Thailand travel guide: what you need to know


Best time to go to Thailand, Thai culture, language, health, safety, laws, scams, emergency contacts and more.


High season (dry season): November-March

Low season (wet season): July-October

Climate varies between the north and south of the country, and between the inland and beach areas. Check the average temperature and rainfall based on when and where in Thailand you're planning to travel.

  • Christmas falls in the middle of the high season when the weather is slightly cooler and the monsoons have ended. Expect crowds and inflated prices.
  • Some hotels shut down all together during the wet season, and boat services to islands may be delayed or cancelled because of storms.
  • The shoulder season (April-June) is also known as the 'hot season'. Temperatures may soar, but there's usually less rainfall and fewer visitors.
  • Although most of Thailand is warm all year round, the northern upland regions, such as Chiang Mai, are much less humid and can sometimes get quite cold at night.
  • Northern Thailand, including Chiang Mai, experiences bad air quality from January to May when farmers burn off their crops. The smoke can cause breathing difficulties, eye irritation and can limit visibility.
  • Although the peak season is around Christmas and New Year, June can also be a busy time when Europeans and Australians are on their mid-year holidays.
  • Songkran (Thai New Year) runs from April 13 to 15 and is celebrated with festivals and street parties. Accommodation is likely to be booked out well in advance.
  • The Loi Krathong and Yi Peng festivals usually fall in November (dates change each year) with locals and tourists launching glowing offerings into the sky and along rivers. The festivals attract huge crowds in most towns, Chiang Mai in particular.
  • Thousands of ravers hit Koh Phangan for the famous Full Moon Party every month. If dance parties aren't your thing, check what the moon is doing before you visit.
  • Thailand is the 'land of smiles'. Confrontation is a much bigger deal there than in Australia so avoid raising your voice or getting angry unless it's really a big deal.
  • Kissing in public, or doing anything more than holding hands, is considered inappropriate.
  • Homosexuality is legal in Thailand and is mostly accepted culturally, however public displays of affection are frowned upon no matter who is involved.
  • Thais are quite conservative and unfortunately women may attract stares or harassment if they wear revealing clothes.
  • Women and men should dress conservatively (long sleeves and long pants) when visiting temples and women should never touch the monks - not even their robes.
  • Thai people are extremely loyal to their king. Insulting or even joking about the royal family will not go down well, and it could even land you in jail.
  • Other taboos include touching a person's head, stepping over their outstretched legs and entering a home or holy place with your shoes on.
  • Tipping isn't customary in Thailand but it is appreciated, particularly by low-income earners like hotel and wait staff.
  • Most Thais speak little or no English, but you shouldn't have too much trouble communicating with people who work in the tourism industry.
  • The Thai alphabet is very different to our own, but signage is generally written in both Thai and English.
  • Make sure you have your hotel name and address written in Thai as well as English, in case you need to ask for directions or show a cab driver.

The Thai health care system has no reciprocal deals with Australia, which means if you get sick, you'll have to pay your own bills.

Thai hospitals

If you find yourself in a public hospital, don't panic - the quality of care is good, however the waiting times may be long and the staff may not speak much English.

Western-style private hospitals and clinics are common in cities and tourist areas. The bills can add up, and you may be asked to pay upfront or show proof of travel insurance.

Health advice

  • Tap water in Thailand is not safe to drink. To avoid sickness, particularly traveller's diarrhoea, drink bottled or boiled water, eat only cooked, fresh foods and ask for no ice in your drinks.
  • Mosquito-borne illnesses such as malaria and dengue fever are common in parts of Thailand, so remember to cover up and use repellent.
  • Many dogs, cats and monkeys carry rabies. Avoid contact with animals and consider a rabies shot before you go.
  • Medical tourism is a growing industry thanks to Thailand's lower hospital fees. Check CHOICE's guides to dental and cosmetic tourism to weigh up the risks and know how to spot a dangerous deal.

Safety advice

  • Thailand has experienced civil unrest, terrorism and a military coup in recent years. Steer clear of street demonstrations and check with smartraveller.gov.au for the latest safety advice.
  • Thailand's roads are the most dangerous on earth with an average of 36.2 road deaths per 100,000 citizens, according to a report by World Atlas. If you're planning on driving, make sure you have the appropriate skills, international licence and insurance.
  • Violent crime is relatively rare in Thailand, but you should still exercise caution, particularly in party areas such as Koh Phangan.

For the latest advice on risks including terrorism, conflict, natural disasters and potential outbreaks of disease visit smartraveller.gov.au.

Laws

  • Drugs are strictly illegal in Thailand. Don't be fooled by the party culture - drug convictions can result in the death penalty.
  • Some Australian medications may be considered narcotics under Thai law. Check the Thai government's list of controlled substances.
  • The legal drinking age is 20.
  • Smoking has been banned at 24 of Thailand’s most popular tourist spots, including Phuket, Pattaya, Koh Samui, Prachuap Khiri Khan, Chon Buri and Songkhla provinces. Smokers could cop a 100,000 Baht ($4000+) fine or a year in prison.
  • E-cigarettes are banned in Thailand.
  • The Thai government is cracking down on littering. New laws could see litterbugs face a 100,000 Baht fine or a year in jail for littering on any of Thailand’s 24 most popular beaches. A 2000 Baht fine applies for littering on the street.
  • Thais don't drink and vote. If there is a local or national election happening during your stay, the sale of alcohol may be banned on election day, or even for the whole weekend.
  • It is illegal to deface images of the king - this includes damaging or even stepping on Thai money. Yes, this law is actually enforced and could land you in jail.
  • You must carry identification with you at all times.
  • Bribery is illegal (although it certainly still happens a lot).
  • For road rules, see Driving in Thailand.

Scams and crimes

  • Many tourists have run into trouble with motorcycle and jet-ski hire. If you damage the vehicle (or, scam alert, if the operator claims you damaged it) you could be up for a lot of money. Some tourists have even been arrested and detained until they paid up.
  • Pickpockets are less common in Thailand than in many other countries, but theft still happens. Keep your valuable close, and avoid flashing your cash.
  • Taxi drivers sometimes make unexpected pit-stops at gem stores and tour offices, or will even take you to the wrong hotel, claiming that yours has closed down. They are being paid a commission to do this. Stand your ground and insist that they take you to where you asked.
  • Bank card skimming and credit card fraud is a problem in Thailand, as it is in Australia. Cover the keypad with your hand as you enter your PIN, never let your credit card out of your sight, and let your bank know if you notice any unexplained transactions on your statement.
  • Be careful using free Wi-Fi hotspots and avoid doing internet banking on untrusted connections.

If dialling from an Australian mobile phone, use the country code +66.

  • Tourist police: 1155
  • Note: The tourist police usually aren't actual police officers, but they're your best bet at getting English-speaking help in an emergency.
  • Police: 191 (some operators speak English and can redirect your call to the necessary service).
  • Ambulance and rescue: 1554
  • Fire: 199
  • National Disaster Warning Centre: 1860
  • Crime: 1195
  • Medical Emergency Call: 1669

Tip: Dialling 112 from any digital mobile, in most parts of the world, will connect you with the local emergency services even if you have no phone credit.

Hospitals

Most cities and tourist areas have western-style medical care available at a higher price than the public system. Contact the tourist police if it's an emergency, or check this list of hospitals and clinics provided by the US embassy in Thailand.

Tip: Many hospitals offer private ambulance services. Consider calling the hospital before you call for a public ambulance.

Australian Embassy and Consulates

Bangkok - Australian Embassy

thailand.embassy.gov.au
181 Wireless Road, Lumphini
Pathumwan, Bangkok
+66 2 344 6300 
Facebook: australiainthailand
Twitter: @AusAmbBKK

Honorary Consuls can provide limited assistance in Chiang Mai, Phuket and Koh Samui.


Phuket - Australian Consulate-General

6th Floor CCM Complex
77/77 Chalermprakiat Rama 9 Road (Bypass Road)
Muang Phuket
+66 (0) 76 317 700


Koh Samui - Australian Consulate

Koh Samui, Suratthani
+66 (0) 93 584 7074


Chiang Mai - Australian Consulate

195/262 Moo Baan Sansaran 2 (Mod Chic), Soi 2/7
T. Banwaen, A. Hangdong, Chiang Mai
Monday to Thursday 9am-12pm (by prior appointment only)
+66 (0) 91 857 6996


24-hour Australian Consular Emergency Centre: +61 2 6261 3305 (from overseas) or 1300 555 135 (within Australia) or SMS +61 421 269 080

If you fall victim to theft or any other crime, contact the police (numbers below). The multi-lingual tourist police may be able to help you resolve disputes with businesses, but many tourists have complained that the police often side with locals.

Thailand has some consumer protection in place, but unfortunately they aren't upheld to the same degree as in Australia. Thailand's Office of the Consumer Protection Board has guidelines on how to lodge a complaint.

If your gripe is with an Australian tour operator, airline, or booking site, follow the usual procedures for making a complaint or seeking compensation.

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