I’ve been to Thailand four different times: three times as a backpacker, and once this year. My most recent trip was a little different — I’m in my 30s now. I travel full-time, and I work full-time while I travel. That means that the Thailand travel tips that were once so useful don’t really apply any more.
Are you in the same boat? If so, here are the three biggest things I wish I’d known before this trip. Maybe they can help you save money and stay comfortable in Thailand!
1. Minimize ATM Use
The first time I took money out of an ATM in Bangkok, I glanced at the transaction fee briefly before hitting “Accept”. (I mean, I needed baht; I was in no position to be choosy.) As I walked away with the cash, I did the calculation in my head — it came out to more than $6 US!
Cash is still king in Thailand, so I made it my mission to find an ATM network with a lower fee. Everywhere I went in the country, every ATM was the same. Absurd. You can easily rack up $100 in ATM fees in a month — and $100 goes a long way in Thailand!
So. Since the Thai banks are running a big fat scam on foreign bank cards, and there’s nothing much you can do about it, the only option is to use ATMs as few times as possible. It’s not smart to carry around huge amounts of cash; instead, I would take out a few hundred dollars at a time and then hide most of it around my belongings.
2. Forget Buses and Trains — Just Fly!
When I was backpacking around Thailand in my 20s, I thought nothing of taking a 12-hour train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. Or the terrible third-class train from Bangkok to Cambodia. It was cheap, after all!
Now that I’m in my 30s, and I’m no longer a backpacker, I like my travel days to be as comfortable and short as possible. (Travel fatigue is no joke when you’re not 20 anymore!) That is, of course, when there’s not a huge difference in price.
And that is the beautiful thing about Southeast Asia. It’s so cheap! You can fly all over the country for less than $100, usually in an hour or less. Book a week or so in advance, and you can usually go for less than $50. Well worth it.
When flying in Thailand (or anywhere in Southeast Asia), here are the rules I live by:
- Never, never fly any Indonesian airline (Read about their safety record and lack of adherence to international standards. Yikes.)
- Never fly that super crash-prone Boeing 737 Max
- Never fly an airline that’s not allowed to fly into the EU or US airspace (often means that they don’t follow international safety and inspection regulations)
3. Airbnb is a Grey Area in Thailand
If you look at Airbnb listings in Thailand, read the reviews — chances are, you’ll eventually see at least one mention of terrifying signs saying that Airbnb is illegal in Thailand. Do a little reading, and you’ll see that it IS illegal, but that law is also not typically enforced.
I thought nothing of this. I stayed in a beautiful Airbnb in Bangkok; there were plenty of other foreign guests, and I had no problems. (And there were no “Airbnb is illegal” signs.)
Then, I checked into a different Airbnb and started seeing signs in the building. They mentioned the law AND the condo rules, and made terrifying threats of huge fines and jail time. They were everywhere, including plastered to the pillars near the front entrance. (Like below, the sign on the left is 4 feet tall; I had to snap this picture from afar to avoid attracting attention from the staff!)
I sent pictures of the signs to the Airbnb staff and asked what I should do. They were no help at all. Apparently, the host had put pictures of these signs in the long-ass house manual — which I didn’t get until AFTER I paid, when I was already en route to the apartment — so they considered me warned. Basically, they instructed me to ignore the signs…and just take a chance that no one would stop me or knock on my door and kick me out/arrest me, I guess.
Would anything actually have happened? Probably not. But I am a blonde woman; I stick out painfully everywhere I go in Thailand. If the condo residents were going to notice and report anyone, it would be me. And frankly, I don’t want to run even the tiniest chance of being stuck in a Thai prison, or being involved with the police.
In the end, I opted to cancel the rest of my reservation. It was just too uncomfortable walking around under those signs and worrying about what might happen. So, I found myself homeless and out a LOT of money.
Here’s how you can avoid my mistake:
- Read reviews carefully. If ANY of them mention signs or Airbnb being illegal, walk the other way, fast. That’s a sure sign that someone has complained, and the building management/residents are on alert for illegal guests.
- Read the descriptions, house rules, and house manual carefully. If the host tells you that you should never answer the door, talk to building staff, or that you should tell other residents that you are a “friend” if they ask, RUN. These defensive actions are the host covering their ass, and they’re another red flag that there have been problems in the past.
For the rest of my trip in Thailand, I opted for hotels and guesthouses. I prefer a full apartment, but the stress was just not worth it!
Thailand Travel Tips: Final Word
I hope these tips help make your trip a little smoother! If you have any Thailand travel tips of your own, leave them in the comments to help other travelers!