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Islands lined with palms overhanging gorgeous beaches; superb cuisine; a rich cultural heritage; exotic rainforests; cheap shopping; hundreds of temples and religious artifacts dating back centuries; ancient villages stowed away in hidden corners of the land - this is Thailand, one of the greatest travel experiences you are ever likely to experience.
Thailand (ประเทศไทย) means the Land of Thai or humans and it is an unmissable destination, from the busy capital Bangkok, to the relaxed island of Phuket. Buddhist temples and statues are a-plenty, as Thailand towers above the rest of South East Asia in sheer volume of historical delights. Perhaps the fact that Thailand is the only Southeast Asian nation never to have been ruled by a European power is partly responsible for the wealth of history represented throughout the country, kept alive through the ages. Whatever the reason be, nothing can detract from the extraordinary pleasures Thailand offers its visitors.
The region known as Thailand has been inhabited by humans since the Paleolithic period, about 10,000 years ago. Similar to other regions in Southeast Asia, it was heavily influenced by the culture and religions of India, starting with the kingdom of Funan around the 1st century Ad.
The Thai people migrated to Thailand from their ancestral home in southern China into mainland Southeast Asia around the 10th century AD. Before this, Tavaravadi (Mon), Khmer and Srivijaya Kingdoms had dominated the region. The Thais established their own states, beginning with Lanna (Chiangmai, Chiangrai) in the far north Sukhothai (founded in 1238, the close period as Lanna) and the Ayutthaya Kingdom (mid 14th century) until the present Rattanakosin or Bangkok in the 18th century.
Much later, the European colonial powers threatened to take over Thailand in the 19th and early 20th centuries, but Thailand survived as the only Southeast Asian state to avoid complete colonial rule. The Thai kings Rama IV, V and VI have often been praised for their politics, which succeeded in avoiding colonial rule in Thailand. Nevertheless, contemporary Thailand is smaller than before, before the 19th century the Kingdom of Thailand extended into parts of eastern Cambodia southern Laos and some of the northern state of Malaysia.
There exists quite an amount of literature on this topic for those who are interested in deeper insight. After the end of the absolute monarchy in 1932, Thailand democracy has been slowly developed through the period of time with many obstruction from corruption problem which lead to the coup de tat situation by soldier for many times. If you are really curious and want an insight in Thai history from early Bangkok period, then read Pen and Sail by Nithi Eawsiiwong, a renowned Thai historian.
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At 514,000 km² (198,000 square miles), Thailand is the world's 49th-largest country. It is comparable in size to France, and somewhat larger than California. Thailand shares international borders with Laos to the north, Cambodia to the east, Malaysia to the south, and Myanmar to the west. It is possible to cross overland with all of Thailand's neighbours.
Thailand is home to several distinct geographic regions, partly corresponding to the provincial groups. The north of the country is mountainous, with the highest point being Doi Inthanon at 2,576 metres (8451 feet). The northeast consists of the Khorat Plateau, bordered to the east by the Mekong river. The centre of the country is dominated by the predominantly flat Chao Phraya river valley, which runs into the Gulf of Thailand. South Thailand consists of the narrow Kra Isthmus that widens into the Malay Peninsula.
The climate is tropical and characterised by monsoons. There is a rainy, warm, and cloudy southwest monsoon from mid-May to September, as well as a dry, cool northeast monsoon from November to mid-March. The southern isthmus is always hot and humid.
Thailand has 77 provinces and 1 special administrative region (the capital Bangkok), split into 6 geographic regions:
|North||Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai Mae Hong Son, Lampang, Lamphun, Nan, Phayao, Phrae, Uttaradit|
|Northeast||Amnat Charoen, Buri Ram, Bueng Karn, Chaiyaphum, Kalasin, Khon Kaen, Loei, Maha Sarakham, Mukdahan, Nakhon Phanom, Nakhon Ratchasima, Nong Bua Lamphu, Nong Khai, Roi Et, Sakon Nakhon, Si Sa Ket, Surin, Ubon Ratchathani, Udon Thani, Yasothon|
|Central||Ang Thong, Ayutthaya, Bangkok (Krung Thep Maha Nakhon, Special Governed District), Chai Nat, Kamphaeng Phet, Lop Buri, Nakhon Nayok, Nakhon Pathom, Nakhon Sawan, Nonthaburi, Pathum Thani, Phetchabun, Phichit, Phitsanulok, Sukhothai, Samut Prakan, Samut Sakhon, Samut Songkhram, Saraburi, Sing Buri, Suphan Buri, Uthai Thani|
|East||Chachoengsao, Chanthaburi, Chon Buri, Prachin Buri, Rayong, Sa Kaeo, Trat|
|West||Kanchanaburi, Phetchaburi, Prachuap Khiri Khan, Ratchaburi, Tak|
|South||Phuket, Krabi, Chumphon, Nakhon Si Thammarat, Narathiwat, Pattani, Phang Nga, Phatthalung, Ranong, Satun, Songkhla, Surat Thani, Trang, Yala|
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Bangkok (กรุงเทพๆ) is the vibrant capital of Thailand and, for most travellers, it is the gateway into the country. Located on the shore of the Gulf of Thailand, Bangkok is a huge city boasting incredible diversity - a reflection of the country's diversity. There are many attractive things to see such as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, The Grand Place, the canals and much more. Moreover, Bangkok is the heaven for shopping. Chatuchak market and Mahboonkrong shopping centre are well known among tourist.
Chiang Mai is the second largest city in Thailand, having taken the title from Nakhon Ratchasima in the north-east just recently. It's an ideal destination for travellers seeking a change from bustling Bangkok. Chiang Mai is set in the northern highlands of Thailand, a beautiful and rugged region or mountains, waterfalls, and incredible views.
Thailand has numerous beaches, both on the mainland and on many of the islands in the Andaman Sea or the Gulf of Thailand. For many travellers these beaches are the main draw to Thailand. With stunning white sand and crystal clear water it is no wonder the Thai beaches attract millions of people a year. Here are still plenty off the beaten track beaches if a traveller doesn't want crowds.
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Phuket is an island province in southern Thailand.The island is immensely popular for its beaches, the most famous of which is Patong Beach. Phuket has a beach for everyone and a beach combers dream come true. There is also an excellent nightlife, so after a day in the fun a traveller can party all night long.
Phi Phi Islands:
The Phi Phi Islands became world-famous with the shooting of The Beach in 1998. They are situated in the south of Thailand and are quite beautiful and popular islands, but unfortunately also quite expensive.
Other islands include Ko Samui, Koh Lanta near Krabi, Ko Samet near Bangkok and Koh Chang towards the border with Cambodia. Ko Pha Ngan (also spelt as Koh Phangan) near Ko Samui, is the location of the famous Full Moon Party island.
There are several nice beaches on the mainland. The mainland beaches include those at Pattaya, Hua Hin and Cha-Am. Mainland beaches are much easier and cheaper to get to then the islands. Certain parts of Pattaya can be very shady especially for women travellers.
Thailand is famous for its diving and snorkelling and many of the islands and beaches mentioned above offer trips offshore or on the open sea to go snorkelling and/or diving. Ang Thong Marine Park near Koh Samui is of particular interest and enjoys a national park status.
Khao Yai National Park is located several hours northeast of the capital Bangkok in the Isaan region of Thailand. It is a very attractive park with lush green forests, some wildlife and a very relaxed atmosphere and good places to stay. You can go on guided walks or rent bikes. It is best to rent a car or motorbike into the park or try and get a lift. The Dong Phayayen-Khao Yai Forest Complex is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Cycling in Bangkok and Thailand could turn to be one of the most memorable activities. There are several local tour operators who offer tours through city of Bangkok and its countryside. Check the Bangkok article for more information about possibilities, tours, agencies, prices and more.
Apart from nature, beaches and cities there are several well preserved ancient ruins which are located mostly north of the capital Bangkok. The most famous include Ayutthaya, the old capital of Thailand and Sukhotai, Thailand's first capital. Both are on the UNESCO World Heritage List because of their historical and cultural significance for Thailand.
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Kanchanaburi is located several hours west of Bangkok towards the border with Myanmar and has several features. The most famous one is the nearby Bridge over the River Kwai, part of the infamous Death Railway. The bridge over the River Kwai is famous for no other reason than the novel and film that popularised it in the 1950s. The bridge actually crosses the Mae Khlung, not the River Kwai, but after the book and film started producing an inflow of tourists, the Thais renamed part of the river to Kwae Yai, which means Big Kwai. The bridge has remained more or less unchanged since it was first built by prisoners of war during World War II.
Other things to see include several cemetaries including the Kanchanaburi War and Chongkai War cemetary. Close to the bridge is the Art Gallery and War Museum.
The elephant is the national symbol of Thailand however they face a decline in natural habitat, ivory poachers, and even killing by humans hands. Mahouts (elephant handlers) often bring domesticated elephants into cities seeking work and sell bananas to tourists to feed them, which can place them in danger due to the damaged roads and footpaths on which they walk, as well as the busy roads.
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The Thailand Elephant Conservation Park in Lampang, northern Thailand (just south of Chiang Mai) is the oldest and only government sponsored elephant center in Thailand. If you wish to participate in the mahout training course (typically only run during the high season) you must book well in advance.
Khao Sok National Park is a 739 square kilometre big park in the south of the country, located in the Surat Thani Province. It contains one of the largest and oldest rainforests in Thailand and its dense jungle is great for hiking. The park is one of the best in the country for viewing a wide variety of flora and fauna, including the Rafflesia, monkeys, birds and even larger animals such as wild board and deer. Although it used to be home to tigers as well, it is questioned whether or not they still roam the area.
The Golden Triangle actually refers to a much larger area, covering parts of Myanmar, Laos and even Vietnam. Most people visit the area in Thailand though, although it is easy to cross borders into Laos in this area. It is famous for producing opium but most people just visit to witness the confluence of the Mekong and Ruak Rivers.
The Isaan region refers to the northeastern part of Thailand, roughly the area from the northern border of Cambodia and along the western and northwestern borders of Laos. It is located on the Khorat Plateau and the Mekong river borders the area to the east. It is one of the least developed areas in Thailand and comparatively less visited than other areas further north, central and south. It has quite a few attractions though, including Khmer temples. Many people use the area to cross into Laos.
As the southern area of Isaan region was part of the Khmer region in 10th century, therefore, you can see many of Khmer heritage such as the stone temple in this area. Some were founded during the same period as Angkor Wat such as Bhimai stone sanctuary in Nakhon Ratchasrima and Phanom Rung temple in Buri Rum while some were before Angkor Wat such as Sri Korabhum castle at Surin. Travelling to Thailand, there are much more to see than your know.
Tee Lor Su water fall in Tak province is recognized to be the most beautiful one South East Asia.You will feel like being under the rain when you get close to it. The track to the waterfall is highly recommended for people who were in love with bush walking especially the rain season, you need to get there by rubber boat and continue walking which are all around 3 hours but you won't feel tired since you will enjoy the the forest and good scenery while you are paddling on the boat.
The Hill tribe groups who dwell in the highland areas of northern Thailand, and their traditional ways of life as farmers, inspire many a curious traveller to northern Thailand. The main hill tribe groups are the; Karen, Hmong, Lisu, Lahu, Akha, Mien who originated from China, Tibet and Myanmar, crossing over into Thailand where they have lived peacefully in the mountains for hundreds of years.
Although there are many hill tribe villages in Chiang Mai that have been set up for tourists and charge an entrance fee, if you are wanting to visit authentic hill tribe villages, then these will be located in remote rural areas away from the tourist crowds of Chiang Mai. So be prepared to allow plenty of time in your travel schedule to get off the beaten path for this. To get the full experience out of visiting a village, hire a local guide who has experience taking visitors to villages and has established good relationships with the villagers. There may also be the option to overnight in the village at a homestay which can be a great cultural immersion experience.
Songkran (Thai New Year) is the biggest party of the year, held during the hot month of April. In the past, people would throw water among themselves in a nice way to bless each other. These days, the festival has evolved into an all-out water fight. The place to be in Thailand to fully experience Songkran is Chiang Mai, where the entire city swells with people looking to drench each other in the sweltering April heat. The streets are lined with people and it's often faster to walk around the city than drive due to the massive crowds. Be prepared to be soaked. Leave your camera at home and don't wear white clothing! Also, take the whole thing in good fun. Everyone's enjoying themselves and it's only water after all. So grab your bucket or water pistol and hit the streets!
Songkran used to be calculated based on astrology but now the dates are the same every year. It's a national holiday and if Songkran coincides with weekends, people take extra days afterwards. If it's during the week, most of the business dy out as people generally take the whole week of. It used to be the beginning of the actual year, but nowadays like many other places the 1st of January is the beginning of the year as well.
Some people also go to wats (Buddhist monastery) to go praying and also to give food to monks.
Although Songkran might be most famous in Thailand, there are many other countries that have festivities during this time of year, which basically is devoted to the start of the sun's journey in northern directions. Countries where they celebrate this time include Lao, Cambodia, Myanmar and China (Yunnan) and several other (south and southeast) Asian people like Punjabi and Tamil have celebrations.
More about the History of Songkran.
Traditionally, Buddhist monks retreated into their temples during the middle of the rainy season in order to avoid harming any of the field, especially rice fields, which were damaged by stepping on the young rice plant springing out of the ground during this time. Nowadays you will see big posters in Thai in the bigger cities encouraging people not to drink alcohol during the Buddhist Lent.
In Ubon Ratchatanee, every year, there would be a contest of sculptures parade/show. The idea for these is that formerly, large candles were presented to temples at this time so that they would last through to the end of lent .
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This festival takes place every year on the full moon night of the twelfth lunar month when the water level is high and the climate is cooler. In these individualism days, the idea has been evaded, participants normally ask water spirits to sail away their troubles in their kratongs. Kratongs aren't the only things brought out for this holiday. Fireworks are plentiful and the Thai's often set aloft fire lanterns to send their blessings and wishes to the heavens as well. Some Thais have been known to engage in fireworks fights so you do have to be careful sometimes. With a little caution though this holiday can be a blast!
Thai culture has been very influenced by Indian and Khmer culture. This influence is readily apparent in architecture and language. Nowadays, Thai culture is also heavily influenced by Western culture, as is manifested in popular music, clothing, language and architecture. Normally, foreign cultural traits are not replicated by Thais, but are first modeled into a Thai-style.
Traditional Thai architecture, music and clothes still exist, as Thai culture continues to develop. The luuk-tung (ลูกทุ่ง = child of the rice fields) music genre is an example of a modern cultural development in Thailand. This genre deals with issues connected to being from the country-side (predominantly Esan in the Northeast) and trying to make a living or get an education in the big city (Bangkok). The music is full of hope, homesickness and also melancholy and the texts are normally in the Esan language, underlining the origin and audience of this genre. Luuk-tung is very fascinating and highly popular among many Thai people: Luuk-tung singers have risen to become stars. One famous luuk-tung singer (Jonas) is actually a Swedish national but performs his songs in Thai.
Quite a number of music- and movie stars in Thailand are luuk-krueng (ลูกครึ่ง = half children or mixed children) having one Thai parent and one Western parent. Thais think that luuk-krueng are very beautiful because their skin is fairer than most Thais.
Thai literature is another example of Western influence on Thai culture. Previously, Thai culture consisted of Buddhist texts and royal tales but has now included poems, short stories and novels. Some Thai literature has been translated into English and is available in the bookshops in the bigger cities. Chart Korbjiti is a full-time Thai author that has written several novels which have been translated into English. He elaborates on issues of everyday-life in Thailand. If you want to know about rural Thailand in former days then you should read A Child of the Northeast by Kampoon Boontawee - it's a bit old but has won literature prizes. A movie has also been made based on this novel. Asiabooks, DK Books and Chulalongkorn University Bookshop are good places to find the English language literature.
Thai movies are also a good source of entertainment and both DVDs and VCDs are cheap. A good place with a big variety of movies is Mangpong, but DVDs can be purchased in many shops including small street stalls in the Sukhumwit area. Some of the most famous Thai movies outside Thailand are Suriyothai, Ong Bak and Bangrajan, but several other movies are also worth watching. Two well-known movies are based on true stories about ladyboys or Kratoeys (กระเทย) as they are called in Thai. This is Satrii Lek (Iron Ladies) about a volleyball team from the North of Thailand consisting of only ladyboys. This team managed to become Thai champions in volleyball and became very famous. Beautiful Boxer is another entertaining story about a ladyboy Thai-boxer who became very famous in Thailand. He/she now runs his/her own Thai-boxing school, which is very popular, not least because of his/her beauty....
If you want to know about the more spiritual aspects of Thai culture you could spend some time investigating ghosts. According to some Thai people and some minority people in Thailand, ghosts and spirits are plentiful. Many Thai people are afraid of ghosts so do not make a joke of it. Some people claim to have seen and experienced ghosts and spirits and it is not uncommon either to read ghost stories in Thai language newspapers. These ghost stories are absolutely not headline stories but just part of local news. Normally people will explain that a ghost is the spirit of a person who died a sudden and/or unexpected death. Therefore many ghost stories flourished in the coastal areas after the tsunami disaster in December 2004 and some of those stories also hit the news.
The weather in Thailand is tropical with high temperatures and high humidity during the year. Although it is hot and humid all year round, some months are stiffling hot and this applies mainly to the months of April and May when temperatures in Bangkok hit 40 °C and combined with the high humidity these months are best avoided for travelling around the cities and the interior. Temperatures in the north and northeast sometimes are even a few degrees higher during these months, like in Chang Mai and the area towards the border with Laos. These areas however, are a few degrees cooler during the 'winter' months of November to March, when generally it is still warm or hot and humid but with temperatures between 28 °C and 33 °C, travelling around is more bearable.
The wet season comes with the southwest monsoon which last from June to October. In the north the wettest months are usually July and August, while in Bangkok and surroundings September is the wettest. Koh Samui on the other hand has the wettest time of the year in October and November and never has a real dry season although March to May are generally a bit drier.
Usually, temperatures along the coastal areas of Thailand, including lots of popular islands, vary less than in Bangkok and the interior. In the north, several mountain ranges keep temperatures mild and Mae Hong Son even has recorded temperatures of just several degrees above zero.
Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK) is the main airport in Thailand. Located about 25 kilometres east of downtown Bangkok, it opened in September 2006 for most domestic and all international flights. It is one of the busiest airports in the region and has connections to many intercontinental destinations, as well as hundreds of flights in Asia. Although it has only one terminal, that terminal is the fourth largest in the world, after Dubai, Beijing and Hong Kong.
Thai Airways is the flag carrier with domestic and international destinations across five continents. Other local airlines include Bangkok Airways, Orient Thai Airlines and Thai AirAsia, the Thai joint venture of Malaysian low-cost carrier AirAsia.
When it comes to international train services, the choice is limited. Due to the poor condition of the mainly single-track on parts of the Thai railway network, delays are not an uncommon occurrence.
All times are departure except the final destination. Malaysia (GMT+8) is one hour ahead of Thailand (GMT+7).
|Senandung Langkawi||Kuala Lumpur 2120 – Ipoh 0042 – Bukit Mertajam 0447 – Butterworth – Padang Besar (border) 0835 – Hat Yai 0927* |
* Thai time (GMT+7). Malaysia (GMT+8) is an hour ahead of Thailand.
(KTM & SRT)
|International Express||Butterworth 1420 – Bukit Mertajam 1506 – Padang Besar (border) 1818 – Hat Yai 2009* – Surat Thani 0054* – Chumphon 0342* – Huan Hin 0734* – Nakhon Pathom 1022* – Bangkok 1224* |
* Thai time (GMT+7). Malaysia (GMT+8) is an hour ahead of Thailand.
Change of KTM locomotive to SRT locomotive at the border
There is no direct train service by KTM from Singapore right into Thailand. Passengers will have to take a KTM Intercity train from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur or Butterworth first before changing to the next service to Thailand.
If you have a lot of money to splurge and want to travel in luxury, take the Eastern & Oriental Express.
There are multiple ways of entering Thailand, with the more commonly used entry points being
There are buses from Vientiane to Nong Khai, Udonthani, Khon Kaen and Korat (Nakhon Ratchasima).
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Thai Airways and Air Asia both have domestic services. Airplane is the safest and quickest way to travel in Thailand but also less adventurous. From Bangkok, you can fly to Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Koh Samui, Hat Yai, Krabi, Narathiwat, Phuket, Ranong, Surat Thani, Ubon Ratchathani and Udon Thani.
The State Railway of Thailand operate train services nationwide. Trains are safe but runs relatively slow in Thailand. But if you are not in a hurry it can be a great experience to travel by train. Meals can be bought on the train and the train will normally also have a bar. If you travel overnight make sure to book well in advance and avoid public holidays since the trains will be packed with people going back to their hometowns. Also make sure to book a lower berth: It is wider than the upper berth and therefore much more comfortable. It is possible to sleep really well on the train. The movements of the train which are due to the connection of the rails, makes it very easy to sleep. First class sleeper are quite boring except of course when sleeping because it just consists of a 2-person closed compartment with two berths so save the money and book a ticket for second class instead and you will have a better chance for seeing and talking to other people.
Cars and motorcycles can be rented in most major cities and airports. The international chains have offices in most of the major cities and can be booked before arrival via their websites. Local companies are located in major tourist destinations and tend to have cheaper rates than the international chains, but their fleets of cars tend to be older and not as well maintained. Check the tyre treads and general upkeep of the vehicle before committing.
Be sure to have an international driving permit and proper insurance.
There is a wide web of bus routes all around Thailand, but buses are not always that safe. Try to avoid buying your bus ticket in a very touristy area if possible as there is a big chance that you have bought a cheap ticket on a shitty bus that can break down any time. If possible you should go directly to the bus terminal where you can buy tickets for different classes on the buses that Thais themselves use, ranging from the cheapest 3rd class to the more expensive 2nd and 1st class air-conditioning and the excellent VIP buses. This is more expensive but definitely worth the money when travelling over a long distance and is also a lot safer since two drivers will take turns on driving instead of a low-budget bus that only has one driver even for long overnight journeys.
Main article: Visas (Thailand)
Getting a visa for Thailand can be a complicated affair, as there are different rules for people of different nationalities.
Tourist Visa Exemption
Citizens from the following countries qualify for a Tourist Visa Exemption which allows a stay of 30 days if entering by air, or 15 days* if entering by land. Immigration officers, in their own discretion, may ask for a proof of onward journey which will depart by the end of the 30-day period. Failing to provide this could result in refusal of entry.
Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Bahrain, Brunei, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Kuwait, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malaysia*, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Oman, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Singapore, Spain, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States of America, Vietnam.
* Malaysians entering by land from Malaysia are allowed to stay for 30 days.
Visa on Arrival
Citizens from the following countries may apply for Visa on Arrival at selected checkpoints. This visa allows a stay of 15 days. Applicants must provide 2 photos and have a fully-paid onward ticket which will depart within 15 days. Proof of funds of 10,000 Baht per person or 20,000 Baht per family is also required.
Andorra, Bhutan, Bulgaria, China, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Ethiopia, Hungary, India, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Maldives, Malta, Mauritius, Oman, Poland, Romania, Russia, San Marino, Saudi Arabia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Taiwan, Ukraine
If you do not qualify for Tourist Visa Exemption and Visa on Arrival, or if you want to stay longer than the 15 or 30 day limit, you will have to apply for a Tourist Visa at the Thai embassy. This visa allows you to stay for 60 days (for Tourist Visa Exemption countries) or 30 days (for all other countries).
See also: Money Matters
The Thai currency is the Baht (currency code: THB). One Baht is divided into 100 satang. Banknotes come in denominations of 20, 50, 100, 500, 1000 baht. Coins are issued in 1, 5, 10, 25 and 50 satang; and also 1, 2, 5 and 10 baht.
The best way to get money in Thailand is through ATMs. For a better changing rate, the gold shops are the best option. They offer a better rate than the bank.
Work permits are required for all foreigners working in Thailand, whether it is paid or voluntary work.
It is possible to study Thai language at one of the many language schools in the Thai cities. Most established are the AUA language schools, but in Bangkok you could also consider Union Language School. It is a Christian school and offers beginner, intermediate and advanced Thai courses in conversation, reading and writing. They also offer a course on newspaper reading.
It's also possible to study at universities in both Thai and English. Most renowned are Thammasat University (the first university in Thailand) and Chulalongkorn University, both of which are in Bangkok. Tuition fees are reasonable but the programs are not always recommended by foreign scholars. However, some reknowned scholars do teach at these universities so check out which lecturer conducts the course that you are interested in.
If you already know the Thai language you could take a look at the Midnight University. This site is only in Thai but offers free education. The site is run by Nithi Eawsiiwong, a renowned and interesting Thai historian who believes that education and knowledge should be for the people (which in Thailand often means the poor people).
See also: Thai Phrasebook
Thailand has never been colonized. One drawback about this is that most people speak only Thai language. However, learning English is mandatory in most schools. People in big cities can understand and speak English. Tourists will not have problem in Bangkok and other cities. For the remote areas, the tourists may have to invest a bit more attempt to communicate with local people.
Central or Standard Thai (or you can call it Bangkokian language) is understood by most people because it is taught in all schools and is the language used in all official media in Thailand. Apart from Central Thai is also spoken Southern Thai, Northern Thai and Esan (Northeastern Thai) which is very similar to the Laotian language. The local dialects can be very different from Central Thai with different pronounciations and even different words for the same thing.
The Thai language can seem a bit complicated at first. This is mainly because it is a tonal language, which means that what sounds like the same word for a westerner can be pronounced with five different tones, each tone giving the word a different meaning. The five tones are: Medium, Low, High, Falling and Rising tone (in addition to this some Southern dialects have an additional sixth tone, the high rising tone). If you are staying longer in Thailand and want to learn the language then take a language course in one of the plentyful language schools. One of the best (but unfortunately also one of the oldest) learning systems for Thai is AUA. The AUA language material consists of reading, writing and conversation materials as well as audio material. AUA language schools are also situated in the bigger cities of Thailand.
If you manage to pick up some words do not hesitate because of fear for pronouncing the words with wrong tones since Thais normally understand the meaning out of context. If pronounced wrongly there is a big chance that people will understand you and politely correct you by repeating the word with the proper pronunciation. However much or little Thai language you know, do not be a show-off because Thais hate that. If you just politely try to communicate with people in Thai language they will admire your efforts no matter how good it actually sounds and probably encourage you to learn some more.
As mentioned English is widely understood in the big cities and you might find that people will be very happy to talk to you if not just to practice their English. Some people pronounce the English words after Thai pronunciation rules which means that it sometimes sounds quite funny for a Westerner (or Farang as it is called in Thai). One example is Siam Square which should be pronounced "Saiaam Saquare" after Thai pronunciation rules. Another funny example is that the Scandinavian male name Sven should be pronounced Saven (when pronounced it sounds like Seven). This is not only Sven's that find it funny but also Thai people find it entertaining.
Food is rather cheap in Thailand if you stick to local food. Most dishes are served with rice but it is also possible to find different kinds of noodles. There is one basic truth about Thai food: it is spicy! Chillis are added to almost everything and you will normally also find dried chilli or fishsauce with chilli on each table in a restaurant. The exception from this truth is noodles. Noodle dishes are normally non-spicy. Noodles are served as dry noodles and wet noodles and in different sizes. Wet noodles (when the noodles are served in a soup) can be very refreshing in the middle of a hot day.
Thai food is often eaten with fresh vegetables which are quite safe to eat. The Thais are normally very keen on rinsing the vegetables in pure water so it does normally not give any stomach problems.
Everywhere in Thailand it is possible to find local dishes in the local restaurants and many restaurants have their own special local dish. It can be a very good experience to try a restaurant's special dish when going to smaller cities outside Bangkok. Besides Thai food it is possible to find more expensive Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Korean, Vietnamese and Western food in the bigger cities if you get tired of just Thai food. McDonald's, KFC and Pizza Hut opened in Thailand several years ago and it is rather fashionable for a Thai to eat there.
In former times utensils were not used in Thailand but now they are used by everybody, maybe except by very old people in the countryside. Utensils does not mean knife and fork but fork and spoon. Chopsticks are also used for eating sometimes, and strangely enough it is common to eat noodles with chopsticks. Thais like to focus on what they are actually eating and how they eat it.
Fresh fruits are also easily obtained in the markets for a cheap price, where the most common fruits are mango, banana, pineapple, pomelo and watermelon. Pineapples grown in the south are sweeter than pineapples grown elsewhere in the country. Many other kinds of fruits are also available depending on the season and the region you are visiting. One fruit that Thais find a delicacy is the Durian. This is a fruit that people normally hate or love. After peeling this big fruit the meat quickly starts to smell, very much like old cheese. The taste of the fruit can be compared to whipped cream with mashed banana though it is not exactly the same taste. But it is definitely worth trying some of it if you come across it on a market or in a supermarket. Some Thais say that Durian is a "hot" fruit which means that if you eat too much of it without balancing it with eating a "cold" fruit you will feel uncomfortable afterwards.
Snacks are also very common in the streets, markets and shopping malls and it can be very nice to take a snack while investigating the local market.
Thailand has great lodging for anyone on any budget. If looking for exclusive resorts, Thailand has it. Looking for a bamboo and straw hut on the side of a remote beach, Thailand has it. In recent years some of the more popular backpacker locations have started to become more expensive, therefore making the more adventurous backpackers go to more remote islands or coastlines. Eventually as those places become more popular they will become more expensive too. This is just the story of Thailand. In general even in more upscale places it is still possible to find good cheap accommodation on a beach, near a beach or near the city center.
Many of the guesthouses geared towards backpackers have very relaxed attitudes to most things like booze, drugs and sex. This attitude even extends to payment which is not strictly taken at exact times but will always be collected eventually. Remember to watch your room tab closely because they have been known to rise very quickly as more meals are eaten and beers are drank at the guesthouse.
For the boozer there is plenty to drink in Thailand. There are several domestic beers to be found that are quite good and pretty strong when compared to other Asian beers. Usually beer either comes in small or big bottles and range in price depending on where it is bought. The drinking age in Thailand is 18, although it is not really enforced outside of the fancier areas of Bangkok.
Whisky is growing in popularity and several local versions exist, which are drinkable. Most of the time of the cheaper whisky is just mixed with coke. Another common mixed drink in the islands is a bucket. Most of the time a bucket is a child's sand pale bucket filled with booze, a mixer, ice and a can of Thai redbull for a little more fun. These can be very strong and should be consumed carefully.
Energy drinks are extremely popular in Thailand. Truckers, bus drivers, business people and tourists seem to down them like water. Remember that Thai energy drinks tend to be very strong and last a very long time. Fruit juices and other more tropical drinks are popular to and easy to find. Lastly remember to only drink bottled water.
See also: Travel Health
There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to Thailand. There is one exception though. You need a yellow fever vaccination if you have travelled to a country (7 days or less before entering Thailand) where that disease is widely prevalent.
It's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to Thailand. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also a hepatitis A vaccination is recommended. If you are staying longer than 3 months or have a particular risk (travelling by bike, handling of animals, visits to caves) you might consider a rabies vaccination. Vaccination against Tuberculosis as well as hepatitis B and typhoid are also sometimes recommended for stays longer than 3 months.
Thailand is a clean country, especially when compared to other Asian countries, and you have a lower risk of becoming ill there than other countries. However, you still have a greater risk of illness than at home. There are more varieties of bacteria present just because Thailand has a tropical climate. A tropical climate, with its warmth and humidity, provides ideal conditions for disease-carrying organisms to thrive.
Before you travel there are some preventative measures that you can take.
If you are currently taking prescription medicines, take the instruction leaflet with you, and some spare medicine so that (a) there is no doubt that you are not a drug abuser and (b) if you were unfortunate enough to lose your medication, it makes life a lot easier when you're in a Thai pharmacy, trying to explain exactly which medicine it was and what it was for, because the marketing name may vary from country to country but the chemist will understand the written chemical contents.
If you wear glasses or use contact lenses, take a copy of the optician’s written results of your last examination, extra glasses or spare lenses. Prescription diving masks are available for purchase or hire in most dive shops and diving schools.
Contact a medical centre specialising in tropical diseases before you leave (for example a hospital or specialist advice centre in larger cities). A ‘last-minute’ journey to Thailand should provide no problem to an already healthy person provided that your departure airport has a ‘walk in’ medical facility. Always carry your vaccinations booklet with you.
Obviously it’s preferable to be vaccinated in advance of your travel date. What is important here is that the medical centre providing the vaccination has regular contact with the NHS advisors on Tropical Diseases.
Malaria is not very common unless going to remote jungle-areas of the country. Nevertheless you should protect yourself against mosquito-bites by using mosquito repellents and mosquito nets where appropriate.
Malaria occurs in Thailand, principally in the northern border areas and on the islands of Ko Chang and Ko Samet. Malaria is generally not a big problem in Thailand, however the few malaria parasites there are, are resistant to the normal anti-malaria (prophylactics) medicines. It makes sense then to reduce the risk by taking preventive measures without swallowing malaria prophylactics. Measures such as covering your arms, legs and feet in the evening, and spreading an anti-mosquito cream (containing DEET) on exposed areas of skin and sleeping under a mosquito net. You can also impregnate the mosquito net with an insecticide. Make sure that you always have something to hand to suspend your mosquito net from. For example, a piece of rope, screw-in hook or a screwdriver (Swiss Army knife).
If, despite all measures, you find yourself with flu-like symptoms lasting longer than two days, seek the advice of a medical doctor to rule out malaria. If you should be so unlucky to get infected by malaria Thailand is exactly the right place to be: The doctors are very professional in treating malaria. This also applies for the first two months after your return back home.
Vaccinations against DTP (diphtheria, tetanus and polio; valid for about 10 years) and hepatitis A are advised. Most people had a DTP vaccination as a child. You can safely travel with a booster in this case. The normal injection with hepatitis A anti-body has a limited effective period, and therefore it makes good sense to have this vaccination just before travelling. If you travel frequently to a country where hepatitis A is present, or plan to stay longer in tropical countries, you should opt for a vaccination with a longer effective period. Keep in mind that long-term vaccinations are more expensive and still require a booster after six months. Vaccination against enteric fever is advised if you plan to stay in Thailand longer than three months. Vaccination against yellow fever is only advised if you have been in an infected area prior to travelling to Thailand.
Dengue fever and Japanese B encephalitis
Both dengue and Japanese B Encephalitis are carried by mosquitoes, so you can take the same preventative measures as for malaria. These mosquitoes bite during the daytime and under artificial light. For more information about these diseases, and the status of any epidemics, you're advised to seek the advice of the NHS or suitable medical institution.
There is no vaccine against dengue, however, there is for Japanese B encephalitis, which is advised, if you are going to be in Asia for longer than six months.
You can assemble your own tropical first aid kit or buy a ready-made kit.
Alongside the general advice given here; ensure that you have the correct vaccinations for where you are going on holiday and remain as healthy as possible before you leave. Of course it's important that you avoid becoming ill while you are on holiday. When you are away on holiday remain alert and when in doubt, consult a doctor. The biggest threat to health in Thailand is HIV, so therefore make sure to protect yourself if you engage in a sexual relationship with a local or other travellers.
As in many other places you should avoid drinking the tap-water and also try to stay away from dogs. If you think that a dog is too close you can pretend to pick up a stone and throw it after the dog. There is a big chance that the dog is used to getting stones thrown at it and therefore will quickly disappear. Dogs are known to have possible rabies in Thailand, so try to avoid contact, even with puppies.
Jet lag & overcoming it
Jet lag is when your biological clock is confused (primarily your sleeping and waking rhythms) caused by flying through time zones. The body has to adjust to the new biorhythm for the first few days after your flight, during which time you can feel tired and irritable.
Overcoming jetlag is possible during the flight by drinking very limited amounts of coffee or alcohol, and, upon arrival don't demand too much of your body for the first couple of days. It is also handy to get into the new sleeping rhythm as quickly as possible. It's a good idea to have an hours sleep after arrival, and then stay awake until you go to bed (but have an early night). Another good method of combating jet lag is to take a Thai massage.
Diarrhoea and preventing it
A change of rhythm, climate and food (especially spicy food) can throw your stomach out of sorts. As long as it is only loose, watery stools and no other symptoms, it is normally unnecessary to take anything, just take it easy and drink plenty of water in small quantities. It may be necessary to take some Oral Rehydration Salts (ORS) dissolved in water to prevent dehydration, and this is especially important for the elderly and for children. Drugs, such as loperamide and diphenoxylate, may be taken if you really have to travel when you have diarrhoea (not suitable for children under two years old). These drugs have the effect of sedating the intestine, which stops stomach cramps and suppresses the feeling of diarrhoea. Only use these drugs when you are on the move and cannot get to the toilet regularly. If the diarrhoea persists for more than 48 hours, and is accompanied by headache, vomiting, or blood in the stool or you’re taking any other medication at the time, you should contact a doctor. The doctor can send a sample for lab analysis to determine exactly what’s going on. Your diarrhoea can stop quite quickly, but can leave a lasting feeling of lethargy due to the fact that your intestines needs time to recover.
To prevent it, only consume water and soft drinks from properly closed and sealed tins or bottles, or drink boiled water, such as tea or coffee. Ice is trustworthy in the form of machine-produced ice cubes. Fruit juice is safe, provided no water has been added. Food, particularly meat and fish, must be well cooked. It is not really advisable to eat the western-style salads offered in salad bars (even in expensive hotels). Hamburgers are generally a lot less safe than the normal meat the locals eat. Generally it is safe to eat from street stalls, even though you would expect the opposite. Eat where it's busy, the time between food preparation and consumption is the shortest at these places, which is good for the hygiene. Take note of how the plates, glasses and cutlery is washed. There is often no running water and only a bucket with soap in it, baking in the sun. If that is the case, it's sensible to find somewhere else to eat. Restaurants where you can see how clean it is are recommended. With regards to street stalls, it’s probably smart not to eat meat at the end of the day. The meat sometimes has been lying around all day un-refrigerated. A tried and trusted remedy to prevent dehydration during diarrhoea is to drink cola or bouillon. Cola can be bought everywhere and you can bring stock cubes and a single-cup beverage with you from home.
To avoid the Bilharzia infection, carried by tiny worms, don't swim in stagnant water, especially in the reservoirs in northern Thailand. The southern part of the Mekong river is also not safe for swimming.
Take all cuts, scratches etc in the tropics seriously: keep a close eye on them, clean them with disinfectant and keep them covered with a plaster during the day. Don't scratch mosquito bites.
Always use a high factor suntan lotion on exposed skin, even in the rainy season. Snorkelling with a T-shirt and shorts is sensible. The sun is extremely strong at the equator, even if it's cloudy.
You can avoid attracting biting insects, by not wearing brightly coloured or black clothing, strong perfume or deodorant or aftershave (try to avoid resembling a flower). It you are prone to skin irritations, wear cotton or linen clothing. You can help avoid prickly heat by using talcum powder on your body after your morning shower.
Wash or disinfect your hands after using the toilet, and don't bite your nails.
During the dry season, in the woods, there is a slight chance that a tick may land on you (in European woods there is a far greater chance). Check your body for these bugs in the morning and evening, especially behind the knees and in the crotch. Should you find one, don't try to just pull it out, use tick pincers (obtainable from chemists) or seek medical attention. If, after being in the woods, you find a bloody circular skin wound, slowly increasing in size, seek professional medical attention.
Sunstroke can be prevented by wearing a hat, and sunglasses. Always keep a bottle of water with you, especially if you are in the wilderness and are unlikely to come across drinking water. If you suspect sunstroke (feeling light-headed, headaches), you can prevent it from getting worse by drinking water and finding somewhere in the shade to sit and stay there, if possible.
If upon your return (and this can also be many months later), you contract influenza, stomach problems, or experience some other unusual symptoms, contact your doctor, and let them know where and when you were last in Thailand, and what you did there. If you have a lot of close contact with the local population it's sensible to take a TB test.
See also: Travel Safety
Regarding violent crimes, such as rape, murder or attacks, Thailand is pretty safe. The acts of violent crimes committed against foreigners are pretty low, although with the high number of tourists that go to Thailand every year it does happen. Therefore it is a good idea if out late at night in bigger cities to be careful. Smaller towns or more resort oriented areas occasionally do have acts of violent crime also.
Non-violent crimes, such as pick pockets or con-artists, are very common in Thailand. A common one is robbing people while they sleep on long-distance buses, some cases people were even drugged in order to make it easier. In general keep everything on your person that you don't want to lose and don't accept food from strangers.
Another con-artist trick that is occurring more and more often is usually targeted towards women. A man, or sometimes a girl, will talk to a woman in a public place and tell her a sibling or relative is going to study abroad in her country and if she will talk to them to calm them down. They usually will show up in a car filled with big men and take the victim to a random part of town and demand them to give them money. Sometimes even taking the victim to a bank and making them withdraw more money. In general if going to meet up with a stranger, meet in a public place or meet them with a group of people you know.
Scams are a growing problem in Thailand. In general when travelling in Thailand if it is too good to be true then it is absolutely too good to be true. Bus, train and boat tickets have pretty set prices and if that price is drastically reduced then something is up. This also applies to hotel rooms and resorts. Many people have found themselves in situations they did not want to be in because of a scam. Luckily the majority of the time the only thing that is lost is money, pride and time when someone is scammed in Thailand.
There are countless internet bars across the country in big and small towns. Internet cafés are widespread and most are inexpensive. Prices as low as 15 baht/hour are commonplace, and speed of connection is generally reasonable, but many cafes close at midnight. Higher prices prevail in major package-tourist destinations (60 baht/hour is typical, 120 baht/hour is not unusual). Keyloggers are all too often installed on the computers in cheap cafes, so be on your guard if using online banking, stock broking or even PayPal. Remember that in the smaller towns and more traditional areas the owners and staff of internet bars prefer if customers take off their shoes at the entrance and leave them outside. This might seem strange although this gesture goes a far way to make friends and give a positive image of foreigners to Thai people.
Outside the most competitive tourist areas, free Wi-Fi is not as common as in neighbouring countries in many budget hotels and guesthouses and they may charge small fee for Internet by LAN or Wi-Fi even if you bring your own laptop. Wi-Fi is commonly available in cafes and restaurants serving Westerners.
See also: International Telephone Calls
The international code for Thailand is 66. 999 connects to all emergency services. Standard GSM emergency number 112 is supported in mobile networks. 911 for Tourist Police Department, English available.
For mobile phone users, Thailand has three GSM mobile service providers - AIS, DTAC and Truemove - which may be useful if you have a mobile phone that will work on either one or both of the GSM 900 or 1800 frequency bands (consult your phone's technical specifications). If you have one, you can buy a prepaid SIM card for any of the Thai carriers in any convenience store for as little as 50-200 baht and charge it up as you go. Using your own mobile phone while on holiday with a Thai pre-paid SIM card can save a lot of money and lets you give your number to family back home, so they can have an emergency contact number.
Thailand Post is the Thai postal service that deals with all local and international mail in Thailand. The business is operated from local post offices. Post offices are easy to recognise with their red white and blue motifs and the words 'Thailand Post' in English and Thai above the entrance. They are open from Monday to Saturday, usually 8:30am to 4:30pm (main ones until around 8:00pm), though keeping shorter hours on Saturdays (usually until 1:00pm). They are generally closed on Sundays and Public Holidays. Each post office offers a comprehensive service which includes an Express Mail Service (EMS) and parcel post. They also have a price calculator for letters, postcards and parcels, both domestically as well as internationally. They also have a track and trace system and money transfer services. If you want to send packages, it might be a good idea to check with private courier companies like DHL, TNT or UPS, as they are fast, reliable and generally quite competitively priced.
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Ask Sander a question about Thailand
Although I spent a mere two weeks in Thailand, I feel I managed to sample a bit of everything the country has to offer, and might be helpful with some initial pointers on what to do and where to go.
Ask timinphuket a question about Thailand
I have lived in Phuket since 2000 and enjoy living here and exploring the interesting places that you can find I write about things to do in Phuket (http://timinphuket-thingstodo.blogspot.com/) and restaurants that I have visited in Phuket (http://timinphuket-restaurants.blogspot.com/) - I hope that I can help. I have started a concierge which may have answers for you - http://aconcierge4phuket.blogspot.com/.
Ask vickon a question about Thailand
I am a 28 years old Greek man and I travelled in Thailand on summer of 2008. I 've been in Bangonk, Chiang Mai, Phuket, Phi Phi island, Krabi, Samui, Phangan. I would be happy if i could give some imformations for the places i 've been.
Ask TravelMc a question about Thailand
I have travelled around a protion of Thailand alone and am happy to talk to anyone about it - it is a different experience and can be quite a culture shock if you have never travelled to such a different place before.
Ask nini a question about Thailand
I spent 2 months in Thailand in the summer of 2003. I began my trip in Ayuthaya seeing the Historical Park. I traveled by train to Phitsanulok. I enjoyed the riverside park where they offer outside aerobic classes for all ages. It is a great walking town with lots to see and do. Then I went to Phrae on the way to Chiang Mai where I stayed for 1 month and taught English to 2 men from the Disabled Center, a community that encourages business ownership. Check it out online. Then on to Hua Hin, a beachside resort where the King and Queen live. Then Kanchanaburi to see the Bridge on the River Kwai. Bangkok was an enjoyable city with river travel to anyplace you want to go. My budget was $100 USD a week but it could be done for much less. Eating street food and fruit is safe in Thailand.
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