Thailand, meaning “land of the free,” is home to a friendly and peaceful population whose smiles leave a lasting impression on visitors. This mostly rural nation, which managed to avoid colonization, is ruled by an elected government. However, it is also proud of its monarch who has reigned for over 60 years. Thailand is a place of vast resources, deep cultural traditions found in its art and architecture, as well as seemingly endless natural beauty. The quiet charm of the countryside is in stark contrast to the constant bustle of the modern capital city of Bangkok, which has evolved into one of the main business centers in Southeast Asia due to its location, as well as economic and political stability. Yet even in the midst of this busy commercial hub, the nation’s cultural heritage is ever present with Buddhist temples, crafts, and performing arts. Come see what Thailand has in store for you, and lose yourself in the richness of her past and present.
HISTORY AND CULTURE
Mainland Territory: 513,120 sq. km
Population: 68,863,514 (2016 est.)
National Capital: Bangkok
International Calling Code: Thailand: +66
It widely accepted that the first Thai people migrated south from China around the 10th century and settled in what are today the northern hills of Thailand. What is considered the country’s Golden Age occurred in the late 13th- early 14th century during the reign of Ramkamhaeng with the first use of Thai script and an emergence of the arts. The beginning of the Chakri Dynasty, which continues to this day, occurred in 1767. The capital was moved to Bangkok in 1782. The absolute monarchy became a constitutional form in 1932, with the name switching from Siam to Thailand in 1939. Today the nation thrives, having overcome the Asian financial crisis of the 1990’s, as well as the devastating tsunami of 2004. Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun became King in December 2016 after the death of his father, King Bhumibol (Rama IX).
Thailand is bordered to the north by Myanmar and Laos, to the east by Laos and Cambodia, to the south by the Gulf of Thailand and Malaysia, and to the west by the Andaman Sea and the southern extremity of Myanmar. Its maritime boundaries include Vietnam in the Gulf of Thailand to the southeast, and Indonesia and India on the Andaman Sea to the southwest.
Thailand comprises several distinct geographic regions, partly corresponding to its provincial groups. The north of the country contains the mountainous area of the Thai highlands. The northeast is the Khorat Plateau, bordered to the east by the Mekong River. The center of the country is dominated by the predominantly flat Chao Phraya river valley, which runs into the Gulf of Thailand. Southern Thailand consists of the narrow Kra Isthmus that widens into the Malay Peninsula. The Chao Phraya and the Mekong River are the indispensable water courses of rural Thailand. Industrial scale production of crops uses both rivers and their tributaries. The Andaman Sea is an important natural resource as it hosts the most popular and luxurious resorts in Asia.
Thailand consists of 76 provinces gathered into five groups by location, plus two specially-governed districts, Bangkok and Pattaya. Each province is divided into districts, then sub-districts. The name of each province’s capital city is the same as that of the province.
Thai, English, and ethnic and regional dialects are spoken in Thailand.
Thai nationals 95.9%, Burmese 4.1%, others 1.3%, unspecified .9%
For a current list of countries whose citizens are exempt from the visa requirement to visit Thailand, see the Visa Exemption link on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Thailand website, http://www.mfa.go.th/main/en/services/4908.
Requirements for a Tourist Visa
The documents and the fee are subject to change anytime and without prior notice, so it is recommended that you inquire for the right information before making travel plans.
– Passport or travel document with a validity not less than 6 months
– Visa application form (filled out)
– One (1) recent 4x6cm. photograph of the applicant
– Round-trip air ticket or e-ticket (paid in full)
– Proof of financial means (20,000 baht per person/40,000 baht per family)
Don’t forget that consular officers reserve the right to request additional documents when deemed necessary, so it is advisable that you are prepared with your papers and documents.
– US $ 30.00 per entry or equivalent. The tourist visa fee is subject to change without the prior notice, so it is a good idea to be updated by visiting the nearest Thai Embassy or consulate in your area.
Validity of the Visa/Period of Stay
The validity of a tourist visa ranges from 3 months to 6 months, depending on the number of entries you make across the land border, or from the airport. If you arrived in Thailand through an international airport, you will be stamped a 30 or 60-day permission of stay depending whether your country has a bilateral agreement on visa exemption with Thailand.
If you enter Thailand via land border, you will be stamped a 15-day permission of stay as a tourist in the immigration post, after which you will have to exit the country again on or before the expiration of your permission of stay. However, the tourist visa can also be extended if you wish or need to stay longer in Thailand. You will have to file an application for an extension of stay at the Office of Immigration Bureau located at Soi Suan Plu, off South Sathorn Road, Bangkok 10120 , Tel (662) 287-3101-10. Bear in mind that the success for an extension of stay is solely at the discretion of the immigration officer attending on your application.
Thailand’s tropical rainy season runs from mid-May to September. The dryer and cooler season lasts from November to mid-March. The southern isthmus is hot and humid year-round.
Holidays and Festivals
April 6: Chakri Day (Coronation Day)
The celebration of the founding of the Chakri Dynasty. Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun, the current monarch, is the 10th king of the Dynasty.
April 13-15: Songkran
The new solar year is one of the most important festivals in Thailand. It’s a time for “out with the old, in with the new” to attract good luck for the year. Offerings are made to monks at the local temple, young people pour scented water into the hands of elders as a sign of respect, and caged birds and live fish are released back into the wild by those seeking to gain good merit.
Mid-May: Visakha Puja Of the several religious holidays in Thailand, this is the most important. It marks the recognized date of the Buddha’s birth, enlightenment, and death/entry into nirvana. Families attend sermons on the life of Buddha at the local temple.
Mid-November: Loy Krathong
This beautiful festival of lights is celebrated to bring good luck. Candles and incense are placed in leaf cups, traditionally made of banana leaf are floated into the local waterway after prayers and the rising of the full moon.
Late November – Early December: River Kwai Bridge Week
This week-long fair in Kanchanaburi celebrates the Allied attack on the bridge during the Second World War. It is a popular event that features nightly light and sound shows, exhibits, and train rides.
December: Ayutthaya Festival
This is a celebration of the former capital Siam, which was originally established in the mid-14th century. It is marked by exhibits and traditional cultural performances.
Traditional Thai meals are known for freshness and color, and are a combination of spicy and cool flavors, from hot curries to foods seasoned with milder nam plaa (fish sauce). Rice forms the central dish of Thai meals and it’s often served with chicken, pork and fish. Various and desserts and sweets such as custards, cakes and candies are also popular.
Internet access is widely available in internet cafes and hotels.
Travelers are advised to be up-to-date on tetanus, typhoid, and polio immunizations. It is also recommended to take insect repellent with DEET.
Currency, Banking, and Credit Cards
The main Thai currency is the baht. Banking hours are 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Mon-Fri, and 24-hr ATM’s are available at most banks, as well as shopping centers, airports, train and bus stations. Banks generally offer better exchange rates than hotels. Visa and MasterCard are widely accepted in most hotels, and in higher end restaurants and shops. US dollars are accepted everywhere. We recommend not taking traveler’s checks as most places, including hotels, no longer accept them. They may be cashed inside banks; a fee (around 2%) is usually charged if exchanged for USD but not for the local currency. Visitors are advised to take USD in denominations of 50, 20, 10, 5 and 1.
Due to widespread distribution in Thailand, regional products that were once only found in the towns that produce them may now be found in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and elsewhere (i.e., if you only visit Bangkok, you can still purchase an authentic Chiang Mai umbrella). With low prices on many items be careful not to purchase more than you can carry home unless you are willing to incur the additional cost of shipping. Once you buy it in Thailand, it is yours. Like most foreign countries, make sure you are happy with the exact merchandise being sold to you. Inspect what you intend to buy, and not a sample with a “factory sealed” package to be delivered upon payment.
220 volts, 50 Hz. Plugs are two-pronged flat or round. Adaptors are recommended and may be purchased on Amazon or at your local travel or electronics store.
While Thai people are among the most tolerant and forbearing of hosts, they have nevertheless several customs and taboos which the visitor should respect. To help with this the Tourist Authority of Thailand publishes a tiny booklet entitled “Do’s and Don’ts in Thailand.” A few extracts are included here:
– Public displays of affection between men and women are frowned upon. You may see westernized young Thai’s holding hands in public, but that is as far as it goes, in polite society.
– Topless bathing is inappropriate in Thailand.
– Thais don’t approve of touching anyone on the head, even as a friendly gesture.
– It is considered rude to point the sole of your foot at another person, so try to avoid doing so when sitting opposite someone and following the concept that the foot is the lowest limb, don’t point your foot to show anything to anyone.
– Buddhist monks are forbidden to touch or be touched by a woman, or to accept anything from the hand of one. If a woman wants to give anything to a monk or novice, she first hands it to a man, who then presents it. In case the woman wants to present it with her hand, the monk or novice will spread out a piece of saffron robe, and the woman will lay down the gift on the material.
– It is alright to wear shoes while walking around the grounds of a Buddhist temple, but not inside the chapel where the Buddha image is kept. Women should ensure that their legs and shoulders are covered before entering a Buddhist temple. Please do not wear shorts in temples.
– Thai people have a deep traditional reverence for the Royal Family, and visitors should also show respect for the King and the Queen and the Royal Children. When attending a public event where a member of the Royal Family is present, the best guide on how to behave is to watch the crowd and do as they do.
* Do not criticize the Royal Family, as you may be arrested and/or deported.
Emergency Travel and health insurance is not included in our tour package. This is an important requirement when you travel with us for your safety and peace of mind in the unexpected event that you need urgent international standard care. You should buy travel insurance in your country as it will be more convenient for you to deal with any claims and adjustments upon your return home. AIG, Allianz, or John Hancock have good travel coverage and respond very quickly to emergencies. We do not endorse any one travel insurance company but suggest you consider www.travelguard.com, as past clients of ours have had good experiences with them in times of need. Also, check with your insurance provider to see if they cover:
1. emergency evacuation during your travels, and
2. emergency airlift to an international hospital or provide professional medical care to transport you home. The cost alone for airlifting a person home can cost up to the 100’s of thousands of USD. Travel more safely with fewer worries.
A packing list is often a forgotten part of the planning processes, but it’s one of the most important steps to ensure an enjoyable vacation. Here are some important reminders from our travelers’ experiences:
– Your passport should have at least 6-months validity from the date of departure on your trip.
– Check your visa requirement to your destination. Check the entry date on your visa and validity of the visa.
– When possible book e-tickets. If you happen to lose your ticket you can always print your ticket online.
– Always make extra copies of your passport and keep it separate from your original.
– Make a copy of your travel insurance and emergency contact information. It’s best to have those numbers entered in your mobile phone.
– Call your credit card company to inform them of the dates of your trip so that your charge card won’t get blocked by your card company because of a foreign charge. This will also protect you in the event your card is stolen, and you have fraudulent charges on your account. Visa and MasterCard are widely accepted.
– Make sure your tour operator knows of any allergies you may have.
Electronics or gadgets
– If you have a 3-pronged plug, you will need to bring an adapter to change to 2 prongs (flat and round). Most countries will have plugs for 2 prongs.
– Make sure your electronics can take 220 volts as this is standard in most countries.
– Sometimes it’s a good investment to bring a backup mobile phone where you can use a local SIM card for calls. It’s much cheaper than using your regular mobile phone and paying for roaming calls.
– Don’t forget your charger for your electronics and check to see if they are compatible with 220 volts.
– Bring small pocket solar calculator to convert exchange rates.
Clothing & Miscellaneous
– Know where you are traveling and the weather you should expect. Traveling to a tropical area you will expect to see mosquitoes, so bring some long sleeve shirts and long pants for evenings.
– Traveling to Asia it is frowned upon to wear shorts that are 6 in. above the knee, especially when visiting temples or places of worship. Wearing a dress is fine if you plan to dress light. But again, when visiting temples please make sure dresses are no more than a few inches above the knee with a shirt or blouse covering your shoulder. Revealing shoulders are frowned upon.
– Good walking shoes and socks
– Slip-on shoes for ease of taking them on and off when visiting pagodas, houses, and other places where footwear in inappropriate.
– Rain-resistant light jacket
– Head cover to protect from hot tropical weather
– Insect repellent with DEET
– Stomach medicine
– Prescription medication
– A good book for those occasional flight delays
*Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Pattaya and Phuket are modern destinations with most of the amenities found in North America and Europe.
Tips of 2 USD to the hotel porters are appropriate. Tipping for guides is on average $15-20 US/day and drivers about $10 – 15 US/day. Tipping is not expected, but if they do a good job then you may tip as you feel. Tipping in restaurants is not expected either but if the service is good then you can leave a tip in local currency of about 2 USD. It is not a must and you may tip more or less as per your satisfaction.
Before 45 days, no charge tours.
45 to 30 days prior arrival date: 5% of the total price
29 to 15 days prior arrival date: 10% of the total price
7 days to the day of arrival: 50%
3 days to the day of arrival: 100%