The last time I traveled to Thailand was in 2015 and this was also my first international trip. I enjoyed every moment of it and I’m sure you will too if you have been dreaming of vsiting Thailand. I know planning a trip anywhere, even in your own country is so much work, especially if you have never been to the place before.
In this blog post I will lay down some travel tips on how you can successfully plan your first trip to Thailand and all the activities that you should try out (in a follow-up post) while you are there based on my own personal experience.
NOTE: As you read this blog post, please bear in mind that I am writing this during a global pandemic and currently there are travel bans in South Africa and the rest of the world as we all try to fight the spread of COVID-19. However, you are welcome to come back to this post once things are settled and once we are able to travel again. Until then stay safe at home.
TIPS ON PLANNING YOUR FIRST TRIP TO THAILAND
1. SAVE MONEY
The number one thing to do before you reserve your plane tickets and accommodation for any holiday destination, is to make sure you are able to afford it.
At the time of my trip (December 2015) the exchange rate was 2.50 Thai baht to the rand. This is why Thailand remains one of the most affordable and beloved travel destinations for South Africans. Even so, planning and budgeting well could help you enjoy your trip comfortably.
NOTE: Some people advise on budgeting to spend at least R850 per day while in Thailand, this is purely dependent on where you are and what you have budgeted for. My biggest mistake was only saving for my plane tickets and accomodation and really not doing research on budgeting for activities, food during the day and for buying items while there. Don’t make this same mistake and rather plan every cent to the T.
TIP: You don’t have to exchange your money right away as you can always do it at the airport, but do chat to your travel agent about this before leaving. I have since learnt that withdrawing money at ATMS overseas costs so much more, so try to avoid this or find a bank that provides affordable transactions overseas, so that you don’t get a shock after you land back home. Another useful tip is to try and inform your bank about your travel dates, to ensure that they can keep track of your account for any fraudulent activities that may put your account at risk while you are overseas.
Steps to follow when saving money for your trip:
- Check the Thailand packages on all trusted travel agencies’ websites to see how much you are likely to pay for a 7 nights stay including flights and accommodation (this is the most popular package). You can then use this amount as a rough estimate for how much you may end up paying.
- Also take note that some travel packages that are on special may last for a limited time period only, so the prices are always subject to change on the regular.
- Once you have an amount in mind, then decide when you are likely to go on the trip as this will then inform your saving calendar and how you plan to save your money
- Some smart saving options include: A travel stokvel (saving with a friend or a group in one account and sticking to monthly payments); opening a Tax Free Investment Account; 32 Day Notice Account; Flexible Savings Account or a Unit Trust Account. These are all smart ways of saving money and also earning interest on your savings. Speak to your bank or financial adviser for these saving options that are easily available to help you set your financial goals today
- If the total cost of your trip (including flights and accommodation) = R10 000, aim to save upto R12 000 should there be any increases at the time of your booking. You want to save more rather than less and be on the safe side to not deplete your credit card or other savings you’ve put aside.
- If you decide to go in December, then you may want to start saving at least R1500-2000 per month. No pressure to save this much, save according to your budget and don’t feel pressured to commit to a set amount (because life happens). You should also be realistic about your travel goals and commit to those goals. After all even if you decide to cancel the trip, the money won’t be wasted and you would have learnt valuable money saving habits for the long run.
2.1 The Weather
Once you have started saving up for your trip, you may want to check with your travel agency or adviser or Google for the best times to visit Thailand. According to Travel Start and Trip Advisor, Thailand has three official seasons namely:
- Hot Season: Which runs from March through to June, and April and May are reportedly the hottest months in the year
- Monsoon Season: Which is accompanied by heavy rain and normally will have rough seas. In areas such as Andaman Sea, Phuket, Krabi, Khao Lak or west side of the Isthmus the season usually starts mid May or June and may continue right through October
- Cool Season: This season runs from November until February and may still feel hot to some visitors.
- NOTE: I went in December and it was still hot and moist most of the days, although when I first arrived it seemed cloudy with chances of rain. If you are looking to travel during December, you will still have lots of sun and beach time.
2.2 Visas and passports requirements
Luckily for South Africans, Thailand is a visa free destination and all you need is your passport. However, some countries may differ and you will need to double check with your travel agent if you should apply for a visa or not from the beginning of your trip. You can always check on Google for Visa Free destinations for your passport. You will however require a passport, so make sure it has not expired or about to expire before/during your trip to avoid unnecessary travel hiccups during your trip.If you don’t have your passport, you can apply for it at Home Affairs and it normally takes up to 2-4 weeks for it to be issued to you. Cost: Currently it costs R400 for new applicants to apply for a new passport and also when using your old one as a copy to re-apply, the cost will be R400. To re-apply for a lost passport will cost you R800. These are South African Home Affairs rates as at 2020.
NOTE: Your passport needs to be valid for at least 6 months after the departure date.
2.3. Flights and Accommodation
You have successfully saved up for your trip, you’ve decided when you’d like to go and made sure that your passport is still valid and ticks the required visa requirements, great! Now for the flights and accommodation options – the best part!
I travelled with a friend and we booked our trip using Computicket Travel as our travel agent and the total package for our trip included flights, 7 nights accommodation and breakfast every morning. This also included airport transfers too. However, on arrival in Thailand, Thompsons Travel agency in Thailand was responsible for our airport transfers and we also got a complimentary city tour to Phuket. This was great because Thompsons is also a very trusted agency and we felt safe and secured using their services.
Total cost per person sharing (one room accomodation) was + R12 000 (as at October 2015).
We could have possibly saved a LOT more on the flights and accommodation rates had we had booked the trip ourselves, but this felt like the right thing to do at the time, as this was our first time travelling to Thailand.
TIP: If you are an experienced traveller, then you may be more comfortable booking your own flights and reserving your own accommodation (using AirBnb / Booking.com). This will definitely save you some money. However, if you are a novel (new) traveller, I would recommend you leave this admin with a travel agent for your comfort – just for your first trip until you are comfortable in making your own travelling arrangements.
3. WHAT TO PACK
The first thing about packing is that you want to plan your outfits accordingly. I did this way in advanced and it actually helped once I got to Thailand because then I didn’t have to stress about what to wear everyday. However, I made the mistake of over packing for this trip.TIP: Pack enough clothing, don’t over do it and stick to about 4-5 outfit changes.
I at least had all the essentials that I needed including, but not limited to:
- My Cannon Camera (to take quality images)
- My iPad
- My Samsung mobile phone (S3)
- Sunscreen with SPF 15+ and one with braod spectrum (Thailand is a bit humid and the weather can get very hot, so be prepared and protect your skin)
- A bikini for each day (I didn’t want my Instagram pictures to look boring)
- An outfit for each day (I over packed a lot and regretted it because there was so much I bought in Thailand that I ended up with little space in my suitcase)
- Pack something warm especially if you will be traveling in the rainy season
Now that I have had a look at my Thailand pictures, I don’t regret over packing so much anymore because all my pictures were amazing, but please plan better and pack light. But it was hell carrying that luggage, never doing that to myself again.
4. GETTING THERE
The trip to Thailand felt surreal. I couldn’t stop smiling and feeling so excited about this trip.
Our flight from OR Tambo International Airport left around 22:00 pm in the evening to Dubai and once we were in Dubai, we had a 4 hour layover before catching our connecting flight to Phuket International Airport. We wanted to check out Dubai, but our agent told us that we would need to apply for a visa, so we opted not to take that option. Four hours may feel like a very long time, but Dubai International Airport is BIG. I remember at some point we had to catch the subway (underground railway system) to another airport terminal, so I wouldn’t advise that you leave the airport unless you are familiar with Dubai and the airport itself. Besides, we got a meal voucher from Emirates to spend at the airport while we waited for our connecting flight, the airport is also a beautiful place to be and to explore a bit.Our flight from Dubai to Thailand was 06H05Min, which in total equaled to 14 hours of travel (minus the layover).
When we arrived at the Phuket International Airport, it was raining heavily. We had to wait for our luggage and get our passports stamped before meeting our driver. We then met by our driver who was assigned to pick us up from the airport. The drive from Phuket International Airport to Patong Beach (where we stayed for 7 days) was a 56.8 km ~ 1h 8 min.
We checked into our hotel late that evening/ early morning and got accompanied to our rooms and slept peacefully. I honestly couldn’t wait for the morning to start exploring more of Thailand at that point. Although it was lovely to finally be able to sleep (even while fighting the jet-lag).In summary, to successfully plan your trip to Thailand you need to do the following:
- Save enough money
- Do research on the seasons and the best time to visit
- Check your passport and visa requirements
- Book your plane ticket and accomodation
- Pack light (just what you need)