Thailand, affectionately known as The land of smiles for its kind-natured and friendly people, plays host to a number of different activities, suitable for all types of travelers – from the buzzing bright lights of its centrally located capital, Bangkok, down to its beach-lazing islands of Phuket, Ko Samui and Ko Tao in the south, all the way up to its trekking jungles of Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai in the North.
Thailand Quick Links
Usually Thailand is a first stop for many people visiting Asia. Geographically, it is located with borders into Malaysia, Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia. Logistically, it provides visa-free entry for a number of international travellers. Economically, it’s main airports in Bangkok are a central hub for many low cost flights around South East Asia, particularly due to Air Asia’s 322 flights a day. Its modern, economically advanced society provides visitors with enough of an Asian experience from its noodle stalls on every street, whilst also giving ‘normality’ in the form of internationally recognised shops – 7-11s on every corner, Boots pharmacies, and air conditioned malls providing a plethora of international brands.
So let’s break down the basics of the country.
Currency: Thai Bhat ฿ (written บาท in Thai) £1 = 44.95 THB฿, $1 = 34.72 THB฿, €1 = 37.74 THB฿
Capital: Bangkok (Don Muang (DMK) & Suvarnabhumi (BKK) Airports)
Popular Destinations: Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Phuket, Ko Samui, Ko Tao, Ko Phangnan.
Languages: Thai/Siamese (ภาษาไทย)
Religions: 95% Theravada Buddhist, 4% Muslim
National Dishes: Pad Thai, Tom Yam Soup, Papaya Salad, Mango Sticky Rice and Thai Green/Red Curry (take a look at the Top 9 Thai Foods)
Quintessential Thailand: Chang beer, elephants, 7-11s and steep roofed Buddhist temples.
Weather: Nov-Feb = Cool (Best time to visit), March-June = Hot & Dry, Jul-Oct = Monsoon.
What To Expect in Thailand
Thailand is a mix of different landscapes, but it does hold a number of similarities throughout its long country. Largely speaking, the people are the same – from its Northern Buddhists, down to its southern Muslim population, people speak the same Thai language, albeit with their own unique dialects, have a good grip of English and hold the same values, and similar traditions. Given its abundance of chain stores, namely its mini marts of 7-11 and Family Mart (of which there are a combined total of over 11,000 stores across the country), prices for most things are largely the same no matter where you travel within the country. Generally speaking, the southern islands will be slightly more expensive for accommodation and eating out during the high season, but budget travellers can find ways around this.
Buddhism is huge across the country, and passing monks is often a daily occurrence. It should be noted that women cannot have direct contact with a monk so be careful when passing. It is also worth noting that spirit homes are common in homes, businesses and public places and it is considered bad karma to take offerings from such places. So if you see money, food and drink lying in such a place – leave it. Thailand is a very spiritual country and they are open to other religions, however if you would like to learn more about the Buddhist religion, everybody is welcome inside the temple, and to attend monk chats at temples (where you can pop in and talk to a monk about anything).
Although a democratic country with a prime minister, Thailand has a monarch, who acts rather like the Queen in the British monarchy. The most recent King, King Buhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX), was greatly respected among Thais and you will still see his picture across many billboards, stickers, homes and businesses. If you visit the cinema while in Thailand (half price at 80-100฿ 1.78 GBP–2.22 GBP / 2.30 USD–2.88 USD on Wednesdays) there will be a short clip at the beginning of the film featuring the King, and it is customary to stand during this clip. Do not speak ill of the King, or laugh at his photos, it is a criminal offence and can lead you in a lot of bother. The national anthem is played in many public places at 8am and 6pm. To not stand during this is technically illegal, though you will most likely only get an evil look. It is the only south East Asian country to have never been colonized by a European power, and is the birth place of Red Bull, created by an uneducated Thai in 1976.
Top Tips in Thailand
ATMs charge a minimum of 200฿ (4.45 GBP / 5.76 USD) per international withdrawal (plus any charges your bank may impose), so withdraw as much as you feel comfortable taking out each time to save costs. You can withdraw more at airport ATMs than regular ATMs. If possible, bring USD / GBP / EUR into the country in large denomination notes, and change at the big currency exchange companies or banks within Thailand as these rates are often a lot better than back home – SuperRich is one of the most popular and provides some of the best rates (visible daily at SuperRich1965).
People often find currency one of the hardest things to get their head around when they reach a new country, but Thai baht is slightly easier than other currencies – each value has a different colour:- 20฿ is green. 50฿ is blue. 100฿ is red. 500฿ is purple. 1,000฿ is brown.
Shops are normally open 10am-9pm but you will always find mini marts within walking distance that are open 24/7. You will find you are able to use your credit card at most malls and casual dining chains (but not normally convenience stores), and while it is against Thai law for them to charge you an additional premium to do this, some shops may insist on adding a fee.
Night markets in Thailand normally open at sunset and close at midnight. Prices in malls are normally fixed, but at markets you can expect a discount of 10-50% by bartering.
Technically Thai law states that you must carry your passport with you at all times. Some hostels may take this in as a deposit, or you may feel more comfortable keeping it somewhere safe back at the hotel – it is therefore worth bringing a laminated copy of your passport with you to carry with you for good measure.
Tap water is technically safe to consume, but with 1.5l bottles of water as low as 10฿ (0.22 GBP / 0.29 USD) it is recommended you always drink bottled.
Apps to download
GrabCar to get cheap cabs to travel around.
Line to communicate with.
Things To Do Before ‘Completing’ Thailand
– Learn how to do the Wai
– Attend a cooking class in Chiang Mai
– Watch a muay Thai match in Bangkok
– Party in Khao San Road
– Visit a full moon party in Koh Phangan
– Visit a world famous lady boy show
– Get a sak yant bamboo tattoo
– Learn to scuba dive in Koh Tao
– Get a genuine Thai Massage (Nuat Thai, born in Wat Pho)
– Experience elephants up close at a conservation centre
Where To Go in Thailand
Depending on what you are into, there are a number of things waiting for you in Thailand. Bangkok is a buzzing city in the heart of the country that offers a host of exciting places to visit. In the south, Ko Samui, Ko Tao (a top spot in Asia to get your PADI diving qualification), Ko Phangan (full moon party), Phuket and Krabi offer some great beaches to explore; and in the north you will find Chiang Mai, Pai and Chiang Rai – fantastic cultural spots that you can laze around in and enjoy the traditional Thai lifestyle.
Located on the Andaman coast, Phuket is an activity-filled resort island featuring Patong beach, with its exciting nightlife, as well as the more family friendly Karon and Kata beaches. Phuket is a great launch place for day trips to Ko Phi Phi and James Bond Island (Koh Tapu).
Slightly less known (but still ever as touristy), Krabi, has Railey beach and provides a cheaper way to access the ever popular Ko Phi Phi.
How To Speak Thai
Sawadee Cup/Ka – A general greeting, ‘cup’/’crup’ if you are male or ‘car’ if you are female.
Sabidee Mai? – How are you?
Kawp Khun Cup/Ka – Thank you, again ‘cup’ if you are male, or ‘car’ if you are female.
Hong Namm You Tea Nai? – Where is the toilet?
Mai Pen Rai Crup – No Worries. Its a very common ‘hakuna matata’ phrase over here.
Chai / Mai chai – Yes / No
Tao Lie? – How much is this?
Peng! – Expensive!
Mai Pedt – Not Spicy.
Nung, Song, Sam, Sea, Ha, Hox, Pet, Jet, Cow, Sip – 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10.
Want to find out what food to eat in Thailand? Check out my guide to The Top 9 Thai Foods