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Thailand for beginners

The country in a nutshell

Currency

Thailand's currency is called the Thai baht (THB). It's around THB30 to US$1. International access ATMs can be found across the country. You will be expected to use Thai baht for all cash purchases. Credit cards are widely accepted, though small businesses may not accept them.

Safety

Thailand is quite a safe country. Petty theft is a problem in tourist centres, and violent crime against foreigners, while rare, does occur. Use your common sense when out in the evening and stay in control. If you feel threatened, especially in a bar or club environment, leave. A long-running civil disturbance has blighted the far southern provinces of Narathiwat, Yala and Pattani. Foreigners at no stage have been particularly targetted, but these provinces should not be considered as safe for extended touring in remote, rural areas. The area is considered safe to travel through. Theft on private minibus and bus services is a major problem and we suggest you do not use such services where possible.

Police

While very visible, local police may not speak much English. The Thai Tourist Police can be of more assistance -- 1155 is a 24-hour hotline they can be reached on. Thai police are not paid much, so corruption remains a problem.

Healthcare

Thailand boasts some of the best medical care in the region -- it is truly world class. It's not cheap though, so we hope you have travel insurance.

Transport

Thailand has a comprehensive public transport system. Much of the country is served by a rail network and the bus network is nationwide. Transport is cheap and relatively safe. The country is also well served by low cost airlines. Theft can be a problem on private bus services provided for foreigners -- we suggest you do not use such services and use the government network where possible.

Visas

Most nationalities get 30-days on arrival visa free is arriving by air, 15 days if arriving by land. Thailand's visa system is complicated and for more information see our Thailand visa page.

Thai language

The Thai language can be quite challenging for newcomers. It uses a non Roman script and is tonal. Getting the basic (counting, hi and thank you etc.,) are easy, but you'll need a bit of time to get a good grounding in the language. In tourist centres many Thais will speak some English, but a lot will speak none. Don't expect taxi drivers to speak English.

Weather

There are two seasons -- the hot dry season and the hot wet season. Chances are if you're from anywhere outside the tropics, you'll find Thailand to be very hot -- and sweaty. Southern Thailand is affected by two different monsoon seasons meaning different islands have good weather at different times of the year. For detailed weather info, see our Thailand weather page.

Thailand is almost developed

It's not rough and ready like Cambodia and Laos, but it's not Singapore either. Thailand is currently at a mid level of development. The urban and tourist centres are very well developed, but in the countryside, things change far slower. This has a great appeal to travellers as they can experience first world vacationing in Phuket and Samui and third world rural travelling in north and northeast Thailand.

Thailand is the land of smiles

Despite the recent dramas and political infighting, overall Thailand remains a very friendly, reasonably safe place to travel in. Prices are low -- even for luxury hotels you get a tremendous bang for your baht in Thailand. Try to get off the tourist trail if time affords -- the countryside, old style Thailand, remains it's biggest drawcard.

  • Geographical names in Thailand

    Geographical names in Thailand

    Look up Chiang Mai province in a guide or on a map and you’ll see the same Thai place names cropping up over and over again: Doi this, Mae that and so on. So what do they all mean? ... Read more.


  • Life in the Andaman Sea islands

    Life in the Andaman Sea islands

    With the monsoon now in full swing in Thailand’s Andaman Sea islands, few tourists are found and bungalows are boarded up. Yet, despite the rain, locals navigate longtail boats through the waves to put fish on their tables, endure the dampness to tap rubber trees, coerce water buffalo to plough fields, take the time to practise their religions, play their games, and simply sit back in a hammock from time to time. It’s a life told better through pictures than words. ... Read more.


  • The real deal with Anna and the King

    The real deal with Anna and the King

    In 1951, the West was introduced to a fictional version of Siam (Thailand’s name until 1939) through the mega-success of the Rogers and Hammerstein musical The King and I. Based on the 1944 Magaret Landon novel Anna and the King of Siam, the story follows ... Read more.


  • Lunch in Thailand: Kap khao restaurants

    Lunch in Thailand: Kap khao restaurants

    Almost everyone in Bangkok eats lunch out. Traffic is too bad to get back home, and most people have short breaks, so lunch is for eating with the people. And eat they will — sizzling sausages, khanom jin (curries with fresh rice noodles), green papaya salad, bowls of soup, curries, and fried rice. ... Read more.


  • Letters from Thailand

    Letters from Thailand

    Thailand is easy to put on a postcard. Find some palm trees in front of the Andaman sea, or an elephant holding a mango, or a bunch of smiling eight-year old novices in orange robes and you can go to press. Trying to understand what those kids are smiling about requires a bit more searching. Letters from Thailand goes some way toward helping. ... Read more.


  • Ethnic groups of Northern Thailand: The Hmong

    Ethnic groups of Northern Thailand: The Hmong

    The Hmong are one of the most populous “hill-tribe” groups across Southeast Asia and are found in large numbers in northern Vietnam, northern Laos and in various provinces of north Thailand ... Read more.


  • Ethnic groups of Northern Thailand: the Shan

    Ethnic groups of Northern Thailand: the Shan

    The Thai name for the Shan people is Thai Yai, meaning great or big Thai ... Read more.


  • North Thailand’s ethnic minorities: the Kayan or “Long Neck Karen”

    North Thailand’s ethnic minorities: the Kayan or “Long Neck Karen”

    I won’t add this post to the “see and do” category, but being a generally positive sort of person I won’t add a new “don’t see and do” post category either for what is one of North Thailand’s more contentious “tourist attractions”. ... Read more.


  • North Thailand’s ethnic minorities: the Palaung

    North Thailand’s ethnic minorities: the Palaung

    The Palaung are not to be confused with the similar sounding Padaung, or the famous “long-neck” Karen whose status in Thailand is that of refugees from Burma ... Read more.


  • North Thailand’s ethnic minorities: the Akha

    North Thailand’s ethnic minorities: the Akha

    The Akha are probably Thailand’s most visible ‘hill-tribe’ group and these days you certainly don’t need to go anywhere near northern Thailand to come across them. ... Read more.


  • North Thailand’s ethnic minorities: the Lisu

    North Thailand’s ethnic minorities: the Lisu

    One of Northern Thailand’s most distinctive and colourful ‘hill-tribes’ and one of the ethnic groups you’re most likely to come across in that part of the kingdom are the Lisu, or Lisaw in Thai ... Read more.


  • Nth Thailand’s ethnic minorities: Spirits of the Yellow Leaves

    Nth Thailand’s ethnic minorities: Spirits of the Yellow Leaves

    Before starting our brief description of this little known ethnic group, a word on their name ... Read more.


  • Isaan: People and history

    Isaan: People and history

    Thailand’s Isaan region has been occupied since at least 6,000 years ago, when hunter gatherer tribes first migrated over the Phetchabun ranges from central Thailand, archeological work at such sites as Ban Non Wat in the Mun Valley in Khorat, Nok Nok Tha in Khon Kaen and Udon’s Ban Chiang has shown. ... Read more.


  • Geography of I-san or northeastern Thailand

    Geography of I-san or northeastern Thailand

    Covering some 160,000 square kilometres, the northeastern region of Thailand, I-san*, accounts for nearly a third of the kingdom’s surface area and includes 20 provinces with a total population of approximately 22 million ... Read more.


  • Vegetarian Thai Food Guide

    Vegetarian Thai Food Guide

    Thailand is something of a meat-laden obstacle course for vegetarians and vegans — vegetable dishes are flavoured with meat, vats of pork broth bring meaty savouriness to otherwise vegetarian noodles, and everything is salted with a lashing of fish sauce ... Read more.


  • Haze in Northern Thailand

    Haze in Northern Thailand

    Haze, smog, smoke, dust: at this time of year — every year — the local and international media becomes full of concerned articles on northern Thailand’s air quality, and the government pretends to be concerned and claims to be doing something about it. ... Read more.


  • Thailand books: Sightseeing by Rattawut Lapcharoensap

    Thailand books: Sightseeing by Rattawut Lapcharoensap

    So starts the first story in Sightseeing by Rattawut Lapcharoensap, a series of short stories (and one novella) first published in 2004 ... Read more.


  • A review of Eating Thai Food

    A review of Eating Thai Food

    Bangkok is one of the best cities in the world for street food (I would argue the best, but proof is not actually in the pudding as the pudding quality is unfortunately subjective). ... Read more.


  • Phrases every visitor to Thailand should know: Sabai

    Phrases every visitor to Thailand should know: Sabai

    We previously explored the deeply layered meanings of mai pen rai and jai yen. ... Read more.


  • Phrases every visitor to Thailand should know: Jai yen

    Phrases every visitor to Thailand should know: Jai yen

    We’ve delved into the subtleties of mai pen rai; the next phrase we think every traveller to Thailand should know, jai yen, literally translates as “cool heart“. ... Read more.


  • Phrases every visitor to Thailand should know: Mai pen rai

    Phrases every visitor to Thailand should know: Mai pen rai

    Beyond basics like khop khun (thank you) and horng nahm yuu thee nai (where is the bathroom?), the Thai language draws on a pool of deeply emotional/spiritual words and ideas, many of which are difficult to translate ... Read more.


  • Pla tuu (mackerel fish) in Thailand

    Pla tuu (mackerel fish) in Thailand

    The only mackerel I had ever tried before coming to Thailand was an oily, chewy hunk of raw fish at an inland Japanese restaurant some 5,000 miles from Japan ... Read more.


  • Khao niaow bing and other Thai sticky rice goodies

    Khao niaow bing and other Thai sticky rice goodies

    Walk through just about any authentic food market in Thailand and you’ll notice vendors selling plump portions of something hidden under hearty dark banana or bamboo leaf wrappers ... Read more.


  • How Thai restaurants in touristy areas get it wrong

    How Thai restaurants in touristy areas get it wrong

    When it comes to Thai food, I like the real deal. Give me fiery som tam buu pla raa, nam prik bla tuu (pounded chilli paste with mackerel), or gaeng som (hot and pungent yellow curry) ... Read more.


  • Durian: King of Thai fruits

    Durian: King of Thai fruits

    Picture a village inhabited by all the different types of Thai fruit. A group of exuberant young grapes and rambutans goof off as pretty lychees and strawberries giggle ... Read more.


  • Northeastern Thai spicy salads

    Northeastern Thai spicy salads

    Thai people from different parts of the country don’t always agree on everything, but one area that without question pervades all of Thailand is a love for the spicy, salty, sour and sweet flavours of Isaan-style salads ... Read more.


  • How to eat street food: Thai coffee

    How to eat street food: Thai coffee

    Our How to Eat series explores popular street food in Thailand and explains the how-and-what of ordering. Ready, set, EAT. ... Read more.


  • How to eat street food: Noodle soup

    How to eat street food: Noodle soup

    Noodle soup is one of the most common dishes served on the footpaths and sidewalks in the Kingdom — it can be found in tiny alleys behind a wat, next to convenience stores, and on rolling carts everywhere ... Read more.


  • Is it cheaper to book hotels and guesthouses in Thailand with Agoda?

    Is it cheaper to book hotels and guesthouses in Thailand with Agoda?

    Over the past couple of weeks I stayed at eight hotels and guesthouses on Phuket in Thailand — at Nai Yang and Surin beaches in the north and Phuket Town to the south. ... Read more.


  • Tax refund for tourists in Thailand: free cash

    Tax refund for tourists in Thailand: free cash

    It’s not exactly the sexiest of programmes, but Thailand’s Tax Refund for Tourists scheme can add up to a significant chunk of change to take home after your holiday. ... Read more.


  • Getting a Thai SIM card

    Getting a Thai SIM card

    The real benefit of social media is the ability to make friends and loved ones jealous of your toes in the sand from thousands of kilometres away ... Read more.


  • Thai massage: a primer

    Thai massage: a primer

    Massage is recognised as an ancient art in Thailand and is one of the traditional medicine practices recognised by the government ... Read more.


  • Thailand: Is it time for a tourism boycott?

    Thailand: Is it time for a tourism boycott?

    Cast your mind back a few years. There was a country controlled by a junta where the democratically elected leader was effectively under house arrest; where politicians were detained with little (if any) access to friends and family; where journalists were detained and/or told “to cheer on” the junta; where there was a nationwide curfew; where public gatherings of more than five people were banned; where the internet was censored; where there were ongoing “issues” with minority groups. ... Read more.


  • Are Thailand’s cheap guesthouses disappearing?

    Are Thailand’s cheap guesthouses disappearing?

    Even those who rarely venture from their neighbourhood pubs know Thailand for its magnificent beaches, glittering temples, fiery food and notorious nightlife ... Read more.


  • Loy Krathong in Thailand

    Loy Krathong in Thailand

    Loy Krathong is a time to forgive, forget and literally launch fresh hopes into the universe ... Read more.


  • No pic at the moment -- Sorry!

    Medical treatment in Thailand

    Need a new pair of glasses? Got a mole you want removed? Have you been putting off seeing the dentist? ... Read more.


  • Songkran festival in Thailand

    Songkran festival in Thailand

    Kids fire super-powered water guns from the back of a zooming tuk tuk. A wrinkled woman blesses her grandchildren in a touching ceremony. ... Read more.


  • Staying at a Thai monastery

    Staying at a Thai monastery

    Dawn breaks in Thailand. A wave of orange sweeps over the entire country as monks from all over leave their monasteries and depart for their daily alms round ... Read more.


  • What are the alternatives to Bangkok?

    What are the alternatives to Bangkok?

    One of the most popular travel destinations in the world, Bangkok is also the centre of Thai society in just about every possible way — including the political demonstrations and military coups of recent years ... Read more.


  • 10 Thai treks aside from Chiang Mai

    10 Thai treks aside from Chiang Mai

    Many first-time visitors to Thailand just assume that Chiang Mai is where it's at when it comes to trekking ... Read more.


  • A Litany of Scams: Thailand

    A Litany of Scams: Thailand

    To truly get inside the mind of an accomplished scammer you must first serve yourself up as a delectable juicy morsel ... Read more.


  • No pic at the moment -- Sorry!

    Corruption in Thailand

    It seems barely a week passes without some new ghastly story hitting the airwaves about corruption in Thailand ... Read more.


  • Far southern Thailand: Go or not?

    Far southern Thailand: Go or not?

    Thailand's strife-torn far south is a region largely under siege, with 9pm curfews and a heavy military presence throughout ... Read more.


  • The SET Foundation

    The SET Foundation

    Back in 1994, Peter Robinson, a British Buddhist monk living at a temple in the Northern Thai province of Nakhon Sawan, began looking into how he could help a promising student find enough money to attend university ... Read more.


  • Should I cancel my trip to Thailand? No.

    Should I cancel my trip to Thailand? No.

    This past Sunday, Thailand's capital Bangkok saw some of its biggest political demonstrations since anti-government protesters took to the streets two months ago. The latest round in a seven-year-long political saga has triggered several isolated incidents of violence and caused major traffic congestion. At this point, we would not cancel a trip to Thailand, or even to Bangkok, but it's wise to stay informed. ... Read more.




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