Discovering the world on $20 per day ......................

Post 403: Part 1: A Beginner's Guide to Thailand: Arrival

Recently, yesterday in fact, a friend sent me a text message. In January, he and his new wife would be travelling to Thailand on their honeymoon, with a limited budget, and could I possibly give them some advice?
I get a lot of requests like this, different circumstance and different countries, but when ‘Thailand’ and ‘Limited Budget’ are mentioned, I feel better qualified to respond. The posts that follow are not specifically designed for my friend, but more a ‘General’ overview of arriving, staying and then leaving Thailand, the must do and the must avoid in the amazing Land of Smiles.
There’s no delicate way to say this, so I’ll be blunt. If anybody reading this is considering coming to Thailand for a Sexcation, then go look at some other person’s blog, because you won’t find what you’re looking for here. On second thoughts, go look at Craig’s List and save yourself the cost of the airfare.

Now, for those who’re still reading, I’ll assume that you’ve never been to Thailand before and that you’ll be flying from your home country into Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport. If your from the USA, UK, European Union and several other countries, a list is available on your local Thai Embassy website, then on arrival in Thailand you’ll receive a 30-Day Visa Exemption stamp in your passport. If you intend to stay for longer than 30 days, or you’re from a country not on the Visa Exemption list, then you’ll need to obtain a visa before travelling here. However, in every case, at airline check-in you’ll need to show an onward or return ticket out of Thailand that shows you leaving the Kingdom prior to the end date of your official stay. If not, there’s a very high chance that the airline won’t let you board the flight.   

So far so good. On the final or only leg of your flight to Thailand, the cabin crew will provide you with, and ask you to complete, a basic immigration form, a TM6. Name, passport number, date of issue, address in Thailand etc. If you have a visa, then enter the visa number, but if you’re using Visa Exemption, just leave that box empty. 

It’s all basic stuff, and after landing you’ll take this form and your passport to the immigration arrivals hall which is well signposted. For smokers, on the walk - it's actually mostly horizontal escalator - between your arrival gate and the immigration hall, you’ll pass at least two small smoking rooms; important for some, not for others.

Immigration should be a breeze, smile, be polite and look into the camera when asked to do so. With your passport stamped, you’re now officially in Thailand and you’ll walk forward to the carousel and wait for your bags to arrive. If I need local currency, the Thai Baht, then this is where I first buy it. NEVER change your money at a British or American Airport, you’ll get a much better rate, +20%, if you change it on arrival in Thailand. However, if you’re bringing cash notes in $ or £, then make sure they’re in good condition, no tears of fading, otherwise most places in Thailand will refuse to accept them.
With your bags collected, wander through the correct customs channel and you’ll emerge in the arrivals area of one of the world’s finest airports. Taxi touts may be plying for your business, but please, for the love of all that is good, just smile and ignore them. Turn to your right following the overhead graphic sign for a Taxi and take the escalator down to ground level. At the end of the escalator, walk out of the closest exit on your left and then turn to your right. Before you will be the official taxi ranks and an assistant will ask for your destination. Hotel X Street Y. The assistant will give you a ticket and a taxi number. Walk to the appropriate taxi, load your bags and climb aboard. The driver will switch on the meter, which currently starts at 35 Baht ($1), and he’ll confirm your destination: Hotel X on Street Y? He’ll then ask if you want to use the ’Motorway?’. If he suggests it, then just say ’Yes’ and hand him 100 Baht ($3). Bangkok traffic can be horrendous and your driver spends his or her life circumnavigating the city, so go along with their judgement.
Now, I don’t want to worry you unduly, but when it comes to the world rankings of road deaths per capita, Thailand is second only to Namibia. I’ve never been to Namibia, but I’ve travelled thousands of miles across Thailand and along the way I’ve learned a few valuable lessons. If you feel that your Taxi is travelling too quickly for the conditions, then don’t be afraid to say something to the driver. But, be very careful how you say it. Don’t criticise their driving, because no matter how bad it actually is they’ll probably take offence and the results could be unpredictable. Instead, you might want to gently suggest that you’re enjoying the view of Bangkok’s skyline, it is beautiful especially at night, and that a lower speed would allow you to take in more of the details. He’ll slow down, because now he’s not being insulted but he’s doing his customers a great favour. If you haven’t been to Asia before, then this is your introduction to ‘Face’. Don’t worry, you’ll work it out.

Anyway, let’s assume that you’re staying in Central Bangkok and arrive safely at your intended destination. Motorway Tolls will be around 100 Baht ($3) and the price on the taxi’s metre will be less than 300 Baht ($10). That’s not bad for a 20 mile journey into the heart of a city where fuel and vehicles cost more than they do in New York. So, if your driver’s been polite, and safe, then give them a reasonable tip and say thank you… ’Kob Koon Kap’ (if you’re male), ‘Kob koon Ka‘ (If you‘re female). I usually tip 20%.

On arrival at your hotel or guest house, the receptionist will make a photocopy of the information page and entry stamp in your passport. Your passport will then be returned to you, so please keep it safe. If you’ve booked your room using a website; Expedia, Agoda or Asia Rooms etc., then having a printout of the reservation, or a photograph of the conformation on your phone, is always useful. Also, as you’re technically supposed to carry your passport with you at all times, but at certain times that might not be convenient, I generally ask the receptionist to make double copies of the pages, one set for them and one set for me to carry. Generally they’re happy to do this, but a genuine smile and a generous ‘thank you’ will usually get you everything you need here.

You’re now in Thailand…. Enjoy your stay.

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