Thailand: moving to the “Land of Smiles”

Known around the world for its bustling capital city, stunning beaches and iconic cuisine, Thailand is an incredibly popular destination for expats. Beneath the beautiful aesthetics of this South East Asian jewel however, is a vibrant and welcoming culture that anyone can become a part of. Thailand is a supremely exciting country too, which is down to its dedication to both the ultra-modern and the traditional. Want a luxury apartment in the centre of Bangkok? Or how about a quaint villa overlooking sapphire oceans? Thailand delivers in droves and we can’t wait to help you move there effortlessly. Check out our guide on moving to Thailand to learn more about this enigmatic country.

History of Thailand

Human settlement of Thailand dates back hundreds of thousands of years, with evidence suggesting early human species lived there almost one million years ago. Throughout this time, Thailand was dominated by a collection of different indigenous communities, but interestingly, not by what we know today as the Tai people (Tai being the ethnic group, Thai being the term given after Thailand got its name in 1939). They were to come to Thailand later in the 8th century, supposedly migrating from Guangxi in China where the Zhuang Tai people still live today.

Before the Tai people arrived though, different cultures flourished and became part of the trading routes in use by ancient civilisations. Astonishingly, archaeologists found a Roman gold coin depicting the Roman emperor Antoninus Pius in Southern Thailand. This discovery suggests a high level of sophistication and organisation. Unfortunately, much of Thailand’s history prior to the arrival of the Tai people is unknown.

When the Tai did arrive, they quickly set about displacing the local indigenous populations and creating powerful city states. They were influenced heavily by the Hinduism practising Khmer culture of neighbouring Cambodia, though by the 14th century King Uthong had made Theravada Buddhism the official religion of his fledgling city, Ayutthaya. It quickly rose to become one of the most significant cities in the area and supposedly reached a population of one million by AD 1700, making it more populated than any other city in the world at the time. However, Ayutthaya was sacked during the Burmese–Siamese War during the 18th century, ending the Siamese Kingdom.

Burmese rule was short lived and it wasn’t long until new Tai kingdoms appeared. After a brief period of instability, the Rattanakosin era began and it is an era that continues to this day. In response to increasing pressure from colonial powers such as France and Britain, Thailand changed from a traditional feudalist structure to a modern, centrally governed state with established borders. Unlike the countries surrounding it, Thailand was never conquered by the colonial powers and this remains a source of pride for many Thai people.

Thailand: the best places to visit

Thailand’s many different regions are fantastically diverse and there’s something for everyone, whatever your taste might be. From picturesque valleys of emerald green, to neon cityscapes pulsing with music and nightlife, Thailand has it all. Talk to any expat living in Thailand and they’ll be more than happy to recommend their own favourite places. That being said, we’ve created a helpful guide of what we believe are some of the best places in Thailand to visit.


Beginning life as a quiet village, Pai has since transformed itself into a hotspot for people looking to explore the surrounding countryside. It still retains a peaceful atmosphere and the locals are consistently friendly. Be sure to visit the nearby hot springs and rushing waterfalls, as well as the hill tribes (whose people can be often be seen walking around the markets in Pai).

Khao Sok National Park

If it’s wildlife you’re after, the Khao Sok National Park is surely a must-see on any Thailand itinerary. With a vast array of elephants, langurs, bears and more, this spectacular nature reserve is one of Thailand’s most impressive places to visit. Don’t miss out on a trek through the jungle, though make sure you book through a reputable source with plenty of experience.


This remarkable city was once the capital of the Kingdom of Siam (an older name for the country), before it was razed to the ground by invading Burmese forces in 1767. Today it is a UNESCO World Heritage Centre and visitors can marvel at the gigantic monasteries and prangs (reliquary towers). Take a moment to picture what this city might have looked like when it was at its supposed population peak of one million people.

Phanom Rung

Built by the Khmer between the 10th and 13th centuries, Phanom Rung is a temple sanctuary characterised by wonderfully ornate architecture. At four different times of the year, the sun shines through 15 of the temple’s sanctuary doors. This creates a visual spectacle that attracts visitors from across the country, with many vying to get the best possible picture. If tranquillity is more important to you, visit at a different time, but it has to be said that the light show is a truly awe inspiring sight.

Chiang Mai

Located in the mountainous region of North Thailand, Chiang Mai is a culturally significant city showcasing a blend of traditional and modern Thai buildings. The city is considered by many to be a basecamp for exploring the wider area, but spend a bit of time exploring and you’ll discover a vibrant place of history, nature and entertainment. Particularly interesting are the ruins of Wat Chedi Luang, which date back to the 14th century. If you’re looking for the best activities outside of Chiang Mai then consider booking a trip to Doi Suthep for it’s staggeringly beautiful golden pagodas.


The capital city of Thailand is an ever-shifting metropolis of ultra-modern skyscrapers, sublime palaces and sensory-overloading nightclubs. There are chaotic markets, kaleidoscopic gardens and streets lined with food vendors too. Bangkok is what you make of it really, as there is just so much to see that our advice is to tailor your itinerary to your own interests. Are you a big history fan? Visit the Grand Palace and head to Wat Phra Kaew, home of the Emerald Buddha and a fantastic example of Thailand’s temple building prowess. What about shopping opportunities? Khao San Road is the place to go for unique items of clothing, as well as incredible street food (crocodile grill anyone?).

Things to do in Thailand – our local guide 

We covered a few things to do in our best places to visit guide above, but Thailand has heaps more on offer for adventurous expats.

The Golden Triangle

It’s definitely a fascinating experience standing on the banks of a Thai river and seeing Myanmar and Laos at the same time. Not only that, but the views afforded by the peaceful setting are remarkable; much of it feels timeless. The Hall of Opium is an interesting place to spend half a day learning about the history of its production, the warlords that monopolised it, and the effect it had on the local populations.

Elephant Nature Park

Located in Mae Taeng District, Chiang Mai Province, the Elephant Nature Park is a rehabilitation centre for rescued elephants. One thing to be aware of with many elephant ‘sanctuaries’ in Thailand is the possibility of animal cruelty. Thankfully, the Elephant Nature Park is dedicated to ensuring the welfare of Thailand’s national animal and your visit helps fund their excellent work.

Floating markets

Thailand’s best known floating market can be found in Ratchaburi, located roughly 100km south-west of Bangkok. It is a place that epitomises the image many people have of a typical South East Asian floating market; the overpowering smells, rainbow produce practically spilling out of boats, and sellers shouting at the top of their lungs as they drift around.

Hill tribe villages

First things first, make absolutely certain that you select a tour guide with a proven record of ethical and sustainable practices. Visiting a hill tribe should be a poignant experience and a time to reflect; not an excuse to drop by and gawk at the indigenous people. When all’s said and done and you’ve sorted a reputable tour guide, consider going on a trek to get to the hill tribes. It will make the whole experience all the more worthwhile, as well as a great chance to explore the Thai countryside.

Visit the islands

Thailand is well known for its plethora of breathtaking islands just waiting to be explored. Hire a long boat to take you across some of the clearest waters around and land on a slice of pristine white sand. For first time visitors, Koh Samui is a welcoming paradise of sophisticated hotels, minimalist beachside bungalows and Western comforts. It still retains a distinctly South East Asian feel, but it’s certainly an easier place to visit for people not familiar with the culture.

Thailand: where to live

Living in Thailand is a lot easier than one might initially think; sure there are the cultural differences, but comforts from home are easy to come by and the cost of living is very affordable. Choosing exactly where to live depends on what you’re personally looking for though, so take your own needs into consideration when searching for a place to live in Thailand. To help you make your decision, we’ve provided a brief outline of some of Thailand’s most popular places to live. Of course, there are plenty of options off of the beaten track; this guide is simply a stepping stone into what Thailand can offer.

Chiang Mai

The mountainous city offers a high quality of life and a low cost of living. It’s certainly more relaxed than Bangkok, but it still boasts plenty in the way of convenient amenities and nearby entertainment. For around 250 USD a month, you can get a spacious, furnished apartment with all the bells and whistles; TV, cable, internet and air conditioning. Eating out is generally very affordable too, with most meals costing barely more than 3 USD.


More expensive than anywhere else in Thailand, Bangkok is still sitting happy outside the world’s 50 most expensive cities (90th at the time of writing). You can get extraordinary value for money even when renting an apartment close to the city centre. With a population of 8 million however, Bangkok can be a full-on experience, especially if you’re new to life as an expat.


Phuket is something of an island paradise for expats looking to truly escape the rigours of urban living, without giving up on absolutely every amenity. Its turquoise waters, mountains carpeted with jungle and marble-white beaches make it an incredibly popular place to live. Thankfully, there is still plenty of space available to give you a wonderful sense of isolated tranquillity. Phuket is well connected to the wider world as well, with Thailand’s second busiest airport operating in the region.

Family life and education in Thailand

Whilst Thailand has a deserved reputation as a ‘place to party’, it is nonetheless perfectly suitable for expat families, if you know where to move. Generally speaking, Bangkok is a good place for an expat family thanks to the wider selection of international schools and convenient amenities. Chiang Mai is decent too, though be prepared to join lengthy waiting lists for most of the top international schools. The further outside the busy urban centres you live, the more difficult it will be to find a school that suits your child.

It should be noted that most public education centres in Thailand are reserved for Thai nationals, unless specific criteria is met (the child must have at least one Thai parent and their birth needs to have been registered in Thailand). Because of this, international schools are the best option for expat families and you’ll find most institutions offer Western curricula such as the popular International Baccalaureate.

If you need help locating a school for your child, why not choose Santa Fe Relocation’s excellent school search service? With it, we will connect your child with an international school that best meets their specific requirements.

Getting around Thailand

Thailand has plenty of convenient transport options for expats looking to travel around the country. The quickest is definitely to catch a plane, which are well covered throughout the country. Naturally it is the most expensive way to travel, but for people rushed for time it is the quickest (you can get to anywhere in two hours or less by plane). Another option is the train, which covers almost 2,800 miles, though be prepared for lengthy journeys as they’re far from speedy options (Chiang Mai to Bangkok takes around 12 hours, despite only being 430 miles apart).

Buses are the most widely used method of transport in Thailand and they commonly reach areas inaccessible by either planes or trains. That being said, they’re also amongst the most crowded ways to get around Thailand, usually packed with locals and/or intrepid backpackers. They are very cheap though!

The other option is to rent a motorbike, but that comes with its own inherent risks as the roads in Thailand can be somewhat hectic. The busy nature of the roads also leads us to offer a bit of advice; don’t hire a car because you will regret it. Cars are expensive and more often than not you’ll find yourself stuck in traffic enviously watching motorbikes glide past.

Getting to the islands in Thailand usually means you’ll be taking a ferry, which are easy to catch and are affordable. Ferries are almost always shared by other people but if you’re willing to pay, there are options for private charters.

How can we help your move to Thailand?

As a leading global mobility company, Santa Fe Relocation has the expertise to move people around the world, effortlessly. We’ve had over 120 years to refine moving experiences, working hard to remove the hassle from your moving journey. Through our range of exceptional moving services, we make moving home easy for you.

We get you from home, to new home and beyond. Why note get a free moving quote and find out how we can transform your move.

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