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Thailand Travel Information

posted: 2004-01-10

Arriving in Thailand

Although there are international airports at Chiangmai in the north and Phuket in the south, most visitors set foot in Thailand for the first time at Bangkok International Airport, previously at Don Meuang north of Bangkok. A new airport (Suvarnabhumi) opened in 2006 near Lat Krabang to the east of Bangkok, and the old airport retired but only for a short time as it has since been reopened for many domestic flights and a few regional flights.

Thailand Visa

Visitors from most western countries receive a 30 day Visa-on-arrival, except at a land border, where the visa lasts only 15 days. If you intend to stay longer, then it is advisable to get a one or two-entry Tourist Visa from a Thai Consulate in your home country. These visas allow you to stay up to 60 days per entry. It is usually possible to extend both types of visa at immigration offices (for a fee of 1,900 Baht).

If you overstay your visa you will be fined 500 Baht per day of overstay at your point of departure from the country, but the best advice is do not overstay as, if for any reason you are required to show your passport to the police, and discovered to have overstayed, you may be arrested and deported.
Visa Regulations as at 2010
Until recently some western visitors used to stay for long periods in Thailand, going to the border every 30 days for a new Visa-on-arrival. Currently you only get 15 days if you arrive at a land border from a neighbouring country. Air Travellers still get 30 days.

Getting to Town

Taxi & Limousine services are available at the airport taxi counters. The fare is around 350 Baht for taxi, 550 Baht for limousine. On no account accept a taxi from one of the touts who may approach you in the arrivals hall: you will pay over the odds, and maybe get a driver and vehicle quite unsuited to the task in hand.

An air-conditioned bus service runs from the airport to downtown areas of Bangkok and also to Pattaya.

A new high speed rail link opened in mid 2010 which connects the airport with downtown Bangkok.

Currency

The Thai Currency is the Baht.
Major denominations are 1, 2, 5, 10 Baht coins;
10, 20, 50, 100, 500 and 1000 Baht notes.

Exchanging Money

Major currencies can be exchanged at the airports and at banks and small Exchanges in the major centers such as Bangkok and Chiangmai. Generally you will get a much better rate in Thailand than in Europe or the USA, with rates just a few points below published international bank transfer levels.

US Dollars attract the best exchange rate, with GBP, Euro and Yen not far behind. Hotels will also exchange currency but at a premium.

Credit Cards

Major Credit Cards are accepted in larger hotels, restaurants, shopping centers and travel agents. However, many of the smaller operators will impose a credit card surcharge of 2 or 3%. Also please be aware that bank and credit card fraud is quite common in Thailand. The Nation Newspaper reported (Jan 07, 2007) that a Sri Lankan gang had been arrested in Phuket with more than 5000 bogus credit cards and card scanning equipment. The best advice is only use credit cards at what are clearly reputable establishments.

Climate

Thailand lies entirely within the tropics so the climate is typically tropical with temperatures averaging more than 30C for much of the year, and a prolonged monsoon season. There are three Seasons:

Hot Season: mid March to mid May: hot can mean temperatures in excess of 40C in April and May, a dangerous time for sun worshipers. Out of the shade, sun blockers, hats and long-sleeved shirts are advised.

Rainy Season: mid May to mid October: quite a good time to visit Thailand, with temperatures around 30C. Most days it rains, but not for too long; after the rain it is cool and refreshing. The odd tropical storm can be quite exhilarating - as long as you are not playing golf at the time.

Cool Season: mid October to early March: my favorite time of the year in Thailand. In January, when northern Europe is cold and wet, Thailand has clear, sunny days with temperatures around 25C. This is an especially good time to visit the coast and islands. In the northern, mountainous parts of the country, evening temperatures can be very low in December and January so take warmer clothing.

Language

Thais are very proud of the fact that their country was never colonised by a western power, and perhaps this may be a reason why the standard of English spoken in Thailand is not as good as in Singapore, for instance. However, in tourist areas, most people you deal with do speak some English, and in the larger hotels, you should find no problem at all.

The national language is of course Thai, though it varies considerably as you travel around Thailand. Major dialects include the northern Chiang Mai dialect, which still uses its own script (similar to Burmese script) for certain temple inscriptions, The North Eastern (Isan or Lao) dialect, and the Southern dialect from the provinces bordering Malaysia.

Other Languages

In the eastern provinces bordering Cambodia many people speak Khmer; in the southernmost provinces, near the border with Malaysia, many people speak Yawi, the Pattani dialect of Malay.

Culture

The twin foundations of Thai society are Buddhism and the Monarchy: any show of disrespect for either institution is treated very seriously.

The monarchy is treated with universal reverence, and protection of the person and reputation of the King is written into the constitution. Any speech or behavior which is deemed insulting to the King can be punished by a jail sentence of between three and fifteen years

The majority of Thais are Theravada Buddhists, though in the three southern states of Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat there is a significant Muslim population. All religions are tolerated, however, and in Bangkok, for instance, along with hundreds of Buddhist temples you will find mosques, the odd Hindu temple and most varieties of Christian church.

Health

As with most tropical countries, Thailand suffers from tropical diseases, especially Malaria and Dengue Fever. When I first visited Thailand in the eighties, I obtained anti-malaria drugs from my doctor in England and followed the prescribed course religiously, before, during, and after my visit.

I cannot say that I am so careful now, and most medical advice I have been given suggests that around Bangkok and other cities there is not too much danger, though there are cases of Dengue Fever reported in Bangkok every year. A friend of mine who often visits the border areas caught Dengue recently, but in Bangkok not, she assures me, in Mae Sot.

However Anti-Malaria drugs may be recommended for the border areas with Cambodia, Burma, and Laos; remote jungle areas of Thailand, also. For current advice, check out the World Health Organisation: www.who.com
Simple Precautions
The malaria parasite is carried by the female of the Anopheles Mosquito which mainly feeds at dawn and dusk, and these are times when precautions are especially recommended: long trousers and long sleeved shirts; insect repellant sprays on exposed skin can also be helpful.

"I drank nothing but tea, hoping by abstinence from cold water and from all wines and spirits, to escape fever." - Henri Mouhot: Travels in Siam, Cambodia, Laos, and Annam, 1862.

M. Mouhot's specific against Malaria in the mid 19th century (see reference section) is unlikely to be recommended today, but he must have had a strong constitution, surviving for several years in the jungles of Thailand and Cambodia: fever got him in the end, though.

Local Remedies

Many locals use remedies such as Tiger Balm and Gold Cup Balm (15 Baht for a small tin). These preparations of menthol, eucalyptus and other herbs, when smeared on exposed ankles and elbows, seem to deter mosquitos and give some relief if smeared on to a fresh mosquito bite.

Outdoor restaurants will often provide anti-mosquito coils - 'Ya gan yung', to burn beneath your table: these can be helpful. Anti-mosquito sprays are sold in most stores.

Hospitals and Clinics

Most westerners in Bangkok use the Bumrungrad Hospital, Sukhumwit soi 3. This is a western style hospital with up to date facilities, pricey though if you do not have health insurance.

Also well known (and English speaking) are:

The Bangkok Christian Hospital, 124 Silom Road.
Saint Louis Hospital, 215 Sathorn Tai Road.


For minor ailments, you will find branches of Boots the chemist in the Emporium shopping Center, and many other shopping centers throughout Bangkok. There are also many Thai and Chinese chemists around Bangkok and other cities, which sell the usual western and some less well know Asian medicines.

Outside the major holiday destinations of Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Phuket, hospitals and other health care services may be less easy to find.

Travel within Thailand

Rail Services

are dealt with elsewhere in the site - see: Rail Services in Thailand

Airlines:

Over the last few years, several budget airlines have started up, including One-Two-Go and Air Asia. These, together with Thai International's domestic service provide a reasonably cheap and quick way of getting to remote parts of the country. Typical price from Bangkok to Chiangmai, for instance, could be around 1200 Baht. See Local & Regional Airlines. There are daily services to Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Udon Thani, Had Yai, Phuket, Koh Samui, and other tourist destinations.

Airport Link

The Airport Link is an elevated electric train system which operates from the center of Suvarnabhumi Airport to Phyathai station, where it connects with the BTS Skytrain system. The journey from the Airport to Phyathai takes about 25 minutes. The route crosses the MRT Subway route at Makkasan Station. The walk from one station to the other takes about 5 minutes via a new elevated pathway.

Bangkok Skytrain (BTS):

the best way to travel around Bangkok, though sadly it does not get very near to the main historical sites. The trains are frequent, clean and cool. The two lines cover the downtown areas of Sukhumwit and Silom, reaching the river at Taksin Bridge, and the northern Bus Terminal and weekend market at Chatuchak. I always recommend visitors to stay at a hotel near the river, or on the Skytrain or subway routes.

Bangkok Subway

The subway opened July 2004 and travels in a great arc from Hua Lamphong railway station in the south to Mor Chit northern bus terminal and Bang Sue, crossing the Sky Train route at several points.

Long Distance Buses

Air-con bus and mini bus services exist throughout Thailand. You can get from just about any part of the country to any other part, and even into Malaysia, Cambodia, and Laos. Standards vary between operators, however, and accidents do happen, especially at holiday times. Prices are cheap, and the buses are usually quite comfortable.

Taxis:

quite cheap by western standards, an average trip around town costing between 35 and 100 Baht. All taxis in Bangkok are metered, though in the tourist areas they may try to negotiate a much higher price, claiming that "meter no work". In such cases summon another taxi - there are lots to choose from.

Motorcycle Taxis:

Motorcycle Taxi, BangkokMotorcycle Taxi
Not for the faint-hearted, motorcycle taxis run up and down the streets connecting the main thoroughfares and all around the smaller towns. The drivers wear distinctive orange tabards and vary in skill from the semi-competent to the TT Racing class - avoid these latter at all costs. Prices start haggle from around 10 Baht and female passengers are expected to sit side-saddle. Helmets are compulsory in BKK, but frequently ignored on smaller streets. Children usually travel free when accompanied by both parents (on the one motorcycle).

Tuk Tuk:

the famous Thailand Tuk Tuk also known as a 'Sam Lor' (three-wheel) is a three wheel taxi converted from a motor scooter, with handle-bars and pedals still showing. The two-stroke engines are noisy and smelly, but around town they can be much quicker than a taxi, in that they can go through smaller spaces(!). Prices should be agreed before getting in, and start at around 20 Baht.

Sam Lor

Sam Lor, MahachaiSam Lor, Mahachai
The original 'Sam Lor' was a bicycle powered basket chair. These are still used in many provincial towns, such as Chiang Mai, Lamphun and Samut Songkram.

Fare is negotiable from about 20 Baht upwards, depending on distance traveled. You can hire one for a morning or a day for a leisurely exploration of a town like Chiang Mai. Haggle first.

Song Thaews and Si Lors:

In the outlying areas of Bangkok and in many other towns and cities, the main form of transport is the 'Baht Bus', in the form of a 'Song Thaew' (two-row) - a converted pickup truck with two rows of seats along the sides of the vehicle, or 'Si Lor' (four-wheel - as opposed to Sam Lor) - a small Hyundai or Subaru pick up. Fares on these vehicles is normally 6.5 Baht (2008) per trip, except in certain tourist areas such as Pattaya and Phuket, where the drivers charge 20 Baht upwards.

Rivers & Canals

The Chao Phraya river, main river of Thailand is navigable for much of its length. Boat trips in and around Bangkok are cheap and speedy, and for Thais lucky enough to live by the river, often the best way to travel. The khlongs (canals) of west Bangkok are excellent for sightseeing, and show a way of life that has changed little in a hundred years.

Also highly recommended for a day trip is Koh Kret, an island in the Chao Phraya River, with a genuine riverine life-style.

The Bang Pakong river at Chachoengsao, the Mae Khlong river at Samut Songkram, the Ta Chin river at Mahachai,the Ping river at Chiang Mai, and the Kwae (Kwai) which flows through Kanchanaburi, also offer boating and sometimes rafting trips.

Travellers to the extreme north east can see and travel on the mighty Mekong river, which forms much of the border between Thailand and Laos. At Nong Khai, around 1000 km from the sea, it approaches 1km in width.

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