailor shops aren’t found through a túk-túk driver.
- Don’t expect any pedestrian rights, and yield to anything on the road with more metal than you.
- Walk away from the tourist strip to hail a taxi that will actually use the meter. Tell the driver ‘meter’. If the driver refuses to put the meter on, get out.
Government Travel Advice
The following government websites offer travel advisories and information on current hot spots.
- Australian Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade (http://smarttraveller.gov.au)
- British Foreign Office (www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice)
- Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs (www.dfait-maeci.gc.ca)
- Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan (www.mofa.go.jp/announce/announce/2002/4/0425.html)
- New Zealand Foreign Affairs & Trade (www.safetravel.govt.nz)
- US Department of State (https://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/alertswarnings.html)
Unfortunately, discount cards are virtually unknown in Bangkok. The nearest the city comes to the concept is a Rabbit Card, which can be bought at BTS stations and topped up with credit. This card buys you rides on the BTS system as well as merchandise in pre-approved outlets (both for a shaving less than standard prices).
Embassies & Consulates
Emergency & Important Numbers
The police contact number functions as the de facto universal emergency number in Thailand and can also be used to call an ambulance or report a fire.
|Bangkok area code||02|
|Directory assistance (free)||1133|
|International access code||001, 007|
|Operator-assisted international calls||100|
Entry & Exit Formalities
Thailand is a huge tourist destination, and entering Bangkok is generally very straightforward.
- White-uniformed customs officers prohibit the import or export of the usual array of banned goods – porn, weapons, drugs. If you’re caught with drugs in particular, expect life never to be the same again. The usual 200 cigarettes or 250g of tobacco are allowed in without duty, along with up to 1L of wine or spirits.
- For customs details, check out www.customs.go.th.
- Licences are required for exporting religious images and other antiquities. Refrain from purchasing Buddha figurines – especially head or bust sculptures – as souvenirs; the government doesn't endorse use of Buddha images as decoration. While exiting Thailand, these may show up on baggage X-rays and land you in a difficult spot.
Most nationalities can receive a 30-day visa exemption on arrival at international airports or a 15-day visa at land borders; a 60-day tourist visa is available through Thai consulates.
- Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs oversees immigration and visa issues. In the past several years there have been new rules almost annually regarding visas and extensions; the best online monitor is Thaivisa (www.thaivisa.com).
- Citizens of 62 countries (including most European countries, Australia, New Zealand and the USA) can enter Thailand at no charge. Depending on nationality, these citizens are issued a 14- to 90-day visa exemption if they arrive by air (most nationalities receive 30 days) or for 15 to 30 days by land.
- In 2019, the immigration department implemented fingerprint scans for visitors at passport controls. Your fingers are scanned upon arrival, then rescanned to match while departing.
Bangkokians are generally very understanding and hospitable, but there are some important taboos and social conventions to be aware of.
- Monarchy Never make any disparaging remarks about any member of Thailand's royal family. Treat objects depicting the king (such as money) with respect.
- Temples Wear clothing that covers you to your knees and elbows. Remove your shoes when you enter a temple building. Sit with your feet tucked behind you to avoid pointing the bottom of your feet at Buddha images. Never touch a monk or a monk's belongings; step out of a monk's way on footpaths and don't sit next to a monk on public transport.
- Save Face Losing your cool will almost never yield desirable results.
A travel-insurance policy to cover theft, loss and medical problems is always a good idea. There is a wide variety of policies available offering differing medical-expense options, so check the small print. Be sure that the policy covers ambulances or an emergency flight home. A locally acquired motorcycle licence is not valid under some policies. You may prefer a policy that pays doctors or hospitals directly rather than you having to pay on the spot and claim later. If you have to claim later, make sure you keep all documentation.
Worldwide travel insurance is available at www.lonelyplanet.com/travel-insurance. You can buy, extend and claim online any time – even if you’re already on the road.
Wi-fi is standard in guesthouses and cafes. Signal strength deteriorates in the upper floors of multistorey buildings; you can always request a room near a router. Cellular data networks continue to expand and increase in capability.
- Thailand’s police don’t enjoy a squeaky clean reputation, but as a foreigner, and especially a tourist, you probably won’t have much to do with them. While some expats will talk of being targeted for fines while driving, most anecdotal evidence suggests Thai police will usually go out of their way not to arrest a foreigner breaking minor laws. As long as you stay out of trouble, you should be quite OK.
- Most Thai police view drug-takers as a social scourge and consequently see it as their duty to enforce the letter of the law; for others it’s an opportunity to make untaxed income via bribes. Which direction they’ll go often depends on drug quantities: small-time offenders are sometimes offered the chance to pay their way out of an arrest, while traffickers usually go to jail.
- If you are arrested for any offence, police will allow you to make a phone call to your embassy or consulate, if you have one, or to a friend or relative. There’s a whole set of legal codes governing the length of time and manner in which you can be detained before being charged or put on trial. Police have a lot of discretion and are more likely to bend these codes in your favour than the reverse. However, as with police worldwide, if you don’t show respect you will only make matters worse, so keep a cool head.
Thai culture is relatively tolerant of both male and female homosexuality. There is a fairly prominent LGBT scene in Bangkok, Pattaya and Phuket. With regard to dress or mannerism, the LGBT community are generally accepted without comment. However, public displays of affection – whether heterosexual or homosexual – are frowned upon.
Because Thailand is still a relatively conservative place, lesbians tend to adhere to rather strict gender roles. Overtly ‘butch’ lesbians, called tom (from ‘tomboy’), typically have short hair and wear men’s clothing, and femme lesbians refer to themselves as dêe (from ‘lady’). Visitors who don’t fit into one of these categories may find themselves met with confusion.
- Bangkok’s predominant English-language newspapers are the Bangkok Post (www.bangkokpost.com) and the business-heavy Nation (www.nationmultimedia.com).
- Bangkok 101 (www.bangkok101.com) is a tourist-friendly listings magazine; BK (http://bk.asia-city.com) is a slightly more in-depth listings mag; and Coconuts Bangkok (https://coconuts.co/bangkok) is where to go for listings and offbeat local 'news'.
- On Twitter, Richard Barrow (@RichardBarrow) is a great source of tourist information.
- Bangkok Screening Room is the venue for the annual Bangkok LGBT Film Festival, usually held in July.
Most shops, restaurants, cafes and hotels deal in both cash or card; Visa and MasterCard are the most widely accepted. Cash only for street vendors.
Debit and ATM cards issued by a bank in your own country can be used at ATMs around Thailand to withdraw cash (in Thai baht only) directly from your account back home. ATMs are widespread throughout the country and can be relied on for the bulk of your spending cash. Most ATMs allow a maximum of 20,000B in withdrawals per day.
The downside is that Thai ATMs charge a 200B foreign-transaction fee on top of whatever currency conversion and out-of-network fees your home bank charges. Before leaving home, shop around for a bank account that has free international ATM usage and reimburses fees incurred at other institutions' ATMs.
Banks or private money changers offer the best foreign-exchange rates. When buying baht, US dollars is the most accepted currency, followed by British pounds and euros. Most banks will charge a commission and duty for each travellers cheque cashed.
Credit & Debit Cards
Credit cards as well as debit cards can be used for purchases at some shops, hotels and restaurants. The most commonly accepted cards are Visa and MasterCard. American Express is typically only accepted at high-end hotels and restaurants. Tap-to-pay machines are still not common in Bangkok, so most card transactions are still of the swipe or secure PIN variety.
For current exchange rates, see www.xe.com.
The basic unit of Thai currency is the Thai baht (THB). There are 100 satang in one baht – though the only place you’ll be able to spend them is in the ubiquitous 7-Elevens. Coins come in denominations of 25 satang, 50 satang, 1B, 2B, 5B and 10B. Paper currency comes in denominations of 20B (green), 50B (blue), 100B (red), 500B (purple) and 1000B (beige).
Tipping is not generally expected in Thailand, though it is always appreciated. The exception is loose change from a large restaurant bill – if a meal costs 488B and you pay with a 500B note, some Thais will leave the 12B change. At many hotel restaurants or other upmarket eateries, a 10% service charge will be added to your bill.
All banks and government offices close for national holidays. Some bars and clubs close during elections and certain Buddhist holidays, when alcohol sales are banned. Most shopping malls have service centres of banks that open late.
Banks 8.30am-3.30pm; 24hr ATMs
Bars 6pm-midnight or 1am
Government Offices 8.30am-4.30pm Monday to Friday; some close for lunch
Restaurants 8am-10pm; many upscale restaurants pull down shutters between mealtimes, or open only for dinner.
Thailand has a very efficient postal service and local postage is inexpensive. Post offices open from 8.30am to 4.30pm weekdays and 9am to noon on Saturday. Larger main post offices may also be open for a half-day on Sunday.
Most post offices will sell do-it-yourself packing boxes. Don’t send cash or other valuables through the mail, or items that may be flagged by customs.
Thailand’s poste-restante service is generally very reliable, though these days few tourists use it. When you receive mail, you must show your passport and fill out some paperwork.
Government offices and banks close their doors on the following public holidays. For the precise dates of lunar holidays, see the Events & Festivals page of the Tourism Authority of Thailand’s website (www.tourismthailand.org/Events-and-Festivals).
1 January New Year’s Day
February (date varies) Makha Bucha Day, Buddhist holy day
6 April Chakri Day, commemorating the founder of the Chakri dynasty, Rama I
13–15 April Songkran Festival, traditional Thai New Year and water festival
1 May Labour Day
5 May Coronation Day
May/June (date varies) Visakha Bucha, Buddhist holy day
July/August (date varies) Asanha Bucha, Buddhist holy day
28 July King Maha Vajiralongkorn's Birthday
12 August Queen Sirikit’s Birthday/Mother's Day
13 October Death anniversary of King Rama IX
23 October Chulalongkorn Day
5 December Commemoration of Late King Bhumibol/Father's Day
10 December Constitution Day
31 December New Year’s Eve
Smoking has been banned in all indoor spaces, including restaurants and bars, since 2008. The ban extends to open-air public spaces, which means lighting up outside a shopping centre, in particular, might earn you a polite request to butt out. If you throw your cigarette butt on the ground, you could then be hit with a hefty littering fine. That said, cigarette sales remain rife in Thailand, and there are designated spaces where one can light up with abandon. Many cafes and bars have outdoor seating areas where smoking is allowed.
Taxes & Refunds
Thailand has a 7% value-added tax (VAT) on many goods and services. Some hotels and restaurants might also add a 10% service tax. When the two are combined this becomes the 17% hit known as ‘plus plus’ or ‘++’.
You can get a VAT refund on shopping when leaving the country, though not on food or hotels. For info, go to http://vrtweb.rd.go.th/index.php/en.
The telephone country code for Thailand is 66 and is used when calling the country from abroad. All Thai telephone numbers are preceded by a ‘0’ if you’re dialling domestically (the ‘0’ is omitted when calling from overseas). After the initial ‘0’, the next three numbers represent the provincial area code, which is now integral to the telephone number. If the initial ‘0’ is followed by a '6', an ‘8’ or a '9', then you’re dialling a mobile phone.
If you want to call an international number from a telephone in Thailand, you must first dial an international access code plus the country code followed by the subscriber number.
In Thailand there are various international access codes charging different rates per minute. The standard direct-dial prefix is 001; it is operated by CAT and is considered to have the best sound quality. It connects to the largest number of countries, but is also the most expensive. The next best is 007, a prefix operated by TOT with reliable quality and slightly cheaper rates. Economy rates are available through different carriers – do an internet search to determine promotion codes.
Dial 100 for operator-assisted international calls or reverse-charge (collect) calls.
Local prepaid SIM cards can be purchased in Thailand at 7-Eleven stores, but ensure that your mobile device is unlocked. SIM cards include talk and data packages and you can add more funds with a prepaid reload card.
Thailand is on the GSM network and mobile phone providers include AIS (1 2 Call), DTAC and True Move, all of which operate on a 4G network. Coverage and quality of the different carriers varies from year to year based on network upgrades and capacity. Carriers usually sell talk-data packages based on usage amounts.
The main networks:
- AIS (1 2 Call; www.ais.co.th/12call/th)
- DTAC (www.dtac.co.th)
- TrueMove (www.truemove.com)
Inside Thailand all telephone numbers include an initial 0 plus the area code and the subscriber number. The only time you drop the initial 0 is when you’re calling from outside Thailand.
- Thailand country code 66
- Bangkok area code 02
- Operator-assisted international calls 100
- Free local directory assistance 1133
- Thailand is seven hours ahead of GMT/UTC. Thus, noon in Bangkok is 9pm the previous night in Los Angeles, midnight the same day in New York, 5am in London, 6am in Paris, 1pm in Perth and 3pm in Sydney. Times are an hour later in countries or regions that are on Daylight Saving Time (DST) in summer. Thailand does not use daylight saving.
- The official year in Thailand is reckoned from the Western calendar year 543 BC, the beginning of the Buddhist Era (BE), so that AD 2019 is 2562 BE, AD 2020 is 2563 BE etc.
Increasingly, the Asian-style squat toilet is less of the norm in Thailand. There are still specimens in rural places, provincial bus stations, older homes and modest restaurants, but the Western-style toilet is becoming more prevalent and appears wherever foreign tourists can be found.
If you encounter a squat, here’s what you should know. You should straddle the two foot pads and face the door. To flush use the plastic bowl to scoop water out of the adjacent basin and pour into the toilet bowl. Some places supply a small pack of toilet paper at the entrance (5B), otherwise bring your own stash or wipe the old-fashioned way with water.
Even in places where sit-down toilets are installed, the septic system may not be designed to take toilet paper. In such cases there will be a waste basket where you’re supposed to place used toilet paper and feminine hygiene products.
Many toilets (including Western-style ones) come with a small spray hose colloquially called the 'bum gun'. It's Thailand’s sprinkler version of the bidet.
Tourism Authority of Thailand Government-operated tourist information and promotion service founded in 1960. Produces excellent pamphlets on sightseeing; check the website for contact information.
Travel With Children
There aren’t a whole lot of attractions in Bangkok meant to appeal specifically to the little ones, but there’s no lack of locals willing to provide attention to strangers' children. This means kids are welcome almost anywhere and you’ll rarely experience the sort of eye-rolling annoyance often seen in the West.
Kid Friendly Museums
- Children's Discovery Museum
Kid-themed museum, with interactive displays ranging in topic from construction to culture.
- Museum of Siam
Although not specifically targeted towards children, the Museum of Siam has lots of interactive exhibits that will appeal to kids.
- Madame Tussauds
Siam Discovery has a branch of this famous wax museum.
- Ancient City (Muang Boran)
Outside of town, this open-air museum re-creates Thailand’s most famous monuments. They’re linked by bicycle paths and were practically built for being climbed on.
Parks & Playgrounds
- Lumphini Park
Central Bangkok’s biggest park is a trusty ally in the cool hours of the morning and afternoon for kite flying (in season – February to April), swan-boat rentals and fish feeding, as well as stretching of the legs and lungs. Nearby, kids can view lethal snakes becoming reluctant altruists at the antivenin-producing Queen Saovabha Memorial Institute, aka the Snake Farm.
It’s not exactly a zoo, but kids can join the novice monks and Thai children at Thewet Pier as they throw food (bought on the pier) to thousands of flapping fish.
- Play Centres & Amusement Parks
For kid-specific play centres, consider Fun-arium, central Bangkok’s largest, or the impressive KidZania. Alternatively, Siam Park City or Dream World are all vast amusement parks found north of the city.
Many hotels offer family deals, adjoining rooms and (in midrange and top-end hotels) cots for children, so enquire specifically. Car seats, on the other hand, are almost impossible to find. Taxi drivers generally won’t temper their speed because you’re travelling with a child, so if need be don’t hesitate to say chá chá (slow down).
For moving by foot, slings are often more useful than prams, as Bangkok footpaths are infamously uneven.
Nappies (diapers), international brands of milk formula and other infant requirements are widely available. For something more specific you’ll find the Central Chidlom as well stocked as anywhere on earth (there’s an entire floor devoted to kids). In general, Thai women don’t breastfeed in public, though in department stores they’ll often find a changing room.
Dining with children in Thailand, particularly with infants, is a liberating experience, as Thai people are so fond of kids. Take it for granted that your babies will be fawned over, played with – and even carried around – by restaurant staff.
For the widest choice of food, child-friendly surroundings and noise levels that will drown out even the loudest child, you may find the food courts of Bangkok’s many megamalls to be the most comfortable family dining options. High-chairs are rare except for in expensive restaurants.
Because much of Thai food is so spicy, there is an entire art devoted to ordering ‘safe’ dishes for children, and the vast majority of Thai kitchens are more than willing to oblige. Many a child in Thailand has grown up on a diet of little more than gaang jèut, a bland, Chinese-influenced soup containing ground pork, soft tofu and a handful of noodles, or variations on kôw pàt, fried rice. Other mild options include kôw man gài, Hainanese chicken rice, and jóhk, rice gruel. For something bland, big hotels usually sell their baked goods for half price after 6pm.
Rainy Day Fun
If you're visiting during the rainy season (approximately from May to October), the brief-but-daily downpours will inevitably complicate things, so you'll need a few indoor options in your back pocket.
MBK Center and Siam Paragon both have bowling alleys to keep the older ones occupied. The latter also has an IMAX theatre and Sea Life Ocean World, a basement-level aquarium. For those particularly hot days, CentralWorld has an ice rink. All of these malls and most others in Bangkok have amusement centres with video games, small rides and playgrounds (they’re often located near the food courts).
- Bangkok Doll Factory & Museum
This somewhat hard-to-find museum houses a colourful selection of traditional Thai dolls, both new and antique.
Need to Know
- Bambi (www.bambiweb.org) A useful resource for parents in Bangkok.
- Bangkok.com (www.bangkok.com/kids) This website lists a dizzying array of things to do with kids.
- Thorn Tree Kids To Go forum (www.lonelyplanet.com/thorntree/forums/kids-to-go) Questions and answers from other travellers with children on Lonely Planet’s community forum.
There are many wonderful volunteering organisations in Thailand that provide meaningful work and cultural engagement. Volunteer Work Thailand (www.volunteerworkthailand.org) maintains a database of opportunities.
Weights & Measures
- Weights & Measures The metric system is used.
- Everyday incidents of sexual harassment are much less common in Thailand than in India, Indonesia or Malaysia, although this might lull women familiar with those countries into thinking that Thailand is safer than it is. If you’re a woman travelling alone, try to pair up with other travellers when moving around at night, if possible.
- Whether it’s tampons or any other products for women, you’ll have no trouble finding them in Bangkok.