As part of the many things you’re likely doing to plan for your trip to Thailand, booking hotels, arranging Elephant excursions, or what have you, you DO need to remember to take a few extra steps to make sure you’re comfortable, as well as healthy and problem-free, during your time in Thailand.
Thailand is a supposedly a “developing” country, but a ride around Bangkok will leave you thinking its crossed well into “developed.” You’d be partly right. Be that as it may, take my hard-learned advice to heart and make sure you do these 10 things before you go.
Bring These Toiletries
Deodorant: For some reason, not a huge variety of Western-style deodorant is available in Thailand. This has always baffled me, as Thais are notoriously turned off by body odor. Bring some of your own from back home.
Sunscreen: Thais aren’t big into allowing their skin to be touched by the sun, and as a result, the sunscreen market isn’t the same as you might be used to. While still somewhat available, the name brands you may be used to are priced up very high (Thais don’t buy Banana Boat… foreigners do, so it’s more expensive) and the local brands, meant mostly for the face, are either mixed with lotions, scented or otherwise not attractive for a male to wear.
Ladies, you might be ok with the options available. Either way, pack your own.
Mosquito Repellent: Available at 711 in small pump-spray bottles, but make sure you bring the type with DEET. Mosquitoes will eat you alive in some parts of Thailand, and Dengue fever is not uncommon, or pleasant. Carry it out with you and apply even in the daytime.
Aloe Vera: Better to have this when you need it. Nothing is worse than a bad sunburn, and in this part of the world, those are easy to get. Available yes, but the same applies to this as with sunscreen (i.e. it’s not the best and it’s very overpriced.) Essential for any trip to Thailand or Southeast Asia.
Confirm Healthcare Coverage
For minor issues, healthcare is an area that you may actually be better off with in Thailand than at home. The country has become a destination not only for the beaches, food and weather, but healthcare tourism as well, with world-class facilities and internationally trained and credentialed doctors at incredibly cheap prices.
Now, my point is, you will be ok medically if you experience an accident or require healthcare services during your trip. All decently sized hospitals, both in Bangkok and in the smaller cities, have English speaking staff available to assist you. I would still recommend making sure your insurance covers you during your trip though, just in case of a real emergency, or you’re a daredevil and enjoy riding the motorcycle taxis!
Bring These Medications
As far as medications go, you should bring enough from your country to last you while you’re here, and make sure you have the prescription with you in case questions arise. If there’s a chance you’ll run out, or if you want to pick up some much cheaper than your home, double-check the legality of the particular medicine online. Due to the low cost, many people do come to Thailand to stock up on medications; however, many unlicensed pharmacies are notorious for selling fake medicines, so do your research if you plan to stock up.
Below are a few OTC medicines that I recommend bringing along with you:
Benadryl: I have never seen Benadryl in Thailand when needed. Bring your own, especially if you are prone to allergic reactions (to anything).
Epinephrine: If you’re prone to allergies, better bring an Epi-pen along too. Many ingredients you’ve probably never had may go into your food in Thailand. Best to be prepared.
Ibuprofen/ Tylenol: Bring your own.
Sleep Aid: If you take anything other than natural supplements, bring your own WITH the prescription.
Pepto Bismol/ Tums: If you have a preferred type of antacid medicine, and aren’t used to Thai food, I recommend you bring your own from home (and plenty of it) as these can be surprisingly hard to find, though you can find drinkable Maalox in small portions.
Drink plenty of probiotics before you leave, preferably for the entire week leading up to arrival. The different bacteria present in the food is the main culprit for travelers’ sickness (and the spicy food) for MANY people during a trip to Thailand. Once you arrive, keep it up by drinking the small probiotic Yakult drinks available in all stores
On the same note, diarrhea medicine and probiotic supplements may be a good addition to your medical kit as well.
Get Vaccinated (If needed)
Now, about vaccinations: You don’t NEED to get them all, but it’s always a good idea. Deciding on these will be highly dependent on where you travel to, and the types of activities you plan on doing. For example, if you plan to go straight to Koh Samui and spend the time between the beach and your room, you probably don’t need to worry much about Dengue Fever. But if you’re Elephant trekking through the jungle in Isaan (Northern Thailand) for 5 days… YES! Below vaccines are standard regimen prior to trips to the region:
Hepatitis A/ B: Hepatitis A vaccines must be given twice over a 6-month period before they are effective; Hepatitis B vaccines are given once, with boosters every few years. Both are encouraged if you plan on spending time in SE Asia.
Typhoid: Required every few years. You may or may not need it based on your last vaccine date.
Japanese Encephalitis: Required over the 30 days prior to your trip to Thailand. Transmittable by mosquitoes.
Other diseases that are common enough to warrant your attention, but are either low enough risk that you can address it post-exposure after your trip, prevent it by means other than a vaccination OR a vaccination doesn’t exist include:
Malaria: Not all too common, and preventable by keeping the mosquitoes away. You must take Malaria pills for some time before and after your trip. Easier to use repellent if you ask me.
Dengue Fever/ Zika: No vaccination exists. Again, keep those mosquitoes away. (See a pattern here?)
Rabies: Vaccinations must start 30 days prior to your trip to Thailand. If bitten by a dog seek attention ASAP. Street dogs are VERY common, but usually harmless unless interacted with. Leave them alone!
Sexually Transmitted Diseases: Dogs aren’t the only diseased creatures in the Land of Smiles, STDs are notoriously common in Thailand. Be safe, watch what you’re doing and who you’re doing it with. HIV is prevalent as are other life-altering diseases.
For more information on diseases and vaccinations in Thailand, visit the Center for Disease Control Thailand page for updates and specific guidance.
Learn Key Phrases
Thai is a very tonal language. The content of what you say isn’t as important as how you say it.
The use of gender-dependent courtesy words are constant, required and follow each spoken phrase or sentence. These are Krup (Male) and Ka (Female). Almost everything that exits the mouth should be followed by one of these if you’re intent is to not sound rude.
For a man, the pronunciation of Krup is tricky. Think of it as “K-lup” said very quickly. When stated alone, both are considered an acknowledgment or even Yes.
Phrases I would consider knowing at a MINIMUM:
Sawadee Krup/ Ka (Sa-wa-dee-k-lup/ kaa): Hello
Kob Khun Krup/ Ka (Kob-koon-k-lup/ kaa): Thank you
Sabai Dee Mai Krup/ Ka (Sa-bye-dee-my-k-lup/ ka): How are you?
Chai Krup/ Ka (Chai-k-lup/ ka): Yes
Mai o krup/ ka (My-o-k-lup/ ka): No thank you (This works well with street touts and hard tactics salespeople. They’ll leave you alone after saying this once, as opposed to saying NO five times. Most tourists won’t know this.)
Mai Ped: Not too much spice (When ordering food)
Kohr To Krup/ Ka (Khowoar-toed-k-lup/ ka): Pardon me/ sorry/ excuse me (Grab staff attention OR when bumping into someone)
Mai Pen Rai Krup/ Ka (My-pen-lai-k-lup/ ka): No problem/ Your welcome/ No worries (As discussed earlier, a way to ease tensions as well as say you’re welcome)
International Drivers Permit (If you plan to drive a car on your trip to Thailand)
As a foreigner, you’ll need to have your International Driver Permit to rent or drive a car, but anyone with a license can rent a motorcycle or “Motorbike.” However, before making the decision to drive either in Thailand, you’d be well advised of some facts that may make you reconsider, such as:
- Thailand consistently ranks in the Top 5 most dangerous countries in the world to drive in;
- The driving rules (if any) and styles are completely different than in your country; and
- As a foreigner, if you had an accident, you open yourself up to a whole basket of legal and police (think corruption) trouble you’d rather not have.
Get and Stay Connected
First and foremost, you’ll need cellular service. I cannot stress this enough. You’ll need to be connected to find your way around, plan on the go and (heaven forbid) for an emergency situation. Few things to note about cellular service, the internet, and connectivity in Thailand:
Internet Service is Terrible in Thailand
You simply can’t rely on stable internet anywhere in Thailand. Even at luxury resorts, Brown-outs are common, and the infrastructure is outdated by decades.
To make sure you’re not left unconnected, there are a few options:
Pick up a SIM Card at any cellular service stand at the airport, found immediately outside the arrival gates. This is very straightforward in Thailand as long as your phone is not locked (when your carrier has placed a lock on it thereby ensuring it cannot be used with another carriers’ SIM card.) Check with your carrier prior to leaving to make sure this won’t be an issue. Traveler data plans are very cheap…
Cheap as in ~ 10 USD per month for unlimited data… yeah, what is going on in our countries, right?
If for some reason the SIM option is a no-go, you can rent a pocket Wi-Fi, also available from the cellular carriers.
Bring a means to charge your phone on the go. Exploring in Thailand requires heavy phone application use which will quickly drain your battery. Do not lose your ability to connect while in transit without a means to find your way if you need to.
Watch the Required Movies and Television
I absolutely HATE it when I bring along a friend on a trip to Thailand, and they have no frame of reference for famous movies based in Thailand that come up in conversation. Some of my recommended viewing for getting a real insight into life there (or for sheer entertainment value) is below:
Book through a Good Agent
I have found through the years of traveling, where many times I arrive alone in a new place without any understanding of the language, that Agoda provides the best options for easy transit to and location of my hotel. Not only are the prices great, and they have better networks of local hotels than other companies…
They provide a PDF or image (downloadable to your not-yet connected phone) booking confirmation with the address of your hotel in the native language.
I love that. So yes, loyal Agoda customer here.
For advanced train, ferry or long-distance bus tickets I highly recommend 12 Go as the best ticket agency for local travel. They are the only centralized ticketing agency for the various local carriers.
Enjoy your trip to Thailand.