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. Always start low, but don’t bargain unless you’re serious about buying. If you’re buying several of an item, you have more leverage to request and receive a lower price. It helps to keep the negotiations relaxed and friendly.
Dangers & Annoyances
- Gem scam We’re begging you – if you aren’t a gem trader, then don’t 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; don't do it.
- Avoid the common scams: one-day gem sales, suspiciously low transport prices, dodgy tailors.
- Bangkok's streets are extremely 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.
- Skip the 50B 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; put a Bangkokian between you and any oncoming traffic, and yield to anything 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 (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 Japan (www.mofa.go.jp/announce/announce/2002/4/0425.html)
- New Zealand Foreign Affairs & Trade (www.safetravel.govt.nz)
- US State Department (https://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/alertswarnings.html)
Unfortunately, discount cards are virtually unknown in Bangkok.
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 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.
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.
- If you need more time in the country, apply for a 60-day tourist visa prior to arrival at a Thai embassy or consulate abroad. For business or study purposes, you can obtain 90-day nonimmigrant visas but you’ll need extra documentation. Officially, on arrival you must prove you have sufficient funds for your stay and proof of onward travel, but visitors are rarely asked about this.
- If you overstay your visa the penalty is 500B per day, with a 20,000B limit; fines can be paid at any official exit point or at the Bangkok Immigration Office. Dress in your Sunday best when doing official business in Thailand and do all visa business yourself (don’t hire a third party). For all types of visa extensions, bring along two passport-sized photos and one copy each of the photo and visa pages of your passport.
- You can extend your stay for the normal fee of 1900B at the Immigration Office. Those issued with a visa exemption can extend their stay for an additional 30 days if the extension is handled before the visa expires. The 60-day tourist visa can be extended by up to 30 days at the discretion of Thai immigration authorities.
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. Women should 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 Never get into an argument with a Thai. It is better to smile through any social friction.
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.
A travel-insurance policy to cover theft, loss and medical problems is 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.
Checking insurance quotes…
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.
- 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.
- Smoking is banned in all indoor spaces, including bars and pubs. 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, however, you could then be hit with a hefty littering fine.
- 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.
- 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 (www.bk.asia-city.com) is a slightly more in-depth listings mag; and Coconuts Bangkok (https://bangkok.coconuts.co) is where to go for listings and offbeat local 'news'.
- On Twitter, Richard Barrow (@RichardBarrow) is a great source of tourist information.
Most places deal only with cash. Some foreign credit cards are accepted in high-end establishments.
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 charge a commission and duty for each travellers cheque cashed. Current exchange rates are posted at exchange counters.
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.
Contact your bank and your credit-card provider before you leave home and notify them of your upcoming trip so that your accounts aren't suspended due to suspicious overseas activity.
To report a lost or stolen credit/debit card, call the following hotlines in Bangkok:
For current exchange rates, see www.xe.com.
The basic unit of Thai currency is the baht. 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 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.
Banks and government offices close for national holidays. Some bars and clubs close during elections and certain holidays when alcohol sales are banned. Shopping centres have 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
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.
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 Maha Vajiralongkorn's Birthday
12 August Queen Sirikit’s Birthday/Mother's Day
23 October Chulalongkorn Day
5 December Commemoration of Late King Bhumiphol/Father's Day
10 December Constitution Day
31 December New Year’s Eve
- Smoking in restaurants and bars has been banned since 2008.
Taxes & Refunds
Thailand has a 7% value-added tax (VAT) on many goods and services. Midrange and top-end 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 refund on VAT paid on shopping, though not on food or hotels, as you leave the country. For how-to info, go to www.rd.go.th/vrt/engindex.html.
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.
International country codes include:
- Australia 61
- UK 44
- US 1
Dial 100 for operator-assisted international calls or reverse-charge (collect) calls.
The easiest phone option in Thailand is to acquire a mobile (cell) phone equipped with a local SIM card. Buying a prepaid SIM is as simple as finding a 7-Eleven. 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). 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 2016 is 2559 BE, AD 2017 is 2560 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. Some toilets also come with a small spray hose – Thailand’s 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.
Bangkok Information Center Handles city-specific tourism 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. 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
Recently renovated 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.
In addition to the animals, Dusit Zoo has shady grounds, plus a lake in the centre with paddle boats for hire and a small children’s playground.
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, Safari World 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, 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 tell them to cháh cháh (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 waitstaff. Consider this a much-deserved break, not to mention a bit of free cultural exposure for the kids.
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 outside 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 June 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). Gateway Ekamai has an arcade and a branch of Stanley MiniVenture, a model-train-like miniature town.
- 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.
Thailand presents one large, ongoing obstacle course for the mobility impaired. With its high kerbs, uneven footpaths and nonstop traffic, Thai cities can be particularly difficult. 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. Rarely are there any ramps or other access points for wheelchairs.
A number of more expensive top-end hotels make consistent design efforts to provide disabled access to their properties. Other deluxe hotels with high employee-to-guest ratios are better equipped to accommodate the mobility impaired by providing staff help where building design fails. For the rest, you’re pretty much left to your own resources.
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.disabilitytravel.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)
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
- The metric system is used.
- Everyday incidents of sexual harassment are much less common in Thailand than in India, Indonesia or Malaysia, and this might lull women familiar with those countries into thinking that Thailand is safer than it is. If you’re a woman travelling alone, it’s worth pairing up with other travellers when moving around at night or, at the least, avoiding quiet areas.
- Whether it’s tampons or any other products for women, you’ll have no trouble finding them in Bangkok.