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I'm going to Thailand in a few days and am wondering if it is possible to get around without knowing any Thai. Maybe I was a bit naive not to think about this in advance, but do you have any tips, helpers or other things that can help me not getting completely lost? I already downloaded OsmAnd and the Thailand maps and have a Stefan Lose travel guide.

I am going to travel alone to Bangkok and Chiang Mai and then I will see. Mostly I will stay at hostels and expect to meet quite a few backpackers on my way.

  • @pnuts I edited the question – Lehue Jan 18 '17 at 15:17
  • For the important things like signs to find the correct bus you will find enough English along with the Thai to survive with little problem. Of course it's always nice (and respectful) to learn some of the local language. – Spehro Pefhany Jan 18 '17 at 18:23
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    Actually of more concern than can they speak English, is have you learned any Thai etiquette? – user13044 Jan 19 '17 at 1:02
  • @Tom I know the things my travel guide said but I did not actively learn Thai etiquette. Do you think I should do some research before I go? – Lehue Jan 19 '17 at 7:09
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    Yes, having an understanding of the dos and don'ts for Thailand will go a long way. I see too many tourists being "impolite" with their dress, acts and attitude. – user13044 Jan 19 '17 at 8:00
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You will be fine. Lots of locals know English.

All you are required to say is BTS for the train station, and they would take you to the closest station.

Or alternatively, if the location is well-known you can simply say it in English or show them a map.

Just make sure before jumping in any type of taxi or alike you confirm how the payment would be measured. Either one-off or on meter (Meter is usually better).

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The vast majority of the time, you'll be fine.

Thailand has a large community of expats who, for the most part, speak surprisingly little Thai. Additionally, Thailand welcomes large numbers of tourists, practically none of which speak Thai.

Occasionally, particularly when you're off the beaten path, you might have a bit more difficulty, but, that will be exceptional. The public transport system is good and quite straightforward, and many Thai, particularly in the hospitality sector, speak a basic English.

I lived in Chiang Mai for something like two years and never got around to speaking Thai, outside of a few dozen words. During that time, I traveled around quite a bit.

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The locations where you are going you should be fine if you stick to the places that are near BTS/MRT or in major tourist areas or where lots of foreigners frequent. If you link up with backpackers, I'm sure one of them will be able to point you out in the right direction.

But to actually answer your question, it would be difficult without some help to move around in Thailand. Especially non-touristy places. Many of the cheaper travel options require some basic use of the thai language, and minivans with destination will often be in Thai only. So with no ability to speak/read Thai or have a Thai friend with you, I highly recommend the Paiboon's ThaiDict (there is an iOS version also). It is the most comprehensive dictionary out there, complete with common phrases, ability to power search (search the word and the definition), explains the alphabet, numbers, basic grammar, classifiers of nouns, and has meaningful categories. Every word is spoken by native Thai speaker. $25 USD but after you are overcharged for a taxi or two or forget which stop to get off of, you won't blink twice to purchase it.

Use ThaiVisa's local forums section or Travel forums to inquire on potential destinations. But when you need to make on-the-fly travel decisions, it helps to be able to speak to local people and scope local scene. At least know the 'connectors' where you can take minivan or bus from one town to the next.

Add: I don't want to scare or spook people from traveling off the beaten path. We all have to start somewhere. Particularly a non-speaker armed with either a smartphone or tablet and internet access is still well ahead of the pack. Use short phrases (verb, subject, maybe an adjective here and there) and you will get by for most simple requests. Just don't be surprised if you find yourself traveling for many KMs and they only speak Thai....TiT [This is Thailand].

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It is very easy. Bangkok is apparently the most visited city in the world and it welcomes people from a lot of places. English is prevalent in all touristy area, with even street signs are often in latin characters (although they can be inconsistently translated from sign-to-sign and compared to maps). The rest of Thailand also gets tons of visitors, the south for its beaches get more short-term visitors while north stills a good a high number of tourists, it is also home to large expat communities.

Thai people who work in the tourist industry, including hotels, tours, travel agencies, restaurants can speak English fairly decently. They will be able to understand you for orders, directions and basic info. People who try to sell things to tourists also have some knowledge of English.

Thai people are among the friendliest in the world. While travelling there, random strangers came to talk to me daily. Also unscrupulous tuk-tuk drivers and con-artists (but that is another story). When I tried to ask things from random strangers, particularly outside of tourist areas, I found that many did not speak any English but they would always stop someone else passing by and ask them to translate what I was asking.

  • Far more expats in Bangkok and the beach communities than in the north. – user13044 Jan 19 '17 at 0:58
  • @Tom - By number of by percentage? I have no official statistics but I ran into far more in the north than south. – Itai Jan 19 '17 at 1:07
  • Estimates put Bangkok's "western" expats (European, American, Canadian, Australian) at 125,000+. And comparing notes of my 8 years here in CM with my friends who live in Hua Hin, Bangkok, Phuket, Rayong, there are far bigger expat communities down south. But unfortunately there are no government published stats on where expats are registered. In regard to your observations, you have to consider that CM has a high percentage of retired expats, whereas Bangkok is more working expats, so you are more apt to run into CM expats having coffees, beers, eating at food courts, etc – user13044 Jan 19 '17 at 1:26
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The main industry in Thailand is tourism. Many foreigners travel to Thailand each year, so you needn't worry that you will get lost. But it's better you have everything planned and prepared well - routes, transportation, hotel, map, little notes, enough money, etc.

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Thailand is easy. Take a cheap pad with you. Buy a load. WiFi is now with you in most areas. Go to translator. They have 4 dialects there. Choose right one. Hand pad back & forth. In remote areas. They make a solar charger. that charges a battery on it. Then charge your pad from it. So even in remote areas you can often use your pad. Most of S,E,Asia is this way. You will need buy a sim card. Then a load for it. Pawn shops are good places to buy a cheap phone on your trip. Nothing like having a phone number while there. I use a cheap $50 pad I bought in America 15 years ago for this. Not worth stealing in Asia.

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