Preparing for a trip to Thailand

Preparing for a trip to Thailand

Is better to go independently or on an organized tour ?

There's a huge variety of tours offered for visitors to Thailand. Some plan a complete day-to-day itinerary, others flights and accommodation, and others will plan a trip around a particular theme e.g. scuba diving.

Unless you're particularly nervous of going independently, day-to-day tours are basically unnecessary. Thailand is an easy country to travel in, and tours are expensive, inflexible and restrict opportunities for meeting the local people. Amongst tour companies, Intrepid is one of the best as it's tours are quite flexible and don't try and shield you from the 'real' Thailand.

If you have a particular interest, 'themed tours' can be a good idea as they will often provide experiences that are difficult if not impossible to do independently. Many companies are specialists in one particular field, and so their tours can be well worthwhile. These are often only a few days long, so they leave time for other activities as well.

Do I need to book a hotel before I go ?

For the high season (roughly Nov - Feb, and August) the more popular places will fill up so it's worth making a reservation beforehand. Khao San road is busier at this time of year, but with a bit of searching it's always possible to find a room. It's virtually impossible to reserve a Khao San road guesthouse in advance.

At other times of year it's not really necessary to book ahead, though it may get you cheaper prices.

How much time should I spend in Thailand ?

This really depends on what you want to see while you are there. The main highlights of Bangkok can be seen in a couple of days, but seeing everything in Bangkok and nearby could take weeks. Two weeks is enough time for Bangkok, Chiang Mai and a beach resort. More time could be spent island hopping in the South or visiting the ruins and temples in the north at Sukhothai, Ayuthaya etc...

What should I take with me ?

Generally, as little as possible. A good guidebook is basically essential, but almost everything that can be found in western countries can also be found in Thailand, and it's likely to be cheaper too. Don't bother stocking up on things like camera films, soap, shampoo etc... because it's completely unnecessary and only means you have to carry more. If you bring a lot with you, you'll quickly regret it as the heat makes carrying a heavy load very difficult. Some things though, such as sunglasses, are better brought from home as the quality is likely to be better than you can get in Thailand.

Jumpers and jackets are completely unnecessary for most of Thailand at most times of year. The exception is in the north during the cool season (Nov - Feb) when it can get cold. Jeans are not a great thing to bring, as the hot and sticky weather can make them uncomfortable. They also are heavy and take ages to dry - bring more lightweight clothes instead.

Is it worth bringing a mosquito net / sleeping bag ?

If you plan on going trekking in the north during the cool season, a sleeping bag is definitely necessary (they can be bought / rented in Chiang Mai). Elsewhere, the weather is much warmer and so you don't need one. A mosquito net may be worthwhile if you plan to stay in a lot of budget accommodation in off-the-beaten-track areas, but many places will provide their own. On balance, it's probably not needed especially as they are available cheaply in Thailand as are mosquito coils. You should bring some DEET mosquito repellent though, which is much better bought abroad than in Thailand.

What time of year is best to go ?

This really depends on personal preference, as all parts of the year have relative advantages and disadvantages. The best climate is between November and March as this is when Thailand is not quite so hot as the rest of the year. April, May and June can get very hot. July to October is the rainy season, but September and October are much more rainy than July and August. There are significant variations in the weather in different parts of Thailand.

November to March is the tourist high season and this means flights and accommodation are more expensive, and popular places are likely to be booked out quickly. Peak times are at Christmas, New Year and the Thai new year (mid-April). There's considerably fewer tourists around in April to June, as it's simply too hot for some people at this time of year (occasionally over 40 degrees centigrade, normally around 32 - 34). The rainy season also has fewer tourists, as the regular tropical downpours put people off.

It's also worth considering what you want to see and do while you are there, as some are only possible at some times of year - scuba diving off some of the islands, certain festivals etc...

What's it like being there in the rainy season ? Should I take anything extra ?

Though some people are put off by the idea of going in the rainy season, it can be one of the best times to go. Downpours are not continuous throughout the day, but normally come in the late afternoon / early evening. When they come, they are heavy but relatively brief, lasting only an hour or so. Rain for days on end is rare.

In the early part of the rainy season (July - August), the rains are hardly a problem but it's more so later on (September and October). At this time Bangkok routinely floods, with water up to knee height in the streets.

It can have advantages being in Thailand at this time - the scenery is green rather than brown, and the waterfalls, rice fields and plants are much more impressive during the rainy season. It also means fewer tourists, cheaper prices and less booked-out accommodation.

Don't bother with any raincoat, as the weather is still hot during this time and it will just make you feel sticky. If you need something, a small umbrella is a better option - either take it with you or buy it over there.

What footwear is it best to bring ?

If you're planning to do any trekking or hiking, decent boots or trainers are essential. For everyday wear, some people prefer boots/trainers, others sandals. Most Thai people wear sandals all the time, and they have the advantage of being easy to take on and off, keep your feet cooler, and are better during the rainy season. Cheap sandals are widely available in Bangkok and elsewhere.


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