Thailand

Overview:

Thailand is one of those rare places that can turn the most unadventurous tourist into a true traveller. The only Asian country never to have been colonised, Thailand has had the knack, of instead, colonising the hearts of all who visit. For travellers, this is perhaps the most welcoming place on Earth. Where else are strangers greeted with a solemn bow that acknowledges the divine within? Indeed, Thailand is the country that has taught the rest of Asia what it is to be the perfect host, without compromising the rhythms and traditions of its own unique culture.

With a population almost 95% Buddhist, Thailand is a land of coexistence. Daring architectural designs share the skylines with golden temple spires. Ancient craft traditions and the neon-cyber economy face the future shoulder to shoulder.

Thailand has it all, bustling cities, exotic sun drenched beaches, Buddhist temples, and exotic wildlife. A fascinating culture and friendly people, Thailand is definitely ‘the land of smiles’.

 

Destination Info:

 

This information has been compiled for your reference in good faith but please use this only as a general guide. We advise you to check with relevant authorities with regard to the latest requirement for passport, visa, travel advisory, entry restrictions, health requirements, local currency etc as these are subjected to change with without prior notice and our information given below may not be as updated.

Best time to go: Thailand is a tropical destination, hot and humid all year round with temperatures mainly in the 28-35°C range. The best time to visit most of Thailand is between November and February. At this time of year it rains less and the temperatures are cooler. This period is also Thailand’s main season for festivals, like LoiKrathong. Secondary peak season is in July and August.

If you want to avoid crowds and take advantage of the low season rates, consider travelling during the least crowded months (typically April to June, September and October). The rainy season (approx July to October) gets a bad reputation, but there are some bonuses: temperatures tend to be cooler, tourists are fewer and the landscape is lush and green. Depending on the region and the month, the rain might be hour-long downpours in the afternoon. October, however, tends to be the wettest month.

The world’s smallest mammal, the bumble bat, is found in Thailand

Visa: New Zealand citizens travelling on a New Zealand passport do not need a visa to visit Thailand for tourism visits of up to 30 days, provided the passport has at 6 months validity at time of entry. For information on non-tourist visas and travel on non-New Zealand passports contact your local embassy, or consulate for the most up-to-date visa requirements, or see your travel agent. It is your responsibility to make sure you have the correct documentation and all advice here is given in good faith.

In 1996, two rare “diamond-eyed cats,” Phet and Ploy, were married in a lavish $16,241 Thai wedding, the most expensive pet wedding in the world

Currency: The Thai Baht is the currency in Thailand (THB) The Thai Baht is divided into 100 satang. Banknotes are in denominations of 1,000, 500, 100, 50, 20 and 10 baht. Coins consist of 50 satang, 25 satang, 10 baht, 5 baht and 1 baht. When shopping and for restaurants etc it is useful to carry 100, 50 and 20 Baht notes as many smaller shops, taxi drivers and street vendors may not be able to give change for larger notes.

There are many ATM machines in cities, larger towns and the major tourist destinations. They are sparse or can be non-existent in villages and on many of the islands. Making cash withdrawals with a debit card is fine and will provide a favourable exchange rate. Do be aware that many of these transactions will incur a small fee in addition to fees charged by your own bank for foreign currency transactions.  Traveller’s cheques can also be exchanged in most banks and many hotels- you just need to present your passport to do so.

Major credit cards are widely accepted in hotels, restaurants, shopping malls in the tourist areas. Be aware that fraud is widespread and cards should be used with caution and sparingly to avoid this.

Thailand has a sales and services tax (VAT) of 7%. In most cases this will be included in the price advertised at restaurants, shops etc. Some Thai stores participate in claiming back VAT on larger purchases on your departure. Enquire in the store if they participate in this scheme.

One-tenth of all animal species on Earth live in Thailand.

Health: Medical facilities in Thailand - GP's. hospitals, dentists etc are of a good standard in the major tourist areas. Doctors and staff in the larger hospitals speak good English. Every major town in Thailand will have a public hospital, but bear in mind many of these can be poorly equipped and overcrowded. There are a number of private hospitals and clincins available; in remote areas these offer limited access and faciliites. Full cover medical insurance is highly recommended for all travellers and sometimes even required by emergency rooms before any treatment will be given. We recommend that you carry your insurance details with you at all times.

Vaccinations are recommended but not compulsory. 
 

Many doctors will however recommend immunisation against Hepatitis A and Typhoid. Thailand is tropical and therefore prone to tropical diseases. Malaria can be a problem, not so much in the main tourist spots, but closer to the borders of Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia. Dengue fever, another mosquito borne disease is common in Southeast Asia- this can also be encountered in cities. Long sleeved tops and long pants are recommended during the high ‘activity’ times for mosquitoes which are dawn and dusk. Insect repellent is an absolute necessity to prevent being bitten. There are many stray dogs also in Thailand- Rabies although not compulsory may be a worthwhile vaccination to consider.

 

Avoid drinking tap water at all costs. Drink only bottled water as tap water comes for various sources. In most towns it will have passed through a treatment plant; however this is no guarantee of its purity. Ice cubes served in drinks at established restaurants are not a problem as they are usually prepared from boiled or bottled water. However, to be really safe, avoid ice in all of your drinks. 

 

We strongly advise that all New Zealand travellers check the latest travel advice on the New Zealand Government Safe Travel site.

One-tenth of all animal species on Earth live in Thailand.

Food and Drinks: Thai food is regarded as one of the best cuisine in the world. The choice is endless – you could literally have a different meal every day of the year! 

Fresh ingredients, including vegetables, pork, fish, poultry and sometimes beef are almost always used. Thai’s love ‘spicing’ things up and fresh coriander, lemongrass and limes are a signature ingredient to give a characteristic tang, while fresh chillies can be used to add ‘fire’ to many dishes.

 

Other ingredients that do feature in traditional Thai dishes are coconut milk, tamarind, ginger and black pepper. Some of the more popular Thai dishes are:- Gaengmus-sa-man- a rich spicy curry with beef or chicken, Tom yam kung, spicy soup with lime juice, lemongrass, mushroom and shrimp, Tom khaagai- soup with galangal root, chicken feet and coconut milk, Khaonaphet- roast duck over rice, and for the sweet tooth-  Mamuangkhaoniaw- ripe mango with sticky rice in coconut cream, Kluaykhaek- fried banana, Sang kha-yaamaphraow- coconut custard.

 

Wine, beer and spirits are available in Thailand.  There are well known brands of beers made in Thailand that are popular and reasonably priced, one being the local Singha Beer.  If you want imported brands these tend to be approximately 10-50% more expensive than the local equivalent. Wine – you are limited for choice- if imported wine will be very expensive, so stick to cocktails. A favourite with Thai people is rice whiskey- Mehkong being the leading brand- very potent, but affordable. Drink with caution!

 

One of Thailand’s most curious creatures is the mudskipper, which is a fish that is capable of walking on land and climbing trees.

 

Safety and Security: Thailand is a relatively safe country to travel to, despite travel advisories put out by several European nations. The Thai people are peaceful people with respect for tourists. Thailand has suffered some unrest in recent times, so we recommend travellers stay away from any protests, rallies, large gatherings of people that they may encounter.

 

We recommend precautions taken at all times to ensure you have a trouble free holiday. 

Make sure you lock your room at night. Ensure all valuables, tickets, passports etc are left in the hotel safety deposit box. Carry a photocopy of the ID page of your passport with you. When travelling by train or bus don’t leave valuables in your baggage and be cautious of strangers offering free food or drink. Thai’s are very hospitable but it has been known for food and drinks to be drugged. When you awake valuables can be gone.

The law requires front seat passengers to wear a seat belt. In Bangkok taxis have meters but in provincial areas be prepared to bargain the price. Pick pocketing, theft and mugging can take place. Be aware at all times especially in crowded places and at night.

Thailand has strict laws and penalties for drug use, and the penalties for possession and trafficking have been enforced with extreme severity. No leniency is shown to visitors and tourists. Punishment can lead to life imprisonment or death penalty. 

Prostitution is a huge trade and problem in Thailand. Sex tourism is a very sad, but realistic part of Thailand. Even though the legal age of consent is 15, it is 18 for prostitutes. Thai authorities enforce harsh penalties on people who engage in any sexual activity with minors. All Thai’s are required to carry an identity card. HIV levels are high in Thailand, especially amongst sex workers and injecting drug users.

We strongly advise that all New Zealand travellers check the latest travel advice on the New Zealand Government Safe Travel site.

Both the Hollywood movie and Broadway play of The King and I are banned in Thailand

Clothing:  Light cotton clothing such as t-shirts and shorts and cotton shirts are ideal for the hot humid conditions of Thailand. T shirts are extremely popular among tourists, however are not considered ‘proper’ dress with adult Thai’s. A shirt with a collar makes a much better impression for formal occasions.

It is good to take at least one long sleeved shirt and pair of trousers to prevent mosquitoes. It is also considered respectful to wear these when entering temples but the Thai’s are usually quite tolerant towards tourists in this area, depending on which temple you are entering. If you are heading to the north of Thailand (eg Chiang Mai) it would be wise to take a warm top or light weight jacket as it can get a little chilly at night time. During the rainy season, lightweight cotton clothing will also dry faster. Sandals will not get waterlogged like leather or sports shoes, but bear in mind this can be frowned upon in some venues.

Thai temples and palaces will usually ban shorts and tank tops, especially for women, so ensure your shoulders are covered.

Thailand is the world’s largest producer of tin.

Language:  Thai is the official language though English is widely spoken and understood, especially by those involved in the tourist areas.

Northern Thailand was a major producer of opium in the 1960s and 1970s, which was a major source of income for the hill tribes.

Gratuities:  Tipping is not expected unless you choose to tip to staff that give good service. Rule of thumb in this case is a 10-15% tip. It is customary not to tip taxi drivers however you may wish to round the taxi fare up to an even number.

The brothers who gave the world the term “Siamese twins” were born in 1811 in a village near Bangkok.

Airport tax: Generally your international air ticket should include airport tax on international departures. Check with your travel agent for any change to this.

Thailand’s name in the Thai language is Prathet Thai, which means “Land of the Free.”

Internet:  Internet facilities are available throughout the country. Even the smallest of towns will boast an internet café of some sort. Charges are normally very low. Five star hotels may offer broadband connection, but normally within hotels the cost will be very high. Large cities such as Bangkok and Chiang Mai will have wireless hotspots throughout the city. Internet cafes are generally the cheapest.

Leaving the house without any underwear on is illegal you can be arrested for it.

Telephone:Thailand’s country code is +66 from New Zealand. While calling New Zealand from Thailand you will need to dial +64 … The telephone system in Thailand is both modern and efficient. You can direct dial to most countries from larger hotels. Most mobile phones can be used in Thailand, check with your mobile provider before leaving home. Prepaid Thai SIM Cards are also available. This will give you a local phone number in Thailand and allows you to phone home without the high roaming charges. Phone cards can be purchased at most convenience store.

Thailand also has an extensive payphone system. The bright yellow ‘Lenso’ phones allow local calls and some allow overseas calls. They are easy to spot and plentiful.

Monkeys Get Their Own Festival

Time Difference: Thailand is five hours behind New Zealand from April to September and six hours behind from October to March. 

Photography: Just as you wouldn't like a stranger walking up to you and snapping your photo, be respectful and ask first before doing the same in Thailand especially with Monks. Note that some rurual hill-tribe people believe that a photography will 'capture' their soul and will object to being photographed. 

Electricity:  220V, 50 cycles. Usually round, two-pole plugs, some flat, two-bladed plugs. You may require a converter if your electrical devices do not have this. You will quite likely need a plug adaptor as well. Plug adapters can be found in the main tourist towns, but we suggest you check for adapters before you leave home.

Ping Pong is the national sport of Thailand

Religion: Buddhism is the predominant religion in Thailand, with Muslims the second largest religious group.

Each day of the week is assigned a certain color.

Customs:  Thai people are a soft and gentle race and well known for their hospitality to tourists. The Thai people practice many of the original traditions and customs passed down from generation to generation, even today. This makes their people and country so unique and appealing to travellers.

Formal greetings are the norm in Thailand. The traditional Thai greeting the waiis offered first by the younger of two people meeting, with their hands pressed together, fingertips pointing upwards as the head is bowed to touch their face to their hands. This usually coincides with the spoken word ‘Sawasdeekhrap’ for male speakers and ‘Sawasdeeka’ for females. The elder then responds after in the same way. The waiis a sign of respect and reverence for another, very similar to the Namaste greeting of Nepal and India.

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 centre of the table and you are free to eat what you wish. Though some people believe that taking the last piece from a shared plate is considered unlucky, 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. Whilst Thai people are among the most tolerant of hosts, they have nevertheless a number of customs and taboos which the visitor should respect. 
 

Cities of Interest:
 

Bangkok
Bangkok is the capital city and largest city in Thailand. It’s Thai name is Krung ThepMahaNakhon or for short- Krung Thep which means ‘city of angels’. It is the most densely populated city with approximately 12 million people. Bangkok in the early days was a small trading post near the mouth of the Chao Phraya River during the Ayutthaya Kingdom in the 15th century. It eventually grew in size and became the site of two capital cities: Rattanakosin in 1782 and Thonburi in 1768. It’s strategic position in Southeast Asia, Siam (later renamed as Thailand) acted as a buffer zone between the British and French colonial empires. As a city, Bangkok has earned itself the reputation of being a dynamic independent and influential city making it one of the leading cities in Southeast Asia.

This city has everything – Buddhist temples by the dozen, cultural landmarks, shopping, cuisine, nightlife, a red light district which is illegal but tolerated! Bangkok attracts visitors each year by the millions. The second largest amount of visitors behind London!  So a very popular spot!


Kanchanaburi
The westernmost province of Thailand has not only gained fame for its strikingly beautiful landscape - characterized by impressive waterfalls and caves, tranquil river scenery and verdant national parks - but also for its tragic history. During World War II Asian laborers and allied prisoners of war were forced to build the Burma-Siam Railway through the province. The most famous reminder of this tragedy is the "Bridge On the River Kwai," which was immortalized in books and the motion picture of the same name.


Chiang Mai
Means ‘new city’ even though it celebrated its 715th anniversary recently. It is Thailand’s ‘Rose of the North’. It is one of the few places in Thailand to experience modern Thai culture with history. Old temples sit next to modern shops and boutique hotels. The moat-encircled old city, retains much of the fortified wall that once protected the centre of the former Lanna capital city.

Ethnic hill tribes, cooking and massage schools, handicraft workshops, cultural performances, festivals, outdoor pursuits and amazing scenery make Chiang Mai one of Asia’s most attractive tourist destinations. 


Chiang Rai (Golden Triangle)
Chiang Rai, the northernmost province of Thailand, lies in the heart of the notorious Golden Triangle, the area where the borders of Thailand, Myanmar, and Laos converge. It is well known for its stunning mountain scenery and is home to several different hilltribes. The main hilltribe groups in this region are Hmong, Karen, Lahu, Lisu, Akha and Mien. These ethnic minorities began to arrive in Thailand at the end of 19th century and some groups may have been here much longer. They were forced out of their native countries, such as Myanmar, China, and Tibet by civil war and political pressures. Each hilltribe has its own customs, culture, religion, clothing and language.
 

Ayutthaya
Ayutthaya is an ancient capital and modern city in the Central part of Thailand, 85kms north of Bangkok. Founded approximately 1350, Ayutthaya became the second capital of Siam after Sukothai. Throughout the centuries, this was an ideal location between India, China and the Malay Archipelago, this made Ayutthaya the trading capital of Asia and at that stage even the world. By 1700 Ayutthaya had become the largest city in the world with 1 million inhabitants. International merchants would set sail from countries far and wide like Portugal, Netherlands, France and Arab World. Merchants in Europe proclaimed Ayutthaya to be the finest city they had ever seen. French and Dutch maps of the city show grandeur with golden-laden palaces, large ceremonies and a huge float of trading vessels from all over the world. This all came to an end when the Burmese invaded Ayutthaya in 1767 and burnt the city to the ground.

Today there are only a few remains that might give us an idea of how impressive this city must have been. Its remains are characterised by the Prang (reliquary towers) and big monasteries. Most of the remains are palaces and temples, as they were the only buildings made from stone at that time. The great cultural value of Ayutthaya’s ruins were recognized in 1991, when the Historic city became an UNESCO World Heritage Site. 


Phuket/ KhaoLak
The tourist mecca of the Andaman Coast. Phuket is one of the world’s best known resort islands and Thailand’s must popular travel destination. Whether you prefer a stunning secluded beach, the bustling nightlife of Patong, or a scenery packed day trip to Phi Phi, Phuket never fails to impress.  Known as the ‘Pearl of the Andaman’ it offers plenty of natural and man-made attractions both on the island and adjacent coastal area.

The island comprises of a series of beach resort areas, all with its own sweeping bay, a well developed tourist centre and a great holiday environment. Renting scooters to get around the island and see the sights is highly recommended as is the day trips to PhangNga Bay and Phi Phi Island.
 

Krabi
One of the rising stars in Thailand's tourism industry is unquestionably Krabi. Many visitors are discovering the picturesque tropical islands, which come in many sizes and shapes, that are located just offshore this southern coastal province. Encircled by lush vegetation and towering limestone outcrops, Krabi is an ideal place for beach and nature lovers. Major attractions include the Susan Hoi (Shell Cemetery), NoppharatThara Beach and the spectacular islands of Ko Phi Phi and KoLanta, famed for their unspoiled beaches surrounded by clear blue waters and coral reefs with abundant marine life.
 

KohSamui
KoSamui, Thailand's third largest island (247 square kilometers), lies just offshore the province of SuratThani. Dubbed "The Coconut Island," KoSamui is one of the most popular beach and island resorts in Thailand with over half a million visitors each year. It has come to world fame due to its beautiful, long beaches with powdery white sand and crystal clear waters, surrounded by coconut groves.


KohSamet
Located just to the east of Pattaya, Rayong and KoSamet have experienced a dramatic surge in popularity in recent years. Apart from its peaceful beaches, Rayong is also blessed with a variety of natural attractions and sites of cultural and historical interest. KoSamet, a six-kilometer strip of island with idyllic scenery, clear blue waters, crystalline sand and dazzling coral reefs, is ideal for snorkeling and scuba diving.


Hua Hin
Hu Hin isu HinmHuone of Thailand’s premier beach resort towns in the Gulf of Thailand. It is less than 200kms from Bangkok so makes it a very popular weekend destination for city residents of Thailand. Hua Hin is also the location of the King’s summer palace – Klai Kang Won which means ‘Far from Worries’. Hua Hin is known for its beautiful powdery sand beach, lively night market, many beach activities, numerous seaside restaurants and renowned golf courses. Hua Hin also hosts the popular music festival, the Hua Hin Jazz Festival. On the coast of Takiab Bay, visitors can take seaside horseback rides and visit a hilltop Buddhist temple which hosts a spectacular view.  Accommodation on Hua Hin is varied- from simple beach huts & guest houses to luxury resorts including some of the finest spa retreats in the world. 
 

Koh Chang
Looking for the ultimate “unspoiled” Thai paradise, people might say it is Koh Chang (Elephant Island). It is called Koh Chang due to the shape of the island, which resembles a sleeping elephant. Set in the Gulf of Thailand just 315 kilometers south-east of Bangkok, the island is incredibly mountainous and lush. With 75 percent of undisturbed rainforest, Koh Chang is perhaps the best-preserved island in Southeast Asia. Beaches, waterfalls, coral reefs and wildlife abound. Restaurants, pubs, tour agencies, shops and minimarts are springing up like mushrooms.

Koh Chang, a 30-kilometer strip of island with spectacular waterfalls, a rich evergreen forest, idyllic scenery, clear blue waters, crystalline sand and dazzling coral reefs, is indeed an ideal place for beach and nature lovers. For snorkeling and scuba diving enthusiasts, Koh Chang National Marine Park, acclaimed for its incredible corals and aquatic life – should not be missed.

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