Thailand travel guide: Everything you need to know before you go

Railay Beach in Krabi, southern Thailand (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Railay Beach in Krabi, southern Thailand (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Whatever you’re into, Thailand delivers on a great holiday. From serene yoga retreats to booming beach bars, mountain hikes to island dives - and not forgetting the thrilling cities – there are myriad adventures to be had in the “Land of Smiles”.

Friendly, good-natured locals and a veteran tourism industry have maintained Thailand’s place as a traveller’s favourite for generations. But in a country laden with both comparatively unspoilt nature and an ascendent eco-lodge scene, there are still lesser-trodden paths to be found.

This South East Asian favourite is home to a diverse but universally delicious cuisine, with a host more esoteric local flavours hiding in its various regions. It’s also a deeply spiritual place – 93 per cent of the populace practises the national faith of Buddhism, and there are Buddhist temples and meditation centres to visit across the country, as well as being a popular place to come and experience back-to-basics retreats.

Current travel restrictions and entry requirements

As of 1 October, you no longer need to show any Covid-related paperwork to enter Thailand, nor apply for a Thailand Pass, a system which has been scrapped.

Your passport must have at least six months’ validity remaining from your date of entry into the country.

On the ground, face masks are still commonly worn in crowded places, such as public transport and cinemas. Keep an eye on the Tourism Authority of Thailand’s news page for updates on health guidelines.

Best time to go

Weather wise, the best time to head to Thailand is from October to March, when most of the country is clear of the rainy season and milder temperatures kick in – particularly in the north and centre of the country. Some southern islands do still experience rains into November, so check the local weather reports for yours before booking.

Locals will tell you that the best time to experience Thailand is during one of its national festivals, such as Songkran. This huge springtime festival welcomes in the Buddhist new year with country-wide water fights, parades and parties, which usually fall in mid April, depending on the date of the full moon that month. Another stunner is Loy Krathong – Thailand’s ‘festival of lights’ – that takes place in mid-November, with Thais releasing candles on little floral nests to float downstream or sending glowing lanterns into the night sky, depending on the part of the country you’re in.

If you prefer to travel off-peak, but are still keen to avoid the rains, there are notably fewer tourists in Thailand in the months of April and September, and you may well get lucky with the weather and enjoy some beach days with the sands to yourself.

Top regions and cities


Bangkok is the first port of call for most incoming visitors to Thailand, with the lion’s share of international flights landing in the capital city. It’s a sprawling metropolis, bisected by the Chao Phraya River and populated by parks, palaces, temples and a vibrant old town where you can find some of the world’s most unassuming but incredibly tasty Michelin-starred restaurants. Indeed, Bangkok’s culinary scene and historic landmarks will keep you busy for as long as your itinerary allows. While the nightlife of old is still largely on hiatus thanks to the pandemic, the glam rooftop bars that overlook the river remain a great place to spend an evening, particularly as the sun sets.


Thailand’s largest island, Phuket, is another hub for international arrivals, with direct flights from the UK - and its gorgeous rolling beaches are a firm favourite with holiday makers of all ages. It’s also a favourite destination of fitness freaks, awash with top health food restaurants and cafes that complement the high density of Muay Thai boxing gyms. It’s a great base for exploring the secluded islands and neighbouring national parks –  boat trips to the ethereal Similan Islands or the deeply lushious Ao Phang Nga National Park are real show-stoppers.

Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai is the former capital of the Lanna Kingdom, now Northern Thailand, and is possessed of a distinctive culture and fascinating traditions of its own – from the Lanna language and food, to health treatments such as the delightfully unusual ‘Tok Sen’ massage. The ancient city is a hub for Buddhist pilgrims, with some of the oldest and most beautiful temples in Thailand found in and around the central ‘Old City’ area, as well as in the foothills or on the peak of the Suthep mountain.

Koh Phangan, Koh Samui and Koh Tao

The Samui archipelago, including Koh Phangan, Koh Samui and Koh Tao, is just off the shores of Surat Thani in the western reaches of the Gulf of Thailand, and one of the most popular clusters of islands in the Kingdom. Koh Samui is the most luxurious, with beaches that range from busy to blissful. One of the former, Chaweng Beach, is certainly not as packed as it once was, but retains its popularity thanks to the gleaming white sands. The less developed Bophut Beach is a charming corner of Samui, with a fisherman’s village and buzzy Friday Night Market. Neighbouring Koh Phangan is a hit with the world’s ravers and hippies; the site of its infamous monthly “full moon parties” has recently evolved into holistic health hotspot with yoga retreats and New Age healing centres aplenty.

Best under-the-radar destinations

Nakhon Ratchasima

Nakhon Ratchasima in Isan, Thailand’s easternmost region, is one to watch for foodies. The Michelin Guide recently announced that its 2022 edition will be expanded into the area to cover the best regional cuisine – which tends towards quintessentially Thai dishes with distinct Khmer-era influences from neighbouring Cambodia and Laos. The region is also home to Khmer temples not dissimilar to Angkor Wat, as well as some stunning parks, including Khao Yai.


The small town of Nan in the far northeast of Thailand is a popular destination with local Thai tourists but lesser known to international travellers. It’s chock-full of stunning Lanna temples and rare natural sights, such as the slightly mind-boggling Laterite rock ‘palace’, formed by water erosion. It’s also a solid astrotourism spot, with Doi Phu Kha National Park offering some of the best stargazing views in the country.

Koh Lanta

Koh Lanta is an idyllic island in the Krabi region, just over the bay from Phuket. Far less built-up than its neighbours, the real draw here is the 12 or so unspoilt beaches that grace its lengthy coastline. It’s a prime location for scuba diving, as well as activities like kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding.


Songkhla’s perfectly preserved old town centre is Thailand’s equivalent of Hoi-An in Vietnam - a once busy trading post that time forgot. The small wooden buildings are Chinese in style and range between 50-200 years in age, handily escaping development or destruction, as the locals simply moved out of the area to the new town. The charming streets are experiencing something of a renaissance now.

Best things to do

Snorkelling and scuba diving

Thailand’s crystal blue waters and stunning alcoves lend themselves perfectly to snorkelling and scuba diving trips. If you’re dreaming of deep sea diving then you can get PADI-accredited at one of the country’s many diving schools, with Koh Lanta, Koh Tao and Phuket being particular hubs. Nitro Dive Centre in Koh Tao is a great place to start.

Boat trip

On a similar marine theme, taking a multi-day boat trip around the islands of the Andaman Sea is a real treat. The voyages stop off at stunning and quieter, less-accessible shores. If you’ve time for an 11-day sail, check out Phuket’s Seascape Sailing.

Cooking classes

Thailand is heaven for “gastronauts” and cooking tutorials are a classic activity for a reason. Bangkok is the culinary capital and Chef Leez’s much-loved lessons have been number one in the city for some years now. If you’re more of an eater than a chef, book yourself on a street food tour with the aptly named Bangkok Food Tours.

Getting around

Thailand is well served by a number of domestic airlines, but it’s very easy to go flight-free once you’re in the country. The extensive, cheap and well-maintained state train network has stations in major towns and cities across all corners of the mainland. The sleeper train between Bangkok and Chiang Mai is an experience in itself, with stunning views; but the shorter, scenic ride from the capital to seaside Hua Hin is delightful, too.

The countrywide buses are also cheap and efficient, especially if your destination is served by Greenbus Thailand, whose fleet is generally quite luxurious. For island-hopping you’ll need to use one of the local ferry companies, all of which are inexpensive.

How to get there

The quickest way to arrive in Thailand from the UK is by taking a direct flight with Thai Airways or British Airways. Once in the country you can connect to domestic airlines serving southern airports such as Krabi’s or Ko Samui’s. There are also a number of airlines that offer cheaper connecting flight options; good contenders in this range are Emirates and Lufthansa.

If you already find yourself in southeast Asia, the railway and bus connections between Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia and Singapore are a greener and cheaper way to enter Thailand, and most land borders have reopened now post-pandemic, so it’s absolutely worth looking into, using resources such as the train traveller’s bible, The Man in Seat 61.

Money-saving tip

Street food in Thailand is incredibly cheap and fantastically tasty, with stalls selling their snacks and bites on every main road of every town and city. Its bargain bowl of noodles and shredded papaya salads for as little as £2 are what make it such a hit with backpackers and gap-yearers. Food hygiene standards are generally good, but if you’re not brave enough for that, track down one of the “Jay” vegetarian cafes, which are usually found near to temples. These spots serve vegetarian buffets and noodle soups for around 50p, catering to Buddhist locals who avoid meat on their own birthday and Buddha’s birthday as a nod of religious devotion.


What’s the weather like?

Thailand has a tropical climate all year round, with October-March offering the friendliest temperatures (averaging around 28-30C). The north of the country tends to be cooler but suffers from agricultural pollution in its “Burning Season” from March-May – head to Chiang Mai and surrounds around those months if possible, lest you find yourself mid-smog.

What time zone is it in?

Thailand is seven hours ahead of GMT, and six hours ahead of BST.

What currency do I need?

You’ll need Thai Baht. All ATMs charge a withdrawal fee, so taking out larger quantities less frequently will save on those fees.

What language is spoken?

Thai is spoken in most of the country, but many in the north speak Thai as well as the regional dialect, Lanna.