Difference between revisions of "Thailand"
Revision as of 21:01, 9 August 2016
Thailand (ประเทศไทย), officially the Kingdom of Thailand (ราชอาณาจักรไทย) is a country in Southeast Asia with coasts on the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand. It borders Myanmar (Burma) to the northwest, Laos to the northeast, Cambodia to the southeast and Malaysia to the south.
With great food, a tropical climate, fascinating culture, majestic mountains and great beaches, Thailand is a magnet for travellers around the world.
Thailand can be conveniently divided into five geographic and cultural regions:
Thailand is the country in Southeast Asia most visited by tourists, and for good reason. You can find almost anything here: thick jungle as green as can be, crystal blue waters that feel more like a warm bath than a swim in the ocean, and food that can curl your nose hairs while dancing across your taste buds. Exotic, yet safe; cheap, yet equipped with every modern amenity you need, there is something for every interest and every price bracket, from beach front backpacker bungalows to some of the best luxury hotels in the world. And despite the heavy flow of tourism, Thailand retains its quintessential Thai-ness, with a culture and history all its own and a carefree people famed for their smiles and their fun-seeking sanuk lifestyle. Many travellers come to Thailand and extend their stay well beyond their original plans and others never find a reason to leave. Whatever your cup of tea, they know how to make it in Thailand.
This is not to say that Thailand doesn't have its downsides, including the considerable growing pains of an economy where an agricultural labourer is lucky to earn 300 baht per day while the nouveaux riches cruise past in their BMWs. Bangkok, the capital, is notorious for its traffic jams and rampant development has wrecked much of once-beautiful Pattaya and Phuket. In heavily touristed areas, some lowlifes have made scamming tourists into an art form. Immigration queues are often long, giving travellers bad first and last impressions. And (in the extremely rare cases) when tourists are attacked or murdered, there is often little police follow-up.
The earliest identifiably Thai kingdom was founded in Sukhothai in 1238, reaching its zenith under King Ramkhamhaeng in the 14th century before falling under the control of the kingdom of Ayutthaya, which ruled most of present-day Thailand and much of today's Laos and Cambodia as well, eventually also absorbing the northern kingdom of Lanna. Ayutthaya was sacked in 1767 by the Burmese, but King Taksin regrouped and founded a new capital at Thonburi. His successor, General Chakri, moved across the river to Bangkok and became King Rama I, the founding father of the Chakri dynasty that rules (constitutionally) to this day.
Known as Siam until 1939, Thailand is the only Southeast Asian country never to have been colonised by a foreign power, and is fiercely proud of that fact. A bloodless revolution in 1932 led to a constitutional monarchy. During World War II, while Japan conquered the rest of Southeast Asia, only Thailand was not conquered by the Japanese due to smart political moves. In alliance with Japan during World War II, Thailand became a US ally following the conflict. After a string of military dictatorships and quickly toppled civilian Prime Ministers, Thailand finally stabilized into a fair approximation of a democracy and the economy boomed through tourism and industry. Above it all presided King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX), the world's longest-reigning monarch and a deeply loved and respected figure of near-mythic proportions.
In September 2006, a swift and bloodless military coup overthrew populist tycoon Thaksin Shinawatra's democratically elected but widely criticized government, exposing a fault line between the urban elite that has ruled Thailand and the rural masses that supported Thaksin. Thaksin went into exile and a series of unstable governments followed, with the successors of Thaksin's Thai Rak Thai party and the royalist-conservative People's Alliance for Democracy duelling both behind the scenes and, occasionally, out in the streets, culminating in Bangkok's airports being seized and shut down for a week in November 2008. The political scene remains in flux and the direction of the country once the ailing King passes away is a major question mark because of the perceived inadequacy of the current heir.
Thailand is in theory still a constitutional monarchy, with the king as a very highly respected and revered Head of State, but there have been repeated military coups and as of 2016, the country is run by a military junta which allows no organised political opposition. A draft new constitution would greatly limit the power of elected governments.
In practice, the king's role is largely ceremonial, with the Prime Minister holding the most authority in government. However, the king and the royal family are still protected by strict lèse majesté laws, which stipulate long jail terms for anybody convicted of insulting the king or any other members of the royal family. This can include jokes or even very indirect references.
Thailand is largely tropical, so it's hot and humid all year around with temperatures in the 28-35°C range (82-95°F), a degree of relief provided only in the mountains in the far north of Thailand. The careful observer will, however, note three seasons:
There are local deviations to these general patterns. In particular, the south-east coast of Thailand (including Ko Samui) has the rains reversed, with the peak season being May-October and the rainy off season in November-February.
Thailand's people are largely indigenous, although there are significant minorities of ethnic Chinese and assimilated Thai-Chinese throughout the country, Muslims in the south near the Malaysian border and hill tribes such as the Karen and the Hmong in the north of the country. The overwhelmingly dominant religion (95%) is Theravada Buddhism, although there are adherents to Confucianism, Islam, Christianity and animist faiths.
Mainland Thai culture is heavily influenced by Buddhism. However, unlike the Buddhist countries of East Asia, Thailand's Buddhists follow the Theravada school, which is arguably closer to its Indian roots and places a heavier emphasis on monasticism. Thai temples known as wats, resplendent with gold and easily identifiable with their ornate, multicoloured, pointy roofs are ubiquitous and becoming an orange-robed monk for a short period, typically the three-month rainy season, is a common rite of passage for young Thai boys and men.
One pre-Buddhist tradition that still survives is the spirit house (ศาลพระภูมิ saan phraphuum), usually found at the corner of any house or business, which houses spirits so they don't enter the house and cause trouble. The grander the building, the larger the spirit house, and buildings placed in particularly unlucky spots may have very large ones. Perhaps the most famous spirit house in Thailand is the Erawan Shrine in Bangkok, which protects the Erawan Hotel (now the Grand Hyatt Erawan) - built in 1956 on a former execution ground - and is now one of the busiest and most popular shrines in the city.
Some traditional arts popular in Thailand include traditional Thai dancing and music, based on religious rituals and court entertainment. Famously brutal Thai boxing (muay Thai), derived from the military training of Thai warriors, is undoubtedly the country's best known indigenous sport.
In addition to the mainland Thai culture, there are many other cultures in Thailand including those of the "hill tribes" in the northern mountainous regions of Thailand (e.g., Hmong, Karen, Lisu, Lahu, Akha), the southern Muslims, and indigenous island peoples of the Andaman Sea.
In addition to the Gregorian calendar, Thailand also uses the Thai solar calendar, which is 543 years ahead. Thus, Thai year 2558 corresponds to the Western year 2015. Thai dates in English are often written as B.E., short for "Buddhist Era".
Some Thai holidays are still calculated with the older Thai lunar calendar, so their dates change every year.
Thailand has a lot of holidays, mostly related to Buddhism and the monarchy. Nobody celebrates all of them, except for banks, which seem to be closed a lot.
Wisakha Bucha (วิสาขบูชา) - falls on a full moon in the sixth lunar month, which is usually in May or sometimes June. It commemorates the birth, enlightenment, and death of the Lord Buddha that all happened on the same day in Buddha period. Wisakha Bucha Day is recognized as the most important day in Buddhism and also recognized as “World Heritage Day” by UNESCO. On this day, Thai Buddhists visit a temple to make merit in the morning and listen to sermons (Dhamma) by monks. After sunset, candle-lit processions (Wian-Tian) take place at most temples across the country. Buddhists carry lighted candles, three incense sticks and flowers, usually lotus flowers and walk around the central chapel three times in clockwise direction among smoke from the candles and incense sticks.
Makha Bucha (มาฆบูชา) - falls on the full moon in of the fourth Lunar month, which usually falls in February or March, and commemorates the spontaneous gathering of 1,250 people before the Buddha, which led to their ordination and subsequent enlightenment. At temples in Bangkok and throughout Thailand, Buddhists carry candles and walk around the main shrine three times in a clockwise direction.
Asanha Bucha (อาสาฬหบูชา) - falls on a full moon in the eighth lunar month, usually in July. It commemorates the first sermon of the Lord Buddha and the first monk of Buddhism. Many Thai Buddhists make merit, give food to monks, donate offering to temples and listen to sermons given by monks. Ceremonies are held in Buddhist temples throughout Thailand. In the evening, Buddhists perform candle-lit processions (Wian-Tian) by walking around the main chapel together with carrying candles, three incense sticks and lotus flowers. This day is also marked as the beginning of Buddhist lent period (Vassa) that neat wax candles are lit and kept burning during this period. In Ubon Ratchathani province, a Candle Festival is held which there is a parade of candles that each candle is enormous and made up very elaborately and creatively in many different figures. In Saraburi, monks will walk through the town with their bowls, on this day, to let Buddhists put flowers into their bowls instead of food.
During Chinese New Year (ตรุษจีน), Chinese Thais, who are numerous in Bangkok, celebrate by cleaning their houses and offering food to their ancestors. This is mainly a time of abundant feasting. Visit Bangkok's Chinatown or Yaowarat to fully embrace the festivity.
Songkran (สงกรานต์) - undoubtedly the most fun holiday - is the celebration of the Thai New Year, sometime in April (officially April 13th to 15th, but the date varies in some locations). What started off as polite ritual to wash away the sins of the prior year has evolved into the world's largest water fight, which lasts for three full days. Water pistols and Super Soakers are advised and are on sale everywhere. The best places to participate are Chiang Mai, the Khao San Road area in Bangkok and holiday resorts like Pattaya, Ko Samui and Phuket. Be advised that you will get very wet, this is not a spectator sport. In recent years, the water-throwing has been getting more and more unpleasant as people have started splashing iced water onto each other. It is advisable to wear dark clothing, as light colours may become transparent when wet.
Loy Krathong (ลอยกระทง) falls on the first full moon day in the twelfth month of the Lunar calendar, usually in November, when people head to rivers, lakes and even hotel swimming pools to float flower and candle-laden banana-leaf (or, these days, styrofoam) floats called krathong (กระทง). The krathong is meant as an offering to thank the river goddess who gives life to the people. Thais also believe that this is a good time to float away your bad luck and many will place a few strands of hair or finger nail clippings in the krathong. According to tradition, if you make a wish when you set down your krathong and it floats out of sight before the candle burns out, your wish will come true. Some provinces have their own version of Loy Krathong, such as Sukhothai where a spectacular show takes place. To the North, Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, have their own unique tradition of floating Kom or lit lantern balloons. This sight can be breath-taking as the sky is suddenly filled with lights, rivalling the full moon.
Coronation Day (5 May) commemorates the crowning of the current King in 1950 (although his reign actually began on 9 June 1946 - making him not only the longest-serving monarch in Thai history, but also the world's longest-serving current Head of State).
The King's Birthday (5 December) is the country's National Day and also celebrated as Father's Day, when Thais pay respect to and show their love for His Majesty the King. Buildings and homes are decorated with the King's flag (yellow with his insignia in the middle) and his portrait. Government buildings, as well as commercial buildings, are decorated with lights. In Old Bangkok (Rattanakosin) in particular, around the Royal Palace, you will see lavish light displays on trees, buildings, and the roads. The Queen's Birthday (12 August) is Mother's Day, and is celebrated similarly if with a little less pomp.
Royal Ploughing Ceremony (วันพืชมงคล). The old rite since ancient times to enhance the morale of farmers. To commemorate the importance of agriculture to the economy of Thailand. Ceremonies are conducted at Sanam Luang.
Queen’s Birthday/ Mother’s Day (วันแม่แห่งชาติ) is on 12 Aug, the birthday of HM Queen Sirikit.
Children’s Day is on the second Saturday of January in each year and has a motto for children by the Prime Minister of Thailand. Many organizations have celebrations and events for children to get a gift and toy.
(A) Countries/territories that do not require a visa for stay up to 90 days:- Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Peru and South Korea.
(B) Countries/territories that do not require a visa for stay up to 30 days: (30 days when entering by air; by land border only 14 days)-
Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bahrain, Brunei, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kuwait, Laos, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Macau, Malaysia, Monaco, Mongolia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Oman, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Russia, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States and Vietnam.
(C) Countries/territories that do not require a visa for stay up to 14 days or others (if indicated):- Cambodia, Ukraine.
Those with passports from countries not widely known, including European city-states, or have problems with document forgery, should obtain a visa in advance from the nearest Thai embassy. This is true even if visa on arrival is technically permitted. There are reports of tourists being detained using valid passports not commonly presented in Thailand. In addition, ask for a business card from the person or embassy which granted the visa, so they may be contacted on arrival, if necessary. Anyone whose nationality does not have its own embassy in Bangkok, should find out which third country represents your interests there, along with local contact information.
Proof of onward transit:- long happily ignored by Thai immigration, has been known to be strictly applied in some instances (Indian passport holders beware). The requirement is for an international flight itinerary - NOT train, ferry, or other departure type.
Airlines, who have to pay for your return flight if Thai immigration doesn't let you into the country, also check this and often will not let you board your flight for Thailand without it.) A print-out of an international e-ticket on a budget airline is sufficient to convince the enforcers, but those planning on continuing by land may have to get a little creative. Buying a fully refundable ticket and getting it refunded once in Thailand is also an option. Land crossings, on the other hand, are a very straightforward process and proof of onward journey is generally not required (Indian passport holders beware again... or anyone, if the border officials simply decide to uphold the bureaucracy).
Overstaying:- Overstaying in Thailand is possible with a 500 baht fine per day. Earlier it was fairly simple to avoid overstaying by doing a visa run to a neighbouring country overland or via a cheap flight, but since 12 August 2014 this will not be possible according to latest developments.
Stricter regulations introduced on 22 July 2014 now impose harsher penalties as a means of curbing overstaying. As can be seen from the tables, a distinction is made regarding an overstayer's circumstances. Overstayers presenting themselves to immigration officials at an airport or other border control are subject to the regulations in the first table.
In all other circumstances, overstayers will incur the much harsher penalties of being banned from re-entering Thailand for at least five years even if they overstay by just one or two days.
For example, an overstayer through no fault of their own is involved in an accident, or becomes involved in an altercation where the police are called. The first thing the police will want to see is your passport. Once it becomes apparent that you've overstayed your welcome, you're likely to be deported and banned from re-entering the kingdom for either five or ten years.
More information can be found on the Thai Immigration website.
The main international airports in Thailand are at Bangkok and Phuket, and both are well-served by intercontinental flights. Practically every airline that flies to Asia also flies into Bangkok, this means there are plenty of services and the competition on the routes helps to keep the ticket prices down.
International airports are also located at Hat Yai, Krabi, Ko Samui and Chiang Mai, though these largely restricted to flights from other Southeast Asian countries. Kuala Lumpur and Singapore make excellent places to catch flights into these smaller Thai cities, meaning you can skip the ever-present touts and queues at Bangkok.
The national carrier is the well-regarded Thai Airways, with Bangkok Airways filling in some gaps in the nearby region. Bangkok Airways offers free Internet access while you wait for boarding to start at your gate.
Chartered flights from and to Thailand from international destinations are operated by Hi Flying Group. They fly to Bangkok, Phuket, Ko Samui, and Udon Thani.
For a full at-a-glance list of all Thai-based carriers, see the Thai airlines section (below).
Cambodia - six international border crossings. The highway from Siem Reap and the temples of Angkor via Poipet to Aranyaprathet, once the stuff of nightmares, is now merely bad and can usually be covered in less than 3 hours. The border crossing at Poipet remains the stuff of nightmares, however. The Cambodian side is merely slow. The Thai side is glacial: travellers queue (outdoors in the heat) to reach a queue (in the Immigration building) - typically two and one hours, respectively. An alternative is to head to Hatlek/ Cham Yeam towards Koh Kong; that crossing is quiet and honest with good communication links.
Laos - the busiest border crossing is at the Friendship Bridge across the Mekong between Nong Khai and the Lao capital Vientiane. It's also possible to cross the Mekong at Chiang Khong / Huay Xai, Nakhon Phanom / Tha Khaek, Mukdahan / Savannakhet, and elsewhere.
Malaysia and Singapore - driving up is entirely possible, although not with a rented vehicle. Main crossings (with name of town on Malaysian side in brackets) between Thailand and Malaysia are Padang Besar (Padang Besar) and Sadao (Bukit Kayu Hitam) in Songkhla province, Betong (Pengkalan Hulu) in Yala province, and Sungai Kolok (Rantau Panjang) in Narathiwat province. There are regular buses from Singapore to the southern hub of Hat Yai.
If you are driving, then depending on whether your starting point is Singapore, Kuala Lumpur or Penang, you can expect to make it to Hat Yai, Nakhon Si Thammarat and Krabi / Phuket / Ko Samui respectively on the same day. The key to this is leaving *EARLY* (7 a.m.) since border crossing formalities can take up to 2.5 hours, particularly on holiday weekends. The following is a guide to border crossing procedures at the Bukit Kayu Hitam / Sadao border crossing point.
What you will need:
1) Passports with at least six months validity
2) Original car registration document - if you are in Malaysia and you have a car on loan, you can go to your financing bank and request the original for the trip. They will ask you to write a letter requesting it and then hand it over to you.
3) Visa for Thailand if your nationality requires it (Malaysians and Singaporeans do not need one). Even if you are not eligible for visa-free entry, if you are crossing at the Bukit Kayu Hitam / Sadao border crossing, you can obtain a visa on arrival at the border if you are from one of the eligible countries.
4) 3rd party liability coverage car insurance for Thailand - Malaysian and Singaporean car insurance does NOT extend to the territory of Thailand. The minumum legal coverage for Thailand is easily purchased in the Malaysian town of Changlun right before the border. Stop at any one of the numerous shops that have signs advertising 'Insurans'. 3rd party coverage can be bought for a minimum of MYR 17 (~SGD 6.3) which covers you for 9 days. Longer term coverage can be purchased as well if you plan on making multiple trips during a year. However, since this insurance does not cover damages to your own vehicle, you should call your insurance company and ask them for an extension of 1st party coverage to Thailand, although this is not legally required. Most insurance companies will do this on a per-trip basis. Charges may vary according to your insurance company. When you buy car insurance, many will also sell you Thai arrival / departure cards for a nominal fee of MYR 2 (SGD 0.75) for each. While these are freely available at the border, it will save you some time and hassle getting these here. The insurance agent will also fill them in for you!
Procedure for crossing:
1) Follow the North-South highway to its terminus at Bukit Kayu Hitam. Continue straight towards the Thailand border.
2) You will first pass through a Malaysian immigration checkpoint. You do not need to get out of your car here, regardless of nationality. Just drive up to the window and hand over the passports for yourself and all passengers in the car as well the car registration document. Once they are scanned / stamped and handed back to you, continue driving ahead.
3) The next checkpoint is a Malaysian customs checkpoint, but there is a gap of about a kilometer between the Malaysian immigration and Malaysian customs checkpoints. In this gap, on the left, there is a duty-free shopping complex. It might be worth stopping here on the way back since goods here are somewhat cheaper than at Malaysian supermarkets and no GST is charged here. Again, at the Malaysian customs checkpoint, you do not need to get down from the vehicle. Just drive up to the window and hand over your documents. Assuming that you have no contraband and nothing to declare, you will be waved through. Now this part is a bit tricky ...
4) Immediately after the Malaysian customs checkpoint, you will pass a border stone indicating that you are now in Thailand. To your left, there will be a large parking lot. Go ahead and park your vehicle there and come outside with your documents (Passports, car registration and car insurance).
5) Stand in the Immigration and Borderpass lines to clear immigration. You can *only* stand in these lines if you are of Malaysian, Singaporean, Thai, or other nationality that does not require a visa for entry to Thailand. If you require a visa on arrival or if you have a stamped visa from the Thai embassy, you must go into the office on the left to get your immigration stamp. However, since the queues at the Immigration and Borderpass lines are longer than the crowd inside the office, you'll probably finish your immigration formalities faster than if you were of a nationality that does not need a visa for entry to Thailand!
6) Once the immigration stamp has been provided, take your documents to the Customs window (right in front of the Immigration and Borderpass windows). Hand over your passport and car registration (and insurance, if they ask for it) to the Customs agent and they will provide you with a temporary import permit for your vehicle. This import permit is valid for ONE MONTH and you must have this permit in order to take your vehicle out of Thailand, so protect it as carefully as you would your passport. The import permit has some scary looking words in it, such that you will pay a fine of THB 1,000 per day for every day beyond the expiry of this import permit for a maximum of 10 days, and then THB 1,450,000 if you keep your vehicle in Thailand beyond that! Don't worry about those scary words, as long as you don't overstay your visa and leave within 30 days with your vehicle, you will face no problems whatsoever. The temporary import permit is provided freely for no charge.
7) Once you have cleared immigration formalities and collected your vehicle import permit, walk back behind these booths you just passed to the parking lot. Collect your car now and then drive past those very same booths. You may or may not get stopped by a Thai officer for documents checking, so it is imperative that you complete the procedures mentioned above. It would be very easy to drive into Thailand without either getting an immigration stamp or a vehicle import permit, which may complicate matters for you upon your exit.
8) Set your clocks back an hour since Thailand time is one hour behind Malaysia / Singapore time. Drive into Sadao and further into Thailand! Enjoy your stay and drive safely!
Thailand's sole international train service links to Butterworth (near Penang) and Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, continuing all the way to Singapore. Tickets are cheap even in first class sleepers, but it can be a slow ride; the 2-hour flight to Singapore will take you close to 48 hours by rail, as you have to change trains twice. The luxury option is to take the Eastern & Oriental Express, a refurbished super-luxury train that runs along the same route once per week, with gourmet dining, personal butler service and every other colonial perk you can think of. However, at around USD2200 one-way just from Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur, this is not exactly a budget friendly route!
While you can't get to Laos or Cambodia by train, you can get very close, with rail terminals just across the border at Nong Khai (across the river from Vientiane) and Aranyaprathet (for Poipet, on the road to Siem Reap). A link across the Mekong to Laos opened in March 2009, but service to Cambodia remains on the drawing board.
It is now possible in high-season (Nov-May) to island-hop using ferries from Phuket all the way to Indonesia. This can now be done without ever touching the mainland, Phuket (Thailand) to Padang (Indonesia).
Islands en route:
Thai portion can be done in a day.
Ferries cross from Satun in southern Thailand to the Malaysian island of Langkawi, while over in Narathiwat Province, a vehicular ferry shuttles between Tak Bai and Pengkalan Kubur, near Kota Bharu in Malaysia's Kelantan state.
Thailand is a large country, and if sitting in a bus for 11 hours is not your idea of a fun time, you may well want to consider domestic flights. Never terribly expensive to begin with (at least by Western standards), the deregulation of the industry has brought in a crop of new operators: with a little research, it's possible to fly pretty much anywhere in the country for less than 2,000 baht. Various taxes and (often hefty) surcharges are invariably added to the "advertised" prices.
For the benefit of passengers arriving on international flights who intend to fly to another destination using a budget airline, there is a free shuttle bus which connects Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport with the budget terminal at Don Mueang Airport. The bus departs from the 2nd Floor, Gate 3 and runs hourly in both directions starting at 05.00 with the last bus departing from both terminals at midnight. As you exit Gate 3, turn right. The bus has an orange colour scheme and is the only one which stops at that location so you won't have any trouble finding it.
From Don Mueang Airport, the bus departs from the 1st floor. You have to be a little careful here and make sure you get on the correct bus which will have a sign on the dashboard saying "Suvarnabhumi Airport" on it. The shuttle bus doesn't have a conductor, so if you get on another bus with the same colour scheme, but there's a conductor on it issuing tickets, you're on the wrong bus!
During off-peak hours, the journey takes approximately 40 minutes, but add another 30 minutes to that if you're going to be travelling during the rush hour. It's a pleasant trip though and the vehicle is fully air-conditioned.
The driver will want to see the ticket for your onward flight, so keep that handy when boarding.
Asian low cost carrierAirAsia has coverage of international and domestic routes in Thailand and offers discounted tickets if booked well in advance; however, prices rise steadily as planes fill up. It's sometimes even cheaper than bus or train, if booked at least a week or two in advance. They fly A320s from Bangkok to a number of places domestically, as well as cities across Southeast Asia and China. ]. On-line booking is straightforward and can be done even using the mobile phone, but must be done at least twenty-four hours in advance; ticket sales at the check-in desk close one hour before the departure time.
Bangkok Airways promotes itself as "Asia's Boutique Airline", and has a near monopoly on flights to its own airports at Ko Samui (now shared with Thai Airways), Sukhothai and Trat. More expensive and the posh option; however, their Discovery Airpass with fixed per segment rates can be good value, especially if used to fly to Siem Reap, (Cambodia) or Luang Prabang, (Laos). Note that the Discovery Airpass can now only be purchased from abroad.
Nok Air took to the skies in 2004 sporting graphic paints scheme with a bird's beak painted on the nose. 39% owned by Thai Airways, they compete with Air Asia on price and, with a very comprehensive domestic network, are a good choice overall. In 2014 they became the number one domestic carrier in terms of passengers carried and will commence a new regional airline NokScoot with joint venture partner Singapore Airlines.
Orient Thai, previously One-Two-Go, is easily the dodgiest of Thailand's main carriers, flying a ragtag bunch of ancient planes with a poor safety record, including a crash in Phuket in 2007 that killed 90 people. The fleet has been grounded on and off, but as of late-2010 they're flying again. Unlike most LCCs, their ticket prices don't change much, meaning they're often the cheapest option for last-minute flights, if you are not afraid. If you're tall (above 6 feet), get an exit row seat unless you want to ride the whole flight with your knees resting against the seat in front.
Thai Airways is a full service airline, but usually more expensive than the alternatives (look for their promotions, though). Travel agents often sell only Thai Airways or Bangkok Airways tickets; you can also book on-line. Thai Airways is a member of Star Alliance; all domestic flights, except some promotional fares, give at least 500 Star Alliance miles, which may (partially) compensate the price difference.
Thai Smile is Thai Airway's answer to the threat to its business posed by the various budget airlines which have mushroomed in Thailand - a premium budget airline, if that is not an oxymoron. Although fares can hardly be considered to be 'budget orientated', they are a little bit cheaper than the parent company and worth considering since they fly from the main international terminal at Suvarnabhumi Airport. In September 2014 Thai Smile moved a number of its flights to Don Mueang Airport.
Jet Asia Airways is a Thai airline based out of Suvarnabhumi International Airport in Bangkok, Thailand. The fleet is composed exclusively of Boeing 767 aircraft focusing on the Asian charter market.
State Railway of Thailand (SRT) has a 4,000km network covering most of Thailand, from Chiang Mai in the north all the way to (and beyond) the Malaysian border in the south. Compared to buses, most trains are relatively slow and prone to delays, but give different travel feeling and a bit more freedom on the move. You can pick up fruits, snacks and cooked food from hawkers at most stations.
Point-to-point fares depend on the type (speed) of the train and the class of the carriage. There are three main classes:
Pre-booking is recommended, especially for sleeper berths. While SRT's official E-Stars site  is no more since Jan'2013, there are a few agencies that can get you a ticket for a service fee (~200 baht/ticket + pickup at the office), or you can reserve with SRT directly by e-mail at [email protected] for a 200 baht/booking surcharge. Alternative way is 12Go (12go.asia) though they only book trains starting from Bangkok and Chiang Mai only.
Full information regarding routes, timetables, and up-to-date ticket costs along with interesting videos can be found at seat61.
Thailand's roads are head and shoulders above its neighbours Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia, but driving habits are still quite dangerous. Drunk driving, speeding and reckless passing are depressingly common, and bus and taxi drivers (especially for private companies) work inhuman shifts and often take drugs to keep themselves awake, with predictable and tragic results. It's common for motorbikes — even police! — to drive close to the curb on the wrong side of the road. Death tolls sky-rocket around major holidays, especially Songkhran, when bystanders often throw water on passing cars and bikes. Many drivers don't use headlights at night, multiplying risks, and it is wise to avoid or minimize overnight travel by road.
Note that unlike in its neighbours (except Malaysia), traffic moves on the left side of the road in Thailand and Thai cars are generally right-hand drive. All official road directional signs are written in both Thai and English.
Most major roads are marked in both Thai and English, and traffic culture is not as bad as some might lead you to believe. Keep a sharp lookout in both mirrors for passing traffic including 18-wheelers and scooters.
Traffic on major highways is at 100-120km/h, while smaller highways are generally 80km/h. Gas stations are common and most Thai are more than willing to give directions in spite of any language barriers.
Drive very defensively at first and watch what the locals do. Of course, it helps if you are accustomed to driving on the left side of the road, which in itself could be enough to distract some drivers.
Driving under the influence of alcohol is both illegal and dangerous, and driving at night also increased the risk of accidents — even if you're sober, many others aren't.
Fuel at large petrol stations is around 25 baht/litre. Small kerbside vendors who pump by hand from drums and/or pour from bottles charge a few baht more.
Generally speaking, BKS buses are the best option for both price and comfort. There are also private buses sanctioned by BKS, which operate on the same routes from the same terminals with the same fares, and these are also fine. The ones to watch out for are the illegal bus companies, which operate from tourist areas (especially Khao San Road) and subsidize slightly cheaper tickets with worse amenities, schedules and safety. In particular, beware of non-government "VIP" buses, which often turn out to be cramped minivans - and you'll only find this out after paying in advance.
The basic BKS bus types are:
Some buses may have TVs and sound systems blaring, so earplugs are well worth having, just in case. On long-haul buses, if your ticket allocates you a front seat, you may have to switch seats if a monk boards.
A songthaew (สองแถว) is a truck-based vehicle with a pair of bench seats in the back, one on either side — hence the name, which means "two rows" in Thai. In English language tourist literature, they're occasionally called "minibuses". By far the most common type is based on a pick-up truck and has a roof and open sides. Larger types start life as small lorries, and may have windows, and an additional central bench; smaller types are converted micro-vans, with a front bench facing backwards and a rear bench facing forwards.
Songthaews are operated extensively as local buses (generally the most economical way to travel shorter distances) and also as taxis; sometimes the same vehicle will be used for both. Be careful if asking a songthaew to take you to some place if there is nobody in the back, the driver might charge you the taxi price. In this case, check the price of the ride before embarking.
The name tuk-tuk is used to describe a wide variety of small/lightweight vehicles. The vast majority have three wheels; some are entirely purpose-built (eg the ubiquitous Bangkok tuk-tuk), others are partially based on motorcycle components (primarily engines, steering, front suspension, fuel tank, drivers seat). A relatively recent development is the four wheeled tuk-tuk (basically a microvan-songthaew) as found in Phuket. Also make sure you hold on to your backpack as it can happen that it will get stolen by two guys on a motorbike whilst driving.
Metered taxis are ubiquitous in Bangkok and starting to become more popular in Chiang Mai, but rare elsewhere in the country. When available, they are an excellent means of transport - insist on the meter. Beware of taxis which idle around touristy areas and wait for people. They are looking for a tourist who will take their taxi without using a meter. Always use the meter!
As is the case throughout virtually all of Asia, motorcycles (motosai) are the most common form of transport overall; the most popular type are the 100cc-125cc step-through models. These are very widely used as taxis, with fares starting from as low as 10 baht. Negotiate the fare with the driver before using his service otherwise you may be charged more than you expect.
Motorcycles can be rented without difficulty in many locations. Rates start at around 125 baht/day for recent 100-125cc semi-automatic (foot operated gear change, automatic clutch) step-through models, 150 baht/day for fully automatic scooters; larger capacity models can also easily be found, although the rates reflect the risks - up to around 2500 baht/day for the very latest model high capacity sport bikes, such as the Honda CBR1000RR. In all cases, lower prices will apply if paying upfront for more than a week or so; in some cases, long-distance travel may be prohibited. Motorcycle rentals do not include insurance, and both motorcycling accidents and motorbike thefts are common.
Many places will rent to you without requiring a license, but legally speaking you must have a valid Thai license or International Driver's Permit. Often a deposit will be required; sometimes a passport photocopy, or even the passport itself (don't do this- bargain to leave some baht instead), will be requested. Helmets are normally included, but are usually ultra-basic models with very flimsy chin-strap fasteners - if you're intending to travel by motorcycle and have a good quality helmet at home, then bring it with you. If supplied a helmet with a chin-cup (many cheap rental helmets are), slide the cup up the strap out of the way and securely fasten the bare strap directly under the jaw, as this is much safer.
Insurance is usually not included (or even available), so try to ensure in advance that the insurance you leave home with is going to cover you; alternatively, arrange cover with an insurance broker locally in Thailand. If you rent a vehicle without insurance and it's damaged or stolen, the bottom line is that you will be required to pay in full the cost of repairing or replacing it. Furthermore, some travel insurance policies will only provide medical cover in the event of an accident if you hold a motorcycle license in your home country.
Motorcyclists (including passengers) are required to wear crash helmets and to keep their headlights switched on at all times. Enforcement varies widely, but in tourist areas spot checks for helmets and/or licences are commonplace. While the fines are light (typically 400 baht) the inconvenience can be considerable as offender's vehicle is impounded until the fine is paid, and the queue at the police station can be lengthy.
Some (but not all) border crossings allow motorcycles through. At those which do, documentation including proof of ownership must be produced (with the possible exception of day visits to Payathonzu, Myanmar via Three Pagodas Pass).
Renting a car to explore on your own is a cost-effective way of getting off the beaten track, and avoids the constant hassle of haggling with local taxi or tuk-tuk drivers. Renting a car usually costs about 1200-1500 baht if you want to go for an economical one like a Toyota Vios.
Driving your own car in Thailand is not for the faint-hearted, and many rental companies can supply drivers at a very reasonable price. Prices without insurance for a self-driven car start from around 900 baht/day for small cars, and from as little as 570 baht/day for the increasingly rare open-top Jeep; cars with insurance start at just under 1000 baht/day, and come down to around 5,600 baht/week or 18,000 baht/month.
Most of the national companies can be found in Thailand together with some reputable local car rental companies, which are often a little cheaper. Cars can be rented without difficulty in many locations. It may be worth paying a little more than the absolute minimum to use one of the international franchises (eg Avis, Budget, and Hertz) to minimize the risk of hassles, and to ensure that any included insurance is actually worth something.
More reputable agencies require that valid licences be produced: foreigners who do not have a Thai driving licence must carry a valid International Driving Permit. Even if you manage to rent a car without an IDP, not having one will invalidate the insurance and count against you in the event of an accident.
A common rental scam involves the owner taking a deposit, and then later refusing to refund it in full on the basis that the customer is responsible for previous damage; the Tourist Police (dial 1155) may be able to help. Another common scam involves the owner having someone follow the rented vehicle and later "steal" it, using a set of spare keys. Always report thefts: a "stolen" vehicle may mysteriously turn up as soon as the police become involved.
One of the Thais' many names for themselves is jao naam, the Water Lords, and from the river expresses of Bangkok to the fishing trawlers of Phuket, boats remain an indispensable way of getting around many parts of the country.
Perhaps the most identifiably Thai boat is the long-tail boat (reua hang yao), a long, thin wooden boat with the propeller at the end of a long 'tail' stretching from the boat. This makes them supremely manoeuvrable even in shallow waters, but they're a little underpowered for longer trips and you'll get wet if it's even a little choppy. Long-tails usually act as taxis that can be chartered, although prices vary widely - figure on 300-400 baht for a few hours' rental, or up to 1500 for a full day. In some locations like Krabi, long-tails run along set routes and charge fixed prices per passenger.
Modern, air-conditioned speedboat services, sometimes ferries (departure every 30min) also run from the Surat Thani to popular islands like Ko Samui and Ko Pha Ngan. Truly long-distance services (eg Bangkok to any other major city) have, however, effectively ceased to exist as buses, planes and even trains are faster. Safety measures are rudimentary and ferries and speedboats do sink occasionally, so avoid overloaded ships in poor weather, and scope out the nearest life jackets when on board.
Almost everyone in Bangkok uses the Skytrain to avoid the roads' traffic jam. The Bangkok Mass Transit System, known as the BTS Skytrain (Thai: รถไฟฟ้าบีทีเอส rot fai fa BTS), is the rapid transit system in Bangkok. The system of stations features 34 stations and two lines. The first line is the Sukhumvit Line, which runs from the north to the south on the east side of the country (Terminal stations are at Mo Chit and Bearing). The second line is the Silom Line, which travels along Silom and Sathon Roads. The Central Station of Bangkok has one station for each line, with terminal stations at the National Stadium and Wongwian Yai. The lines interchange at Siam Station, where you can change to the MRT or change line on the BTS. The system is formally known as the Noble Train in Celebration of HM the King's 6th Cycle Birthday. For more information of BTS ticket fare ans route map, see http://www.bts.co.th.
Historical and cultural attractions
Bangkok is at the start of many visitors' itineraries, and while a modern city, it has a rich cultural heritage. Most visitors at least take in the Grand Palace, a collection of highly decorated buildings and monuments. It is home to Wat Phra Kaew, the most sacred Buddhist temple in Thailand that houses the Emerald Buddha. Other cultural attractions include Wat Pho, Wat Arun and Jim Thompson's House, but these are just a fraction of possible sights you could visit.
The former capitals of Siam, Ayutthaya and Sukhothai, make excellent stops for those interested in Thai history. The latter could be combined with a visit to Si Satchanalai and Kamphaeng Phet, all of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Khmer architecture is mostly found in Isaan, with the historical remains of Phimai and Phanom Rung being the most significant.
In the northern provinces live unique hill-tribe peoples, often visited as part of a trekking. The six major hill tribes in Thailand are the Akha, Lahu, Karen, Hmong, Mien and Lisu, each with a distinct language and culture. Chiang Mai makes a good base for arranging these trekkings, and has some cultural sights of its own, such as Wat Doi Suthep.
For those interested in recent history, Kanchanaburi has a lot of sights related to World War II. The Bridge over the River Kwai, popularised by the film of the same name, is the most famous one, but the museums in its vicinity are a lot more moving.
Beaches and islands
Thailand's beaches and islands attract millions of visitors each year from all over the globe. Hua Hin is Thailand's oldest beach resort, discovered by King Rama VII in the 1920s as an ideal getaway from Bangkok. Things have considerably changed since then. While Pattaya, Phuket and Ko Samui were only discovered in the 1970s, these are now by far the most developed beach resorts.
The Chumphon Archipelago has a great selection of islands from touristic to unspoilt. Using Chumphon as a gateway, the islands of Ko Tao, Ko Nang Yuan, Ko Phangan and Ko Samui can be reached by high speed catamaran. The archipelago also includes 2 marine national parks, Mu Ko National Park and Ang Thong National Marine Park
Krabi Province has some beautiful spots, including Ao Nang, Rai Leh and the long golden beaches of Ko Lanta. Ko Phi Phi, renowned as a true paradise island, has been undergoing massive development since the release of the film The Beach in 2000. Ko Pha Ngan gives the best of both worlds, with well-developed beaches and empty ones a short ride away.
Ko Chang is a bit like Ko Samui used to be, it has a backpacker vibe, but is fairly laid-back and there is accommodation in all price ranges. If you're looking for unspoiled beaches, Ko Kut is very thinly populated, but also difficult to explore. Ko Samet is the closest island beach to Bangkok, but its northern beaches are quite developed and hotels are full on weekends and public holidays.
While not as beautiful as Malaysia or Indonesia, Thailand does have its fair share of tropical forest. Khao Yai National Park, the first national park of Thailand, is the closest to Bangkok. Wild tigers and elephants are increasingly rare, but you can't miss the macaques, gibbons, deer, and species of birds. The stretch of jungle at Khao Sok National Park is probably even more impressive, and you can spend the night in the middle of the jungle.
Waterfalls can be found all over Thailand. The Heo Suwat Waterfall in Khao Yai National Park and the 7-tiered Erawan Falls in Kanchanaburi are among the most visited, but the Thee Lor Sue Waterfall in Umphang and the 11-tiered Pa La-u Falls in Kaeng Krachan National Park are equally exciting. Finally, the gravity-defying limestone formations of the Phang Nga Bay shouldn't be missed by anyone who stays in the region.
In Thailand, massage is viewed as much more than the physical treatment it often is in the West; it draws on a number of traditions from neighboring countries – including India and China – and has much more of a philosophical, psychological basis. In particular, it combines elements from reflexology, acupressure, and assisted yoga into one all-encompassing method that does much more than simply relax muscles and alleviate pain.
For those who know and appreciate Thai massage – Thais and foreigners – ongoing regular sessions are an important part of their lives, and these massages help alleviate stress and tension, calm one’s mood, restore a sense of balance to one’s life, and invigorate and rejuvenate one’s body. Sessions are quiet, peaceful, and meditative, and a sense of trust and bonding develops between the massage therapist and the client that is an important part of the process. Regular appointments with a compatible therapist are best for optimum results.
Although spas in Thailand did not take off for tourists until the early 1990s, it quickly became apparent that this was an industry tailor made for the Kingdom. Given that there already existed a very deep an extensive knowledge of natural remedies and herbal properties, it was a logical step to make this knowledge available to tourists in venues and locations that were amenable to this market.
Spas and wellness centres now exist throughout Thailand, with the larger and more exclusive ones concentrated in the main tourist destinations of Bangkok, Pattaya, Phuket, Koh Samui, Chiang Mai, and Hua Hin. That said, almost any town or hotel of any size will offer some type of massage, sauna, or spa treatment, which adds great value for tourists to traveling throughout Thailand.
Thailand has quickly become one of the highest ranking spa destinations in the world. Besides traditional Thai massage, there is a phenomenal variety of international treatments, including aromatherapy, Swedish massage and many others. There is usually an option for every budget, varying from extravagant wellness centres in the five star hotels to the ubiquitous little massage shops found on many street corners.
Thailand's a big enough country that you can find a place to practice almost any outdoor sport. Ko Tao is becoming one of Asia's great Scuba diving centres, while the Ang Thong National Marine Park near Ko Samui and the Similan Islands also draw the crowds. One of the newest hot spots for diving is Ko Lipe, a small island that is amazingly unspoilt with great reefs and absolutely stunning beaches. Snorkeling can be done at pretty much at every beach, but coral reefs of the Similan Islands stand out as particularly worthwhile.
While Thailand does not match surf paradises like Bali, surfing does have its place. The waves are generally small, good for longboarding and those wanting to learn to surf. Khao Lak and Phuket's west coast beaches are among the better ones, but the best waves are to be found at the relatively unknown Ko Kradang at the west coast of Trang Province. Other surf-spots include Rayong and Ko Samui, but the waves of the Gulf Coast are less reliable.
Phang Nga Bay's gravity-defying limestone formations are usually seen with boat tours, but if you go sea-canoeing, you can get into areas unexplored by the tourist masses. The limestone cliffs of Rai Leh are arguably among the best in the world for rock-climbing.
Wildlife of Thailand has much to offer. From tigers and elephants to monkeys and birds, there are many new species to discover in Thailand. Adventurous and giving travelers can also look into spending time volunteering with animals in Thailand. Another option to enjoy Thailand's wildlife up close is through the zipline canopy experience, Flight of the Gibbon. Located in Chonburi and Chiang Mai, Flight of the Gibbon invests a portion of their profits in primate re-habilitation, re-forestation projects and ecological education programs throughout Thailand.
Golf arrived in Thailand during the reign of King Rama V one hundred years ago. It was first played by nobles and other elitists of high society, but since then, things have certainly changed. Over the past decade or so, the popularity of golf in Thailand has escalated; played both by local Thais and visiting foreign tourists and expatriates.
Meeting to the recent needs of an average of 400,000 foreign golfers coming to Thailand annually, golf in Thailand has turned into a huge local industry with new courses constantly being churned out. Golf alone is annually bringing an income of 8 billion baht into the local economy. Thailand offers over two hundred courses with high standards. Internationally renowned courses can be found in tourist-spots like Bangkok, Pattaya and Phuket.
There are an abundance of reasons why golf in Thailand became so popular. First, if you compare the cost to most golfing countries in the world, membership and course fees are exceptionally low. The general low cost of travel in Thailand itself makes the country ideal for cost-efficiency minded tourists. Also, many of the golf courses in Thailand have been designed by top names in the game such as Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo and Greg Norman.
Thai Boxing (Muay Thai) was the most popular sport in Thailand which is regarded as national martial arts of Thailand. It is a combat sport that uses physical and mental in the fight. Such as punches, knee, forearm, foot, head and body. Boxing is a sport that is very useful in self-defence. It is very popular in Southern Thailand and Surat Thani. Boxing is the art of “Muay Thai Chaiya” that has famous in reign 5-6. Moreover, it has remained Muay Korat (Northeast), Muay Lopburi. Muay Thai camps are offered throughout the country with 1,762 camps. Bangkok has a boxing stage into close contact, such as Lumpini Boxing Stadium Rama IV Road Ratchadamnoen Boxing Stadium.
The official language of Thailand is Thai. Like Mandarin and Vietnamese, Thai is a tonal language (think about the difference in your voice when saying "yes." versus "yes?" - that's tonal) which can make it tricky for speakers of non-tonal languages to learn quickly, but despite this, everyone will appreciate any attempt you do make so pick up a phrasebook and give it a go. Thai is a language with many dialects, though the Bangkok dialect, also known as Central Thai, is used as the standard and is taught in all schools. Language schools can be found in all larger Thai cities, including Bangkok and Phuket.
In the Muslim-dominated south, dialects of Malay that are largely incomprehensible to speakers of standard Malay/Indonesian are spoken.
Various dialects of Chinese are spoken by the ethnic Chinese community, with Teochew being the dominant dialect in Bangkok's Chinatown, and Cantonese speakers also forming a sizeable minority among the Chinese community. Down south in Hat Yai, Hokkien is also widely understood due to the large number of tourists from Penang. Mandarin is taught in most Chinese schools while Cantonese is commonly heard in the mass media due to the popularity of TVB serials from Hong Kong among the Chinese community, so many are conversant in both, in addition to their native dialect.
The eastern Isaan dialects are closely related to Lao. In the eastern provinces of Thailand bordering Cambodia, there are various ethnic Khmer communities, known locally as the Khmer Surin, who speak various dialects of Khmer. The remote hill areas of Thailand are also home to various tribal people known as the Hill Tribes, who speak various indigenous languages such as Hmong, Karen and many others - some of these are so remote that Thai speakers are few and far between.
Sanskrit is taught to those who attend Buddhist religious schools, and many clerics as well as other very observant Buddhists will have a functional command of Sanskrit. However, it is not widely spoken, though the Thai language does have a large number of loan words from Sanskrit.
Public signage is generally bilingual, written in both Thai and English. There is also some prevalance of Japanese and Chinese signs. Where there is English, it will usually be fairly phonetic - for example "Sawatdee" (meaning hello) is pronounced just as it reads: sa-wat-dee. There is no universal agreement on how to transcribe Thai letters that don't have an English equivalent, so Khao San Road for example is also commonly spelled Kao Sarn, Kao Sahn, Khao San, Koh Saan, Khaosan, and many other variations. Maps with names in both Thai and English make it easier for locals to try and help you.
As Thailand has never been colonized, not many Thais can speak English, but since the 1980s many Thais have started to learn English. As of 2011, English is compulsory in most private schools but not in public schools, and widely spoken in the larger cities, although in rural areas a little Thai will come in handy. Outside Bangkok, students learn English from age 13 and learn at the basic level, so very few people can speak English. The 2012 research found that 10% of the population are fluent in English, and 32% can speak English at least at basic level, and the age group with most English speakers is 25-34.
There is also a colloquial form of English spoken among Thais in urban areas, not inappropriately known as Tinglish, which takes a bit of getting used to if you intend to join in the conversation on local topics. Thais will almost always try to speak 'standardized English' when approached by Western travellers. In general, police stations and government offices will have English-speaking staff on duty.
Many Thais have trouble pronouncing the consonant clusters of the English language. Common confusion comes from the fact that Thais often pronounce "twenty" as "TEH-wen-ty", making it sound like they're saying "seventy". Therefore it is a good idea to make use of the calculators that street vendors may offer you to avoid confusion about prices offered when buying goods.
The most useful bills tend to be 20s and 100s, as many small shops and stalls don't carry much change, and prefer "small money". Taxi drivers also like to pull the "no change" trick; if caught, hop into the nearest convenience store and make a small purchase. Beware of 1000-baht notes, as counterfeits are not uncommon: feel the embossing, look for the watermark and tilt to see colour-changing ink  to make sure the note is real.
ATMs can be found in all cities and large towns, and international withdrawals are not a problem. When using a debit card, an ATM will typically provide a much better exchange rate than a money exchange counter, and this is especially the case if you have a card that does not charge a transaction fee for overseas withdrawals (becoming common in countries such as Australia). ATMs are available at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi airport (BKK) after collecting your bag and clearing customs, and while it is advisable to arrive with a small amount of baht if possible, you may obtain cash from an ATM after landing as well. Since early 2009, there is a minimum 150 baht surcharge for use of foreign ATM cards in all banks. Yellow Ayudhya (Krungsri) ATM's should be avoided. Not only do they charge 150 THB surcharge, the exchange rate can be poor.
Some remote areas (including smaller islands) don't have banks or ATMs, so cash or traveller's checks are essential (traveller's checks are only useful at bank branches and larger hotels). Many hotels and guest houses will change money for guests, but hefty commissions and poor rates may apply. US dollars in small bills (1s, 5s, and 20s) are useful for onward travel to Laos and Cambodia, but are only useful in Thailand for exceptional purchases (eg paying visa fees for Cambodia).
Credit cards are widely accepted in the tourist industry, at larger tourist-oriented restaurants, shopping malls and grocery stores, and shops catering to tourists, but most local stores do not accept them. Fraud can happen, so use them sparingly and tell your bank in advance, so your card doesn't get locked down because you are using it. Some businesses add a surcharge (usually 2-3%) if you're paying by credit card; in this case, it can turn out cheaper to pay them in cash.
Another problem with credit cards here (at April 2014) is that no one appears to use the PIN option - it is always your signature. This makes it possible for your card to be hacked easier.
Thailand is not as cheap as it used to be with Bangkok recently being named the second most expensive city in south east Asia behind Singapore. However, budget travelers who are careful with what they spend will still find 1,000 baht will get a backpacker a dorm bed or cheap room, three square meals a day and leave enough for transport, sightseeing, and even partying. Doubling that budget will let you stay in decent 2-star hotels, and if you're willing to fork out 5000 baht per day or more you can live like a king. Bangkok requires a more generous budget than upcountry destinations, but also offers by far the most competitive prices for shoppers who shop around. The most popular tourism islands such as Phuket and Ko Samui tend to have higher prices in general. It is common for tourists to be charged several times the actual price in tourist areas of other places, as well. If you do want to have an idea what the real Thai prices are - consider visiting local markets, as well as malls like Big C, Tesco or Carrefour where locals and expats do routinely shop. Those are available in any major cities (in Bangkok, there are dozens of them) and even on some larger islands such as Phuket or Ko Samui.
Thailand is a shopper's paradise and many visitors to Bangkok in particular end up spending much of their time in the countless markets and malls. Particularly good buys are clothing, both cheap locally produced streetwear and fancy Thai silk, and all sorts of handicrafts. Electronics and computer gear are also widely available, but prices are slightly higher than in Singapore, Hong Kong, Philippines and Kuala Lumpur.
A Thai speciality are the night markets found in almost every town, the largest and best-known of which are in Bangkok and the Night Bazaar in Chiang Mai. Here a variety of vendors from designers to handicraft sellers have stalls selling goods which cannot normally be found in malls and day markets. Most night markets also have large open air food courts attached.
You can also find marvelously tacky modern clothing accessories. Witness pink sandals with clear plastic platform heels filled with fake flowers. Night markets along the main roads and Bangkok's Mahboonkrong (MBK) Mall, near the Siam skytrain stop, are particularly good sources. Not to be left out is what is often touted as the world's biggest weekend bazaar - The Chatuchak Weekend Market or knowned to locals simply as "JJ" Market. Chatuchak sells a myriad of products ranging from clothes to antiques, covers over 35 acres (1.1 km square) and is growing by the day!
Thai silk is made from the cocoon of the silk worm. It is a very complicated process and is painstakingly completed by Thai women in the Northeast region of Thailand. From raising the silk worms to the weaving of the fabric, it is a real work of art.
Celadon ceramics are another Thai signature handicraft that you don't want to miss purchasing on your visit to Thailand. Celadon ceramics have been around for hundreds of years and have been an attempt to create a type of manmade jade.
The Thai people are master craftsmen and their talent shines through in the hand carved wooden items available for purchase throughout Thailand. Different types of wood are used; coconut, sandalwood and teak.
Note, for some products in some markets haggling is the norm, especially in Bangkok. In some locations, market and road-side vendors will try to charge you as much as they think you can afford to pay. It's not uncommon to buy something, walk outside, and find somebody who bought the same item for half or one third what you paid (or even less). Try to figure out the item's rough value first — adjacent stalls, government-run fixed price shops and even hotel gift shops are a good starting point — and you'll find that prices drop drastically when the seller realizes you have some idea of what it costs. However, it is important to note that haggling, is not at all common in many of the wet markets or those places with prepared foods. For example, in the local Chiang Mai marketplaces, vendors become deeply offended by the oblivious foreigner trying to get a discount on eggs or bananas or prepared foods by the roadside. At the same time, asking for a discount when trying to buy some souvenirs is generally ok, but the point is to not try and bargain hard as one might in other countries such as India.
If you want to receive new experience by shopping in the most luxurious shopping mall in Thailand, you should go visit the "Siam Paragon". One of the most famous landmarks in Thailand which is located on "Rama I" Road in "Pathum Wan" district,at the middle of teenager's walking street called "Siam". You could visit Siam Paragon by driving your car or take the BTS train either at Sukhumvit or Silom lines and get off when you reach Siam station.
That said, something like custom tailored suits are generally hugely marked up for the foreign visitor, but good luck getting a reasonable price.
Thai is a tonal language with 5 tones (mid, low, falling, high and rising). The Thai alphabet has 44 consonants, 15 vowel symbols and 4 tone marks. Each letter of the Thai alphabet is learned with its associated object: ก "g" as in chicken, ข "k" as in egg, ฃ "k" as in bottle, ..., up to ฮ "h" as in owl. There are numerous transcription methods for writing Thai in Latin letters, all of which are of limited use in Thailand. It is highly recommended to start learning the Thai alphabet from the start.
Thai transliterations into English can be quite inaccurate, as the language has several vowels and consonants which English does not have. It also does not have a couple of consonants which English does have. (c,q,v,x,z)
In addition, for some strange reason the letters "g" and "j" are frequently mistranslated as "k" and ch" respectively. This is despite the Thai language having the same letters in its alphabet, both of which are pronounced the same as in English. Some notable examples are:
Phuket - actually pronounced Pooget , Krabi (Grabee), Kanchanaburi (Garnjanaburee) , Koh (as in Koh Samui etc), is pronounced "Gau".
Also in any transliteration containing an "h" after a consonant with the exception of "ch", ignore the "h" and just pronounce the consonant. As in Phuket, Nong Khai, Khao Lak , Thonburi and so many others.
Another seriously mispronounced letter is "v". This letter does not occur in the Thai language at all, and is always actually a "w". (Suvarnabhumi - Suwannapoom - being an example.)
Language schools in Chiang Mai for studying Thai
Websites and Apps for studying Thai
It should be noted that Thai Immigration has decided to clampdown on the frequent misuse of Thai Educational visas which at one time could be obtained for five years provided the applicant enrolled at an approved educational establishment. With effect from August 29, 2014, ED visas will only be issued for 90 days. The initial validity can be extended by an additional 90 days three times thereafter, but only for a maximum period of one year.
More information can be obtained by visiting the Thai Immigration website. 
The two main opportunities for work for foreigners are teaching English and dive instructor, but both are very competitive and dive masters in particular are paid a pittance.
To become a dive instructor, the most popular destination is Ko Tao (Turtle Island) a few hours off the coast of Chumphon in the Gulf of Thailand. There are dozens of dive shops that provide training and internships.
Anyone with a four-year degree can gain employment as an English teacher in Thailand, and even those without a degree can usually find work under the table. Normal starting salary is approximately 30,000 baht per month and this goes up and down slightly depending upon location (higher in Bangkok, lower in some up-country towns).
A great start to working as a teacher is a TESOL/TEFL Certificate. Providers include Chiang Mai University  and SEE TEFL  in Chiang Mai and various locations through the TEFL International franchisees .
Finding any other kind of work in Thailand can be difficult, as wages are poor and a large number of occupations are legally off limits to non-Thais. Thai law requires foreigner to earn quite a high wage to be eligible for a work permit. Companies and schools should assist employees to obtain visas and work permits, but some schools fear the extra work involved.
One of the best ways to earn a living in thailand is to be a freelancer. You can have an activity from your home or better from a Coworking space. Since your activity is not in Thailand there is nothing illegal.
Volunteering is a great way to meet locals and experience the culture and traditions of Thailand. There are many worldwide organizations that offer volunteer work on such projects as community development, conservation, wildlife sanctuary maintenance & development, scientific research, & education programs. Here are two of them:
IMPORTANT: Volunteering is defined as a form of employment by the Thai authorities. Foreigners must obtain a work permit even to volunteer for small projects. This is easier to obtain than a normal work permit, and can be issued even for one or two days. Tourists are advised to take these rules seriously. Thai jails are not comfortable; if you are arrested on a Friday you may not be able to contact anyone before Monday.
The food alone is really reason enough for a trip to Thailand. Curries, fruit shakes, stir fries, fresh fish made a zillion ways - and that's just the beginning. Food in Thailand can be as cheap and easy as 25 baht pad thai (Thai fried noodles) cooked at a street stall and floating markets  or as expensive and complicated as a $100 ten-course meal by a royal chef served in one of Bangkok's 5 star hotels.
Since most backpackers will be sticking closer to the first than the second, one of the great things about Thailand is that food from stalls and tiny sidewalk restaurants is usually quite safe. Unlike some Asian countries, travellers should worry more about overeating or too much curry spice than about unclean kitchens and bad food. In fact, street restaurants, where you can see what you'll get and everything is cooked on the spot can be a safe option.
Thai food is most commonly eaten with fork and spoon. Hold the spoon in your right hand and use it to eat, and reserve the fork for piling food onto your spoon. Chopsticks are only employed for noodle soups and East Asian-style dishes.
Thai food is meant for sharing. Everybody gets their own plate of rice and tiny soup bowl, but all the other dishes are laid out in the middle of the table and you're free to eat what you wish. Though some people believe that taking the last piece from a shared plate is considered slightly unlucky, and you may hear people make wishes for others to compensate for their own misfortune — a popular wish is that "may my girl/boyfriend be beautiful"!
Food is also generally brought out a dish at a time as it is prepared. It is not expected for diners to wait until all meals are brought out before they start eating as is polite in western culture. Instead they should tuck into the nearest meal as it arrives.
Thai cuisine is characterized by balance and strong flavors, especially lime juice, lemon grass and fresh coriander, the combination of which gives Thai food its distinctive taste. In addition, Thai food has a deserved reputation for being spicy, with hot little torpedo-shaped chillies called phrik khii nuu (พริกขี้หนู, lit. "mouse shit chillies") making their way into many a dish. Thais are well aware that these can be more than Westerners can handle and will often ask if you like it hot (เผ็ด phet); answer "yes" at your own risk!
Thai dishes can be roughly categorized into central Thai food (around Bangkok), northern Thai food (from the northern region around Chiang Mai, with Burmese and Chinese influence), north-eastern Thai food (from the Isaan region bordering with Laos) and southern Thai food (with heavy influences from Malaysia). The following list covers some better-known dishes; see Isaan for Isaan food, which is widely available throughout the country.
The Thai staple food is rice (ข้าว khao), so much so that in Thai eating a meal, kin khao, literally means "eat rice".
Thais are great noodle eaters. The most common kind is rice noodles, served angel-hair (เส้นหมี่ sen mii), small (เส้นเล็ก sen lek) and large (เส้นใหญ่ sen yai), but egg noodles (บะหมี่ ba mii), Chinese-style stuffed wonton ravioli (เกี๊ยว kio) and glass noodles made from mung beans (วุ้นเส้น wun sen) are also popular.
Unlike other Thai foods, noodles are usually eaten with chopsticks. They are also usually served with a rack of four condiments, namely dried red chillies , fish sauce, vinegar and sugar which diners can add to their own taste.
Soups and curries
The line between soups (ต้ม tom, literally just "boiled") and curries (แกง kaeng) is a little fuzzy, and many dishes the Thais call curries would be soups to an Indian. A plate of rice with a ladleful of a curry or two on top, known as khao kaeng (ข้าวแกง), is a very popular quick meal if eating alone.
Thais like their mains fried (ทอด thot or ผัด phat) or grilled (yaang ย่าง). Fish, in particular, is often deep-fried until the meat turns brown and crispy.
About the only thing Thai salads (ยำ yam) have in common with the Western variety is that they are both based on raw vegetables. A uniquely Thai flavor is achieved by drowning the ingredients in fish sauce, lime juice and chillies - the end result can be very spicy indeed!
Thais don't usually eat "dessert" in the Western after-meal sense, although you may get a few slices of fresh fruit (ผลไม้ ponlamai) for free at fancier places, but they certainly have a finely honed sweet tooth.
In Thailand, there are many varieties of desserts. Most Thai people like to eat desserts that are made from coconut milk.
Dumpling balls in coconut cream with egg is found everywhere in Thailand and it also is a popular dessert. This dessert is often enjoyed in the evening. The dumpling balls are made from flour, water and coloured water. Dumpling balls in coconut cream with egg can also be found in colours such as green, purple, blue, yellow, pink, white and so on. Each colour is made from flowers and vegetables. The ingredients of this dessert contains eggs, coconut milk, taro, corn, and colourful dumpling balls. Most Thai people loves these because it is a hot coconut cream soup with dumpling balls and eggs and tastes sweet and creamy.
Banana in coconut milk are easy to buy and cook. The taste is creamy, sweet and silky. The ingredients are cheap and contains bananas, coconut milk, some salt and sugar. Most Thai people like to cook this dessert because of the affordable ingredients and the dish is easy to make. However, banana in coconut milk are easy to find in the supermarket and other shops.
Vegetarians won't have too many problems surviving in Thailand, with one significant exception: fish sauce (น้ำปลา naam plaa) is to Thai cuisine what soy sauce is to Chinese food, and keeping it out of soups, curries and stir-fries will be a challenge.
That said, Thailand is a Buddhist country and vegetarianism is a fairly well-understood concept, especially among Chinese Thais (many of whom eat only vegetarian food during several festivals). Tofu is a traditional Thai ingredient and they aren't afraid to mix it up in some non traditional dishes such as omelettes (with or without eggs), submarine sandwiches, and burritos. Since Thai dishes are usually made to order, it's easy to ask for anything on the menu to be made without meat or fish. Bangkok features several fantastic veggie and vegan restaurants, but outside of big cities make sure to check that your idea of "veggie" matches the chef's.
Some key phrases for vegetarians:
Thailand has a large number of indigenous restaurant chains offering much the same fare as your average street stall, but with the added advantages of air conditioning, printed menus (often in English) and some semblance of hygiene. All the chains are heavily concentrated in Bangkok, but larger cities and popular tourist spots may have an outlet or two.
And yes, you can find the usual McDonalds, KFC, Pizza Hut, Komalas etc if you insist. If you do end up at McD's, at least try the un-Maclike fried chicken with McSomTam (green papaya salad). For those craving American-style pizza, try the ubiquitous The Pizza Company, which is a less expensive and (arguably) tastier local chain.
Tap water is usually not drinkable in Thailand outside of Bangkok. In many places in Bangkok however, particularly in new buildings, drinking tap water is perfectly safe. However, if you don't want to chance it, buying a bottle of water is the obvious solution. Bottled water (น้ำเปล่า naam plao) is cheap and ubiquitous at 5-20 baht a bottle depending on its size and brand, and drinking water served in restaurants is always at least boiled (น้ำต้ม naam tom). Ice (น้ำแข็ง naam khaeng) in Thailand usually comes packaged straight from the factory and is safe; there is only reason to worry if you are served hand-cut ice. You can buy a large package of ice in most 7-11s for 7 baht, too.
Mainly in residential areas, machines dispensing water into your own bottle (1 baht or 50 satang /liter are often available. This is a clean (the water is cleaned and UV-treated on the spot) and extremely cheap option, also, this way you'll avoid making unnecessary plastic waste from empty bottles. These machines are widely available streetside in Chiang Mai.
Coconut water (น้ำมะพร้าว naam ma-phrao), iced and drunk directly from a fresh coconut is a cheap and healthy way to cool the body. Available at restaurants and also from vendors that specialize in fruit juice.
Fruit juices, freezes, and milkshakes of all kinds are very popular with Thais and visitors alike. Most cafés and restaurants charge 20-40 baht, but a bottle of freshly squeezed Thai sweet orange juice (น้ำส้ม naam som)- which really is orange in colour! - can be sold on the street for 15-30 baht. Thais often add salt to their fruit juices-- an acquired taste that you might just learn to like. Thais also like to have basil seeds in their iced fruit juice sold on the road - which looks like small jelly balls down of the bottle.
Tea and coffee
One of Thailand's most characteristic drinks is Thai iced tea (ชาเย็น chaa yen, lit. "cold tea"). Instantly identifiable thanks to its lurid orange colour, this is the side effect of adding ground tamarind seed (or, these days, artificial colour) during the curing process. The iced tea is always very strong and very sweet, and usually served with a dash of condensed milk; ask for chaa dam yen to skip the milk. There is also Lemon tea (ชามะนาว chaa ma naow) which is also strong and sweet.
Naam chaa is a loose term for plain tea without milk and sugar, being it black, Chinese or even green tea in some specific context. Though mostly it'll refer to Chinese tea, asking for Naam chaa can give you any of these depending on what the restaurant serves. To ask for any of those specifically, chaa jiin is literally Chinese tea which is often served in restaurants for free, Western-style black tea is called chaa farang (ชาฝรั่ง - lit. "Western/westerners tea") and chaa khiao is green tea, literally. However, green tea is not so common in Thailand, in a sense. Ordering green tea outside of a Japanese style restaurant will most likely give you a sweet bottled green tea or sweet instant green tea which can be quite different from what you might expect. And if you happen to know that Dam means black in Thai, imitating the word structure of green tea hence asking for chaa dam will likely give you the cha dam yen mentioned above instead. Coffee (กาแฟ kaafae) is also widely available, and is usually served with condensed milk and lots of sugar. Ask for kaafae thung to get traditional filtered "bag" coffee instead of instant. Two terms used widely and can be found in most local stalls and street restaurants drinks menu are O liang (โอเลี้ยง) and O yua (โอยัวะ) are borrowed words from Teochew Chinese dialect for iced and hot black kaafae thung respectively; both are very sweet though. Unlike tea, asking for kaafae dam will give you a black coffee but a lot of sugar is not uncommon.
The Starbucks phenomenon has also arrived in Thailand, but for the moment local competitors Black Canyon Coffee and S&P still have the edge in marketshare. These are the places to look for if you want that triple-moccha latte with hazelnut swirl and are willing to pay 75 baht for the privilege.
Herbal juice is characteristic of Thai drinks. It makes from herbs in nature and it is folkways drinks of Thailand people as well. They call healthy drinks; they often drink herbal juice with ice. Basic process is squashing the herbal, it will give herbal juice. Also, herbal water has benefits to the body such that it can help you refreshed when you feel thirsty as well as it can help you to healthy such that it nurtures the skin ,nurtures the blood system and nurtures eyesight etc. Herbal drinks as the follows:
Thailand is the original home of the Red Bull brand energy drink - a licensed and re-branded version of Thailand's original Krathing Daeng (กระทิงแดง, "Red Bull"), complete with the familiar logo of two bulls charging at each other.
The Thai version, however, is syrupy sweet, uncarbonated and comes packaged in medicinal-looking brown glass bottles, as the target customers are not trendy clubbers, but Thailand's working class of construction workers and bus drivers in need of a pick-me-up. And a pick-me-up it most certainly is; the caffeine content is higher even than Western-style Red Bull, and packs a punch equivalent to two or three shots of espresso coffee. Krathing Daeng and its many competitors (including M150, Shark, .357 and the inevitable Karabao Daeng, "Red Buffalo") are available in any convenience store for 10 baht a pop, although in some places you can now buy imported European Red Bull for five times the price.
Drinking alcohol in Thailand, especially if you like Western tipples, is actually comparatively expensive - but still very affordable by Western standards.
Note that retail sales of alcohol in supermarkets, convenience stores etc are banned between midnight and 11:00 and, more bizarrely, 14:00-17:00. Restaurants and bars are not affected, and smaller, non-chain stores are often willing to ignore the rules. However in certain circumstances these rules are relaxed for alcohol purchases above a particular quantity. For example if you purchase 5 liters of wine during the restricted period, then the purchase will not be allowed, however if you were to purchase say 10 liters of wine in the same period then this would be permitted.
There are also occasional days throughout the year when alcohol can't be sold anywhere - even the smaller mom & pop shops normally adhere to the rules on these days, and most bars and pubs do too (although you can probably find a beer somewhere if you're desperate enough). Up-market hotel bars and restaurants are probably the only places that are realistically likely to be exempt. Religious holidays and elections are normally the reason for these restrictions.
The misnamed Thai whisky (lao) refers to a number of liquors. The best known are the infamous Mae Khong (แม่โขง "Mekong") brand and its competitor, the sweeter Saeng Som ("Sangsom"), which are both brewed primarily from sugarcane and thus technically rum. Indeed, the only resemblances to whisky are the brown tinge and high alcohol content, and indeed many people liken the smell to nail polish remover, but the taste is not quite as bad, especially when diluted with cola or tonic water. This is also by far the cheapest way to get blotto, as a pocket flask of the stuff (available in any convenience store or supermarket) costs only around 50 baht.
The "real" Thai whisky is lao khao (เหล้าขาว "white liquor"), which is distilled from rice. While commercial versions are available, it's mostly distilled at home as moonshine, in which case it also goes by the name lao theuan ("jungle liquor"). White liquor with herbs added for flavor and medical effect is called ya dong (ยาดอง). Strictly speaking, both are illegal, but nobody seems to mind very much — especially when hilltribe trekking in the North you're likely to be invited to sample some, and it's polite to at least take a sip.
Thai rice wine (สาโท sato) is actually a beer brewed from glutinous rice, and thus a spiritual cousin of Japanese sake. While traditionally associated with Isaan, it's now sold nationwide under the brand Siam Sato, available in any 7-11 at 25 baht for a 0.65L bottle. At 8% alcohol, it's cheap and potent, but you may regret it the next morning! The original style of brewing and serving sato is in earthenware jars called hai, hence the drink's other name lao hai (เหล้าไห). These are served by breaking the seal on the jar, adding water, and drinking immediately with either glasses or, traditionally, with a straw directly from the pot.
Western-style beer (เบียร์ bia) is a bit of an upmarket drink in Thailand, with the price of a small bottle hovering between 50 and 100 baht in most pubs, bars and restaurants. Thais like their lagers with relatively high alcohol content (around 6%), as it is designed to be drunk with ice, so the beer in Thailand may pack more of a punch than you are used to. However, if you are an experienced drinker from Western Europe, namely Belgium or part of Germany, you will find it similar to your local tastes.
Imported liquors, wines and beers are widely available but prohibitively priced for the average Thai. A shot of any brand-name liquor is at least 100 baht, a pint of Guinness will set you back at least 200 baht and, thanks to an inexplicable 340% tax, even the cheapest bottle of wine will set you back over 500 baht. Note that, in cheaper bars (especially the go-go kind), the content of that familiar bottle of Jack Daniels may be something entirely different.
Thailand has a plethora of accommodation in every price bracket. Always take a look at the room (or better still several rooms, sometimes owners offer not the best/cheaper rooms first) before agreeing a price. In smaller establishments also do ask for the agreed price in writing to avoid problems during check out.
The best prices (30%-50% off rack rates) for accommodation can be found during Thailand's low season, which is during May - August, which not surprisingly also coincides with the region's monsoon season. The peak season is during December - February.
The prices listed are average for the country, and vary depending on the region and season. Smaller provincial towns will not have fancy hotels or resorts, while on popular island beaches it may be hard to find something cheaper than 300-400 baht even during the low season.
Hostels are something not typical for Thailand. You will often get a bit more Westernized and hotel-like interiors. They will usually have both a dorm and private rooms, depending on what you are interested in. Hostels will usually always be filled with western tourists, and it is easy to make friends and socialize with the other guests. Most hostels will have decent air conditioning as well. They will almost always have free wifi, and usually a guest bar.
Guesthouses are usually the cheapest option, basic ones cost 100-200 baht per room per night (100 or less for a dorm bed). This gets you a room with a fan, a squat toilet (often shared), shower (shared or private) and not much else. Better guesthouses, especially in towns with significant amount of foreign guests, have more amenities (European style toilet, 24h hot shower, bigger room or even balcony, free wi-fi internet, sometimes TV, everyday room service, fridge) - with price, subsequently, in the range 200-500 baht. This makes them close to Thai hotels - however, the difference is they're more oriented to the Western clientele, and as such often offer various tours (sometimes overpriced), computers and/or in-room Internet access, or even have a ground floor restaurant.
If you're satisfied with the guesthouse of your choice and plan to stay there for more than several days (especially during the low season or in the places with abundant accommodation options such as Chiang Mai) - ask for a discount; this may be offered not everywhere, but if it is - even weekly rate may be 25% less or so, and for monthly rates it's not uncommon to be twice or more cheaper. Normally, you'll have to pay for the entire period asked, but note that if something changes and you have to check out early - money refunds are not customary in Thailand. As such, if an early departure is possible (but unlikely enough to pay a week/month in advance) - you should discuss this option with the owner/manager beforehand.
Last-minute bookers can often get quite steep discounts at nice hotels. Last-minute deals can be found on the internet or since recently on some mobile applications that give you large discounts on same-day bookings. If you are lucky you can get a decent 3 or 4 star hotel for the price of a hostel or guesthouse room.
Thai hotels start around 200 baht and go up to around 800 baht. The upper end of this range will be air-conditioned, the lower end will not. The primary difference is that with a hotel room, your bathroom should be private, bed linen and towels should be provided, and there may be a hot shower. The guests are mostly Thais. TVs are available except in the lower end; Internet access, though, is less likely to be present than in guesthouses; and is even less likely to be complimentary and/or in-room.
Tourist hotels are generally around 1000 baht and offer the basics for a beach vacation: swimming pool, room service and colour TV.
Boutique hotels, 2000 baht and up, have mushroomed during the past few years, they provide a limited number of rooms (10 or less) and more personalized service. While these can be excellent, quality varies widely, so research is essential.
Business and luxury hotels , 4000 baht and up, offer every modern amenity you can think of and are largely indistinguishable from hotels anywhere else in the world. Some, notably Bangkok's Sofitel So Bangkok,The Oriental,The Sukhothai and The Peninsula are among the world's best hotels. The most luxurious resorts also fall in this price category, with some of the very best and most private adding a few zeros to the price.
The number one cause of death for visitors to Thailand is motorbike accidents, especially on the often narrow, mountainous and twisty roads of Phuket and Samui. Drive defensively, wear a helmet, don't drink and avoid travel at night.
Thailand is deeply troubled politically. The army has overthrown the democratically elected government twice since 2000 and now runs Thailand. A new constitution has been drafted which would greatly curtail the power of elected governments. A referendum on this draft has been promised for 2016 but public discussion of it is severely curtailed and the military junta have announced the setting up of a network of reducation camps for critics of the regime. The political situation is likely to remain tense.
Do not under any circumstances say or write anything negative, or even make jokes, about the Thai royal family. There are strict Lese Majeste laws. This extends as far as the currency, which bears the picture of the king. Many locals will not hesitate to physically assault you or at the least verbally attack you. This will also usually land you in prison and your embassy will have little influence in freeing you. The Islamist group Jemaah Islamiyah still operates in the country, and may have links to foreign jihadists.
Thailand has more than its fair share of scams, but most are easily avoided with some common sense.
More a nuisance than a danger, a common scam by touts, taxi drivers and tuk-tuk drivers in Thailand is to wait by important monuments and temples and waylay Western travellers, telling them that the site is closed for a "Buddhist holiday", "repairs" or a similar reason. The 'helpful' driver will then offer to take the traveller to another site, such as a market or store. Travellers who accept these offers will often end up at out-of-the-way markets with outrageous prices - and no way to get back to the centre of town where they came from. Always check at the front gate of the site you're visiting to make sure it's really closed.
Some Tuk-tuk drivers might demand much higher price than agreed, or they might take you to a sex show, pretending they didn't understand the address (they get commissions from sex shows). For the same reason, avoid drivers who propose their services without being asked, especially near major tourist attractions.
Easily identified with practice, it is not uncommon in tourist areas to be approached by a clean cut, well dressed man who often will be toting a cellphone. These scammers will start up polite conversation, showing interest in the unsuspecting tourist's background, family, or itinerary. Inevitably, the conversation will drift to the meat of the scam. This may be something as innocuous as over-priced tickets to a kantok meal and show, or as serious as a gambling scam or (particularly in Bangkok) the infamous gem scam. Once identified, the wary traveller should have no trouble picking out these scammers from a crowd. The tell-tale well pressed slacks and button down shirt, freshly cut hair of a conservative style, and late-model cellphone comprise their uniform. Milling around tourist areas without any clear purpose for doing so, the careful traveller should have no difficulty detecting and avoiding these scammers.
Many visitors will encounter young Thai ladies armed with a clipboard and a smile enquiring as to their nationality, often with an aside along the lines of "please help me to earn 30 baht". The suggestion is that the visitor completes a tourism questionnaire (which includes supplying their hotel name and room number) with the incentive that they just might win a prize - the reality is that everyone gets a call to say that they are a "winner"; however, the prize can only be collected by attending an arduous time-share presentation. Note that the lady with the clipboard doesn't get her 30 baht if you don't attend the presentation; also that only English-speaking nationalities are targeted.
A more recent serious scam involves being accused of shoplifting in the duty free shops in the Bangkok airport. This may involve accidentally straying across ill defined boundaries between shops with merchandise in hand, or being given a "free gift". Always get a receipt. Those accused are threatened with long prison sentences, then given the opportunity to pay $10,000 or more as "bail" to make the problem disappear and to be allowed to leave Thailand. If you end up in this pickle, contact your embassy and use their lawyer or translator, not the "helpful" guy hanging around.
Robbery on buses
Theft is common enough in Thailand - and buses are a favourite venue. In one famous case, the owner of Noporat Tours in Phuket was caught rifling minibus passengers' bags during a rest stop. People are also drugged and robbed on overnight buses. Steer clear of cheapish and non-government buses, and keep your money in a money belt or another hard-to-reach place. Decline offers of food and especially drink. Warning your travel companions about these dangers will be useful. If robbed, refuse to get off the bus, loudly tell the other passengers what has happened, and ask the driver to call the police.
Thailand's age of consent is 15 but a higher minimum age of 18 applies in the case of prostitutes. Thai penalties for sex with minors are harsh, and even if your partner is over the age of consent in Thailand, tourists who have sex with minors may be prosecuted by their home country. As far as ascertaining the age of your partner goes, all adult Thais must carry an identity card, which will state that they were born in 2540 or earlier if they were over the age of 18 on January 1, 2015 (in the Thai calendar, 2015 [Gregorian calendar] is the year 2558).
Thailand has a high rate of sexually-transmitted diseases (STDs), including HIV/AIDS, both among the general population and among prostitutes.
Thailand has extremely strict drug laws and your foreign passport is not enough to get you out of legal hot water. Possession and trafficking offenses that would merit traffic-ticket misdemeanors in other countries can result in life imprisonment or even death in Thailand. Police frequently raid nightclubs, particularly in Bangkok, with full body searches on all patrons. Ko Pha Ngan's notoriously drug-fueled Full Moon Parties also often draw police attention.
Possession of cannabis (กัญชา ganchaa), while illegal, is treated less harshly and, if busted, you may be able to pay an "on the spot fine" to get out, although even this can set you back tens of thousands of baht. It's highly unwise to rely on this. While some police will accept payments on the spot for violating drug laws, others will strictly follow the harsh drug laws to the letter.
Penalties for drug possession in Thailand vary in harshness depending on the following: category of drug, amount of drug, and intent of the possessor. If you do take the risk and get arrested on drug-related charges, you would do well to immediately contact your embassy as a first step. The embassy usually cannot get you out of jail but can alert your home country of your arrest and can often put you in contact with a lawyer in Thailand. The availability of drugs in Thailand can mislead tourists into making light of the penalties for possessing or selling drugs, but that is unwise.
In 2004, long-simmering resentment in the southern-most Muslim-majority provinces burst into violence in Narathiwat, Pattani and Yala provinces. All are off the beaten tourist trail, although the eastern rail line from Hat Yai to Sungai Kolok (gateway to Malaysia's east coast) passes through the area and has been disrupted several times by attacks.
Hat Yai (Thailand's largest city after Bangkok and its Nonthaburi suburbs) in Songkhla has also been hit by a series of related bombings; however, the main cross-border rail line connecting Hat Yai and Butterworth (on the west coast) has not been affected, and none of the islands or the west coast beaches have been targeted.
In September 2006, three foreigners were killed in bombings in Hat Yai. Some rebel groups have threatened foreigners, but while targets have included hotels, karaoke lounges and shopping malls, Westerners have not been singled out for attacks.
Make a photocopy of your passport and the page with your visa stamp. Always keep your passport or the photocopy with you (the law requires that you carry your actual passport at all times, but in practice a photocopy will usually suffice). Many night clubs insist on a passport (and ONLY a passport) as proof of age. It is not required that you leave your passport with a hotel when you check in.
Carrying your own padlock is a good idea, as budget rooms sometimes use them instead of (or as well as) normal door locks; carry a spare key someplace safe, like your money belt, otherwise considerable expense as well as inconvenience may result should you lose the original. Also consider some type of cable to lock your bag to something too big to fit through the door or window.
Thailand has a few dangerous animals. The most common menace is stray dogs which frequent even the streets of Bangkok. The vast majority of which are passive and harmless, but a few of which may carry rabies, so steer clear of them and do not, by any means, feed or pet them. If they try to attack you, don't run as this will encourage them to chase you as if you were prey. Instead, try to walk away slowly.
Monkeys may be cute and friendly, but in any area where unaware tourists have corrupted them, they expect to get food from humans. They can be very sneaky thieves, and they can bite. As with dogs, you won't want to get bitten, whether or not they have rabies. Most urban areas do not have "stray" monkeys, but Lopburi is famous for them.
Poisonous cobras can be found throughout Thailand, hiding in tall brush or along streams. You're unlikely to ever see one, as they shy away from humans, but they may bite if surprised or provoked. There are many more poisonous snakes in Thailand as well, including various kinds of vipers, kraits, and sea snakes. The Siamese crocodile, on the other hand, is nearly extinct and found only in a few remote national parks. Monitor lizards are common in jungles, but despite their scary reptilian appearance they're harmless. There are also poisonous centipedes, scorpions and spiders in Thailand.
Box Jellyfish have killed ocean swimmers, tourists and locals alike, many survive. All jellyfish stings are extremely painful. Immediate treatment is for cardiac arrest (CPR). 30 seconds of vinegar will keep tentacles from continuing to sting. Vinegar prevents making the contact worse when you wipe the tentacles off with a cloth. At the hospital they might give you antivenom and painkillers. The word is getting out and some resorts have nets around the swimming areas. If you swim in the ocean between India and Australia you should get more information about them. In 2015 so far there have been two deaths (which is uncommon, usually less than 1/year on average), one a 5 year old French boy, and the second a local Thai tourist from Bangkok (died off of Koh Phangan). [][][]
Thais are normally very tolerant of people and tourists, regardless of skin colour, are very unlikely to encounter aggressive racial abuse. However some visitors may notice their ethnicity attracting some innocent attention. Usually these situations are limited to stares or unwanted attention in shops. Most Thais are often curious to find out the nationality of the black travellers they meet. Apart from this curiosity displayed by Thais, most travellers from more diverse backgrounds will enjoy their time in the country and will find it easy to strike up a rapport with Thais, who are often a bit weary of the younger Caucasian backpackers who treat the country as nothing but a big drinking holiday.
Do not get into fights with Thais. Unless you are their fighting partner, you will eventually be outnumbered 15 to 1, and weapons (metals, sharp objects, beer bottles, martial arts) are usually involved. Trying to break up someone else's fight is a bad idea, and your intention to help may get you hurt. Keep in mind that Thailand's national sport is Muay Thai. Also known as Thai Boxing, it's a combat sport like few others. Thais train it from childhood and an experienced Muay Thai fighter can easily inflict bone-crushing strikes or even kill someone. It is an extremely bad idea to get into fights with Thais.
Basically, Thai people are friendly and willing to welcome you to enjoy your trip in Thailand. Aside from that, most of Thailand is safe, and there are just a few people who are violent. The important thing that Thai people are concerned with, especially with male tourists, is that they shouldn't do something inappropriate to Thai women. For instance, holding hands of a Thai woman who you just met for the first time is one thing you shouldn't do. The culture in Thailand is to give respect to women. There is nothing to worry about if you are being polite.
However, it would be better if you used your common sense to get away from trouble and took the usual precautions. 191 is the emergency number in Thailand which can help you if you find yourself in danger.
A growing trend in Southeast Asia is that of foreigners seeking more affordable medical procedures. From hip replacements to dental care, Thailand has become a country of choice for residents of the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the United States. Other countries contributing to the doubling of medical tourism to Thailand between 2008-2012 include the Middle East (UAE, Kuwait, and Oman), Germany, Japan, and Thailand’s fellow ASEAN countries.
Many factors contribute to Thailand’s attractiveness as a medical tourism destination, not least of which is its well-developed infrastructure, including being a regional hub, and the extreme desirability of the country for tourists for several decades now. Add to that its many excellent medical and dental facilities, including 30 JCI accredited hospitals; its excellent medical establishment with many Western-trained and certified doctors; and the substantial price savings available, and one can well see why so many medical tourists are heading towards Thailand.
Aside from Bangkok, the beating heart of the country, tourists are increasingly heading “up-country” for medical, dental, and cosmetic treatment, as well as to the bountiful spa and wellness centres that Thailand is also famous for. These other cities have much to offer as well, and include Chiang Mai, Hua Hin, Koh Samui, Pattaya/Chonburi, and Phuket.
Thailand has a popular reputation as a cosmetic and sexual reassignment surgery destination; the fact is that it is that, but also much more; the Kingdom is capable of handling the entire gamut of medical procedures and treatments, and this is becoming much more widely known. Dental tourism is also coming to the fore as one of medical tourists’ primary reasons for seeking treatment in Thailand.
Dermatology and fertility treatments are also, with dental care, among the most popular specialties in demand by international medical tourists.
Finally, it should be noted that many of Thailand’s finest hospitals have also received Clinical Care Program Certification (CCPC), a reputable standard that assures excellence and quality in the care and treatment of a certain number of specific serious conditions, including many types of cancer, chronic kidney disease, diabetes mellitus, primary stroke, heart failure, joint replacement, and other major diseases and afflictions.
Being a tropical country, Thailand has its fair share of exotic tropical diseases. Malaria is generally not a problem in any of the major tourist destinations, but is endemic in rural areas along the borders with Cambodia (including Ko Chang in Trat Province), Laos and Myanmar. As is the case throughout South-East Asia, dengue fever can be encountered just about anywhere, including the most modern cities. The only prevention is avoiding mosquito bites; wear long pants and long sleeves at dusk in mosquito areas and use repellent (available at any Thai corner shop or pharmacy). For more information on recommended vaccinations and other tips for staying healthy while traveling, check out the CDC Travelers' Health page dedicated to travel in Thailand. Note: if you want to avoid DEET, there are insect repellents with CMD (a safe, effective plant derivative with a registered name of Citriodiol) but these are not widely available in Thailand, better to stock up before leaving home.
Food hygiene levels in Thailand are reasonably high, and it's generally safe to eat at street markets and to drink any water offered to you in restaurants. Using common sense — eg. avoiding the vendor who leaves raw meat sitting in the sun with flies buzzing around — and following the precautions listed in our article on travellers' diarrhea is still advisable.
There are varying opinions as to whether it is safe to drink the tap water. Some people say the water is perfectly safe, others say to boil it first. When in doubt, stick to bottled water. It's cheap (10-15 baht per bottle) and sold everywhere.
HIV/AIDS (Estimated adult (15-49) HIV prevalence is 1.3% in 2007) and other sexually transmitted diseases are common, especially among sex workers. Condoms are sold in all convenience stores, supermarkets, pharmacies, etc. Avoid injection drug use.
There's a pharmacy on every block in Thailand and most are happy to sell you anything you want without a prescription. However, this is technically illegal, and police have been known to occasionally bust tourists for possessing medicines without a prescription — even innocuous stuff like asthma meds.
Thais are a polite people and, while remarkably tolerant of foreigners gallivanting on their beaches and with their women, you'll find that you will get more respect if you in turn treat them and their customs with respect.
The traditional greeting known as the wai, where you press your hands together as is in prayer and bow slightly, is derived from the Hindu cultural influence from India, and still widely practised. Among Thais, there are strict rules of hierarchy that dictate how and when the wai should be given. In brief, inferiors salute superiors first. You should not wai service people or street vendors. The higher your hands go, the more respectful you are. You will also often see Thais doing a wai as they walk past temples and spirit houses. As a foreign visitor, you are not expected to know how to wai, nor to reciprocate when wai'd to; while you're unlikely to cause offense if you do, you may well look slightly strange. If somebody makes a wai to you, a slight bow alone is more than sufficient for ordinary occasions, and for business, most Thais will shake hands with foreigners instead of waiing anyway.
Personal appearance is very important in Thailand as a measure of respect to other people, you will find that dressing appropriately means that you are shown more respect in return. This translates in many ways, even sometimes lowering initial offering prices at markets. While some allowance is made for the differing customs of foreigners, Thais respond more positively to well-dressed Westerners.
Traditionally, Thais are modest and conservative dressers. At a minimum your clothes should be neat, clean, and free from holes or tears. Except at the beach or at sacred sites normal western dress is acceptable for both men and women, except that you should avoid clothing showing a lot of skin. Pants are preferable to shorts, blouses should have capped sleeves, and if tank tops are worn, the straps should be thick (i.e., not spaghetti straps). Thai men generally wear pants, and most Thais view an adult man wearing shorts as fairly ridiculous; shorts are primarily worn by laborers and schoolchildren. Men's shorts should be knee length or more, if worn at all.
Taking off one's shoes at temples and private homes is mandatory etiquette, and this may even be requested at some shops. Wear shoes that slip on and off easily. Flip-flops, hiking sandals, and clog-type shoes are usually a good pragmatic choice for traveling in Thailand; only in the most top-end establishments are shoes required.
It is best to play it safe with wats and other sacred sites in Thailand; your dress should be unambiguously modest and cover your entire torso and most of your limbs. For men, ankle-length pants are mandatory; on top, t-shirts are acceptable, though a button-front or polo shirt would be best. Many recommend that women wear only full length dresses and skirts; you should make sure that your clothing covers at least your shoulders and your knees and some places may require that you wear ankle-length pants or skirts and long sleeved tops. Shorts and sleeveless shirts are highly inappropriate, as are short skirts. The rules are even more strict for foreign visitors, so even if you see a local in shorts it's not OK for everyone.
Topless sunbathing is common by western women at many touristy beaches. At beaches which are primarily Thai visitors however, this is not advised.
Buddhist monks are meant to avoid the temptation of women, and in particular they do not touch women or take things from women's hands. Women should make every effort to make way for monks on the street and give them room so they do not have to make contact with you. Women should avoid offering anything to a monk with their hands. Objects or donations should be placed in front of a monk so he can pick it up, or place it on a special cloth he carries with him. Monks will sometimes be aided by a layman who will accept things from women merit-makers on their behalf.
While some monks do accept money, most of them do not and offering money to a monk is sometimes considered a sign of disrespect in Theravada Buddhist cultures. Therefore, should you wish to donate to a monk, you should only offer food and put your donation in the appropriate donation box at the temple.
In the morning from 05:00 to 06:30, monks are seen walking in the front of houses and along the main road. At the same time, you can give alms to Buddhist monks. The most popular item that most people offer is rice. While the monks stand in front of you, you put something you had prepared into the monk's alms-bowl. For the next step, you take off your shoes and kneel down and the monks will bless you. During the blessing, you can pour ceremonial water into a bowl which is dedicated to people who have passed away. When the monks finish with their blessings, the activity is finished. On the Buddhist holy day, you must go to temple if you want to give alms because Monks cannot go outside of the temple.
The Royal Family
It's illegal (lèse-majesté) to show disrespect to royalty, a crime which carries up to 15 years imprisonment. Do not make any negative remarks, or any remarks which might be perceived as disrespectful about the King or any members of the Royal Family. Since the King is on the country's currency, don't burn, tear, or mutilate it - especially in the presence of other Thais. If you drop a coin or bill, do not step on it to stop it - this is very rude, since you are stomping on the picture of the King's head that is printed on the coin. Also, anything related to the stories and movies The King and I and Anna and the King is illegal to possess in Thailand. Almost all Thais, even ones in other countries, feel very strongly when it comes to any version of this story. They feel that it makes a mockery of their age-old monarchy and is entirely inaccurate. In 2007, a Swiss man was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment for spraying graffiti on the King's portrait, although he later expressed remorse and was pardoned by His Majesty personally (quote: "It troubles Me when such harsh sentences are passed.") and deported.
Elephants are a large part of Thailand's tourist business, and the smuggling and mistreatment of elephants for tourist attractions is a widespread practice. Be aware that elephants are often separated from their mothers at a young age to be cruelly trained under captivity for the rest of their lives. If you intend to go on an elephant ride, purchase an elephant painting or "use" elephants for other activities please take their mistreatment into account. There are a few ethical animal tourism operators in Thailand such as Elephant Nature Park and Maetang Elephant Park in Chiang Mai.
A depressingly common sight on the congested streets of Bangkok and other tourist centres is elephant begging. During night hours, mahouts (trainers) with lumbering elephants approach tourists to feed the creatures bananas or take a photo with them for a fee. The elephants are brought to the city to beg in this way because they are out of work and are mistreated and visibly distressed under the conditions of the city. Please avoid supporting this cruelty by rejecting the mahouts as they offer you bananas to feed the elephants.
Drugged animals such as lizards and birds are somtimes used by touts as photo subjects. These touts are often seen plying the main tourist beaches of thailand. The tout will take a photo with you and the doped up animal and then demand payment.
Rare and endangered species are often sold at markets for pets, and many other animal products are sold as luxury items. Avoid buying rare pets, leather, ivory, talons, dried sea creatures (such as starfish), fur, feathers, teeth, wool, and other products since they are most likely the result of illegal poaching, and buying them contributes greatly to animal endangerment and abuse.
The head is considered the holiest part of the body, and the foot the dirtiest part. Never touch or pat a Thai on the head, including children. If you accidentally touch or bump someone's head, apologize immediately or you'll be perceived as very rude. Similarly, do not touch people with your feet, or even point with them. If someone is sitting with outstretched feet, avoid stepping over them, as this is very rude and could even spark a confrontation. Squeeze around them or ask them to move. Even if the person is sleeping, it is best to go around, as others are likely to notice. Take care when you sit in a temple to cross your legs under you "mermaid-style" so your feet do not point at any person or statue. Do not pose alongside a Buddhist statue for a photo and certainly don't clamber on them. It's OK to take photos of a statue, but everyone should be facing it. It is considered impolite and disrespectful to visibly sniff food before eating it, particularly when eating in someone's home (this is true even if the sniffing is done in appreciation). Do not audibly blow your nose in public. Also, as doorway thresholds are considered a sanctuary for spirits, it's important not to step on a raised threshold, but rather to step over it. Keep this in mind especially when visiting temples.
In Thailand, expression of negative emotions such as anger or sadness is almost never overt, and it is possible to enjoy a vacation in Thailand without ever seeming to see an argument or an unhappy person. Thai people smile constantly, and to outsiders this is seen as happiness or friendliness. In reality, smiling is a very subtle way to communicate, and to those who live in Thailand, a smile can indicate any emotion — from fear, to anger, to sadness, to joy, etc. "Saving face" is a very important aspect of Thai culture and they will try to avoid embarrassment and confrontation.
In public places (such as large markets) the National Anthem is played over loudspeakers at 8 A.M. and 6 P.M. When this is played, everybody stops what they are doing and stands still, and you should do the same. The Royal Anthem is played in cinemas before the film, and everyone must stand. It lasts about a minute, then everyone will continue where they left off. In MRT and SkyTrain stations in Bangkok, the escalators will also lurch to a halt to prevent a large human pile-up.
Bring an open mind and a sense of humour. Don't come with too many preconceived ideas about what Thailand is like, as media and friends’ experiences have a habit of distorting reality.
If you're sticking to major cities and tourist areas, don't worry too much about under-packing; you can get hold of any essentials you've forgotten. Essentials are a swimming costume, a day pack, an umbrella in rainy season and some warm clothes if traveling in October to December, as some areas get cool. Some sources say there is no point in bringing a raincoat during the warm rainy season because it is so hot and sticky your raincoat will be uncomfortable. You will only need a couple of changes of clothes as you can get washing done anywhere cheaply. Sandals for when your hiking shoes are too hot can be bought cheaply in Thailand, although large sizes for women are harder to come by. If female and anything above a size 2, busty, or tall, it is often difficult to find clothes that will fit you in any of the Thai shops. If you are male and have a waist more than 38" you will have trouble finding pants. You will largely be limited to backpacker gear (the omnipresent fisherman pants and "Same Same" t-shirts) or Western imports in Bangkok malls, for the same prices as back home or more. While laundry is cheap, it is useful to bring a few changes of clothes, as you may sweat your way through several outfits a day in the Thai weather.
Take enough padlocks for every double zipper to stop wandering hands and lock up your belongings, even in your hotel room. Lock zippers through the lower holes, not the upper ones on the pull tabs — although even this precaution won't help much if you encounter a razor-blade artist.
Take snorkeling gear or buy it on arrival if you plan to spend a lot of your time in the water. Alternatively put up a notice looking for gear from someone who is leaving. A tent for camping if you are a national park buff is a good idea, as is a compass. You might like to bring compact binoculars too if wildlife is your thing. A good map of Thailand is also handy.
Take earplugs for when you're stuck in a noisy room or want to sleep on the bus. Take a mirror for shaving, as often budget places won’t have any. String is very handy for hanging up washing. Cigarette papers can be difficult to find, except in tourist centres. Climbing shoes for rock climbing are useful as Thailand has some of the best cliffs in South-East Asia.
If you have prescription glasses, it is a good idea to bring a spare pair of glasses or contact lenses plus a copy of your prescription. Bring a book you're prepared to swap. A personal music player is great as a huge range of cheap music is available everywhere.
Into the toiletries bag throw sun screen and insect repellent. Mosquito coils are also a good idea. A small pocket size torch / flashlight will come in handy when the electricity goes out or for investigating caves. Passport photos come in handy for visas.
If you plan to travel long distances by motorbike, purchase a good quality helmet, which you can do in Thailand. Last but not least, pack your stuff in plastic bags to stop them from getting wet, especially when travelling in the rainy season or on boats.
Aside from the above, the following are recommended:
ATM - how to avoid paying the 200 Thai baht (more than 5 usd) every thai bank is charging foreigners for getting money from the ATM: locate an ICBC ATM (Chinese Bank) They charge nothing. Otherwise you will pay the Thai bank fee plus on top the fee for your own bank at home. This can get really expensive if you do not withdraw huge amounts every time.
Connectivity in Thailand is generally quite good.
To place an outbound international call from a Thai mobile, you can dial any number starting with the "+" and then the international prefix like "44". All incoming calls to a Thai numbers are free. Thailand's new prepaid registration rules may mean you have to show a passport to get your SIM card.
For mobile phone users, Thailand has three mobile service providers - AIS , DTAC  and Truemove ) - which may be useful if you have an unlocked phone, ipad or internet device. You can buy a prepaid SIM card for any of the Thai carriers in the airport or at any convenience store for as little as 50 baht. Better yet, get the 299 Baht traveler sims that come with 100 Baht top up and a week's worth of 3G, and then you can get more as needed. All 3 carriers have shops in the airport and will help you get set up. Moreover, at major airports like Chiang Mai and Phuket, you may be greeted by a service provider giving SIM cards away for free. Look for offers in the baggage claim area.
All Thai sims work on the concept of credit and validity. Your SIM needs both credit and validity to operate. If you run out of validity, your SIM will be expired. You need credit to add validity, make calls, and purchase data packages. Adding credit in Thailand is called top up, and you can top up your SIM at any 7-11, small phone shop or online with a credit card or paypal at MobileTopup.com. 
All phones sold in Thailand are "unlocked". Which means you can use it with any SIM card.
International rates from a Thai carriers are good, but all carriers now offer discount prefixes, like 009 for CAT telecom. A standard DTAC call, for example, charges 10 baht/minute to call the USA. With the 004 prefix, the cost is 3 baht/minute. By predialing 009 1(xxx)xxx-xxxx for the USA will give you 5 baht/minute rate, at the expense of slight voice quality decrease (which is often unnoticeable). If you are on AIS 12Call, you can dial 00500 and then your number to save on international calls. 
TrueMove H offers very good international call rates from 1 baht per minute to destinations including the USA, Canada, Australia, UK, France and Germany with its Inter SIM promotion . You may find the SIM cards handed out for free at some airports, branded as an AOT SIM and including 5 minutes of free calls back home. Note that you should also use prefixes (006 for better quality, 00600 for cheaper rate, however, for some countries, the rate is same for both promotions) to get those cheap rates, but this, as well as rates for selected countries, is clearly listed on SIM card packages.
Coverage is very good throughout the country, all cities and tourist destinations (including resort islands) are well covered, and even in the countryside it's more likely you'll get the network signal than not, especially with AIS or DTAC. True Move H coverage is considered the worst, with phones occasionally losing signal even in towns. Nevertheless, if you plan to stay only in major cities/islands, and/or don't need you phone available all the time when outside of those - True SIM is OK too. As of Oct 2013, all networks have 3G on 2100 MHz and have comparable speeds. 
If you plan to visit Thailand at least once a year for short periods, consider buying the SIM with minimal validity restrictions (usually one year from the last top up, even if it was 10 baht). By doing this, you can re-use the SIM on subsequent trips, thus avoiding hassle of buying new one every time, keeping your Thai number the same, as well as saving a bit. For example, DTAC offers Simple SIM  plan for that, and before 7-11s sold this one by default, but now they seem to offer cheaper (but with limited validity) Happy SIM instead. Just ask for the former one. Local calls will be a bit more pricey (international are not affected), but usually this is not of much concern for a short time visitor. AIS (1-2-Call)  has similar (but more expensive) offerings too. If you've already got a Thai SIM and want to switch plan, it is also possible for free or with small charge. You can switch plans with free USSD codes or IVR or by calling the call centre.
For short term visitors, international roaming onto Thailand's GSM networks is possible, subject to agreements between operators. There is also some CDMA service in Bangkok and some other cities which allows expensive roaming for customers of some North American CDMA networks.
Smart Phones / Tablets / Aircards
A smart phone is an incredibly useful thing to have while traveling. All three GSM operators offer nationwide GPRS/EDGE and 3G service in all major desitinations. Usually this service is already pre-activated on the prepaid SIM. Internet usage is billed by the minute, if there is no data package chosen. Without a data package, any minute within which your phone accesses the Internet is billed to you. The price of this pay-as-you-use access is not too cheap, around 0.5 to 1 baht/minute; that is comparable to Internet cafes. To avoid these fees, Internet packages can be purchased, which can save you quite a lot, especially if you use this service often. These come in three types: time-based (good for laptop users who spend online just a couple of hours a day), volume-based (appropriate for smartphones or chatting) and unlimited. You can also purchase unlimited packages by the day, week or month. See this useful guide to 3G data plans in Thailand .
True's new prepaid package Unlimited x3  offers Unlimited use of their Wifi network (daily/weekly/monthly = 49/99/299 baht) up to 500MB of 3G Internet (overuse throttled to 128Kbps), and free calls and SMS to True numbers. If you happen to travel outside a big city (eg. from Hatyai to Nakhon) and find you can't access the Internet, you will have to go to your carrier settings and change your carrier network to Manual and select True-H.
Note that to use 850 MHz 3G (DTAC and TrueMove) you'll need a phone or USB dongle capable of 3G WCDMA at 850MHz (not the most popular 2100 MHz) band - while many phones (including all 3G-capable iPhones) do, others, especially older/cheaper ones, may not. Check your phone's manual for supported 3G bands (not to be confused with supported GSM/EDGE bands!). AIS uses even more exotic (for 3G service) 900 MHz band, which is normally used for GSM, so the chances that your 3G device will work with their 3G are even less.
Besides these, there are a couple of lesser-known options:
Many smartphones will access the Internet in the background, even when you're not actually using the phone or the Internet. This can eat up your minutes quickly (and then will start to consume you remaining bahts much faster!) if you have a time-based package. It's best to use either volume-based or unlimited package in this case. Alternatively, make sure your phone has a reliable way of turning off the Internet usage. For Android phones, try APNDroid, available in the Android Market.
Some smart phones may require you to manually enter the APN (Access Point Name) for the internet to work. APNs have many configurable parameters, but typically only a few pieces of data are necessary. Check your phone's settings; the procedure for editing APNs varies for different phones.
Topping up (refilling) an Internet package is quite straight forward. Before choosing a data package, you need to have as much or more credit on your phone than the 3G/4G data package costs. You can get credit at numerous operator's offices (dtac shop, TrueMove shop, etc.) generally available at the big malls/trade centres (Big C, Tesco, Carrefour etc.) as well as 7-11. If you have a credit or debit card, you can simply topup online. The best way to get help on your data plan is to call the customer support (1678 for dtac, 1331 for True, 1175 for AIS) - they can subscribe a new package, change an existing one or turn off a package. Calls to these service numbers aren't free for prepaid SIM users, with calling rate up to (DTAC) 3 baht/minute. You can also try via IVR voice menu (free of charge): *1004 for DTAC happy (Thai language only, so consult someone who can understand if you do not), *9000 for True (in English, at least for Inter SIM handed out in the airports). And finally this resource has a list of packages and the codes needed to get the package 
Internet cafés are widespread and most are inexpensive. Prices as low as 15 baht/hour are commonplace, and speed of connection is generally reasonable but many cafes close at midnight. If you plan to go online for a short time you should first ask if there is a minimum charge. Higher prices prevail in major package-tourist destinations (60 baht/hour is typical, 120 baht/hour is not unusual). Islands with multiple Internet cafés include Ko Phi Phi (Don), Ko Lanta (Yai), Ko Samui, Ko Pha Ngan, Ko Tao, Ko Chang (Trat), Ko Samet (Rayong), Ko Si Chang (Chonburi), and of course Phuket.
Outside the most competitive tourist areas, free Wi-Fi Internet is not as common as neighbouring countries in many budget hotels and guest houses ("mansions") and they usually charge small fee for Internet by LAN or Wi-Fi even if you bring your own laptop. While Wi-Fi is commonly available in certain cafes and restaurants, it's frequently provided by carriers who charge fees for using them, and it usually requires a telecom account to finish the registration process.
Keyloggers are all too often installed on the computers in cheap cafes, so be on your guard if using online banking, stock broking, or even PayPal. Using cut and paste to enter part of your password may defeat some of them. Or typing part of the user name and password inside the text input field (for password or username) then clicking outside of it some place in the browser window and typing some characters and then clicking back into the text input field and continuing to type the other part and doing this several times. Otherwise take your own laptop to the Internet cafe.
If you suddenly and unexpectedly find yourself typing in Thai (or any other alien script) you've probably accidentally hit whatever key-combination the computer you're using has been configured to use for switching between languages (often Cmd+Spacebar (Mac), Alt+Shift (Chromebook), Backtick (Windows)). To change back, use the "Text Services and Input Languages" option (a quick-access menu is usually available via a "TH" icon visible on the taskbar - simply switch it to "EN").
Both pornography and criticism of the Thai Royal Family are illegal and The Thai government actively censors access websites with this content, both inside and outside Thailand. Though enforcement is not consistent.