11 Tips for Touring Thailand, Cambodia and Laos

For North Americans and Europeans, Thailand represents a fairly exotic vacation with tons to do and see. Here are some tips for making your trip more enjoyable.

I have never been to the Far East although it is on my bucket list. So, when my sister announced that she was planning a trip to Thailand I was totally fascinated and deeply envious.

Thai culture is worlds apart from my North American home and, when visiting someplace that difference, you want to be careful to be respectful of customs and cultural norms while still enjoying your vacation. Unfortunately, that is difficult if you don’t know what to expect.

So, in anticipation of what my sister needs to know for her visit to Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos, I started to research some travel tips and suggestions for visitors to Thailand to get the most out of their vacation.

#1: Vaccinate

You are travelling to a hot area with lots of mosquitos and some less-than-pleasant diseases that can be prevented with a simple series of vaccines. It makes sense to get them done.

Hepatitis A & B are highly recommended regardless of where you intend to travel in Thailand. Your routine vaccinations including tetanus and measles should also be up to date. If you intend to travel to rural areas you may also want to consider the typhoid vaccine and anti-malarial medication.

Rabies can be an issue as well although vaccination is not recommended unless you intend to interact with animals. Japanese encephalitis vaccine is also recommended for some areas in Thailand – consult your doctor with your travel plans to find out if you should be receiving this vaccine.

#2: Insect repellent

woman spraying insect repellent

Bring lots as there are many mosquitos in Thailand and they carry many dangerous illnesses including malaria and dengue fever. This is especially true if you intend to visit rural areas.

#3: Respect the heat

The climate is hot and humid and much more so than most travellers are used to. It can take a while for your body to acclimatize to the weather and you need to give it time to do so.

Drink lots of fluids and have the occasional sports drink, like Gatorade, to help keep your electrolytes balanced since you will likely be sweating more than you are used to. Some edema in the legs is not unexpected initially.

Try to avoid activity in the hottest parts of the day and take a break when you get tired. Pushing yourself through the exhaustion may set you up for heat exhaustion or heat stroke which is more serious and may require medical treatment.

#4: Explore the food options


Thai food is some of the best (and cheapest) in the world. Try it out. There are options for those who prefer milder flavours so don’t let the idea of “spicy” prevent you from tasting different foods just make sure that you let the vendor/restaurateur know you want something milder.

There are some debates over whether it is healthier to eat from a food stand or restaurant. Food stands are certainly cheaper. Regardless of which you choose, look for places where there is lots of foot traffic that seem popular with the locals.

These places are likely to have fresher food and the locals will know which places to avoid. Being Thai does not prevent you from getting food poisoning.

Traveler’s diarrhea is a possibility no matter where you eat. Pack medication to help prevent or deal with this problem if it arises. There are now prescription medications for those most vulnerable to it but you can also bring along over-the-counter medications like Imodium.

#5: Water

Always drink water that is bottled. You should even use bottled water for things like brushing your teeth. Some sites say ice is often safe while others suggest watching for signs and asking if the ice is made with bottled water when dining out.

Water contaminated with parasites and bacteria that your body is not used to is one of the easiest ways to get traveler’s diarrhea or something more serious.

#6: Nationalism and royalty

The Thai culture has a strong sense of nationalism and tends to revere its Royal family. Therefore it goes without saying that insulting either the country or its monarchy is a bad idea.

The national anthem is broadcast twice each day (8 am and 6 pm local time) and you are expected to halt activities and stand while it is playing.

#7: Go beyond the cities


Bankgkok and Phuket are highlights that most visitors will see but there are a wealth of temples, ruins, and parks worth exploring as well. The islands tend to get lots of visitors as Thailand is rapidly becoming known for great diving and snorkeling.

Consider visiting some of the ancient capitals like Ayutthaya that can be found between Bankgkok and Chiang Mai. Once you reach Chiang Mai, make sure you visit the ringed city, temples, and night bazaar for some of the best shopping in Thailand. There’s also an elephant sanctuary nearby.

#8: Visit the parks


Okay, national parks are not for everyone but I love seeing animals in their natural environment. If you, like me, enjoy this kind of thing visit Khao Yai in the north and Khao Sok in the south. Both are true jungles with lots to explore but also not an easy walk in the park.

Sadly, leeches are not unheard of in Thai jungles. That being said, there are lots of opportunities to spot gibbons, a wide variety of birds, some unique plant life, and even the occasional wild elephant.

#9: Visiting temples (Wats)

Just like you would when visiting cathedrals, churches and temples in other parts of the world, modest dress is advisable when visiting wats in Thailand.

You may be refused entry if you show up in tank tops, shorts, short skirts, or flip flops. You must remove your shoes when you enter a temple, it is a sign of respect and bare feet are preferred to socks. This means shoes that are easily removed are handy.

Skirts are generally preferred for woman but long pants and capris are also acceptable. Your knees and shoulders should be covered as should those of any male companions. In the south of Thailand, many temples are Muslim and you can expect to cover up even more.

When entering the temple, step over the threshold, not on to it, and remove your shoes prior to entry. Do not touch the images of Buddha and, when sitting, point your feet away from the Buddha (see explanation further down about the feet).

Do not touch the monks as they are required to perform a long cleansing routine if this occurs. Many are friendly and willing to talk to you. When ending a discussion with a monk, give them a wai of respect.

#10: Wai


The wai is a gesture of greeting and respect that is commonly used in Thailand. It replaces the western handshake in many southeastern countries including Thailand, Laos and Cambodia.

Bring your hands together in a prayer like posture, holding them close to your chest and face and bow your head slightly. The higher the position of your hands the more respect it confers. For monks, your hands should practically be in front of your face.

If someone offers you a wai, it is rude not to return it. The only people excused from this are monks and kings, neither of whom have to offer a wai to anyone.

#11: Head & feet

The head is considered the home of the soul and it is rude to touch anyone, including children’s, head. Never touch a monk’s head. Do not rub a bald man’s head for good luck in Thailand.

The feet are considered unclean. For this reason you should never use them to gesture towards anything or anyone. When sitting in a temple, sit on your knees such that your feet point away from the Buddha.

Thailand is known as the “land of smiles” and welcomes visitors of all cultures and religions, including LGTB travelers. Take advantage of this opportunity to visit an ancient and beautiful country and explore all it has to offer.

Cover photo: hestunningangels.blogspot.com


About the author

Heather B

Heather is an avid traveller, lover of dogs, and baker supreme. She lives in a small town in Ontario, Canada where she raises German Shorthaired Pointers with her family. An explorer at heart, she travels whenever she can, wherever she can.

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