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From idyllic beaches with turquoise seas and white sands, to bustling cities sporting exotic markets, and a vibrant, colourful nightlife, it is easy to see why Thailand has become one of the most popular tourist destinations for the adventurous and young at heart.
A turbulent, bloody history spanning several millennia has left Thailand scattered with ruins, forgotten temples and deserted cities, revealing a rich tableau of past eras that contrasts sharply with the more modern aspects of the nation's contemporary face.
As Thailand's tourist industry has boomed, helped to some extent by Hollywood's influence (the country has been the setting for movies like The Man with the Golden Gun, The Bridge over River Kwai, and Alex Garland's The Beach), numerous large and luxurious resorts have been developed. Yet, for those with a smaller budget, many cheap, comfortable but more basic accommodation options are still readily available on the islands and beaches.
The size and geographical diversity of Thailand provides for a variety of activities: snorkelling, diving and a host of watersports are very popular around the islands, while inland enthusiasts can trek into the mountains or cycle along the flat river areas of the northeast. Bustling, crowded cities like Bangkok display the wilder urban side of Thailand, ensuring the country has something to offer everyone who visits.
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, the destination is justly famed for its wonderful beaches and laid-back lifestyle, while the inland region offers 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, visitors shouldn't try to see too many, and should rather concentrate on a few key attractions and spend some quality time in each of them. In contrast is the buzzing atmosphere of Bangkok, where neon lights and smoggy streets blend with gardens and floating markets to create a unique hybrid of old and new.
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 travellers are resort-loving beach bums or adrenaline junkies exploring hill tribes and river rapids. More good news is that Thailand is blessed with year-round temperate weather, so travellers can visit at any time, though in the months from June to October, rough sea conditions may make some islands unreachable via the ferry system.
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 Chiang 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 visitors risk missing out on the fun between attractions, where they will encounter local people in unexpected ways.
The Damnoen Saduak Floating Market is an escape from the Western-style shopping malls of Bangkok and a glimpse into the past, revealing the centuries-old way of life of the residents whose stilt-houses perch on the canals and make their living selling fruits, vegetables and flowers. Visitors can explore the market with boat trips and sample the wares of local farmers as they do so. They can also enjoy the experience of floating through one of Thailand's many river villages.
The Royal Grand Palace is a popular Bangkok attraction. Construction of the palace began in 1782 and was completed in time for the coronation of King Rama I, and opened in 1785 to signify the end of the Burmese invasion of Thailand. The palace itself is made up of a complex array of smaller buildings, most notably the Wat Mahatat (the Palace Temple) and the Wat Phra Keow (the Royal Chapel), which houses the famous Emerald Buddha sculpted from a single piece of jade. It's one of the most revered objects in Thailand.
The Royal Barges National Museum houses several decorative royal barges, the earliest of which dates back to 1357. Most of the barges served as war vessels at one point, and were subsequently used on royal or state occasions on the Chao Phraya River. Due to their age, the barges are now rarely used, but their intricate designs reflecting Thai religious beliefs and local history are of great importance to the country's heritage. The barges were last used at the end of 1999 to celebrate the king's 72nd birthday.
Situated adjacent to the Royal Grand Palace, Wat Pho is Bangkok's oldest, largest and most famous temple, recognised by the UNESCO Memory of the World Programme. The grounds of Wat Pho contain over 1,000 statues of Buddha, and the temple houses one of Thailand's most spectacular sights, the Reclining Buddha: a 151-foot (46m) long and 49-foot (15m) high statue that is gold-plated and inlaid with Mother-of-Pearl on the soles of its feet. In the 19th century King Rama III turned Wat Pho into a centre of learning and it is considered the birthplace of the traditional Thai massage. Visitors today can still have a massage and learn about the ancient art of Thai Medicine.
American silk entrepreneur Jim Thompson deserves most of the credit for the current popularity of Thai silk around the world. Having travelled to Bangkok with the US Army in World War II, Thompson was struck by the beauty of Thai silk and began marketing it to US buyers in 1948, establishing the Thai Silk Company Limited. His fame increased when, in 1967, Thompson disappeared in the Cameron Highlands of Malaysia under mysterious circumstances. He has never been heard of since. The house itself is an excellent example of Thai residential architecture, and inside is a display of his Oriental art and antique collection, as well as an array of his personal belongings.
Some 13 miles (21km) west of Chiang Mai lies the Doi Suthep Mountain, famous for the Wat Phrathat temple perched on the summit. Legend has it that in the late 14th century King Ku Na was looking for somewhere to house a collection of holy relics. He placed them in a howdah (canopied seat) on the back of an elephant and let the animal wander. The elephant proceeded to climb Doi Suthep, on top of which it trumpeted, turned round three times and knelt to indicate that this was the spot. Within the site are bells, pagodas, statues and shrines influenced by both Buddhist and Hindu culture, including a model of the Emerald Buddha and a statue of the Hindu god Ganesh. Wat Phrathat can be reached either by a flight of about 300 steps, or by funicular, and offers breathtaking views of the countryside.
Set in the lush Doi Suithep-Pui National Park, only 10 miles (15km) out of town, the Mae Sa Waterfall is definitely worth visiting on any Thailand holiday. Travellers should follow the winding pathway to the waterfall's plummeting 10-tiered cascades. There are various little secluded areas along the trail where visitors can relax with a picnic. The jungle villages dotting the riverbanks are also fascinating to see. This popular picnic and swimming spot gets a bit over-crowded on weekends.
Boasting giant pandas from China, Chiang Mai Zoo has earned itself quite a reputation with travellers as one of the top attractions in the region. The perfect destination for a day trip with the kids, the Chiang Mai Zoo also features exhibits such as a walk through aviary, Gibbon Island, an aquarium, a Cape Fur seal exhibit and even a special Children's Zoo. With two waterfalls, plenty of space to run around and a fabulous variety of exotic residents, a trip to the zoo is a must for all animal lovers and a great way to spend the day. Seal shows and other animal shows are conducted several times a day.
Dating back to the 13th century, the buddha at Wat Traimit stands nearly 10 feet (3m) tall, weighs over five tons and is believed to be solid cast gold, the largest gold statue in the world. It was discovered by accident in 1957 when an old stucco image was dropped by a crane, shattering the plaster shell to reveal the brilliantly shining gold underneath. The statue is breathtaking and is thought to have come from Ayutthaya covered in plaster to hide it from the Burmese invaders.
Originally built in 1874, the Bangkok National Museum is located within the grounds of the Royal Palace, just a 15-minute walk from the palace of the Emerald Buddha, and displays thousands of artefacts ranging all the way from Neolithic times to present day. It is known as Thailand's central treasury of art and archaeology. Many of the actual buildings are works of art themselves, surrounded by brightly coloured pavilions and boasting some of Southeast Asia's most ornate jewellery and historical treasures. A visit to the museum is a must for anyone who wants a better understanding of Thailand's rich culture and history.
Wat Suthat is among the oldest and largest temples in Bangkok and is home to the beautiful 13th-century Phra Buddha Shakyamuni, a 25-foot (8m) tall bronze Buddha image that was brought from Sukhothai and contains the ashes of King Rama VIII. It is also known for exquisite wall paintings that were done during the reign of Rama III. The enormous arch made of teak outside the wat is all that remains of an original swing that was used to celebrate and thank Shiva for a bountiful rice harvest. Teams of men would ride the swing on arcs as high as 82 feet (25m) into the air, grabbing at bags of silver coins with their teeth. The swing ceremony was discontinued in 1932 due to countless injuries and deaths, but the thanksgiving festival is still celebrated in mid-December after the rice harvest.
Few places in the world can match Phuket for its array of beautiful beaches, with their white sands and crystal clear waters. From the popular Patong Beach, which daily draws hundreds of visitors to its shores, to the quieter Kata Noi, which is hidden away from the crowds, Phuket has a strip of sand for everyone. For those who want to burn off some energy, activities such as parasailing, jet skiing and snorkelling can be found on many of the more popular beaches. The best beaches in Phuket for snorkelling would be Ao Sane and Paradise Beach. For those who prefer to sit back and enjoy the atmosphere, there are beachside massages, restaurants and cocktail bars around every corner. The best beaches for relaxing would be Mai Khao, Had Sai or Freedom Beach. When the day is done, Phuket offers some of the most beautiful sunsets travellers will ever see, framed by sheer limestone cliffs and the lazy coconut palms that line the beaches.
Wat Benchamabophit, also known as the Marble Temple, is constructed of white Carrara marble (even the courtyard is paved with polished white marble) and is known as one of Bangkok's most beautiful temples. The temple's name literally means 'The Temple of the fifth King located nearby Dusit Palace'. Built of Italian marble and designed by Prince Naris, a half-brother of the king, it is unique in that, unlike older complexes, there is no wihaan or chedi dominating the grounds. The temple houses many Buddha images representing various regional styles. Inside the ornate Ordination Hall (Ubosot) is a Sukhothai-style Buddha statue named Phra Buddhajinaraja, and buried under this statue are the ashes of King Rama V. The site also contains the Benchamabophit National Museum.
Built by King Rama V in 1900, the exquisite golden teakwood mansion, also known as Vimanmek Palace, is located in the Dusit Palace complex. It was restored in 1982 for Bangkok's bicentennial and King Rama IX granted permission to transform Vimanmek Mansion into a museum to commemorate King Rama V by displaying his photographs, personal art and handicrafts, and to serve as a showcase of the Thai national heritage. The informative hour-long tour takes visitors through a series of apartments and rooms, a staggering 72 in total, in what is said to be the largest teak building in the world. It is now a major tourist attraction and a definite must for anyone visiting the intriguing city of Bangkok. Visitors to the Vimanmek Palace are required to dress modestly, meaning men must wear long pants and women must wear skirts or pants below the knee and have their shoulders covered. Sarongs are available to hire if visitors need to cover up, but they occasionally run out.
The Chatuchak Market (also known as the JJ Market) is said to be the largest flea market in the world. 'Organised' along narrow grid lines under tin roofs, this enormous market is packed tight with all of Thailand's wares. Around 15,000 stalls are loosely categorised into clothing, crafts, food, and animal sections and it is easy to become disoriented. Some of Thailand's illegally traded animals are sold here and vendors are quick to spot signs of oncoming raids. However, a host of legal but bizarre goods are also traded; cock-fighting roosters, monkeys, fake designer gear and antiques are just the tip of the iceberg. The market is only open on the weekends from 8am to 6pm, and on Fridays for wholesalers. It is easily reached by the Skytrain from the Mo Chit station and by subway. Visitors should keep the import restrictions of their home countries in mind when shopping at Chatuchak Market, and buy accordingly.
Fight fans will get a kick out of Thailand's national sport, Muay Thai. The matches are best watched at the Rajadamnern stadium, though visitors should be warned that the prices for foreigners or farang are much more than local's. Usually fewer than 10 matches are arranged for a night but the brutality of the style means that some of these result in quick knockouts. The events are a mix of traditional Thai music and traditional pre-match customs before the hard hitting fight that utilises elbows, knees, fists, and shins to knock out the opponent. Several types of tickets are available, such as the more expensive fight-floor tickets, and tickets for the more rowdy informal gambling area on the second tier. Tourists should watch their hand movements, as they can be interpreted as willingness to bet. Fights can be seen on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays in the evening. Lumpinee Stadium also showcases fights to a more touristy audience.
The two and a half hour, 100-mile (150km) train ride to the Monkey Temple in the town of Lopburi is an easy day trip out of Bangkok. Legend has it the temple was founded by a fallen arrow of Hanuman, the Hindu Monkey God. The animal kingdom hierarchy is reversed here, as the temple gives the monkeys free roam and food. Often novelty turns into nervousness, as visitors are followed by crowds of the impolite inhabitants. Visitors can buy packs of sunflower seeds for THB 10 to feed the monkeys, but should keep watch of loose items suchas glasses, purses, and especially food, as the monkeys are keen pickpockets and they bite. November is the Monkey Festival in Lopburi but it is interesting to visit year-round.
Located 83 miles (135km) up a coiled mountain road from Chiang Mai in the extreme northwest of Thailand, Pai is an unlikely tourist attraction. Over the course of its history, the town has transitioned from hill tribe village to hippie hideaway, and finally to tourist playground, thanks to its relaxed atmosphere and peaceful mountain scenery. Pai is a popular base camp for treks into the hills, which can be arranged through hotels or travel agencies in the city. Closer waterfalls and hot springs are worth a visit too, as are the nearby elephant camps. An airport now connects Pai to Chiang Mai, but the best way to get there is by motorbike or bus in order to see the beautiful scenery on the way.
Chiang Rai's Hilltribe Museum and Education Centre is a great place to visit before heading on a trek to visit the hill-tribes in the region around Chiang Rai. The centre has several exhibits aimed to give visitors a better understanding of the culture and history of the tribes, but also gives an honest account of how the tribes are exploited by the Thai tourism industry. Tourists can also arrange hill-tribe tours from the centre. There is an excellent restaurant downstairs whose proceeds fund social programmes.
High in the mountains of central Thailand, the Doi Tung Royal Villa was the residence of the late Princess Srinagarindra, also known as the Princess Mother. The Princess Mother built herself a summer residence in the area as part of her development project to discourage local farmers from growing opium and employing harmful 'slash and burn' practises. After her death, the residence was converted into a museum, and the rest of the property, including the Mae Fah Luang Garden and Mae Fah Luang Arboretum, is also open to the public. The complex has a hotel, restaurant, coffee shop and gift shop.
Temple tours of Chiang Mai are a wonderful attraction for visitors. The old town is home to the most honoured temples and some tranquil Buddhist sanctuaries. The historic Wat Pra Singh holds the revered Phra Singh Buddha, which possibly dates from the 14th century. The oldest temple in Chiang Mai is Wat Chiang Man (established by King Mengrai), noted for its ancient bas reliefs and massive teak columns. Wat Chedi Luang boasts a gigantic chedi ruin, said to be the tallest structure in the old town, and was once home to the sacred Emerald Buddha (now in Bangkok).
The Chiang Mai City Arts and Cultural Center is an interesting attraction near the Three Kings Monument (Saam Kasat). This multimedia history and cultural education centre offers English-subtitled video displays of Chiang Mai, followed by tours of the rooms documenting the region's history and culture since the pre-Muang period. There are also exhibits showcasing Buddhism and regional beliefs, as well as agricultural history, hill tribes and other regional cultures, and the royal dynasties are also represented. The guides are elegantly outfitted in traditional Thai clothing. The Center is a must-visit for anyone interested in learning more about the rich culture and history of Chiang Mai.
A worthwhile Chiang Mai attraction is the Lisu Hill-Tribe display at the Hill-Tribe Research Institute Museum. The lives and cultures of the hill-tribe people of Thailand are exhibited here through photographs, agricultural implements, religious artefacts and musical instruments. Household utensils and ethnic costumes are also displayed. The non-hill-tribe ethnic minority, the Mlabri (who are often associated with the 'spirit of the yellow leaves'), are included in this extraordinary exhibit.
The royal winter palace of Bhubing has beautiful, regal structures and extravagantly landscaped gardens for visitors to take in. The palace may not be entered but the gardens can be explored when the Thai royal family is not in residence. The gardens of Bhubing Palace are known for their stunning roses, and are home to a variety of bird and insect life. Visitors can walk up to the Queen's water fountain and find some shade under a pagoda. There is a strict dress code that must be adhered to when visiting this royal site, including a ban on shorts and dresses that show the shoulders.
A beautiful Chiang Mai attraction, the first genuine botanical garden in Thailand was the Queen Sirikit Botanic Garden in the Mae Sa Valley. It now also serves as a centre of botanical research and studies. The main feature of this attraction is the Glasshouse Complex, which is made up of four exhibition conservatories and eight display glasshouses. A lovely river runs melodically through the grounds. The Thai Orchid Nursery and Rock Garden are other highlights of the gardens, as are various walking trails and shaded rest areas. Facilities for visitors include a restaurant, a first-aid station, souvenir shops and toilets.
Mae Sa Elephant Camp is a popular attraction located in the Muang hills, about a half hour's drive north of Chiang Mai. The camp is home to dozens of Asian elephants, and is dedicated to conservation and breeding. Visitors to the camp will be privy to shows that include elephants playing football and even painting! There are also elephant rides available for the more adventurous. Although this is not a natural environment for these great animals, they are well cared for and very entertaining. The best time to visit Mae Sa Elephant Camp is on March 13th, which is National Thai Elephant Day and is celebrated by an enormous banquet for the pachyderms.
Featuring fun, interactive exhibits, the Children's Discovery Museum in Bangkok encourages hands-on experience in science, nature, culture and society. With galleries themed Body and Mind, Culture and Society, and Technology, children can learn about a multitude of sciences in an interesting and enjoyable way. The best times to visit are in early morning and late afternoon, in order to avoid large school groups.
Located in the Siam Paragon Shopping Centre, Sea Life Bangkok Ocean World is one of the largest aquariums in Southeast Asia and features different zones that include tropical ocean, coral reef and rocky beach. The aquarium features 30,000 marine animals, including Oriental Small-Clawed otters, ragged-tooth sharks, stingrays and giant groupers. Children will simply love Sea Life Bangkok Ocean World, as they can watch live shows, have a shark encounter, ride in a glass-bottom boat, or enjoy a 4D cinema experience.
Originally set up for research into extracting the venom from snakes to make anti-venom, the Snake Farm is a great place to take the kids if they're interested in these slithering creatures. Featuring Malayan Pit Vipers, King Cobras, Banded Kraits and Russell Vipers, the Snake Farm educates the public on snakes and safety surrounding them. Venom-milking and snake-handling shows are held daily at 10:30am and 2pm on weekdays, and 10:30am on public holidays.
Located between the Queen Sirikit Gardens and the Children's Discovery Museum, this massive enclosure with rockeries, plants, ferns and a waterfall features some of the most dazzlingly beautiful butterflies in Thailand. Boasting dozens of species, including rare butterflies, looking up at the dome at any given moment, visitors to the Bangkok Butterfly Garden and Insectarium can see more than 500 types of butterflies, such as the Golden Birdwing or Siam Tree Nymph. The Queen Sirikit Gardens are a wonderful place to take a walk and feature magnificently coloured flowers, mazes, ponds and shady trees. Visitors who come here can enjoy a wonderful day of stunning gardens and scenery, butterfly spotting and even picnicking.
Kids will love this wonderland of interesting creepy crawlies, which was founded in 2002 by Manop Rattanarithikul (nicknamed 'The Mosquito Man') and his wife, Dr Rampa Rattanarithikul, a distinguished academic with 44 papers published in her name. The couple both have a keen interest in insects and have been studying them for most of their lives. Manop guides curious visitors through his vast and rare collection of insects and invertebrates, which comprises 422 species of insects in Thailand.
The best place to learn more about Phuket's past and present is the Thalang National Museum, which chronicles the island's daily life as well as its long history. There are exhibits on tin mining, military history, the Sea Gypsy culture and artefacts of the ancient Sukothai kingdom, dating back to the 9th century. One of the most interesting exhibits is the Monument of the Two Heroines, sisters Thao Thep Krasattri and Thao Si Sunthorn, who helped to repel the Burmese invasion in the 18th century.
Wat Chalong is the most famous of the 29 Buddhist temples in Phuket, welcoming thousands of visitors every year. The site is dedicated to two monks who used their knowledge of herbal medicine to assist in the tin miners' rebellion of 1876. The many buildings of the temple complex contain gilt statues, paintings, and relics, including a splinter of bone said to belong to the Buddha. A unique aspect of Wat Chalong is the regular sound of firecrackers, which are set off to show gratitude for answered prayers. Visitors to Buddhist temples should take care not to wear revealing clothing (with knees and shoulders covered), and be prepared to leave their shoes at the door.
Now a small city in southern Thailand, Sukhothai was once the seat of an ancient Siamese culture. The Sukhothai National Historic Park has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is dedicated to preserving the area's many temples, palaces and monuments, which date back to the 13th century. The old city covers roughly 27 square miles (70 sq km) and is divided into three zones, each of which charge separate admission. There are bicycle rentals available, and there is a privately run tour by tram. New Sukhothai, 7.5 miles (12km) from the historic park, features a fresh market with great local food, and a few shops and restaurants.
Nestled into the lush mountains of northernmost Thailand, Chiang Rai is a hotspot for travellers who want to get a real cultural experience from their stay in Thailand. The region is home to the remote hill tribe communities that make up about 10 percent of Thailand's population. Scattered through the mountains and valleys of the province, the tribes are descendents of nomadic peoples from Tibet and southern China. Each tribe is unique, with its own colourful culture and traditions. Many travellers arrive in Chiang Rai from Chiang Mai (a three-hour bus journey) to begin their treks to hill tribe villages, but there is plenty to see and do in Chiang Rai itself, including many beautiful temples and interesting museums. Visitors will also find good restaurants and food stalls offering a taste of northern Thai cuisine. The city has a lively, if not endless, nightlife, with a few good bars and pubs hosting live music. Chiang Rai is situated near the coming together of the three modern nations of Thailand, Myanmar and Laos, a region known as the Golden Triangle, which is dissected by the mighty Mekong River.
Thai Phrase Book
|Thank you||Khawp khun|
|My name is...||Cheu...|
|How much is this?||Raa kaa tao-rai?|
|Where is...?||...yoo nai?|
|Does anyone speak English?||Mee krai pood ang-grit dai mai?|
|I don�t understand||Mai kao chai|
|One, two, three, four, five||Ne-ung, song, saam, see, haa|
|I need a doctor||Tong-gahn maw rahk-saa|
Thailand experiences high temperatures and levels of humidity throughout the year. The hottest months are 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, northeastern and central regions. The cool season is the best time to visit Thailand, and runs from November to February. Temperatures are fairly consistent throughout the year, especially in southern regions, and range between 74F (23C) and 86F (30C).
Across the Ratchadamnoen Klang road from Banglamphu district is a popular but low key hangout for the local trend setters. Most come for the ambiance rather than the food as the first floor usually hosts a live band, the second an art gallery, the third a pool hall, and the fourth an open air terrace with beautiful views, all filled with cheerful diners and drinkers.
A firm favourite in Bangkok's dining scene, May Kaidee is really informal, but serves some of the most mouth-watering vegetarian and vegan food the city has to offer. Known for serving the best massaman curry in Thailand and an array of dishes, from sweet green curry to good stir-fries and black sticky-rice with mango for dessert, this eatery is a must! May Kaidee is also a Thai cooking school. Open daily from 7am to 11pm. Cash only.
This 80-year-old Siamese restaurant house features its very own tropical garden and offers a quiet retreat from Bangkok's chaotic Patpong area. The food may not be the most authentic, but it's delicious and the diverse menu with choices such as mild, green chicken curry and crispy spring rolls won't leave guests disappointed. Live traditional music and classic Thai decorative touches create a wonderfully charming atmosphere. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Reservations advisable.
This restaurant may not have the most charming atmosphere, but the food is simply delicious and well worth it for those who are willing to make the sacrifice. A popular eatery, Somboon Seafood has friendly staff, is regularly packed and has such a vast menu, guests will find themselves coming back time and again. The restaurant also features a large aquarium full of live seafood such as prawn, fish, lobster and crab. The house specialty, chilli crab curry, comes highly recommended. Open daily from 4pm to 11pm. Credit cards not accepted.
The Rain Tree Café offers a buffet of Thai and international food for breakfast, lunch or dinner and is ideal for family meals. Their Vodka Oyster Bar has four kinds of imported oysters, and special seafood buffets are offered on Fridays and Saturdays. Come on Sunday between 12 and 3pm for a Champagne Sunday Brunch.
This vibey Bangkok restaurant has live music and karaoke in addition to spicy Thai food at reasonable prices and a Japanese sushi corner. The large restaurant has good views from its position on the riverside, and the lavish décor of waterfalls and springs add to the festive atmosphere.
The very popular South Indian aromatic cuisine known as is a Punjabi dish traditionally eaten with the hands. Consisting of a rice and lentil pancake, crepe or tortilla, folded with a potato curry or other savoury filling, and served with a vegetable and lentil broth called . A purely vegetarian restaurant in Bangkok, Dosa King is ideal for a quick and healthy meal for those exploring Sukhumvit. Open daily for lunch and dinner.
Just around the corner from the bustling backpacker district, this quiet coffee shop is a great stop for breakfast or early lunch. The dark wooden interior transports diners to old Siam, although omelettes and baguettes are often welcome tastes of the west. Ricky's has added Mexican food to the menu. Open 8am to 11pm.
Popular with Westerners and just a short walk from the skytrain, Lemongrass serves some of Bangkok's finest Nouvelle Thai cuisine. Favourites on the menu include pomelo salad and chicken satay. The (a spicy sweet-and-sour prawn soup with ginger shoots) is delicious and comes highly recommended. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Bookings are advisable.
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, but there is a surcharge for each withdrawal. Most major credit cards are accepted at hotels and larger businesses.
Thai is the official language, but English is widely spoken in tourist areas.
220 volts, 50Hz. Both flat and round two-pin plugs are used.
US nationals: US passports must be valid for six months beyond date of arrival. No visa is required for tourist stays of up to 30 days.
UK nationals: Passports must be valid for six months beyond date of arrival. British nationals with passports endorsed 'British Citizen' or 'British National (Overseas)' do not require a visa for stays of up to 30 days. British travellers carrying passports with other endorsements should check official requirements.
CA nationals: Canadian Passports must be valid for six months beyond date of arrival. No visa is needed for touristic stays of up to 30 days.
AU nationals: Australian passports must be valid for six months beyond date of arrival. No visa is required for touristic stays of up to 30 days. APEC Business Travel Card holders endorsed for travel to Thailand may stay up to 90 days.
ZA nationals: South African passports must be valid for six months beyond date of arrival. No visa is required for touristic stays of up to 30 days.
IR nationals: Irish passports must be valid for six months beyond date of arrival. No visa is required for stays of up to 30 days.
NZ nationals: Passports from New Zealand must be valid for six months beyond date of arrival. No visa is required for touristic stays of up to 30 days. Holders of APEC Business Travel Cards endorsed for travel to Thailand may stay up to 90 days.
Travellers entering Thailand must have sufficient funds to cover the length of their stay, and are recommended to hold documentation for return or onward travel. Visitors who are using the 30-day visa exemption must enter Thailand by air or land; it is highly recommended that passports are valid for six months beyond travel.
There is no risk of malaria in major tourist resorts or in the cities of Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Pattaya, Ko Samui, and Ko Phangan, but preventions against malaria are recommended in rural and forested areas that border Burma (Myanmar), Cambodia, and Laos. Immunisation against hepatitis A, hepatitis B and typhoid fever is also advised; yellow fever vaccination certificates are required for travellers from infected areas. Rabid dogs are fairly common, so travellers should consider rabies vaccination before visiting. Everyone 16 years of age and older should get fully vaccinated for COVID-19 before travel.
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. Travellers should drink bottled water and avoid ice in drinks, and seek immediate medical attention if they suffer from diarrhoea during their visit. Medical facilities are good in major cities, but good medical insurance is vital.
Tipping is becoming more common in places frequented by tourists. If a service charge is not included in a restaurant bill, customers should add 10 to 15 percent as a tip. Porters and hotel staff will expect a tip; taxi drivers generally won't.
Though most visits to Thailand are trouble-free, tourists should avoid all political gatherings and marches, and stay well informed about the political situation in the country before and during their stay.
Like many parts of the world, South East Asia has been a victim of terrorism, so travellers should be vigilant in public places. They should also avoid the border regions and shouldn't camp in undesignated areas in national parks. 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.
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 Full Moon Parties on Ko Phan Ngan, travellers should be careful about accepting drinks from strangers, as there have been reports of drinks being drugged. Incidents of sexual assault do occur and female travellers should be cautious.
The monsoon season in September and October (November to March on Koh Samui) brings about flooding in the north, northeast 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.
While Thais are well known for their friendliness, they frown on public displays of affection. Visitors must save their beachwear for the beach and respect the custom of taking off shoes when entering a home. Many shops and restaurants will also expect tourists to remove their footwear.
Foreigners should avoid putting their feet on tables or chairs, or pointing their foot toward anyone. The touching of others' hair or heads (rubbing a child's hair, for example) should also be avoided. Thais rarely shake hands, instead using the wai as a way to say hello, to apologise, or show respect. The wai is a prayer-like gesture, made with raised hands. Thais are generally calm and softly spoken people, and tourists should avoid arguing loudly or raising their voices, even when haggling in markets, as this is considered crude and disrespectful.
The Thai royal family is revered and any image of Buddha, large or small, is considered sacred. Partygoers should note that drugs are illegal throughout the country, and that the possession of small quantities can land them in prison.
Business culture in Thailand is considerably more relaxed than other Asian countries within the region. However, Thailand shares its neighbours' work ethic and value systems, as well as their emphasis on hierarchy and building relationships. Senior managers must be consulted on all matters and decisions. Appearance and age are important in Thai business culture, as they illustrate social standing and status. Older individuals are generally afforded a great deal of regard in Thailand and business people should become properly acquainted with their associates before they start negotiating.
The concept of 'face' and saving face is important in Thailand. So, if travellers make a mistake, they shouldn't expect it to be pointed out to them, and if a local business associate makes a mistake, it is impolite to draw attention to it or correct them.
English is the language of business in Thailand, but translators are often needed. Business hours are from 8am to 5pm or 9am to 6pm, with an hour for lunch. Dress styles tend to be quite formal, but due to the humid climate, heavy suits are rare. However, meetings with senior management tend to be slightly more formal and jackets are usually worn. Men generally wear shirts, slacks and a tie, while women wear below-the-knee skirts and blouses. Pantsuits for women are quite rare.
Shaking hands is not a popular form of greeting and the wai (putting a prayer-like gesture in front of oneself and bowing slightly) is more acceptable. The higher the hands compared to the face when bowing, the more respect is meant by the wai. It is customary to wai first to those older than oneself. When addressing others, Thais use first names rather than surnames, preceded by Kuhn for both men and women. As with many Asian nations, giving gifts to business associates is generally a good idea. When receiving gifts, foreigners shouldn't open them in front of the giver. They should also 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.
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). Travellers can purchase local prepaid SIM cards for unlocked phones, and WiFi is available in cities and holiday resorts.
Travellers to Thailand do not have to pay duty on 200 cigarettes, 250g tobacco or equivalent amount of cigars or 1 litre of alcohol. Goods to the value of THB 20,000 per person for holders of tourist visas are allowed; family allowances are double the individual allowances. Prohibited items include firearms and ammunition, fireworks, and drugs, and 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.
Thailand Tourist Office: +66 2 250 5500 (Bangkok) or www.tourismthailand.org
Royal Thai Embassy, Washington DC, United States: +1 (0)202 944 3600
Royal Thai Embassy, London, United Kingdom: (also responsible for Ireland) +44 (0)20 7589 2944
Royal Thai Embassy, Ottawa, Canada: +1 (0)613 722 4444
Royal Thai Embassy, Canberra, Australia: +61 (0)2 6206 0100
Royal Thai Embassy, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 (0)12 342 5470
Royal Thai Embassy, Wellington, New Zealand: +64 (0)4 496 2900
United States Embassy, Bangkok: +66 (0)2 205 4000
British Embassy, Bangkok: +66 (0)2 305 8333
Canadian Embassy, Bangkok: +66 (0)2 646 4300
Australian Embassy, Bangkok: +66 (0)2 344 6300
South African Embassy, Bangkok: + 66 (0)2 659 2900
Irish Embassy, Bangkok: +66 (0)2 016 1360
New Zealand Embassy, Bangkok (also responsible for Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar): +66 (0)2 254 2530
Located 89 miles (143km) west of Bangkok, the town of Kanchanaburi has secured its position of infamy as the original site of the Bridge Over The River Kwai, where during World War II Allied prisoners of war were used by the Japanese to build the Death Railway, killing thousands in the process. With its modern hotels and welcoming air, Kanchanaburi seems an unlikely setting, but the bridge is still in use and the graves of the Allied soldiers are testament to the town's unfortunate past. Worth a visit is the JEATH (Japan, England, Australia, America, Thailand and Holland) War Museum in Kanchanaburi, which recounts experiences in the Japanese POW camps during the War. The Sai Yok Yai Waterfall in the Sai Yok National Park is a place of idyllic beauty and makes a good excursion from Kanchanaburi; the falls are widely celebrated in Thai poetry and songs. The turquoise waters of Erawan Falls are also reachable from Kanchanaburi, and make for an interesting day trip.
The T-shaped island of Koh Samet is within easy distance of mainland Thailand and, at only 104 miles (168km) from Bangkok, a great weekend excursion to get out of the city. A popular island for both foreigners and locals on holiday in Thailand, Koh Samet is a small island known for its white sandy beaches and crystal-clear waters. The destination has just one (rather bumpy) main road, and getting around the island is accomplished either by songthaew (a pick-up truck-style taxi), or by hiring a motorcycle or ATV. This way, tourists can visit the stunning beaches on Koh Samet, including the busy Hat Sai Kaew, quiet Ao Hin Khok, and romantic Ao Wai. Most of the activity is centred on Hat Sai Kaew, where holidaymakers can enjoy activities such as swimming, windsurfing, jet-skiing, yachting or just sunbathing. There are also nightly fire-twirling shows at 6pm and 10:30pm. Tourists can also enjoy excellent Thai seafood restaurants and lively bars, and take classes in Muay Thai boxing or fire-spinning.
Ayutthaya was the capital of Siam from 1350 until mid-18th century, and at one time was one of the largest cities in the world. The capital was relocated to Bangkok in 1768, when the Burmese army destroyed much of Ayutthaya. Today, tourists don't need much imagine to experience the splendour of the old capital, as many of the enormous structures are still there, and the ruins of Ayutthaya have been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Multiple buses (a trip that takes a bit over an hour) and trains arrive daily from Bangkok, and a boat up the Chao Phraya River to Ayutthaya can be organised through travel agencies. Although many organised tours in Thailand can result in frustrating experiences, a tour guide in this instance can give some fascinating history to the already impressive wats. This is an easy way to experience some of the ancient history of Siam, as Bangkok is relatively new.
The holiday spot of Phang Nga Bay is characterised by sheer limestone cliffs that jut vertically out of the emerald green water. The bay contains a fascinating collection of 3,500 mostly uninhabited islands that are unique in that they have central hollows or 'rooms' (actually collapsed cave systems) containing hidden realms of unspoilt fauna and flora. Many of these can only be reached by inflatable kayak, which makes exploring the bay on the water an exciting way to enjoy the spectacular scenery. The largest and most popular Phang Nga Bay islands are James Bond Island and Koh Pannyi, the first named for having been where the movie The Man with the Golden Gun was filmed. Koh Pannyi or Sea Gypsy Island is where a village has been built on stilts in the water, with a giant monolithic rock guarding its rear. Regular boat trips carry holiday tourists from Phuket to Phang Nga Bay, and it can be overcrowded during high season.
Even among Thailand's many islands, the Similan Islands have a reputation as one of the top scuba diving destinations in the world. The intense blue waters are framed by white coral sand beaches, and are home to intricate coral reefs and rock formations. The most famous dive site in the Similan Islands is Richelieu Rock, where whale sharks are commonly spotted. The Similan archipelago consists of nine islands: Ko Bon, Ko Bayu, Ko Similan, Ko Payu, Ko Miang, Ko Payan, Ko Payang, and Ko Huyong. Not all are open to visitors, and all are virtually uninhabited. Many charters offer day trips to the Similan Islands from Phuket and Phang Nga, but there are limited accommodation opportunities as well. Travellers should note that the park is closed from mid-May to mid-October every year due to unsafe weather conditions, and that it is illegal to visit during this period; guests who do so put their lives at risk, as there is no emergency support.
The Koh Yao Islands are located in Phang Nga Bay, halfway between Phuket and the Krabi mainland. The islands are known as quiet retreats from the bustle of Phuket, and are popular excursions for tourists in the Thai islands. In 2002, Koh Yao Noi received the World Legacy Award for Destination Stewardship from Conservation International and National Geographic Traveler Magazine for the innovative home stay programmes offered by locals. Maintaining their traditional way of life is important to the residents, as is preserving their environment. The top activities on the islands include hiking, kayaking, swimming and snorkelling. Though the islands are both small and have few facilities, Koh Yao Noi has recently added amenities such as restaurants, shops, and internet service. The islands are a quiet and secluded refuge from the hordes of tourists in nearby resorts; visitors are advised to bring cash with them, though there are a few ATMs.
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