When people come to Thailand they naturally arrive with lots of questions that often they think are to silly or to strange to ask, well chances are we have heard them all before so I thought it would be a fun idea to write up some of the strangest and most frequently asked questions that we get about volunteering and about Thailand itself.
These are in no particular order but I tried to bunch similar questions together, I have had to turn this into a two part blog as there were just TOO many questions to answer in one SUPER long blog.
Is Thailand safe? – This is probably one of the most frequently asked questions that we get. I can tell you from my own experiences from living here for a while, that Thailand is safe. There are obviously the same dangers that there are in other countries like traffic and robberies but these are so far and few between. Bangkok is naturally more of a dangerous place than Surin is because it is a big city where there are a lot of people, the more people there are in a place the higher the chances that there will be undesirable people wanting to make a quick buck. Just take sensible precautions like don’t flash your cash and you should be fine. I walk around in Surin on my own in the dark all the time and have never had any problems, Surin is safe, just be careful of the traffic, Thai drivers are notoriously mental!!
Fun traffic in Bangkok
What happens if the Police pull me over? – Chances are that during your time in Thailand you will not come into contact with any Police, if you do it will normally be a hello and a quick conversation, many officers are desperate to test out their English skills. If you do get pulled over for any reason just make sure that you explain that you can’t speak Thai, call a member of staff and let them talk to the office. Staff are available 24 hours a day for events just like this. Just make sure you don’t do anything silly enough to attract Police attention.
Police are normally a lot less intimidating than this I promise you 😀
Do I need a visa? – This should 100% be something you look at before you travel to Thailand. If you fly into any of the airports you will immediately be given a 30 day visa for free, if you travel in by land you get a 15 day visa, the price varies on which checkpoint you travel in from and which country. If you plan to stay in Thailand for longer than 30 days then you need to organise a visa before you travel, this will make your journey less stressful and mean you don’t have to travel to Bangkok to extend your visa.
Can I extend my visa? – Yes you can extend your visa whilst being in Thailand. It is something that has to be done in the main immigration office that is about an hours car ride out of Bangkok. A visa extension is normally 2000฿ for 10 days when you are extending from a standard tourist visa. If you have a per arranged visa that you wish to extend this is a similar price but the length of time is at the discretion of the immigration office, if they are having a good day it can be as much as a 30 day extension. It is much cheaper and easier to arrange a visa before you arrive, the one most typically issued is the 60 day visa.
Make sure you know what your visa situation is!!
Can I leave Thailand and come back in? – This all depends on your visa situation, if you have a 60 day visa that is single entry then don’t leave Thailand otherwise your visa will be cancelled. You can obviously leave and enter as many times as you like just be careful about visas, also be careful with doing land crossings at the same crossing more than twice in a row. Sometimes they get a bit funny about you just using the border for visa runs so try to vary your locations.
What places can I travel to easily? – From Surin you can travel very easily to Cambodia and then onto Vietnam. You can also head up to Laos pretty easily, just make sure you know what visas you might need for each place and any other information the might need, like a departure date for example.
The beautiful Angkor Wat
Is it safe to travel alone? – Travelling alone is as safe as you make it. I have always traveled alone and have never come up against any sorts of danger or major issues. Just be smart and don’t let people take advantage of you. Even if you don’t feel it, you need to act confident, the unruly people in the world don’t target confident people they target people who look lost and confused; don’t be that person.
Is there anywhere I shouldn’t travel to or should avoid? – Each country has recommendations about which areas are safe and unsafe to travel to. Take a look at your countries travel abroad website to see where it deems safe to travel. I general all of Thailand is safe to travel but the borders can sometimes be places of occasional conflict between countries, just steer clear of any trouble and you will be fine.
Is public transport safe? – Public transport in Thailand, from the Sky Train in Bangkok to the Tuk Tuks in Surin are all very safe. Tuk Tuks and motorbike taxis might not look in the best condition but as with all things in life, if you don’t think it is safe then don’t use it. I now that I have complete faith in the public transport in Thailand and I regularly use the Sky Train, taxis, motorbike taxis and Tuk Tuks and I have yet to report any issues, even when me and 6 others fit into one Tuk Tuk!!
One of the most quintessential forms of transport associated with Thailand
Can I take images of Buddha out of the country? – Legally the answer to this question is no. I however took out several, different sized, Buddha images, statues and pictures out of the country and didn’t face any issues. You obviously can’t take anything from a temple or anything that is a worshiped religious relic but small statues or trinkets shouldn’t be an issue. If you declare something at the airport then chances are they will confiscate it, so it is entirely up to you.
Should I buy ivory? Can I take it out of the country? – ivory is a sensitive subject in Thailand, if you get it from a reasonable and ethical source then there isn’t an issue, but as with everywhere in the world, not everything is as it appears. I can’t voucher for the validity of the ivory in Bangkok but know that the ivory pieces sold at the local silver and elephant villages comes from elephants who’s tusks have become problematic to feeding or have be damaged and need cutting. Cutting an elephants tusks does not harm the animal in any way and is often used as a means for handlers to gain extra money as well as improve the welfare of the animal. Just buy responsibly from hat are trust worthy, if you are unsure, check with a member of staff. If you are only taking a small piece of jewelry out of the country then you don’t need to have a certificate of authenticity but if you are planning to take large pieces of ivory out of the country then chances are you won’t be allowed to.
Ivory is beautiful, but make sure you check if you are buying from a good source
Should I go to any festivals? – Thailand has the largest number of festivals and public holidays of any country in the world, so chances are, when you are travelling or volunteering that you will come across at least one holiday. Holidays are nearly always religious holidays and are very important to Thais. Some holidays have huge festivals that accompany them such as Loy Krathong, the light festival which Chiang Mai is notorious for, or Songkran the celebration of Thai new year with a ginormous water fight, some smaller holidays include various days devoted to gods or spirits that might only be celebrated in local temples. If you are in Thailand for any festivals I would encourage you to participate and get involved in any way you can, they are great cultural experiences but are also normally loads of fun.
Can I use my credit/debit card in Thailand? – You can use cards here in Thailand, we have hundreds of ATM’s that accept foreign cards. Make sure that you check with your bank that you are allowed to use your card abroad and that you inform them of the dates of which you will be using it abroad. Chances are if you are using your card that you will get charged by your own bank but also by the ATM. Here ATM’s charge 150฿ per transaction for foreign cards so it is better to withdraw larger amounts than smaller ones, charges per bank vary hugely so make sure you inquire as to what these charges might be.
What happens if I loose my card? – If you loose your card you to need to report it to your back as soon as possible and get it blocked. Depending on your length of stay with us you can always have another card posted out to the volunteer accommodation or staff office. If you aren’t with us for long enough for that to be an option you can always look to having money transferred to another volunteer or staff members account and then withdraw it from their account; and maybe buy them a beer for their trouble 🙂
What do I do if my card gets blocked? – If your card gets blocked, chances are your bank has done it due to your activity abroad. No matter how many times I tell my bank I am travelling they always block my card at least one time per trip, just call them and answer the security questions they are you and them they will unblock your card, normally with immediate effect as well.
Should I bring travelers cheques? – No. Simple as that. People don’t use them in Thailand, I am sure there are places in Bangkok you can use them but you will be there for a weekend which will be filled with volunteer tours and activities. Just don’t waste your time organising travelers cheques as you will not use them, especially in Surin; they wouldn’t even know what they were!!
Do you tip in Thailand? – Tipping is not expected as it is in the Western world, people’s livelihood is not based off them but it is considered polite to leave a tip. If I am at a restaurant then I will normally leave the coin change and only take the notes, my favourite restaurant waits until this equals a meal and then gives me one for free so I guess that isn’t really tipping haha When it comes to Tuk Tuks or motorbikes you will have already agreed on a price so tipping is not expected. Taxis in Bangkok would normally expect a foreigner to round up to the nearest 10฿ or so, for example, if you had a taxi fare that was 170฿, you would just pay 200฿. But as with anywhere in the world, it is your own choice.
Does Thailand really have Ladyboys? – Ladyboys are always something volunteers ask me about. Yes Thailand does have Ladyboys, Surin also has a very active Ladyboy community, chances are that when you are here you won’t even notice that they are the females they play so well. The Ladyboy friends I have are all beautiful and often more attractive and better dressed than the females I know!
The Ladyboy show we had at Speed for Valentines Day
Can we go to a Ping Pong show? – Ping Pong shows are something that Thailand is notorious for, take a walk down Khao San road on an evening and you will have several touters trying to get you into a cab or a Tuk Tuk to see a ping pong show. I have seen them on a couple of occasions and can say that there is two sides to ping pong shows. The first is the ‘wow’ factor, when travelers first get to the shows they are amazed at the things that the girls can do and find it incredible and very interesting or disturbing. It is a source of entertainment after all. On the other hand however, if you think about what the girls are having to do then it is extremely degrading, many girls come to Bangkok in the hope to make more money for their families and get sucked into the world of Ping Pong shows which walk hand in hand with human trafficking and prostitution. As much as the bar owner and touters will tell you their girls are happy and free to leave whenever they like, you can never be sure. You might think your one visit to a Ping Pong show won’t make a difference to these girls but if everyone thinks that then it does make a difference. It is entirely up to you if you wish to go to a Ping Pong show but just think about the repercussions it has on the girls and every person involved.
Can I drink in Thailand? – The legal drinking age in Thailand is 20 years old, the enforcement of this is often up for debate. I know that I have seen high school students in the bars and club in Surin over the weekend, the security are well aware of their age but as long as they give them drinks and keep out of trouble they tend to get away with. Getting drunk in Thailand is much easier than foreigners think, the heat and humidity mean you get drunk quicker so just make sure you are aware of your surroundings and what you are doing, nobody wants to be having to send you home at midnight do they???
Thailands most famous beer brand; Chang
Can I do drugs in Thailand? – I don’t ever agree with drugs in any way and this is very much mirrored by the Thai government. Police are very strict on drugs and can and will arrest you, there is the possibility of imprisonment and even the death sentence. Many police stations set up traps in order to catch both Thais and foreigners, you buy a packet of drugs from someone and then two seconds later you get arrested. It isn’t worth it I promise you. Some of the islands like Koh Pangan, Koh Samui and Koh Tao do have several bars and locations where Police allow drug use in order to contain it. It is obviously your choice to get involved in drugs but I personally don’t think it is worth the risk of being put in a Thai prison in order to get high; but I’m a square and don’t even agree with swearing haha
Can I smoke in Thailand? – Smoking is perfectly within the law in Thailand, there is some contention as to whether it is legal to smoke indoors in places like bars, so make sure you either ask or take notice of where the locals are smoking. Hookah is something that is smoked all over Thailand and is also legal, just make sure you know what you are smoking so that you don’t get yourself into a situation that might end badly.
I know this is a pretty long post so I will put up the second half of this FAQ tomorrow 😀
Build. Protect.Teach. Care. – The Starfish Motto