Thailand Travel Guide

Islands lined with palms overhanging gorgeous beaches; superb cuisine; a rich cultural heritage; exotic rainforests; cheap shopping; hundreds of temples and religious artifacts dating back centuries; ancient villages stowed away in hidden corners of the land – this is Thailand, one of the greatest travel experiences you are ever likely to experience.

Thailand (ประเทศไทย) means the Land of Thai or humans and it is an unmissable destination, from the busy capital Bangkok, to the relaxed island of Phuket. Buddhist temples and statues are a-plenty, as Thailand towers above the rest of South East Asia in sheer volume of historical delights. Perhaps the fact that Thailand is the only Southeast Asian nation never to have been ruled by a European power is partly responsible for the wealth of history represented throughout the country, kept alive through the ages. Whatever the reason be, nothing can detract from the extraordinary pleasures Thailand offers its visitors.

Brief History

The region known as Thailand has been inhabited by humans since the Paleolithic period, about 10,000 years ago. Similar to other regions in Southeast Asia, it was heavily influenced by the culture and religions of India, starting with the kingdom of Funan around the 1st century Ad.

The Thai people migrated to Thailand from their ancestral home in southern China into mainland Southeast Asia around the 10th century AD. Before this, Tavaravadi (Mon), Khmer and Srivijaya Kingdoms had dominated the region. The Thais established their own states, beginning with Lanna (Chiangmai, Chiangrai) in the far north Sukhothai (founded in 1238, the close period as Lanna) and the Ayutthaya Kingdom (mid 14th century) until the present Rattanakosin or Bangkok in the 18th century.

Much later, the European colonial powers threatened to take over Thailand in the 19th and early 20th centuries, but Thailand survived as the only Southeast Asian state to avoid complete colonial rule. The Thai kings Rama IV, V and VI have often been praised for their politics, which succeeded in avoiding colonial rule in Thailand. Nevertheless, contemporary Thailand is smaller than before, before the 19th century the Kingdom of Thailand extended into parts of eastern Cambodia southern Laos and some of the northern state of Malaysia.

There exists quite an amount of literature on this topic for those who are interested in deeper insight. After the end of the absolute monarchy in 1932, Thailand democracy has been slowly developed through the period of time with many obstruction from corruption problem which lead to the coup de tat situation by soldier for many times. If you are really curious and want an insight in Thai history from early Bangkok period, then read Pen and Sail by Nithi Eawsiiwong, a renowned Thai historian.

Geography

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At 514,000 km² (198,000 square miles), Thailand is the world’s 49th-largest country. It is comparable in size to France, and somewhat larger than California. Thailand shares international borders with Laos to the north, Cambodia to the east, Malaysia to the south, and Myanmar to the west. It is possible to cross overland with all of Thailand’s neighbours.

Thailand is home to several distinct geographic regions, partly corresponding to the provincial groups. The north of the country is mountainous, with the highest point being Doi Inthanon at 2,576 metres (8451 feet). The northeast consists of the Khorat Plateau, bordered to the east by the Mekong river. The centre of the country is dominated by the predominantly flat Chao Phraya river valley, which runs into the Gulf of Thailand. South Thailand consists of the narrow Kra Isthmus that widens into the Malay Peninsula.

The climate is tropical and characterised by monsoons. There is a rainy, warm, and cloudy southwest monsoon from mid-May to September, as well as a dry, cool northeast monsoon from November to mid-March. The southern isthmus is always hot and humid.

Sights and Activities

Bangkok

Bangkok (กรุงเทพๆ) is the vibrant capital of Thailand and, for most travellers, it is the gateway into the country. Located on the shore of the Gulf of Thailand, Bangkok is a huge city boasting incredible diversity – a reflection of the country’s diversity. There are many attractive things to see such as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, The Grand Place, the canals and much more. Moreover, Bangkok is the heaven for shopping. Chatuchak market and Mahboonkrong shopping centre are well known among tourist.

Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai is the second largest city in Thailand, having taken the title from Nakhon Ratchasima in the north-east just recently. It’s an ideal destination for travellers seeking a change from bustling Bangkok. Chiang Mai is set in the northern highlands of Thailand, a beautiful and rugged region or mountains, waterfalls, and incredible views.

Phuket

Phuket is an island province in southern Thailand.The island is immensely popular for its beaches, the most famous of which is Patong Beach. Phuket has a beach for everyone and a beach combers dream come true. There is also an excellent nightlife, so after a day in the fun a traveller can party all night long.

Phi Phi Islands

The Phi Phi Islands became world-famous with the shooting of The Beach in 1998. They are situated in the south of Thailand and are quite beautiful and popular islands, but unfortunately also quite expensive.

Other islands include Ko Samui, Koh Lanta near Krabi, Ko Samet near Bangkok and Koh Chang towards the border with Cambodia. Ko Pha Ngan (also spelt as Koh Phangan) near Ko Samui, is the location of the famous Full Moon Party island.

There are several nice beaches on the mainland. The mainland beaches include those at Pattaya, Hua Hin and Cha-Am. Mainland beaches are much easier and cheaper to get to then the islands. Certain parts of Pattaya can be very shady especially for women travellers.

Scuba Diving

Thailand is famous for its diving and snorkelling and many of the islands and beaches mentioned above offer trips offshore or on the open sea to go snorkelling and/or diving. Ang Thong Marine Park near Koh Samui is of particular interest and enjoys a national park status.

Khao Yai National Park

Khao Yai National Park is located several hours northeast of the capital Bangkok in the Isan region of Thailand. It is a very attractive park with lush green forests, some wildlife and a very relaxed atmosphere and good places to stay. You can go on guided walks or rent bikes. It is best to rent a car or motorbike into the park or try and get a lift. The Dong Phayayen-Khao Yai Forest Complex is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Cycling Tours

Cycling in Bangkok and Thailand could turn to be one of the most memorable activities. There are several local tour operators who offer tours through city of Bangkok and its countryside. Check the Bangkok article for more information about possibilities, tours, agencies, prices and more.

Ancient ruins

Apart from nature, beaches and cities there are several well preserved ancient ruins which are located mostly north of the capital Bangkok. The most famous include Ayutthaya, the old capital of Thailand and Sukhothai, Thailand’s first capital. Both are on the UNESCO World Heritage List because of their historical and cultural significance for Thailand.

Kanchanaburi sights

Kanchanaburi is located several hours west of Bangkok towards the border with Myanmar and has several features. The most famous one is the nearby Bridge over the River Kwai, part of the infamous Death Railway. The bridge over the River Kwai is famous for no other reason than the novel and film that popularised it in the 1950s. The bridge actually crosses the Mae Khlung, not the River Kwai, but after the book and film started producing an inflow of tourists, the Thais renamed part of the river to Kwae Yai, which means Big Kwai. The bridge has remained more or less unchanged since it was first built by prisoners of war during World War II.

Other things to see include several cemeteries including the Kanchanaburi War and Chongkai War cemetery. Close to the bridge is the Art Gallery and War Museum.

Elephants of Thailand

The elephant is the national symbol of Thailand however they face a decline in natural habitat, ivory poachers, and even killing by humans hands. Mahouts (elephant handlers) often bring domesticated elephants into cities seeking work and sell bananas to tourists to feed them, which can place them in danger due to the damaged roads and footpaths on which they walk, as well as the busy roads.

The Thailand Elephant Conservation Park in Lampang, northern Thailand (just south of Chiang Mai) is the oldest and only government sponsored elephant center in Thailand. If you wish to participate in the mahout training course (typically only run during the high season) you must book well in advance.

Khao Sok National Park

Khao Sok National Park is a 739 square kilometre big park in the south of the country, located in the Surat Thani Province. It contains one of the largest and oldest rainforests in Thailand and its dense jungle is great for hiking. The park is one of the best in the country for viewing a wide variety of flora and fauna, including the Rafflesia, monkeys, birds and even larger animals such as wild board and deer. Although it used to be home to tigers as well, it is questioned whether or not they still roam the area.

Golden Triangle

The Golden Triangle actually refers to a much larger area, covering parts of Myanmar, Laos and even Vietnam. Most people visit the area in Thailand though, although it is easy to cross borders into Laos in this area. It is famous for producing opium but most people just visit to witness the confluence of the Mekong and Ruak Rivers.

Isan region

The Isan region refers to the northeastern part of Thailand, roughly the area from the northern border of Cambodia and along the western and northwestern borders of Laos. It is located on the Khorat Plateau and the Mekong river borders the area to the east. It is one of the least developed areas in Thailand and comparatively less visited than other areas further north, central and south. It has quite a few attractions though, including Khmer temples. Many people use the area to cross into Laos.

As the southern area of Isan region was part of the Khmer region in 10th century, therefore, you can see many of Khmer heritage such as the stone temple in this area. Some were founded during the same period as Angkor Wat such as Bhimai stone sanctuary in Nakhon Ratchasrima and Phanom Rung temple in Buri Rum while some were before Angkor Wat such as Sri Korabhum castle at Surin. Travelling to Thailand, there are much more to see than your know.

Water fall and bush walking

Tee Lor Su water fall in Tak province is recognized to be the most beautiful one South East Asia.You will feel like being under the rain when you get close to it. The track to the waterfall is highly recommended for people who were in love with bush walking especially the rain season, you need to get there by rubber boat and continue walking which are all around 3 hours but you won’t feel tired since you will enjoy the the forest and good scenery while you are paddling on the boat.

Hill tribe Villages

The Hill tribe groups who dwell in the highland areas of northern Thailand, and their traditional ways of life as farmers, inspire many a curious traveller to northern Thailand. The main hill tribe groups are the; Karen, Hmong, Lisu, Lahu, Akha, Mien who originated from China, Tibet and Myanmar, crossing over into Thailand where they have lived peacefully in the mountains for hundreds of years.

Although there are many hill tribe villages in Chiang Mai that have been set up for tourists and charge an entrance fee, if you are wanting to visit authentic hill tribe villages, then these will be located in remote rural areas away from the tourist crowds of Chiang Mai. So be prepared to allow plenty of time in your travel schedule to get off the beaten path for this. To get the full experience out of visiting a village, hire a local guide who has experience taking visitors to villages and has established good relationships with the villagers. There may also be the option to overnight in the village at a homestay which can be a great cultural immersion experience.

When to go & Weather

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The weather in Thailand is tropical with high temperatures and high humidity during the year. Although it is hot and humid all year round, some months are stifling hot and this applies mainly to the months of April and May when temperatures in Bangkok hit 40 °C and combined with the high humidity these months are best avoided for travelling around the cities and the interior. Temperatures in the north and northeast sometimes are even a few degrees higher during these months, like in Chang Mai and the area towards the border with Laos. These areas however, are a few degrees cooler during the ‘winter’ months of November to March, when generally it is still warm or hot and humid but with temperatures between 28 °C and 33 °C, travelling around is more bearable.

The wet season comes with the southwest monsoon which last from June to October. In the north the wettest months are usually July and August, while in Bangkok and surroundings September is the wettest. Koh Samui on the other hand has the wettest time of the year in October and November and never has a real dry season although March to May are generally a bit drier.

Usually, temperatures along the coastal areas of Thailand, including lots of popular islands, vary less than in Bangkok and the interior. In the north, several mountain ranges keep temperatures mild and Mae Hong Son even has recorded temperatures of just several degrees above zero.

Red Tape

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Getting a visa for Thailand can be a complicated affair, as there are different rules for people of different nationalities.

Tourist Visa Exemption

Citizens from the following countries qualify for a Tourist Visa Exemption which allows a stay of 30 days if entering by air, or 15 days if entering by land. Immigration officers, in their own discretion, may ask for a proof of onward journey which will depart by the end of the 30-day period. Failing to provide this could result in refusal of entry.

Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Bahrain, Brunei, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Kuwait, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malaysia*, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Oman, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Singapore, Spain, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States of America, Vietnam.
Malaysians entering by land from Malaysia are allowed to stay for 30 days.

Visa on Arrival

Citizens from the following countries may apply for Visa on Arrival at selected checkpoints. This visa allows a stay of 15 days. Applicants must provide 2 photos and have a fully-paid onward ticket which will depart within 15 days. Proof of funds of 10,000 Baht per person or 20,000 Baht per family is also required.

Andorra, Bhutan, Bulgaria, China, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Ethiopia, Hungary, India, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Maldives, Malta, Mauritius, Oman, Poland, Romania, Russia, San Marino, Saudi Arabia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Taiwan, Ukraine

Tourist Visa

If you do not qualify for Tourist Visa Exemption and Visa on Arrival, or if you want to stay longer than the 15 or 30 day limit, you will have to apply for a Tourist Visa at the Thai embassy. This visa allows you to stay for 60 days (for Tourist Visa Exemption countries) or 30 days (for all other countries).

Thailand cuisine

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Food is rather cheap in Thailand if you stick to local food. Most dishes are served with rice but it is also possible to find different kinds of noodles. There is one basic truth about Thai food: it is spicy! Chillies are added to almost everything and you will normally also find dried chilli or fish sauce with chilli on each table in a restaurant. The exception from this truth is noodles. Noodle dishes are normally non-spicy. Noodles are served as dry noodles and wet noodles and in different sizes. Wet noodles (when the noodles are served in a soup) can be very refreshing in the middle of a hot day.

Thai food is often eaten with fresh vegetables which are quite safe to eat. The Thais are normally very keen on rinsing the vegetables in pure water so it does normally not give any stomach problems.

Everywhere in Thailand it is possible to find local dishes in the local restaurants and many restaurants have their own special local dish. It can be a very good experience to try a restaurant’s special dish when going to smaller cities outside Bangkok. Besides Thai food it is possible to find more expensive Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Korean, Vietnamese and Western food in the bigger cities if you get tired of just Thai food. McDonald’s, KFC and Pizza Hut opened in Thailand several years ago and it is rather fashionable for a Thai to eat there.

In former times utensils were not used in Thailand but now they are used by everybody, maybe except by very old people in the countryside. Utensils does not mean knife and fork but fork and spoon. Chopsticks are also used for eating sometimes, and strangely enough it is common to eat noodles with chopsticks. Thais like to focus on what they are actually eating and how they eat it.

Fresh fruits are also easily obtained in the markets for a cheap price, where the most common fruits are mango, banana, pineapple, pomelo and watermelon. Pineapples grown in the south are sweeter than pineapples grown elsewhere in the country. Many other kinds of fruits are also available depending on the season and the region you are visiting. One fruit that Thais find a delicacy is the Durian. This is a fruit that people normally hate or love. After peeling this big fruit the meat quickly starts to smell, very much like old cheese. The taste of the fruit can be compared to whipped cream with mashed banana though it is not exactly the same taste. But it is definitely worth trying some of it if you come across it on a market or in a supermarket. Some Thais say that Durian is a “hot” fruit which means that if you eat too much of it without balancing it with eating a “cold” fruit you will feel uncomfortable afterwards.

Snacks are also very common in the streets, markets and shopping malls and it can be very nice to take a snack while investigating the local market.

Thailand Travel Guide
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