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Ultimate guide for Singapore travellers. What you need to know about Thailand.
Thailand is Southeast Asia’s most popular tourist destination, and is justifiably popular with Singaporean holidaymakers. Not only does ‘the Land of Smiles’ offer a range of activities and destinations – from shopping in Bangkok, to beach holidays in Phuket, to cultural attractions in Chiang Mai, amongst many others – but also many Thai destinations are an easy direct flight from Singapore.
Overall Thailand is a relatively safe destination, but travellers should be aware of the dangers of visiting some southern provinces. Thailand is enjoying relative political stability under the current military government, though events can quickly catch up with unwary travellers – it is best to avoid travelling during elections or when there are mass protests.
Thailand’s road fatality statistics are amongst the worst in the world. Ensure your travel insurance covers you for whatever transport you plan to use, and exercise care on the roads.
Quick Travel Notes
Etiquette & Customs: With more than 30m foreign visitors annually, Thais are used to seeing foreigners, and are remarkably tolerant. There are still a few cultural norms and some etiquette that will endear you to the locals and maybe even keep you out of trouble – see below.
Transportation: You can get around Thailand by plane, train, bus, or tuk-tuk (and with commensurate amounts of comfort). Read on to learn more about getting around in Thailand.
Temperature & Weather: It may only be a few hours from Singapore, but Thailand’s climate does offer some (sometimes welcome) surprises. Bangkok and the north can be pleasantly cool in the November to January ‘cool season’, even dropping to low single figures in the north at times, but both areas can be sweltering in the March to June hot season. Be aware the monsoon seasons affect each side of the isthmus differently – Phuket feels the effect of the southwest monsoon from July to October, while Koh Samui’s wettest months are from November to January under the influence of the northeast monsoon.
See & Explore
- Central: Bustling Bangkok is a favourite destination for avid shoppers and foodies – Bangkok is home to three of Asia’s top 10 restaurants as well as some of the region’s best street food – while still offering something for cultural visitors. With temples, palaces, and hipster bars in the old town; glittering malls and rooftop bars in central; and a burgeoning restaurant and bar scene in Sukhumvit; Bangkok has something for everyone.
- East: Pattaya may have its seedy side, but it is possible to avoid the sleaze, and the seaside resort town and its surrounds are favourite destinations for seafood lovers. Pattaya also has its fair share of temples to visit and is the jumping off point for Koh Samet and pretty Koh Chang.
- North: Chiang Mai is a charming, relatively small city, with an old town surrounded by a moat and remnants of the wall that once encircled the city. It is also home to numerous temples, and a great launching pad for more adventurous travellers to explore the hills beyond. An extra bonus for Singaporeans are regular direct flights.
- Northeast: Well off the average Thailand tourist itinerary, the northeast, or Isaan, boasts Thailand’s most populous city outside of Bangkok and vicinity – Udon Thani – and is bordered by Laos and Cambodia. Its relative lack of accessibility may make tourist activities such as visit to the Khmer ruins at Prasat Hin Phanom Rung less overrun.
- South: The southern coast and islands are favourite beach destinations, and with direct flights to Phuket, Krabi, and Koh Samui, Singaporeans are spoiled for choice. Each has its busy parts, though travellers looking for quieter spots are also in luck. There really is something for everyone here.
Health & Safety
Check the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ travel advisory for Thailand here: www.mfa.gov.sg. Be aware Singaporeans are advised to avoid nonessential travel to Narathiwat, Pattani, Yala and Songkhla.
Thai law requires tourists to carry photo identification at all times.
Tap water is supposed to be safe to drink in most parts, though bottled drinking water is cheap, widely available and arguably a safer bet.
The Thai healthcare system is widely accepted to be professional, though the private hospitals are much fancier than the public ones. Ensure your travel insurance is up to date.
Given the dangers of road transport, the best way to get around Thailand is by air.
Rail is an option – and is currently attracting a lot of investment – but still the slow way of getting places.
In cities, tuk-tuks are almost exclusively used by tourists (Chiang Mai excepted) and quote higher prices than meter taxis. If you must use them, negotiate a price before climbing aboard.
In Bangkok the BTS ‘Skytrain’ and MRT underground are far and away the best ways to get around town without getting stuck in the legendary jams.
Taxis are also plentiful in Bangkok, and remarkably cheap on the meter. On rainy nights or near tourist attractions they may refuse to use the meter – negotiate a rate before leaving, or try your luck with Grab instead.
Buses are available (in various states of repair), but not highly recommended.
Rental cars are available almost everywhere. Stick with the big rental companies to avoid scams, and ensure your insurance coverage is adequate. Driving in Bangkok is not recommended.
Hiring a car and driver is always an option, and not outrageously expensive.
Songthaews are the cheapest option in many destinations, if not fast. Essentially a songthaew is a pickup truck with two planks for passengers in the tray, you can flag them down and tell the driver your destination and negotiate a rate.
Etiquette for Travellers
While Thailand sees tens of millions of visitors, and Thais are surprisingly tolerant, there are a few things you should keep in mind:
- Do not criticise the monarchy. Thais revere their monarch. Any criticism made to any person or online may land you in trouble with the law.
- Show respect in temples. Modest attire is a minimal requirement – that means covered shoulders and legs. Most temples you’re likely to visit are places of worship. You may have to remove shoes before entering a main hall. Keep the noise to a minimum so as not to disturb worshippers and be respectful when taking photographs.
- Pointing in general, but particularly pointing with your feet, is considered rude.
- Be respectful of monks. Female travellers, particularly, should avoid any physical contact with monks.
Thailand is a favourite destination from Singapore for good reason. Whether you’re visiting to experience its rich history and fascinating culture, or its regional street food specialities and cutting-edge cuisine, or its cool mountains and laid-back beaches, make sure you have appropriate travel insurance for peace-of-mind and enjoy your adventure.
Want more? Check out our top Thai travel blogs.1. 5 places off the beaten track to take the family.
2. 7 ways to enjoy Phuket.
3. Vaccinations you may need for Thailand.
3. Homestay tourism in SE Asia: Our top five picks