Information & Facts
There is so much to see and do in Thailand that few visitors can resist returning. With an expansive coast line and gorgeous tropical islands, Thailand is justly famed for its wonderful beaches and laid-back lifestyle. Inland, there are the iconic sights of lush jungles, rolling hills and rice paddies. As a country of Buddhists, there is also an abundance of golden temples and beautiful, spiritually-inspired architecture. One word of caution though: to avoid the common fate of temple fatigue, don't try to see too much. Rather concentrate on a few key attractions and spend some quality time in each of them.
In contrast is the buzzing atmosphere of Bangkok, whose neon lights and smoggy streets blend with gardens and floating markets to create a unique hybrid of old and new - at a frenetic pace.
One reason why Thailand is such a rewarding sightseeing destination is that it has retained its distinctive identity in the face of significant western influence. That makes visiting here an exciting and exotic experience, whether you are resort loving beach bum or an adrenaline junky exploring hill tribes and river rapids. More good news is that Thailand is blessed with year-round temperate weather so you visit at any time.
Getting around is fairly easy and remarkably safe. An excellent bus network connects even far-flung towns with the major cities, while a comfortable sleeper train connects Chang Mai in the far north with the capital Bangkok. Many people prefer to see the sights via organised tours and air-conditioned buses, but by doing so you risk missing out on the fun of getting between attractions, where you will encounter local people in unexpected ways.
Thailand sees a lot of foreigners every year and although they are used to Western practices it is still important to observe their cultural differences. Shaking hands is not a popular form of greeting and the wai (putting cupped hands in front of oneself and bowing slightly) is more acceptable. Thais use first names rather than surnames preceded by Kuhn for both men and women. Wait to be introduced to others, as it is an indication of rank. Often the hierarchical structures favour the elders in a group and respect must be given accordingly. Formal, conservative attire is favoured. Business hours are usually 8am to 5pm Monday to Friday.
High temperatures and humidity levels are experienced throughout the year. The country is hottest between March and May, and monsoon season runs from June to October. In September and October much of the country suffers from flooding, particularly in the north, north eastern and central regions. The cool season, most favoured by visitors, runs from November to February.
The international country dialling code for Thailand is +66. The outgoing code is 001, followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 00144 for the United Kingdom). City/area codes are in use, e.g. Bangkok is (0)2 and Chiang Mai is (0)53. To dial a mobile in Thailand an 8 must precede the city code. International direct dial facilities are available throughout most of the country. Mobile phone networks cover most towns, cities and holiday resorts; operators use GSM 900, 1800 and 1900 networks. Internet cafes are available in the main towns and resorts.
Public displays of affection are frowned upon. Dress is informal, although beachwear should be confined to the beach. Drugs are illegal and travellers should know that possession of even small quantities can lead to imprisonment, and that drug traffickers risk the death penalty.
Travellers to Thailand do not have to pay duty on 200 cigarettes, 250g tobacco or equivalent amount of cigars, 1 litre of alcohol, 1 camera with 5 rolls of film or 1 movie camera with 3 rolls of 8 or 16 mm film. Goods to the value of Bt10,000 per person for non-residents with transit visas and Bt20,000 per person for holders of tourist visas are allowed. Family allowances are double the individual allowances. Prohibited items include firearms and ammunition without licenses, fireworks, and drugs. Trafficking in drugs carries the maximum penalty. Restrictions apply to meat imported from countries affected by BSE or mad cow and foot-and-mouth diseases. Antiques or objects of art and religious articles may not be exported without a license.
220 volts AC, 50Hz. Both flat and round two-pin plugs are used.
As a health precaution, travellers should take medical advice at least three weeks before travelling to Thailand. Malaria is a risk outside Bangkok and the major tourist resorts, and immunisation against Hepatitis A and typhoid fever is also advised. Yellow fever vaccination certificates are required for travellers from infected areas. There has been an increase in reported cases of dengue fever, particularly in the south, and vaccination against Japanese encephalitis is also recommended. Outbreaks of leptospirosis occur during the rainy season and after flooding. There have been outbreaks of waterborne diseases in the Provinces of Khon Kaen, Lop Buri, Phitsanulok and Prachin Buri. Outbreaks of cholera have also been reported. You should drink or use only boiled or bottled water and avoid ice in drinks. If you suffer from diarrhoea during your visit you should seek immediate medical attention.There have been outbreaks of bird flu in poultry, and several human deaths, although the risk of travellers contracting the disease is slight; contact with live birds should be avoided, and all poultry and egg dishes well cooked. HIV/AIDS is prevalent in the major cities and resorts. Medical facilities are good in major cities, but good medical insurance is vital - without insurance, or cash/credit card, travellers will not be treated. Bangkok has excellent international hospitals.
Thai is the official language, although English is widely spoken in tourist areas.
The unit of currency is the Baht (THB), which is divided into 100 satang. Currency can be exchanged at the airport, banks, hotels and bureaux de change. Banks are open Monday to Friday. ATMs are available in most cities and tourist resorts. Most large hotels and shops accept travellers cheques, but a better rate will be given at banks. Most major credit cards are accepted at hotels and larger businesses.
All nationalities require passports valid for at least six months. Travellers entering Thailand are required to prove they have sufficient funds to cover the length of their stay, and are recommended to hold documentation for return/onward travel. If issued a visa prior to arrival, travellers are permitted to travel on a one-way ticket.
The political situation in Thailand is very uncertain. There have been major political demonstrations in Bangkok and outbreaks of violence. There is a threat to westerners from terrorism throughout South East Asia and travellers should be particularly vigilant in public places, including tourist resorts. Avoid the border areas and don't camp in undesignated areas in national parks. Visitors to major cities are advised to secure their passports and credit cards and not carry too much money or jewellery. In Bangkok visitors should be aware of scams, often involving gems recommended by kind strangers. In tourist areas, particularly at the Full Moon Party on Ko Phan Ngan, be careful about accepting drinks from strangers as there have been reporteds of drinks being drugged. Incidents of sexual assault do occur and female travellers should be cautious. The security situation in the southern provinces near the Malaysian border is unstable and travel to Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat and Songkhla is to be avoided - the government has announced a state of emergency in the area. Violence near the Preah Vihear temple area has been recurrent and visitors are advised to avoid travel there. Further attacks could take place in areas frequented by foreigners. Thai authorities have put security measures in place throughout the country, including Bangkok. There have been several sinkings of passenger boats thought to be caused by overloading. The monsoon season in September and October (November to March on Koh Samui) brings about flooding in the north, north-east and central regions, causing mudslides and flash floods; visitors planning to trek in the jungle during this time should check conditions with licensed tour guides before leaving.
Tipping is not expected, but is becoming more common in places frequented by tourists. A 10% service charge is added to the bill at most hotels and restaurants. Taxi drivers are not tipped.