Over recent years Thailand has positioned itself as the tourist gem of south-east asia. With plenty of mysterious Buddhist culture sitting side by side with a well developed tourist industry and a more than adequate infrastructure more tourists come here than anywhere else on the south-eastern part of the continent. This is for a good reason! Thailand offers everything from crowded markets and bazaars to ancient temples, to busy nightlife all set against some of the best scenery in the region. The population themselves are very welcoming towards tourists making most people travels in Thailand an absolute pleasure.
- Currency: Baht (Bt) = 100 satang
- Time Zone: GMT + 7
- Language: Thai, although some regions speak Malay and Chinese. English is widely spoken.
- Telephone Services: Country Code +66, International access code 001
- Emergency Numbers: Not present
Thailand is generally hot, especially during the summer months between March and May. Thailand experiences a monsoon climate with the rainy season running from June through to October. September in particular experiences large amounts of precipitation. The most comfortable time to travel is between November and February.
Things to see and do
Bangkok, the country's capital is one of the most essential destinations in Thailand. It is easily the largest city in the country and is Thailand's hectic centre of commerce, politics and culture. Although traffic is ridiculously heavy, making London's gridlocks look quiet, the city still has plenty to offer the traveller. One of the most memorable experiences is taking a boat ride along the city's canals where you will be able to experience some of the floating markets. The most famous market is the Wat Sai Market but it has become somewhat commercial in recent years so you may want to seek out floating markets in other areas of the country. In particular the Damnoen Saduak floating market is considered the best of these uniquely Thai experiences. Other essential sites include the magnificent Grand Palace which was built for the coronation of Rama I in the late 1700s. Also worth a look is the Temple of the Golden Buddha which houses an enormous 5 tonne statue of Buddha rendered in solid gold. The nightlife in Bangkok is lively and there are plenty of bars and clubs. Many travellers are drawn to the lewd displays of the Patpong bars but in other areas of the city there is enough variety to cater for most tastes.
Chiang Mai is Thailand's second city was founded in 1296 and sits against the backdrop of the impressive Doi Suthep mountain. The city is a lot less crowded and manic than Bangkok and many travellers prefer its slightly more relaxed atmosphere. One of the key attractions is the Night Bazaar which is located in the centre of the city and a great place to do a spot of souvenir shopping or just to practice your haggling. The city is also a base for a variety of mountain treks, most give you the opportunity to visit the hill tribes to the north of the city and some are even conducted on elephant back. No traveller should leave without visiting the 'chedi' at the top of Doi Suthep, the Wat Phra Borommathat temple situated there is reknowned as one of the holiest in Thailand.
Ayuthaya was the capital of Thailand up until 1350 and it is now the site of impressive world heritage recognised ruins. The ruins are almost exclusively temples which were destroyed by the Burmese when they conquered the city in 1767. One of the highlights is the temple of Wat Phra Chao Phana Choeng, this 14th century temple boasts an enormous 19m high image of Bhudda. Also of note is the Wat Phra Meru which escaped the ravages of the Burmese and is home to a 1300 year old green rock carving of a throned Bhudda.
Thailand covers a very substantial are so much like other Asian countries internal flights become a viable alternative to overland travel. The main services are run by Thai Airways International which runs services to 22 internal airports. Bangkok Airways runs 7 additional routes. In general discounts are available during off-peak seasons and if you want to travel a large distance fast, this is a reasonably cheap way to do it.
Rail is the best way to get around most areas of Thailand, the extensive rail network is run by The State Railway of Thailand and extends for nearly 5000km. This covers all major towns with the noticeable exception of Phuket which is reachable by bus. Fares are generally quite cheap and the carriages are comfortable with most major lines boasting air-conditioned, restaurant and sleeper carriages. Supplements are required on some routes and for some carriages. If you can navigate the somewhat cryptic website which the State Railways of Thailand uses you will be able to find a Thai Rail pass which offers unlimited travel for 20 days for 3000 Baht including supplements or 1500 Baht without (that's approx £50 and £25 respectively), as you can see this is quite a deal and using this pass makes travel in Thailand both cheap and easy. It is worth noting however that the rail pass only covers travel in 2nd and 3rd class.
There are plenty of inter-city bus services on offer, generally these are run by local private companies and range from uncomfortable crowded buses to luxury air conditioned coaches. Prices are quite cheap but the appalling traffic in some areas of Thailand makes travelling by bus quite slow.
With Thailand becoming increasingly popular with tourists you will have no problem finding good, cheap accommodation. Hotels are plentiful in all major cities with Bangkok boasting over 12,000 international standard rooms alone. The Thai Hotels Association offers online booking for a range of member hotels, some even in the more remote areas of the country.
The YMCA and YWCA have hostels in Thailand and you will find these as well as numerous small cheap backpacker style hostels scattered across the country. The Thai Youth Hostels Association should be contacted for further details regarding finding and booking hostels.
The standard of healthcare in large populated areas such as Bangkok and other major cities is quite good. Rural areas and smaller towns may not have adecuate facilities however. Most major hotels will have a doctor on call since there is no official emergency service contact numbers throughout Thailand. Costs of treatment and repatriation can get quite steep so ensure that you have adequate travel insurance before departing for Thailand.
The tap water is not safe to drink, and should be boiled before use. The use of bottled water is recommended. Dairy products should be avoided as most are un-pasteurised. Pasteurised milk can be bought in larger cities but always check the label before consumption. Raw fruits and vegetables should be washed and peeled before consumption. Caution should be observed when purchasing food from street vendors.
Vaccinations against Typhoid and Polio are recommended before travel to Thailand and are available from your local GP for approximately £40. It is also advised to seek medical advice concerning cholera from you GP before travel. Malaria is present throughout the country so you should avoid getting bitten by insects by using good repellents and bug nets where appropriate. Consult your GP for the most appropriate anti-malaria treatments to take with you as resistant strains are present in some areas of the country.
The Thai Youth Hostels Association maintains information on youth hostels throughout the country.
The State Railway of Thailand maintains and runs the railway services throughout Thailand
Bangkok Airways operates 7 Thai domestic routes.
Thai Airways International provide most of the Thai domestic flights.