Thailand's currency is called the Thai baht (THB), and it's around THB30 to US$1. International access ATMs can be found across the country, and currency exchange booths are found in all of the international airports and tourist areas. You will be expected to use Thai baht for all cash purchases. Credit cards are increasingly accepted, though small businesses and most public transport (airlines being the obvious exception) often will not accept them. We use cash for nearly all day-to-day purchases in Thailand.
Thailand is quite a safe country for the most part. The biggest safety concern is road accidents; the Kingdom always ranks in the top five countries worldwide for highest percentage of traffic-related deaths. For some reason, many of the typically mild-mannered Thais drive recklessly, with short-sighted road design, unmarked rail crossings and poor enforcement by police all contributing to the problem. Always wear a helmet when motorbiking and try to take day buses, as many of the accidents occur at night. When walking, follow our pedestrian safety tips.
Petty theft -- mainly pickpockets, bag snatchers and hotel-room burglars -- is a moderate problem in tourist centres. Theft on tourist bus services is a major problem and we suggest you do not use such services where possible. Violent crime against foreigners is rare but does occasionally occur, usually following some sort of argument and often when alcohol is involved. Use your common sense when out in the evening and stay in control. If you feel threatened, especially in a bar or club environment, leave.
A long-running civil disturbance has blighted the far southern provinces of Narathiwat, Yala and Pattani since the early 2000s. Foreigners at no stage have been particularly targeted, but these provinces should not be considered safe for extended touring in remote, rural areas. The violence has not spilled over into any other southern provinces, such as Satun, Trang and Krabi.
Bangkok has seen large-scale political demonstrations several times since 2006. While the protests have largely been peaceful, there was a bloody military crackdown over a few days in 2010 and also isolated violent attacks on demonstrators on several occasions. For the most part it was business as usual in all other parts of Thailand. Still, travellers should look into the current political situation and take care to avoid any demonstrations.
The 2015 bombing of Erawan Shrine in Bangkok, which killed 22 people, was the first-ever terrorist attack in Thailand that seemed to specifically target foreign tourists -- and more specifically, Chinese tourists. Most believe that it was a one-off attack perpetrated by Uighur separatists from China's strife-torn west in retaliation for Thailand's deportation of 100 Uighurs back to China, though the facts remain murky.
While very visible, local police may not speak much English. The Thai Tourist Police can be of more assistance -- 1155 is a 24-hour hotline they can be reached on. Thai police are not paid much, so corruption remains a problem.
Thailand boasts some of the best medical care in the region -- it is truly world class. It's not cheap though, so we hope you have travel insurance. Generally speaking, private "international" hospitals, like the country-wide Bangkok Hospital chain, will provide a better (though pricier) experience for foreigners than public hospitals.
Cell phones and internet
Thailand's three main cell providers are AIS, dtac and True. All three provide fairly good cell coverage in all but the most remote corners of the country. They use 3G and 4G mobile internet that works well enough 95% of the time.
Most travellers purchase a SIM card with a pre-paid plan (make sure your phone is unlocked). While these are available at convenience stores, we suggest going direct to a provider's office or a mobile phone shop to ensure that someone can explain the options to you. All three providers have offices in most major malls and on the arrivals floor of Suvarnabhumi Airport.
Generally speaking, the internet is faster in Thailand than most other Southeast Asian countries, but still not as fast as in, say, Singapore or Japan. You'll still find internet cafes in most Thai towns and cities, but these now survive mainly on the business of teenaged Thai gamers rather than travellers. In tourist centres, many guesthouses and hotels offer free shared computers for guests, and WiFi is now free just about everywhere.
Google and Apple maps both have reasonable coverage of Thailand, though street names are often spelled differently than on the actual street signs, and some small islands are not covered at all.
Thailand has a comprehensive public transport system that generally offers excellent value.
Much of the country is served by an aging rail network, while the inter-provincial bus network is impressively far-reaching, cheap and consistent. Minibuses (vans) or songthaews (pick-up trucks with two rows of seats in the bed) often access even the most out-of-the-way villages. Most cities are equipped with some combination of public songthaews, public buses, tuk tuks, regular taxis and motorbike taxis, while Bangkok has a reliable metro system.
Large islands like Ko Samui and Ko Chang are accessed by large car and passenger ferries, while a mix of speedboat ferries and smaller boats provide access to the smaller islands. These smaller boats can be dangerous when the seas are rough. The country is also well-served by domestic airlines, including the flagship carrier, THAI, and Bangkok Airways, as well as low-cost carriers like Nok Air, Air Asia and Thai Lion Air.
Most nationalities get 30 days on arrival, visa free, if arriving by air, and 14 days if arriving by land. As of 2014, citizens of G7 countries also receive 30 days visa free if arriving by land. Thailand's visa system is complicated and changes all too often; for more information see our Thailand visa page.
The Thai language can be quite challenging for newcomers. It uses a non-Roman script and is a tonal language. Getting the basics down, like counting, "hello" and "thank you," is easy enough, but you'll need a bit of time to get a good grounding in the language. In tourist centres many Thais -- especially taxi drivers, hotel receptionists and travel agents -- will speak some English. The further you go off the beaten trail, the more necessary a phrasebook will become.
There are two seasons: the hot dry season and the hot wet season. Chances are if you're from anywhere outside the tropics, you'll find Thailand to be very hot -- and sweaty. The coolest months (though still hot by temperate climate standards) are December and January, while the hottest are March and April. The rainy months, from May to November, are generally quite humid, though the often-overcast skies provide relief from the heavy sun at this time.
Southern Thailand is affected by two different monsoon seasons, meaning different islands have good weather at different times of the year. For detailed weather info, see our Thailand weather page.
Thailand is almost developed
It's not rough and ready like Cambodia and Laos, but it's not Singapore either. Thailand is currently at a mid-level of development and is often classed as "second world" or "middle income." The urban and tourist centres are very well developed, but in the countryside, things change far slower. This has a great appeal to travellers as they can experience first-world vacationing in Phuket and Samui and third-world rural travelling in north and northeast Thailand.
Thailand is the land of smiles
Despite the recent dramas and political infighting, overall Thailand remains a very friendly, reasonably safe place to travel in. Prices are low -- even for luxury hotels you get a tremendous bang for your baht in Thailand. Try to get off the tourist trail if time affords. The countryside, old-style Thailand, remains largely untouched by mass tourism and the problems that come with it.