Thursday, November 17, 2022
Thailand travel guide - Travel S helper

Thailand

travel guide

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.

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Thailand - Info Card

Population

66,171,439

Currency

Baht (฿) (THB)

Time zone

UTC+7 (ICT)

Area

513,120 km2 (198,120 sq mi)

Calling code

+66

Official language

Thai

Thailand | Introduction

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 country. The northeastern monsoon, which begins between October and February, brings cold and dry air from China to most of Thailand. In south Thailand, the northeastern monsoon delivers mild temperatures and heavy rainfall at the eastern coast of this region. Most of Thailand has the type of “tropical humid and dry or savannah climate” (tropical savannah climate of Keppen). In the south and east tip of the east tropical monsoon climate.

Thailand is divided into three seasons. The first is the season of rains or south-western monsoons (from mid-May to mid-October), which prevails in most of the country. This season is characterized by heavy rains, and August and September are the wettest periods of the year. Sometimes this can lead to flooding. In addition to precipitation caused by the southwestern monsoon, the intertropical convergence zone (ITCZ) and tropical cyclones also contribute to the formation of heavy rains during the rainy season. However, drought periods typically occur for 1-2 weeks from June to early July. This is due to the northward movement of the intertropical convergence zone into southern China. Winter or northeastern monsoon begins from mid-October to mid-February. In most of Thailand during this season there is dry weather with moderate temperatures. The exception is the southern part of Thailand, where there are heavy rains, especially from October to November. Summer or pre-moon season lasts from mid-February to mid-May, and is characterized by warmer weather.

Because of its inner nature and latitude, the north, northeast, central and eastern parts of Thailand experience a long period of warm weather. During the hottest season of the year (March to May), temperatures usually reach 40 ° C (104 ° F) or more, except in coastal areas where the sea is blowing moderate daytime temperatures. Conversely, outbreaks of cold air from China can lead to lower temperatures; in some cases (especially in the north and northeast) around or below 0 ° C (32 ° F). Southern Thailand is characterized by mild weather all year round with less daily and seasonal variations in temperature due to the sea.

Most of the country receives on average 1,200 to 1,600 mm of rainfall per year (47 to 63 inches). In certain areas, however, the windward slopes of the mountains, like Ranong Province on the west coast of southern Thailand as well as eastern Trat Province, have more than 4,500 mm (180 inches) of rainfall annually. The most arid areas are on the downwind part of the central valleys and the most northern part of southern Thailand, with an annual average rainfall of less than 1200 mm (47 inches).

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.

Language 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 efforts, so pick up a phrasebook and give it a try. Thai is a language with many dialects, although the Bangkok dialect, also known as Central Thai, is used as the standard and taught in all schools. There are language schools in all major Thai cities, including Bangkok and Phuket.

In the Muslim-majority south, dialects of Malay are spoken that are largely unintelligible to speakers of Standard Malay/Indonesian. Various Chinese dialects are spoken by the Chinese ethnic community, with Teochew being the dominant dialect in Bangkok’s Chinatown and Cantonese speakers also forming a significant minority within the Chinese community. In the south, in Hat Yai, Hokkien is also well understood due to the many tourists from Penang. The eastern Isaan dialects are closely related to Lao, and in the northern tribal areas there are dozens of small language groups, some of which are so remote that there are few Thai speakers.

Public signage is usually bilingual, in Thai and English. There is also some dominance of Japanese and Chinese signs. Where English is used, it is generally quite phonetic – for example, “Sawatdee” (meaning “hello”) is pronounced exactly as it reads: sa-wat-dee. There is no universal agreement on how to transcribe Thai letters that have no equivalent in English. For example, Khao San Road is also spelled Kao Sarn, Kao Sahn, Khao San, Koh Saan, Khaosan and many other variations. Maps with names in Thai and English make it easier for locals to help you.

Most young Thais learn English at school, so many young people have a basic knowledge of English, although few are fluent. Most receptionists in the travel industry speak at least enough English to communicate, and many are relatively fluent; some also speak one or more other languages popular with their clients, such as Chinese, Japanese, German, etc.

Many Thais have difficulty pronouncing English consonant groups. The common confusion is that Thais often pronounce “twenty” as “TEH-wen-ty” so that it sounds as if they are saying “seventy”. It is therefore advisable to use the calculators that street vendors offer you to avoid confusion about the prices offered when buying goods.

Internet & Communications in Thailand

Internet in Thailand

The 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 political issues), 22 per cent for pornography, which is illegal in Thailand. Some websites of BBC One, BBC Two, CNN, Yahoo! News, the Post-Intelligencer newspaper (Seattle, USA) and The Age newspaper (Melbourne, Australia) dealing with Thai political content are blocked. Wikileaks is blocked.

Internet cafés are widely available and most are inexpensive. Prices as low as 15 baht/hour are common and connection speeds are generally reasonable, but many cafés close at midnight. Prices are higher in the larger tourist towns (usually 60 baht/hour, usually 120 baht/hour). Islands with many internet cafes include Ko Phi Phi (Don), Ko Lanta (Yai), Ko Samui, Ko Pha Ngan, Ko Tao, Ko Chang (Trat), Ko Samet (Rayong), Ko Si Chang (Chonburi) and of course Phuket.

Outside the contested tourist areas, free Wi-Fi is not as widespread in many low-cost hotels and guesthouses (“villas”) as in neighbouring countries, and they may charge a small fee for internet access via LAN or Wi-Fi, even if you bring your own laptop. Wi-Fi is generally available in cafés and restaurants that cater to Western diners. It is sometimes offered by telecom companies that charge a usage fee, and you usually need a telecom account to complete the registration process.

Keyloggers are all too often installed on computers in cheap cafés. So be on your guard if you use online banking, stock market transactions or even PayPal. Using copy and paste to enter part of your password can get around some of them. You can also type part of your username and password into the input box (for the password or username), then click somewhere outside the browser window and type a few characters, then click back into the input box and continue typing the other part, several times. Otherwise, bring your own laptop to the internet café.

If you suddenly and unexpectedly find yourself typing in Thai (or any other script), you have probably accidentally pressed the key combination that the computer you are using has configured for language switching (often Ctrl+Space). To go back, use the “Text Services and Input Languages” option (a  access menu is usually available via a “TH” icon visible in the taskbar. Simply switch it to “EN”).

Phone in Thailand

Mobile phones in Thailand have 10 digits, including the leading zero. Landline phones have 9 digits, including the leading zero.

To make an international call, you can buy a prepaid card (available for 300 baht at many local shops and guesthouses) to use at one of the bright yellow Lenso phone boxes. You should rarely have trouble finding one of these phones unless you are in the countryside. The international dialling code is 001.

For mobile phone users, there are three GSM mobile operators in Thailand: AISDTAC and TrueMove), which can be useful if you have a mobile phone that operates on one or both of the GSM 900 or 1800 frequency bands (check your phone’s specs). If you have one, you can buy a prepaid SIM card for any of the Thai operators at any shop for as little as 50-200 baht and top it up on the move. Bangkok airport is a good place to buy a SIM card as the people working the counters there speak relatively good English.

Most phones sold by the major operators are “locked” to the operator. This means that the phone will not work with a SIM card from another network unless you unlock it. To unlock a phone, you must enter a special code into the phone. The procedure for entering this code depends on the phone. Most operators will give you the unlock code and instructions on how to do this if you have been a full subscriber (bills paid) for a certain period of time (about 3 months, but it depends on the operator). Contact your operator’s customer service and tell them that you intend to use your phone abroad. They will usually give you the unlock code. After unlocking, you can use any SIM card in the phone. Also, the assistants at the MBK shopping centre in Bangkok can unlock most phones for less than 500 baht. If you need to buy a mobile phone, you can also go to MBK as there is a large selection of cheap second-hand phones on the 4th floor.

The international rates of Thai airlines are surprisingly good. DTAC, for example, charges 10 baht/minute for calls to the United States. Moreover, you can reduce the rates even further, from 1.5x and up to 5-6x for some countries such as Russia, by dialling 009 or 008 instead of the + in front of the country’s international code. For example, dialling 009 1(xxx)xxx-xxxx for the USA will give you a rate of 5 baht/minute, but at the cost of a slight degradation in voice quality that often goes unnoticed.

TrueMove’s Inter-SIM promotion offers very good rates for international calls from 1 baht per minute to destinations such as the USA, Canada, Australia, the UK, France and Germany. Free SIM cards are distributed at some airports, branded AOT SIM, which include 5 minutes of free calls to your home country. Note that you must also use the prefixes (006 for better quality, 00600 for cheaper rates. However, for some countries the rate is the same for both promotions. How to get cheaper rates, as well as the rates for certain countries, are clearly indicated on the SIM card packages.

Network coverage is very good throughout the country, all cities and tourist destinations (including holiday islands) are well covered, and even in the countryside you are more likely to get a network signal than not, especially with an AIS SIM or DTAC card. However, if you are planning longer stays in remote, non-touristy areas, AIS (its prepaid service name is “1-2-Call”) is the better choice, albeit at the cost of more expensive local calls than DTAC. But the once very significant difference in call rates and coverage is fading with time. TrueMove’s network coverage is considered the worst, with phones sometimes losing signal even in cities. However, if you plan to stay only in the major cities/islands and/or do not need a phone that is always available outside these cities, a True SIM is also acceptable. The advantage is that they now have 3G (850 MHz only). Not all phones, especially older ones, support this band. Coverage in Bangkok (centre, airport and some other areas), Chiang Mai (the whole city), Phuket and Pattaya.

If you plan to visit Thailand at least once a year for short visits, consider buying a SIM card with a minimum validity limit (usually one year from the last recharge, even if it was 10 baht). This way you can reuse the SIM card on your next trip and don’t have to buy a new one each time, keep your Thai phone number and save some money. DTAC offers the Simple SIM package, for example, and 7-Elevens used to sell this as standard, but now they seem to offer cheaper (but limited validity) Happy SIMs instead. Just ask for the first one. Local calls will be slightly more expensive (international is not affected), but this is usually not a problem for the short-term visitor. AIS (1-2-Call) has similar (but more expensive) offers, as does True. If you already have a Thai SIM card and want to change your plan, this is possible for free or for a small extra charge. Check your operator’s website for more details.

For short-term visitors, international roaming on Thai GSM networks is possible, subject to agreements between operators. There is also a CDMA service in Bangkok and other cities that allows customers of certain North American CDMA networks to benefit from expensive roaming.

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

Entry Requirements For Thailand

Visa & Passport 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 of nationals from Korea, Brazil, Chile and Peru, who receive 90 days), but since 15 December 2008, visitors arriving by land are only entitled to 15 days (visitors from several countries, mainly neighbouring countries but especially Russia, continue to receive 30 days due to the bilateral visa waiver at the land border). The Thai Immigration Department requires that visitors’ passports have a minimum validity of 6 months and that there is at least one completely blank visa page. For passport holders from 28 other nations (Bhutan, China, Estonia, India, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Maldives, Mauritius, Oman, Poland, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Uzbekistan, Ukraine, Ethiopia, Taiwan, Bulgaria, Andorra, Malta, Romania, San Marino, Czech Republic, Hungary, Cyprus), a visa on arrival is possible at some entry points. Consult the latest information from the Ministry of Foreign AffairsLaw you must carry your passport with you at all times.

Those who have passports from little-known countries, including European city states, or who have problems with document forgery, must obtain a visa in advance from the nearest Thai embassy. This applies even if the visa is technically allowed on arrival. There are reports of tourists being detained with valid passports, which are not common in Thailand. Also, ask for a business card of the person or embassy that issued the visa so that they can be contacted on arrival if necessary. Those without an embassy in Bangkok should enquire about the third country that represents their interests in the city, as well as the local means of contact.

It is well known that proof of subsequent transit, long ignored by Thai immigration, is sometimes strictly enforced (the airlines, which have to pay for your return flight if immigration does not let you in, also check this). Printing out an electronic ticket on a budget airline is enough to convince law enforcement, but those who want to continue their journey by land may have to be a little creative. It is also possible to buy a fully refundable ticket and have it refunded in Thailand. Land crossings, on the other hand, are very simple and no proof of onward travel is required (unless the border authorities decide otherwise).

Exceeding the length of stay in Thailand is questionable. If you go to immigration and overstay by less than 10 days, you will probably be allowed to leave with a fine of 500 baht per day. However, if the police catch you overstaying for any reason, you will be taken by car to the notoriously nasty place where the illegal immigrant cages are located and you may be blacklisted in Thailand. For most people, it’s not worth the risk: get a legal extension or make a visa run at the next border instead.

Thai immigration officials at land border crossings have been known to demand a bribe of about 20 baht per person from foreigners before stamping your passport. Immigration officials at airports do not usually ask for bribes.

How To Travel To Thailand

Get In - By plane

Thailand’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 main airports in Bangkok: Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK), which is served by most major airlines and is the main airport, and the smaller Don Mueang International Airport (DMK), which is mainly served by smaller airlines, both international and domestic.

International airports are also located in Hat YaiKrabiKo Samui and Chiang Mai, although these are largely reserved for flights from other Southeast Asian countries. Kuala Lumpur and Singapore are great for flying into these small Thai cities, which means you can avoid the ubiquitous tourist traffic and queues in Bangkok.

The national carrier is the well-respected Thai Airways, with Bngkok Airways filling some of the gaps in the region. Bangkok Airways offers free internet access while you wait at your gate for boarding. Thai Airways’ subsidiary, Thai Smile (low-cost carrier), has also started international operations from India. In addition, the Malaysian low-cost carrier AirAsia has also established a subsidiary in Thailand and is often the cheapest option for flights to Thailand.

Charter flights to and from Thailand to international destinations are operated by the Hi Flying Group. They serve Bangkok, Phuket, Ko Samui and Udon Thani.

Many low-cost carriers serve Thailand.

Get In - By road

Cambodia – six international border crossings. The highway to Siem Reap and the temples of Angkor via Poipet and Aranyaprathet, which used to be a nightmare, is now simply bad and can usually be done in less than 3 hours.

Laos – the busiest border crossing is the Friendship Bridge across the Mekong between Nong Khai and the Lao capital Vientiane. It is also possible to cross the Mekong at Chiang Khong / Huay Xai, Nakhon Phanom / Tha Khaek, Mukdahan / Savannakhet and elsewhere.

  • Vientiane / Udon Thani – There is a bus from the bus station at the morning market in Vientiane to the bus station in Udon Thani. The cost is 80 baht or 22,000 kip and the journey takes two hours. Udon Thani Airport is 30 minutes by tuk-tuk from the bus station and is served by Thai Airways, Nok Air and Air Asia.

Malaysia and Singapore – it is quite possible to get there by car, but not with a rental car. The main border crossings (with the name of the town on the Malaysian side in brackets) between Thailand and Malaysia are Padang Besar (Padang Besar) and Sadao (Bukit Kayu Hitam) in Songkhla province, Betong (Pengkalan Hulu) in Yala province and Sungai Kolok (Rantau Panjang) in Narathiwat province. Buses run regularly between Singapore and the southern centre of Hat Yai.

Myanmar – Border posts with Myanmar are located in Mae Sai/TachileikMae Sot/Myawaddy, Three Pagoda Pass (Sangkhlaburi/Payathonzu) and Ranong/Kawthoung. Since 2013, the Burmese government has lifted all restrictions on foreigners entering and leaving Myanmar via the Thai border, so it is now possible to travel overland between Yangon and Bangkok. Just make sure your Thai (if required) and Burmese visas are in order as there is no visa on arrival at the border.

As Thailand drives on the left, but all neighbouring countries except Malaysia drive on the right, you usually have to change sides of the road when crossing an international border in Thailand.

Get In - By train

Thailand’s only international train service runs between Butterworth (near Penang) and Kuala Lumpurin Malaysia and on to Singapore. Tickets are cheap, even in first class, but the journey can be slow. A 2-hour flight to Singapore will take you almost 48 hours by train, as you have to change trains twice. The luxury option is to travel on the Eastern & Oriental Express, a refurbished luxury train that runs once a week from Singapore to Bangkok, with a gourmet restaurant, personal butler service and every other colonial amenity you can imagine. However, at around $1,000 one-way from Bangkok to Butterworth, it is about 30 times more expensive than a regular first-class berth!

Although it is impossible to get to Laos or Cambodia by train, you can get very close, with rail terminals just over the border in Nong Khai (across the Vientiane River) and Aranyaprathet (for Poipet, on the road to Siem Reap). A link across the Mekong to Laos opened in March 2009, but the link to Cambodia is still under study.

There are no train connections to Myanmar, but the Thai part of the infamous Burma Death Railway is still in operation near Kanchanaburi.

Get In - By ferry

It is now possible to take a ferry from Phuket down the coast to Indonesia in high season (November-May).

This can now be done without touching the mainland,

From Phuket (Thailand) to Padang (Indonesia), islands on the way :

  • Ko Phi Phi
  • Ko Lanta
  • Ko Ngai
  • Ko Mook
  • Ko Bulon
  • Ko Lipe- Ko Lipe is the junction on the Thai-Malaysian border with a Thai immigration office.
  • Langkawi – Malaysian immigration here.
  • Penang

The Thai part can be done in one day.

Ferries operate between Satun in southern Thailand and the Malaysian island of Langkawi, while in Narathiwat province, a car ferry runs between Tak Bai and Pengkalan Kubur, near Kota Bharu in the Malaysian state of Kelantan.

There are also occasional cruises from Malaysia and Singapore to Phuket and Bangkok, the main operator is Star Cruises, but there is no scheduled service.

How To Travel Around Thailand

Get Around - By plane

Thailand 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 the arrival of new operators: with a little research, it is possible to fly almost anywhere in the country for less than 2,000 baht. Note that various (often significant) taxes and surcharges are always added to the advertised prices.

Thai airlines

The low-cost airline AirAsia, which covers the entire ASEAN region, offers extensive coverage of international and domestic routes in Thailand and offers tickets at very reasonable prices if booked in time; however, prices rise steadily when the planes are full. It is often the cheapest option, sometimes even cheaper than bus or train, if you book at least a week or two in advance. A320s fly from Bangkok to many countries, including Cambodia, China, Macau, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Vietnam and Indonesia. Recently, they have started showing “all-inclusive” prices when booking (although these still do not include optional extras such as baggage fees). Online booking is easy and can even be done by mobile phone, but must be done at least 24 hours in advance; ticket sales at the check-in counter end one hour before departure time.

Bangkok Airways presents itself as “Asia’s Boutique Airline” and has a monopoly on flights to its own airports on Ko Samui (now shared with Thai Airways), Sukhothai and Trat. This is a rather expensive and “fancy” option; however, their Discovery Airpass with fixed segment fares can be quite inexpensive, especially if you use it to fly to Siem Reap, (Cambodia) or Luang Prabang, (Laos). The Discovery Airpass can only be purchased abroad.

In 2004, NokAir flew bright colours with a bird’s beak painted on its nose. Mainly owned by Thai Airways, it competes with Air Asia on price and is a pretty good choice overall with a fairly extensive domestic network. It experienced severe turbulence in 2008 and reduced its flights by two-thirds, but now seems to have recovered.

NokMini flies mainly in the north of Thailand and is the only airline offering flights between Chiang Mai-Pai, Mae Hong Son, Nan and Chiang Rai. Formerly APG Airlines.

Orient Thai, until recently One-Two-Go, is by far the shabbiest of Thailand’s major airlines. It flies a bunch of old planes with poor safety records, including a crash in Phuket in 2007 that killed 90 people. The fleet was grounded and withdrawn, but it has been flying again since late 2010. Unlike most LCCs, the price of their tickets doesn’t change often, which means they are often the cheapest option for last-minute flights. If you are shorter than 1.80 m, take a seat in the last row, unless you want to spend the whole flight with your knees leaning against the front seat.

Thai Airways International is Thailand’s most reliable, frequent and comfortable airline, but generally more expensive than other airlines (watch out for their special offers). Travel agents often sell only Thai Airways (and Bangkok Airways) tickets; you can also book online. Thai Airways is a member of the Star Alliance; for all domestic flights, except for certain special fares, you get at least 500 Star Alliance miles, which can (partially) offset the price difference.

Get Around - By train

The Thai National Railways (TRS) has a 4,000 km network covering most of the country from Chiang Mai in the north to the Malaysian border (and beyond) in the south. Compared to buses, most trains are relatively slow and prone to delays, but they are safer. Fruit, snacks and cooked meals are available from vendors at most stations.

Point-to-point fares depend on the type (speed) of the train and the car class. There are three classes of service:

  • Two-bed sleeping compartments in first class (chan neung) with individually adjustable air-conditioning are available on some trains, though prices are sometimes accompanied by low fares.
  • Second class (Chan Song) is a good compromise, as it costs about the same as first class coaches and offers a comparable level of comfort. Some 2nd class trains are air-conditioned, others are not; air-conditioning costs a little more. Second class berths are comfortable and inexpensive, with the narrower upper berths costing slightly less than the wider lower ones. Catering and sanitary facilities are basic. The 2nd class express multiple unit trains have reclining seats and refreshments are included in the fare; unlike all other Thai passenger trains, they can rival buses in terms of speed, but cannot carry bicycles.
  • Third class (chan saam) is the cheapest way to travel in Thailand, with almost nominal fares, and can be a lot of fun. Sometimes the tuk-tuk drivers return home with a bag of rice and a bottle of cheap whisky to accompany them. As a farang (foreigner), you are guaranteed to be the centre of attention – quite pleasant in small doses, but 10 hours of this journey can be a bit much. Some 3rd class trains have wooden seats, others are upholstered; some connections can be booked in advance, others not; refreshments are available from vendors along the corridors.

Advance booking is recommended, especially for berths. You may not be able to buy a ticket on the day of your trip. Buy a day in advance if possible. Tickets for all main routes can be purchased at travel agencies for a service fee (50-200 baht/ticket), or you can book directly with SRT by emailing [email protected] for an additional 200 baht/reservation.

You can transport your motorbike on the same train you are travelling on. Not all trains have luggage trolleys, so check with the ticket office. The shipping costs for motorbikes are approximately the same as the price of a first class ticket on the same train.

Important: SRT has stopped selling electronic tickets on its website as of 14 January 2013. It is not stated whether this is a temporary or permanent measure.

Comprehensive information on routes, timetables and ticket prices as well as interesting videos can be found on seat61.com.

Get Around - By road

Thailand’s roads are vastly superior to its neighbours in Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia, but the driving is still quite dangerous. Drunk drivingspeeding and reckless overtaking are depressing. Bus and taxi drivers (especially for private companies) work inhuman shifts and often take drugs to stay awake – with predictable and tragic consequences. This is common with motorbikes – even police! –  ding near    the pavement on the wrong side of the road. Fatalities rise rapidly as major festivals approach, especially in Songkhran, where passers-by often throw water on passing cars and bicycles. Many drivers do not use their headlights at night, which multiplies the risks, and it is advisable to avoid or minimise road travel at night.

Note that unlike neighbouring countries (except Malaysia), traffic in Thailand is on the left side of the road and Thai cars are usually driven on the right. All official road signs are in Thai and English.

Hiring a car to explore on your own is a cost-effective way to get off the beaten track and avoid the constant hassle of local taxi/tuk drivers. Most main roads are signposted in Thai and English, and the traffic culture is not as bad as some would have you believe. Keep an eye on both mirrors to avoid overtaking vehicles, including 18-wheelers and scooters.

Traffic on main roads travels at 100-120 km/h, on smaller roads it’s usually 80 km/h. Petrol stations are common and most Thais are more than willing to give directions despite language barriers.

Drive very defensively at first and watch what the locals are doing. Of course, it helps to get used to driving on the left side of the road, which might distract some western drivers.

Driving under the influence of alcohol is both illegal and dangerous, and driving at night also increases the risk of accidents – even if you are sober, many others are not.

If you travel by public transport – bus, train, plane – you may be shocked at the difference in cost between long-distance and local transport. A 119-kilometre journey between Khon Kaen and Udon Thani by minibus costs 84 baht, or 0.71 baht per kilometre. A three-kilometre trip from the bus station to a hotel costs 60-100 baht, or 20-33 baht per kilometre (November 2015).

Bus

Buses run all over the country and the state bus company BKS (บขส Baw Kaw Saw), known in English simply as the Transport Companyhas a terminal in every province, regardless of size.

In general, the BKS buses are a good option, both in terms of price and comfort. There are also BKS-approved private buses operating on the same routes from the same terminals at the same fares, and these are also very good. Beware of illegal bus companies operating from the tourist areas (especially Khao San Road) and subsidising slightly cheaper tickets with poorer facilities, timetables and security. Be especially wary of non-government “VIP” buses, which often turn out to be cramped minivans – and you don’t realise it until you’ve paid in advance.

  • Local – relatively slow, can be cramped when full (although there is always room for one more), and stop at every village and stall along the way. Many are of greater songthaew flavour. Not suitable for long-distance travel, but possibly the only cheap way to travel locally.
  • Express (burp duan) – skips a few stops, but otherwise has no frills. Recognisable by their orange colour. Size varies, with the largest having about 65 seats (five seats per row) and an open space across the width of the bus near the back door so you can carry your backpack, bike, bag of rice, live chickens, etc.
  • Second class (Chan Song) – skips more stops but often takes a less direct route than first class / VIP / S-VIP. Blue and white with an orange stripe, usually 45-48 seats per bus, air-conditioned (some offer blankets, some do not). Most do not have toilets on board, although frequent stops are not a problem.
  • First class (chan neung) – They usually take the most direct routes and make few stops. Blue and white, air-conditioned, ceiling usually provided, fewer (larger, longer) seats (usually 40, but some double-decker types can hold more than 60 people), snacks and drinking water included. Onboard toilets for all but the shortest connections.
  • “VIP” – as in first class, but with only 32-34 seats, which offer more legroom and recline. Basic meals are included and a freshly laundered and shrink-wrapped blanket is provided. Also blue and white (or sometimes blue and silver), but usually signed “VIP”.
  • “S-VIP” – The Super VIP is very similar to the VIP except that there are only 24 seats, which are wider – the aisle is staggered, with each row having a pair of seats on the right and a single seat on the left. Mainly used in night service.

Some buses may be equipped with noisy TVs and sound systems, so bring earplugs just in case. On long-distance buses, if your ticket gives you a front row seat, you may have to change seats if a monk gets on.

If you are travelling a long distance by bus during the day, take a minute to determine which side of the bus is sunny and which is shaded. For example, if you take a 9-hour bus from Chiang Mai to Bangkok (heading south), the seats on the right side will be bathed in sunlight all day (curtains are provided), so the left side is preferred by most.

As with train travel, pre-booking and e-ticketing are available on some bus routes connecting Bangkok with the accessible provinces and vice versa. Electronic tickets can be booked and purchased at travel agencies, bus line websites and online ticketing systems such as 12go.asia.

Other coach companies :

Minivan

Minivan services are ubiquitous, albeit under the radar, as minivans are usually anonymous grey Toyota vans with no company markings. They serve shorter routes, such as Krabi in Phuket, about 180 km, or the Victory Monument in Bangkok in Hua Hin, about 200 km. The supposed advantage of the minibus is speed, as they move quickly once they are on the road. The disadvantages are that they are expensive compared to normal bus travel, can be uncomfortable as they are usually crowded and have little space for luggage. Take minibuses from bus stations. Do not take minibuses that offer to pick you up at your hotel. They will pick you up, but you will then spend the next hour going to other hotels to pick up other passengers. You will then be taken to an aggregator where all the passengers picked up will get off to wait for the minivan to take you to their respective destinations. You will then probably be driven to a bus station to transfer to a third and final minivan. It is best to sleep in and then go to the bus station to book your (cheaper) minibus ticket, which will save you two hours of unnecessary inconvenience.

Songthaew

songthaew (สองแถว) is a vehicle based on a truck, with a pair of benches in the back, one on each side – hence its name, which means “two rows” in Thai. In English tourism literature they are sometimes referred to as “minibuses”. By far the most common type is the pickup-based type, which has a roof and open sides. The larger models are minibuses that can be fitted with windows and an extra middle seat. The smaller models are converted micro-vans, with a rear-facing front seat and a front-facing rear seat.

Songthaews are widely used as local buses (usually the cheapest way to travel short distances) and also as taxis; sometimes the same vehicle is used for both. Be careful if you ask a songthaew to take you to a place where no one is sitting in the back, the driver might charge you the price of the taxi. In this case, check the fare before you get in.

Tuk-Tuk

The name tuk-tuk is used to describe a variety of small and light vehicles. The vast majority of them have three wheels; some are completely custom-made (e.g. the ubiquitous Bangkok tuk-tuk), others are partly based on motorbike components (mainly engine, steering, front suspension, fuel tank, driver’s seat). A relatively recent development is the four-wheeled tuk-tuk (essentially a microvan songthaew) found in Phuket.

Tuk-tuks are small, noisy and perhaps dangerous; but perhaps worst of all, as a passenger you can’t see anything because of the low roofline. To catch even a glimpse of the passing scene, you practically have to lie on your back.

You will often find yourself at the mercy of the tuk-tuk driver when it comes to prices, as you probably have no idea what an acceptable Thai raa kaa (“Thai price”) is and will probably have to spit out a raa kaa farang (“farang price”). Even if you know the Thai price, the driver may not accept it on principle. If you pay with a higher-value ticket, it is also likely that the driver will complain about not having change. In this case, try to settle the bill at a nearby shop.

Taxi

Metered taxis are ubiquitous in Bangkok and increasingly popular in Chiang Mai, but are rare in other parts of the country. When they are available, they are an excellent means of transport – insist on metered driving. Beware of waiting taxis in tourist areas. They are looking for a tourist to take their taxi without a meter. Always use the meter! Most drivers do not speak English, so ask your hotel staff to write the names of your destinations in Thai to show the driver.

Motorbike

As in almost all of Southeast Asia, motorbikes (motosai) are the most common form of transport of all; the most popular models are the 100- to 125-cc direct haulers. They are widely used as taxis, with fares starting at 10 baht. Negotiate the fare with the driver before using his service, otherwise you may pay more than expected.

Motorbikes can be rented easily in many places. Prices start at around 125 baht/day for newer models of 100-125 cc with semi-automatic (foot shift, automatic clutch) and direct shift, 150 baht/day for fully automatic scooters; it is also easy to find larger displacement models, although prices reflect the risks: up to around 2,500 baht/day for the latest models of large displacement sports bikes, such as the Honda CBR1000RR. In all cases, lower prices apply if you pay for more than a week in advance; in some cases, long-distance travel may be prohibited. Motorbike rentals do not include insurance, and motorbike accidents and theft are common.

In many places you will be hired out without a driving licence, but by law you must have a valid Thai or international driving licence. Often you will be asked for a deposit; sometimes you will be asked for a photocopy of your passport or even the passport itself (don’t do this, but rather negotiate to leave a few baht). Helmets are usually included, but these are usually very basic models with very thin chin straps. If you intend to travel by motorbike and have a good quality helmet at home, bring it along. If you have a helmet with a chin strap (as is the case with many cheap rental helmets), slide the chin strap up and fasten the bare strap directly under the jaw, as this is much safer.

Insurance is not usually included (or even available). So try to make sure in advance that the insurance you leave at home covers you; otherwise, contact a local insurance broker in Thailand. If you rent a vehicle without insurance and it is damaged or stolen (take photos of the bike when you rent it!), you will end up paying the full cost of repair or replacement. In addition, some travel insurance policies only provide medical cover in the event of an accident if you have a motorbike licence in your home country.

According to the WHO Global Road Safety Situation Report 2013, Thailand recorded 38.1 road deaths per 100,000 population in 2010. This is the second highest number of fatalities worldwide. 74 percent of these fatalities involved “two- or three-wheeled motorised vehicles”. Motorcyclists (including their passengers) are required to wear safety helmets and keep their headlights on at all times. Enforcement of this rule varies widely, but in tourist areas random checks of helmets and/or permits are commonplace. Although the fines are small (usually 400 baht), the inconvenience can be considerable as the offender’s vehicle and/or licence are impounded until the fine is paid and the queue at the police station can be long.

At some border crossings (but not all) the passage of motorbikes is allowed. In these cases, documents must be presented, including proof of ownership (with the possible exception of day trips to Payathonzu, Myanmar, via the Three Pagodas Pass).

Rental car

Driving your own car in Thailand is not for the faint-hearted, and many rental companies can provide drivers at a very reasonable price. Uninsured prices for a private car start at around 800 baht/day for small cars and from 600 baht/day for open jeeps. Cars with insurance start at just under 1,000 baht/day and go down to about 5,600 baht/week or 18,000 baht/month.

Driving is (usually, but not always!) on the left side of the road. At large petrol stations, the price of fuel is 37 to 45 baht/litre. Small roadside vendors who hand-pump into barrels and/or bottle charge a few baht extra.

Cars can be rented easily in many places. It is worth paying a little more than the bare minimum to use one of the international excesses (e.g. Avis, Budget and Hertz) to minimise the risk of hassle and to ensure that the insurance included is really worth something.

More reputable agencies require the presentation of valid licences. Foreigners who do not have a Thai driving licence must have a valid international driving licence. Even if you manage to rent a car without an international driving licence, without it your insurance will be invalid and you will be asked to pay in case of an accident.

A common rental scam is for the landlord to take a deposit and then refuse to return it in full, claiming that the customer is responsible for any previous damage; the tourist police (call 1155) may be able to help. Another common scam is for the rental company to hire someone to follow the rented vehicle and then ‘steal’ it with a spare set of keys. Always report a theft: a “stolen” vehicle may mysteriously reappear as soon as the police get involved.

Get Around - By boat

One of the many names of the Thai people is jao naam, the lords of the water, and from Bangkok to the trawlers of Phuket, boats remain an essential means of transport in many parts of the country.

Perhaps the best known Thai boat is the longtail boat (reua hang yao), a long, slender wooden boat with the propeller at the end of a long “tail” sticking out of the boat. This makes them extremely manoeuvrable, even in shallow water, but they are a bit too flimsy for long trips and you will get wet if the boat is a bit rough. Longtails are usually taxis that can be chartered, though prices vary widely. It costs between 300 and 400 baht for a few hours hire, or up to 1,500 baht for a whole day. In some places, such as Krabi, longtails follow fixed routes and charge fixed prices per passenger.

Modern, air-conditioned speedboats, sometimes ferries (departing every 30 minutes), also connect Surat Thani with popular islands like Ko Samui and Ko Pha Ngan. However, true long-distance connections (e.g. from Bangkok to another major city) no longer exist, as buses, planes and even trains are faster. Security is rudimentary and ferries and speedboats operate occasionally. It is therefore necessary to avoid crowded boats in bad weather and seek out the nearest life jackets on board.

Destinations in Thailand

Regions in Thailand

Thailand can be divided into five geographical and cultural regions:

  • Northern Thailand
    Chiang Mai, the hill tribes and the Golden Triangle.
  • Isaan
    The great region of the Northeast. Get off the beaten track and discover the Thai hinterland, tantalising food and beautiful Khmer ruins.
  • Central Thailand
    Bangkok, the lowlands and historic Thailand.
  • Eastern Thailand
    Beaches and islands near Bangkok, such as Pattaya, Ko Samet and Ko Chang.
  • Southern Thailand
    A lush rainforest and hundreds of kilometres of attractive coastline and islands in the Andaman Sea and Gulf of Thailand, plus Phuket, Krabi, Ko Samui, Ko Tao and many other famous places in Thailand

Cities in Thailand

  • Ayutthaya – a historic city, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and former capital of Siam
  • Bangkok – The bustling and frenetic Thai capital known to Thais as Krung Thep.
  • Chiang Mai – de facto capital of Northern Thailand and heart of Lanna culture
  • Chiang Rai – Gateway to the Golden Triangle, Ethnic Minorities and Mountain Hiking
  • Kanchanaburi – home of the bridge over the River Kwai and many museums on the Second World War
  • Nakhon Ratchasima – the largest city in the Isaan region
  • Pattaya – one of the main tourist destinations, known for its wild nightlife
  • Sukhothai – the first capital of Thailand, still with amazing ruins
  • Surat Thani – Seat of the Srivijaya Empire, Gateway to the Samui Archipelago

Other destinations in Thailand

  • Khao Sok National Park – one of Thailand’s most beautiful nature reserves
  • Khao Yai National Park – take a night jeep safari to see deer or visit the spectacular waterfalls.
  • Ko Chang – once a quiet island, now a major tourist attraction
  • Ko Lipe – small island in the middle of Tarutao National Park, with large reefs and beaches
  • Ko Pha Ngan – site of the famous full moon party with miles of quiet coastline
  • Ko Samet – the closest island to Bangkok
  • Ko Samui – the hippie mecca for comfort, nature and entertainment has gone up in price
  • Krabi province – a mecca for beaches and water sports in the south, includes Ao Nang, Rai Leh, Ko Phi Phi and Ko Lanta.
  • Phuket – the original Thai paradise island, now highly developed but still with some beautiful beaches

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 checking out.

The best prices (30-50% discount) for accommodation can be found in the low season in Thailand, which is between May and August, which also coincides with the monsoon season in the region, which is not surprising. The high season is between December and February.

Prices quoted are average prices for the country and vary by region and season. In small provincial towns there are no luxury hotels or resorts, while on popular island beaches it can be difficult to find anything cheaper than 300-400 baht, even in low season.

In rural areas, homestays are common. Generally, this means that you stay with your host or on their property in accommodation that is not commercial accommodation. As a rule, meals are included.

Bed and breakfast is usually the cheapest option, basic rooms cost between 100 and 200 baht per room per night (100 or less for a dorm bed). You get a room with a fan, an Italian-style toilet (often shared), a shower (shared or private) and not much else. The best guest rooms, especially in cities with lots of foreigners, have more amenities (European-style toilets, 24-hour hot shower, bigger room or even balcony, free Wi-Fi, sometimes TV, daily maid service, fridge), prices after that range from 200 to 500 baht. This makes them very similar to Thai hotels. The difference is that they are geared more towards a Western clientele and as such often offer varied (sometimes overpriced) tours, computers and/or internet access in the rooms or a restaurant on the ground floor.

If you are happy with the guesthouse of your choice and plan to stay there for more than a few days (especially in low season or in places where there are many accommodation options, such as Chiang Mai), ask for a discount; this may not be offered everywhere, but if it is, the weekly rate can be about 25% lower, and for monthly rates it is not uncommon to pay half. Normally you will have to pay for the whole period requested, but note that in Thailand it is not usual to pay in advance if something changes and you need to ask. So if early departure is possible (but unlikely enough to pay for a week or a month in advance), you should discuss this option with the owner/manager beforehand.

Hostels are not typical in Thailand. The reason is obvious: given the abundance of cheap accommodation and the fact that hostels are not familiar to Thais and therefore purely Western, the price of a private room in a hostel will be almost the same or even cheaper than a bed in a hostel dorm. You may get a slightly more westernised facility, closer to that of hotels, but at the price of privacy. If you insist on staying in a youth hostel, you can find them in major cities by consulting the internet. But don’t expect to find them just by walking down the street.

Thai hotels start at about 200 baht and go up to about 800 baht. The upper part of this range will be air-conditioned, the lower part will not. The main difference is that a hotel room must have its own bathroom, bed linen and towels are provided and there may be a hot shower. Most of the guests are Thai. TVs are available, except in the guest rooms, but internet access is less common than in the guest rooms and even less common free of charge or in the room.

Tourist hotels usually cost around 1,000 baht and offer the basic elements for a beach holiday: swimming pool, room service and colour TV.

Boutique hotels from 2,000 baht have proliferated in recent years, offering a limited number of rooms (10 or less) and more personalised service. Although these can be excellent, their quality varies considerably, so research is essential.

Business and luxury hotels, starting at 4,000 baht, offer every modern amenity imaginable and are little different from hotels in the rest of the world. Some, including the OrientalSukhothai and Bangkok Peninsula, are among the best hotels in the world. The most luxurious properties are also in this price category, with some of the best and most private adding a few more zeros to the price.

Things To See in Thailand

Historical and cultural attractions

Bangkok 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 temple in Thailand and home to the Emerald Buddha. Other cultural attractions include Wat Pho, Wat Arun and Jim Thompson’s house, but this is only a fraction of the sights you could visit.

The ancient capitals of Siam, Ayutthaya and Sukhothai, are great for anyone interested in Thailand’s history. The latter could be combined with a visit to Si Satchanalai and Kamphaeng Phet, both UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Khmer architecture is found mainly in Isaan, with the historical remains of Phimai and Phanom Rung being the most significant.

The northern provinces are home to unique hill tribes, often visited on trekking tours. The six main hill tribes of Thailand are the Akha, Lahu, Karen, Hmong, Mien and Lisu, each with their own language and culture. Chiang Mai is a good starting point for organising these treks and has some cultural sites of its own to offer, such as Wat Doi Suthep.

For those interested in more recent history, there are many curiosities in Kanchanaburi related to the Second World War. The bridge over the River Kwai, made famous by the film of the same name, is the most famous, but the museums nearby are even more moving. The “Dead Railway” (tang rod fai sai morana) is the railway built by captured Allied soldiers during World War II. This railway offers beautiful views along its route.

Beaches and islands

Thailand’s beaches and islands attract millions of visitors from all over the world every year. Hua Hin is Thailand’s oldest seaside resort, made famous by King Rama VII in the 1920s as an ideal getaway from Bangkok. Things have changed considerably since then. Pattaya, Phuket and Ko Samui only became famous in the 1970s and are now by far the most developed seaside resorts.

Krabi province has some beautiful places, including Ao Nang, Rai Leh and the long golden beaches of Ko Lanta. Ko Phi Phi, known as a true island paradise, has seen massive development since the release of the film The Beach in 2000. Ko Pha Ngan offers the best of both worlds, with both well-developed beaches and empty beaches nearby. It is also home to the famous “Full Moon Party”.

Ko Chang is a bit like Ko Samuius used to be. It has a bit of a backpacker side, but is quite casual and there is accommodation in all price ranges. If you’re looking for pristine beaches, Ko Kut is very sparsely populated but also difficult to explore. Ko Samet is the closest island beach to Bangkok, but its northern beaches are quite developed and hotels are almost fully booked on weekends and holidays.

Natural scenery

Although not as beautiful as Malaysia or Indonesia, Thailand has its share of tropical forest. Khao Yai National Park, Thailand’s first national park, is the closest to Bangkok. Wild tigers and elephants are becoming increasingly rare here, but the macaques, gibbons, deer and bird species are not to be missed. The jungle expanse of Khao Sok National Park is probably even more impressive, and you can spend the night in the middle of the jungle.

There are waterfalls everywhere in Thailand. The Heo Suwat Waterfalls in Khao Yai National Park and the seven-tiered Erawan Waterfalls in Kanchanaburi are among the most visited, but the Thee Lor Sue Waterfalls in Umphang and the eleven-tiered Pa La-u Waterfalls in Kaeng Krachan National Park are equally exciting. Finally, the gravity-defying limestone formations of Phang Nga Bay should not be missed by anyone staying in the area.

Itineraries

  • Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai in 3 days – 3 days tour through Northern Thailand, still unknown
  • The Mae Hong Son Loop – the popular route through the mountains of Mae Hong Son province
  • A day in Bangkok – if you only have one day and want to get an overview of the city
  • Rattanakosin Tour – a quick tour of Bangkok’s famous historic district.
  • Samoeng Loop – a popular 100km loop for cyclists and motorcyclists through the mountains, starting and ending in Chiang Mai.
  • Yaowarat and Phahurat Tour – a day trip through this multicultural district

Wats

A Thai temple is called a “wat”. Generally, a temple is not a single building, but a group of buildings, shrines and monuments surrounded by a wall. There are thousands of temples in Thailand, and almost every town or village has at least one. The word “wat” (วัด) literally means school, and the temple has been the only place where formal education has taken place for centuries. A typical Buddhist wat consists of the following structures:

  • Bot – The most sacred prayer room, usually only accessible to monks. Its architecture is similar to that of the viharn, but it is usually more ornate and has eight corner pillars to ward off evil. It is also known as the “ordination room” because this is where the monks take their vows.
  • Viharn – Normally the busiest 1 Wat room, this is where the main image of the Buddha is located in the temple and people come to make offerings. It is open to all.
  • Chedi or Stupa – A tall bell-shaped structure that usually houses relics of the Buddha.
  • Prang – A finger-shaped arrow of Khmer and Ayutthayan origin that serves the same religious purpose as a chedi.
  • Mondop – An open, square building with four arches and a pyramid-shaped roof. It is often used for the veneration of religious texts or objects.
  • Sala – Open-sided pavilion used for relaxation and as a meeting place (and often serves as shelter from the rain).
  • Chofah – Bird-shaped ornaments on temple roofs. They are said to represent the Garuda, a mythical creature that is half bird and half man.

Things To Do in Thailand

Golf

Golf 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 Thais as well as tourists and expatriates.

Meeting the needs of an average of 400,000 foreign golfers who come to Thailand every year, golf in Thailand has become a huge local industry with new golf courses being built all the time. Golf alone brings 8 billion baht into the local economy every year. Thailand offers more than two hundred courses of the highest standard. Courses of international renown can be found in tourist locations such as Bangkok, Pattaya and Phuket.

There are a number of reasons why golf has become so popular in Thailand. Firstly, when compared to the cost of most golfing countries in the world, membership and course fees are exceptionally low. The overall low cost of travel in Thailand itself makes it an ideal place for for-profit tourists. In addition, many of the golf courses in Thailand have been designed by big names in golf such as Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo and Greg Norman.

Outdoors

Thailand is a country big enough, about the size of Spain, that almost all outdoor sports can be practised there. Ko Tao is becoming one of the most important diving centres in Asia. The Ang Thong National Marine Park near Ko Samui and the Similan Islands off Khao Lak also attract many people. One of the newest diving hotspots is Ko Lipe, a small, relatively untouched island with large reefs and beautiful beaches. Snorkelling can be done on almost any beach, but the coral reefs of the Similan Islands are particularly interesting.

Even though Thailand is not a surfer’s paradise like Bali, surfing has its place. The waves are generally small, good for longboarding and for those who want to learn to surf. The west coast beaches of Khao Lak and Phuket are among the best, but the best waves are at Ko Kradan, on the west coast of the relatively unknown province of Trang. Other surf spots are Rayong and Ko Samui, but the waves on the Gulf Coast are less reliable.

The gravity-defying limestone formations of Phang Nga Bay are usually seen on boat trips, but if you canoe out to sea, you can reach areas unexplored by the tourist crowds. The limestone cliffs of Rai Leh are among the best in the world for climbing.

Spoil yourself

Traditional Thai massage has a history of over 2,500 years. Thai massage is based on the belief that many invisible energy lines run through the body. The masseur uses his hands, elbows, feet, heels and knees to apply pressure to these lines, releasing any blockages that may be present and allowing energy to flow freely through the body. Many Thai people believe that these massages are useful for treating illness as well as for general well-being. You are said to feel both relaxed and energised after a session.

Although spas were only introduced here in the early 1990s, Thailand has quickly become one of the most popular spa destinations in the world. In addition to traditional Thai massage, there is a phenomenal variety of international treatments, including aromatherapy, Swedish massage and many others. There is usually an option for every budget, ranging from extravagant wellness centres in luxury hotels to small massage shops ubiquitous on many street corners.

Food & Drinks in Thailand

Food in Thailand

Food 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 Thai) cooked on a street stall or as expensive and complicated as a $100 ten-course meal served by a royal chef in one of Bangkok’s luxury hotels.

As most hikers stand closer to the former than the latter, one of the great advantages of Thailand is that the food from the stalls and small pavement restaurants is generally quite safe. Unlike some Asian countries, travellers need to worry more about overeating or too much curry spices than about dirty kitchens and bad food. In fact, street restaurants, where you can see what you are going to eat and where everything is cooked on the spot, can be a safe option.

Dining etiquette in Thailand

Thai food is most often eaten with a fork and spoon. Hold the spoon in your right hand and use it to eat, and reserve the fork to stack the food on your spoon. Chopsticks are only used for noodle soups and East Asian-style dishes. Eat sticky rice with your right hand.

Thai food is meant to be shared. Everyone has their own rice dish and small bowl of soup, but all other dishes are placed in the centre of the table and you are free to eat whatever you want. Some people think that taking the last piece of a shared plate is considered a bit unlucky, and you may hear people making wishes for others to compensate for their own misfortune. A popular wish is “May my friend/boyfriend be beautiful!”.

In addition, food is usually brought to a dish at the time of its preparation. Guests are not expected to wait until all the dishes have been taken out before starting to eat, as is polite in Western culture. Rather, they are expected to pick up the nearest dish as it arrives.

Thai cuisine

Thai cuisine is characterised by its balance and strong flavours, especially lime juice, lemongrass and fresh coriander, the combination of which gives Thai food its distinctive taste. In addition, Thai cuisine has a well-deserved reputation for being spicy, with small torpedo-shaped hot peppers called phrik khii nuu (พริกขี้หนู, literally “mouse shit peppers”) which are found in many dishes. Thais are well aware that these chillies can be more than Westerners can handle and will often ask you if you like them hot (เผ็ด phet). Answer “yes” at your own risk!

Thai dishes can be roughly classified into three categories: Central Thai cuisine (around Bangkok), Northern Thai cuisine (from the northern region around Chiang Mai, with Burmese and Chinese influences), Northeast Thai cuisine (from the Isaan region to the border with Laos) and Southern Thai cuisine (with strong influences from Malaysia). The following list covers some of the better known dishes. See Isaan for Isaan food, which is widely available throughout the country.

Rice

The staple food of the Thai people is rice ( khao ), so much so that in Thai, eating a meal, gin khao, literally means “eating rice”.

  • Khao suai or “beautiful rice” is the steamed white rice that is the basis of almost every meal.
  • Khao pat is a simple fried rice, usually mixed with crab (pu), pork (muu) or chicken (kai), and flavoured with fish sauce.
  • Khao tom is a salty, watery rice porridge served with condiments, very popular at breakfast.
  • Khao niao or “sticky rice” is sticky rice – usually eaten dry, traditionally by hand, with grilled/fried pork or chicken or beef. It is particularly popular (more than regular rice) in the north-eastern (Isaan) and northern provinces, but is widely available throughout the country, especially in places specialising in Isaan or Laos cuisine.

Noodles

Thai people are great noodle eaters. The most common are rice noodles, served in angel hair (sen mii), small (sen lek), large (sen yai) and giant (kuay tiao), but egg noodles (บะหมี่ ba mii), Chinese-style stuffed wonton ravioli and glass noodles made from mung beans are also popular.

Unlike other Thai foods, noodles are usually eaten with chopsticks. They are also usually served with a square of four condiments, namely dried red peppers, fish sauce, vinegar and sugar that guests can add to their own taste.

  • Pad Thai, literally “fried Thai”, means thin rice noodles fried in a tamarind-based sauce. Ubiquitous, cheap and often excellent. As a bonus, it’s usually chilli-free (you can add some yourself or ask for some if you buy it on the street, but be careful, it’s often very hot).
  • Ba mii muu daeng are egg noodles with slices of pork grilled the Chinese way.
  • The Kuwaiti tiao ruea is a rice noodle soup with a hot pig’s blood broth and an assortment of offal. An acquired but addictive taste.

Soups and curry

The line between soups (literally just “boiled”) and curries (kaeng) is a bit blurred, and many dishes that the Thais call curry would be soup for an Indian. A rice dish with a ladle filled with one or two curries, called khao kaeng, is a very popular quick meal if you eat alone.

  • Tom yam kung is the quintessential Thai dish, a sour shrimp, lemongrass and galangal soup. The real dish is quite spicy, but lighter versions are often available on request.
  • Tom kha kai is the Thai version of chicken soup in a rich coconut broth with Galangan flavour, mushrooms and lots of chilli peppers.
  • Kaeng daeng (แกงเเดง, “red curry”) and kaeng phet (“hot curry”) are the same dish and, as you can guess, this coconut-based dish can be spicy. Red curry with roast duck (kaeng phet pet yaang ) is particularly popular.
  • Kaeng khio-waan, a sweet green curry, is a coconut-based curry with strong accents of lemongrass and kaffir lime. It is generally milder than the red variety.
  • Kaeng som (แกงส้ม), orange curry, looks more like tamarind soup than curry, usually served with pieces of herb omelette in the soup.

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Thai people like their main dishes fried or grilled. Fish, in particular, is often fried until the meat turns brown and crispy.

  • Ka-phrao kai, literally “chicken with basil” is a simple but intensely fragrant stir-fry made from sacred basil leaves, peppers and chicken.

Salads

The only thing that Thai salads (ยำ yam) have in common with the western variety is that they are both based on raw vegetables. The unique Thai taste is achieved by drowning the ingredients in fish sauce, lime juice and chilli peppers. The end result can be very spicy!

  • Som tam, a salad made from grated and crushed raw papaya, is often considered a classic Thai dish, but it actually originated in neighbouring Laos. However, the Thai version is less sour and sweeter than the original, with peanuts and dried shrimp mixed in.
  • Yam pon la mai is a Thai-style fruit salad, which means that instead of canned maraschino cherries, it contains fresh fruit topped with fish sauce and chilli peppers.
  • Yam som-o is an unusual salad made from pomelo (a mutant version of grapefruit) and anything else you have on hand, often chicken or dried shrimp.
  • The wunsen yam is perhaps the most common yam, along with glass noodles and shrimps.

Dessert

Thais generally don’t eat “dessert” in the Western sense of the word, although you can get a few slices of fresh fruit for free in more posh places, but they certainly have a sharp sweet tooth.

  • Khanom offers a wide range of biscuits, biscuits, cakes, crisps and anything else that can be eaten as a snack. Lots of these products can be found in any Thai office after lunch. A common variety called khanom khrok deserves a special mention: these are small lentil-shaped rice and coconut pancakes, freshly baked and served by street vendors everywhere.
  • Khao niao ma-muang means “sticky mango rice”, and that’s what you get, with a little coconut milk sprinkled on top. Rich and delicious, it’s a great way to refresh the palate after a spicy Thai dish! For the more adventurous, another equally popular dish is Khao nio tu-rean, in which you get durian instead of mango with your sticky rice.
  • Waan yen, literally “sweet cold”, consists of a pile of ingredients of your choice (including things like sweet corn and red beans) covered in syrup, coconut cream and a pile of ice, and is ideal for cooling down on a hot day or after a hot curry.

Vegetarian food

Vegetarians won’t have too much trouble surviving in Thailand, with one exception: fish sauce is to Thai cuisine what soy sauce is to Chinese cuisine, and keeping it out of soups, curries and stir-fries will be a challenge.

That said, Thailand is a Buddhist country and vegetarianism is a fairly well understood concept, especially among Chinese Thais (many of whom eat only vegetarian food at several festivals). Tofu is a traditional Thai ingredient and they are not afraid to mix it into some non-traditional dishes such as omelettes (with or without eggs), submarine sandwiches and burritos. As Thai dishes are usually made to order, it is easy to ask that everything on the menu be prepared without meat or fish. Bangkok has several excellent vegetarian and vegan restaurants, but outside the big cities, check that your idea of “vegetarian” matches the chef’s idea.

Restaurant chains

Thailand has a large number of indigenous restaurant chains that offer more or less the same menus as on the street, but with the added advantages of air conditioning, printed menus (often in English) and clean shop windows. All of these chains are heavily concentrated in Bangkok, but major cities and popular tourist spots may have one or two outlets.

  • Coke and MK. Almost elusive chains specialising in what the Thais call suki, perhaps better known as “hotpot” or “steamboat”. A pot boils in the middle of your table, you buy the ingredients (10-30 baht a pop) and make your own soup. The more time you spend, the better it tastes, and the larger the group you are with, the more fun it is!
  • Fuji. And the Zen specialise in surprisingly passable Japanese food at very low prices (at least compared to Japanese restaurants almost everywhere else). Rice/noodles are less than 100 baht, and you can gorge yourself on sushi for less than 500 baht.
  • Kuaytiew Ruea Siam (signs in Thai; look for the boat-shaped decor and the logo of the hungry red pig). Cheap noodles with prices starting from 25 baht. The portions are not too generous, but at this price you can get two! No concessions to English speakers on the menu or taste, so point and choose from the pictures and watch out for the spicier soups.
  • S&P. The outlets are a bakery, a café and a restaurant, but their menu is much larger than you might expect: there are all the Thai pillars you can think of and more, and most of them are good. Portions are generally quite small, with prices mostly between 50 and 100 baht.
  • Yum Saap (signs in Thai; look for the large yellow smiley face logo). Known for their Thai style salads (yam), but they also offer all the usual ones. Quite cheap, with a power supply of about 50 baht.

And yes, you can find the usual McDonaldsKFCPizza HutKomalas etc. if you insist. If you find yourself at McDonalds, at least try the not so typical Mac fried chicken with McSomTam (green papaya salad). For American-style pizza lovers, try the ubiquitous The Pizza Company, a cheaper and (probably) tastier local chain.

Drinks in Thailand

Tap water is generally not drinkable in Thailand outside Bangkok. However, in many parts of Bangkok, especially in new buildings, tap water is perfectly safe to drink. However, if you don’t want to take the risk, buying a bottle of water is the obvious solution. Bottled water is cheap and ubiquitous at 5-20 baht per bottle depending on size and brand, and drinking water served in restaurants is always at least boiled. In Thailand, ice cream is usually packaged directly at the factory and is safe; there is only need to worry if you are served hand-cut ice cream. You can also buy a large packet of ice cream in most 7-Elevens for 7 baht.

Mainly in residential areas, machines selling water in your own bottle (1 baht/L, or 50 satang (0.5 baht/L) if you pay more than 5 baht) are often available, located in some hotels (mostly Thai), in local shops, or simply on the street nearby. This is a clean option (the water is cleaned and UV-treated on site) and extremely cheap. In addition, you will avoid producing unnecessary plastic waste from empty bottles.

Ice drinks

Coconut water, iced and drunk directly from a fresh coconut, is a cheap and healthy way to refresh the body. It is available in restaurants and fruit juice vendors.

Fruit juices, frozen foods and milkshakes of all kinds are very popular with Thais and visitors alike. Most cafes and restaurants charge 20 to 40 baht, but a bottle of freshly squeezed sweet Thai orange juice – which is really orange! – can be sold on the street for 15 to 30 baht. Thai people often add salt to their juices – an acquired taste that you may learn to appreciate. Thais also like to have basil seeds in their iced fruit juice sold on the street. They look like little balls of jelly in the bottle.

Tea and coffee

One of Thailand’s most characteristic drinks is Thai iced tea (ชาเย็น chaa yen, literally “cold tea”). Instantly recognizable by its bright orange colour, it is the side effect of adding ground (or nowadays artificial coloured) tamarind seeds during the drying process. Iced tea is always very strong and very sweet, and is usually served with a little condensed milk; ask for chaa dam yen to avoid milk.

Naam chaa and chaa jiin are weak and strong Chinese teas, often served for free in restaurants. The Western-style black tea is chaa ron (ชาร้อน). Coffee (กาแฟ kaafae) is also widespread, and is usually served with condensed milk and lots of sugar. Ask for kaafae thung for traditional filtered “bagged” coffee instead of instant coffee.

Starbucks is present in Thailand, but for the moment, local competitors Black Canyon Coffee and S&P still have the advantage in terms of market share. These are the places to look if you want that triple mocha latte with a hazelnut swirl and are willing to pay 75 baht for the privilege.

  • Café Black Canyon. This is the Thai Starbucks coffee shop, but although coffee is their main product, they also offer a limited menu. Try chaa yen (Thai orange and milk ice tea).

Energy drinks

Thailand is the country of origin of the Red Bull energy drink – a licensed and re-branded version of the original Thai Krathing Daeng (กระทิงแดง, “Red Bull”), with the familiar logo of two bulls charging each other.

The Thai version, on the other hand, is sweet and syrupy, non-carbonated, and is packaged in brown glass bottles with a medicinal aspect, because the target clientele is not the trendy clubbers, but the Thai working class of construction workers and bus drivers in need of a pick-me-up. The caffeine content is even higher than that of Western Red Bull, and its effect is equivalent to two or three doses of espresso coffee. Krathing Daeng and its many competitors (including the M150, the Shark, the .357 and the inevitable Karabao Daeng, the “Red Buffalo”) are available in all convenience stores for 10 baht each, although in some places you can now buy imported Red Bull at five times the price.

Alcohol

Drinking alcohol in Thailand, especially if you like Western tips, is actually relatively expensive, but still very affordable by Western standards.

Retail sale of alcohol in supermarkets and multinational convenience stores is limited to a period between 11:00 and 14:00 and between 17:00 and 24:00. Restaurants and bars are not affected, and small shops that are not part of a chain rarely comply with this rule. 7-Eleven is very demanding about compliance with this rule. However, in certain circumstances, these rules are relaxed for alcohol purchases above a certain quantity. For example, if you try to buy 5 litres of wine during the restriction period, this will not be allowed. On the other hand, if you buy, for example, 10 litres of wine during the same period, this may be allowed. Convenience stores at petrol stations are not allowed to sell alcohol at any time.

There are also days of the year when alcohol can’t be sold anywhere, even small soft drink shops normally play by the rules on these days, and most bars and pubs do too (although you can probably find a beer somewhere if you’re desperate enough). Bars and restaurants in upscale hotels are probably the only places that are realistically likely to be exempt. Religious holidays and elections are normally the reason for these restrictions.

Beer

Western beer (เบียร์ bia) is a somewhat upscale drink in Thailand, with the price of a small bottle varying between 40 and 100 baht in most pubs, bars and restaurants. Thai people like lager with a relatively high alcohol content (around 6%), as it is designed to be drunk with ice, so Thai beer can have more punch than usual. However, if you are an experienced drinker from Western Europe, i.e. Belgium or Germany, you will find it familiar.

  • Local breweries: For many years, the only locally brewed beer was Singha (pronounced simply Sing), but it lost market share to the cheaper and stronger Chang. Both of these beers are quite strong (especially Chang at 6% and Singha at 5%), but for those who prefer something a little lighter, the two local brands have introduced low-alcohol versions of their beers. Singha Light is 3.5%, Chang Draught is 5% and Chang Light is 4.2%. Both are high in alcohol percentage, give a slightly spicy taste (for Europeans you can compare them to Leffe or Duvel) rather than the mixed sweetness of German beers (Erdinger or Paulaner). There are also cheaper local beers – Leo (very popular with locals and expatriates, with a price 10-20% lower than Singha) and Archa (cheaper, but the taste is not as pleasant, it is not often sold in bars, but is available in almost all 7-Elevens) being among the most popular.
  • Luxury brands: The two most popular premium brands are Heineken and Tiger, but San MiguelFederbrau and other Asian beers such as the Japanese Asahi are also quite common. Premium beers tend to be slightly weaker than local top-fermented beers and are about 10-20% more expensive.
  • Imported beers : Most high-end pubs in tourist areas offer at least some imported beers, in addition to the usual local brands, either draught, bottled or both. Belgian and German beers are often available, as well as Irish stouts and ales such as Guinness, British bitters such as John Smiths and the increasingly popular light Mexican Corona. The regional favourite Beerlao has also started to appear in bars and pubs across the country. However, all imported beers (except Beerlao) are very expensive, about twice as expensive as local beers.
  • Other non-beers: The usual range of “alcopops” is available in Thailand, with Bacardi Breezer taking the lion’s share of the market. The “Spy Wine Cooler” (of about 10 varieties) is also popular. Cider is harder to find, although some pubs have started offering Magnersand Bulmers.

Imported drinks

Imported liqueurs, wines and beers are widely available, but at prohibitive prices for the average Thai. A glass of any brand-name liqueur costs at least 100 baht, a pint of Guinness will get you at least 200 baht and, thanks to an inexplicable 340 per cent tax, even the cheapest bottle of wine will get you over 500 baht. Note that in cheaper bars (especially those open to the public) the contents of that familiar bottle of Jack Daniels may be quite different.

Rice wine

Thai rice wine (สาโท sato) is actually a beer brewed from sticky rice, and is therefore a spiritual cousin of Japanese sake. Although traditionally associated with Isaan, it is now sold throughout the country under the brand name Siam Sato, available in any 7-Eleven at 25 baht for a 0.65L bottle. At 8% alcohol, it is cheap and powerful, but you may regret it the next morning! The original style of brewing and serving sato is done in earthenware pots called hai, hence the name of the other drink, lao hai(เหล้าไห). To serve them, simply break the seal of the pot, add water and drink immediately with a glass or, traditionally, with a straw directly into the pot.

Whisky

The misnamed Thai (Lao) whisky refers to a number of liqueurs. The best known are the infamous Mae Khong (แม่โขง “Mekong”) and its sweetest competitor, Saeng Som (“Sangsom”), both of which are brewed mainly from sugar cane and therefore technically rum. Indeed, the only similarities with whisky are the brown colour and the high alcohol content. Indeed, many people associate the smell with that of a nail polish remover, but the taste is not as bad, especially when diluted with cola or tonic water. It is also by far the cheapest way to get blotto, as a pocket bottle of it (available in any convenience store or supermarket) costs only about 50 baht.

The “real” Thai whisky is Lao Khao (“white liquor”), which is distilled from rice. There are commercial versions, but it is mainly distilled at home as hooch, in which case it is also called lao theuan (“jungle liqueur”). The white liquor to which herbs are added for flavour and medicinal effect is called ya dong (ยาดอง). Strictly speaking, both are illegal, but no one seems to care, especially when trekking in the northern hill tribes, you will probably be invited to taste it, and it is polite to take at least a sip.

Money & Shopping in Thailand

Money in Thailand

Currency in Thailand

The currency of Thailand is the baht (THB, ฿), written in Thai as บาท or บ, which is divided into 100 satang (สตางค์). There are six coins and six notes:

  • 25 and 50 satang coins (cents, copper-colored) – almost worthless and only accepted (and issued) by buses, supermarkets, and 7-Elevens.
  • Coins of 1, 2 (in 2 versions: silver and gold), 5 (silver-coloured) and 10 baht (silver/gold-coloured)
  • 20 (green), 50 (blue), 100 (red), 500 (purple) and 1000 (grey-brown) Baht

The most useful notes are the 20s and 100s, as many small shops and stalls don’t have much change. Taxi drivers also like to play the “no change” trick; if caught, they go to the nearest corner shop and make a small purchase. Beware of 1,000-baht notes, as counterfeits are not uncommon: Feel for the embossing, look for the watermark and tilt to see the color so you can be sure the note is genuine.

Tax refund – VAT in Thailand

Foreign visitors (with a few exceptions) can benefit from a 7% VAT refund on luxury goods purchased in shops participating in the “VAT Refund for Tourists” programme. If you see a “VAT Refund for Tourists” sign, you can get a refund of 7% of the VAT charged on the goods in the shop. However, certain conditions apply and you cannot claim the refund until you leave Thailand from an international airport. Goods must be purchased from participating shops that display a “VAT Refund for Tourists” sign. You cannot claim a VAT refund for services or goods that you use or “consume” during your stay in Thailand, such as hotel or restaurant expenses. Goods purchased from a participating shop must have a value of at least 2,000 baht including VAT. When you buy the goods, ask the seller to fill out a VAT refund form, called a P.P.10, and attach the original sales and tax invoices. Each P.P.10 must be for a value of 2,000 baht or more. You must show your passport to the seller when you purchase the goods so that they can complete the above form. When you leave the country, the goods must be checked and your completed P.P.10s stamped by the Tourist VAT Refund Service (at Gate 10 on the 4th level) before registration.

Bank & ATMs & Credit Cards in Thailand

ATMs are everywhere and international withdrawals are no problem. If you use a debit card, an ATM usually offers a much better exchange rate than a cash machine, especially if you have a card that doesn’t charge a transaction fee for overseas withdrawals (which is becoming more common in countries like Australia). ATMs are available at Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK) in Bangkok after you have collected your luggage and cleared customs. Although it is advisable to arrive with a small amount of baht if possible, you can also get cash from an ATM after landing. There is a surcharge of 150 to 180 baht for using foreign cards at all ATMsYou will be informed in all machines that charge these fees, so you always have the option to cancel. Citibank does not charge for foreign cards, but they are only available in Bangkok. The AEON ATM, which used to be free, now charges 150 baht. The yellow Ayudhya (Krungsri) ATMs should be avoided; not only do they charge an extra 150 baht, but the exchange rate is atrocious.

One of the main bureaux de change is SuperRich, with branches in Bangkok in Silom, Ratchadamri, Khao San Road and Chatuchak. There are no fees and the exchange rate is usually better than at the ATM (even before taking into account ATM fees and local bank fees), with a very low buy/sell spread. For a comparison of all bank exchange rates (updated every 10 minutes), see DaytoDayData.

In more remote areas (including small islands) there are no banks or ATMs, so cash or travellers’ cheques are essential. Many hotels and guesthouses will change money for their guests, but high commissions and low rates may apply. US dollars in small denominations ($1, $5 and $20) are valuable for subsequent travel to neighbouring countries other than Malaysia, but are only useful in Thailand for exceptional purchases (for example, to pay the visa fee for Cambodia).

Credit cards are widely accepted in the tourism industry, especially in restaurants, shopping centers and shops serving tourists. Unfortunately, fraud is commonplace. Therefore, use them sparingly and inform your bank in advance so that your card is not blocked because you use it. Some businesses charge a surcharge (usually 2-3%) if you pay by credit card, in which case it may be cheaper to pay in cash.

Tipping in Thailand

Tipping is not common in Thailand and the Thais themselves do not practice it. Thais round up the amount of the taxi fare to an amount that is easier to pay (for example, from 59 or 61 to 60 baht). Sometimes they leave change in restaurants, but this is also rare.

You don’t have to feel weird if you don’t tip at all, because that’s what the locals do. But the many foreign visitors to Thailand have changed some practices. Tipping is becoming more common in upscale hotels and restaurants, but also in the simple restaurants often frequented by foreigners. Don’t overdo it, never tip more than 50 baht. In some tourist areas, especially along the road to Khao San, there are even restaurants that tip. This is not common (and even rude) in Thai culture, so you can easily ignore it.

Do not tip if a fee is charged as this is only common in luxury restaurants and hotels.

Prices in Thailand

Thailand is not as cheap as it used to be. Recently, Bangkok was named the second most expensive city in Southeast Asia behind Singapore. However, low-budget travellers who are careful with their spending will still find that 1,000 baht will leave a backpacker with a cheap bed or dorm room, three square meals a day and enough for transport, sightseeing and even partying. If you double this budget, you will be able to stay in decent hotels, and if you are willing to pay 5,000 baht a day or more, you will be able to live like a king.

Bangkok requires a more generous budget than inland destinations, but also offers by far the cheapest prices for shopping sprees. The most popular tourist islands such as Phuket and Ko Samui generally have higher prices. In other places, too, tourists often have to pay many times the actual price in tourist areas. If you want to get an idea of the real prices in Thailand, you should visit shopping centres like Big C, Tesco or Carrefour, where locals and expats regularly shop. You will find them in the big cities (Bangkok has dozens of them) and on the big islands like Phuket or Ko Samui.

Shopping in Thailand

Thailand is a shopper’s paradise and many visitors, especially in Bangkok, spend much of their time in the myriad markets and shopping malls. Clothing, from cheap locally produced streetwear to luxurious Thai silk and all manner of handicrafts, are particularly interesting purchases. Electronics and computer equipment are also widely available, but prices are slightly higher than in Singapore, Hong Kong, the Philippines and Kuala Lumpur.

A Thai speciality is the night market, which can be found in almost every city, the largest and most famous of which are in Bangkok and the night bazaar in Chiang Mai. Here, various vendors, from designers to artisans, have stalls with goods not normally found in shopping malls and day markets. Most night markets also have large outdoor eating areas.

You can also find wonderfully tacky modern clothing accessories. Witness the pink sandals with clear plastic wedge heels filled with fake flowers. The night markets along the main streets and the Mahboonkrong (MBK) Mall in Bangkok, near the Siam Skytrain stop, are particularly interesting sources. Don’t forget what is often presented as the largest weekend bazaar in the world – the Chatuchak Weekend Market – or known to locals as the “JJ” market. Chatuchak sells a variety of products, from clothes to antiques, covers 35 hectares (1.1 km²) and is growing every day!

Haggling is the norm and often vendors in the market and on the street will try to charge you as much as they think you can afford. It is not uncommon to buy something, go out and find someone who has bought the same item for half or a third of what you paid (or even less). First try to find out the approximate value of the item. Neighbouring stalls, government-run fixed price shops and even gift shops in hotels are a good place to start. You will find that prices drop considerably when the seller realises that you have an idea of what it costs.

Festivals & Events in Thailand

Holidays in Thailand

Thailand 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 known as the Spring Festival or Lunar New Year and the celebrations can last for about 15 days. The Thai Chinese, who are numerous in Bangkok, celebrate it by cleaning their houses and offering food to their ancestors. Above all, it is a time of lavish festivities. Visit Bangkok’s Chinatown or Yaowarat to enjoy the festivities.
  • Makha Bucha (มาฆบูชา). Makha Bucha falls on the full moon of the third lunar month, which usually falls in February or March, and commemorates the spontaneous gathering of 1,250 people before the Buddha that led to their ordination and subsequent enlightenment. In temples in Bangkok and throughout Thailand, Buddhists carry candles and walk clockwise three times around the main shrine.
  • Songkran (สงกรานต์). The most fun festival is undoubtedly the Thai New Year, which takes place in April (officially from 13 to 15 April, but the date varies from place to place). What started as a polite ritual to wash away the sins of the past year has turned into the biggest water fight in the world, lasting three full days. Water guns and super soakers are recommended and available everywhere. The best places to join in are Chiang Mai, Bangkok’s Khao San Road district and resorts such as Pattaya, Ko Samui and Phuket. Be aware that you will get very wet, this is not a spectator sport. In recent years, the water spray has become increasingly unpleasant as people have started to hose themselves down with ice water. It is advisable to wear dark clothing as light colours can become translucent when wet.
  • Coronation Day. 5 May commemorates the coronation of the current king in 1950 (although his reign actually began on 9 June 1946 – making him not only the oldest monarch in Thai history, but also the oldest sitting head of state in the world).
  • Loy Krathong (ลอยกระทง). It falls on the first full moon day of the twelfth month of the lunar calendar, usually in November, when people go to rivers, lakes and even hotel pools to float banana flowers and leaves (or, these days, Styrofoam) laden with candles called Krathong (กระทง). The Krathong is an offering to thank the river goddess who gives life to people. Thai people also believe it is a good time to cast your bad luck and many place a few strands of hair or nail clippings in the Krathong. According to tradition, if you make a wish, it will come true when you put down your Krathong and it will float out of sight before the candle goes out. Some provinces have their own version of Loy Krathong, such as Sukhothai, where a show is held. In the north, Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai have their own tradition of throwing com or hot air lanterns. This spectacle can be breathtaking as the sky is suddenly filled with lights that rival the full moon.
  • King’s Birthday (Father’s Day). 5 December, the King’s birthday, is the country’s bank holidays and is also celebrated as Father’s Day, when Thais pay homage and show their love to His Majesty the King. Buildings and houses are decorated with the King’s flag (yellow with his insignia in the middle) and his portrait. Government buildings, but also commercial buildings are decorated with lights. Especially in Old Bangkok (Rattanakosin), around the Royal Palace, you will see magnificent light shows on trees, buildings and streets. The Queen’s birthday (12 August) is Mother‘s Day and is celebrated in the same way, but with a little less pomp.

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 lowest. Never touch or pat a Thai person on the head, even children. If you accidentally touch or bump someone’s head, apologise immediately or you will be perceived as very rude. Also, do not touch people with your feet or even point at them. If a person is sitting with their feet out, avoid stepping on them as this is very rude and could even lead to a confrontation. Hug them or ask them to move. Even if the person is asleep, it is best to walk around as others may notice.
  • Thais are conservative compared to Westerners. Public displays of affection are rare, even among married couples, and are generally considered distasteful, although Thais are reluctant to tolerate such displays by foreigners due to the Thai economy’s dependence on tourism. Do not kiss in public. You would embarrass yourself and inflame the sensitivities of the Thai people.
  • It is considered rude and disrespectful to visibly sniff food before eating it, especially if you are eating at someone’s home (this also applies if the sniffing is done as a form of appreciation).
  • Do not blow your nose audibly in public, especially at the table, but it is perfectly acceptable to pick your nose at any time and in any place.
  • In Thailand, the expression of a negative emotion such as anger or sadness is almost never visible and it is possible to enjoy a holiday in Thailand without ever feeling like you are having an argument or seeing an unhappy person. Thais smile all the time, and to foreigners this is considered happiness or friendliness. In reality, smiling is a very subtle way of communicating and for those living in Thailand, a smile can indicate any emotion – from fear, anger, sadness, joy, etc. “Saving face” is a very important aspect of Thai culture and they will try to avoid embarrassment and confrontation.
  • In public places (e.g. large markets), the national anthem is played over loudspeakers at 8am and 6pm. When it is played, many people stop their activities and remain motionless for the duration of the anthem. You should do the same. The royal anthem (not the national anthem) is played in cinemas before the film and everyone has to stand up. It lasts for about a minute, and then everyone picks up where they left off. In the MRT and SkyTrain stations in Bangkok, the escalators are also stopped to avoid a big crowd.

The Wai

The traditional greeting known as wai, in which the hands are pressed together and bowed slightly as in a prayer, originated in Hindu-influenced India and is still frequently practised today. Among Thais, there are strict hierarchical rules that dictate how and when the wai must be given. In short, subordinates greet their superiors first. You should not give wai to service staff or street vendors. The higher your hands are, the more respectful you are. You will also often see Thais doing a wai when passing temples and haunted houses. As a foreign visitor, you should not know how to do a waai, nor should you give back if you do; although you won’t be offended if you do, you might look a little strange. If someone gives you a waai, a slight bow is more than enough for ordinary occasions, and in business most Thais shake hands with strangers anyway, rather than shaking them off.

Dressing Code

In Thailand, personal appearance is very important as a measure of respect for others. You will find that being properly dressed means showing more respect in return. This is reflected in many ways and sometimes even leads to lower initial bid prices in the markets. Taking into account the different habits of foreigners, Thais tend to react positively to well-dressed Westerners.

If Bangkok, Pattaya and Phuket are exceptions, Thais are traditionally modest and conservatively dressed. Their clothes should at least be clean, neat and free of holes or tears. Except on the beach or at sacred sites, normal Western dress is acceptable for both men and women, except that you should avoid clothing that shows a lot of skin. Trousers are preferable to shorts, blouses should have short sleeves, and if you wear tank tops, the straps should be thick (no spaghetti straps). Thai men generally wear long trousers, and most Thais consider it quite ridiculous for a grown man to wear shorts; shorts are mainly worn by workers and schoolchildren. Shorts for men should be at least up to the knees, if at all.

Taking off shoes in temples and private houses is a compulsory sign, in some shops it is even mandatory. Wear shoes that are easy to put on and take off. Flip-flops, walking sandals and flats are generally a good, pragmatic choice for travelling in Thailand; only upscale establishments require footwear.

At wats and other sacred sites in Thailand, it is best to play it safe; clothing should clearly be modest and cover the entire upper body and most limbs. For men, ankle-length trousers are mandatory; topless T-shirts are acceptable, although a button-down shirt or polo shirt is preferable. Many recommend that women wear only long dresses and skirts; you should make sure that your clothes cover at least your shoulders and knees, and in some places you may need to wear ankle-length trousers or skirts and long-sleeved tops. Shorts and sleeveless shirts are completely inappropriate, as are short skirts. For foreign visitors, the rules are even stricter. So even if you see a room wearing shorts, it is not acceptable for everyone.

On many tourist beaches, Western women often sunbathe topless. However, this is not advisable on beaches frequented mainly by Thais.

Religion

Monks are an integral part of Buddhism in Thailand, and Thai men are generally expected to live as monks for a time at least once in their lives.

Buddhist monks are expected to avoid sexual temptation and especially not to touch women or take things from women’s hands. Women should make an effort to give monks space on the street and give them room so that they do not have to approach you. Women should avoid offering anything with their hands to a monk. Objects or donations should be placed in front of a monk so that he can pick them up or place them on a special cloth that he carries. Monks are sometimes assisted by a lay person who accepts items from deserving women on their behalf.

Theravada Buddhist monks are also expected to avoid material temptations and are therefore not allowed to touch money. Offering money to a monk is therefore considered a sign of disrespect in most Theravada Buddhist cultures. Therefore, if you wish to make a donation to a monk, you should only offer him food and place your monetary donation in the appropriate donation box in the temple. Monks who accept money are almost always fakes.

As in neighbouring countries, the swastika is also widespread in Thailand as a Buddhist religious symbol. It is 2,500 years older than National Socialism and has no anti-Semitic connotations.

When entering a temple, always remove your shoes beforehand, as entering a temple with shoes on is considered a major faux pas. When sitting on the floor in a temple, make sure you cross your legs “mermaid style” so that your feet are not pointed at a person or statue. Do not pose for a photo next to a Buddha statue and certainly do not climb on top of it. It is permitted to take photos of a statue, but everyone must face it. As doorways are considered a place of refuge for spirits, it is also important not to walk on a high threshold, but to cross it.

The Royal Family

It is illegal to show disrespect to royalty (lèse-majesté), a crime punishable by 15 to 20 years in prison. Do not make negative remarks, or remarks that could be taken as disrespectful to the King or any other member of the royal family. As the King is depicted on the country’s currency, you should not burn, tear or mutilate it – especially in the presence of other Thais. If you drop a coin or note, do not step on it to stop it – this is very rude as you are trampling on the image of the King’s head printed on the coin. Also, anything to do with the stories and films “The King and I” and “Anna and the King” is illegal in Thailand. Almost all Thai people, including those from other countries, are very sensitive to any version of this story. They feel that it makes a mockery of their centuries-old monarchy and that it is completely inaccurate. In 2007, a Swiss man (Oliver Juffer) was sentenced to ten years in prison for painting graffiti on the King’s portrait, although he subsequently repented and was pardoned by His Majesty himself (quote: “It disturbs me that such harsh sentences are imposed”) and deported to Switzerland.

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 include many regional beliefs drawn from Hinduism, animism and ancestor worship. The official Thai calendar is based on the Eastern version of the Buddhist Era (BE), which precedes the Gregorian (Western) calendar by 543 years. Thus, the year 2015 in Thailand corresponds to 2558 BE.

Several different ethnic groups, many of which are marginalised, populate Thailand. Some of these groups span Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and Malaysia and have mediated between their traditional local culture, national Thailand and global cultural influences. Overseas Chinese are also an important part of Thai society, especially in and around Bangkok. Their successful integration into Thai society has enabled this group to occupy positions of economic and political power. Thai Chinese companies thrive within a larger network, the Bamboo Network, a network of overseas Chinese companies operating in Southeast Asian markets with common family and cultural ties.

The traditional Thai greeting, the wai, is usually offered first by the younger of the two people meeting, with the hands joined and the fingertips pointing upwards, while the head is tilted to touch the fingertips face to face, usually pronounced with the words “sawatdi khrap” for men and “sawatdi kha” for women. The elder may then respond in the same way. Status and social position, for example within the government, also influence who performs the wai first. For example, although one may be much older than a provincial governor, at a meeting it is usually the visitor who pays respect first. When children go to school, they are taught to wait for their parents to show respect. The wai is a sign of respect and reverence for another, similar to the namaste greeting in India and Nepal.

As in other Asian cultures, respect for the ancestors is an essential part of spiritual practice in Thailand. Thais have a strong sense of hospitality and generosity, but also a strong sense of social hierarchy. Seniority is highly valued in Thai culture. Traditionally, elders have the say in family decisions or ceremonies. Older siblings have duties towards younger siblings.

Taboos in Thailand include touching someone’s head or pointing with the feet, as the head is considered the most sacred and the foot the lowest part of the body.

Cuisine

Thai cuisine combines five basic flavours: sweet, hot, sour, bitter and salty. Common ingredients in Thai cuisine are garlic, chillies, lime juice, lemongrass, coriander, galangal, palm sugar and fish sauce (nam pla). The staple food in Thailand is rice, especially jasmine rice (also called “hom mali” rice), which is part of almost every meal. Thailand has long been the world’s largest exporter of rice, and Thais consume more than 100 kg of milled rice per person per year. More than 5,000 Thai rice varieties are stored in the rice gene bank of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) based in the Philippines. The King of Thailand is the official patron of IRRI.

Media

In recent years, Thai society has been influenced by a widespread multilingual press and media. There are a few English newspapers and many Thai and Chinese newspapers in circulation. Most popular Thai magazines use English titles as a glamour-chic factor. Many large companies in Bangkok operate in English as well as other languages.

Thailand is the largest newspaper market in Southeast Asia, with an estimated circulation of more than 13 million copies per day in 2003. Even within the country, outside Bangkok, the media is thriving. According to the Public Relations Department of Thailand’s Media Yearbook 2003-2004, for example, there were 116 newspapers in the nineteen provinces of Isan, Thailand’s northeastern region, as well as radio, television and cable. Since then, another province, Bueng Kan, has been established, bringing the total to twenty provinces. In addition, a military coup on 22 May 2014 led to strict government restrictions on all media and forms of expression.

Units of measurement

Thailand generally uses the metric system, but traditional units of measurement are used for land area, and imperial units of measurement are sometimes used for building materials such as timber and sanitation. Years are counted in B.E. (Buddhist era) in educational institutions, the civil service, government, and contracts and newspaper dates. In the banking sector and increasingly in industry and commerce, the uniform counting of Western years (Christian or common era) is common.

Stay Safe & Healthy in Thailand

Stay safe in Thailand

The 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 unrest

Long-standing tensions between pro- and anti-government groups came to a head in 2008 when the anti-government People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) first blockaded several airports in the south of the country for several days in the summer and then took over the two airports in Bangkok for a week in November, massively affecting tourism and the Thai economy. Although several demonstrators were killed or injured in the skirmishes, overall the protests were peaceful and no tourists were injured.

After the resignation of the prime minister in December 2008, things have returned to normal for the time being, but the situation remains unstable. Keep an eye on the news and try to keep your plans flexible. Avoid demonstrations and other political gatherings.

Under no circumstances should you say anything negative about the Thai royal family. This will usually land you in jail and your embassy/consulate will have little consular support (power) to get you out.

Bad news again in May 2010 when Red Shirt demonstrators occupied a large part of Bangkok, which was not dispersed for 2 months. This led to a lot of violence, arson etc. and some deaths. This problem is still festering and although it is not a real threat to tourists, one should always keep in mind that things can easily flare up again.

The Thai army took control of the government in May 2014, marking the country’s twelfth successful coup since 1932. Despite the lurid headlines warning of Thailand’s dangers, travellers who use common sense and avoid potentially dangerous areas or situations should have a trouble-free holiday.

Corruption

Although not as serious as in neighbouring Myanmar, Laos or Cambodia, corruption is unfortunately still quite common in Thailand compared to Western countries or Malaysia. Traffic police in Thailand often demand bribes of around 200 baht from tourists who are stopped for seemingly minor traffic violations. Immigration officials at land border crossings often demand a bribe of about 20 baht per person before stamping your passport, although airport officials generally do not demand bribes.

Fraud

Thailand has more than its fair share of scams, but most are easily avoided with a little common sense.

More of a nuisance than a danger, a common scam by thugs, taxi and tuk-tuk drivers in Thailand is to wait outside important monuments and temples and trick Western travellers by telling them that the site is closed for “Buddhist holidays”, “repairs” or some similar reason. The “helpful” driver then offers to take the traveller to another place, such as a market or shop. Travellers who accept these offers often find themselves in remote markets where prices are exorbitant and there is no way to return to the centre of the town they came from. Always make sure that the entrance to the site you are visiting is closed.

Some tuk-tuk drivers may charge a much higher price than agreed, or take you to a sex show and claim they didn’t understand the address (they get commissions from sex shows). For the same reason, avoid drivers who offer their services without being asked, especially near major tourist attractions.

Do not buy tours at the airport. If you do, they will call your hotel several times to remind you of the tour. During the tour they will take you briefly to a small temple, without a guide, and then take you to one shop after another (they get commissions). They may refuse to take you home until you have seen all the shops. On the way home, they urge you to buy more tours.

Easy to spot with a little practice, it is not uncommon in tourist areas to be approached by a well-dressed and well-groomed man, often brandishing a mobile phone. These scammers engage in polite conversation and are interested in the unsuspecting tourist’s background, family or itinerary. Inevitably, the conversation will drift to the heart of the scam. It may be something as trivial as overpriced tickets for a meal and a Kantoke show, or as serious as a gambling scam, or (especially in Bangkok) the infamous gemstone scam. Once identified, the careful traveller should have no trouble spotting these scammers in the crowd. Their uniform consists of trousers and a shirt with pressed buttons, freshly cut conservative-style hair and a modern mobile phone. When wandering through tourist areas without a specific destination, the prudent traveller should have no difficulty spotting and avoiding these crooks.

Many visitors encounter young Thai women, armed with paperweights and smiling, asking for their nationality, often with an aside such as “please help me earn 30 baht”. It is suggested that the visitor fills out a tourism questionnaire (which includes the name of the hotel and room number) with the incentive of winning a prize – in reality, everyone receives a phone call to say they are a “winner”; however, the prize can only be earned by participating in a tedious timeshare presentation. Note that the lady with the clipboard will not receive her 30 baht if you do not attend the presentation; also, only English-speaking nationalities are targeted.

A newer, more serious scam involves being charged with shoplifting in Bangkok airport duty-free shops. This can involve accidentally crossing unclear boundaries between shops with stock or receiving a ‘free gift’. Always ask for a receipt. The accused are threatened with long jail sentences and then offered to pay “bail” of $10,000 or more to make the problem go away and be allowed to leave Thailand. If you find yourself in this mess, contact your embassy and call your lawyer or translator, not the “helpful” guy hanging around.

False monks

Theravada Buddhism is an integral part of Thai culture and it is common for Buddhist monks to walk the streets in the morning to collect alms. Unfortunately, the presence of foreign tourists who are unfamiliar with local Buddhist customs has led to some impostors taking advantage of unsuspecting visitors. Note that the real monks only do alms rounds in the morning, as they are not allowed to eat in the afternoon, nor are they allowed to accept or receive money. Alms bowls are for collecting food only. If you see a “monk” asking for money donations or having money in his alms bowl, it is a fake.

Night bus robbery

Thailand is safe enough for tourists. However, there have been some reports of people being drugged and robbed while travelling on night buses. To avoid this, stay away from cheap, non-government buses, make sure all your money is safely stowed in a money belt or other hard-to-reach place, and always check your bank balance before getting off. It is also advisable to warn your fellow travellers of this danger. In this case, steadfastly refuse to get off the bus, inform the rest of the population about the situation and call the police immediately. It may not be possible to stay on the bus, as your refusal may result in the staff unloading your checked luggage on the street and the bus moving on without your luggage, forcing you to get off or lose it.

Prostitution

In Thailand, the age of consent is 15, but a higher minimum age of 18 applies to prostitutes. Thai penalties for having sex with minors are strict, and even if your partner is of age in Thailand, tourists who have sex with minors can be prosecuted by their home country. As for checking your partner’s age, all Thai adults must carry an identity card showing that they were born in the year 2538 or earlier if they were over 18 on 1 January 2013 (in the Thai calendar, 2013 is the year 2556).

Some prostitutes are “independent”, but most are employed by bars or similar businesses. When you hire a prostitute at a bar or similar business, you have to pay a fee to the establishment called “bar fine”, usually 300 to 500 baht. This gives you the right to remove them from their place of work. No additional services are paid. These services are subject to a separate contract.

Bar girls, go-go girls and freelancers are all professionals who are much more interested in the money you can give them than in a lasting relationship for its own sake. Cases of visitors falling hopelessly in love and then being robbed of everything they are worth abound. Thailand has a high rate of STD infections, including HIV/AIDS, both in the general population and among sex workers. Condoms are readily available in all shops and pharmacies in Thailand, but they are not as safe as Western condoms.

Technically, some aspects of prostitution are illegal in Thailand (e.g. soliciting, pimping), but law enforcement is liberal and brothels are commonplace. It is not illegal to pay for sex, as there is an exemption for “special services” under Thai law, or to pay a “cash fine”.

Drugs

Thailand has extremely strict drug laws and your foreign passport is not enough to get you out of the legal quagmire. Possession and trafficking offences that would result in fines in other countries can result in life imprisonment or even death in Thailand. Police frequently raid nightclubs, especially in Bangkok, where urine tests and full body searches are conducted on all patrons. Ko Pha Ngan’s full moon parties, notorious for their drug use, also often attract the attention of the police.

Possession of cannabis (กัญชา ganchaa), while illegal, is treated less severely and if you are arrested, you may be able to get away with an “on the spot fine” even though it may cost you tens of thousands of baht. It is very unwise to rely on this. While some police officers accept on-the-spot payments for drug law violations, others strictly adhere to the strict drug laws.

Penalties for drug possession in Thailand vary in severity depending on the following elements: Category of drug, quantity of drug and intent of the possessor. If you are at risk of being arrested for drug possession, your first step should be to contact your embassy immediately. The embassy usually cannot get you out of jail, but they can inform your home country of your arrest and can often put you in touch with a lawyer in Thailand. The availability of drugs in Thailand can mislead tourists into forgetting the penalties for possessing or selling drugs, which is not wise.

Civil conflicts

In 2004, long-standing resentment in the southernmost Muslim-majority provinces of Narathiwat, Pattani and Yala erupted into violence. All are off the beaten tourist track, although the eastern railway line from Hat Yai to Sungai Kolok (the gateway to Malaysia’s east coast) runs through the region and has been repeatedly disrupted by attacks.

Hat Yai (Thailand’s largest city after Bangkok and the suburb of Nonthaburi) in Songkhla was also hit by a series of attacks. However, the main cross-border railway line connecting Hat Yai and Butterworth (on the west coast) was not affected and none of the islands or beaches on the west coast were targeted.

In September 2006, three foreigners were killed in bombings in Hat Yai. Some rebel groups threatened the foreigners, but while hotels, karaoke lounges and shopping centres were attacked, Westerners were not the target of the attacks. Southern Thailand has Islamist and jihadist groups such as Jemaah Islamiyah.

Passport

Make a photocopy of your passport and the page with the visa stamp. Always carry your passport or a photocopy of it (the law requires you to carry your passport at all times, but in practice a photocopy is usually sufficient). Many nightclubs require a passport (and ONLY a passport) as proof of age. It is not necessary to leave your passport at the hotel when you check in.

Security

It is advisable to carry your own padlock, as cheap rooms sometimes use a padlock instead of (or in addition to) the usual door locks; carry a spare key in a safe place, e.g. in your money belt, otherwise you risk losing the original, at considerable cost and inconvenience. Also consider attaching your bag with a cable to something too large to fit through the door or window.

Wildlife

There are some dangerous animals in Thailand. The most common threat comes from stray dogs, which are also common in the streets of Bangkok. The vast majority of them are passive and harmless, but a few can carry rabies. They should therefore be avoided and not fed or petted. If they try to attack you, do not run away as this encourages them to chase you as if you were prey. Instead, try to walk away slowly.

Monkeys may be cute and friendly, but in any place where unwitting tourists have corrupted them, they expect food from humans. They can be very sneaky thieves, and they can bite. As with dogs, you will not want to be bitten whether they have rabies or not. Most urban areas do not have “stray” monkeys, but Lopburi is famous for them.

Poisonous cobras can be found all over Thailand, hiding in large bushes or along rivers. You are unlikely to ever see them as they hide from humans, but they can bite if surprised or provoked. The Siamese crocodile, on the other hand, is almost extinct and is only found in a few remote national parks. Monitor lizards are common in the jungle, but despite their fearsome reptilian appearance, they are harmless.

Racial issues

Thais are generally very tolerant of people and tourists are very unlikely to be subjected to aggressive racist abuse, regardless of their skin colour. However, some visitors notice that their ethnicity attracts the attention of bystanders. These situations are usually limited to stares or unwanted attention in shops. Most Thais are often curious about the nationality of the black travellers they meet. In addition to this curiosity displayed by Thais, most travellers from different backgrounds will enjoy their stay in the country and can easily communicate with Thais who are often a little tired of young Caucasian backpackers who only see the country as a great drinking holiday.

Fights

Do not fight with the Thais. Foreigners end up outnumbering Thais 15 to one (even against those who are not initially involved), and there are usually weapons (metals, sharp objects, beer bottles, martial arts) involved. Trying to stop someone else’s fight is a bad idea, and your intention to help can hurt you.

Stay healthy in Thailand

As a tropical country, Thailand also has its share of exotic tropical diseases. Malaria is generally not a problem in the major tourist destinations, but it is endemic in rural areas along the borders with Cambodia (including Ko Chang in Trat province), Laos and Myanmar. As in all of Southeast Asia, dengue is found just about everywhere, even in the most modern cities. The only prevention is to avoid mosquito bites. Wear long trousers and long sleeves in mosquito areas after dark and use mosquito repellent (available in all corner shops or pharmacies).

The level of food hygiene in Thailand is quite high and it is generally possible to eat at street markets and drink the water offered in restaurants. It is always advisable to use common sense – for example, avoid vendors who leave raw meat in the sun with flies buzzing around – and to follow the precautions listed in our article on travellers’ diarrhoea.

HIV

Thailand has a high HIV rate (HIV prevalence among adults (15-49 years) is estimated at 1.3 percent of the population in 2014) and other sexually transmitted diseases are common, especially among sex workers. Condoms are available in all shops, supermarkets, pharmacies, etc.

Pharmacy

In Thailand, there is a pharmacy in every neighbourhood and most of them will happily sell you anything you want without a prescription. Technically, however, it is illegal and the police have been known to arrest tourists from time to time for possessing over-the-counter medicines, even things as harmless as asthma medication.

Health care

Thailand is a popular destination for medical tourism and is particularly known for gender reassignment surgery. Health standards and medical facilities in Bangkok’s top hospitals are comparable to those in the West, with significantly lower treatment costs. Bangkok’s public hospitals are also generally of an acceptable standard, although they tend to be understaffed and therefore have long waiting times. However, the quality of medical care can drop sharply as one leaves Bangkok for small towns and rural areas.

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