The Ultimate First Timer's Guide to Thailand

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Aussies have had a love affair with Thailand for decades, and it's easy to understand why. Long, sandy beaches, lush forests, drool-worthy food, colourful culture and friendly faces. What's not to like?

If you're planning your first-ever Thai holiday, it's easy to become a little overwhelmed. After all, there's so much to do, see and experience and you don't want to miss out on a thing.

So, we're here to make your Thailand travel prepping a total breeze. From accommodation to activities, eating to shopping, we've got your ultimate guide for the perfect trip. Let's go!

The Basics

First, a quick geography lesson. Thailand is situated in Southeast Asia and is bordered by Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and Malaysia.

The official language is Thai (shocked?) but many locals in tourist-heavy areas know a decent amount of English, so you won't be too lost in translation.

As a predominately Buddhist nation, you can expect to see plenty of ornately-decorated temples which are well worth a visit.

Bangkok's Wat Benchamabophit, the Marble Temple, made from white marble with ornate golden eaves and arches

Wat Benchamabophit (The Marble Temple) in Bangkok

Another important thing to know about Thailand is that it's a constitutional monarchy, much like the UK. Unlike the UK, however, it is illegal to insult the Thai monarchy in any way, so visitors should be respectful and mindful at all times.

The currency of Thailand is the Baht. Depending on exchange rates, one Australian dollar will get you around 22 Baht. If you've been to Bali, you can expect similar prices - think $1 for street food or $5 for a decent meal.

Best Time to Go to Thailand

Thailand is a big country, and the weather from north to south and east to west varies as much as its landscape. Therefore each area experiences its dry season and monsoon season at slightly different times and to different degrees.

Phuket, Krabi and other regions on the west coast experience their wettest period between May and late September. On the other hand, the east coast (islands like Koh Samui and Koh Pha Ngan) is wettest from September to December, so if you're after a beach holiday, you can avoid the wet weather simply by switching coasts.

Bangkok is hot and humid all year round, but almost unbearably so from April to June, so avoid those months if you can.

For those wanting to visit Chiang Mai in the north, cool, comfortable temperatures stick around from October to April, making this the most popular time for tourists.

Two pagodas atop Doi Inthanon in Chiang Mai, the highest mountain in Thailand

Doi Inthanon, Chiang Mai

How to Get to Thailand

Since it's home to one of the most popular stopover destinations for those travelling between Australia and Europe (Bangkok), direct flights to Thailand depart most capital cities daily. From Bangkok, you can then catch connecting flights to the islands and other Thai cities.

Direct flights from Sydney to Bangkok take just under 10 hours and less than seven hours from Perth.

Looking to save your cash for beachside cocktails and Thai massages? Aim to visit in February - according to Skyscanner, it's the cheapest month for flights to Bangkok.

Where to Stay in Thailand

To cover the whole country would take us years, so we're focusing on the most popular and best up-and-coming areas of Thailand.

First up, it's Phuket. How could we start with anything else? Famed for its white sandy beaches lined with palm trees and luxury resorts, bustling nightlife and foodie scene, this tropical island is beloved by solo travellers, couples, friends and families alike. Located on the Andaman Sea, Phuket is just a stone's throw (or a short boat ride!) from the iconic Phang Nga Bay and Phi Phi Island, home to the famous James Bond Island.

Read more: 8 Best Places to Stay in Phuket

James Bond Island, a tall, narrow karst island in Phang Nga Bay

James Bond Island in Phang Nga Bay

Krabi is situated directly east of Phuket, on the other side of Phang Nga Bay, and is quickly becoming a go-to spot for travellers wanting to avoid the crowds and tourists traps of its more popular neighbour. Expect unspoilt beaches, dramatic limestone cliffs and secluded resorts for total relaxation. It's quiet, romantic and the perfect place for a couple's getaway.

North-east of Phuket and Krabi in the Gulf of Thailand lies the idyllic island of Koh Samui. For a relatively small island, Koh Samui has a wide variety of accommodation options, from hostels to five-star resorts, and beaches, from people-packed stretches of sand to unspoilt coves. It's very family-friendly, but also makes a great place for a romantic escape or getaway with the girls.

Khao Lak is a real up-and-comer, boasting all the glamour of Phuket's luxury resorts and Koh Samui's picture-perfect beaches, without the crowds. It's quiet, peaceful, and the perfect place if you're seeking a truly relaxing holiday. It's also far less touristy than Phuket, meaning you'll get a more authentic Thai experience.

Bangkok is the bustling heart of Thailand: Chaotic, bright, colourful and beautiful in equal measures. The city is an absolute feast for the senses, with street food stalls, vibrant markets, ostentatious temples and the Grand Palace, the ceremonial home of the royal family.

The Bangkok skyline at dusk, with the Chao Phraya River running through.

Bangkok at dusk

Lastly, we have the ancient northern Thai city of Chiang Mai. For those who want to spend their trip doing something than lazing around on a beach all day (not that there's anything wrong with that!) Chiang Mai is the perfect destination. With its awe-inspiring old temples, lush backdrop, markets and laid-back, countryside vibes, it's a place that will stay with you long after you leave.

How to Get Around Thailand

It's important to remember that Thailand is a developing country, and as such doesn't have the same public transport you might expect to find in other parts of Asia, such as Japan, China and South Korea.

That said, they do have a train system that makes travel around the country both easy and cheap, albeit slow. Additionally, there are buses that will take you pretty much anywhere - again, don't expect speed here.

If you're pushed for time, flying is your best bet. Flights between Thai cities are reasonably cheap (often under $100 return) and taxi rides to and from the airport start at 35 baht (one Aussie dollar), increasing about two baht per kilometre after two kilometres. For the few islands that have airports, you can expect to pay a bit more. To save money, fly to the nearest city and get boat transfers from there.

Boats docked on the palm tree-lined shores of Koh Samui's Angthong National Marine Park

Angthong National Marine Park, Koh Samui

What to Do in Thailand

Thailand is absolutely heaving with fun things to do and rich culture to experience, so trust us when we say you'll never be bored! Here are some of our favourite things to do around the country.

  1. Island hop: There are over 300 islands for you to explore, from tiny karst formations to postcard-perfect sandy isles.

  2. Shop at the floating markets: An hour and a half outside Bangkok, you'll find Damnoen Saduak Floating Market is perhaps the best-known in the country. However, Khlong Lat Mayom is just as good and is only a 16-minute drive from the CBD.

  3. Rub shoulders with royalty: Don't go to Bangkok without visiting the dazzling Grand Palace, the former residence of Thai kings.

  4. Get a traditional Thai massage: What would a holiday be without a little pampering? Try to get yourself accommodation with an onsite day spa, or better yet, with massages included!

  5. Eat pad thai: No matter if you're in Chiang Mai or Krabi, you'll find this street food classic all over the country, often for less than the price of a coffee!

  6. Meet some gentle giants: Get up-close and personal with majestic Thai elephants at Phuket Elephant Sanctuary. Unlike other "sanctuaries" which allow you to ride the elephants (a big no-no), this sanctuary is all about providing formerly abused animals with a safe, comfortable and loving new home.

  7. Share a bucket by the beach: In the more party-heavy areas of Thailand, beachside bars offer cocktail buckets. Yes, buckets. They're super cheap and will last you ages. Grab one and share it with a mate or three. Drink responsibly!

  8. Do nothing: Don't feel bad if you don't feel like doing anything. Sure, there's lots to do in Thailand, but it's also a place for relaxation.

Young woman sitting with her feet in a resort pool, overlooking the beach and palm trees at sunset in Thailand

Where to Eat in Thailand

Bali may have 'Bali belly', but Thailand has 'Bangkok belly', and it strikes thousands of travellers every year. With that in mind, it's always best to be careful where you eat.

If you can't resist those street food vendors (we don't blame you) try to pick one that appears popular with locals and other tourists. Otherwise, stick with your resort's onsite restaurants and, outside of those, reputable eateries with decent reviews online.

What to Pack

You won't need much in Thailand, it's hot, humid, and you won't feel like wearing much at all. We recommend light-coloured cotton and linen clothes for relaxing in and staying cool, cozzies to swim in, a nice outfit or two for going out to dinner, a pair of thongs or sandals, a nice pair of shoes, a pair of runners if you're planning on doing some adventuring, a hat and some sunnies. Keep it simple.

Next, you'll need the essentials. The mosquito magnets among us will have a tough time in Thailand, so ensure you pack a strong insect repellent and something to treat bites. A broad-spectrum sunscreen is also a must, along with aloe vera for sunburn. With a bit of luck, you'll totally avoid Bangkok belly, but it's worth packing some electrolyte sachets - just in case.

Oh, and make sure you save some space in your suitcase for all your market purchases!

Now that your wanderlust is well and truly piqued, it's time to get planning. Head over to Scoopon now to save up to 70% on your next Thailand holiday!

Read more: The Ultimate First Timer's Guide to Bali