The Kingdom of Thailand (Thai: ราชอาณาจักรไทย) is a monarchy in Southeast Asia with coasts on the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand.
Thailand is the heart of the Southeast Asian mainland, bordering Myanmar in the west, Laos in the north, Cambodia in the east, and Malaysia in the south. As Thailand has comparably good infrastructure with Bangkok being an intercontinental flight hub, the country is the gateway to the region for most foreign visitors.
With great food, a tropical climate, fascinating culture and superb beaches, Thailand is the most visited country in Southeast Asia. It is called the “Land of Smiles”.
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 tap 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 identity, 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 is, 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 100 Thai 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, both Thai and farang, have made scamming tourists into an art form.
Finally, despite being relatively economically developed, Thailand still suffers from problems that afflict most Southeast Asian countries, such as new towns and neighbourhoods built haphazardly and with no concern for architectural beauty, the lack of accessibility and pedestrian-friendliness in large cities, and often, presence of trash and litter in both cities and rural areas.
History of Thailand
The earliest identifiable 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 still rules in a constitutional monarchy.
Known as Siam until 1939, Thailand is Southeast Asia’s oldest independent country and the only one never to have been colonised by a foreign power, and the country’s inhabitants are 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 (see Pacific War), only Thailand was not conquered by the Japanese due to smart political moves. Allied with Japan during World War II, Thailand became a US ally following the conflict. Thailand was a base of US air operations during the Vietnam War. There was a communist insurgency, with little success, that only ended in 1983. After a string of military dictatorships and quickly toppled civilian prime ministers, Thailand stabilized into a fair approximation of a democracy and the economy boomed through tourism and industry.
On December 26, 2004, an earthquake in the Indian Ocean caused a tsunami to hit Thailand’s western coast, causing tremendous damage and killing thousands of people, especially at the seaside resorts.
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 traditionally 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 duking it out both behind the scenes and, occasionally, out in the streets, culminating in Bangkok’s airports being seized and shut down for a week in Nov 2008.
A new party led by Thaksin’s sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, won the 2011 elections, but while like Thaksin, she maintained popularity in the Central Thai countryside, the North and Isaan, Muslims in the South, powerful people in the Thai military and the Bangkok establishment never accepted the legitimacy of her government, and on May 7, 2014, Thailand’s Constitutional Court ordered her and her cabinet to step down. On May 22, 2014, the Thai army staged a bloodless coup, declared a nationwide curfew, and went about arresting members of Yingluck’s Pheu Thai Party. The curfew was lifted on June 13, 2014, but the basic elements that have led to the conflict are still unresolved.
After the death in late 2016 of King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX), the world’s longest-reigning monarch and a deeply loved and respected figure of near-mythic proportions, his son King Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun (Rama X) acceded to the throne.
Thailand has grown into the main economic centre of the region, and today attracts many migrant workers from its much poorer neighbours Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia.
Culture & Tradition of Thailand
Wat Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai
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, multicolored, pointy roofs are ubiquitous. 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. That being said, there are also prominent Mahayana Buddhist temples, most of which were built in Chinese architectural styles to serve the ethnic Chinese community.
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. It and several other popular shrines pay homage to Hindu deities.
Some traditional arts popular in Thailand include traditional Thai dancing and music, based on religious rituals and court entertainment. There is vibrant popular music scene with morlam and lukthung not at all overshadowed by Western style pop. 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. The ethnic Chinese population has been largely assimmilated into Thai culture, though vestiges of their Chinese heritage can still be found in Bangkok’s Chinatown. The Chinese have, however, left a huge impact on Thailand’s culinary scene, and many dishes of Chinese origin, such as noodles, roast pork and steamed buns, have been widely adopted and are now seen as an integral part of Thai cuisine.
Ordinary passport holders of many Western and Asian countries, including most Southeast Asia countries, Australia, Canada, most European Union countries, Hong Kong, Japan and the United States of America do not need a visa if their purpose of visit is tourism. Visitors receive 30-day permits (except for citizens of Korea, Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Peru who get 90 days), but effective 31 Dec 2016, an exemption is granted only twice per calendar year when not arriving by air. Citizens of Myanmar may enter without a visa for 14 days only if they enter by air; entry through any other mode of transport requires a valid visa. Thai immigration requires visitors’ passports to have a minimum of 6 months validity and at least one completely blank visa page remaining. Visa-on-arrival is available at certain entry points for passport holders of 21 other nations (Andorra, Bhutan, Bulgaria, China, Cyprus, Ethiopia, Fiji, India, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Maldives, Malta, Mauritius, Papua New Guinea, Romania, San Marino, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan).
Those with passports from countries not widely known, including European city-states, or that 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 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.
Those arriving via air from most African and South American countries are required to show yellow fever certificates and receive a stamp on their entry forms from the onsite health centre prior to clearing immigration.
Proof of onward travel, long happily ignored by Thai immigration, has been known to be strictly applied in some instances. Airlines, that have to pay for your return flight if immigration doesn’t let you in, are more rigorous about checking for it. A print-out of an 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 no proof of onward journey required (unless the border officials decide otherwise).
Overstaying in Thailand is risky. If you make it to Immigration and are fewer than 10 days over, you’ll probably be allowed out with a fine of 500 Thai Baht per day. However, if for any reason you’re caught overstaying by the police you’ll be carted off to the notoriously unpleasant illegal immigrant holding pens and may be blacklisted from Thailand entirely. For most people it’s not worth the risk: get a legal extension or do a visa run to the nearest border instead. Now that the number of visa exemptions at land borders is limited it is even more attractive to visit an immigration office to extend your visa or visa exemption with 30 days.
Thai immigration officers at land border crossings are known to ask foreigners for bribes of about 20 Thai Baht per person before they stamp your passport. Immigration officers at airports generally do not ask for bribes.
It’s controversial whether you must carry your passport with you at all times, but police are known to have tried to extort bribes for this. In some situations it has proven to be enough to carry a photocopy of the passport ID page and the page with the latest entry stamp.
Thai Airways Airbus A380
The main international airports in Thailand are at Bangkok and Phuket, which are well-served by intercontinental flights. Practically every airline that flies to Asia also flies into Bangkok, meaning that there is plenty of competition to keep ticket prices down. Be aware, Bangkok as two major airports: Suvarnabhumi Airport which serves most larger carriers and is the main airport and the smaller Don Mueang International Airport which primarily serves low-cost carriers both internationally and domestically.
International airports are also located at Hat Yai, Krabi, Ko Samui and Chiang Mai, though these are 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 region. Bangkok Airways offers free Internet access while you wait for boarding to start at your gate. Thai Airways subsidiary Thai Smile (low cost carrier) has also started international operations from India. In addition, Malaysian discount carrier AirAsia has also set up a subsidiary in Thailand, and is often the cheapest option for flights into Thailand.
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.
Cambodia – six international border crossings. The highway from Siem Reap and the temples of Angkor Archaeological Park via Poipet to Aranyaprathet, once the stuff of nightmares, is now merely bad and can usually be covered in less than 3 hours. However, the queues at the Poipet crossing are infamous, and multiple scam artists operate at the crossing; the other crossing like Koh Kong / Hat Lek on the southern route from Sihanoukville to Trat are much quieter and less stressful. The land borders close for the night.
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 / Houay Xai, Nakhon Phanom / Tha Khaek, Mukdahan / Savannakhet, and elsewhere.
- Vientiane / Udon Thani – A bus service runs from the Morning Market bus station in Vientiane to the bus station in Udon Thani. The cost is 80 Thai Baht or 22,000 kip and the journey takes two hours. The Udon Thani airport is 30 minutes by tuk-tuk from the bus station and is served by Thai Airways, Nok Air, and Air Asia.
Malaysia and Singapore – driving up is entirely possible, although not with a rented vehicle. Main crossings (with the name of the 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. Thai immigration at the Malaysia border has long been known to demand a bribe of 20 Thai Baht/RM2 per person to stamp you in or out, though there has been a crackdown on this. Instead, there is now an official fee of 25 Thai Baht if you are crossing the border between 0500-0830, 1200-1300 and 1630-2100 on weekdays, and all day on weekends and public holidays.
Myanmar – The border crossings with Myanmar are located at Mae Sai/Tachileik, Mae Sot/Myawaddy, the Three Pagodas Pass (Sangkhla Buri/Payathonzu) and Ranong/Kawthoung. As of 2013, the Burmese government has lifted all restrictions on foreigners entering and leaving Myanmar via the Thai border, so it is now possible to travel between Yangon and Bangkok overland. Just make sure that both your Thai (if required) and Burmese visas are in order, as no visa-on-arrival is available at the border.
As traffic moves on the left in Thailand, but moves on the right in all the neighbouring countries except Malaysia, you will generally need to change sides of the road when crossing an international border into Thailand.
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. What is a 2-hour flight to Singapore will take you close to 48 hours by rail, as you have to switch trains twice. The luxury option is to take the Eastern & Oriental Express, a refurbished super-luxury train that runs from Singapore to Bangkok once per week, with gourmet dining, personal butler service, and every other colonial perk you can think of. However, at around USD1,000 one-way just from Bangkok to Butterworth, it is approximately 30 times more expensive than an ordinary first-class sleeper!
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.
There are no rail services to Myanmar, but the Thai part of the infamous Burma Death Railway is still operating near Kanchanaburi.
It is possible now to travel by ferries in high season (Nov-May) from Phuket and island hop your way down the coast all the way to Indonesia.
This can now be done without ever touching the mainland,
Phuket (Thailand) to Penang (Malaysia), islands en route:
- Ko Phi Phi
- Ko Lanta
- Ko Ngai
- Ko Mook
- Ko Bulon
- Ko Lipe— Ko Lipe being the hub on the border between Thailand and Malaysia having a Thai immigration office.
- Langkawi- Malaysian immigration here.
The 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.
There are also occasional cruises from Malaysia and Singapore to Phuket and Bangkok, the main operator being Star Cruises, but no scheduled services.
While Thailand is justifiably famous for its hospitality industry, the Bangkok area is infamous for its road congestion during daytime hours, though at night, traffic levels abate considerably. Smaller cities like Chiang Mai and Buriram or even Phuket are also quite busy at peak hours, but nothing like Bangkok. Domestic flights can get delayed sometimes but price and time wise, a very good option, while driving yourself on highways can be very expensive (car rental and insurance from 1500 Thai Baht/day, plus fuel costs and tolls) and complicated due to signage and constant road works all over the country, besides Thailand having one of the highest rates of road fatalities in the world. Never the less, railways and the government bus companies provide very safe and comfortable links between many cities and towns, the only draw backs are the long travel times and lack of sufficient nice facilities and generous stopage times along the way for restaurants or to go to toilets, in-bus facilities although relatively comfortable, allow only the bare basics in terms of personal relief. In this respect, it may be a good idea to travel distances in excess of 350 km by air, as the bus trip will take about 7 hr compared to 1 hour and ticket prices cost around double (about 450 Thai Baht compared to 900 Thai Baht). Trains 2nd class sleeper cabins cost about same or more than flights but are even slower than buses. A trip from Bangkok to Chiang Mai by train can take more than a day and cost more than the 1.5-hr flight (about 1200 Thai Baht compared with 1000 Thai Baht to fly). When in smaller cities or towns, you can hire a step-in 125/150cc bike at a reasonable price (about 1000 Thai Baht/week with helmets included, and you need proper bike driving permit) to get around and explore nearby areas. Normally if you stay in reputable places, be it low cost or expensive, the people running the establishment can arrange this on your behalf since they have valuable local knowledge and contacts, never the less, always do a web search to get an idea of what to expect.
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 Thai Baht. On highly competitive routes like Bangkok to Phuket it is possible to fly for less than a bus ticket if you book in advance. Various taxes and (often hefty) surcharges are invariably added to advertised prices. Don’t forget to bring the credit card you used to book the ticket.
The airlines have moved away from routing all flights via Bangkok and offer non-stop connections between popular destinations like Chiang Mai and Phuket, Chiang Mai and Hat Yai, Phuket and Ko Samui and Phuket and Siem Reap. The budget airlines are also selling ‘flights’ that are actually packages combining flights with ferry and bus transfers to extend their reach to destinations without usable airports. Few airlines limit themselves to domestic operations; you are likely to find that some budget airline offers better connections to Myanmar or China. The numerous airlines and changing routes make flight price comparison websites useful as long as you buy tickets directly from the airline; you are not going to get Thai budget airline tickets cheaper through a third party.
A Bangkok Airways plane
Pan-ASEAN low-cost carrier AirAsia has great coverage of international and domestic routes in Thailand and offers steeply discounted tickets if booked well in advance; however, prices rise steadily as planes fill up. It’s often the cheapest option, sometimes even cheaper than bus or train, if booked at least a week or two in advance. They fly their A320s from Bangkok to a number of places domestically, and to Cambodia, China, Macau, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Vietnam and Indonesia. Their website displays “all-inclusive” prices during booking (which, however, still do not include optional surcharges such as baggage fees). On-line booking is straightforward and can be done even using the mobile phone, but must be done at least 24 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 monopoly on flights to its own airports at Ko Samui (now shared with Thai Airways), Sukhothai, and Trat. Quite an expensive and “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). The Discovery Airpass can only be purchased abroad.
Kan Airlines uses Chiang Mai as its hub and specializes in routes poorly served by its bigger competitors. For example, it is the only airline flying to Hua Hin.
Nok Air took to the skies in 2004 sporting lurid paint schemes with a bird’s beak painted on the nose. Owned mostly by Thai Airways, they compete with Air Asia on price and, with a fairly comprehensive domestic network, are a pretty good choice overall. They ran into some serious turbulence in 2008, cutting their flights by two-thirds, but now seem to have recovered.
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’re taller than about 1.80 m, get an exit row seat unless you want to ride the whole flight with your knees resting against the seat in front.
Thai Airways International is the most reliable, frequent, and comfortable Thai airline, but usually more expensive than the alternatives (look for their promotions). Travel agents often sell only Thai Airways (and 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 Lion Air is a budget airline started in 2013 as an offshoot of the Indonesian Lion Air. It still runs aggressive price promotions on most popular routes but you may have to fly very late or very early with inconvenient airport transfers.
Thai VietJet Air operates flights on behalf of the Vietnamese VietJet Air using Suvarnabhumi as its hub.
SRT railway network
State Railway of Thailand (SRT) has a 4,000-km network covering most of the country, 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 safer. You can pick up fruits, snacks and cooked food from vendors at most stations.
Point-to-point fares depend on the type (speed) of the train and the class of the carriage. There are three classes of service:
- First class (chan neung) 2-berth sleeping compartments with individually regulated air conditioning are available on some trains, but prices are sometimes matched by budget airfares.
- Second class (chan song) is a good compromise, costing about the same as 1st class buses and with a comparable level of comfort. Some 2nd class trains are air-con, others aren’t; air-con costs a little more. Second class sleeper berths are comfortable and good value, with the narrower upper bunks costing a little less than the wider lower bunks. Food and WCs are basic. 2nd class Express Railcar trains have reclining seats and refreshments are included in the fare; unlike all other Thai passenger trains, they can match buses for speed, but cannot carry bicycles.
- Third class (chan saam) is the cheapest way to travel in Thailand, with virtually nominal fares, and can be great fun. Sometimes packed with tuk-tuk drivers heading home with a sack of rice and a bottle of cheap whisky for company, as a farang (foreigner) you’re guaranteed to be the centre of attention – quite enjoyable in small doses, but 10 hours of this might be a bit much. Some 3rd class trains have wooden seats, others are upholstered; some services can be pre-booked, others cannot; refreshments are available from hawkers who roam the aisles.
You can ship your motorbike on the same train on which you travel. All trains do not have baggage cars, so check with the ticket office. Shipping costs for motorbikes are roughly equivalent to the price of a first-class ticket on the same train.
Thailand’s roads are head and shoulders above its neighbors Myanmar, Laos or Cambodia and in the last few years, being the subject of major improvements but driving habits are still quite dangerous. Drunk driving, speeding and reckless passing are 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. Lately, road blocks and strict policing are being implemented quite often in an attempt to address the situation but it may still take same time for the results to start bearing fruit. There are an estimated 24,000 fatalities on Thai roads annually. 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 Songkran, when bystanders often throw water on passing cars and bikes. Many drivers forget to switch on headlights at night, multiplying risks, and it is wise to avoid or minimize overnight travel by road.
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. Most official road directional signs are written in both Thai and English.
Renting a car to explore on your own is not a very cost-effective way of getting off the beaten track, unless you are with a 4-person group, and will avoid the constant hassle of haggling with local taxi/tuk-tuk drivers. 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 from passing traffic including 18-wheelers and scooters. If you travel with one companion and have a motor bike license, it’s worth it exploring the possibilities of using small automatic gearbox 125/150cc step-on bikes to do shorter local excursions and use other mass means of transport for longer travel distances between cities and towns. It’s quite safe to use these bikes and it allows one to appreciate the landscapes, if you stick to moderate speeds and keep to the left hand side of the road, like the local bikers do.
Traffic on major highways moves at 100-120 km/h, while smaller highways are generally 80 km/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 Western drivers.
Driving under the influence of alcohol is illegal and dangerous, and driving at night also increased the risk of accidents — even if you’re sober, many others aren’t.
If you’re traveling by public conveyance-bus, train, airplane-you may be shocked at the difference in cost between long distance and local travel. A 119 km journey between Khon Kaen and Udon Thani in a minivan costs 84 Thai Baht, or 0.71 Thai Baht per kilometre. Traveling the three kilometres from the bus station to a hotel will cost 60-100 Thai Baht, or 20-33 Thai Baht per kilometre (May 2020).
Renting a car usually costs between 1,200-1,500 Thai Baht if you want to go for an economical one like a Toyota Vios. Most international companies can be found in Thailand. Also check guides to particular cities for reputable local car rental companies, which are often a little cheaper. You can choose among international companies such as Budget, Avis or you can choose to book with local compan. Check the documentation and make sure that everything is done according to rules. Perform required checks and notify the car company about any damage before using the vehicle.
Buses travel throughout the country and the government’s bus company BKS (บขส Baw Kaw Saw), known in English simply as the Transport Company, has a terminal in every province of any size.
Generally speaking, BKS buses are a good 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:
Local bus, Chiang Saen
- Local – relatively slow, can be cramped when full (nevertheless there’s always room for one more), and stop at every village and cowshed along the way. Many are of larger songthaew flavour. Not suitable for long-distance travel, but may be the only cheap way to get around locally.
- Express (rot duan) – skip some stops, but no other frills. Identifiable by their orange colour. Size varies, with the largest having around 65 seats (five seats per row) as well as an open space across the width of the bus by the back door for you to sling your backpack, bicycle, sack of rice, live chickens, etc.
- Second class (chan song) – skip more stops, but often take a less direct route than 1st class / VIP / S-VIP. Blue and white with an orange stripe, usually 45-48 seats per bus, air conditioned (some provide blankets, some do not). Most have no on-board toilet, although the frequent stops mean this isn’t a problem. Not much (10-20%) cheaper than the First class, and significantly slower, worth using if there’s no better choice available to your destination.
- First class (chan neung) – generally take the most direct routes and make very few stops. Blue and white in colour, air conditioned, blanket usually provided, fewer (larger, longer pitch) seats (typically 40, but some double-decker types seat 60+), snack and drinking water included. Toilet on board for all but the shortest services. On overnight trips, a (Thai) meal at a long (25-30 minutes) stop in the middle of the night is normally included, a small separate ticket (written entirely in Thai) is often given at the start of the journey for that purpose; if not, just follow the other passengers. Good enough (and often the best class available) for medium- to long-distance trips.
- “VIP” (also referred to as VIP32) – as per 1st class, but with only 32-34 seats, which have more leg room and recline further. Basic meal included and freshly laundered shrink-wrapped blanket provided. Also blue and white (or sometimes blue and silver) but usually signed “VIP”. Somewhat (25-30%, which amounts to 100-180 Thai Baht for a typical overnight route) more expensive than the first class. Available only on more busy routes, like Bangkok to Chiang Mai or Phuket.
- “S-VIP” (also known as VIP24, or just called VIP by some bus companies who do not use the 32-seater VIP – note the price to avoid confusion, as it will be between 50% and twice more than the First class) – Super-VIP is very similar to VIP, except there are only 24 seats, which are wider – the aisle is offset, each row having a pair of seats on the right and only a single seat on the left. Nowadays, some companies (Green Bus for example) also install personal TV systems similar to those in the airplane, but the choice of English-language movies may be very limited. Primarily used on overnight services.
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.
If you are travelling a long distance on a daytime bus, take a minute to figure out the sunny side and the shady side of the bus. For example, going from Chiang Mai to Bangkok on a 09:00 bus (south), seats on the right side will be bathed in sunlight all day (curtains are provided), so the left side is preferred by most.
Like travelling by train, pre-booking and e-ticketing is also available in some bus lines routing from Bangkok to reachable provinces and vice-versa. e-Tickets can be booked and purchased through travel agencies, bus-line websites and online ticketing systems such as, 12go.asia.
Other reputable tour bus companies:
- Green Bus Corporation (Chiang Mai-based).
- Nakhonchaiair Co., Ltd.
- Sombat Tour Co., Ltd.
Minivan services are ubiquitous, although under the radar as minivans typically are anonymous grey Toyota vans with no company markings. They serve shorter routes, such as Krabi to Phuket, about 180 km or Bangkok to Hua Hin, about 200 km. The purported advantage of taking a minibus is speed, as they move quickly once they get going. Disadvantages are that they are expensive compared with standard bus travel, they can be uncomfortable as they are usually crammed full, and they offer little room for luggage. Take minivans from bus stations. Do not take minivans that offer to pick you up at your hotel. They will pick you up, but then you will spend the next hour driving to other hotels to pick up more passengers. You will then be driven to an aggregator where all the collected passengers will disembark to wait for the minivan to their respective destinations. Then you will likely be driven to a bus station to change to a third and final minivan. Better just to sleep in, then go to bus station to book your (cheaper) minivan ticket, thus saving 2 hours of pointless discomfort.
A typical rural songthaew, Mae Salong
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 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 someplace 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.
Tuk-tuks on the prowl, Bangkok
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 (e.g., 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.
Tuk-tuks are small, noisy, and perhaps dangerous; but possibly the worst thing about them is that, as a passenger, you cannot see a damned thing due to the low roof line. To catch even a glimpse of the passing scene you will find yourself practically supine.
You will often find yourself at the mercy of the tuk-tuk driver when it comes to pricing as you will likely have no clue as to the acceptable raa kaa Thai (“Thai price”) and will probably have to cough up a raa kaa farang (“farang price”). Even if you do know the Thai price, the driver may just not bother to accept it on principle. If you pay with a larger denomination bill, it is also probable that the driver will whine that he has no change. If this happens, try to break the note in a nearby shop.
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. Instead, try to flag down a taxi moving down the street, or use a taxi stand where the locals are queueing. Always insist on the meter, and use another taxi if the driver refuses to turn it on. Most drivers do not speak English, so be sure to have your hotel staff write the names of your destinations in Thai to show the driver.
As is the case throughout virtually all of Southeast Asia, motorcycles (motosai) are the most common form of transport overall; the most popular type are the 100 cc-125 cc step-through models. These are very widely used as taxis, with fares starting from as low as 10 Thai 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 Thai Baht/day for recent 100-125 cc semi-automatic (foot-operated gear change, automatic clutch) step-through models, 150 Thai Baht/day for fully automatic scooters; larger capacity models can also easily be found, although the rates reflect the risks: up to around 2,500 Thai 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 will be requested (Don’t do this. Bargain to leave some Thai Baht instead). An International Driver’s Permit may be used for a maximum of 90 days; having one might lead to requesting your passport to see the entrance stamp, another reason not to leave your passport at the renting company. 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 (take photos of the bike at the time of rental!), 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.
According to the WHO Global Status Report on Road Safety 2013, Thailand in 2010 had 38.1 road fatalities per 100,000 inhabitants. This is the second highest in the world. 74% of those fatalities involved “motorized two or three wheelers”. 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 licenses are commonplace. While the fines are light (typically 400 Thai Baht) the inconvenience can be considerable as offender’s vehicle and/or driver’s license is impounded until the fine is paid, and the queue at the police station can be lengthy.
Some 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).
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 800 Thai Baht/day for small cars, and from as little as 600 Thai Baht/day for open-topped Jeeps. Cars with insurance start at just under 1,000 Thai Baht/day, and come down to around 5,600 Thai Baht/week or 18,000 Thai Baht/month.
Driving is (usually, but not always!) on the left hand side of the road. Fuel at large petrol stations is 37-45 Thai Baht/litre. Small kerbside vendors who pump by hand from drums and/or pour from bottles charge a few Thai Baht more.
Cars can be rented without difficulty in many locations. It’s worth paying a little more than the absolute minimum to use one of the international franchises (e.g. 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.
Long-tail boats, Ao Nang, Krabi
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 longtail boat (reua hang yao), a long, narrow 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. Longtails usually act as taxis that can be chartered, although prices vary widely. Figure on 300-400 Thai Baht for a few hours’ rental, or up to 1,500 Thai Baht for a full day. In some locations like Krabi, longtails run along set routes and charge fixed prices per passenger.
Modern, air-conditioned speedboat services, sometimes ferries (departure every 30 min) also run from the Surat Thani to popular islands like Ko Samui and Ko Pha-ngan. Truly long-distance services (e.g., 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. As of November 2018, ferry service is available between Hua Hin and Pattaya, a 2.5-hour journey for 1,250 Thai Baht on a catamaran with a maximum capacity of 340.
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 treks, and has some cultural sights of its own, such as Wat Doi Suthep.
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. “The Dead Railway” (tang rod fai sai morana) is the railway constructed by captive allied soldiers during World War II. This railway has a nice view all along its route.
Beaches and islands
Chaweng beach, Ko Samui
Thailand’s beaches and islands attract millions of visitors each year from all over the globe. Hua Hin is Thailand’s oldest beach resort, made famous by King Rama VII in the 1920s as an ideal getaway from Bangkok. Things have considerably changed since then. Pattaya, Phuket, and Ko Samui only came to prominence in the 1970s, and these are now by far the most developed beach resorts.
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 island paradise, has been undergoing massive development since the release of the film The Beach in 2000. Ko Pha-ngan offers the best of both worlds, with both well-developed beaches and empty ones a short ride away. It is also where the infamous “Full Moon Party” takes place.
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 pretty much sold out 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 Ao Phang Nga National Park shouldn’t be missed by anyone who stays in the region.
Golf arrived in Thailand during the reign of King Rama V one hundred years ago. It was first played by nobles and other high society elites, but since then, things have certainly changed. Over the past decade or so, the popularity of golf in Thailand has escalated; it is now popular with Thais and visiting tourists and expatriates.
Catering to the 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 annually brings 8 billion Thai 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 is an abundance of reasons why golf in Thailand has become 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.
- Thailand Golf Courses Association, 96 Moo 3, Viphavadi-Rangsit Road, Bangkok.
Surfing in Phuket
Thailand’s a big enough country, the size of Spain, that you can find a place to practice almost any outdoor sport. Ko Tao is becoming one of Asia’s great scuba diving centres, with Ang Thong National Marine Park near Ko Samui and the Similan Islands off Khao Lak also drawing crowds. One of the newest hot spots for diving is Ko Lipe, a small island that is relatively unspoiled with great reefs and stunning beaches. Snorkelling can be done at pretty much every beach, but the 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 Kradan on the west coast of Trang Province. Other surf-spots include Rayong and Ko Samui, but the waves of the Gulf Coast are less reliable.
Ao Phang Nga National Park’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 among the best in the world for rock-climbing.
Traditional Thai massage has a history of more than 2,500 years. Practitioners of Thai massage operate on the belief that many invisible lines of energy run through the body. The masseur uses his or her hands, elbows, feet, heels and knees to exert pressure on these lines, releasing blockages that may exist, allowing a free flow of energy through the body. Many Thais believe that these massages are beneficial both for treating diseases and aiding general well-being. You’re supposed to feel both relaxed and energised after a session.
Although spas weren’t introduced here until the early 1990s, 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 luxury hotels to the ubiquitous little massage shops found on many street corners.
The currency of Thailand is the baht, denoted by the symbol “฿” (ISO code: THB), written in Thai as บาท or บ. Wikivoyage uses “baht” in its articles. It is divided into 100 satang (สตางค์). There are six coins and six notes:
- 25 and 50 satang (cent, copper colour) coins – nearly worthless and only readily accepted (and handed out) by buses, supermarkets and 7-Elevens
- 1, 2 (in 2 versions: silver and gold), 5 (silver colour) and 10 Thai Baht (silver/gold) coins
- 20 (green), 50 (blue), 100 (red), 500 (purple) and 1,000 (grey-brown) Thai Baht notes
The most useful bills tend to be 20s and 100s, as many small shops and stalls don’t carry much change. 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 1,000 Thai 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.
They are everywhere, and international withdrawals are not a problem, besides the fee. 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 Thai Baht if possible, you may obtain cash from an ATM after landing as well. There’s a 220 Thai Baht surcharge (up from 150 when it was introduced in 2009-10, then 200 Thai Baht) for using foreign cards in most ATMs, you’ll be notified about this fee in any ATM which charges it, so you always have an option to cancel. AEON , which used not to charge any fee until 2013, still charges 150 Thai Baht though – but it’s ATMs are few and far between even in Bangkok, and none at the islands besides Ko Samui and Phuket. Most ATMs (including AEON) have a limit of 20 notes, that is 20,000 Thai Baht; Bangkok Bank typically dispenses 25 notes at once, and a few other banks including Citibank (but only in Bangkok), Krungsri, TMB and CIMB may dispense 30 notes – which makes them even slightly better than AEON, but only in case you do need 30,000 Thai Baht ($900) at once.
More important thing to watch for is that some ATMs (Krungsri, SCB and a few others are known for that) will offer you to exchange your money to Baht for you, charging your card in USD or even your local currency. What you will get if you agree is a very lousy rate (-5% if not more from the mid-market level), so always refuse and choose to be charged in Thai Baht only, not USD or your own currency.
Very remote areas (including smaller islands) do not have banks or ATMs, so cash or US dollars are essential.
|Note: Thai banks do not buy Indian rupee (INR) banknotes after the 2016 demonetisation; only a few private money changers accept them.|
If you wish to avoid high ATM fees by bringing in funds as cash, bring US dollars, they can often be exchanged at competitive rates. Btw. buying US dollars in India is likely to be a good choice if you come from there.
One notable money exchanger is SuperRich, with dozens of branches in Bangkok including at Silom, Ratchadamri, Khao San Road and Chatuchak. No fees are charged and the exchange rate, especially for USD, is typically comparable to the Visa/Mastercard’s (even before you consider ATM and your local bank fees), with a very small (down to less than 10 satang in the main office) buy/sell spread. They exchange many other currencies, both Western and major regional ones, and the rates are very good too. Their success caused a host of competitors to emerge, some of these closely imitating SuperRich, including in the major cities outside of Bangkok. Their rates are generally good too.
The banks also do offer reasonable rates, though normally not as good as the exchangers mentioned before. In Suvarnabhumi airport, however, all the banks have notoriously bad rates, making you to lose up to 1,5 Thai Baht (4-5%) per USD if you exchange there. But there are several money exchangers (including SuperRich) at the basement floor on the way to the Airport Rail Link station, just to the left from the machines selling ARL tokens. Their rates are not much different from those in the city offices.
For a comparison of all the bank’s exchange rate check out DaytoDayData or xe.com, also available as an app. To identify a good money exchanger, take the difference between the sell and buy rate, divide it by two and then again divide it buy the sell rate, e.g. 42-38/2/42 ~ 5%. This is the percentage of fee you basically pay for the exchange. It can be as low as 0.2-0.5% in the exchange services mentioned before, and thus probably better than withdrawing money from the card, depending on the conditions of your home bank.
Many hotels and guesthouses will change money for guests, but hefty commissions and poor rates may apply. US dollars in small bills (US$1, 5, and 20) are invaluable for onward travel to neighbouring countries other than Malaysia, but are only useful in Thailand for exceptional purchases (e.g., paying visa fees for Cambodia).
Cash advance at the bank counter
Another way to avoid the ATM fee (especially handy for those on extended stays) is to withdraw money via the bank counter, the phrase universally understood in Thai banks is “cash advance”. Beware though that most of the card issuers (i.e. your home bank) do charge significantly more for this operation than for ATM withdrawal, even including some cards that are free to withdraw in ATMs – research thoroughly in advance and choose the right card, or you may end up paying to your own bank even more than 220 Thai Baht you would have paid to the Thai bank in an ATM! Note also that not every bank, and not even every branch of the same bank offers this service to the foreigners – the best bet is a bigger branch of a major bank, and Bangkok Bank seems to be the most reliable in offering this service, including some of their “Exchange” booths. You’ll need your passport to withdraw the money over the counter, and, of course, the bank’s operating hours apply (many, but by no way all, branches are also closed on weekends and public holidays).
Cards are widely accepted in the tourist industry such as in restaurants, shopping malls and shops catering to tourists. Fraud is regrettably common though, 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.
Tax refund – VAT
Foreign visitors (with a few exceptions) have the benefit to receive a 7% VAT refund on luxury goods purchased from shops that participate in the ‘VAT Refund for Tourists’ scheme. When you see a ‘VAT Refund for Tourists’ sign, you can receive a 7% refund of the VAT levied on goods at the shop. However, certain conditions apply, and you won’t be able to claim your refund until you depart Thailand from an international airport.
The goods must be purchased from participating shops that display a “VAT Refund For Tourists” sign. You may not claim VAT refund for services or goods that you use or “consume” while in Thailand; such as hotel or restaurant expenses. On any one day, the goods purchased from any one individual participating shop must be at least 2,000 Thai Baht including VAT. When you purchase the goods, ask the sales assistant to complete a VAT refund form, known as the P.P.10, and attach the original tax/sales invoices to that form. Each P.P.10 must show a value of 2,000 Thai Baht or more. You will need to show your passport to the sales assistant when you purchase the goods, to allow her to fill in the above mentioned form. When you exit the country, the goods must be inspected prior to check in and your completed P.P. 10’s stamped. Since you must give away the original receipts it is a good idea to take photos or make copies in case you need to prove the value of your purchases to customs officers when going home.
Tipping is not common in Thailand and the Thais themselves don’t do it. Thais do round up (or down) the taxi fare to get it to an amount that is easier to pay for (such as from 59 or 61 to 60 Thai Baht). Sometimes they also leave the change in restaurants, but even this is a rare occurrence.
You don’t have to feel odd if you don’t tip at all, as that’s what the locals do, but the presence of many foreign visitors have changed some expectations. Tipping is now common in many high-end hotels and tourist restaurants. Don’t go overboard when tipping — never give more than 50 Thai Baht. In some tourist places, especially along Khao San Road, there are even restaurants hinting for a tip. This is not common (and even rude) in Thai culture, so you can easily ignore it.
Do not tip when a customer service charge is applied, as this is supposed to be the tip, applied only in luxury restaurants and hotels.
Thailand is not as cheap as it used to be, with Bangkok being named the second most expensive city in SE Asia behind Singapore. However, budget travellers who are careful with what they spend will still find that 1,000 Thai 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 hotels, and if you’re willing to fork out 5,000 Thai 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 want to have an idea what the real Thai prices are, consider visiting malls like Big C, Tesco, or Carrefour where locals and expats routinely shop. Those are available in major cities (in Bangkok, there are dozens of them) and on larger islands such as Phuket or Ko Samui. Tax hikes have made alcohol clearly more expensive than in some neighbouring countries.
Shopping in Thailand
Racks of clothing at Bangkok/Siam Square
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 street wear 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 good strategy for shopping, is to first go around doing window shopping for a couple of days, don’t commit yourself to purchase anything until you have seen enough to be able to make sensible judgements. The last thing you want is to impulsively buy something today and two days later see the same or similar item selling at a much reduced price elsewhere. Most shopping centers in Bangkok have sales often, but even better is to go a bit out the big city into a place like Future Park for example. At the Mo Chit minibus rank next to the public park ask for “Future Park” minibus. Go early, the trip costs 35Baht, takes about half an hour and you get a chance to mix with the real Thais going about their daily lives. Once at Future Park shopping complex, its vast multilevel shopping areas go on and on (opens at 10:00, closes at 21:00) and it caters for everyone and everything, cheap and upmarket, from motor vehicles and home appliances, to clothing and furniture, Thai therapy and restaurants. You can spend the day hunting for special deals and shopping with many sales on offer with prices catering for local customers, department stores like Robinson are extensive and a bargain hunters paradise. If you get hungry or thirsty, there’s plenty of varied restaurants on offer and also a large supermarket within, with a help yourself fresh salads and other foods bar selling food by weight. The main Zpell entrance facing the elevated freeway is by the minibus rank and once inside there’s an information island desk with English speaking staff at hand, while you can always download a translator app to help you just in case. On returning to central Bangkok, go back to the main minibus rank and ask for the “Mo Chit” vehicle, alternatively, return by taxi cab to central Bangkok (100-120 Thai Baht), the better option, if you find yourself carrying lots of shopping.
A Thai speciality is 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 marvellously 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 known to locals simply as “JJ” Market. Chatuchak sells a myriad of products ranging from clothes to antiques, covers over 35 acres (1.1 km²) and is growing by the day!
Bargaining is the norm and often 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. You’ll find that prices drop drastically when the seller realizes you have some idea of what it costs.
Meditating Thai Buddhas
- Thai meditation
- Thai language
Bangkok has many language schools for studying Thai:
- AUA (American University Alumni) Language Center Bangkok AUA uses a non-traditional method where all teaching is done in Thai without books or any use of English. Students learn by looking and listening and eventually after a certain number of hours are expected to begin to speak Thai “naturally”.
- Duke Language School Bangkok Duke Language School is conveniently located near BTS Nana station and has a very high success rate.
- Chulalongkorn University Intensive Thai classes Intensive Thai courses with an emphasis on learning to read and write academic Thai at a university level.
- Jentana & Associates Thai Language School
- Piammitr (Plenty of Friends) Language School Near BTS Asok Courses are 60-hours of class time and last one month.
- Unity Thai Language School
- My Thai Language School On Ratchada Road, you can apply for a student ed Visa
- Walen School
An on-line site for studying Thai:
- Thai Language Reference documents, interactive lessons, dictionary, and forums for learning Thai.
Thai-style seafood curry
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 Thai Baht pad Thai (ผัดไทย, Thai fried noodles) cooked at a street stall or as expensive and complicated as a USD100 ten-course meal by a royal chef served in one of Bangkok’s luxury 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. Eat sticky rice with your right hand.
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’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 girlfriend/boyfriend be good-looking!”
Food is also generally brought out a dish at a time as it is prepared. It is not expected of 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 dish as it arrives.
Thai cuisine is characterized by balance and strong flavours, 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! Another condiment that features prominently in Thai cuisine is fish sauce (น้ำปลา naam plaa), a pungent and very salty sauce that is used to flavour a wide variety of dishes.
Thai cuisine can be divided into at least four distinct regional styles: Southern Thai cuisine, Central Thai cuisine, Northern Thai cuisine and Isaan cuisine from the northeast of Thailand. Chinese influences also pervade much of Thai cuisine, with many of the most famous street food stalls in Bangkok and other cities throughout the country being owned and run by ethnic Chinese.
For information about particular dishes, please see the Thai cuisine article.
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:
- phom kin je (m) / di-chan kin je (f) ผม(ดิฉัน)กินเจ “I eat only vegetarian food”
- karunaa mai sai naam plaa กรุณาไม่ใส่น้ำปลา “Please don’t use fish sauce”
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), clean storefront. All the chains are heavily concentrated in Bangkok, but larger cities and popular tourist spots may have an outlet or two.
- Coca and MK. Near-ubiquitous chains specializing in what the Thais call suki, perhaps better known as “hotpot” or “steamboat”. A cauldron boils in the middle of your table, you buy ingredients (10-30 Thai Baht a pop) and brew your own soup. The longer you spend, the better it tastes, and the bigger the group you’re with, the more fun this is!
- Fuji. And Zen specialize in surprisingly passable Japanese food at very cheap prices (at least compared to Japanese restaurants almost anywhere else). Rice/noodle mains are less than 100 Thai Baht, and you can stuff yourself full of sushi for less than 500 Thai Baht.
- Kuaytiew Ruea Siam (Signs in Thai; look for the boat-shaped decor and hungry red pig logo). Dirt-cheap noodles with prices starting at 25 Thai Baht. Portions aren’t too generous, but at that price you can get two! No concessions to English speakers in menu or taste, so point and choose from the pictures and watch out for the spicier soups.
- S&P. Outlets are a bakery, a café and a restaurant all rolled into one, but their menu’s a lot larger than you’d expect: it has all the Thai mainstays you can think of and then some, and most all of it is good. Portions are generally rather small, with prices mostly in the 50-100 Thai Baht range.
- Yum Saap (Signs in Thai; look for the big yellow smiley logo). Known for their Thai-style salads (yam), but they offer all the usual as well. Quite cheap with mains around 50 Thai Baht.
- After You. Local dessert cafe chain serving Korean-style shaved ice (bingsoo), but with many local Thai flavours to choose from. Very popular among youths in Bangkok.
And yes, you can find the usual American junk food McDonalds, KFC, Pizza Hut etc. if you insist. If you do end up at McDs, 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) a tastier local chain.
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 fruit juice vendors.
Fruit juices, freezes and milkshakes of all kinds are very popular with Thais and visitors alike. Most cafés and restaurants charge 20-40 Thai 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 Thai 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. They look like small jelly balls down in the bottle.
Tea and coffee
Thai iced tea
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. A popular variant among locals that is typically sold at markets in the morning is Thai hot tea (ชาร้อน chaa rorn), often served with Chinese-style youtiao (油條) fritters, known in Thai as pathongko (ปาท่องโก๋).
Naam chaa and chaa jiin are weak and full-strength Chinese tea, often served in restaurants for free. Western-style black tea is chaa ron (ชาร้อน). 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.
Starbucks is present in Thailand, but for the moment local competitors Black Canyon Coffee and S&P still have the edge in market share. These are the places to look for if you want that triple-mocha latte with hazelnut swirl and are willing to pay 75 Thai Baht for the privilege.
- Black Canyon Coffee. Is Thailand’s home-brewed Starbucks, but while coffee is their mainstay they also offer a limited meal menu. Try the chaa yen (lurid orange Thai iced tea with milk).
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 Thai Baht a pop, although in some places you can now buy imported 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.
Retail sales of alcohol in supermarkets and multi-national convenience stores, are limited to between 11:00-14:00 and 17:00-24:00. Restaurants and bars are not affected, and smaller, non-chain stores rarely observe this rule. 7-Eleven is a stickler for following this rule. However, in certain circumstances these rules are relaxed for alcohol purchases above a particular quantity. For example, if you try to purchase 5 litres of wine during the restricted period, it will not be allowed. However, if you were to purchase, say 10 litres of wine, in the same period then this might be permitted. Convenience stores at gas stations are not permitted to sell alcohol at any time.
There are also occasional days throughout the year when alcohol can’t be sold anywhere, even the small 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). Upmarket 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.
Western-style beer (เบียร์ bia) is a bit of an upmarket drink in Thailand, with the price of a small bottle hovering between 40 and 100 Thai 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 Germany, you will find it familiar.
- Local brews: For many years the only locally brewed beer was Singha (pronounced just Sing) but it has lost market to cheaper and stronger Chang. Both are pretty strong, but for those who prefer something a bit lighter, both local brands have introduced low-alcohol versions of their beers. Singha Light comes in at 3.5%, Chang Draught is 5% and Chang Light is 4.2%. Both are strong in alcohol percentage, gives a little spicy taste (for Europeans, you can compare them to Leffe or Duvel) rather than blended smoothness of German beers (Erdinger or Paulaner). There are also some cheaper local beers – Leo (very popular among locals and expats, with price 10-20% cheaper than Singha) and Archa (cheapest, but the taste is not as nice, it’s not sold in the bars often, but is available in almost any 7-Eleven) being among the most popular.
- Premium brands: The two most popular premium brands are Heineken and Tiger, but San Miguel, Federbrau and other Asian beers such as the Japanese Asahi are also fairly commonplace. The premium beers tend to be a bit weaker than the full-strength local beers, and are about 10-20% more expensive.
- Imported beers: Most upmarket pubs in touristy areas will have at least a couple of imported beers available along with the usual local brands, either on draught, in bottles or both. Belgian and German beers can often be found, as well as Irish stouts and ales such as Guinness, British bitters such as John Smiths and the light Mexican beer Corona is gaining in popularity. Regional favourite Beerlao has also started to make an appearance in bars and pubs around the country. All imported beers (with the exception of Beerlao) are very expensive though, being about twice the price of locally sourced beers.
- Other non-beers: The usual range of “alcopops” is available in Thailand, with Bacardi Breezer enjoying the lion’s share of the market. Spy wine cooler (of about 10 varieties) is also popular. Cider is harder to find, although some pubs have started to stock Magners and Bulmers.
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 Thai Baht, a pint of Guinness will set you back at least 200 Thai Baht and, thanks to an inexplicable 340% tax, even the cheapest bottle of wine will set you back over 500 Thai Baht. In cheaper bars (especially the go-go kind), the content of that familiar bottle of Jack Daniels may be something entirely different.
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-Eleven at 25 Thai 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.
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 it is actually rum. Indeed, the only resemblances to whisky are the brown color 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 Thai 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 hill-tribe-trekking in the North you’re likely to be invited to sample some, and it’s polite to at least take a sip.
|Note: In 2012 two Quebec sisters died mysteriously while staying at a lodging on Phi Phi Island. In 2009, a Norwegian woman and a US woman in adjacent rooms at a Phi Phi guesthouse died. Four others died about the same time while staying at a Chiang Mai lodging. Why? Suspicions now are that all may have been poisoned by outgassing from aluminum phosphide (AlP) pellets used to kill bedbugs. The use of aluminum phosphide is illegal in Thailand, but is available on the market. About all you can do to protect yourself is to quiz hotel management about their pesticide use policy. Check the room before committing to a stay. If you see (AlP is a grey-green-yellow powder) or smell anything that hints at the use of pesticides, stay elsewhere.|
Thailand has 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-Aug, which not surprisingly also coincides with the region’s monsoon season. The peak season is during Dec-Feb.
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 Thai Baht even during the low season.
Another issue for westerners to be conscious of, is the unusual bathroom set up found almost everywhere, except perhaps in the four and five star hotels. In Thailand as in other Asian countries as well, the bathrooms even in many new and well kitted out establishments, tend to have the shower system without any kind of water isolation, be it a curtain or door or whatever, to prevent water splashing all over the place. To most, this is quite irritating as a simple floor water containment and drainage with a some shower curtain would make everything much better, but it seems, proprietors don’t see the logic, therefore, requiring guests to be very tolerant of the unusual bathroom layouts and trying to become adept.
Homestays are common in rural areas. Typically, what this means is that you will be staying at your host’s home, or on the host’s property in something less than a commercial lodging. Usually, meals are included.
Khao San Road is likely the best place in Bangkok to find budget accommodation
Guesthouses are usually the cheapest option, basic ones cost 100-200 Thai 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, 24 hour hot shower, bigger room or even a balcony, free Wi-Fi, sometimes TV, everyday room service, fridge), with prices, subsequently, in the range of 200-500 Thai Baht. This makes them close to Thai hotels. The difference is they’re more oriented to a Western clientèle, 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 not be offered everywhere, but if it is, the weekly rate may be 25% less or so, and for monthly rates it’s not uncommon to be half as much. Normally, you’ll have to pay for the entire period asked, but if something changes and you have to check out early 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.
Hostels are not typical in Thailand. The reason is obvious: given the abundance of budget accommodation and that hostels are unfamiliar to Thais and, as such, purely Westerner-oriented, the price for a private room in a guesthouse will be almost the same, or even cheaper, than for a dorm bed in a hostel. You may get a bit more Westernised and hotel-like interiors, but at the cost of privacy. If you do insist on staying in a hostel, you can find some in the big cities by checking the web. Don’t expect to find them just by walking by the streets, though.
Thai hotels start around 200 Thai Baht and go up to around 800 Thai 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 will be provided, and there may be a hot shower. The guests are mostly Thais. TVs are available except at the lower end; Internet access, though, is less likely to be present than in guesthouses; and is even less likely to be free or in-room.
Tourist hotels are generally around 1,000 Thai Baht and offer the basics for a beach vacation: swimming pool, room service, and colour TV.
Boutique hotels, 2,000 Thai Baht and up, have mushroomed during the past few years, they provide a limited number of rooms (10 or fewer) and more personalized service. While these can be excellent, quality varies widely, so research is essential.
Business and luxury hotels, 4,000 Thai 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 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.
Thailand borders on Malaysia, Myanmar, Cambodia, and Laos. Vietnam is beyond Cambodia and Laos, and southern China, Singapore and Indonesia are also in the overall region. Budget airlines offer flights from Bangkok to destinations as far as in Japan and Australia.
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