Thailand Travel Tips - Everyone Asks Me

Trip Start Oct 15, 2009
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Trip End Dec 15, 2013


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Flag of United States  , New Hampshire
Monday, July 8, 2013

I wrote this about a year ago. Here it is updated and re-posted today for another friend who asked for information.

I am home in New Hampshire USA, thinking about my next trip to Thailand and other favorite destinations in SE Asia, once again.  I am asked for travel advice so often that I published this entry a little over a year ago, to answer the most FAQ's on the blog!  I had another call last night.
Today, I'm updating this to reflect a few things that have changed.

A friend called for tips for her daughter who was off to Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia for a relatively short trip. This is the email advice I sent to her.  I hope you will find it helpful. Please feel free to add your own tips as "comments." Please do tell me if something I advise has changed radically since my last trip over.

Dear S Jane,
Your Mom tells me you are off to Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia this week. That’s so exciting!  Over the past few years I have spent many months in Thailand and last year, I was in Vietnam for 5 weeks, also. Siem Reap, Cambodia has changed a lot since my 2006 visit there. You can read about my short visit to Siem Reap in November, 2011 here. I wished I had stayed longer! http://blog.travelpod.com/travel-blog-entries/nsevers/4/1321389428/tpod.html
Thailand and Cambodia are relatively safe for women travelers and the people and culture is really lovely! You will have a wonderful time!

I’m happy to share some practical last minute travel tips with you. If you want to share your itinerary with me, I might have some favorite places to where you’ll be to recommend.
 
Money: Before you leave the US, call your bank card CSR and alert them to the dates and places you will be traveling. Tell them you plan to use ATM’s for cash, and also will be using the credit card for some transactions. (Otherwise they may stop the card thinking there is fraud.) Record your credit card # and the contact info from the back of the card on a separate piece of paper to keep with a copy of your passport, in case of loss, so you can get a replacement card Fed-Ex’d quickly.

Travelers checks are a big hassle, no one wants to cash them, and ATMs are plentiful in Thailand and Vietnam and even in Cambodia now. The ATMs give money in the currency of the country you are in. (Exception, you can get dollars at special ATMs in the departure area in the BKK airport and some ATMs in Cambodia.) The fees are the same in the Airport and major bank ATMs in town. You’ll pay a fee just like in the US, plus you’ll also have a % foreign transaction fee on your statement. It’s worth it for the convenience and safety of not carrying everything with
you at once.

I recommend that take out enough money for 3 or 4 days, and put most of it aside in your under-clothes pouch, carrying just what you need, out and about. That way you have a reserve, to get you by, in the unlikely event of a problem. I have never had a problem using the in room safes or guesthouse safety deposit procedure. 

Currencies:
Vietnam: Dong- today it is 21,173 to $1 USD; Figure 100,000 dong is about $5. But in Vietnam everyone will try to get you to pay in USD. To them $1 or $5 is more valuable than Dong and you should reserve some dollars  for street shopping and tipping there. People don't want crumpled bills, see below. In Vietnam, you can get by with either with Dong or dollars. Bring small bills $1's and $5's or get change at your hotel.

Cambodia: Riel- about 3983 to $1. But in Cambodia even more than Vietnam, the people want/need USD! So you will want to bring some dollars to Cambodia. Plan to get newer, unwrinkled bills in small denominations; lot's of $1's, $5's, $10's and $20's. Most hotels can make change in dollars and there are ATM's that dispense dollars, ask your taxi driver to take you to one; he/she will know where they are.

Note: there are now several special ATMs in the BKK airport international departure hall that dispense dollars. You can plan to use that one before your filghts to Vietnam/Cambodia. Or you can use the currency exchange desks in the airports, but those will have higher fees.

Thailand: Thai Baht- today, 31.47 THB = $1 USD. Figure 30 baht to $1 USD; 300 BT is $10, 3000 BT is $100, etc. The actual cost will be a bit more especially after your fees but that’s a good round number. In Thailand, all business is conducted with the Thai Baht. You will need Baht to pay the Taxi from the Airport to the hotel.

Arrival in Bangkok:
After you get your bags, and exit customs, stop at a major bank ATM in the airport hall before you go outside and get some money.  (Same for the other countries). Next, unless someone is
meeting you at the airport, ignore the offers for private cars etc and go to the public taxi stand. There is a line where you give your destination in English, and they will tell/write it down in Thai for the driver. There is a 50 BT extra charge for that, added to your bill. Also, if you take the highway, which is best, you’ll pay the tolls too.

Bangkok is a big city and you’ll be busy with plenty to do. I’m sure you and your friends have guidebooks with lots of advice. But, do be sure to learn to take the commuter boats on the river and the BTS for transportation whenever possible. Sitting in Bangkok traffic can waste a
lot of time.

2013 update:
Cell Phone Service, Internet, Camera etc:
If you want to bring your Verizon/AT&T phone and use it for international calls to your parents that’s fine. I don’t know what the International charges/plan includes. If it's reasonable fine. But beware, I've heard lots of stories of huge & unexpected charges for data downloading. I don’t use my ATT Iphone there for local calls or data as it’s locked, and requires AT&T’s expensive international plan. Last year, I brought my Iphone and set it to Airplane mode for the
entire trip to prevent unwanted downloading charges or incoming calls. I used it easily on Wifi and this worked great. I also use my XO Laptop from OLPC on Wifi for email and Internet, so I don't need an IPad. But if you use an IPad, and want to travel with it, that will work great for
you. For local cell phones, I used my old Nokia phone, just keep reading!

There used to be lots of Internet cafes everywhere. In Thailand and Vietnam, Wifi is now available in the cities and because most people have personal devices, many Netcafes have disappeared. Most hotels and guesthouses have computers for the guests to use too. The fancy western brand hotels often still charge western prices for this. I have found that the smaller, reasonably priced lodging options all provide complimentary guest computers. You can use those for email, Facebook, photo uploads and Internet surfing.

Cell phones for Thailand/Vietnam/Cambodia: Cell phone service is very cheap in SE Asia. If you have a non GSM Sim card phone, or an Iphone locked to your USA provider, I recommend bringing old Nokia type phones or any phone that takes GSM removable SIM chips, one for you and each of your friends/traveling partners (and chargers).

Cell phone for within Thailand. You and your travel friends will want/need cell phones to use for local calls and texting. This is how. In Bangkok, at any 7-Eleven store you can buy a DTAC 
(Happy Phone)  phone chip for your phone. It's only about $10 and then you can add minutes to it. It comes with 50 Baht of minutes. Buy an additional 100 Baht card $3.00 and it will last you a long time. (Texting is free.) If you need to add another you can buy it anywhere, in a 7-11 or mini-marts. Ask for DTAC  as it's the easiest and refills are readily available. You’ll use them to find each other, confirm reservations, take your favorite taxi drivers’ numbers and call them again, If you are in a taxi with a non-English speaking driver you can give him your phone and tell him to call someone who speaks Thai and English...can translate for you. (He won’t want to use his minutes-use yours).

I don’t know how long you’ll be in Vietnam and Cambodia, and if you are traveling independently or with a tour, so I don’t know if you need to set that up there. Vietnam works the same way as Thailand and your hotel desk can tell you where to go for the SIM card. I got my Sim card in Cambodia, upon arrival, at a kiosk outside, just a few steps from my hotel. You’ll be glad you
have the old phones and happy not to worry about losing an expensive Iphone too.

Internet and Camera: I strongly recommend that you bring a couple of portable flash drives. And a stick or cord to download files from your camera. Every few days, when at a computer, copy the photos from your camera to the flash drives for back-up. You can upload them to a free photo sharing site like Flickr or to Dropbox if you are in locations with fast internet and good bandwidth. Or you can stop into a camera shop and ask them to burn DVD’s of your photos taken to date. Cards can get wet/corrupted. I have friends who left their camera in a taxi and lost their photos along with it. I also know someone who left their camera on the beach while swimming and it disappeared. It’s easy to replace the camera, but not your photo memories. Back them up as you go along and, maybe you won’t need them! If you do, you’ll be glad you did it.

Before you go - Do you need any inoculations?:
As long as your tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis DPT vaccine is current, for a short vacation, you may not need anything else. I have had the recommended Hepatitis vaccines and I make sure my Typhoid shot is current within 3 years too. But I often travel off the beaten tourist path. You should check with your doctor and look at the general guidance on vaccinations and other health precautions  on the Travelers’ Health page of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website at http://www.cdc.gov/travel. Also check out the Tips for Traveling Abroad from the US State Department at http://travel.state.gov/travel/tips/tips_1232.html

Water, Food and Medicine:
Water: Use bottled water. Crack the bottle seal yourself. If it is unsealed, don’t drink it. Be sure to
bring some for your room each evening so that you all have plenty to drink, and for toothbrushing etc.

It can be very hot depending on when you are visiting. Be sure to drink plenty. Gatorade is available at 7 Eleven etc. but if you or your friends are having trouble with the heat, stop in any pharmacy and ask for Royal D or a similar electrolyte powder. The Royal D is a packaged orange flavored sports drink powder, with sugar, salt and potassium. Use 1/2 to 1 package in a bottle of water once or twice a day and you’ll feel great!

All of the bottled cold drinks, teas etc., are fine. Fresh orange juice squeezed on the street is fine if you watch it being squeezed. (Sometimes it’s diluted with water or has added salt...no good.) Coconut water is great - it's the perfect metabolite mix. Smoothies and coffee drinks are popular on the street, but beware the water used to mix them. Keep your eyes open and if safe bottled water is being used, then they are fine, otherwise err on the side of caution.

Ice in Thailand is commercially produced and is generally safe. I don’t know about the other countries. Do be careful with ice that might be made with local water.

Food:  It’s wonderful, be adventuresome, but follow the rules:
Raw food - Fruit with skins or peels are fine. Salads and fresh herbs are not, because they may be washed with water that you can’t tolerate. (Exceptions are if you wash it yourself with bottled water, or if you are in a good restaurant or hotel with reliable sanitation and there areplenty of those, both all over Thailand and in Vietnam large cities.)
Cooked food:
Aspire to eat cooked food that is well cooked and is served hot. If something doesn’t look, smell or feel right, don’t eat it. I don’t eat meat and I eat very few dairy products, and I never get sick.
On the streets, and in some restaurants, meat and chicken can cause problems because it is often stored improperly. Seafood is plentiful and is fine! You won’t starve, I promise.

Medicine: Hopefully you won’t need anything that you don’t have with you. No worries, everything is available in Bangkok, and it’s all over-the counter, antibiotics (Cipro and others) included. "Boots" is a reputable British pharmacy. You'll find them all over Bangkok including in the airport and you don't have to worry about the quality of any brand name purchases there. That's why I recommend it. There can be a problem with counterfeit drugs, especially in Cambodia. If you need an antibiotic or anti-malarial, you want it to work. Know your source and if in doubt, stick with pre-packaged sealed name brand medications. Drugs are expensive in Vietnam, and generally not as available. Bring what you might need from Bangkok and if there anything serious should come up in Vietnam or Cambodia, try to get back to Bangkok for treatment.

Because it is so hot, cuts and mosquito bites can get infected. I recommend you take a little extra care with any open sores. Carry some band-aids, first aid wipes, and a tube of antibiotic ointment with you and use it! I like Bactroban the best, (available by prescription in the US and you can get it OTC at Boots in Thailand.

Masks:  The traffic fumes can be a major throat irritant. You’ll see people wearing masks for that. You can get by in Thailand without them unless traveling by Tuk Tuk, or buy one when you see someone selling them on the street. BUT, in Vietnam, a mask is really helpful. Again, any kind will work. My favorite is only available at pharmacies in Vietnam. It is called Karibon and comes in washable cottons and silks. It has a carbon filter and is the best!. It’s about $6 or $7 and the profits go to the disabled laborers who make them. I have never seen the ones with the carbon filter elsewhere. If you are out and about and think of it, stop in a pharmacy and ask for one.

Clothing: You will need a lightweight long sleeve shirt and one pair of lightweight long pants for evenings/early mornings, especially in Vietnam and Cambodia. It’s best to be covered and avoid mosquito bites. You’ll need the long sleeve shirt to enter The Grand Palace and maybe some other Temples also, and your skirts will be fine for that.  Don’t worry, anything you want, you can buy anywhere you are going. You won’t even have to go out of your way to find it. Since you are traveling light, if you see something you really want, you can plan a trip to the post office and mail a box home. It’s not cheap to ship, but EMS Thai Post is the best way.

Travel Insurance: I never travel without the coverages that I cannot afford, should I need them. In particular, I can't afford the expenses for a medical evacuation (airplane or air ambulance back to the closest internationally accredited hospital) or the crazy expenses that can be associated with repatriation in the unfortunate and unlikely event of death. There are many good travel insurance vendors. If you are planning your own trip, from the US, I like The Travel Insurance Center:
https://www.travelinsurancecenter.com/ or call Allen or Dan there at 1-866-979-6753

Tell them your trip plans and they'll recommend the best thing. For long trips or volunteer stints, we like the Patriot International by IMG (International Medical Group.) Have them email the documents to you and you'll be able to access them anywhere in the event you need them.

The med evacuation coverage is up to the policy maximum, so if you take $100,000 max, or $500,000 max etc, that's the limit. It will also pay to fly a next of kin over if you have a qualifying problem... DO ask for prices for the different limits and see where the price break is..For example $300,000 or $500,000 might not cost much more than $100,000. Another tip is that the premiums are also based upon the cost of the trip. Be sure you use only the non-refundable cost, as you needn't pay to insure fees that would be refundable anyway, in the event of cancellation or interruption.

For my shorter trips I have used other global travel plans recommended by this group. The coverage is relatively inexpensive, and the few claims experiences I have had have been easy.
If you travel uninsured and you wish you hadn't, don't say I didn't recommend it!

Lodging: Hotels & Guesthouses: I use both Trip Advisor and Agoda for hotel reviews.  Agoda is not the only online hotel booking site, but I think that especially for SE Asia, it is the best! http://www.agoda.com Most travelers who book with Agoda write reviews as the Agoda incentive program encourages this. I always read the reviews before booking. I look for information about location; i.e., not so good, a costly tuk tuk ride to town, or it's a quiet off the beaten track but convenient location, etc. I find out which hotel rooms are better insulated and which might be really noisy (road and neighboring rooms) and so on. With Agoda, you can plan ahead, or you can keep your travel plans flexible. You can always count on finding a good last minute room and price, a few days before, to even the same day, and book and get your certificate on line!

In Thailand, be sure to take time to try the Thai massage, and foot massage. It's especially good for you after the long travel from the US. On the long flights, you'll want to get up and walk around, every 1.5 or 2 hours unless you are asleep. It is very important to be sure not to sit more than 4 hours at a time.  And to drink lots of water too!

Have a wonderful trip and if you have a blog about it, be sure to send me the link!
Blog readers, if you have found this helpful, please do leave a comment to let me know!
My very best,
Nancie

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