My partner and I got back from our 3 week traverse of Thailand last week. It was a great experience, and I miss the "Sawasdee khaaa".
If you're interested, I'll do a JBR, but there's one thing that's been nagging at me - I did a lot of research, but there were still a few things that took me by suprise once I arrived. Some are things one COULD find out before going, others I haven't heard a whiff anywhere - and all up, I thought the list might aid others heading to Thailand:
- What the transport looked like, and how to use it. We went to catch a ferry at Central Pier in Bangkok, thinking it'd be as easy as getting on a ferry, and discovered a plethora of options, some of which were just a rip-off (500thb for a longtail to The Grand Palace anyone?). I'm sure I walked onto the right ferry, but when we asked a guy who looked in charge, he pointed us to the tourist ferry which was 40thb. :/ I suggest looking up the details for those.
- What apps to have: Offline Maps (you get one map free in trial and it pin-points where you are) was one we didn't get till after an incident with a taxi driver who had no idea where our hotel was. For the benefit of others: Thai words, Tripit, and TripAdvisor's offline city maps were really helpful as they don't need internet access.
- If you are given a small 25 coin, or a small 50 coin, they are called "satang" and they are discontinued, and not legal tender! We naively accepted them as 75thb change from someone. Wikipedia didn't mention they were discontinued, so we tried to use them, and were flatly refused.
- "Mai" actually has 5 different pronounciations, all of which mean very different things. Someone may need to expand on this, but it sounds to me that if you simply say "mai" in a stern manner, that is how you say "no". I have no idea if I ever said it correctly to hagglers though - most didn't seem to hear me haha.
- Extend the vowel in "khrup" or "kha" for extra formality. You'll notice locals doing it, particularly the females. Assuming I was listening correctly, the females lift the pitch at the end. I loved walking past a group of ladies who said "Sawasde khaaaa" in unison haha Also, r = l, and l = r. "Mai pen rai" ="mai pen lai".
- You'll want boat shoes at some beaches, as Thailand has a lot of coral. Railay West was actually hard to swim at because of all the coral.
- The line for clothing at the Grand Palace is really long, and wearing stuff over clothes makes an already uncomfortably hot expedition, unbearable - try to wear the appropriate attire. A lady was told to wear their provided top, when she wore a very short-sleeve with a shawl over her shoulders, so sadly that doesn't count there. Backless sandals/ jandles/ flops/ thongs were not turned away despite all warnings. I preferred to be respectful, but my partner took his socks off in the heat when he saw countless people being let in with open shoes.
- With the heat, I needed to wash my clothes more than I do in NZ, and only staying 4 nights at places, sometimes 1 or 2, I didn't always get to use laundry service; I wish I'd bought some washing powder to clean my own clothes when I needed!
- Some sort of wet facial wipe for long excursions out in the heat - particularly Bangkok!
- Speaking of Bangkok: I wish we'd stayed in Sukhumvit; Siam only had shopping, and very little food selection or anything else.
- Bangkok again: The BTS has a comprehensive list on their site of hotels that are near stations!
- The importance of your hotel name, address - and best of all, directions - in Thai! So many taxi drivers had to muck around figuring out how to find where we stayed, and all we had was the English. I tried to find thai before I left, but only Ao Nang Paradise gave us Thai directions etc (made things SOO easy!). In retrospect I could've requested it - or at least tried.
- Sunscreen on your back when snorkeling!
- How incredibly rich in history and diverse cultures the North (particularly the borders) is! Definitely the most interesting place by far; we had 5 nights in the area, but I wish I'd had a bit more.
- I don't know what the fuss is about private tours; personally I found the private tour we took very awkward, and often felt like our guide didn't want to be there. The group tours with lots of other tourists meant meeting a variety of people, comradery, and very enthusiastic guides!
- Bangkok's Art Gallery Centre in Siam has lots of great little boutique stores and coffee shops! We didn't discover this till late on the night before we left.
- Market stalls start packing up an hour before the time things close up - we naively arrived at 11pm for the Sunday Walking market, only to discover half were already packing up, and gone by 11:30! Don't bank on shopping up until 12!
- Phuket is overrated. Krabi is where it's at for that sort of experience, but better.
- Check what the vendor wraps up for you to take home - one of our items turned out to be a rusty, scratched up version of what I'd requested. They can be sneaky!
- All the warnings about PDA, respectable clothing, pointing etc isn't a huge deal. Thais were conservative about 50yrs ago, but with western cinema and globalisation etc, they've gotten used to Western ways and don't really care. Just be respectful at sacred places.
Feel free to input/ correct, whatever. I don't claim to be an expert, though a fair bit of what I've said is from the mouths of Thais - particularly the last one.