thailand for the first time

Thailand for the First Time

(Last Updated On: 13/03/2024)

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Here is everything you need to know if it is your first time visiting Thailand. I came to Thailand for the first time age 22 on a backpacking trip and have now spent 6 years living and working in Bangkok. I’ve helped many friends and family experience Thailand for the first time and now would like to offer you tips for first time travel to Thailand, how to plan your trip and what to expect once you arrive. 

Thailand for First Timers: International Airports Thailand

When planning your first time in Thailand, it is best to look at where you can fly into internationally. At the time of writing, there are 4 main international airports throughout Thailand, Bangkok Suvarnabhumi (BKK), Don Mueang (DMK) are two airports both located in Bangkok. Phuket (HKT) also has international flights. Also to be included in this first time to Thailand guide is Koh Samui airport although visitors will likely land first in Bangkok before getting a connecting flight to Koh Samui.  

Best Place to Stay to Visit in Thailand for First Timers

When traveling to Thailand for the first time, think about your itinerary and research which places are nearby or easily accessible so that you don’t spend a lot of your Thailand trip on planes, trains, minivans or buses. There are some suggested Thailand itineraries here to suit one week in Thailand or two weeks in Thailand that can be adapted depending on activities you enjoy doing and where you would like to visit. The mistake many people visiting Thailand for the first time make, is trying to squeeze too much into one trip. For a week, spend a few days in Bangkok and then a beach or island trip. If you are not beachy then consider Bangkok and Chiang Mai. If you have longer for your first time Thailand itinerary, then always consider staying a minimum of 3 days in each place so that you can explore. 

Best Places to Visit in Thailand for First Timers

Common places to visit in Thailand for first timers will most likely be Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phuket, Krabi and islands like Koh Phi Phi and islands in the Gulf of Thailand such as Koh Tao, Koh Phangan and Koh Samui. It is better to stay on the common tourist route for first timers as getting to more off the beaten track places can be slightly more complicated and take a while. Off the beaten track places I recommend would be National Parks in Thailand and the best island of Koh Lipe.

First Time Visiting Thailand: Booking Accommodation

There are two main websites that are usually used for booking accommodation. Compare prices between Agoda and when researching hotels, guesthouses or hostels in Thailand. I usually find Agoda to have the better rates but this may depend on which website you usually use and discounts that they can apply. It is possible to just show up and find accommodation in backpacking areas such as Koh Phi Phi and Koh Phangan although I do not recommend doing this if there during busy times such as Christmas and New Year, Songkran which is Thai New Year, or on Koh Phangan at the time of the Full Moon Party.

Thailand for First Timers: Activities

There are so many different activities that you can do, whether it is your first time in Thailand or your 30th! For what to do in Bangkok, then here’s 50 things to do in Bangkok. Some activities you might decide to do may be adventurous activities such as jungle trekking and hiking in the beautiful national parks of Thailand. Spending time island hopping around Thailand is often a must for those traveling to Thailand for the first time. For help deciding which Thailand island to pick from, here are summaries for each of them to help you decide. Alternatively, if you are after quiet beaches in Thailand then here are all the quietest islands in Thailand. Many visitors in Thailand for the first time enjoy an ethical elephant experience (here is why you should never ride an elephant and amazing ethical elephant sanctuaries that you can visit instead). If you are interested in scuba diving then Thailand is a wonderful place to learn how to scuba dive or if you are already a qualified diver then make sure you check out the best dive sites in Thailand. Here is also a bucketlist Thailand article for those that love adventure travel. 

Thailand first time
Views of Cheow Lan Lake in Khao Sok National Park Thailand

First time to Thailand Guide: Transport

Getting around Thailand is incredibly easy and transport is well set up for exploring many areas of the country. If you are only visiting Thailand for a short time then definitely consider flying as it is faster and more convenient. If you are happy to slow travel Thailand then trains are a cheap and adventurous way to travel around Thailand. Note that the train routes in Thailand only go to certain areas so to access Phuket or Krabi from Bangkok, for example, you would need to fly or take a night bus. If you are visiting Thailand on a budget then take night buses and night trains to save on accommodation and here are more tips to keep the cost of travelling in Thailand low. Here is more information all about travelling around Thailand on public transport. In terms of taxis in Thailand, Grab and Bolt are popular for both car taxis and motorbike taxis. Meter taxis are also common although the drivers are not always knowledgeable about their area of Bangkok so I recommend this for if you know where you are going and can direct your driver to a specific place. Within Bangkok, there is the skytrain (BTS) and the underground trains (MRT) and both are easy to use, cheap and a great way to avoid being stuck in traffic. For booking long distance travel, use 12go.Asia. Many minivans and buses will leave from either Ekkamai Eastern Bus Terminal, Mochit Northern Bus Terminal or Sai Tai Mai the Southern Bus Terminal (out East of Bangkok). 

Tips for First Time Travel to Thailand: Attitude

The most important tip for first time travel to Thailand is to be patient. Many things in Thailand happen slowly, trains are delayed, minivans stop and start to pick people up, service in restaurants is slow. Patience is a must and to understand that things happen very differently here to your country. If you have an open mind and see things with a sense of humour then it goes a long way to making the most of your first trip to Thailand.

Thailand for First Timers: Food

For many visitors, eating is one of the best things about visiting Thailand. From street food to sky bars to beach restaurants, Thailand offers an amazing array of local and international food. However, some people visiting Thailand for the first time are concerned about getting sick from food that they don’t normally eat. Much of the street food in Thailand is cooked fresh straight in front of you and it is rare to get sick from street food. Ice cubes in drinks can be a source that visitors might get sick from, so avoid ice in your drink if you have a sensitive stomach. Ice from restaurants and hotels will be fine to drink. If you are prone to getting sick from food then avoid any buffet style food where food sits out for a long time and only eat freshly cooked food. There are many vegan and vegetarian options in Thailand nowadays and always say ‘mai sai nam plaa’ to ask for your dish without fish sauce which is everywhere usually. 

First Time Thailand: Water

Very few people in Thailand drink the tap water so avoid doing so. It is fine to brush your teeth or wash your face with it but do not drink it. Instead refill your bottle where possible and use the machines on the street to fill up reusable bottles. Increasingly, hotels and hostels are now offering refills for their guests. Unfortunately Thailand still uses a lot of plastic but there are things we can do as visitors to avoid plastic usage as much as possible. 

First Time in Thailand : Health

Thailand has fantastic private medical care. The hospitals in Bangkok are excellent, customer orientated and many visitors come to Bangkok for medical tourism purposes. Make sure you have travel insurance to cover you as the private hospitals are not cheap. 

Thailand for First Timers: Animals

From mosquitos to street dogs to the jungles, Thailand is home to a lot of wildlife, much that you may not be used to in your home country. In terms of pests, you can expect to deal with mosquitos, cockroaches and the occasional leech when visiting the jungle. Use mosquito repellent and cover up in the evenings or when jungle trekking. Street dogs in Thailand are not known for being aggressive and it is highly unusual for any attacks to happen. Many simply hang out in the street, waiting for someone to feed them (consider buying them a treat from 711!). In the jungles and underwater, Thailand has so many wonderful creatures from monkeys and gibbons and wild elephants, to whale sharks, turtles and healthy coral. Here is more about the amazing wildlife in Thailand that you can experience while here, from pink dolphins to whale watching boat trips in Thailand. People traveling to Thailand for the first time are often concerned with monkeys and if they are aggressive. While it is very rare for monkeys in national parks to come close, some macaques that are used to humans and being fed by them can become more curious. Make sure you have sealed bags and remove sunglasses and caps from the top of your head when approaching them. It is best to avoid feeding any wildlife in Thailand. Be wary of any experiences where you can touch tigers, ride elephants or have a photo with a baby gibbon or monkey – all of the above is animal abuse so avoid. Here are more things to avoid doing in Thailand.

Thailand first time
Rescue elephants at I Love Phants – the best animal rescue centre

Thailand First Time: Weather

Thailand has two seasons, dry and rainy. Dry season is from November-March, rainy season from May-October and April is the hottest month in Thailand. That said, it can occasionally rain during dry season and in recent years the seasons have become more intertwined and difficult to predict.

First Time in Thailand : Tips

Visitors to Thailand for the first time often have questions regarding tipping and service. In Thai culture it is not common to leave a tip. However, as much of the tourist industry has been heavily affected by the pandemic tipping is always welcome. It is also important to note that salaries can be very low in Thailand with minimum wage at just 300 baht a day so a tip goes a long way. Usually 20-50 baht for short taxi journeys or in restaurants and around 100-200 in massage parlours but of course this depends on the individual.

Thailand for the First Time : Smoking & Vaping

There are many questions nowadays about smoking and vaping in Thailand. As of the time of writing, smoking cannabis is legal and you can find it everywhere in the streets and on the islands. Vaping, however, is illegal and you can be fined. Many people do vape and you can buy it here but please note it is illegal to do so. 

Thailand First Time : What to Wear and Pack

Thailand is a hot, humid and tropical country with two seasons, wet and dry. Bring lightweight clothes. You can wear what you want most places. For visiting Buddhist temples, both men and women must cover their shoulders and usually shorts/skirts that go down to the knees. Some temples will lend sarongs and scarves. The Grand Palace in Bangkok is the strictest on clothing. If you wish to visit a fancy sky bar in Bangkok (and you should for the views!) then flipflops and shoes without backs are usually not permitted. Aim for sandals with backs that go around the ankles. Shorts are usually accepted but check beforehand for the dress code of the individual rooftop bar or restaurant. Here’s more information on what to pack for Thailand.

Thailand for First Timers: Motorbikes

Please note renting and driving a motorbike, while many visitors do this, is only legal with an international driving license. A driving license only from your home country is not accepted by the Thai police and if they decide to stop you then are likely to receive a fine.

Here are more dos and donts about what to do in Thailand

For route planning check out the below itineraries for inspiration

one week Thailand itinerary

two week Thailand itinerary

three week Thailand itinerary

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