Well, at least everything I think you should know about Thailand. I’m sure there’s plenty more to know but this is what I think is important. We LOVE Thailand. Shawn and I could easily live her and so could Alex and Sam. It’s a place that feels like home to all of us.
We are Americans so we have access to 30 day Visa’s (no cost to purchase one to enter the country) when we arrive in Thailand. You must take note of what day you arrive as you must exit by the 30th day or could get into legal trouble or just denied re-entry at a later date.
Also, you don’t need a return ticket or even to know what exact location you are leaving from in Thailand. Just full the customs form out as much as possible and if you don’t have solid plans beyond your first place you are staying…just state that you are staying as a tourist, for 30 days and… Just list that you are leaving from Bangkok or whatever place seems like the most likely scenario. We almost never leave from the exact city we list.
You don’t need any special paperwork… Just your valid passport if you are from the USA. Be sure NOT to lose the Exit Visa that they put inside your passport. You need this to leave.
We’ve been to Thailand 4 times as of this writing. 30 days in Dec-Jan 2016-17. We first stayed a week in Bangkok in the Tiger Lily Hostel (they actually had us stay in the Water Lily hostel connected as it was the same owners and it was geared more toward families). We also spent 3 weeks in Chiang Mai in the Hang Dong district doing a housesit over Christmas and 1 night at a hotel there the night before as we got in a day earlier than our housesit required.
We came back a 2nd time March 14 – April 12th 2017. We wanted to visit the islands and go back to Bangkok. This time we stayed a few nights in Patong Beach in Phuket and then headed 12 minutes South to Karon Beach for almost 2 weeks. We headed back to a Hostel in Bangkok – the Siam Journey Guesthouse (it’s a Hostel) in the Ratchathewi area which was really fun.
We came to Thailand again August 14 – September 12th 2019 with Sebastian. We stayed in 5 different places – Bangkok 2 times, Karon/Kata Beach, Phi Phi Don island and Krabi Town totaling 30 days.
And I’m currently writing this post from Chiang Mai – our 4th time back! We came back to Thailand via Slowboat from Laos on October 2nd 2019. We visited Chiang Rai for 3 days and then are in Chiang Mai until October 30th when we head back to Siem Reap, Cambodia.
I share this with you so you know that we’ve spent enough time in Thailand to be helpful in giving advice. Also, We’ve traveled with our Teenagers and now with just our Toddler. Both experiences are totally different but similar as we are only traveling as a family.
Strollers need Carriers
Traveling with a little one can be a challenge when at home, with your car and car seat and normal stroller and carrier. I mean it’s a LOT of stuff to schlep around for such a tiny person. Bringing these things to Thailand, or any Foreign country is a challenge because of the streets, sidewalks, weather, transportation, etc.
Check it this video to learn about our challenges navigating the streets of Thailand.
I’d also like to add that we haven’t even discussed taking strollers or wearing wraps going on public transportation like trains or buses. Wraps or carriers would be best in many circumstances but for long walks or visits to the Zoo or malls and such, a stroller is fantastic to have, especially if you will be o it most of the day.
How much things cost
So there’s all this fuss about the Thai Baht being so strong that now tourists say it’s not as cheap to travel here.
Well, that’s some BS. When we were here 3 yrs ago for the first time, 100 baht equaled $3 USD. Now it equals $3.30 USD. And it’s also not like the piece of goods has gone up much either if at all. I’m actually finding better places to stay now, for less money, than back in 2016. Even massage prices are a bit cheaper too.
I can get a big plate of delectible stewed pork, rice, greens and an egg, for 50 Baht, which is $1.64 USD. This was my and Sebastian’s dinner tonight and it was fantastic. I don’t know about you but that’s an amazing meal and deal. I can eat fantastic food out – morning, noon and night for well under $10 a day.
Can you do that in Australia, the USA or anywhere in Western Europe? Not likely.
BOOKING YOUR STAYS
I booked all of our stays either with Booking.com, AirBnb or Hostelworld.com. I have booked with hotels.com and directly with specific hotels but honestly, Booking.com is the #1 I use because of price and ease of navigation and options all over the world.
Booking.com is my most used source for stays due to pricing, amount of options, types of properties (they include some BnB’s and Hostels). I also get bigger discounts the more I use them and more perks. I also find the most affordable stays here. We are budget travelers and enjoy a great deal. *CLICK HERE to get a special offer for first time booking
AirBnb is my #2 go to. Their customer service support is excellent and they also are really reliable and try to make sure they all hosts are legit and above board. We were in a bad bond once due to some scammers and they not only fixed the issue they refunded all our money including the costs involved in securing an emergency stay elsewhere for a night. We love having a house, apartment or even condo sometimes when we want to cook or have more space. Also, the longer you book a stay (like 14/30days or more, you get bigger discounts from the hosts. **CLICK HERE for a Special Offer
3rd is Hostelworld. We enjoyed staying in Hostels for the price but also to meet other travelers. It was great for all of us to chat with them each morning. Many hostels are much like hotels and you don’t always have to sleep in the same room with 16 other travelers. There are single, double and even quadruple occupancy rooms with their own private baths sometimes. Don’t overlook hostels if you are a family on a budget. Just check the rules and reviews of each place. Some have age restriction on youth as well as oldest age. Many are party hostels for 18-36yr olds.
Also, I do get some bookings through other sites. For instance, I found our stay in Karon Beach through Google maps while searching the area. I saw an ad there but not on Booking.com or any other site. So, look around!
When looking for a booking play around with dates if you can. Use filter options to choose the price points and amenities you are looking for. I also use the Map feature a lot to see where a property is located and then check out the reviews on the host or stay. We know the things they are important to us are having a pool whenever possible, Being under $35 a day (we use to have $50-60 a day as our budget when we traveled with Sam and Alex as we needed more beds and space), how many beds, reviews on safety, cleanliness, bed comfort and water pressure. And Free and GOOD WiFi. That’s a big one for Shawn. Make a list of things you want/need and then run your search.
Another thing I look for is walking distance to stores, groceries, things to do, transportation, etc. I like being in a place where we can walk 10-15 minutes in any direction and have lots to do. So I use Google Maps to see what stores, points of interest and so on are nearby a stay.
To see more detailed information, room tours, locations, prices and reviews of each place we stayed at in Thailand, Check out this post: Places we’ve stayed in Thailand
How to leave, or get to, an Airport
We used to make things more difficult for ourselves thinking we were actually making things easier by purchasing shuttles and stuff in advance. Over time we learned that it’s honestly easier getting transportation when you arrive at the airports in Thailand. On the flip side, we also find that finding a local taxi or tuk-tuk driver and getting them to meet at your place the next day at a set time is cost effective and works great.
there are two major airports in Bangkok for example. Make solute you pay attention to which one you are coming in and o urn of. You don’t want to take a train from Chaing Mai that drops you off at Don Mueang but then your flight is out of Suvarnabhumi Airport.
When you arrive you will walk out of customs and then be hit with a million sellers trying to get you to talk to them and come to their booth to purchase travel. We’ve chosen group vans (shuttles) for great prices thinking we had a private taxi only to have it be a 2hr drive because we have to make 8 stops to drop off others. When you are tired or are only 30 minutes to your destination, pay the extra $3 USD and get a Metered Taxi. You can always find them. Each airport has them but they are in designated area. ASK where METERED Taxi’s are. Sometimes there is a ticket booth waiting area. Get a ticket and wait for your number to be called. Almost always you need a ticket or something to leave the airport with a metered taxi.
You can rent a car but why? You can take a train as well. They can be super efficient and affordable if you don’t have much baggage to lug around.
Just make sure to ask questions. Ask Prices. YOU MUST ask all Taxi drivers if they are metered or if making a deal, ask the price in advance – ALWAYS. Don’t ever just get in a vehicle without having a agreement or understanding of the pricing. EVER. They will honor the agreement but can try to swindle you at drop off and cause some unnecessary drama for yourself if you don’t.
ALSO, get some Thai Baht at the airport in your home country. Go to the Exchange counter there and get at least $100 USD in Thai Baht and make sure to ask for small bills as well – 20, 50 and 100’s. Taxi and Tuk Tuk Drivers have a hard time changing a 1000 and even 500 Baht sometimes. If all else fails, get 1000 Baht at the Airport ATM in Thailand and then go buy some water or something to break it – before leaving.
Trains. Thailand does have a a few different train and railway options. There are the Railway trains that go around the country and are slow but better than taking overnight buses in my opinion. You can use the Rail Link to go to and from the Suvarnabhumi Airport to Bangkok and is much cheaper than a Taxi and is easy to navigate if you don’t mind walking. There is also the BTS (Bangkok Skytrain) and the MRT (Bangkok Subway). This is a great info guide on what you need to know about these trains. There are also trains from Chiang Mai to Bangkok and then down to Phuket. So many great and interesting options and ways to book tickets.
Taxi’s. We love metered Taxi’s and generally go for them whenever possible. Some Taxi’s don’t use their meters and will try to tell you a set price before getting in. Make sure to do your homework and learn how much Baht it costs for getting around. Blog posta and even contacting the place you are staying and asking them what is fair, are great ways to make sure you are getting a fair price. You can hail a taxi or you will most likely be honked at all day long if you are out walking the streets – no matter what town you are in. Finding a ride here and there will not be a problem. Also, be nice to the guys on the corner with their signs out showing prices to most areas one would want to frequent. Find a driver you like and get to know them and have them be your regular driver if you want.
Tuk Tuk’s. They are generally safe. You will get a lot of exhaust and if there is traffic like in Bangkok then make sure you have a mask and kept your belongings between your legs and down low so motorcycle thieves don’t get your things. We’ve been in tons of Tuk Tuk’s in several countries. Never had a problem other than. Negotiating a price up front. Again, ask locals what is fair before you set off for the day.
Trucks with benches: Mostly in beachy or smaller towns or in places like Chiang Mai. We almost never see them in Bangkok. These are sometimes referred to as buses and are also just like Tuk Tuk’s in terms of negotiating prices. If it’s a town bus you just ask the driver how much from Krabi Town to the local Big C on their route (locals tell ya how to do everything if you ask!) And they will tell you it’s 50 baht per person. That’s about $1.50 USD.
Scooter Rental: unless you are experienced or are a quick learner… don’t do it. Or if you are in a beach town go for it. Just don’t do it in Bangkok unless you like risking your life. Drivers are all over the roads here and it’s easy to get disoriented. We had a lot of death defying situations in Chiang Mai and that’s a pretty chill driving town compared to Bangkok.
Buses: there are two kinds of buses. Local buses and then overnight or long distance buses. We’ve done local, daytime, minibuses and sleeping buses. They are generally safe depending on the driver’s. If you can ask locals for help with how the local buses work they save you a lot of money on transportation. If you need to go from Bangkok to Chiang Mai or Phuket and don’t want to fly, there are a lot of options for 1st and 2nd class travel. If you can…go for 1st class. It’s worth it. If you are tall, sleep buses can be difficult to get comfortable on. We are tall. Also, day trips that are 4-6hrs are the best to take.
Boats: We have taken the Slowboat up the Mekong from Laos to the Thai Border. We’ve been in Longboats in the Phi Phi Islands. We’ve been on Ferry’s from Phuket to the islands and to Krabi
You will find that some hotels arrange travel but sometimes it’s more fun, and you can get a better deal, going straight to the guys begging you to take a ride with them or the other hotels nearby with signs or travel agents out front. Most times your hotel will charge you more.
Traveling is fun in Thailand if you have a sense of adventure. I like booking buses and trains either online with 12GO.Asia or Greenbus Thailand OR by going to the local Bus or Train stations and purchasing tickets directly. Sometimes you can only book the day of if you don’t plan well in advance. Either options work so just do what seems right for you. When booking online you get to see pictures of the type of bus you book and the class (VIP, 1st, 2nd, etc.) and also pick your seats or your sleeper cabins. We are heading to the Chiang Mai Train station tomorrow to get overnight tickets in a 1st Class Sleeper to Bangkok for the end of the month.
Most the time we just arrive in a town and get the local currency from an ATM as we get back our fee from the banks we use (Charles Schwab and Capital One). You can get Thai Baht from your bank in advance or at the airport or at and exchange place but it just isn’t necessary. If you want to bring in US currency to trade in for Baht then make sure you have large bills like 100’s and 50’s as they pay higher for them then 20”s and other smaller bills. Price shop exchange places and read their reviews. See what a fair exchange rate is as they fluctuate all the time. Most places have reviews on Google maps so just do a little diligence before walking up o he closest place. And, get 100 and 500 Bahts. 1000’s aren’t used as much by Taxi drivers and locals so if you go to night markets or want street food, have bills of 100 Baht’s or smaller.
The King. He is respected so show your respect. If you are ever stopped by police I read that if you show them a picture of the King that you keep in your wallet that they are easier on you! When you go to the movies you must stand before the show starts to pay respect. Sometimes it can go on and on but stay standing and quiet. Read up on him and learn a bit about Thai culture before coming. Also, badmouthing the King can get you arrested so…there’s that.
Pleasantries. A very big deal here. Pleasantries like learning the two most used phrases are super helpful and using them makes the Thai people smile and appreciate they you at least teied. Learn as many phrasesas you an. I’ve been here 3 times all I’ve got are these two mastered. I’m writing these out phonetically so it’s easier for you to say.
- ‘Saw waa dee kaa/cup’ (Hello. Saw was see kaa for females and saw was see cup for the guys).
- Then there is ‘cop coon kaa/cup’. This is Thank You. You also now a bit when you say it and stretch out the Kaaaaa or Cuuuuppp to really make it pronunced.
Tipping: not necessary or expected but completely appreciated. I’d say that what we found is that we pay for service we want to tip for instead of just tipping as an obligation like in the states. 10% is a nice tip but also, read that check… Sometimes they already add in service fees so don’t double tip unless you want to. We tip for personal services like massages unless it was really bad or they were super pushy about trying to give the boys a happy ending. More about that later. Wait service just depends. A good taxi driver deserves a good tip IMO. We tipped our taxi driver who we met outside our hotel in Krabi Town and scheduled him to take us to the airport at 6am the next day. The cost was supposed to be 350 baht which is about $11.50 USD. He was early, helped with all the bags, was super friendly and a good driver. We gave him 500 and he was so thankful you could see it in the way he thanked us profusely it was only about $4 more than the going rate but that is a lot of money to a family there.
Decency. We read a lot about this before coming to Thailand the first time. Just think about No Shirt. No Service. Be thoughtful about how you are dressing for the place you are going. If you are at the beach then wear your swimsuit but don’t go to a Wat (religious temple) expecting to get in if your shoulders are bare and if you are a woman wearing booty shorts then you are quite mistaken. Wear appropriate clothing in the appropriate place and be thoughtful about PDA in public. Our general rule is to do as the locals do. Watch them. If they aren’t doing it then you shouldn’t either.
THINGS TO DO
We won’t tell you all the things you can do in Thailand as there are way to many to list so I’ll just share what we’ve done in Thailand.
Shopping Malls have movie theaters and tons of restaurants, open markets, cheap and expensive eats, retail therapy, and just lots of fun things to look at. They are air conditioned in most cases and can take you half a day to get through one mall. No other country we’ve been to can match the quality and amount of shopping malls in Bangkok or Chiang Mai. There are also play areas… SCROLL DOWN to read more about why Malls are great in Thailand
Cooking classes. Super fun way to spend half a day. Sourcing your food at the markets and learning about local ingredients and making a traditional meal like Phad Thai and mango sticky rice. Fun for the whole family
Walking. Just taking a stroll up and down the streets can be a fun adventure. We walk everywhere. We’ve found pop up food markets in alley ways, crazy cools stores we never would have found and just so much entertainment. Get to know the area you are staying in.
Night Markets. If you come to Thailand you have to go to as many night markets as possible. Sometimes they are just retail items, sometimes they are just food markets. The best ones are a mix of both. You can ask your hotel or Airbnb hosts for their advice on which ones to visit or just check Google or Trip Advisor reviews.
Boat Tours. Whether it’s a long boat or a ferry type of boat, boat Tours are fun and interesting. You can negotiate all sight seeing boat Tours so ask around and see what is a fair price and then head to the dock to negotiate. We were offered 1500 baht for the 3nof us to take an hour tour around Bangkok when we were walking near a dock. Before we left the price was down to 500 baht total.
Excursions. Whether you go zip lining, kayaking in caves, or take ATV trips through the Jungle, just make sure you check the reviews of each local place. Some are safer than others. Choose the safe ones. Most excursions are set prices so unless you are buying a bunch of tickets for a large family or group, there aren’t deals – unless it’s low season. You can always try and make a deal low season.
Shows. We went to a really fun Ladyboy show in Chiang Mai. We won’t forget it nor will our son who was constantly touched by the ladyboys and they kept calling him Justin Bieber. There are lots of traditional shows, boxing, and so many other types of shows to go see. Just don’t leave without seeing something.
Wats. Religious temples are a must for all. They are everywhere. I can’t tell you how many Ways we’ve been to around the world but I can tell you that I’ve seen sleeping Buddha, little Buddha, tired Buddha – every kind of Buddha you can imagine. We’ve seen Hindu gods as well. Each Wat is different and usually free to enter. Some do have fees involved but they are minimal. Donations are also great. Shawn loves visiting Wats…they aren’t my go do day of fun but, I can at least say that if I never see another Buddha I’ll still have seen more than 99% of the rest of the world’s population has.
We went to places like the 3D Museum in Chiang Mai, Khao San Road (made famous from the Hangover Movie), Phi Phi Island excursions and a gazillion Wats. Shawn loves Graffiti so we are always on the lookout for cool artwork. Sam also found a great dance studio in Chiang Mai where he danced for a couple weeks and is still in contact with several of the teachers he met.
Fish Pedicures were, and still are, a lot of fun. We took our oldest kids as well as Sebastian. It is fun for the whole family and leave your feet all soft. Just make sure to find clean fish tanks. I don’t know how some people out their feet in the nasty ones.
There’s a lot more to do and see like taking hikes and doing Elephant reserve volunteer work but if you are coming to Thailand I’m sure you have a hit list of things you want to do. There are other things though that just might pop up sure to walking around and seeing a sign so get out there
Look, it’s hot in Thailand no matter when you go but… We prefer to go anytime from end of summer thru March. Why? Because it gets crazy hot starting in April and starts dying down in August.
Also, we prefer to travel in Monsoon season. All that means is that it rains more than the rest of the year. That could just be a little rain every few days or daily mid-afternoon rain that will soak you in seconds or even days with of rains that create flooding.
Either way, mo soon season is considered “off season” which means that there will be less tourists, prices might be lower on stays and certain services and less tourists. What this also means though is that you will be bugged more than usual because there is a shortage of tourists and local Tuk Tuk drivers, shop owners, restaurant owners, massage ladies, etc…will be cat calling you. If this bothers you just say “no thank you” while you keep moving. Don’t ignore them or feel the need to stop and engage if you don’t want. Just be polite as they are just trying to feed their families.
Also, we like rainy season because the smoke isn’t as bad from burning garbage. Yup. They burn garbage all over Thailand and many other countries. You can see it in the sky and smell it in the mornings and evenings. It gets super bad air quality the longer you go without Rain so…you’ve been Warned. It’s not as bad on the islands though. The flip side though is that trying to go to an island Paradise during monsoon season isn’t ideal as many days you can’t even enjoy the beach because of the weather.
So, just do a little leg work and see what you want to do and when you want to do it and prepare. Always have your sunscreen and even a small umbrella for when you are out and about, trust me, you’ll thank me later. And get one of those SPF ones!
Okay, I’m Sure you know what a massage is but I thought I did too…until my first time in Thailand.
A Thai massage is one where you keep your clothes on and you are in a room sometimes with a lot of other beds and people on the floor. Sometimes in an open space and sometimes separated by curtains. A Thai massage is one where they massage you but stretch you at the same time. Near the end of the massage they will come behind you and you might think you are done but…think again, they are going to sit behind you and sometimes it might feel odd depending on how each place chooses to operate but…they might feel like they are a bit too close and then grab your arms and pull and bend and stretch them. They might try to catch your back or neck too. Just let yourself be putty in their hands. It costs anywhere from $6 to $15 depending on where you go and for how long. If you want a scrub or other services then it might cost you more but really, it’s a pittance compared to what you’d pay in the tates. Thai massages are the cheaper massages but that doesn’t mean they aren’t great. I had a super relaxing and stretchy Thai massage befoe we left Thailand this last time.
Then there are the normal massages like oil massages where they might have you get totally naked or just give you those throw away undies. Just know that it’s okay to get completely naked and if you aren’t sure what they are asking you to do…just point and ask again until they understand.
This one is a big issue for my husband. It was for our son too. It makes the massage less enjoyable when you are being told how handsome you are while your son/father/wife/daughter are right next to you and then they ask if you want a happy ending. YUCK!
Shawn always get irritated when he comes back from a massage and was propositioned. I had to finally tell my massage loving husband that he needs to tell the. Right away “just massage! Nothing else!” He has yet to do it. Instead he always tells them no politely but then sort of feels like his massage is ruined. He loves when he finds a place that is just business.
If you are looking for massages with that fun end in mind…just go out and see who makes sexy comments to you as you look at the spa menu outside. It’s a pretty good gauge as to whether or not you will get an offer. Most who offer these aren’t necessarily in a back alley. There are also signs on some establishments that say they are a sex free spa.
And, if all else fails for you dirty birds, go for a walk at 4 or 5am…you WILL find “ladies” looking for love. Shawn goes for runs every day and in most parts of towns with tourists, you WILL be hit up from short time ladies.
We washed our clothes by hand, a lot. We all got really good at it. But, when we had the chance we had our clothes laundered. I will tell you now that as a stinky traveler who is constantly sweating because it’s hot everywhere we go, it is amazing to get a sealed bag of fresh smelling clothes. It’s well worth the couple of dollars it costs. We would all get excited. No joke.
When we came to Bangkok after being in Sri Lanka for a month I can tell you that we decided to wash all of our clothes. Believe me when I say that we all acted like it was Christmas day when we had our laundry delivered to our room.
Laundry is charged by the Kilo so the heavier your load the more it costs. Shop around and look for laundry signs on your walks. They are everywhere.
And, we still wash clothes in the sinks and showers of our hotels. We are conditioned now to make sure we always have clean undies. Sam and Alex will probably be annoyed to learn that we get our clothes laundered once a week now.
We are ALL ABOUT THE FOOD. Truly, we follow our stomachs and noses around the world and I think we keep coming back to Thailand to eat.
Food is everywhere no matter where you go. From small villages to big cities, there is food of some sort on every corner and in almost every building.
Morning, lunch and night food markets even pop-up out of nowhere sometimes. We stayed at a Hostel in Bangkok and during the day our street was laden with scooters and Tuk Tuk’s a d by night there were about 20 food vendors and tents out. That was our very first night market in Thailand.
Street food in Thailand is SUPER CHEAP and generally tasty. I will tell you now that you won’t find tastier street meat in any other SE Asian country than in Thailand. Pork on a stick is our favorite with fried chicken coming in a close 2nd.
Also, how do Thai people tie their plastic bags filled with broths and sauces so tight? They never leak. Shawn and I are always amazed at how effective they are.
Anywho, don’t just go to the big markets. Most streets have food. Try some new things. Another tip is to not get too much of one thing that looks good because sometimes a delicious looking chicken wing tastes fishy because it was cooked in the same oil as fish. GROSS!
Don’t ever let fear of not understanding how to order food keep you from trying. We have had to use Google translate, hand gestures, and every other form of communication to just pointing…to get the food we want. Just don’t ask questions if they don’t speak your language. Unless you see a lot of peppers…those things will kill you and ruin a meal if you don’t stop them from being put in. I usually point and shake my head to the things I don’t want in my dish. Sometimes you might get a confused look but then another Thai customer or food seller will help you or the cook out if they figure out what you want. Everyone is so helpful.
Okay. So…it’s nasty fruit. We made a video of our eating Durian as a taste test and it was horrid.
The texture is mushy and wet and has a flavor of rotten onions. The smell, to me, is like cat urine (amonia) and vomit. It’s so pungent it makes your eyes water.
This being said, you MUST try durian for yourself. Record the experience.
What I don’t understand is how some people love it or think it’s sweet. It’s absolutely banned from hotels and businesses for a reason. There are always signs at hotels with NO DURIAN ALLOWED posted.
There are Candies made with durian. Still gross. We’ve tried them. The smell gets us every time.
I would love to know if you have a different experience with Durian. Anyway, check out our Durian taste test video from 2016!
No Thai people wear them and they aren’t Thai…they are Turkish. FYI…we wore em too because we wanted to have what we thought at that time were traditional Thai clothes and, they were super cheap. We are dummies! They also fall apart easy and we looked ridiculous. They matched nothing and we all realized that we like to match a bit so our elephant pants phase of life was short lived. This is a fun read about the history of “pants” and how Elephant Pants became a ‘thing’ in Thailand.
VAT are Taxes. If you purchase something for a couple hundred dollars you can usually fill out forms to get your VAT Back. You have to pay taxes on all purchases but when you leave the country via the Airport you can go and turn in all your VAT Refund receipts to get reimbursed. You do this BEFORE you go through Security. There will be a VAT counter. Just ask for VAT help and agents will direct you. Now, the one time we tried to get our VAT Refunded the counter was closed. We had a very early flight. Depending on when you leave you might not have the desk open. We were only getting like $12 back and had to wait 2hrs for the booth to open and then wait for the single clerk to help everyone. We haven’t collected VAT receipts since. I’d rather just help the government TBH. It’s worth your time though if you are a big shopper who spends a LOT as it does add up.
Retail Shops and Same Same but not Different
There is a Cambodian saying “Same Same but Different”. You will see shirts with this phrase all over SE Asia. As an example, Cambodia is very similar to Thailand in many ways but it’s also different. They say it ALL the time and it’s really cute.
Touristy areas will have ALL the same wares for sale. When you first come to Thailand you will enjoy sifting through all the stalls but will find, as you go from touristy town to touristy town or area, that they all buy their product from the same wholesalers. Unique shops are few and far between. Of all the touristy towns we’ve been to in Thailand I’d say that Krabi Town was touristy but still had so many unique shops and market vendors. We find that we now get very bored and don’t enjoy the night market shops like we once did. We still love markets for food though or when we find out that there are craft vendors. They have more unique items or at least goods that aren’t in every single shop. So, a lot of vendors in Thailand are Same Same but not Different! Also, this gives you a chance to really barter. Everyone has the same stuff so they know you can go next door and someone might just sell it to you for less. When you do come across a great stall or find some unique items, we really enjoy perusing.
Also, Knock-Off Brands. You will see North Face and Supreme everywhere. They are either totally fake, taken off the manufacturing line early for defect or just manufactured with a letter missing or spelled backwards like these Fila’s and Adidas. We love the fake North Face bags. They are EXACTLY like the original much more expensive bags. Same waterproof materials, everything. So, if you like brands but want quality also, dig around. Ask the stall workers if they have any special products. Just sayin’.
You might think “They have malls in Thailand?” or “Why go to Malls?” Here’s the thing… We’ve never been to any country (besides Japan) Where Shopping Malls were as amazing and as popular as they are in Thailand. There are themed malls. Malls with crazy designs. Malls that have lots of designated floors where it’s like a swap meet. I mean, things are crazy here. There are high end malls like the Siam Paragon with LV, Gucci stores and more. Then there is MBK where you shop each floor to make a deal. Like one floor is only electronics.
Malls have Large grocery stores with imported cheeses and all the best quality and options. Usually they are on the Top or bottom floors. There are Movie Theaters in the Malls, usually Top floor. The Movie Theaters are fantastic and an experience in themselves. They are really cheap and they have super interesting popcorn and food choices. Just make sure to pick the English version with Thai Subtitles. Don’t mess up and see Passengers in Thai and only find out when Chris Pratt all of a sudden speaks Thai about 10 minutes in. We will never forget how much we laughed.
AIR-CONDITIONING and FOOD! Most malls are a great place to beat the heat, get your steps in and also find great food options from fine dining to street food (usually on the ground or top floors.
For kids there are big play areas at malls. Some have ice skating rinks and other just have small fun places for little’s to play. Some department stores like Central or Robinson’s, usually have play areas as well.
Again, Malls are something you have to visit at least one day to see what I mean. It’s also nice to go to malls for a feel of Western Civilization. I mean, when you have been in Laos for a month and you need some new underwear or shoes and maybe a new pair of pants that will last more than a month from a street vendor, Malls are fantastic. When you’ve been traveling a long time, malls are a great break from the day/night market life. We aren’t big shoppers and are actually very thrifty. To us malls aren’t about shopping. They are a place to go, walk, explore, eat and perhaps get some entertainment.