Where is Thailand?
The Kingdom of Thailand is located in southeast asia, and borders Burma (Myanmar) to the northwest, Laos to the northeast, Cambodia to the southeast and Malaysia to the south. Having extensive coastlines to the Andaman Sea in the west and the Gulf of Thailand in the south and east, Thailand is the worlds 50th largest country by area and 21st most populous.
History of Thailand
The country is divided into 5 regions. The largely mountainous North region is home to the hill tribes and the regional capital is Chiang Mai. To the northeast, the largely underdeveloped region of Isaan occupies a large, slightly elevated plateau and hosts the region’s capital city of Khorat. The Central low-lying region contains the Thai capital Bangkok and the Eastern region with its islands and beaches lies within easy reach of Bangkok. The Southern region has extensive coastlines to both the Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman Sea with many fine beaches and hundreds of islands.
With the earliest Thai kingdom established in 1238, Siam (is it was then called) became a constitutional monarchy in 1932 and became Thailand in 1938. Since the 1930’s the country has seen numerous charters and constitutions leading to “the peoples” constitution” of 1997 which saw the first directly elected legislature and a more open promotion and approach to human rights. The Thai monarchy has been largely unaffected by the various political upheavals over the years and is greatly revered by the Thai people.
With such a large variance in both regional cultures and geography, along with very low prices and cost of living, it’s not hard to see why Thailand is south east Asia’s top tourist destination. From trekking and touring through the villages and stunning scenery of the North, Lazing on tropical beaches on the south, to exploring the historical treasures of temples and ancient ruins to the bustling centres of the Central region, Thailand holds something extraordinary for everyone.
Thailand Visa Requirements
All travellers to Thailand must have a valid passport with one completely blank visa page and at least six month remaining validity. By law visitors must carry their passport at all times whilst in the country, however, in practice a photocopy will usually suffice.
Visitors from many countries including the US, Canada, most EU countries, Russia, Japan, Hong Kong, most ASEAN countries, and Australia do not need a visa. If arriving by air granting of a 30 day permit is usual, with a 15 day permit issued to visitors arriving by land. One exception to this is that visitors from Korea, Brazil and Peru are generally granted a 90 day permit. Proof of onward transit by way of a valid ticket is also a requirement – this is sometimes strictly applied or can be completely ignored. Also proof of adequate finances for the duration of stay in Thailand may be required (i.e., cash 10,000 Baht per person and 20,000 Baht per family). Again this may or may not be enforced, however it is best to ensure you do have the funds required.
Visitors from some countries will either be required to obtain a visa before arrival in Thailand or may be issued with a visa upon arrival. These visas allow visitors to remain in the country for a maximum of 15 days.
Travellers travelling from/through countries which have been declared Yellow Fever Infected Areas must acquire an International Health Certificate verifying the receipt of a Yellow Fever vaccination.
As entry requirements may change from time to time it is strongly advised that you check with the department of foreign affairs or your local consulate or embassy for the current requirements.
For more information http://www.mfa.go.th/main/en/home
Thailand Travel Health
Thailand is a tropical country and as such is prone to tropical diseases. Malaria, although not generally a problem in the main tourism areas, can be endemic along the borders of Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar. Additionally dengue fever, another mosquito-born disease common in southeast Asia, can be encountered nationwide, including the cities. A good insect repellant along with long sleeves and pants during the high activity times of dawn and dusk, can go a long way to preventing getting bitten in the first place. Also be aware that the mosquito responsible for dengue fever is most active during daylight hours. Many doctors will recommend immunisation against hepatitis A and typhoid.
Water quality can vary from place top place but is generally quite low, so bottled or at least boiled water is recomended. The hygiene of food preparation and storage of street sellers is also quite variable, so common sense is recommended. The level of HIV in Thailand is quite high in Thailand, especially amongst sex workers and injecting drug users, with an adult infection rate of about one in sixty six.
There are a lot of stray dogs in Thailand, and although not mandatory a Rabies vaccination is worth serious consideration.
Medical facilities in the Thai cities and major tourist areas is considered to be of a high standard, with hospitals and clinics readily available, but more remote areas offer limited access and facilities. All cover medical insurance is highly advisable for all travellers and sometimes even required by emergency rooms before treatment will be given. It is recommended that you always carry details of your medical insurance with you.
Although generally a peaceful people with a respect for tourists, Thailand has suffered political unrest in recent years resulting in rallies and demonstrations which can sometimes turn to violence and rioting. Being caught in the middle of these disturbances may easily lead to inadvertent arrest, injury or even worse, so the best advice is to stay well away from any signs of rallies or protests.
Thailand has very severe and strict laws and penalties for drug use and drug trafficking, with visitors and tourists being shown no leniency. Punishment by western standards is harsh , sometimes resulting in life imprisonment or even death; you have been warned.
Prostitution is rampant in Thailand and “sex tourism” a sad fact. Even though the legal age of consent is 15, it is 18 for prostitutes. The Thai authorities take a very dim view of sex with minors and the harsh penalties reflect this. Additionally, even if a tourist has a partner over the age of consent in Thailand, they may still be prosecuted by their home country. All Thais are required to carry an identity card, and this may be the only way of finding the age of a potential partner. Age is denoted according to the Thai calender.
The card will state that they were born in 2533 or earlier if they were over the age of 18 on January 1st 2008 (in the Thai calendar, AD 2008 is the year 2551).
Wherever there is tourism and a local population with a lower standard of living, there tends to be crime and scams. All travellers should pay particular attention to the security of their possessions and travel documents, as well as their personal safety. Common sense should prevail and be applied at all times, especially at night or in crowded places where theft, pick-pocketing and mugging may be a possibility.
There had been an worldwide increase in terrorism in recent years, with south east Asia not escaping this worrisome trend. Extremists in the deep south (particularly in the provinces of Pattani and Narathiwat) have been active with Bombings, shooting and beheadings, and tourists should practice extreme caution in travelling these areas. For up to dat information and travel alerts, visitors should contact their country’s travel advisory agency.
If travelling outside of major towns and cities by road, be aware that in Thailand vehicles generally drive on the left, but this seems to be ignored by the locals in many instances. Dangerous and bad driving is endemic in Thailand and extreme care should be exercised.
If faced with an emergency in Thailand here are the numbers to call:
Fire Brigade 199 ,
Mobile Police 191,
Bangkok Ambulance 1554 or 255-1133-6,
Chiang Mai Ambulance 1669,
Tourist police 1699, or 1155, or 02 281 5051
What is Thailand Local Currency?
The unit of currency in Thailand is the baht (THB). 1 baht is divided into 100 satang. Banknotes are in denominations of 1,000 (brown), 500 (purple), 100 (red), 50 (blue), 20 (green) and 10 (brown) baht. Coins consist of; 25 satang, 50 satang, 1 baht, 5 baht and 10 baht.
When out and about, useful denominations to carry are 20 and 100 bart notes as many smaller shops, vendors and taxi drivers may not be able to give change for larger notes.
The Thai baht was fairly stable against the US dollar in the 2008-2009 period, with an average of 34.98 baht to US$1, a high of 36.30 and a low of 32.88.
ATM’s are plentiful in the cities, larger towns and major tourist destinations, but sparse or non existent in villages and on many of the islands. Making cash withdrawals with a debit card should pose no problems and often will provide a favourable exchange rate, but be aware that many of the transactions will incur a small fee in addition to any charged by your own bank for foreign currency transactions. Traveller’s checks are also exchanged in many hotels and most banks, but don’t forget your passport.
Major credit cards are also widely accepted in hotels, shopping malls and restaurants , especially in tourist areas, but fraud is widespread and cards should be used sparingly and with discretion.
Thailand imposes a sales and services tax (VAT) at the rate of 7% which in almost all cases will be included in the advertised prices at shops and restaurants. Some Thai stores participate in a scheme whereby the VAT on larger purchases can be claimed back on departure.
What is Thailand’s Weather?
Thailand is a tropical country which generally means that it is hot, wet and humid for most of the year, but with distinct regional differences and variations throughout the year. The are to the north of the capital Bangkok experiences three distinct seasons, while the southern regions generally experience only two.
In northern Thailand the weather is generally dry between November and May, with the months from March to May experiencing higher temperatures. in November to February there will often be cooler breezes, whilst May to November is dominated by the southwest monsoon, bringing the area’s heaviest rainfall.
In the south the two seasons are wet, and dry, although these seasons tend to occur at different times on the east and west coasts of the long peninsular. On the west coast the monsoon brings rain and storms from April to October, whilst on the east coast the months from September to December bring the most rain. The southern region has an average annual rainfall of about 2,400 mm, whereas the the north is drier with 1,400 mm per annum. Daytime temperatures can reach 35 Celsius and above, whilst the northern areas are often 2 – 5 degrees cooler where winter nigh time temperatures can drop to around 4 Celsius in the mountainous areas.
Culture of Thailand
The Thai people are renowned for their peaceful friendly and softly spoken manner, and it’s difficult not to become endeared to this mild natured national personality and its graceful ways. Even in the cities and tourist areas where the ancient cultures and customs of the more remote villages have blended with a more liberal and westernised way of life, Thai people still practice and display many of the traditions and customs which make this country and its people so unique.
In contrast to many western countries, large tips are not expected in restaurants or hotels. Smaller gratuities are however, quite common practice for both the locals and tourists. As a guideline, rounding up the bill in restaurants and taxis is considered polite, whilst 50 – 100 baht for assistance with your luggage at a hotel will be well received as will a small token of appreciation for the chambermaids. More up-market hotels and restaurants will include a 10% service charge in the bill.
Shopping in Thailand is an art. With a positive attitude, sense of humour and some respect the whole process of agreeing on a price for goods at the many markets and stalls can be quite an enjoyable experience. Bartering or more correctly haggling, involves a process of negotiation between the buyer and seller by which a final price may be agreed upon by both. This can often mean paying 40-50% less for something than the original asking price, and can be good fun if respect is shown and given. It’s always a good idea to know the approximate worth of something before you start bargaining, as you may well up paying more that what the item is worth.
The overwhelming majority of Thais are practicing Theravada Buddhists, and it’s difficult to go anywhere in Thailand without seeing temples known as wats, Buddha statues, and the omnipresent orange robed monks.
Whilst the Thais are very tolerant with tourists, any visitor should take the time to understand this unique culture and its customs as there are many do’s and don’ts. Public displays of affection between men and women are frowned upon in Thai culture, as is a woman showing too much skin (especially shoulders and legs above the knee).
The top of the head is considered sacred, and patting a Thai on the head (even a child) is a big
Monks and novices are not allowed to touch women in any way. If as a woman you want to make a gift to a monk or novice, you should place the gift on the ground so it can be picked up, and sometimes a gift can be placed on a special cloth they carry for this purpose. It is illegal to show disrespect towards the royal family of Thailand and prison terms up to 15 years are not uncommon. It is also illegal to
What Languages Are Spoken In Thailand?
In practice, english is spoken or at least understood by many Thais, especially those involved in the Tourism areas, so you shouldn’t have too many problems with communicating.
Thailand Transport Options
Thailand is a large country and if you are planning on doing exploring while you are there, travel options abound. The main international airport is Bangkok, which is Southeast Asia’s busiest airport. Thailand’s west coast is served by the country’s second largest airport located, on the island of Phuket, and the smaller airport of Krabi, whilst on the east coast there is the Bangkok Airways owned Ko Samui airport, situated on an island about 700 km south of Bangkok in the Gulf of Thailand. Chiang Mai to the north has a busy international airport, whilst the airport in Udon Thani in Thailand’s northeast, serves as a gateway to nearby Laos. Most airports have regular domestic services especially Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Phuket, and although expensive by Thai standards, fares can be relatively inexpensive as well as getting you to your destination quickly and in comfort.
There are many airports in Thailand which cater for domestic flights and chances are that there will be an airport either at, or at least close to where you want to go. The national carrier is the well respected Thai Airways which offers regular flights to many destinations and is considered to be the most reliable, but not the cheapest. There are also a number of budget priced airlines including Bangkok Airways, Nok Air, Thai AirAsia, an PB Air. Booking well in advance will usually result in cheaper prices, with the price rising as the flight fills up. In many cases the advertised price of a ticket will not include “hidden” surcharges, and taxes, so it’s always best to check the final cost before purchasing a ticket.
Travelling by train is a good option if you don’t mind taking your time and experiencing more of the Thai way of life. The State Railway of Thailand has a 4000 Km network of tracks covering much of the country, and a fleet of trains with varying speeds and levels of comfort. Tickets can be purchased on a three tier system (1st, 2nd and 3rd class) with prices usually reflecting the level of comfort, facilities and the speed of the train. Sleeper compartments are also available on many trains and routes, and pre-booking is recommended.
Travelling by bus in Thailand can be a bit hit and miss. Levels of comfort and the reliability of the service is often grossly exaggerated by some of the more unscrupulous operators and reports from travellers strongly recommend sticking with the government run BKS bus service, which has reasonable prices and a terminal in most provinces.
Taxis with a meter are plentiful in Bangkok, common in Chiang Mai but rare in other areas. Taxis are one of the best and most reliable ways to get around the city, but unmetered taxis should be avoided where possible. The Tuk-tuk is a small three wheeled vehicle based on a motorbike, and are very common in Bangkok and used (mainly by tourists) as an alternative to taxis or buses). These vehicles are not usually metered and a price should always be negotiated before you enter the vehicle. Tuk-tuk drivers are notoriously pushy and will often put your bags in the vehicle before a price has been agreed.
Cars can be rented in all of the cities and tourist areas, and most of the larger international rental companies are represented in addition to many locally run operations. If the thought of driving in Thailand seems a little traumatic, some rental companies offer a driver for a reasonable fee. Visitors are required to hold an International Drivers License or a Thai license. By sticking to the more reputable rental companies, you may pay a little more, but there should be less likelihood of problems or scams.
Transport scams are rampant in Thailand. Travellers and especially backpackers in Bangkok should beware of the illegal bus services often called “VIP” buses. These vehicles often turn out to be a cramped minivan. Theft of belongings (especially on overnight trips) is becoming common. Shopping and restaurant scams often coincide with a timely “breakdown” with the driver taking commissions from store and restaurant owners while passengers wait for the vehicle to be “repaired” .
Some of the smaller and less reputable vehicle rental companies refuse to refund deposits because of supposed damage to the vehicle. Another scam is have someone follow the car with a spare set of keys and then steal it. Always report any theft by contacting the tourist police (dial 1155). Some visitors manage to rent a vehicle without having a valid license, please take take note that that would invalidate any insurance in the event of an accident.
Many tuk-tuk and taxi drivers are involved in Restaurant, gem and shopping scams and prowl around looking for tourists. Most appear very friendly but persuasive and claim to have a brother, cousin or uncle who owns some kind of shop and will give extra special prices… etc. These places are usually off the beaten track and nowhere near where you wanted to go in the first place. If you feel this is happening to you, be firm but polite and walk away.
Thailand Travel Tips
Thailand Local Food
Fruit juices and iced drinks are a delicious, inexpensive and healthy way too cool down on a hot day, and widely available at restaurants and street stalls. Favorites include Iced coconut water, iced tea and freshly squeezed orange juice.
Alcohol in Thailand is surprisingly expensive compared to the price of food and goods. If you are a lover of wine, you won’t find much in Thailand, and if you do it will be either of poor quality or very expensive (and occasionally both). Imported drinks, especially spirits are quite pricey, whereas the local “whiskey” is very potent and affordable. Local beers are usually around 6% alcohol with the top brands being Singha and Chang. If you prefer premium foreign beers, these are generally 10-50% more expensive than the local equivalent.
There is no minimum legal drinking age in Thailand, although a person has to be over 18 to buy alcohol.
Thailand Local Timezones
Thailand has one time zone and is seven hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT+7) and does not implement daylight saving.
In Thailand the electricity is delivered at 220 volt and 50 cycles. The power sockets are mostly two pin and accept both flat or round pin plugs. Some sockets are designed to accept both flat and round pin plugs. Adaptors are readily available and inexpensive.
Thailand Dutyfree Limits
When entering Thailand, the follow goods can be brought through customs by each passport holder regardless of age.
200 cigarettes or 250 grammes of tobacco or equal weight of cigars; 1 litre of alcoholic liquor; One still camera with 5 rolls of film or one movie camera with 3 rolls of 8 or 16 mm. film.
For holders of transit visas or who can obtain a visa on arrival: up to THB (baht) 10,000 per person or THB 20,000 per family and for holders of tourist visas: up to THB 20,000 per person or THB 40,000 per family.
Prohibited items include (without license): Firearms and ammunition including explosive articles and fireworks, drugs of narcotic nature, (e.g. heroin) Gold bullion must be declared on arrival and can, if no import license is available, be left in Customs bond at the airport of entry to be retrieved on departure. Meat from any country affected by Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) or mad cow and foot-and-mouth diseases. The measure covers meat from all European Union countries and any other infected country. Passengers carrying such diseased meat will be fined THB 40,000 and/or imprisoned for up to two years.
When leaving Thailand, tavellers are prohibited from taking Antiques or objects of art, regardless of whether they are officially registered or not. Also prohibited are religious items, except for one small Buddha image such as would be normally carried by a person.