Thailand – By Sam Roberts
From the sensory overload of glittering metropolis Bangkok to the and the mist-shrouded jungles of the Golden Triangle and the many blissed-out islands, few destinations can match Thailand’s appeal. Behind the hedonistic nightlife and beaches, you’ll discover a country that is also creative and reverential, steeped in history and home to traditional communities of sea gypsies and hill tribes. The ‘Land of Smiles’ welcomes more travellers than any other Southeast Asian country, who are seduced by its warm hospitality, epicurean delights, picture-postcard scenery and an abundance of wildlife and adventure opportunities. It’s impossible to tire of Thailand.
Language: Thai, with tribal languages spoken in parts of the country. English is widely spoken in tourist areas.
Currency: Thai Baht
Getting to Thailand:
- Most international flights arrive at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi International Airport. There are direct international flights to Phuket and Krabi for the Andaman Coast, Koh Samui for the islands in the Gulf of Thailand, Chiang Mai for North Thailand and the Golden Triangle, and Hat Yai for the south and the Malaysian border.
- Overland entry is possible from Malaysia, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar. Ferries run from Langkawi in Malaysia to many of Thailand’s Andaman islands, including Phuket.
Getting Around Thailand:
- An excellent internal flight network and a variety of domestic airlines make air travel a quick and relatively cost-effective option in Thailand. Many internal flights operate out of Bangkok’s Don Muang Airport.
- Buses are cheap and efficient, ranging from very basic vans to luxury VIP coaches. Trains are slower, but more scenic, and are considered safer, especially for overnight journeys.
- Rickshaws are a fun option for short trips.
- Several ferry companies serve the islands. with Lomprayah considered the fastest and safest.
When To Go To Thailand:
- Hot and humid all year round, Thailand has three official seasons.
- The rainy season (May until October) is when resorts are quieter and prices are at their lowest. Many coastal and beachside areas shut down, so options can be limited and travel disrupted during this period.
- The cool season (November to February) brings the best of the Thai climate, although temperatures still regularly reach over 30 degrees. This is peak tourist season with prices rising accordingly.
- The hottest months are March and April when temperatures in Bangkok can hit 35 degrees.
- Temperatures and weather conditions do vary from coast to coast, and from north to south.
Festivals/Events in Thailand:
- For the new year festival Songkran (April 13), exuberant street celebrations take place across the country with revellers dousing each other with water and talc.
- In November, the Lantern Festival (Loi Krathong) sees the skies illuminated with floating lanterns, as candlelit baskets float on rivers, lakes and canals. Chiang Mai’s Loi Krathong is considered the most magical.
- For Phuket’s Vegetarian Festival in October, celebrants undertake extreme acts of devotion, including fire-walking, body-piercing and acts of self-mortification.
Food & Drink in Thailand:
- The secret of Thailand’s success as one of the world’s favourite cuisines lies in its masterful balance of flavours: sweet, hot, sour, spicy, salty and bitter. From the glutinous rice, spicy chilli nam prik dips and famous som tum (papaya salad) of Northern Thailand’s Lanna cuisine to the spicy, rich, creamy cocunut curries of the south, Thailand is foodie heaven.
- Phad Thai, the ubiquitous national dish, typifies the Thai’s culinary philosophy of balance perfectly with its sweet palm sugar, salty fish sauce, sour tamarind and hot chilli flakes combining to make a delicious noodle dish that has gained an international following. Peanutty massaman curry is another unmissable dish, usually containing chicken, pork, beef or seafood, such as shrimp.
- Finish a meal with a sweet, creamy and slightly salty mango sticky rice pudding and wash it all down with a local Chang or Singha beer.
Top things to do in Thailand:
- Visit the Royal palaces, temples and pagodas of Bangkok
- Get fighting fit at a Muay Thai Camp
- Dive, Dive, Dive at Koh Tao
- Trek to meet the hill tribes of the north
- Take a leisurely island-hopping adventure
- Get involved in some of the many community tourism programs on offer and learn to live as a local
For more information check out our Top 10 Things to do in Thailand
Ultimate Luxury Experience:
- Treat yourself to a four-day, three-night journey on the sumptuous Eastern and Oriental Express. Featuring 5-star luxury cabins with full ensuite, three dining cars serving high-end dishes, a piano bar, library and an open-sided observation deck, this trip oozes laidback glamour. It’s the ultimate way to see the country.
- The route runs between Bangkok and Singapore, passing through Malaysia and stopping at Kanchanaburi to visit the bridge over the River Kwai.
- Pair it with a stay at Belmond’s Napasi Hotel on Koh Samui.
Ultimate Family Experience:
- Get up close and personal with Asia’s largest land mammal at Elephant Hills luxury tented safari camp in Koh Sok National Park.
- Unlike many wildlife experiences in Thailand, Elephant Hills offers ethical elephant interactions. You won’t ride on the elephants, but few activities are bound to delight the whole family more than swimming with these gentle giants in a tropical river before helping to give the babies a good bath time scrub.
What To Pack:
- Thailand’s weather is hot and humid, so cotton, linen or other breathable fabrics will help keep you cool on sticky day trips. For the islands and beach resorts, pack swimwear and casual beachwear. For temples and holy sites, men and women should cover both shoulders and knees as a minimum. Female travellers should dress modestly in any religious or Royal sites, not only in order to avoid offending locals but so that you’re not barred from entering.
- If you are planning to trek in the hills or jungles then sensible, sturdy footwear is a must. The temperatures drop in the north of Thailand at night or at high altitudes, so bring layers and warmer clothing for trekking.
- Sunscreen and mosquito repellent are widely available at convenience stores, but sunscreen is more expensive than in the UK or US, so it’s sensible to stock up before you arrive.
- Plug sockets are different here, so you will need a travel adapter, and visitors from countries with 110v appliances will need a voltage converter.
Health & Safety in Thailand:
- Thailand feels like an incredibly safe and friendly country to travel in. As in other countries, it pays to be careful with your valuables, including wallets, phones, cameras and iPads. Be careful if walking dark areas of cities or on islands late at night, especially if you’ve been drinking. As everywhere, taxis are often ready to take advantage of tourists so always insist on the meter.
- Malaria is rare in tourist areas but there’s a higher risk in the border jungle areas. Dengue Fever breaks out from time to time so take precautions against mosquito bites with good repellent or skin covering clothes.
- Avoid drinking tap water. If you do visit the red light districts, take particular care of your drinks. There have been cases of tourists being drugged and robbed.
Travel Tips for Thailand:
- Show respect to, and avoid mocking or insulting, the revered Thai monarchy to avoid falling foul of Thailand’s strict ‘Lese Majeste’ laws.
- The concept of ‘face’ is important in Thailand. Never lose your temper. Settling disputes with a calm voice and a smile are always more effective.
- Images of Buddha are sacred in Thailand and tourists are asked not to purchase Buddha heads or to get Buddha tattoos.
- 137 Pillars in the arty Wat Gate district of Chiang Mai elegantly combines 19th-century teak buildings with modern design for a tranquil boutique retreat, complete with wellness spa and personal butler service.
- Phuket’s ultra-luxurious Amanpuri has secluded villas set within a coconut plantation, a private beach and a choice of four excellent restaurants.
- Michelin-starred Nahm in Bangkok, which consistently appears in the top 10 Best restaurants in Asia, serving some of the top Thai cuisine you’ll find anywhere in the world.
- At the other end of the scale, you’ll find memorable, delicious street food across the capital.
- Huay Tung Tao Lake is also a great location to try authentic Thai street food in Chiang Mai.
You have to go to…
- The White Temple in Chiang Rai, a beautifully weird permanent art installation by artist Chalermchai Kositpipat. Dali-esque sculptures and friezes adorn the blindingly white exterior in a riotous reimagining of a Buddhist Temple.
Before you go…
- Read Sightseeing by Rattawut Lapcharoensap, a collection of seven short stories that explore different aspects of life in modern Thailand through the eyes of a local.
- The Beach by Alex Garland, the novel that put the Koh San Road on the map and a generation of travellers on a quest to find the perfect beach, is also a traveller classic.
Our Other Current Guides…
Samantha Roberts is a travel writer and web designer, based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and an expert on travel in South-east Asia.