Thailand is one of the most visited countries in Asia – and with good reason. Known as the 'the Land of Smiles,' this ancient Southeast Asian nation boasts fascinating culture, glorious weather and spectacular coastlines fringed by unspoiled beaches. Thailand holidays offer something for everyone, from the frenetic pace of Bangkok to party capital Pattaya, the historic temples of Ayutthaya and beyond. If the sights and sounds don't grab your attention then the cuisine surely will. Thai food is world renowned, so take your tastebuds on a trip to the tasty source of one of Asia's most delicious cuisines.
There's a seemingly endless list of things to do in Thailand, although most visitors begin their trip in Bangkok. Don't be put off by the chaotic pace of the capital, there are still plenty of chances to slow down. One of the best places to do so is at the sprawling Grand Palace in the heart of historic Rattanakosin. Next to the palace is the impressive Wat Pho – or the 'Temple of the Reclining Buddha'. Further afield the northern city of Chiang Mai is home to more than 300 Buddhist temples, some of which are among the most important in Thai culture. Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep is a temple founded as far back as 1383 and is revered as one of the most sacred sites in the region.
Many visitors travel to Thailand for the food alone! Thailand food options typically revolve around spicy curries with strong notes of lemon, lime and fresh coriander. One of the best ways to experience Thai food is from many of the food stalls and stands which line streets of Bangkok. Don't worry – the food is always safe to eat but sensitive types might want to ask vendors to tone down the spice! Thailand's famous nightlife is another obvious attraction. Some of the best places to tip back a tipple include the Silom district around the raucous Soi Patpong, party town Pattaya to the south of Bangkok, and the famous tropical island of Phuket.
Thailand accommodation ranges from charming guesthouses to 5-star luxury resorts and everything in between. Hostels are uncommon outside of Bangkok, although most Thailand hotels are relatively inexpensive as it is. Tourist havens like Krabi, Koh Samui and Phi Phi Island offer an extensive range of accommodation but to get away from the crowds, consider heading off the beaten track. The beachside town of Hua Hin offers some unique hotel options, while the northern province of Chiang Rai is a gateway to neighbouring Laos and Myanmar.
Thailand offers a staggering array of shopping options, from colourful night markets to upscale shopping centres. You can buy everything imaginable in one of Bangkok's numerous modern shopping centres but for a different kind of experience head to the eclectic Chatuchak Weekend Market. Here you'll find over 8,000 stalls selling just about every product conceivable. The Chiang Mai Night Bazaar is similarly famous in a country teeming with popular night markets. Brush up on your haggling skills but don't forget that many of the designer 'brands' on sale are actually cheap counterfeits.
Thais are renowned for their friendliness and easy-going dispositions. Not surprisingly for a predominantly Buddhist nation, temple trips feature high on the agenda, so spend a morning of reflection at a local 'wat' before tracking down an outdoor street vendor for some tasty Thai cuisine. In the afternoon take in a bout of the popular combat sport Muay Thai, before heading out for some late-night shopping at one of Thailand's popular night markets. Finish your evening with a drink at one of Thailand's many heaving pubs and bars or perhaps take in a spot of karaoke.
The unit of currency is the Baht (THB), which is divided into 100 satang. Currency can be exchanged at the airport, banks, hotels and bureaux de change. Banks are open Monday to Friday. ATMs are available in most cities and tourist resorts. Most large hotels and shops accept travellers cheques, but a better rate will be given at banks. Most major credit cards are accepted at hotels and larger businesses.
|THB 1 =||US$ 0.03||Â£ 0.02||C$ 0.03||A$ 0.03||R 0.26||EUR 0.02||NZ$ 0.04|
Note: These currency exchange rates are not updated daily and should be used as a guideline only.
As a health precaution, travellers should take medical advice at least three weeks before travelling to Thailand. Malaria is a risk outside Bangkok and the major tourist resorts, and immunisation against Hepatitis A and typhoid fever is also advised. Yellow fever vaccination certificates are required for travellers from infected areas. There has been an increase in reported cases of dengue fever, particularly in the south, and vaccination against Japanese encephalitis is also recommended. Outbreaks of leptospirosis occur during the rainy season and after flooding. There have been outbreaks of waterborne diseases in the Provinces of Khon Kaen, Lop Buri, Phitsanulok and Prachin Buri. Outbreaks of cholera have also been reported. You should drink or use only boiled or bottled water and avoid ice in drinks. If you suffer from diarrhoea during your visit you should seek immediate medical attention.There have been outbreaks of bird flu in poultry, and several human deaths, although the risk of travellers contracting the disease is slight; contact with live birds should be avoided, and all poultry and egg dishes are best eaten well-cooked. HIV/AIDS is prevalent in the major cities and resorts. Medical facilities are good in major cities, but good medical insurance is vital - without insurance, or cash/credit card, travellers will not be treated. Bangkok has excellent international hospitals.
All nationalities require passports valid for at least six months. Travellers entering Thailand are required to prove they have sufficient funds to cover the length of their stay, and are recommended to hold documentation for return/onward travel. If issued a visa prior to arrival, travellers are permitted to travel on a one-way ticket.
Note: Passport and visa requirements are liable to change at short notice. Travellers are advised to check their entry requirements with their embassy or consulate.
Thailand Tourist Office: +66 (0)2 250 5500 (Bangkok) or www.tourismthailand.org
Foreign Embassies in Thailand
United States Embassy, Bangkok: +66 (0)2 205 4000.
British Embassy, Bangkok: +66 (0)2 305 8333.
Canadian Embassy, Bangkok: +66 (0)2 636 0540.
Australian Embassy, Bangkok: +66 (0)2 344 6300.
South African Embassy, Bangkok: + 66 (0)2 659 2900.
Honorary Consul of Ireland, Bangkok: +66 (0)2 632 6720.
New Zealand Embassy, Bangkok (also responsible for Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar): +66 (0)2 254 2530.
Royal Thai Embassy, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 944 3600.
Royal Thai Embassy, London, United Kingdom: (also responsible for Ireland) +44 (0)20 7589 2944 ext 5500.
Royal Thai Embassy, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 722 4444.
Royal Thai Embassy, Canberra, Australia: +61 (0)2 6206 0100.
Royal Thai Embassy, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 (0)12 342 5470.
Royal Thai Embassy, Wellington, New Zealand: +64 (0)4 476 8616.
Chaotic, carnal and congested, Thailand's capital is divided by the Chao Phraya River and is nestled in one of the world's most fertile rice-producing deltas. Bangkok's 579 square miles (1,500 sq km) are criss-crossed by a series of canals carrying passengers and cargo, its roads clotted with endless traffic jams, while the city sprawls in all directions with a hodgepodge of urban, commercial and industrial buildings. A new overland metropolitan railway speeds above the city, providing visitors with a relaxed and efficient way to observe the hustle and bustle below.
Despite its pollution and overcrowding, Bangkok is undoubtedly one of Asia's most exciting cities, and one of the world's largest, promising to reveal to each traveller the wild and untamed mysteries of the east. Khao San Road is one of the city's most vibrant streets, and is probably one of the best examples in the world of a backpacker's 'ghetto'. Day and night the short stretch of road is abuzz with activity. On the banks of the Chao Phraya visitors will find the Grand Palace as well as Wat Phra Kaew, the palace temple housing the Emerald Buddha, constructed entirely from translucent green jade. Slightly upriver are the exquisitely ornamented Royal Barges, still used today for special floating processions.
Of the 30 or so temples in Bangkok, the largest is the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, which houses an impressive statue of the deity. The famous Floating Market is a delight to visitors and well worth a visit. As the sun lurches towards the horizon in the west and the sweat cools, this city of royalty and religion comes alive with a palpable decadence. Music and dazzling neon advertise a miasma of trendy bars and nightclubs, as well as the notorious 'girlie joints' that have ensured the Patpong district its reputation for hedonism.
Though the city's frenetic pace and infamous congestion can be overwhelming, a holiday in Bangkok is a must for anyone travelling in Thailand.
Chiang Mai is Thailand's second largest city, and an excellent starting point for excursions into the northern territories. Its name means 'new city', even though Chiang Mai is much older than Bangkok, having been built in 1296 under the rule of King Mengrai. The city straddles the gap between urban and rural Thailand, and offers the best of both worlds in terms of attractions and activities for Thailand tourists.
While Chiang Mai has more than 300 ancient temples, including the one at Doi Suthep, which offer breathtaking views over the area, its popularity is largely due to the elephant treks in the surrounding countryside. Travellers can also use Chiang Mai as a launching pad for excursions to the Lisu Hill-Tribe, Bhubing Palace, Isaan province, and Chiang Rai. Thai cookery classes are also a popular tradition, and the city also has an extensive night market, with dozens of street vendors selling a variety of traditional Thai wares that can be obtained at very low prices if you have the patience to bargain for them.
Chiang Mai is small enough to get around on a bicycle, has several attractions, and offers excellent accommodation, although tourists are advised that it can be difficult to find a room in peak season, between December and March.
Lush, green forest vegetation extending down to limestone cliffs and pure white beaches lapped by warm, turquoise waters, the coast of Thailand is a tropical paradise with spectacular waterfalls and coconut palms bending towards the sun. The tranquillity and natural splendour of the Thai coast and its islands belongs in the realm of fantasy.
The East Coast stretches 300 miles (500km) down from the mouth of the Chao Phraya River to the Cambodian border, and plays host to the disappointingly overdeveloped beach resort of Pattaya, as well as the idyllic splendour of the islands of Ko Chang and Ko Samet. Along the eastern shores of the Kra Peninsula lie the beaches of Cha'am and Hua Hin, once a favoured get-away for the royals and Thailand's oldest beach resort. Further down are the popular island resorts of Ko Samui and Ko Pha Ngan. West of the peninsula is the island of Phuket, which is the most popular beach destination in Thailand, offering beautiful sea vistas and spectacular accommodation, along with large crowds.
Among the dozens of islands in Thailand, there are resorts and destinations that cater for every kind of traveller, whether seeking a wild party or a quiet and relaxing holiday in Thailand.
In the Andaman Sea off Thailand's west coast, the holiday hub of Phuket, or the 'Pearl of the South' as it has become known, is connected to the mainland by the Sarasin Bridge. Thailand's largest island, Phuket is incredibly diverse with rocky and sandy beaches, tall cliffs, forests, waterfalls and temples.
Phuket caters to all, with a variety of holiday resorts offering accommodation from backpackers and simple guesthouses to modern luxury hotels, though the beachfront bungalows on unspoilt stretches of white sand are rarer now than they used to be. There are numerous activities in or near Phuket to enjoy on holiday, including mountain biking, bungy jumping and golf. It is even possible to go elephant trekking. A variety of tours offer day trips to the cliffs of nearby Phang Nga Bay, Koh Phi Phi, and the beaches and islands around Krabi. There is plenty to do on the island, whatever your budget, and several offshore islands are good for snorkelling and scuba diving.
Phuket has a huge variety of goods and shopping establishments, from markets and street stalls to department stores and specialist shops, and a range of restaurants from Thai seafood to Indian and Western cuisine. Phuket also has its own airport, making it easy to get to and from Bangkok, and although the island hosts thousands of tourists in peak season, its sheer size allows visitors to escape from the madding crowds. Patong Beach is the island's most famous and developed beach resort, offering a wide choice of holiday activities, dining options and nightlife. It is situated nine miles (15km) from Phuket City.
Made up of the 20 northeastern provinces of Thailand, Isaan is often overlooked as a travel destination because it lacks any coastline with sparkling beaches to draw sun-worshipping tourists. A patchwork of language and culture, Isaan is a blend of Thai, Laotian, Vietnamese and Cambodian culture largely untainted by the tourist trade, and visitors to the area delight in discovering the 'real' Thailand.
The attractions in Isaan aren't as well-known as Ayutthaya or the Temple of the reclining Buddha, but they are no less fascinating, and a totally different experience from the tourist traps of Southern Thailand.
The Mekong Valley follows the river of the same name, meandering through the region. Towns like Nong Khai and Nakhon Phanom make great bases to explore the valley from, and offer attractions of their own, including the fire boats of Nakhon Phanom and the bizarre but fascinating sculptures of Sala Kaew Ku in Nong Khai. Loei is a beautiful town with a budding ecotourism sector that hosts several colourful festivals throughout the year, including Phitakon, known as the 'Thai Mardi Gras'.
Udon Thani is home to possibly the best-known tourist attraction in Isaan, the UNESCO-certified Ban Chiang archaeological site.
The city of Nakhon Ratchasima is one of the largest in Isaan. Its proximity to Bangkok makes it a popular stop on travels to Isaan, as it has excellent transport links to the rest of the country. Nakhon Ratchasima also makes a great base to explore attractions like Khao Yai National Park, Khao Yai National Park, and the Khmer temples of Phimai Historical Park.
Nestled into the lush mountains of northernmost Thailand, Chiang Rai surrounds its visitors in hill tribe culture and scenery. One of the most famous and exotic attractions in Thailand, Chiang Rai is home to the remote hill tribe communities that make up about 12 percent of Thailand's population. Scattered through the mountains and valleys of the province, the tribes are descendents of nomadic peoples from Tibet and southern China. Each tribe is unique, with its own colourful culture and traditions.
An 11-hour bus ride from Bangkok can leave many visitors looking to relax; fortunately they can, either by picking through hill tribe crafts in the Chiang Rai Night Bazaar, relaxing along the shore of the Mae Kok River or taking a look-out residence in the many hilltop guesthouses.
Many travellers arrive in Chiang Rai from Chiang Mai to begin their treks to hill tribe villages, but there is plenty to see and do in Chiang Rai itself, including visiting a number of beautiful temples and interesting museums. Chiang Rai has some good shopping opportunities, including several weekend markets, and good restaurants and food stalls offer a taste of northern Thai cuisine. The city also has a lively, if not endless, nightlife, with a few good bars and pubs hosting live music.
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