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A little inside knowledge is never a bad thing, and for your trip to Thailand there are a few things worth remembering.
In the major cities, most people working in the tourist industry can speak reasonable English, but in other areas few will understand more than a spattering of words. If you have a guide then he or she can do the work for you, if not then it’s worth investing in a phrase book. Making an effort to speak Thai will also earn you instant respect.
When shopping in malls the price is fixed, but outside on the street or in markets you have a duty to haggle. Look for at least 25 per cent off the price you are first quoted. A good trick is to look interested but then walk away. If your price was in the right area, the trader will soon call you back and agree a sale.
It’s possible to save considerable amounts of money in the duty-free shops. Goods can be bought in shops and delivered to the airport for you to collect as you fly out. VAT is 7 per cent but can be refunded on goods bought in shops labeled 'VAT Refund for Tourists', as long as there is a minimum transaction of 2,000 baht including VAT.
Ask for a ‘VAT Refund Application for Tourists’ form when you buy goods. Cash refunds can be obtained in the airport departure hall – the minimum refund is 5,000 baht.
It is illegal to take antique Buddha images out of Thailand, but most upmarket stores will be able to package and post large goods back home, for a reasonable fee.
When shopping for jewellery or gold, it pays to be a little wary. The Thai Gem and Jewellery Traders Association and the Tourism Authority of Thailand has launched the Jewel Fest Club, which looks to offer high-quality products at fair prices. Look for the club’s sticker on any shop where you’re thinking of buying something. Your purchase will be recorded and it allows you to get a refund of 90 per cent with 30 days.
Chances are you’ll see gold for sale on almost street corner. Obviously, some of the deals offered are nowhere near as good as they sound. Head for a genuine store. The price of gold fluctuates daily, but you’ll also pay for the workmanship, weight and design of the item. Be wary of the famous gem scam too. Stores do not offer ‘one day discounts’ and if a tuk-tuk driver insists on showing you to a store, insist on leaving again, as he’ll be on a commission for anything you buy. Also don’t believe anybody who tells you a certain temple is closed on the day you visit, and you’d be better off letting them show you around.
When it comes to hotels, booking online will generally get you a better rate. If you’re staying a week or more, you could also try calling and see if an even better rate is available. For real comfort and class in Bangkok, you should budget for 3,000 baht a night or more. Outside of the capital, anything over 2,000 baht will almost certainly include a swimming pool and some extra touches.
When you arrive at your hotel, ask for a business card and map. This way, even if your taxi driver possesses absolutely no English, you’ll still be able to get back to your room.
When packing, be sure to bring sun block with a high factor and a travel adapter. Thailand uses 220 volts and has either two or three-pinned prongs.
In case of medical emergencies, most luxury hotels have a doctor on call at all times. Having adequate health insurance is essential, as hospital bills can become very expensive very quickly.
Thailand is a very safe place for tourists but like anywhere, it pays to use common sense. Don’t walk through the streets wearing your most expensive jewellery and don’t leave bags unattended and expect them to be waiting patiently when you return. With a little thought, your stay in Thailand will be safe and memorable.