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Thailand guide

Overview

Thailand stands unchallenged as the most popular tourist destination in Southeast Asia. Its long and colourful history has led to the development of a diverse, Buddhist culture rich in the Arts and with a genuine friendliness.

This ‘land of smiles’ has much to offer the prospective visitor. Whether it is the golden, sandy beaches and warm, blue seas of the island dotted south; or the beautiful, hilly scenery and traditional way of life of the hill tribes in the north; or even the hustle and bustle of the capital, Bangkok, with it’s legendary nightlife and modern amenities; you are sure to find something to suit your taste in this most welcoming of countries.

For those more active visitors there is a wealth of outdoor pursuits available. You can try your hand at diving on the superb coral reefs, or trekking in the hills and mountains of the north. There is also mountain biking, motorcycling and climbing, or perhaps river and sea kayaking, or some jungle rafting. Sea and river fishing along with wildlife safaris are also readily available.

Thailand’s past has left its mark in the shape of numerous temples, palaces, and ruins, all easily visited using the countries modern transport infrastructure. Your stay will be in a style that you desire as accommodation ranges from great value guesthouses right up to the most luxurious and famous 5-star hotels.

With such a wonderful blend of historic past and modern comfort, Thailand makes the perfect destination for your next holiday.

Brief History

The early inhabitants of Southeast Asia date back as far as 8,000 BC, and were simple hunter-gatherers. However, a slow southwestwardly migration of Austronesian (Thai, Malaysian, Indonesian) and Austro-Asiatic (Mon, Khmer, Vietnamese) speaking settlers, from China, gradually pushed out the native Australo-Melanesian speaking inhabitants. These new settlers brought with them Chinese agricultural practices based on intensive rice production, so that by about 4,000 BC rice was being cultivated throughout the region, and from about 3,000 BC metalworking started. Read more...

Highlights

  • Bangkok – colourful capital, with floating markets, temples, palaces, museums, shops, restaurants and a lively nightlife.
  • Ayutthaya & Kanchanaburi - historic sights close to Bangkok
  • Wildlife - national parks (Khao Sok), elephants, tiger and other exotic fauna and flora.
  • Chang Mai - capital of the north, with trekking, mountain biking and other activities available, Chiang Rai.
  • Southern Islands - golden, sandy beaches, warm blues waters, colourful coral reefs and exciting nightlife. Ko Samui, Ko Tao and Krabi.

When to go

There is never a bad time to enjoy Thailand as long as you like the weather hot and humid. You will almost always experience temperatures above 20°C and humidity above 70%. The most comfortable time of year for most tourists is during the cool season (November to February) when rainfall is at its lowest, though still with intermediate showers, and the temperatures are between 20 and 30°C.

Though the ‘cool season’ is the best time weather-wise to visit Thailand you may find that this is also a more expensive time to travel. This is due to high season rates at the hotels/resorts and the busy Christmas holiday period. Thailand is a very popular destination for Australian and New Zealand families and as this is their main summer holiday period hotels can fill up quickly and sometimes well in advance.

There are also numerous full moon parties, all night raves, throughout the year (more in December and January) on Thailand’s southern island and beaches. These are very popular with revellers and backpackers and can book out a whole island within weeks of their dates being announced. Be aware of their undesirable reputation with locals & international embassies and if you are interested in joining the festivities be aware that not everything is as it seems (or labelled).

Geography

Thailand is situated on mainland Southeast Asia and is bordered by Myanmar in the north, Cambodia and Laos to the east, and Malaysia in the south. Central Thailand is made up of the vast fertile plains of the Chao Phraya river system and to the east the Mekong River forms a natural border with Cambodia. To the northeast the land rises to the Khorat Plateau and in the north and south there are a number of mountain ranges. Doi Inthanon (2,596m) is the countries highest mountain and is in Chang Mai province in the north.

The west coast of Thailand is bounded by the Andaman Sea, and narrows to a peninsula in the south. To the east the coast stretches for 1,500km along the Gulf of Thailand to the border with Malaysia. Both coastlines are dotted with numerous tropical islands.

Weather & climate

There are three reasonably well-defined seasons in Thailand, but unlike in Europe, where seasons are temperature based, Thailand is tropical and generally speaking warm all year round. Rains from the monsoon are the marker of seasons and the rainy season is from June to October. Pre-monsoon is from March to May, when the weather becomes progressively hotter. Post monsoon is from November to February when the weather is cooler.

The range of temperature is more marked in the north where pre-monsoon can be very hot, though the heat is much drier than in the south. Winter in the north can feel cool, particularly in the mountains.

Although weather patterns change throughout the year no time is a bad time to visit Thailand.

Click for Bangkok, Thailand Forecast
Bangkok
Jan
Feb
Mar
Apr
May
Jun
Jul
Aug
Sep
Oct
Nov
Dec
Rain (mm)
8
20
36
58
198
160
160
175
305
206
66
5
Sun (hrs)
9
8
9
8
8
6
5
5
5
6
8
9
Temp (Max)
32
33
34
35
34
33
32
32
32
31
31
31
Temp (Min)
20
22
24
25
25
24
24
24
24
24
22
20
Days of Rain*
1
2
2
4
13
12
13
15
18
14
5
1
Hum (%)
53
55
56
58
64
67
66
66
70
70
65
56
Click for Chiang Mai, Thailand Forecast
Chiang Mai
Jan
Feb
Mar
Apr
May
Jun
Jul
Aug
Sep
Oct
Nov
Dec
Rain (mm)
0
10
8
36
122
112
213
193
249
94
31
13
Sun (hrs)
9
9
9
9
8
6
5
4
6
7
8
9
Temp (Max)
29
32
34
36
34
32
31
31
31
31
30
28
Temp (Min)
13
14
17
22
23
23
23
23
23
21
19
15
Days of Rain*
1
1
1
5
12
12
14
17
14
9
4
1
Hum (%)
64
63
64
71
74
73
73
76
77
77
73
68
Click for Phuket, Thailand Forecast
Phuket
Jan
Feb
Mar
Apr
May
Jun
Jul
Aug
Sep
Oct
Nov
Dec
Rain (mm)
35
38
74
127
297
264
216
244
328
315
193
79
Sun (hrs)
9
10
9
8
7
5
6
6
5
6
7
8
Temp (Max)
31
32
33
33
31
31
31
31
30
31
31
31
Temp (Min)
23
23
24
25
25
25
25
24
24
24
24
24
Days of Rain*
3
2
4
9
19
17
17
17
21
20
13
6
Hum (%)
64
63
64
71
74
73
73
76
77
77
73
68
* denotes number of days with at least 1.0 mm of rainfall

Money

Thai baht (1 Thai baht = 100 santang)

1 US$ = 32 baht (June 2012)
1 UK£ = 49 baht (June 2012)

Common coins

  • 1 baht
  • 5 baht
  • 10 baht

Common notes

  • 20 baht
  • 50 baht
  • 100 baht
  • 500 baht
  • 1,000 baht

NB changing larger notes can sometimes be difficult in small villages.

Money can be changed at any bank, exchange kiosk or hotel (lowest rate). Banks are open from 10am to 4pm on weekdays, but special foreign exchange sections may be open outside normal banking hours. Traveller’s cheques are widely accepted but will entail a service charge, usually per cheque. ATM’s are common and accept all major credit/debit cards. Credit cards are also widely accepted, with Visa and MasterCard being the most popular. Cash advances are also available at banks and exchange kiosks. No black market exists in Thailand.

Holidays

Fixed Public Holidays

New Year's Day-1st January
Chakri Memorial Day-6th April
Songkran Festival (Thai New Year)-12th-14th April
International Labour Day-1st May
Coronation Day-5th May
Queen’s Birthday-12th August
Chulalongkorn Day-23rd October
King’s Birthday-5th December
Constitution Day-10th December
New Year’s Eve-31st December

For exact dates of holidays and festivals for the coming year please click here.

NB: Please bear in mind that all banks and government offices will remain closed during the holidays above.  There are also a number of other festivals governed by the Lunar Calendar, including Buddha’s Birthday, Naga Festival and Phi Ta Khon. We have listed the main national holidays but there are also numerous regional holidays, festivals and fairs that take place in Thailand throughout the year.

Religion

Thailand is 95% Buddhist, with a small Muslim minority in the southern states close to the Malaysian border.

Vaccinations

We do always recommend that you seek professional medical advice when considering holiday vaccinations but the ones that are normally recommend for travel to Egypt are listed below:

  • Diphtheria
  • Hepatitis A
  • Tetanus
  • Typhoid
  • Polio
  • Yellow (A Yellow Fever vaccination certificate is required when arriving from an affected area)

For direct, up-to-date information on vaccination requirements for Thailand please click here

Customs

  • While handshakes are becoming popular, if you would like to greet someone in the traditional Thai manner then start with a small bow and bring your hands together in prayer while smiling.
  • As the main religion of Thailand Buddhism is taken seriously and plays an important part in the day-to-day culture of the country. The Buddha and his images are considered sacred and visitors should respect this. Shoes should always be removed before entering temples while the rest of your appearance should be conservative, i.e. shorts are not allowed. Women are forbidden from touching monks, even if this is to give to or to receive.
  • Everywhere you go in Thailand you will see images of the royal family, particularly the King. You should never underestimate the esteem that the Thai royal family is held in. The national anthem is played regularly in cinemas and at public events and you will be expected to stand and show your respect. In the past, foreigners have been charged for failing to respect the monarchy.
  • As a whole, Thai women tend to be quite conservative and should never be touched without consent. Apart from the obvious exception of when you are on the beach, try and dress conservatively and shy away from public shows of intimacy. Nude sunbathing is not tolerated in Thailand.
  • The feet are considered as unclean (the lowest part of the body) and therefore they should never be used to point out things or to touch someone with. Never show the soles of your feet in public so this rules out putting your feet up, either on chairs or tables and even while travelling in buses and tuk-tuks. The head (highest part of the body) is respected so try not to touch people’s head or ruffle their hair, as this is also considered rude. If you are fortunate enough to be invited into someone’s home - as with temples you should always remove your shoes. If you unwittingly cause offence to a Thai person, then a swift and sincere apology should be given.
  • While tipping is not expected apart from at large tourist resorts and hotels, small tips for services rendered are always appreciated.
  • Part of the fun that comes with visiting Thailand is the art of haggling which remains an integral part of Thai life. Expect to do this for just about everything, even hotel rooms. The best results are always from light hearted exchanges so remember to smile and try and remember what the product is worth to you. Street sellers are common, particularly in tourist areas but exercise caution here as what they are trying to sell you may not always be what you think it is.
  • The ‘land of smiles’ is not just a pretty nickname for Thailand – it happens to be true! Thai people smile much more than you may be used to as it is the usual way to thank someone or show gratitude or just generally show happiness. If you try and do the same you won’t go far wrong!

Security

Thailand remains an extremely safe place to visit with the risk of crime to tourists incredibly low. Throughout the main tourist areas, tourism police are on-hand and the most likely form of crime you may fall victim too is theft. This is usually through stealth rather than violence so visitors should remain vigilant and guard personal possessions at all times.

Recently, public demonstrations and anti-government protests, particularly in Bangkok have captured the media’s attention in the west but it is important to remember that there has never been any violence directed at tourists and curfews remain rare. If you do witness unrest while in the country, remain calm, keep away from crowds, stay indoors and follow the news. Coups in Thailand were common throughout the 20th Century and whilst rarely violent, seem to be continuing into this century.

Travel advisory warnings are in place for travel in the far south of the country along the Malaysian border as there has been violence between Muslims and Buddhist in recent years. Try to keep up to date with the news and note that particular care must be taken if travelling between Thailand and Malaysia by train.

Know before you go

In association with the ‘Know Before You Go’ Campaign, we are working with the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) to do all that we can to help British travellers stay safe overseas. Before you go overseas, check out the FCO website at www.gov.uk/knowbeforeyougo. It is packed with essential travel advice and tips, and up-to-date country information.

FCO know before you go logo

Visas

30-day visas are issued to most foreign nationals free of charge on arrival into the country. Some exceptions are New Zealanders, Swedes, Danes and South Koreans who can stay for up to 90 days. You can extend your visa (for a fee) at most travel agencies throughout the country. Business and work visas need to be applied for in advance and will incur a fee.

How to get there

By Air

There is one main international airport in Thailand, in the capital Bangkok. All scheduled flights fly in and out of Bangkok, with a wide range of European and international airlines flying every day. We start most Thailand tours in Bangkok, though we can also combine Vietnam or Cambodia (or both) in many itineraries, and there are good options to fly into one country and out of another for this type of tour. Flights between Bangkok, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh and Phnom Penh & Siem Reap are also regular with Bangkok Air, Vietnam Airlines, Air Asia and Dragon Air operating several flights every day.

Flying from the UK

If you are flying from the UK, then the only direct flights to Bangkok are from London Heathrow, with either British Airways, QANTAS, Eva Air or Thai Airways. The flight takes around 12 hours. Fares range from around UK£700 if you book well in advance, but do increase significantly during busy periods. Prices are often cheaper if you choose an indirect flight with a Middle Eastern airline such as Emirates, Etihad or Qatar Airways. Turkish Airlines and Jet Airways are also a cheaper option. In general, the earlier you book the better, as flights tend to get more expensive closer to departure. Flying from regional airports such as Manchester, Newcastle or Glasgow will require a stop-over in London, Europe or the Middle East and normally is a little more expensive than flying from London.

Where to book

We hold an ATOL, and you are welcome to book your flights with us. Please discuss your ideal dates and departure airport with our sales staff, and we will send you a selection of airlines, flight times, and prices. You can then choose whether to book your flights through us, or to make your own arrangements. If you book your own flights, we will still include both your arrival and departure airport transfers.

By Land

Laos

One of the easiest and most common ways to enter Laos from Chiang Rai, Thailand is by boat along the Mekong River. There are 2 types of boat, fast and slow, with the overnight (Pakbeng) slow boat being the safest and most popular.

You can also get a train from Bangkok to Vientiane. There is a daily overnight sleeper train direct from Bangkok to Nong Khai and a special connecting local train to the new international rail terminal at Thanaleng, 13km outside Vientiane.

Cambodia

Take the daily 5:55am train from Bangkok's main Hualamphong station to Aranyaprathet arriving at 11:35. Aranyaprathet is just a few kilometres from the Cambodian frontier.  The fare is only 58 baht (about £1 or $1.60).
At Aranyaprathet, take a tuk-tuk (about 40-60 baht) or the bus (about 10 baht), from the station to the Cambodian border at Poiphet (15km).  The border is open 07:00-20:00, and visas can be bought there.  Don't get sidetracked into a travel agency, make sure the tuk tuk driver takes you to the official border post to buy your Cambodian visa (or buy an e-visa beforehand). Then take a Cambodian taxi, bus or pickup truck from Poiphet to Sisophon (48 km) and Battambang (112 km).  You will need to spend the night in Battambang. In the morning take a bus from Battambang to Phnom Penh.  Buses run many times daily between 06:30 & 12:45, journey time 5½ hours, fare around 14,000 Riel ($4).

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Thailand flag

Factfile

Time: GMT+7
Dial code: 00 66
Area: 514,000 sq km
Elevation: Lowest point: Gulf of Thailand 0m
Highest point: Doi Inthanon 2,576m
Population: 65,493,000 (2008)
Capital: Bangkok
Government: Constitutional monarchy
Language: Thai, English (secondary language of the elite), ethnic and regional dialects

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