Travel tips

The Ultimate Thailand Travel Guide

Home to bustling cities, ancient temples and picturesque islands, Thailand is the destination of choice for both luxury travellers and gap year students alike. Bordering the Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman Sea, Thailand is the only South East Asian country never to have been colonised by a European country.

This gives Thailand its own unique and unfamiliar culture that is so appealing to British tourists. From the 14th Century Buddhist temples of Chiang Mai to the lively nightlife of Bangkok, Thailand has something to offer every traveller.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll take you through the essential travel preparation, local currency, accommodation, weather, and must-see sights.

Before you fly

Background info: 

Spread across 198,117 square miles, Thailand has a population of approximately 70 million. 10% of these people reside in the capital, Bangkok, while there are nine other major cities. 

Language:

The main language of Thailand is Thai, but there are many regional dialects. Luckily, English is many locals’ second language, though you’ll find this more common in the islands, and less common in the northern regions.

Travelling to Thailand

There are six main international airports in Thailand. Both Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang International Airport serve Bangkok, while you can also fly into Chiang Mai and Mae Fah Luang Chiang Rai in the North, or Phuket and Hat Yai Airport in the South.

UK flight costs to Thailand

Generally, Suvarnabhumi in Bangkok is the cheapest airport to fly into, while Phuket can be up to £160 more expensive. Direct flights are available from London to Bangkok costing, on average, between £700 and £1,000 for a return.

Flights from Manchester, Birmingham and Edinburgh are similarly priced, but may stop over in Munich, Dubai, Hamad or Amsterdam.

Flight times

Direct flights from London to Bangkok generally take 12 hours, while stopping flights may take 15 to 17. Northern airports like Chiang Mai may take up to 20 hours with connecting flights, while Phuket takes between 15 and 19 hours with one stop.

Getting from the airport

From Suvarnabhumi, it’s easiest to get into Bangkok by the Airport Rail Link City Line, which takes 25 minutes. It runs every 15 minutes and costs 45 baht. A taxi will cost around 400 baht but may take longer with traffic and tolls. From Don Muean, a taxi is easier at 350 baht.

There are shared minibuses from Phuket Airport at around 200 baht each, or a taxi costs 800 baht and takes 30-45 minutes. Taxis are easiest for Hat Yai, Chiang Mau and Mae Fah Luan Chiang Rai, as these airports are fairly central. These will cost up to 250 baht.

When to travel

Thailand is six hours ahead BST or seven hours GMT – the country does not observe daylight savings. Times to avoid include monsoon season, which is from August to October.

Generally, the south remains hot and humid year-round. For the best weather, travel between November and April.

Which plugs do they use in Thailand?

Thailand uses sockets with 220V AC electricity, just slightly less than the UK. Sockets are usually two-prong, so be prepared to bring a travel adaptor.

Visa and jabs for Thailand

UK travellers arriving by land or air may visit Thailand for up to 30 days without applying for a visa. For longer stays, you can apply for an extension up to 60 days. You can only extend your visa once per calendar year.

If you're using the 30-day visa exemption and arriving to Thailand through a land border, you can only do so twice per year. If you need to arrive via land to Thailand more than twice a year, you'll need to apply for a visa in advance.

Some immigration officers may also require proof of departure, such as a plane ticket.

How to apply for a visa

You should only apply for a new visa, entry permit or extension through a Thai embassy, consulate, or immigration officer. Any other method may be illegal. It is your responsibility to ensure you honour the terms of your visa, or else you may face fines of 500 baht per day, deportation or even detention.

What vaccinations do I need for Thailand?

The NHS does not advise any additional courses or boosters for Thailand. However, you should ensure all your primary courses and boosters (childhood injections) are up-to-date, including flu and MMR. If you’re high-risk, you may consider cholera, hepatitis A and Japanese encephalitis jabs.

Getting Thai Baht

£1 generally equates to around 38 Baht, but you can check the latest exchange rate here.  

To save money and get the best rates, it's advisable to order currency in advance. You can order your cash with ICE and have it home delivered the very next day. 

Where to stay

Bangkok

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The Peninsula Bangkok offers 5* luxury including two restaurants and a terrace café, plus a spa, pool and fitness centre. Rates are cheapest between July and December, averaging £180 per night, and most expensive between January and March, when they can be up £400 per night.

The hotel is within 20 minutes’ drive of The Grand Palace, Wat Arun Ratchawararam, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha and the Golden Buddha.

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The Baiyoke Sky Hotel is a very reasonably priced 4* with towering views over Bangkok, plus a massage spa and beauty salon. Prices remain the same throughout the year, between £50 and £60 per night except for New Year’s Eve.

The hotel is close to many shopping attractions including Siam Square One and Pratunam Market.

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The At Residence Suvarnabhumi Hotel provides a “home away from home” with mini villas and individual rooms. Room prices stay consistent throughout the year, around £33 to £35 per night.

The hotel is within half an hour’s drive of the Suan Luang Rama IX park, as well as the Krathum Suepla Temple and the Paradise Park shopping mall.

Phuket

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The Sri Panwa Phuket offers 5* suites, penthouses and pool villas in the heart of the hills next to Panwa Beach. With a spa and over 10 restaurants, it guarantees unspoiled luxury. Rooms start from around £280 in the summer months and £400 in winter.

The hotel is within walking distance of Panwa Beach, Laem Panwa and Phuket Aquarium.

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ID Residences Phuket offer incredible value 5* self-catering accommodation with a pool, hot spring bath and fitness centre. Prices remain consistent throughout the year, ranging from £58 to £67 per night.

The hotel is within 10 minutes’ drive of Khao Rang Viewpoint, Phuket Sunday Night Market and the Siam Niramit Phuket stage show.

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The 4* Forty Winks Hotel Phuket offers stylish dining and an outdoor pool from just £14 per night. In the summer months up until November, prices range from £14 to £16, rising incrementally to February, where they peak at £47 per night.

The hotel is within 23 minutes’ drive of the Phuket FantaSea theme park, plus Karon Beach and the Phuket Simon Cabaret show.

Chiang Mai

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The 5* Anantara Chiang Mai resort offers opulent suites, a wellness spa and fitness classes on the banks of the Mae Ping River. Rates range from £180 per night to £220 from July to October, climbing to £400 per night in December.

The hotel is within 10 minutes’ walk of the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar and 10 minutes’ drive of the old city.

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The 4* Eastin Tan Hotel Chiang Mai offers a selection of rooms and suites with a pool and gym, in the heart of the Nimmanhaemin Road shopping district. Rates range from £49 per night from July to October, up to £78 in the winter and £89 in April-June.

The Wat Chedi Luang temple is just 17 minutes’ drive away, alongside many other temples within 15 minutes. Chiang Mai Zoo is just six minutes’ drive from the hotel.

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The 3* Rainforest Boutique Hotel is well-connected and offers a luxe spa, two outdoor pools and an open-air restaurant. Prices peak at £29 per night for the first six months of the year, then average £23 from July onwards.

The hotel is eight minutes’ walk from the main train station, and a 15 minute drive from many temples and the Anusarn market.

Is Thailand Safe? Where to avoid.

Bangkok is generally very safe in terms of crime, though traffic accidents are common. Patpong and Soi Cowboy are considered less friendly than some more commercial areas. In Phuket, be wary of tuk tuk scams and avoid Rassada Pier unless you want to travel to the islands. Loi Kroh in Chiang Mai is best avoided at night-time.

The safest areas of Bangkok are Banglamphu and Silom. Patong in Phuket is very popular and safe for tourists. Likewise, the old town in Chiang Mai is generally considered very safe.

Getting around Thailand

Thailand offers a frequent but slow rail service. First class journeys are available by night only and average £28, while third class averages around £10. For longer distances, flights between major cities in the North and South generally take around two hours and cost around £40 for a round trip, for example from Bangkok to Phuket.

Night buses are a cheaper alternative if you have time. Taxis are readily available day to day, starting with a 35 baht minimum charge. A typical Bangkok journey costs 60 to 90 baht. If you use toll roads, this is added to the charge, ranging from 25 to 70 baht. Uber is not available in Thailand, but you can use the Grab app instead.

Top 10 things to do in Thailand

Sukhothai Old City

This is a six-hour journey from Chiang Mai or seven-hour from Bangkok, but it’s worth it. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is teeming with 700-year-old temples and statues frozen in time.

Cost: 30 baht

Monkey Beach

Located on the Phi Phi Islands (a two-hour ferry from Phuket), Monkey Beach offers white sands and great snorkelling spots. Its most famous attraction, of course, is its free-roaming namesake inhabitants.

Cost: free with varying tour costs

Nimmanhaemin Road

Shopaholics will love Nimmanhaemin Road. Based in Chiang Mai, it’s bustling with shopping centres and markets, as well as a vibrant nightlife with trendy cafés and bars.

Cost: free

Phuket Big Buddha

Sat on the Nakkerd Hills, this 45m architectural wonder can be seen from Phuket Town and Karon Beach. Visit for 360° views of Phuket Town and Chalong Bay, and an overwhelming sense of peace.

Cost: free, but donations encouraged

Elephant Nature Park

With Thailand’s poor track record of animal tourism, the Elephant Nature Park is a welcome sight in Chiang Mai. Here, elephants are rescued and rehabilitated, and thrive amongst dogs, cats, buffaloes and newly planted trees.

Cost: 2,500 baht day, 5,800 baht night

Phra Nakhon Khiri Historical Park

 

Three hours from Bangkok, the Phra Nakhon Khiri Historical Park houses the summer palace of King Mongkut, built in 1860. It offers amazing hillside walks and views between three main building groups.

Cost: 150 baht

Khao Yai National Park

For awe-inspiring views of wildlife, Khao Yai National Park stands head and shoulders above the rest. Visit for hiking trails, bike rides and amazing photo opportunities, just four hours from Bangkok.

Cost: 400 baht adult, 200 baht child

Railay Beach

Arguably the most beautiful beach in Thailand, Railay is only accessible by boat from Ao Nang beach. Based in Krabi, there are four individual beaches and no cars – just stunning views and rock climbing.

Cost: free but 150 baht to get there

Grand Palace Bangkok

 

The official residence of the Kings of Siam since 1782, the Grand Palace Bangkok promises architectural splendour like no other. Learn more about the politics, history and culture of Thailand within this outstanding complex.

Cost: 500 baht

Surat Thani Full Moon Party

Accessible from Koh Samui Island by boat, the Surat Thani Full Moon Party is the ultimate nightlife experience, favoured by backpackers around the world. Parties occur once a month, but the best is without a doubt on New Year’s Eve.

Cost: 100 baht plus travel expenses

Ones to watch

While there are a huge number of activities in Thailand, some may carry risks.

  • Speedboating – this is very popular in the Phuket area around the Andaman Sea coast, but you should not speedboat in crowded areas, as this can affect wildlife.
  • Elephant shows – these are very commonplace and often mistreat animals. Instead, find a reputable sanctuary such as the Elephant Nature Park above.
  • Hill tribe activities – ensure you pick an ethical tour operator, as some tours may take advantage of indigenous tribes. Look for eco-tourism with small groups.

Islands

Thailand is surrounded by clusters of islands. Tourist favourites include:

Koh Samui

Koh Samui has evolved from a backpacker destination into a honeymoon hotspot, thanks to its beach resorts, yoga retreats and family-friendly hotels.

Koh Similan

The largest of the Similan Island offers white beaches, and some of the best snorkelling and diving opportunities in the world.

Ko Yo Yai

Based halfway between Phuket and Krabi, Ko Yo Yai is wonderful for spotting wildlife, thanks to its rich abundance of fishing villages, mangroves and coral-covered waters.

Ko Phi Phi Don

Located in Ao Nang, Ko Phi Phi Don is highly popular among tourist thanks to its stunning viewpoints. It offers awe-inspiring vistas of limestone cliffs, and is a protected marine reserve. 

Are there sharks near Thailand’s islands?

There are many native species of shark around Thailand, but almost all of them are harmless to humans. Bull sharks may be spotted along the Gulf of Thailand, but attacks are rare – only one shark attack has been reported in Thailand in the last 500 years.

Leopard sharks can be seen around Phuket, the Phi Phi Islands and the Similan Islands. These usually appear at dusk/night-time. Other species include:

  • Bamboo sharks in Shark Point, Anemone Reef and Koh Dok Mai
  • Blacktop Reef shark in the Phi Phi and Similan Islands
  • Whale sharks in Koh Tachai and the Richelieu Rock

Which islands in Thailand are closed?

  • Phi Phi’s Maya Bay, made famous by the film The Beach, was closed to tourists in 2018 indefinitely after foot traffic damaged the environment.
  • Taichai Island near Phuket was closed in 2016 to combat over-tourism.
  • Koh Khai Nok, Koh Khai Nai and Koh Khai Nui were set to close in 2016 following environmental damage. They are now open but with limited activities.

What to eat in Thailand

Pad Thai

Probably the best-known Thai dish to Brits, Pad Thai consists of noodles, bean sprouts, onions and egg accompanied by your chosen meat and a variety of condiments, from fish sauce to peanuts.

Where to buy: Nara, Bangkok – you’ll find this in the Michelin guide.

Tom Yam

This is a spicy shrimp soup made with lemongrass, chilli, galangal, lime, shallots and fish sauce – perfect as a starter.

Where to buy: Pee Aor, Bangkok.

Phat Kaphrao

Commonly served as street food, Phat Kaphrao allows you to pick a meat that is then fried with basil, chilli and garlic. It’s served over a bed of rice and topped with a fried egg.

Where to buy: Soul Food Mahanakorn, Bangkok – recommended by Michelin staff.

Yam Nua

This is a spicy beef salad that features onion, coriander, spearmint, lime and dried chilli – a delight to all the senses.

Where to buy: Bangla Road, Phuket.

Red and green curries

Another British favourite, there’s nothing like the authentic taste of a red or green curry in Thailand, blending coconut milk and jasmine rice with aromatic spices.

Where to buy: Freshtime, Chiang Mai – suitable for vegetarians and vegans.

Where to go out in Thailand

Thailand is well-known for its vibrant party scene. The best night life in Thailand depends on what you’re looking for.

For all-night partying

Pattaya Walking Street features neon lights and endless clubs, with some very tempting but potentially perilous bucket drinks. Equally, Pattaya’s Hard Rock Café features all sorts of fun, including foam parties.

Best places to stay: Soi Buakhao or near Walking Street.

For theatre

The Siam Niramit show in Phuket provides an unforgettable dive into Thai culture, while the Chiang Mai cabaret show offers a flamboyant evening of comedy.

Best places to stay: Patong beach resort town, Phuket, or Chang Khlan, Chiang Mai.

For friendly bars

Bangkok offers many chilled-out bars with beer gardens and terraces, for more relaxed socialising.

Best places to stay: Din Daeng is within easy reach of many rooftop bars.

For island experiences

Ko Phi Phi is colloquially known as “party island” with beach bars, pubs and even Mua Thai fights. For the ultimate Full Moon Party island experience, head to Koh Phangan, where you’ll be joined by 30,000 other all-night ravers.  

Best places to stay: Any beach resort in Ko Phi Phi or Thong Sala in Koh Phangan.

Drinking age and drink prices

The legal drinking age in Thailand is 20. This is quite heavily enforced, as many bars have been known to have police raids on several occasions.

On average, you should expect to pay the following for popular drinks:

  • Beer – 50-80 baht
  • Wine – 170 baht
  • Gin and tonic – 150-200 baht
  • Cocktail – 100-150 baht
  • Spirit measures e.g. whisky, rum, brandy – 220-270 baht
  • Soft drink – 15 baht

Where to avoid

Crime is most common in the southern-most parts of Thailand, including Bangkok and Pattaya. Though assault and other violent crimes are rare, you should keep an eye on your drinks and be mindful of scams. Generally, it is best to avoid:

  • Sukumvit in Bangkok
  • The Beach Promenade on Beach Road, Pattaya

Average costs in Thailand

Thailand is very cheap to visit, and can easily be enjoyed on very small budgets. Including hotel rooms, a daily budget of £40 should be fine, or less if you’re paying for this separately.

Average food and drink costs

An average meal for one person in a Thai restaurant will cost 90-150 baht (£2.32 to £3.87). This will be pricier if you’re ordering seafood. Alcohol is also very cheap, costing at most 270 baht (£6.96) for a spirit measure.

Average travel costs

You can expect to average around 650 baht per day on travel expenses (£16.75). This will vary tremendously however depending on your mode of transport. Inner city taxis, for example, cost 60 to 90 habit (£1.55 to £2.32) while a first-class night train ticket will cost around 1,100 (£28).

Average attraction prices

Tourist attractions generally cost in the region of £15 to £60 (582 baht to 2,329 baht) but bear in mind, many are free to walk around! The majority of temples are free, expect for Wat Pho and Wat Arun.

How much to take for your trip

For a two-week trip, it’s best to take 21,800 baht (£560) or 10,900 baht (£280) for one week.

Weather in Thailand

Thailand is prone to monsoons, which vary depending on the region. Southwest monsoons occur between mid-May and September, while November to mid-March is worse in the Northwest. During these periods, temperatures will range from 25° to 32°C.

Best month for water-based activities

The seas are generally considered unsafe during the rainy season, so aim to travel between December and March.

Best month for walking

Between November and April are the driest months if you’re looking to get out and about. Keep in mind that the South differs from the East and West.

Thailand climate

Temperatures remain constant throughout the year in Thailand, ranging from 29° to 35°C. January has the highest number of sunshine hours, while September has the lowest.

You can check the weather in Thailand to plan your trip here.

Once you've set your budget for your trip to Thailand, don't forget to order your currency in advance for the best rates. View up-to-date exchange rates with ICE, and enjoy same-day collection or hassle-free home delivery today.

 

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