So. You’re planning a trip to Thailand, how exciting! If this is your first visit, I have some tips for you for while you’re there. Thailand is an amazing place full of stunning beaches, turquoise water and bustling cities but there are a few things to keep in mind before you go.
Street Food Carts
As you travel around you will notice the abundance of food carts lining busy streets all over the country. The selection of mouthwatering choices can be exciting from the delicious Phad Thai, sweet Thai Pancakes to the stranger options of fried bugs. There are a few things to keep in mind when deciding to eat off of any of these.
Look for carts that cook food fresh and don’t take anything that’s been sitting for a while. Look for things like clean hands or even gloves on the person serving you. Ask for something freshly made and if they say no, move on to another cart. Look for the really busy carts as they will have a higher turnover meaning less food is just sitting around in the heat. Avoid carts with lots of flies (obviously) and be careful about the meat you choose. I don’t really eat meat so it’s easy for me to avoid it but have a look at the protein options before choosing. If you’re unsure, skip the meat. Phad Thai is just as delicious with the tofu and egg. Avoid the communal dish of spices on the table or better yet, ask for a fresh one. You never know who’s dipped their fingers into it to take a pinch. Carry around hand sanitizer and if the utensils they provide aren’t individually wrapped, I suggest giving them a wipe down along with your hands. Just be smart and go with your gut feeling. I personally would avoid all food carts in Bangkok. Myself and people I know have gotten sick on Koh San Road every time. I don’t think you will have an issue with the pancake carts, especially if you stick with Nutella or banana options. No fruit that is pre-cut.
You will see a lot of carts offering a rainbow array of delicious fruit in plastic cups or placed on skewers. The pineapple is some of the best I’ve had in Thailand and most definitely worth trying while you’re there. One thing you need to think about before eating these are, where were they cut and what was used to cut them. In my time traveling around Asia with my boyfriend who is a chef, we have definitely noticed the lack of food safe from people cutting on the back of trucks, sitting on tables with their feet beside the food they’re cutting and no where to wash the fruit. The food carts especially don’t have access to running water making it more of a chance of contamination when preparing the food for sale. My advice would be to walk by these temptations and only purchase fruit you have to peel from a market or store, take it home and wash it and cut it yourself. Out of the 3 times I’ve been to Thailand, I’ve been sick with food poisoning twice and looking back on it now, I ate from fruit carts religiously while I was there. Most hotels and resorts will lend you plates and knives to use, wash the fruit with bottled water.
Ice and Tap Water
Although you will hear that the tap water is fine to drink as it is distilled and cleaned, I wouldn’t trust the pipe systems to deliver this water clean to your taps. Stick with bottled water if you’re thirsty and don’t worry about using tap water to brush your teeth. I have heard mixed things about ice in Thailand so this is your call when you’re there. Generally the rule I used was to look for the good ice that is tubular in shape. You want to avoid the ice that looks homemade in ice trays. Although, I have read that ice is safer these days because of the amount of ice factories around using purified water and that for most businesses its easier for them to use commercial ice than the expense of making their own.
Malaria And Dengue Fever
You will hear different things regarding these annoying buggers from doctors. In my personal experience, I have never had a doctor or medical professional mention anything about taking Malaria pills, or concern over Dengue Fever. I always get vaccinated for Japanese Encephalitis (which you can also contract from mosquitoes) before i go. I also have a good amount of mosquito repellent with Deet that i apply constantly in the evenings, although mosquitoes are commonly around during the day especially during Thailand’s rainy seasons. You can also make sure you are covered up in the evenings like wearing a long sleeved shirt or shawl, leggings work great for me or buy yourself the popular “elephants pants” everyone is sporting! If you do get bit, the Thai swear by Tiger Balm to alleviate the itchiness which you can buy at any convenient store, supermarket or pharmacy for very cheap prices.
I’m not sure i can stress this enough….DON’T FEED THE MONKEYS! Unfortunately over the years, the lack of control over tourists feeding monkeys has caused them to be as aggressive as they are today. All over Thailand, they now see us as strictly food source. These guys are incredibly intelligent and have adapted to getting what they want from us. We were literally ambushed from behind by monkeys at a National Park in Koh Lanta, in a 20 minute stand off with what must have been the dominant leader and eventually forced to leave the beach due to their unrelenting aggressive behavior when they realized we had food we weren’t going to give them. We had large kayak oars to protect us and they still didn’t back down. Don’t get me wrong, they are cute and so much fun to shoot with a camera but please don’t let that fool you. Avoid feeding them, don’t get too close and walk away if you are provoked.
I am incredibly passionate about animals, so if you’re anything like me you don’t want your hard earned money going to a cause that exploits animals. I have refused to visit aquariums if tanks are too small for the fish.
These animals may look in ‘good shape’ physically but little do you know what goes on behind closed doors. Avoid ANY type of elephant riding, even at a ‘sanctuary’. If they are any legit facility in favor of the animals well being, they will NOT let you ride them. Most of these elephants have been poached from the wild (a lot of them as young orphaned babies) they are whats referred to as “broken” so that humans can ride them. Meaning they are abused physically, and broken down mentally and emotionally to be exploited for profit. They are beaten into submission with many types of ‘bull hooks’ and clubs, they are purposefully starved and deprived of sleep for many consecutive days. Elephants are incredibly intelligent animals so this is the drastic measures they have to take to make sure the animal obeys.
This goes for any type of animal attraction you may come across in Thailand whether it is getting a picture taken with tigers, bears or monkeys (who are drugged, beaten into submission, teeth removed and starved) feeding baby tigers, (who are poached and then hand reared and usually killed once they get too old to be cute) or monkey shows where monkeys on chains ride tricycles and do tricks for you.
There are so many other ways to see these beautiful creatures up close without having to pay to harm or exploit them. Check out this list of reputable facilities in Thailand you can visit or donate to a good cause:
Wildlife Friends Foundation
Friends of the Asian Elephant
Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation
Elephant Nature Park
Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary
Shopping and Bartering
To us Westerners, bartering and haggling can be a lot of fun but there are proper ways to go about this when fighting for a better price for an item.
Make sure when you ask the price of an item you are actually somewhat interested in it. Don’t start haggling if you do not intend on purchasing. That being said, know the difference in getting a good deal on something or what that something is actually worth. The moment you say “How much?” is like music to a vendors ears. They will bust out the largest old school calculator that you haven’t seen since you dug through your grandparents junk drawer to give you a price. When i barter i already know the maximum price i am going to pay for something before i even ask. I usually cut their price in half knowing they won’t go that low but its a great starting point so you both can work your way back and forth and meet in the middle with a price. Don’t be “that person” and barter on already cheap items and its not worth fighting over a dollar difference. Be prepared to walk away from a stubborn vendor, a lot of the times they will chase after you agreeing to your asking price. Remember, if it seems to good to be true, it probably is! I always suggest looking around a bit before buying something you see that you like. One thing i know about ALL of Thailand is that the items are repetitive. I’ve been to Thailand 3 times and they are still selling the same items from the first time i was there 7 years ago. If you’re anything like me, you love to buy original stuff whether its paintings, carvings or clothes. Give shopping some time, look around for those items that you don’t see on every corner stand, it makes finding a great item so much better! Get off the touristy street and look in shops off the beaten path!
Getting around anywhere in Thailand can be pretty hectic, especially those big cities like Bangkok and Chiang Mai. Experiencing a ride in a tuk tuk is a must do for a tourist in Thailand. It’s cheap and a lot of fun if you end up with a driver that doesn’t have a death wish. ALWAYS haggle the price the driver gives you as it is usually an ‘inflated price’. Avoid buying anything from a tuk tuk driver, it will be a scam i promise you! They are generally for short distance trips so if you plan on going a longer distance, grab a taxi (haggle on price for that too or make sure its a meter taxi first) If you’re spending a fair amount of time in one spot, the cost can add up pretty quickly. My favorite thing to do is rent a scooter. It gives you the freedom of exploring on your own, not worry about finding a ride, (which isn’t really hard actually) they are great for long distances but most importantly its extremely cost effective. Especially if you and another person just double it becomes so cheap that you’d be stupid not to do it! Most places charge about 200thb per bike per day, which is about 8$cnd. That should include the helmets but be warned, you are not covered for accidents or damage done to the bike. Any flat tires, you’re on your own! The good places will replace the bike for things like bad breaks, no headlights, sudden engine problems and things that are out of your control. I suggest going through your resort/hotel as they usually use a legit bike provider. Don’t be intimidated by driving as most locals are quite slow and go about 40kms. Even myself, being from Canada, driving on the left side of the road is incredibly simple to get used to on a bike. Wear your helmet, use your turn signals, drive slow and take your time and you should have no issues!
To some people, Thailand’s toilets can be a bit of a culture shock. One thing to prepare yourself for is not being able to flush your toilet paper. I know, confusing right! The plumbing system isn’t as advanced as ours and the pipes actually cant handle the toilet paper. You will see a hose next to the toilet, or ‘bum gun’ as its commonly called, i suggest figuring out how to use that as most hotels and resorts fine you for flushing toilet paper.
If you come across a public bathroom that has a proper toilet, feel grateful. Some you walk into are nothing but a hole in the floor to squat over. Most commonly found on trains actually, the hardest place to go even with a regular toilet! Bring your own toilet paper! Most bathrooms do not provide it or charge you for it, It doesn’t hurt to have a pack of Kleenex in your purse ladies!
Its also a plus if the toilet actually flushes. If you come across one with out a flusher, look around the room. Do you see a bucket full of water with a type of scoop or cup floating around the top? This is how you flush. Take a big scoop of water and pour it into the toilet, easy peasy.
If you’re brand new to this and really nervous about what you might stumble across looking for a toilet to use, i suggest searching out shopping malls and restaurants. They generally have fairly clean and proper toilets although its all part of the experience if you ask me!
This is always incredibly difficult for me. I have been brought to tears countless times in Thailand when witnessing the state of their strays. The reasons for the amount of strays varies from abandoned pets to basic lack of spay and neutering. Whatever the reason, it is not easy to see. They live a very difficult life full of hardship, disease, starvation and danger. Unfortunately most locals see them as pests and are sometimes poisoned, shot, stabbed or even burned if they hang around in an area with an annoyed resident for too long. Prepare yourself to see some cats and dogs in pretty rough shape in places like Koh Samui, Phuket and Koh Phangan. Although it can be very overwhelming, there is ways you can help! If you see an animal that needs medical attention, search on google to see if there are any local rescue facilities. You’d be surprised how many are close by and willing to meet up with you for a sick animal or even go on their own to find and help it.
You can also adopt rescues overseas rather than buying from a breeder. Some don’t even charge for flights, vaccinations or quarantines and often fly pets to places like Canada, the US and Europe for only an adoption fee.
I wouldn’t suggest approaching strays, as they can be quite unpredictable and you don’t know if they have a disease. Also if you haven’t received your rabies shot, its best to help from afar and let the professionals deal with the up close encounters. You can put out things like water and food if you have one hanging around. This will help keep them coming back if you’re waiting to find some help. Consider volunteering at a local shelter! Cuddle some cats, walk dogs, help with feeding and cleaning and just get involved! Any bit helps.
Soi Dog Foundation – All over Thailand
Lanta Animal Welfare – Koh Lanta
WVS Care for Dogs – Chiang Mai
The Bodhi Shelter – Phuket
Dog Rescue Thailand – Mae Phim / Rayong
Rescue Paws – Hua Hin