Five things first-time visitors should know about Thailand

Thailand is one of the world’s most popular holiday destinations, and it’s one of my favourite places.

Regardless of your interest — be it exploring temples, fine dining, water sports, jungle trekking or bar-hopping — you are more than likely to have a good time. But there are a few things you should know before you set out.

Street food is often delicious. It can also ruin your holiday if it makes you sick. The Bangkok Municipality and other Thai authorities are working to clean up the food vending industry, including regulating where they can set up (so they don’t block pedestrian traffic) and insisting on better hygiene. Follow your instincts.

The seedier side of life is on full display in many parts of the country, especially in the bar districts of Bangkok, Pattaya, Phuket and other large centres. Some people see a visit to a girly bar as harmless fun and a compulsory part of the Thailand experience, but some of these establishments are hotbeds of drug use, organised crime and corruption, and, as you might expect, prostitution (which, in some cases, could verge on human trafficking). Apply your own sense of right and wrong and, again, use your judgement as to what’s safe and what isn’t.

Traffic is terrible and accidents are common. Be insured and decide for yourself whether you want to risk your life as a pillion passenger on a motorcycle taxi, or the rider of your own rented motorbike or scooter. Also, know that any trip by road could take a lot longer than you expect due to traffic jams. The BTS (Sky Train) is the best way to get about in Bangkok, so try to organise lodgings within walking distance of a station.

Scams are, sadly, common. The tourism authorities and other government entities are trying to tackle the ripoff merchants, but they are well entrenched in many places. The usual advice applies: the bargain that looks too good to be true probably is; many taxi and tuk-tuk drivers will try to take you for a ride, so have an idea of what price you’re prepared to pay; and don’t wander too far off the beaten path with strangers.

Know the law. Drug use and trafficking are subject to very stiff penalties, up to capital punishment. Also, street drugs can be impure and have fatal side-effects. Alcohol laws are quite liberal, but there are times of day (in the afternoons and after midnight) when you can’t buy a drink over the counter at shops, and most (legal) licensed venues close at 2am or before. Defamation laws are very strict, especially the lese majeste law which prohibits negative comments about the royal family. Thailand is not like the UK; the monarchy is highly revered and a misplaced remark could land you in jail for a very long time (up to 14 years).

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