What to know before going to Thailand for the first time

Tips about where to go, prices, what to do, and all in between

By Edson Eiras

My first time in Thailand was for a big reason: I wanted to celebrate my birthday in a heavenly spot, with sunshine, great beaches, lots of history, and under an affordable budget. I think I tackled it all.

first time in Thailand

My adventure started flying with Emirates Airways from Barcelona to Bangkok in mid-April. I got a great fare – 580€. My flight had a short stopover in Dubai, just to change planes. I really liked Emirates’ onboard service and it is for a good reason that they are always among the top 5 best airlines in the world. The plane I flew had 2 floors; on the top, you have a business and first-class and, downstairs, you get economy. I flew in economy class.

My route in Thailand

Thailand receives around 38 million tourists every year. It is not the most visited country in the world but its capital, Bangkok, is the most visited city in the world. Last year, around 20 million international (and national) tourists went to Bangkok. So just as millions of people do, I started my trip to Thailand there:

  • Three days in Bangkok;
  • One week in Ao Nang, in Krabi;
  • One week in Koh Samui;
  • One day back in Bangkok.
map of thailand

My route was to Southern Thailand, but you have amazing options in the Northern part of the country too, like in Chiang Rai, where I’m considering to go the next time I visit Thailand.

I first spent 3 days in Bangkok and it was enough to visit the Grand Palace (entrance fee is 500 bahts, 15€), Ayutthaya and the Floating Market. Ayutthaya is 80km from Bangkok and was the ancient capital from Thailand. You get there in about an hour by train. This was a one-day trip and it was really worth it. The train from Bangkok to Ayutthaya was really cheap (15 bahts, about 0,50€) and it was quite interesting.

After these days in crazy Bangkok, I flew to Krabi, where I stayed at Ao Nang beach. As Krabi town is a bit boring to stay, with fewer things to do, I recommend Ao Nang. Near the center you can walk to all the little shops and restaurants. From Ao Nang you can visit many islands, like the world famous Railay Beach, Phi Phi Islands, Koh Lanta

first time in thailand

There are many tours that pick you up at your hotel early in the morning and bring you back in the afternoon. All tours are nice. You can also book them on the internet in advance or when you get there. Prices vary a lot depending on what you want to do. It can both start at 17€ or reach up to 100€, if you want to go scuba-diving, for example.

Railay Beach is really nice and worth spending the day just relaxing on the beach. Ao Nang has many restaurants and bars so you don’t get bored at all. It´s not really necessary to take much cash on: most places accept credit cards.

After a week in Ao Nang, I flew to Koh Samui. Koh Samui is a very popular and touristic island, with lots of restaurants and shops. The beach is amazing and you can have the best massage there. Thai massage is really cheap. You can get one hour of it for less than 8€. It feels like paradise.

Elephant sanctuary: yes or no?

As many people that go to Thailand, I was offered to visit an elephant sanctuary. I chose one called Samui, in Koh Samui. I was a bit worried because Thailand is famous for the unethical treatment of elephants but it was really nice to see that some people are fighting for them. The Samui Sanctuary has rescued the 6 elephants there from violent or abusive circumstances. Elephants there are well-fed and free to move around as they please, and the most you can do, as a visitor, is to observe them. It’s not allowed to ride them, and if anyone offers you that kind of “attraction”, don’t take it! Elephants are not for that! The visit costs around 80€. It was a bit expensive for me but I felt like I was helping those incredible animals somehow.

Budah tours

Koh Samui is full of Budah Statues, so I recommend you to take a tour around the island. There are some really cheap one-day tours for an average of 17€. It is worth it!

Where to stay in Thailand?

In Bangkok, I stayed at Weeping Willow Sukhumvit 26; In Krabi, I stayed at J Mansion; and in Koh Samui I chose Teak Wing Hotel. I booked all my hotels through Booking.

Hotel prices in Thailand are quite good. You can stay in a nice hotel for 30€ per night and you can also stay in a Bed and Breakfast, sharing a room, for less than 10€. It depends on your budget. Remember to look for well-located and central hotels, besides checking the reviews.

How much baggage should I take?

I decided to travel as light as I could so I didn’t take much luggage, only my small backpack with less than 10 kg (although the allowance was 20 kg). I checked my backpack in when I left in Barcelona as I planned to buy some stuff in Thailand. It was a great idea to travel lighter because the flight I booked with AirAsia from Bangkok to Krabi had no checked-in baggage included. I could have paid an extra 10 euros to include a suitcase, but no need for it. In my other flights, I used Bangkok Air and it allows one checked-in suitcase of 20 kgs.

Should I take cash to Thailand?

I took cash with me and it was very easy to exchange money. The average rate was 35 bahts for 1 euro. Even at the airport, the rate is about the same, so you should be able to find an exchange place very easily. If you are going to use your card to withdraw money from ATMs, there is a 7€ charge, so it can get costly if you do this too often.

How’s the weather in Thailand?

It was my first time in Asia and I was very excited about the trip. Bangkok is a huge capital. It reminded me of São Paulo, but the weather is damp like in Rio de Janeiro. The temperature in April is around 30 degrees Celsius and it can go up to 40 degrees easily.

When is the best time to travel to Thailand?

As Europeans have their summer vacation generally in July or August, many fly to Thailand this time, when it’s supposedly not the best one as it is the rainy season. However you can still have a good time there as there are so many options of what to do. In my case I flew in April and it was great. But if you wish to have more resources before taking a decision about when the best time to go to Thailand is, take a look at this article.

How’s the food in Thailand?

The food in Thailand is amazing, but watch out if you don’t like spicy food. There are lots of fruit sold in the streets and all sorts of street food, like scorpions, cockroaches, and worms (yes, it’s not a myth!). Be brave and give it a try!

first time in thailand

If you eat at an average restaurant, you can spend about 10€ or less. It depends if you are going to have a beer or juice. Alcohol is not cheap in Thailand. You will pay from 2 to 4€ depending on where you are.

My last day in Bangkok

After one week in Koh Samui I flew back to Bangkok to spend one more day before heading back home. I stayed at G9 Hotel, that is very close to Chatuchak Market.

Chatuchak Market is the place to go and do all your shopping. And try all different types of street food. It is a big street market with all kinds of clothes and souvenirs from Thailand. Comparing to Spain, the prices are really cheap.

Thailand in a nutshell

After three weeks I had the feeling that it wasn’t enough. I wish I could stay for three months and explore the other regions! Thai people are really friendly and kind. You feel very welcome there. I hope I can come back again for another visit soon.

  • Edson Eiras is a Brazilian expat living in Barcelona, Spain. If you’d like to see more of his adventures in Thailand, check out his Instagram

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