TravelPod Local Expert Paul Garrioch currently resides in Thailand. He has already been very active in the TravelPodium and has given us quite a lot of insight.
The top 5 things I would tell someone visiting would be:
1. Hello in Thai is “Sawat Dii”, Thankyou is “Korp Khun”. A polite word should be added to the end of any sentace; for male speakers that word is “Khrap” and for females “Kha”. So a female saying thankyou would say “Korp Khun Kha”
2. OK, some cultural dos and don’ts. Do smile. It is normal in Thailand to smile at most events in life. Do not speak loudly or get angry or basically loose control of your emotions. Always try to stay calm and composed and relaxed. Smile. If you are travelling with boyfriend or girlfriend keep the kissing and cuddling for the privacy of your bedroom. Wash and be clean and well groomed each day if possible. Wear neat and conservative clothes. Not stuff that is revealing. Yes, we all know it is hot, the Thais are hot too, but they wear neat, comfortable conservative clothes that do show too much of your body. Be polite and considerate.
3. OK, next thing. Please get your head out of that damn Lonely Planet and look around and talk to people. The LP may have some useful info (although I haven’t seen any) but if you want to experience Thailand, try talking to Thais and asking them for ideas. Go to places that aren’t in the LP – and so therefore don’t have 1 million other people also going to them.
4. I would tell someone coming here??? Now it is getting difficult as first I would have asked them about what they plan or what they like, or why they are coming, or how long they have; and then responded to that. Hmmm, one of the places I would highly recommend is Monk Chat in Chaing Mai. Great way to meet some Thais (who happen to be monks) and have a chat about anything and everything. It is at the Buddhist Uni in Chiang Mai.
5. I would encourage people to chill out and relax and enjoy themselves. Try different foods and activities and talk to people and accept invitations. People are often a bit “stiff” or concerned or worried about this or that when they are here. You probably haven’t got long. So get as much from your trip as you can and do lots of stuff. Don’t be afraid of the Thai people, although there are some that are after your money, the vast majority are just happy friendly people that would love to help you and be your friend. Go with it. Let things happen and have a great time.
Also, if you want to help people in Thailand, one of the best ways to do it is to support the local culture and industries by: eating mainly Thai food (lots of rice to help the farmers), buying locally made handicraft, observing the local customs and traditions and dressing and acting as I have mentioned above to help maintain the Thai cultural values. Thailand is a magical place and the people and culture are some of the friendliest, happiest in the world. Let’s try to keep that and hope that the rest of the planet picks up some of the Thai habits."
Post all questions to Paul here.
Welcome to the Travelpod ‘Kingdom of Thailand’ Starter Kit
Tips and Frequently Asked Questions…
This starter kit is a collection of tips and information about Thailand. It is not meant to replace a guide book as guide books on Thailand are generally full of mis-information and tourists who have their heads continually stuck in them end up going to exactly the same place that every other tourist is going to. This Starter Kit should give you enough information to get started, and then once in Thailand you’ll find the Thai people are extremely friendly and will pass on all sorts of good advice to help you on your way. There is also lots of information available on the internet.
Please also add your comments and thoughts by replying to this post.
The population of Thailand is about 65 million, with about 8 million of them living in the capital Bangkok and about 60% living in rural areas.
The time zone is 7 hours earlier than GMT.
The International Dialing code is +66.
The electrical current is 220 volts. Most wall sockets are designed to accept 2-pin plugs with flat pins, but round pins also fit many plugs and more and more three pin sockets are becoming available.
The highest mountain is Doi Inthanon at 2595m and the longest river is the Chao Praya which flows for 352km.
Thailand has three seasons: Hot (March to June), Rainy (July to October) and Cool (November to February). All seasons are good times to visit. Note: the South West coast receives rain in the Rainy season, whilst the South East coast is more likely to receive the rain in Cool season.
Thailand is divided into 76 provinces and 4 regions. The regions are:
The North which contains the most mountainous area in the country,
The Centre, which is flat, wet and highly fertile, has numerous rice fields,
The North East (known as Isaan) is the poorest and least fertile area, and
The South which has tropical jungle, rubber plantations and beautiful coastlines.
There is so much you could do in Thailand. Here are some of the things that may make up the highlights of your trip:
- See the Grand Palace and the “Emerald” Buddha in Bangkok
- Meet fellow travelers at Khao San Rd
- Watch Thai boxing (Muay Thai) at Lumphini or Ratchadamnoen Stadium
- Sun bake on the beautiful beaches of Southern Thailand
- Trek in the jungle in Khao Yai, Khao Sok, Kanchanaburi or Northern Thailand
- Meet and stay with Hill Tribe people and learn about their culture
- Learn to cook Thai food, to meditate, to give a Thai massage, to fight in Muay Thai style or to be an elephant mahout
- Get a Thai massage
- Eat affordable Thai food every day
- Swim in waterfalls in a jungle setting
- Shop in malls, night bazaars and morning markets
- Meet a pachyderm
- See the remains of earlier Thai kingdoms at Sukhothai and Ayuthaya or visiting some of the Khmer ruins in Thailand
- Take part in Songkran, Loi Krathong, or other Thai festivals
- Rock climb, white water raft, mountain biking, trek, …
- Scuba dive or snorkel from Koh Tao or Koh Similan
For most visitors you’ll get a 30 day entry stamp free on arrival into Thailand. To extend that you can either go to an immigration office or, simply cross one of the international borders and return into Thailand with a new stamp. But remember you can only do that for a total of 90 days in one 6 month period. For longer visas you can apply at the Thai embassy nearest to you.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has a website at: http://www.mfa.go.th/web/12.php which contains all sorts of information on the visas available, who they are available to, etc.
The website http://www.thaivisa.com/ also has all sorts of information on visas for Thailand, a forum and also information on travel.
Make sure you have proof of onward travel from Thailand when you enter.
Thailand uses the Thai Baht. At the time of writing:
US$1 = 34 Thai Baht,
AU$1 = 28 Thai Baht,
NZ$1 = 25 Thai Baht,
GBP 1 = 68 Thai Baht,
EUR 1 = 46 Thai Baht,
JPY1 = 0.28 Thai Baht and
CA$1 = 32 Thai Baht.
Obviously these rates change, so check it out for yourself. The best rates can be got from banks within Thailand. Be aware that unlike neighbouring countries the US$ is of no use in Thailand, where all transactions are done in Baht.
ATMs are easily found in most towns and banks are open Mon – Fri.
Most of you will find things in Thailand cheap. A meal at a stall may cost 25 Baht, in a small restaurant 60 Baht and in a more comfortable one 100 Baht up. In Bangkok decent accommodation can be got from about 350 Baht upwards, but in smaller towns from as low as 150 Baht. A cheap 1 litre bottle of drinking water costs 5 Baht. Transport costs a bit more, a 20 minute taxi trip may cost about 120 Baht and an overnight train ticket 800 Baht.
An average wage in Bangkok is about 8000 Baht a month, whilst outside Bangkok it is about 5000 Baht. Factory workers get 4000 Baht a month. Income tax is about 5%.
In markets and many small shops bartering is a standard way of life. Certainly when arranging a trip in a tuk-tuk you should agree on the price before you leave.
Beware that the Western concept of getting the lowest price possible is not standard practice for most Thais. The aim of bartering for Thai people is to come to an agreeable/good price for both parties; for the deal to be done with smiles all round. Bartering here is not done in an aggressive manner. It is quite normal for a wealthy Thai to happily agree to pay a high price – to spread his/her wealth around; whilst it is also not unusual to witness a shop keeper giving away goods at under cost price to a poorer member of society. So please do barter, but don’t go too far with it.
Tipping is not expected, nor is it a part of everyday life for most Thais. But as mentioned above richer people will often give more money or leave tips as a way of helping others. Generosity and giving are very normal, everyday Thai activities. Rounding the taxi fare up to the nearest 10 Baht isn’t unusual, leaving tips in more expensive restaurants is very often done and leaving a tip at a place where you got particularly good service is greatly appreciated; but you shouldn’t feel obliged to do any of this. It is your money. Wages are small and compassionate people are valued in Thailand, so – up to you.
Keeping in Touch
You’ll find lots of internet café’s in all the popular tourist places in Thailand. Outside of the tourist areas, you’ll also find lots of internet café’s but they will be filled with young Thai boys playing shoot ‘em up or fantasy games on the internet. Internet costs range from 20 Baht per hour to much more, particularly on some of the tropical islands that need to use satellite connection. Burning CDs and using USB ports is also generally very easy and cheap.
Bring your GSM compatible phone to Thailand and buy a SIM card here at a 7-11 or similar convenience store or at a phone shop. Mobile phone coverage is good in all Thai cities, but can’t be relied upon when trekking through the jungle. AIS and DTAC have some of the best coverage while Orange is more for Bangkok. You can top up the phone by buying top up cards at the convenience stores (which are ubiquitous) and the cards have simple instructions in English on how to use them. SIM cards can be brought for around 100 Baht with credit on them.
There are numerous pay phones around and some can do international calls. You may have to have a card for such a call, brought again at the convenience store of your choice. Make sure the card you buy matches the phone you want to use. There are various brands.
There are government run post offices and also private mail companies. Sending mail is easy and you could also organize to receive mail at the local government post office or just ask your hotel or guest house. As an example a letter to Australia would cost 17 Baht.
There is no problem in bringing and using a laptop in Thailand.
Malaria is of concern in some areas of Thailand as is Dengue Fever. Largely covering up and using a non toxic insect repellent should shield you from those dangers.
Sunburn is probably a more likely risk particularly for those not used to a tropical strength sun. Take appropriate precautions such as using sun screen and / or exposing yourself to the sun in reasonable doses only.
Drinking Water – the water supply in Bangkok is drinkable, however your hotel / guesthouses pipes may not be so clean. Outside of Bangkok the water supply is not drinkable. So basically whilst in Thailand you need to drink bottled water. The vast majority of Thais also drink bottled water, so you will find it easy to get and cheap. Ice in your drinks is fine.
A great resource regarding Health in South East Asia is “Broken Guts” by Anthony Aikman which can be downloaded from www.anthonyaikman.com.uk
Outside the tourist areas, the normal Thai toilet is a squat style one and a bowl of water is used to flush and clean yourself afterwards. So you won’t easily find toilet paper in many public toilets. Either get used to the local way of doing things or carry your own.
Within Bangkok there is a range of transport options that include Tuk-Tuk, ferry, motorcycle taxi, metered taxi, sky train, underground train, train, mini bus and bus.
When using the taxis please use a metered taxi and ensure the meter is turned on when the journey starts.
When using a Tuk-Tuk or motorcycle taxi ensure you agree on the price before going.
Bangkok also has Suwarnabhumi International airport and Don Muang Airport which services some Thailand internal flights.
Outside of Bangkok
Larger distances journeys – regular bus services cover almost all of Thailand and a good rail network covers much of the country also. Cheap flights are available to many towns. For a list of the airlines please look at the Thailand Insider Tips forum at http://www.travelpod.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=3366
Shorter distances within regional towns – you will find a variety of Tuk-Tuk in many towns and also a pick up truck with bench seats in the back, called a Songtaew. These vehicles will cover most areas within the towns.
Rice is eaten with almost every meal in Thailand and is highly regarded by the Thai people. If you don’t like rice, Thailand is not for you.
Thai food can be spicy, but often the spices are added individually as a condiment.
Sticky rice is often eaten with your hands, but most other meals are eaten using a spoon (and a fork to push the food onto the spoon). Some Chinese meals are eaten with chopsticks.
Food at stalls is generally OK. Thai food is delicious and I recommend you try as much as you can.
Vegetarians are now easily catered for in most parts of Thailand, although stricter vegetarians may have difficulty as fish and oyster sauce is widely used and most Thais don’t fully comprehend the strict vegetarian concept. Halal food is easily found in most cities and big towns and is prevalent in the South.
Thai society is overwhelmingly polite. The Thai people love having guests in their country and they love being hospitable and seeing you have a good time, but the behaviour of many tourists leaves Thai people a bit “confused”. Please try to be a good guest. Here are a few of the things to remember so you can be a polite visitor in Thailand:
- Be aware that Thais consider the feet low, so don’t touch things with your feet or point the soles of your feet towards people or Buddha statues. Don’t step over people or food. Go around.
- The head is high and so it is best if you don’t touch people’s heads. Keep your head lower than elders and monks when possible.
- The Royal family is loved and it is totally unacceptable to say or do anything that is offensive towards them.
- Always remain calm and in control. Don’t get angry. Don’t shout. Do smile at people.
- Act and dress with modesty. Couples should keep the kissing and hugging to the privacy of their bedrooms. Outside of the main tourist areas and the centre of Bangkok and Chiang Mai, it is appropriate for you to dress conservatively and cover your shoulders and stomach and cleavage. When swimming at the non tourist areas it would be polite for women to wear shorts and a t-shirt, not bikini.
- Monks are respected. Please give up your seat to them on public transport. Please dress respectfully when going to a temple.
By Thai law and culture, all religions, religious people and religious objects are respected. Please follow this respectful tradition so as not to offend anyone.
The population of Thailand is about 94% Buddhist and 5% Islamic.
When entering a Buddhist temple please wear neat, conservative and polite clothes. Singlets and short shorts are neither respectful nor polite. When entering the hall please take your shoes off.
- Please do not kill anything in a Buddhist temple.
- When meeting monks please remember that women cannot touch monks or hand things directly to them (you can put something down in front of them instead).
- Please don’t give them money. Although it has become common practice it is not beneficial to their spiritual path.
- One of the best experiences you can have in Thailand is to get up early and watch or take part in the giving of alms to monks. All over the country monks will be collecting alms at around 6 – 6.30 am. Please go have a look.
- Please don’t buy items that could endanger wildlife, the forests or the cultural heritage of Thailand. Please do visit and support the National Parks.
- Say no to Drugs. By taking illegal drugs in Thailand you are supporting criminals and showing young Thais that this behaviour is acceptable to rich travelers. Thailand has overcome many problems previously caused by drugs and drug smugglers. We don’t need foreigners to re-establish those problems. Please be considerate to the Thai people and do not encourage the use of illegal drugs in Thailand.
- Avoid the sex industry. Thailand has developed rapidly from being a very poor nation to being industrialized. An influx of Chinese merchants, the USA Army and then tourists, combined with an attitude that accepts prostitution have been some of the reasons that a large sex industry has developed here. But it causes problems for society and for the people involved. If the demand for the sex industry disappears then the supply will also.
- Ways to help Thailand. Please buy locally produced food and handicrafts and so therefore support the local farmers and local culture. Home stays are a great way to experience some of the “real” Thailand and get your money out into the smaller communities. If you have more time, please search through Travelpod and the internet for ways you can volunteer in Thailand.
Overall Thailand is a very safe country to visit. But as with everywhere there are some good people and not so good people. Please be cautious with your possessions and provide no opportunities for theft.
The Tourist Police are a branch of the police that are specifically there to help you. Their telephone number is 1155
In the 3 Southern-most provinces of Thailand (Yala, Narathiwat and Pattani) daily violence has been occurring for the last couple of years. Drug affected Muslim extremists commit murder and arson almost daily. Generally the victims are fellow Muslims, local families, police or government schools. It is still safe enough for you to travel through this region; however it wouldn’t be advisable for you to go off exploring by yourself in this area at the moment. Keep on eye on up to date developments before you go.
Thailand is one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations and for good reason. Mass tourism and mass Western influence is relatively new here and yet the industry has grown hugely and caters for many varied tastes. Many of the tourists go to the popular places, which are convenient and well set up to cater for tourist needs. There are some great places to meet fellow travelers here. But if you are interested in getting off the beaten path, this is also very possible. Travel within Thailand is safe and enjoyable as the Thai people and culture are relaxed, friendly, fun loving and yet polite and modest.
For the last word in travel in Thailand I want to pass on the points that Thai people consistently ask me to pass on to foreigners:
- Kissing etc – please do it in private, not in public.
- Please love Thailand and respect our King. We hope you have a good time here.
- Please don’t fear Thai people, we want to help you and be your friend. Sorry if we are shy of you and our English language ability.
- However please don’t believe everyone and do be careful of your belongings.
- Please observe what most Thai people wear and copy that. Please be polite and respectful in your dress. Please shower and be clean.
- Please be happy and calm and do not be angry at us if we cannot understand your language.