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Thailand travel guide - Travel S helper

Thailand

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Thailand, formally the Kingdom of Thailand and previously known as Siam, is a Southeast Asian nation located in the center of the Indochinese peninsula. Thailand is the world’s 51st-largest nation, with about 513,000 km2 (198,000 sq mi). With a population of approximately 66 million people, it is the world’s 20th most populated nation. Bangkok is the capital and biggest city.

Thailand is a constitutional monarchy that was a parliamentary democracy until the National Council for Peace and Order staged a coup in May 2014. Bangkok is the country’s capital and most populated city. It is bounded on the north by Myanmar and Laos, on the east by Laos and Cambodia, on the south by the Gulf of Thailand and Malaysia, and on the west by the Andaman Sea and Myanmar’s southern tip. Vietnam in the Gulf of Thailand to the southeast and Indonesia and India in the Andaman Sea to the southwest form its maritime borders.

Thailand’s economy is the world’s 20th biggest by nominal GDP and the world’s 27th largest by PPP GDP. In the 1990s, it became a newly industrialized nation and a significant exporter. Manufacturing, agriculture, and tourism are the three most important sectors of the economy. In the area and across the globe, it is regarded as a medium power. Understand

Thailand is the most popular tourist destination in Southeast Asia, and for good reason. Almost everything can be found here: dense rainforest as green as can be, crystal blue seas that seem more like a warm bath than a dip in the ocean, and cuisine that will curl your nose hairs while tap dancing over your taste receptors. Exotic, but safe; inexpensive, yet equipped with every contemporary facility you need, there is something for everyone and any budget, from beachfront backpacker huts to some of the world’s finest luxury hotels. Despite the influx of tourists, Thailand maintains its fundamental character, with its own culture and history, as well as a carefree population known for their smiles and fun-seeking sanuk lifestyle. Many visitors to Thailand prolong their stay well beyond their initial intentions, while others never find a reason to leave. Whatever your cup of tea is, Thais know how to prepare it.

This is not to say that Thailand is without flaws, such as the significant growing pains of an economy in which an agricultural laborer is lucky to earn 100 baht per day while the nouveau riche cruise by in their BMWs. Bangkok, the capital, is notorious for its traffic jams, and rampant development has ruined much of once-beautiful Pattaya and Phuket. Some lowlifes, both Thai and foreign, have made scamming visitors an art form in highly touristed regions.

Geography of Thailand

With 513,120 square kilometers, Thailand is the 51st largest country in the world in terms of total area. Thailand is only slightly smaller than Yemen and slightly bigger than Spain.

Thailand comprises several different geographical regions, some of which correspond to the provincial groups. The northern part of Thailand is the mountainous area of the Thai highlands, with the highest point at Doi Inthanon in the Thanon Thong Chai Range at an altitude of 2,565 meters over sea level. The northeast, Isan, consists of the Khorat Plateau, which is bordered by the Mekong in the east. The country’s center is mainly characterized by the mostly shallow Chao Phraya river valley, which runs into the Gulf of Thailand.

Southern Thailand consists of the narrow Kra Isthmusthat, which widens into the Malay Peninsula. Politically, there are six geographical regions that differ from each other in terms of population, basic resources, natural features and social and economic development. The diversity of the regions is the most distinctive feature of Thailand’s physical environment.

The Chao Phraya and the Mekong are the indispensable waterways in rural Thailand. The industrial production of plants uses both rivers and their tributaries. Covering 320,000 square kilometers, the Gulf of Thailand is nourished by the Chao Phraya, Mae Klong, Bang Pakong and Tapi rivers. It contributes to the tourism sector due to its clear shallow waters along the coasts in the southern region and the Kra-Landenge. The eastern shore of the Gulf of Thailand is an industrial center of Thailand with the Kingdom’s main deep water port at Sattahip and its busiest commercial port, Laem Chabang.

The Andaman Sea is a valuable natural resource as it is home to the most popular and luxurious resorts in Asia. Phuket, Krabi, Ranong, Phang Nga and Trang and its islands are all situated on the coasts of the Andaman Sea and despite of the 2004 tsunami, they have been a tourist magnet to visitors from around the world.

Plans for a channel connecting the Andaman Sea to the Gulf of Thailand have reappeared, analogous to the Suez and Panama Canals. The idea was positively received by Thai politicians as it would lower the fees of Singapore’s ports, improve relations with China and India, shorten shipping times, eliminate pirate attacks in the Strait of Malacca and support the Thai government’s policy of making the logistic center for Southeast Asia a reality. The canal would allegedly improve economic conditions in southern Thailand, which is heavily dependent on tourism income, and it would also change the structure of the Thai economy by making it a logistical center for Asia. The canal would be a major engineering project and would probably cost $20 to $30 billion.

Wildlife in Thailand

Elephant – the national symbol of Thailand. Although there were 100,000 domestic elephants in Thailand in 1850, the population of elephants fell to about 2000. Poachers have long hunted elephants in search of ivory, meat and hides. The young elephants are commonly caught for their use in tourist attractions or as work animals, however their use has decreased since 1989 when the government banned logging. There are now more elephants in captivity than in the wild, and environmental activists claim that elephants in captivity were often mistreated.

Poaching protected species remains a serious problem. Hunters have exterminated populations of tigers, leopards and other large cats because of their valuable skins. Many animals (including tigers, bears, crocodiles and royal cobras) are bred or hunted because of their meat, which is considered to be a delicacy, and their supposed curative properties. Although this trade is illegal, Bangkok’s famous Chatuchak market is still known for selling endangered species.

Keeping wild animals as pets is a practice that threatens several species. The cubs are usually caught and sold, which often requires killing the mother. Once in captivity and outside their natural habitat, many pets die or stop breeding. Affected populations include Asian black bear, Malay sun bear, Belarusian lar, crested gibbon and binturong.

Culture of Thailand

The Thai mainland culture is strongly influenced by Buddhism. In contrast to the Buddhist countries of East Asia, however, Thai Buddhists follow the Therevada school, which is probably closer to their Indian roots and places a stronger emphasis on monasticism. The Thai temples, known as Wats, which shine in gold and are easy to identify with their ornate, multicolored, pointed roofs, are omnipresent. For a short time, usually the three month rainy season, becoming a monk in orange robes is a common rite of passage for young Thai boys and men.

A pre-Buddhist tradition that still survives is the haunted house (ศาลพระภูมิ saan phraphuum), usually located at the corner of a house or store, where ghosts are kept so that they do not enter the house and cause trouble. The bigger the building, the bigger the haunted house, and buildings that are in particularly inconvenient places can house very large ghosts. Perhaps Thailand’s most famous haunted house is Bangkok’s Erawan Shrine, which protects the Erawan Hotel (now the Grand Hyatt Erawan), built in 1956 on a former execution site and now one of the city’s busiest and most popular shrines.

Popular traditional arts in Thailand include traditional Thai dance and music based on religious rituals and court entertainment. The notorious brutal Thai boxing (Muay Thai), which has its roots in the military training of Thai soldiers, is unquestionably the most famous indigenous sport in the country.

In addition to the mainland Thai culture, there are many other cultures in Thailand, including those of the “hill tribes” in the mountainous regions of northern Thailand (e.g. Hmong, Karen, Lisu, Lahu, Akha), Muslims in the south and the indigenous island peoples of the Andaman Sea.  The ethnic Chinese population has been largely assimilated into Thai culture, although remnants of their Chinese heritage can still be found in Bangkok’s Chinatown.

Calendar in Thailand

In addition to the Gregorian calendar, Thailand also uses the Thai Sun Calendar, the Thai version of the Buddhist calendar, which is 543 years ahead of the Common Era calendar. Thus, the Thai year 2556 corresponds to the western year 2013. In English, Thai dates are often written in B.E., an abbreviation of “Buddhist Era”.
Some Thai public holidays are based on the Thai lunar calendar, so their dates change every year.

Demographics of Thailand

In 2013, Thailand had a population of 66,720,153. The population of Thailand is predominantly rural, mainly located in the rice-growing areas in the central, north-eastern and northern regions. Thailand had an urban population of 45.7 per cent in 2010, mainly concentrated in and around the Bangkok metropolitan area.

The Thai government-sponsored family planning programme has led to a dramatic decline in population growth from 3.1 per cent in 1960 to about 0.4 per cent today. In 1970, an average of 5.7 people lived in Thai households. At the time of the 2010 census, the average size of Thai households was 3.2 persons.

Ethnic groups

The majority of the population in Thailand is Thai nationals, 95.9% , with the remaining 4.1% of the population being Burmese (2.0%), others 1.3% and unspecified 0.9%.

According to the 2011 Country Report of the Royal Thai Government to the UN Committee on the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, available from the Department for the Promotion of Rights and Freedoms of the Thai Ministry of Justice,62 ethnic communities in Thailand are officially recognized. Twenty million central Thai (with about 650,000 Thai khorat) represent about 20,650,000 million (34.1 %) of the population of the country, which had a population of 60,544,937 at the time of completion of the data of the ethnolinguistic maps of Thailand by Mahidol University (1997).

The 2011 country report for Thailand includes population figures for hill tribes and ethnic communities in the northeast of the country and explicitly states that it is based primarily on data from Mahidol University’s Ethnolinguistic Maps of Thailand. Thus, although over 3.288 million people in the northeast alone could not be categorized, the population and percentages of other ethnic communities around 1997 are known for the whole of Thailand and represent a minimum population.  Thai-Chinese, who have a strong Chinese heritage, make up 14 % of the population, while Thais of partial Chinese descent make up up 40 % of the population. Thai Malays make up 3% of the population, while the rest are Mons, Khmer and various “hill tribes”. Official language of the country is Thai and the predominant religion is Theravada Buddhism, being practiced by approximately 95% of the population.

The increasing number of migrants from neighboring Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia, as well as from Nepal and India, has brought the total number of foreign residents to about 3.5 million by 2009, up from an estimated 2 million in 2008 and about 1.3 million in 2000. About 41,000 British people live in Thailand.

Religion in Thailand

The predominant religion in Thailand is Theravada Buddhism, which is an integral part of Thai identity and culture. Active participation in Buddhism is one of the highest in the world. According to the 2000 census, 94.6% of the country’s population identified themselves as Theravada Buddhists. Muslims form the second largest religious group in Thailand with 4.6% of the population.

The majority of Muslims are located in the most southern regions of the country: Pattani, Yala, Satun, Narathiwat as well as part of Songkhla Chumphon, who are predominantly Malay, and most of them are Sunni Muslims. Christians make up 0.9% of the population, the rest being made up of Sikhs and Hindus, who live mainly in the country’s cities. There is also a small but historically significant Jewish community in Thailand, which dates back to the 17th century.

Economy of Thailand

Thailand is an emerging economy and is considered an emerging market. Thailand had a GDP of 673 billion US dollars in 2013 (based on purchasing power parity [PPP]). After Indonesia, Thailand is the 2nd largest economy in South East Asia. Thailand is in the middle of the wealth distribution in Southeast Asia, being the fourth richest nation in terms of GDP per capita after Singapore, Brunei and Malaysia.

Thailand serves as an anchor for neighboring developing countries Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia. According to the National Economic and Social Development Board (NESDB), the unemployment rate in Thailand was 0.84% in the third quarter of 2014.

Things To Know Before Traveling To Thailand

You should bring an open mind with you along with a good sense of humor. Don’t come up with too many preconceived ideas about what Thailand looks like, because the media and the experiences of friends have a habit of distorting reality.

If you stick to big cities and tourist areas, don’t worry too much about too little packaging; you can find all the essentials you have forgotten. This includes a swimming costume, a daypack, an umbrella in the rainy season, and some warm clothes if you are traveling in October/December, as it gets cooler in some areas. Some sources say that there is no point in bringing a mackintosh during the warm rainy season because it is so hot and sticky that the mackintosh becomes uncomfortable.

You only need a few clothes to change, as you can get washed cheaply everywhere. Sandals, if your hiking boots are too hot, you can buy them cheap in Thailand, although large sizes are harder to get for women. If you are female and you wear the size 2 (US), size 6 (UK & IRL), size 36 (rest of EU), it can be difficult to find clothes that will fit you anywhere in the Thai shops. If you are male and have a waist of more than 38″, you will have difficulty finding trousers. In Bangkok’s shopping centers, you will be largely limited to backpacking gear (the ubiquitous fisherman’s trousers and “Same Same” t-shirts) or Western imports at the same or higher prices as at home. Laundry is cheap, but it’s a good idea to bring some clothes to change, as the Thai weather can make you sweat through several outfits a day.

Bring enough padlocks for each double zipper so that your hands don’t wander around and you can lock your belongings in your hotel room. Close zips through the lower holes, not through the upper ones on the pull tabs – although even this precaution doesn’t help much if you run into a razor-blade artist.

Take snorkeling gear with you or buy it on arrival if you plan to spend a lot of time in the water. Or hang up a note looking for equipment from someone who is just leaving. A tent for camping is a good idea if you are a National Park fan, and a compass is also a good idea. You might also want to bring compact binoculars if you are into wildlife. Having a proper map of Thailand is also useful.

Bring earplugs if you get stuck in a noisy room or want to sleep on the bus. Bring a mirror for shaving, as often there are none in places with a low budget. A string is very handy for hanging up laundry. Cigarette paper can be difficult to find, except in tourist centers. Climbing boots are useful for rock walking since Thailand actually has some of the best cliffs in South East Asia.

If you have prescription glasses, it is a good idea to bring spare glasses or contact lenses and a copy of your prescription. Bring a book that you are willing to swap. A personal music player is great, as there is a huge selection of cheap music available everywhere.

Throw sunscreen and insect repellent in the toiletry bag. Mosquito coils are also a good idea. A small torch in pocket size is handy when the power goes out or for exploring caves. Passport photos are very useful for visas.

If you plan to travel long distances by motorbike, you should buy a high-quality helmet, which you can do in Thailand. Last but not least, you should pack your things in plastic bags so that they don’t get wet, especially if you are traveling in the rainy season or on boats.

Apart from the points mentioned above, the following points are recommended:

  • Prescriptions for prescription drugs that are brought through customs
  • Travel Insurance
  • Blood donor/blood group identification card
  • Details of your nearest relatives
  • A second photo ID besides your passport
  • Credit card plus a security card for a separate account

How To Travel To Thailand

By planeThailand's main international airports are in Bangkok and Phuket, both of which are well served by intercontinental flights. Almost all airlines flying to Asia also have flights to Bangkok, which means there are many connections and competition on these routes helps keep ticket prices down. There are two...

How To Travel Around Thailand

By planeThailand is a big country, and if sitting on a bus for 11 hours is not your idea of a relaxing time, you may very well consider domestic flights. Deregulation of the sector, which was never very expensive to begin with (at least by Western standards), has allowed...

Weather & Climate in Thailand

The climate in Thailand is influenced by monsoon winds, which are seasonal in nature (southwestern and northeastern monsoons). The southwestern monsoon, which begins from May to October, is characterized by the movement of warm humid air from the Indian Ocean to Thailand, causing heavy rainfall in most of the...

Visa & Passport Requirements for Thailand

Ordinary passport holders from many Western and Asian countries, including most ASEAN countries, Australia, Canada, most European Union countries, Hong Kong, Japan and the United States do not need a visa if their visit is for tourism. Visitors arriving by air are granted a 30-day permit (with the exception...

Destinations in Thailand

Regions in ThailandThailand can be divided into five geographical and cultural regions:Northern ThailandChiang Mai, the hill tribes and the Golden Triangle.IsaanThe great region of the Northeast. Get off the beaten track and discover the Thai hinterland, tantalising food and beautiful Khmer ruins.Central ThailandBangkok, the lowlands and historic Thailand.Eastern ThailandBeaches...

Accommodation & Hotels in Thailand

Thailand offers accommodation in all price categories. You should always inspect the room (or better several rooms, sometimes the owners do not offer the best / cheapest rooms first) before agreeing on a price. In smaller establishments, also ask for the price agreed in writing to avoid problems when...

Things To See in Thailand

Historical and cultural attractionsBangkok is at the beginning of many visitors' itineraries, and although it is a modern city, it has a rich cultural heritage. Most visitors at least visit the Grand Palace, a group of highly decorated buildings and monuments. Here is Wat Phra Kaew, the holiest Buddhist...

Things To Do in Thailand

GolfGolf arrived in Thailand during the reign of King Rama V a hundred years ago. It was first played by nobles and other high society elites, but that has certainly changed since then. In the last decade, golf has grown in popularity in Thailand and is now popular with...

Food & Drinks in Thailand

Food in ThailandFood alone is reason enough for a trip to Thailand. Curries, fruit milkshakes, stir-fries, fresh fish have been around the world millions of times - and this is only the beginning. Food in Thailand can be as cheap and easy as fried Thai noodles (25 baht pad...

Money & Shopping in Thailand

Money in ThailandCurrency in ThailandWeighty bahtsYour new girlfriend asks you for a gold ring of one baht? Be careful, because it's not a cheap piece of jewelry: for jewelers and goldsmiths, the baht is also a measure of weight, 15.244 grams to be exact. So at the 2013 gold...

Festivals & Events in Thailand

Holidays in ThailandThailand has many festivals, mainly related to Buddhism and the monarchy. Nobody celebrates them all except the banks, which often seem to be closed.Chinese New Year (ตรุษจีน). Chinese New Year 2014 is 31 January and marks the beginning of the Year of the Horse. It is also...

Language & Phrasebook in Thailand

The official language of Thailand is Thai. Like Mandarin and Vietnamese, Thai is a tonal language (think of the difference in your voice when you say "yes" as opposed to "yes? ), which can make it difficult to learn non-tonal languages quickly, but even so, everyone will appreciate your...

Internet & Communications in Thailand

Internet in ThailandThe Thai government actively censors internet access. Estimates from 2010 put the number of blocked websites at 110,000 and rising. About 77 per cent are blocked for reasons of lèse-majesté, content (content that is defamatory, offensive, threatening or unflattering to the King, including national security and certain...

Traditions & Customs in Thailand

Thais are a polite people and, although remarkably tolerant of foreigners walking on their beaches and with their women, you will find that you get more respect if you treat them and their customs with respect.The head is considered the most elevated part of the body, the feet the...

Culture Of Thailand

Thai culture has been shaped by many influences, including Indian, Lao, Burmese, Cambodian and Chinese.Its traditions include great influences from India, China, Cambodia and the rest of Southeast Asia. Thailand's national religion, Theravada Buddhism, is at the heart of modern Thai identity. Thai Buddhism has evolved over time to...

History of Thailand

There is evidence of human settlement in Thailand dating to 40,000 years before present, with stone artefacts from this period in the rock shelter of Tham Lod in Mae Hong Son. Like other parts of Southeast Asia, Thailand was heavily influenced by the culture and religions of India, from...

Stay Safe & Healthy in Thailand

Stay safe in ThailandThe most common cause of death for visitors to Thailand is motorbike accidents, especially on the often narrow, mountainous and winding roads of Phuket and Samui. Ride defensively, wear a helmet, don't drink and avoid riding at night.Political unrestLong-standing tensions between pro- and anti-government groups came...

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