Thailand is a monarchy that lies in the heart of South East Asia. Our tours in Thailand start in the bustling capital of Bangkok, where you can spend your time wandering around the Grand Palace or hop on a tuk tuk or river boat to discover the numerous wats dotted around the city. Bangkok is also a great place to haggle for a bargain at the various markets around town. From the stalls on Khao San Road to the floating markets which can be viewed from your very own boat, to the expanse of the Chatuchak weekend markets, with over 5,000 stalls, you can buy pretty much anything on our Thailand tours, from that perfect souvenir to traditional Thai fisherman pants or silk shirts to pets of all shapes, sizes and species. On our Thailand tours we also head up to the Golden triangle and to the province of Chang Mai where we have time to trek, browse the night markets or to take part in a cooking course to learn the secrets of cooking authentic Thai dishes.
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Thailand Travel Articles, Inspiration & Information
When In Doubt… Travel
I was fresh out of university and still had no clue what I wanted to be when I grew up. Considering I was 22 this was pretty awkward. Peers around me were joining graduate schemes and putting deposits down on flats.I had other ideas. Armed with a ton of brochures, a map of the world and a degree in spontaneity, I decided to travel across South East Asia.. Read more
Celebrating Songkran in Bangkok
The Songkran festival is celebrated in Thailand in mid-April. Different provinces may have varying lengths of celebrations but the main dates are April 13-15. This is the Thai equivalent to New Year. Traditionally Songkran is a time to cleanse Buddha images and then use this same “blessed” water to pour over family and friends shoulders to bring good luck for the New Year, and wash away the bad. Read more
Bizarre foods South East Asia edition
Out on tour over here in South East Asia you should always be able to find yourself some adventures foods to sample. I would say that from every part of this region you could try something off the rails. Like say over in Vietnam up in the far northern capital city of Hanoi I know this great little c... Read more
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Thailand Travel Guide
Thailand Travel Guide
Thailand is Southeast Asia's premier travel destination, famous for its white-sand beaches and verdant picturesque coves which have been immortalised in film as well as many a magazine feature. Despite its booming tourism market and fast-expanding economy, Thailand retains much of its charm and culture. Around 85% of the country still practice Buddhism and its influence is visible in daily life. In constrast with sprawling, cosmopolitan Bangkok, many Thais still live off the land in farming or fishing villages. Thailand is a country blessed with abundance, rich heritage and beautiful landscape. It's little wonder, therefore, that so many are drawn to its riches. The hill tribes and jungle in the north offer great hiking and cultural opportunities. The islands and beaches to the south provide a relaxing chilled out setting. At its centre, Bangkok has resplendent palaces and temples, golden buddhas, fragrant markets, museums and world-class shopping.
Thailand's currency is the Baht (symbol: ฿) which is broken up into 100 satang. Coins come in 1, 2, 5 and 10 denominations and notes come in 20, 50, 100, 500 and 1000 denominations. Other currencies are not typically accepted in Thailand, except in tourist areas where large purchases may be made in US dollars or near borders where neighbouring countrys' currencies may be accepted. American Express, Visa and Mastercard credit and debit cards are usually accepted at higher-end hotels and restaurants, shopping malls and travel agents, although credit card fraud is prevalent, so try not to let your card out of your site.
ATMs are plentiful in Thailand and should accept all major international cards, although you may find they charge you an additional transaction fee along with any fees charged by your home bank. The maximum transaction withdrawal of a Thai ATM is up to B20,000. To avoid ATM charges you can go into the bank itself with your card and passport and ask for a cash advance. Travellers' cheques in US dollars or pounds sterling are still accepted by most banks and bureau de change booths and charge around a B153 equivalent commission.
Thailand is an inexpensive country, although as anywhere prices vary considerably depending on your personal tastes. Food is cheap and you can get a snack from local street vendors or market stalls from B20-50. Restaurants charge a little more and generally run between B50-250 per person. Upmarket and foreign food restaurants may cost B200-500 per person. A bottle of water should set you back between B15-35 and local beer between B60-150 a pint. Entry fees for major attractions are moderately priced – Bangkok's Grand Palace is B500 (around US$15) and museums and wats cost considerably less.
Bargaining is expected in markets and when hiring tuk-tuks or taxis you should arrange the cost of a journey in advance. Prices are fixed in shops and department stores. Generally speaking you will pay more than a local for most services than Thai people are there is often a foreigners price and a local price for entry fees. Tipping is not customary in Thailand but if you receive good service a small gratuity is appreciated and considering the low wages of the area will go a long way with local people. Often people will round up taxi fares or resturant bills to the nearest B10 as a form of tip. Also, some restaurants may charge a service fee on top of the cost of your meal.
Major Cities and Towns in Thailand
At Thailand's heart lies its capital, Bangkok, a sprawling mega-city with everything you could need and plenty of attractions to keep one entertained. Along the coast is the resort town of Pattaya is the country's premier package holiday destination. In the northern highlands Chiang Mai is an attractive historic city, as well as the jumping off point for the plethora of trekking opportunities in the area. In the south, the Gulf coast provides paradise-like shorelines and islands with Ko Samui and Ko Pha Ngan as just a couple of the favourites. The Andaman coast, on the other side of the peninsula, has some of the countries most pristine coral reefs which can be explored from the popular island of Phuket or the little gem of Ko Phi Phi.
The electricity supply in Thailand runs at 220 volts. There are several types of plug used in Thailand, so a universal adaptor is essential. The most common plug types are two flat prongs such as that used in the United States and two round prongs such as that used throughout Europe.
Etiquette and Culture
Thailand's people are made up of 75% ethnic Thais, 14% Chinese and the remaining are immigrants and minority hilltribe people. Around 85% of the population practice Theravada Buddhism which is the national religion. The next most popular religion is Islam with a following of between 5 and 10% of the population. There is also influences of animism (spirit worship) and Hinduism.
The national language is Thai, although increasingly people also speak English particularly in major cities and around tourist locations. Thai is a tonal language making it difficult for foreigners to pick up but if you make the effort to learn a couple of words your local contacts will be impressed and appreciative. 'Sawatdee' is a common and useful greeting that can be used to say hello, good morning, good afternoon or goodbye. Thank-you is 'khop kun'. Both hello and thank-you and many other Thai sentences can be finished with the polite syllables 'ka' if you are a female and 'khrap' if you are a male... eg sawatdee ka (female), khop kun khrap (male), etc. This does not have a direct translation but is considered good manners, especially if you are speaking with someone new.
The 'wai' is another polite gesture that involves placing your hands in a prayer-like gesture and bowing your head. There are different levels of wai depending on the relative status of the individuals involved. This is instinctively known to the Thais and it is best not to initiate the wai without knowing the subtleties involved. If someone does a wai to you, you can return the wai or smile in response. As a foreigner you will not be expected to know the intricacies of the gesture.
It is important to dress modestly, especically when entering temples. It is considered rude to touch another person's head (including children) or to point your feet at another person or religious icon. Also, it is customary to remove your shoes before entering a home or temple.
Thailand has a shape of an elephant's head, with the northeast and northwest regions making the ears and the peninsula forming the trunk. It borders with Malaysia in the south and Burma/Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos in the north and has roughy the same area as Spain. Thailand can be broken up into four geographically distinct zones. In the northwest along the border with Myanmar are forested mountains that receive the country's coldest winters. It is here that the Thailand's highest mountain is found, Doi Inthanon at 2,565 metres. Northeastern Thailand features the Khorat Plateau with low rolling hills. Central Thailand is characterised by the central plains where much of the country's rice is grown – it is touted the 'rice bowl of Asia'. The principal river system that feeds the rice fields of this region is the Chao Phraya River which makes its way through Bangkok before escaping into the Gulf of Thailand. The south stretches down into the Malaysian peninsula where beaches and tropical islands feature on both coasts as well as forested national parks and historic towns and ports.
Prior to the Thai, the region was inhabited by the Mon people who spoke an Austroasiatic language (related Khmer and Vietnamese), practiced Theravada Buddhism brought to the area from India and who formed the Dvaravati culture from the 7th to the 10th century AD. There is no evidence that they had a single capital city, what is more likely is that the region was ruled by a collection of city-states. They were invaded by the Khmers from Cambodia who were enthusiastic empire builders and at their peak had expanded their influence into Vietnam, Laos, Southern China and northeastern and central Thailand, even establishing a strong presence on the Malay peninsula.
The earliest records of the Thai people have them in southern China in around the 5th century AD. They migrated south due to Chinese and Vietnamese expansionism, eventually reaching Thailand some time after the 7th century where they acquired Theravada Buddhism from the Dvaravati. The population increased and by the 12th century they made up the majority, still ruled by the Khmer empire. With the decline of Angkor, the first Thai kingdom was formed in the mid-13th century at Sukhothai which expanded to include much of modern-day Thailand, before being eclipsed by the rival southern Thai kingdom Ayutthaya.
The Burmese wars in the 16th century led to the sacking of Ayutthaya in 1569, weakening the kingdom. Following this, Naresuan, seen as Ayutthaya's greatest king, restored much of its original power and began engaging in foreign trade with European powers. After his death Ayutthaya continued to florish until the Burmese invaded once more, laying seige for over a year until the Thais fell and Ayutthaya was razed to the ground in 1767, bringing about the end of the kingdom.
After a time of instability, a new empire was formed by Phraya Taksin (Taksin the Great) with its capital near Bangkok which expanded into Lanna, Cambodia and much of Laos. Taksin's instability, paranoia and cruelty led to a coup and his military commander Chao Phraya Chakri took power, moving the capital across the river to the current location of Bangkok and reigning as Rama I. When his son Rama II peacefully ascended the throne it established the Chakri dynasty which is still in place today.
In the 19th century Thailand faced colonial pressure from the British with surrounding countries Burma, Malaysia, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam all falling under colonial control by either the British or the French. Narrowly avoiding the same fate, Thailand signed the Bowring Treaty with the British which gave them free trade and land ownership rights. The Thais then formed similar agreements with France, the US and many other Western countries ensuring that, while they had sacrificed influence in the region, Thailand would remain independent.
During the world wars, Thailand at first sided with Germany out of resentment for previous colonial bullying, changing their mind near the end of World War I by sending troops to France. Post-war, the goodwill this earned allowed them to negotiate out of previously unequal treaties. In World War II, the Japanese invaded Thailand and when the Thais realised they could not repel them, they formed an alliance allowing them to continue into British-controlled Burma, Malaysia and Singapore. Thailand declared war on the US and Great Britain in 1942 but the Thai minister in Washington DC refused to deliver the declaration instead forming a resistence movement called the Seri Thai allied with the US and operating under the noses of the Japanese. It was this relationship with the US that saved Thailand from severe punishment after the war had ended by the British for their alliance with Japan. Thailand's relationship with the US continued, permitting them to use bases there during the Vietnam War and receiving hundreds of millions of dollars in economic and military aid.
Thailand's struggle for a corruption-free democracy has punctuated its modern history. Protests, coups and military rule seem cyclical. The general election of 2001 voted into power one of Thailand's wealthiest men, Thaksin Shinawatra and his Thai Rak Thai party. Accused of corruption by the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), he was ousted in a military coup in 2006. In 2007 the People's Power Party (PPP) won the general election, acting as a proxy for Thaksin who was by now living in London. This led to protests by the PAD, wearing trademark yellow shirts, eventually closing down the airport in 2008. The PPP was found to be illegal and a government was formed by a Democrat Party/Bhumjaithai Party coalition which led to pro-Thaksin protests in their trademark red shirts. In 2011, the Pheu Thai party (the reincarnation of the PPP) won a majority vote in the general election, led by Thaksin's younger sister Yinglunk Shinawatra.
Best time to travel in Thailand
Thailand's weather is characterised by three seasons – wet, hot and cool. The rainy season is caused by the southwest monsoon and falls between May and October each year. The cool season is between November and February and the hot season from March to May. During the wet season, the afternoons will generally receive heavy rain for a number of hours, but it is not common for the rain to fall all day long. It's still possible, even pleasant, to travel at this time of year provided you are plan each day around the afternoon showers. The rain gets steadily heavier over the season with most rain falling in September and October.
The cool season from November to February is the nicest time, weather-wise, to visit but it is also peak season and it is important to make travel arrangements in advance and be prepared for crowds. The hot season can see temperatures rise to 35 degrees celsius in Bangkok. If travelling at this time of the year, start your days early and retreat for a midday snooze before heading out again in late afternoon.
Within these season are regional variations. Notably, the north experiences cooler temperatures which can fall below zero at night at cooler times of year. The northeastern plains can be hotter than the central lowlands, with dry dust and humidity. The peninsula received more consistent temperatures which get less and less varied the closer you are to the equator.
When to travel
Weather-wise the best time to travel is between November and February, although this is peak tourist time so it's important to forward plan. Travelling at other times of year is still perfectly fine, just pack accordingly.
There are various festivals you may want to experience at different times of year, the most interesting and famous include:
Songkran which is celebrated by a giant water fight and happens in mid-April.
Loi Krathon where Thais float flowers and lighted candles on rivers, ponds and seafronts to honour the water spirits and falls on the full moon of the 12th month which is usually in November. This coincides with the Lanna festival Yin Peng where Thais release floating lanterns into the sky and the most elaborate Yi Peng celebrations happen in Chiang Mai.
Vegetarian festival in Phuket happens in October or November and involves processions, shows and food stalls, as well as the rather unsettling sight of men and women skewered with metal rods through their cheeks and tongues!
Guide to food in Thailand
Truly a world cuisine, Thai food is in equal parts exotic and delicious. There are regional specialties but overall, Thai cooking aims at achieving a balance of five flavours – spiciness, sourness, bitterness, saltiness and sweetness. Typical ingredients include chillis, lemongrass, Thai basil, coriander, galangal (a member of the ginger family), garlic, lime juice, coconut and fermented fish paste.
In addition to tasting your way through Thailand it is also possible to learn how to cook some of the local dishes with a range of cookery schools in Chiang Mai or Bangkok which are very popular.
Thai curries are made with a variety of curry pastes with varying degrees of heat, many of which are cooked with coconut milk. Thai soups are can be spicy or fragrant with kaffir lime leave, coriander and lemongrass. Salads are also popular served with noodles, different meat or seafood, vegetables and usually some sort of lime juice-based dressing with seasoning like coriander or chillis.
Popular dishes include:
The most popular varieties include kaeng karii (mild, yellow), kaeng phet (hot, red), kaeng khiaw wan (green curry), kaeng matsamen (Muslim-style 'Massaman' curry with beef and potatoes).
The most popular soup is tom kha kai made with coconut, chicken and galangal. Tomyam kung is a hot and sour prawn soup.
There are four main types of Thai salad: yam, tam, lap (or larb) and phla. Yam-style salads can be made with a variety of different proteins, vegetables, noodles and herbs served with a dressing made from shallots, fish sauce, lime juice, sugar and chillis. Tam salads are made with unripe papaya with a dressing containing lime juice, fish sauce, dried shrimp, sugar, garlic, chillis and palm sugar. Lap or larb is typically made with ground dry roasted glutinous rice and a dressing of lime juice, fish sauce, ground dried chillis and sugar. Phla is made with a variety of proteins mixed together, such as seafood and pork with a dressing similar to a yam salad.
Top Attractions and Highlights in Thailand
From the Grand Palace to the National Museum, Bangkok has many sites to be explored to help you get to grips with the culture and history of Thailand. With a population of 11 million people, it is a sprawling metropolis with many corners to be explored.
2. Chiang Mai
With a moated old quarter with preserved historic wooden houses, Chiang Mai manages to keep some of its old world charm despite its popularity as Thailand's second city. It is also the launchpad for northern trekking opportunities, as well as mountain biking and rock climbing.
One of the historic capitals of the Thai kingdom, Ayutthaya is contained within a 4 km wide island, hemmed by the Pasak, Lopburi and Chao Phraya rivers. You can see remnants of the city's past in the red-brick ruins and crumbling temples and learn of its history in its fine museums.
4. Ko Phi Phi
The breathtakingly beautiful island of Ko Phi Phi, made famous by the 1999 movie The Beach, is a picturesque spot to sunbathe, swim, snorkel or dive.
5. Khao Sok National Park
Foliage-drapped limestone karsts, emerald pools and pretty waterfalls adorn this park, which lies north of Phuket. Trails wind through the jungle and guided treks or night safaris offer the chance to better interpret the area and maybe see some of the forests inhabitants such as slow loris or if you're extra lucky, clouded leopards.
This island capital is buzzing place and while most people use it as a stop-off on the way to the area's other islands, its Sino-Portuguese architecture in the restored Old Town as well as an excellent collection of Thai restaurants make it a pleasant destination in its own right.
Earlier than Ayutthaya, Sukhothai was another of Thailand's capitals from 1238-1376. What is left is an set of elegant ruins, statues, pillars and stupas. Hire a bike to explore the central zone of the archaeological park or head to the more remote corners for a more relaxed feel.
8. Chiang Rai
Smaller than Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai also offers trekking opportunties and homestays with local hilltribe communities. It also has an intriguing display of local art at the Rai Mae Fah Luang museum and the bizzare Wat Rong Khun, a pure white temple with staggeringly ornate carvings.
9. Death Railway, River Kwai
So called due to the high numbers of POWs that died constructing the train line, which cuts through solid rock cuttings and over high trestle bridges. The train passes through verdant scenery and the Thailand-Burma Railway Centre in Kanchanaburi provides insight into the history.
This backpacker backwater is the place to let it all melt away. Its book shops, cafes and ethnic clothing and jewellery stores offer a cosy retreat from the world. Nearby natural hot springs and spas make it impossible not to relax.
10 Interesting Facts about Thailand
1. Bangkok's full ceremonial name is 168 letters long: Krung Thep Mahanakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahinthara Ayuthaya Mahadilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udomratchaniwet Mahasathan Amon Piman Awatan Sathit Sakkathattiya Witsanukam Prasit, which translated means: City of Angels, Great City of Immortals, Magnificent City of the Nine Gems, Seat of the King, City of Royal Palaces, Home of Gods Incarnate, Erected by Visvakarman at Indra’s Behest.
2. Siamese cats are one of several breeds of cat that are native to Thailand.
3. Bangkok is the world's most visited city by international travellers according to 2013's Global Destination Cities forecast which is compiled annually by Mastercard.
4. In Thailand it is illegal to leave your house without wearing any underwear.
5. It is illegal to deface or defile any image of the king. As the king's face is on all the money, it is important not to step on any baht and you can be arrested for doing so.
6. Thai is a tonal language. It is written in Thai script which has 44 consonants and 32 vowels.
7. Thailand is the largest exporter of rice in the world.
8. The term Siamese twins was coined after famous Thai co-joined twin brothers Chang and End Bunker who travelled with the P T Barnham circus in the 1800s.
9. Thailand is a constitutional monarchy and King Bhumibol (Rama IX) is the world's longest ruling head of state, having been the ruling monarch since 1946.
10. The film Anna and the King (starring Jodie Foster and Chow Yun-Fat) which depicts the life of British teacher of English to the children of King Mongkut (Rama IV) was not allowed to be filmed in Thailand and the Thai government banned the distribution of the movie within Thailand as they regarded it disrespectful and historically inaccurate.