Having difficulty adjusting to Bangkok? Perhaps you have lingering thoughts about how you'd cope... Maybe this can shine a light on some of it.
When you first arrive in Thailand you will notice that there are a lot different things from where you live, many small "oddities" if you will. You might need to adapt quickly. We all make a lot of mistakes everywhere we go, but ideally we try to learn and not make the same mistake twice.
Please read this list of useful things and you are off to a head start for your stay in Thailand.
Most places in Thailand accept all major Credit Cards, except on some remote small islands. Take some cash with you (preferably US$ or Euro), and make sure the bills are new and have no written text or markings or are damaged in any way. The cash can be a life saver when you arrive at the airport, tired from your long trip, and you are not yet familiar with the local ATM's. Change a small amount of your cash to the local currency, Baht, at any of the many Bank currency exchange counters. Exchanging more than US$/Euro 50-100 is normally not necessary at this point. Besides it is quite expensive to exchange money here.
Instead of using your Credit Card normally like you would at home, use it to draw cash from ATM's. The current fee for drawing is 150 Baht (about US$ 5) per transaction so make sure you draw an ample amount each time (maximum 20,000 or 25,000 Baht depending on the ATM). If you do use your credit card, check the online statement at least once a week while traveling to make sure there are no fraudulent charges. Keep all your receipts, especially for large spends such as hotel stays, and compare the amounts charged when you get back. It is always a good idea to ensure you have extra travelers credit card insurance (many credit cards already has this protection as standard).
Should you want to exchange the money you have brought with you, it is as simple as going to an official currency exchange booth provided by all banks. They are generally conveniently located inside shopping malls and in popular tourist areas. The rates offered are often changed several times a day to track the fluctuations in the currency markets.
You can also go to non-bank official currency exchange centers. One of the most well known one is "Super Rich". They have branches in several places around Bangkok, although not inside shopping malls. They generally provide you with a better rate than the Banks, so if you want to change a significant amount of money it could be a good idea to head there. (http://www.superrichthailand.com/new/exchange.html)
Do not exchange money with anyone on the street or in a shop claiming to be a "money changer". This is risky and you could end up with fake bank notes.
When you exchange money, keep the receipts you get until you’ve left the country, just in case.
Get a public taxi outside the airport, not from the guys or girls who approach you inside, shouting "taxi, sir", as you’re walking out. Even better, walk to the top floor of the airport to where the taxis pull in to drop off passengers, and you’ll get a better deal because you do not have to pay for the airport surcharge of 50 baht. Make sure the driver turns on the taxi-meter. Insist if he hesitates. If he will not budge, walk to the next taxi. He'll be very happy to assist you.
Never assume that your taxi driver knows where your destination is. Double-check and get him to ask someone before you go if there’s any doubt. A map (GPS or paper) that you have prepared in advance would help you (if not the driver).
Do NOT negotiate a fee with the driver! Insist on using the taxi-meter ONLY! Do NOT accept "double dipping" where the driver asks you to pay midway of the trip with a restart of the meter. You do have to pay for tollway/expressway fees though.
If you have a dispute with a taxi driver and you think you are being taken advantage of, offer to call the police and/or the taxi company and have them settle it. Many taxi drivers are scared of the police and their employer, and often for good reason (see below). If they are being dishonest and you mention the police or taxi company, they will most of the time quickly back down.
The police are not always your friends. The services of the police are many times sold to the highest bidder. If you are savvy and if you can pay them, they may turn out to be your friends. However, in other cases, they may actually be the least trustworthy people in the country. It's many times better to walk away from trouble than trying to "win".
When you feel pressured beyond your comfort level by someone who tries to follow you or ask you for donations or anything similar, begin by ignoring them completely. Do not look in their direction, but be aware of their location. Most times, when you walk a small distance away they will give up. In the unlikely event they do not give up but persist, politely but firmly ask them to stop. Don't give in because of guilt or you think their situation is poor. They do this for a living!
Do not fall for scams! Use common sense. If you are approached on the street by anyone offering any goods or services that you think is strange (e.g. gold, "black money", jewelry) or any offer sounds too good to be true, please be very wary. If the offer is genuine they wouldn't mind waiting another day while you consider your options.
When it comes to visas (and all immigration issues), your experience will vary on the official, how you approach the situation, how you dress and how serious the situation is. The rules for tourists are fairly flexible if you overstay by a few days. If you overstay and get caught by police while out and about (very unlikely), then the situation can turn bad, however, if you get to immigration it normally is as easy as paying for the amount of days of overstay (500 Baht per day), plus a fee of 1,900 Baht for extending your stay. You can also pay the overstay directly at the airport just before departure. Make sure you turn up an hour EXTRA in advance if you overstayed. If you overstay by one (1) day you normally do not have to pay the fine.
Planes, Trains, and Buses
This might require a lot of research depending on which part of Thailand you intend to visit. With the introduction of low cost air carriers, getting around is now fairly quick and convenient. Sadly, not all cities have access to flights and you might have to use buses, trains or a combination. Canary Travel is happy to assist you with your independent itinerary.
Thais are generally non confrontational (despite what you have seen and read in the media), but that does not mean you can or should take advantage of them. If you do find yourself in a conflict, it is better to yield if the matter is small. Thais value "face" more than anything, and if they have to back down they "lose face" and will have a very hard time accepting it. If you yield, smile, say it is no matter (mai phen rai), the situation is most of the time defused in a hurry. Aggressive behavior is normally met with strong resistance, many times silently to the confusion of foreigners.
Do NOT litter, specially in "central tourist areas". The police is well known to levy a 2,000 Baht fine (US$ 65) on the spot. If you smoke and can not find a place where to drop your cigarette butt, carry it with you until you spot a suitable place to discard it.
Smoking is not allowed in public air conditioned areas. If you fancy a smoke, step outside. You are, perhaps to many peoples surprise, not allowed to smoke on your apartment/condo/hotel balcony or terrace. You can smoke indoors though (if you stay in a hotel, please request a smoking room).
It is preferred you do NOT take unsolicited photos of people. Ask first, and be fully prepared they say "no". Please respect their wishes. Women in particular are very self conscious in Thailand and they would not appreciate appearing on photos if they do not feel their appearance is perfect. A small gratuity could be expected should you snap photos of less fortunate people.
Do not touch monks. This applies specially for women. Always give up your seat should a monk enter public transport. Step out of the way in a crowded street.
Don’t point your feet at people or touch anyone on the head.
Don't be afraid to tell street vendors and/or tailors "No, thanks". Do not tell them you'll be back tomorrow, it is quite insulting.
Do not gamble. This is strictly illegal. You can play games with your friends as long as it is without stakes.
The best health care is not in the West. The best health care is in Thailand. You get impeccable personal service by the best medical doctors for fractions of the cost in the West. "Medical tourism" is actually very viable, you get your ailment properly looked after, and can perhaps enjoy a little tropical climate should time and energy allow.
You can legally buy safe medicine, including prescription drugs, cheaply in Thailand. You can buy anti-malarials in the West for US$ 5 a day. In Thailand it's closer to US$ 1 for a whole week. Aspirin, ibuprofen and other painkiller tablets are also very cheap.
Simply, do not discuss Thai politics. Do not state your opinion no matter how right you think you are. Let Thais deal with their politics, and you can deal with your own country's politics.
Be careful to think you are better than the people of Thailand. Just because some Thais do not speak English as well as you do, or think differently from you, does not mean they are stupid.
Yes, Thailand still have areas where they gently enforce a dress code. These include all Temples and places of reverence. Consider dressing politely in slacks, or long skirt extending past the knee for women, and at least a t-shirt (without offensive slogans), otherwise you may be stopped from entering.
For normal daily going about you may dress casually of course, but consider to at least don a t-shirt and shorts. Frankly speaking, you'll be met with better respect from Thai's when dressing politely.
Anyway, Thailand is a great country. Treat people with respect and you'll be met by some of the nicest and caring people in the world, and you will get a lot of respect in return. Perhaps consider to approach softly, speak gently and you may get a whole new Thailand before your eyes.