Thailand: First Timers Guide
We all love seeing new places but equally important is the actual experience. You can be in a world class city with the best attractions in the universe but if you do not know how to get to these attractions and get the best out of them you might as well just stay at home. Below is just a few pointers to help you enjoy the beautiful Thailand more. These are based on my experiences, they are not the end all but just a few guide lines to help you create your own experience, so read them with an open mind:
How to get there
Depending on how much time you have on your hands to manage all the bookings that need to be done, you can either do it yourself of get someone to do it for you (we chose the latter). I always advise people to book their own trips so that they can cut out the middle man, unless it’s a group tour which can be a bit of a nightmare to manage. If you have time on your hands and would also like to save some cents, you can use the following websites I always use to search for reasonable flights; skyscanner, momondo, travelstart & the flight centre .
You will be glad to know that for South Africans there is no visa required to enter Thailand.
Thailand, like South Africa has a variety of accommodation ranging from 5* to backpackers and hostels. During our stay we used city hotels and resorts for different experiences. Resorts by the beach are my pick. Nothing beats having a beach a stone throw away, the smell of the sea, the sound of the waves crashing into each other and the beautiful sight of calm blue seas.
My advise would be to only book your most important transfers coming into the country and going back home only. In this way you will save a lot of money and remove the stress of making sure that you get to the airport in time and delegate it to someone else. I say this because I found that it is easy to get cheaper rides once you are familiar with the transport system. We made a huge mistake of booking all our transfers in advance and we soon found out that we threw money down the drain. Had we booked our transfers on arrival we would have saved 80% of the amount we spent (true story).
The mostly used mode of public transport in Thailand are motorbikes and tuk-tuk which are very reasonable. The most you are likely to pay is 200Bt to move around town, anything more than that is a rip off.
I always say it is better to book your activities when you get to the destination. That gives you enough time to go through all the available brochures and also allows you space to bargain. Believe me when I say you need to polish your bargaining skills because they will be tested wherever you go.
My experience in Thailand taught me that one needs to just go for the most basic tours you can get because at the end of the day that is all you are going to get – Basic. They promise you exclusivity and prestige but you end up with everyone else. For example you will pay for VIP on the boat going to either Phi Phi Islands/ the Full Moon Party but on the boat and when you arrive at the island your experience will be exactly the same as the people that booked general access.
Things to do
Thailand offers a healthy variety of activities, ranging from spiritual, cultural and recreational. Big Buddha is the most popular attraction in Thailand. Most people that have visited Thailand have made it a point to visit Big Buddha, some for the experience and some for spiritual reasons.
You have to do the City Tour of Phuket, but go for the afternoon tour so that you can get to the spectacular viewpoint and get to experience the sun setting at the Promtep Cape Sunset. Visit the cashew nuts and the bee factories, they have very interesting stuff. Choose your tours carefully, go for one with less activities but gives you more time, that way you will get to have a lot of interactions because most tours are rushed and less informative, leaving you empty. Try to visit as many Islands as possible and experience snorkeling.
Phi Phi Islands Tour is a must do, it offers an opportunity to snorkel until you can’t do it anymore. Also don’t miss out on an opportunity to do water sports such as kayaking, board surfing, jet skiing and boat cruises.
The Elephant Sanctuary is one of the places one has to visit. An elephant has great significance in the Thai culture and therefore, there is a variety of Elephant sanctuaries you can visit. In most sanctuaries you get to play and feed the elephants, however some do not offer sitting at the back of the elephant activities.
There is abundance of massage parlours that offer a variety of massages, the most important in this instance being the Original Thai Massage. Visit the various markets and strike best deals. Before visiting Thailand make sure that your dancing shoes are dusted because there will be a lot of partying.
Most of the places in Thailand have a vibrant night life, they boast a wide range of establishments from high-end to medium range bars and night clubs. Phuket and Bangkok being the most vibrant but don’t make the mistake of underestimating the small towns. In Phuket there is a street (Bangla) dedicated to the partying scene. Samui has a never ending beach party, this is no exaggeration. Ark Bar Beach Resort has an everyday beach party with the best DJ’s in Town and sometimes international guest DJs. Koh Phangan on the other hand is famous for its Full Moon Party.
The Original Full Moon Party
Make sure you visit Thailand when it’s time for the Original Full Moon Party, you will not regret it. This party is held in Koh Phangan Island in Haadrin Beach. You will need to book a Ferrie to the island and it’s better to catch it from Samui. If you do not plan to explore Koh Phangan, you do not need accommodation as the party carries on until the sun comes up. This is one party you do not want to miss.
Bangkok has the winning and most practical and reasonable weekend markets. Everything is reasonable compared to all the other parts we visited in Thailand, from food to clothes. For fashion lovers the Chatuchak Weekend Market in Bangkok is your best option. I love the fact that you get to meet designers with exclusive labels and fresh designs. Fresh produce and street food is to die for. I am definitely coming back for this market.
The beaches in Thailand are very safe, in fact the country in general seemed very safe judging from the almost non existent Police presence in all the Towns we visited. Though we were warned to be very careful when going to the full moon party, no incidents were spotted. Thailand boasts beautiful islands with the most beautiful beaches where one can do a variety of water sports. In Koh Samui we were blessed to have stayed at a beach resort, at the beautiful Chaweng beach.
Thai dishes will contain a lot of pork and nuts (people with allergies to be very vigilant) as theses two seemed to pop up in most of the food we tasted there. Their way of cooking is not far from some of the dishes we are used to in South Africa therefore you should not struggle getting food. Thailand is also very big on Fruits they even have an art of cutting it, forming different designs.
The people of Thailand are very friendly, from the time we stepped into the country till we left we were treated with respect and kindness, even in Phuket 😉. They seemed to have so much love for South Africans though we were all referred to as Mandela when they greeted us. Though the language was a barrier, when we found someone who could speak English, they were very friendly and interested in getting to know us a little more. When going to the markets/ shops the attitude might take a slight turn though. Some business people tend to be impatient bordering rude. However, enjoy your time in Thailand, it’s a beautiful country.