Thailand Travel Information
Travel and Local Information Guide
Known affectionately as ‘The Land of Smiles’, Thailand is famous for its friendly people, and its deep spiritual and cultural roots. Its history is a delicious tale full of Oriental splendour and intrigue, loaded with scintillating temples, wars, power struggles, and the unifying force of Buddhism.
Ruled by a deeply-revered monarchy, this proud nation is among the world’s most popular tourist destinations. It may be the abundance of lush jungles, dazzling temples, sandy white beaches on idyllic islands, and stunning world-class hotels and resorts that prove so alluring. It could be the shopping, the nightlife or the country’s exotic cuisine. It might be the unrivalled service of the Thais, a tradition expressed in the elegant greeting known as a ‘wai’. Or it may just be that Thailand’s magic eludes description, its charms a secret we should just sit back and enjoy.
Thailand is not a traveller’s paradise for nothing – getting here and around the country safely is a joy. Whether your destination is the deepest jungles of Northern Thailand, or the prettiest beaches of the Southern Andaman islands, you’ll have no lack of transport options. Those crossing land have buses, long distance coaches, trains or planes at their disposal. Or hire a car if feeling adventurous. Thailand’s idyllic islands can all be reached from the mainland by boat. However, more and more people are choosing to get to islands like Phuket, Ko Samui or Ko Chang by plane, courtesy of the many low-cost airline carriers which now serve them. They’re quick, safe and, to those from abroad especially, very affordable.
Colourful Thai food is as much a part of Thai culture as say traditional Thai massage or saffron-robbed monks. So deep runs their love of food that the phrase ‘kin khao reu yang?’ (have you eaten yet?) is a common greeting, a form of saying ‘how are you?’. This is not illogical if you think about it: a full stomach is a surefire way to well-being and happiness. Even more so in the Land of Smiles, where five flavours (hot, sour, sweet, salty and bitter) combine to create an exotic, often bizarre cuisine that is internationally cherished for its distinctive flavours. While best described as four regional cuisines corresponding to the country’s four main regions – North, Isaan, Central and Southern – don’t worry too much about roots. All are available everywhere from shabby street stalls to ritzy restaurants, nationwide.
Monetary exchanges and banks are everywhere, found in every town and city. ATM machines are even more ubiquitous, found in shopping malls and outside banks, shopping centres and convenience stores nationwide. Travellers cheques can easily be cashed at banks (take your passport), and major credits cards are widely accepted in restaurants, shops and hotels. Thailand is very safe. However, the usual rules apply: when taking out money (Thai Baht) don’t let anyone see your pin-code. And, especially in markets, always keep an eye on your wallet. When shopping don’t forget to ask about a VAT refund: if you’re here for less than 180 days you may be able to claim back 7% of what you paid for that new digital camera (or other luxury goods).
You’ll have no problems keeping in touch in Thailand. Internet access is nationwide. While connection speeds vary, you can surf the web everywhere from hotels to Internet cafes, coffee shops and even some bars. Charges range from expensive (especially in hotels), to staggeringly cheap (15 baht an hour in some internet cafes), or even free (coffee shops and some malls). When it comes to phonecalls, IDD (International direct dialing)isavailable from most hotels. Check rates because hotels often levy a surcharge. You can also make cheap international calls from travel shops or Internet cafes in tourist areas, or by using international payphones. Most take credit cards or phone cards available at convenience stores. However, if here for a while, the best option may be to bring your mobile handset. Buy a pay-as-you-go simcard. This will allow you to make and receive calls – local or international – for much cheaper than what international roaming will cost you.
Nowhere is the urge to buy so strong, the things to buy so varied. Thailand’s malls rival those found in any other major city around the world. Top-label fashions, hi-tech electronics, designer jewelry – they’re all here. However, it’s at its markets that Thai shopping really comes into its own. They may be sweaty, but they’re downright essential, mostly because aside from finding everything a man or women could want at bargain prices, they also exhibit some of Thailand’s famous national traits: artistry, craftsmanship, enterprise. Head to one of the many markets found all around the country, and you’ll leave piled high with everything from tribal crafts and exotic antiques, to regional delicacies and hand-printed T-shirts. Bartering is widely accepted, but remember the golden rule: bargain with a smile!
While a tolerant country in its attitude towards foreigners, there are some no-no’s that every visitor should be aware of. The Thai Royal Family is deeply revered, so stand still when the national anthem is played at 08:00 and 18:00, and stand for H.M. the King’s Tribute played before cinema screenings or other performances. Anger is regarded as crude. Remain calm and smile – you’ll find all sorts of doors opening. Also be sure to dress appropriately when visiting temples. Don't go shirtless, in shorts, hot pants, short skirts or spaghetti straps. And remove shoes when entering a Thai home or Buddhist temple. All Buddha images – large or small, ruined or not – are regarded as sacred, so don't take photographs or do anything which might indicate a lack of respect. And be aware that Thais regard the head as the highest part of the body. Do not touch them there, even as a friendly gesture. The foot being the lowest part, it is considered rude to point it at a person or object with it.