When you arrive in Thailand, be it Bangkok or Phuket, you’re going to be given a little landing/departing card on which you’re to fill in details like your name, passport number and the name of the hotel at which you’re staying. Fill this in and head off to the immigration counter followed by the baggage claim. Do not lose this card. You’ll need to hand it back in again when you leave.
As I flew in via Addis Ababa I had to do the above via the health counter where I had to fill in another quick form and state that I was SOUTH African and not African and thus didn’t need a yellow fever vaccintion but if your stop over was in Dubai or somewhere else you don’t have to worry about that. Just go straight to immigration. The airport serves up two hours of free Wi-Fi so you can stare at your phone while your queue.
Once that’s sorted and you’ve been reunited with your luggage head to an ATM where you can draw cash using your credit card. There’s no need to bother with travellers cheques or anything like that. Drawing from the ATM will cost you about R100 which is pretty steep so draw a large amount and look after it. When you’re in town you might find ATMs that charge a little less so consider trying a few before committing on your next draw. (You’re notified of the fee before you commit.) Just don’t do my famous trick which is to leave my bank card in the machine. OMF! (Thankfully I always travel with two credit cards for this very reason.)
Right! So, you’ve got cash and the first thing you’re going to buy is a dtac Happy Tourist SIM card. You’ll find the counter right at the exit of the airport. It’ll be the one with the large but fast-moving queue. All you have to do is hand your cell and cash over to the friendly chicas behind the counter and they’ll pop out your SIM, tape it to a card for you and then insert your new Dtac SIM and set it up for you and you’re good to go.
Trust me when I tell you that you REALLY want a Happy Tourist SIM. You can pick from 7 days, 2 weeks or a month or whatever and it gives you access to unlimited super fast 6GB speed internet plus a certain amount of air time to make calls. This way you’ll have internet access wherever you go (even through Wi-Fi is pretty much everywhere in Thailand), be able to use your phone like a GPS to get around on foot and be able to WhatsApp everyone. WhatsApp is connected to your phone, not your SIM so there’s no need to tell your WhatsApp buddies your new Thai number. You can also use internet banking. (I’m with the awesomeness that is Capitec and, again, their app is connected to your phone, not your SIM, so you can transact as per usual without missing a beat.
I bought the 2 week SIM and it was R242. The one week option is even cheaper and the full month one isn’t much more than the 2 week one. If you decided to stay longer you can top up your with more time at any 7Eleven which are literally on every single corner.
Okay! So we’ve got cash in our pockets and we’re online. What next? It’s now time to get to your hotel. If you’re in Bangkok you can use Uber, Grab (which is kind of like Taxify but I’ve found their drivers often taken forever to arrive) or just nab a taxi outside the airport. At the time I looked Uber was about R150 but being peak traffic it would’ve taken forever.
What’s fast, dirt cheap and easy, however, is the Bangkok BTS sky train. Simply follow the signs to the air port rail link (a separate train line that leads to the sky train) and buy a token to Phaya Thai station for 45 baht (R17,50). The journey is just 26 minutes long and, once you’re at Phaya Thai, you can buy a ticket to the station that’s nearest to your hotel and it won’t cost more than 42 baht (R16). Remember when I said picking a hotel that’s in walking distance of a station is ideal? This is why. If you’re far away from a station, however, and hauling heavy bags then you can always arrive at that station and then grab a super cheap taxi that will take you the short distance to your hotel.
Arrived in Phuket? Your journey is even easier. As you walk towards the airport exit you’ll be greeted by companies offering private taxi and mini bus rides to your hotel. Ignore the over priced taxis and pick the mini bus. It’s 180 baht (R70) and, as you share the bus with other tourists it will make a few stops so you can expect a journey that’s about an hour to an hour and a half long but you’re going to save cash and still get dropped off right at the door of your hotel.
I hope this guide’s been useful so far. Next time we chat I’m going to be telling you what I always pack as well as what I don’t.
P.S. I’m typing this by the bath water-warm pool of my hotel in Phuket where I’ve got a margarita to the left and a clutch of adorable Asian kids dancing to Katy Perry on my right. Hate me long time?