Thailand caters well to its growing number of tourists. The 12 million people who visit each year find one of the biggest and bestorganized tourist industries in Asia. The headquarters of the helpful Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) is in Bangkok, and there are offices across the country and several overseas branches. The relevant address and telephone number is given for each town and sight throughout this guide. The tourist industry has developed so rapidly that the adventurous traveler is no longer restricted to organized tours or major tourist destinations such as Bangkok and Phuket – the whole country is accessible to independent travelers. There are many reputable travel agencies all over Thailand. They offer advice, book flights and accommodations, and organize sightseeing tours. Some pre-travel planning is necessary to avoid the worst of the rainy season and holiday periods such as the Chinese New Year
When to Go
Thailand’s weather can be tempestuous, with year-round humidity, rocketing temper atures, and torrential rainstorms. However, the optimum time to visit the country is during the cooler, drier months from November to February. It is no coincidence that this is the peak tourist season, when sights may get crowded. The hot season, from March to May, can be unbearable, while the rainy season, which generally lasts from June to October, is the least predictable of the three periods. Climate and rainfall charts can be found on pages 52–5.
Bangkok is a popular launching point for other Southeast Asian destinations, so it is necessary to book airline tickets well in advance. This is especially true during Thailand’s peak tourist season, November to February, when flights and hotels are heavily booked. If you plan to travel during this period, it is wise to make arrangements at least three to six months prior to departure
Visas and Passports
Many nationalities, including the citizens of most European countries, Australia, and the US, can enter Thailand for up to 30 days without a pre-arranged visa. Proof of adequate funds for the duration of a visitor’s stay (10,000 baht per person or 20,000 baht per family) can be requested upon arrival – a credit card is sufficient proof of this. Also be aware that certain visas have minimum fund requirements – check with your local Thai embassy before traveling for current information. Proof of a confirmed return flight or other on-going travel arrangements might also be required, although this is rare. The 30-day period is extendible for a maximum of 10 days. Nationals of several smaller European countries must obtain a visa before traveling. For those wishing to stay longer, a 60-day tourist visa (extendable by 30 days at an immigration office) can be arranged from a Thai embassy or consulate prior to arrival in Thailand. This usually takes two to three working days to process, but may take longer during busy periods.
A 90-day nonimmigrant visa must be applied for in your home country and requires a letter of verification from a Thai source giving a valid reason, such as business or study, for spending three months in Thailand. This visa is slightly more expensive than the 60-day tourist visa.
With all visas, entry into Thailand must occur within 90 days of issue. Visa extensions are at the discretion of the Immigration Department in Bangkok or any other immigra tion office in Thailand. Overstaying a visa carries a fine of 500 baht per day and can result in serious penalties. Single and multiple re-entry visas can be obtained relatively easily, allowing the visitor to leave the country and return within 60 days. These can be applied for at the Immigration Department in Bangkok. Strictly speaking, travelers entering Thailand should have at least six months left on their passport. It is best to confirm all such details with a Thai embassy or consulate before traveling. Crossing the border into neighboring countries generally depends on the current political situation, (see p464) so it is wise to check prior to travel. A 24-hour visa for Myanmar, for a stay in the town over the border, costs 500 baht to the Myanmar immigration. The quickest way to obtain a 30-day tourist visa for Laos is to apply for it at a travel agency in major cities such as Bangkok or Chiang Mai. Visitors to Cambodia can obtain a 30-day tourist visa free of charge upon arrival at Phnom Penh airport.
Travel Safety Advice
Visitors can get up-to-date travel safety information from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK, the State Department in the US, and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Australia.
Customs regulations in Thailand are standard. During an inbound flight you will be given a customs form that must be filled in and handed over at the customs desk after claiming your baggage. Thai customs restrictions for goods carried into the country are 200 cigarettes and/or one liter of wine or spirits. For complete details about export declarations, duty payments, and VAT refunds visit www.customs.go.th.
A car or motorbike can be brought into the country for touring purposes for up to six months, but this requires prior arrange-ment through the Thai embassy in your home country. The carrying of drugs , fire arms, or pornography is strictly prohibited.
There are no restrictions on the maximum amount of money an individual may bring into the country, however there are sometimes minimum require-ments. It is illegal to leave Thailand with more than 50,000 baht without the correct authorization. Antiques and Buddha images are not allowed out of Thailand with out authorization. If you wish to export such tems you must first contact the Fine Arts Department of the National Museum in Bangkok at least five days before the date of shipment and fill in a form accom panied by two frontal photographs of the object being purchased (no more than five pieces to be shown in any one photograph). Contemporary “works of art,” such as paintings bought in markets, can be taken out of the country without permission.
The many branches of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) are very helpful, offering plenty of practical and back ground information on sights and festivals, as well as maps, brochures, mini-guides, and posters. They also have a useful list of reputable travel agents and hotels. There is a small informa tion booth in Suvarnabhumi airport. Many of the provincial capitals in Thailand have a TAT office (listed throughout this guide), as do some overseas countries. The TAT website is also a useful source of information.
Admission charges to sights in Thailand are usually nominal, ranging between 10 and 50 baht for government-run establish ments. National parks, however, charge either 200 or 400 baht per person (children are usually admitted at half price). Private museums are generally either free or charge up to 200 baht. Occasionally, foreigners may be
Most sights can be visited throughout the year, though access to some of the southern islands may be limited in the rainy season. In general, major tourist attractions open at 8am or 9am and close any time between 3:30pm and 6pm. A few also shut for lunch between noon and 1pm. Most major sights are open daily, but some national museums close for public holidays and on Mondays and Tuesdays. Department stores are usually open daily, 10am–9pm, and smaller shops are open 8am– 9pm. Commercial offices open 8am–noon and 1–5pm Monday to Friday. Government offices are open 8:30am–noon and 1–4:30pm Monday to Friday. During the Chinese New Year, many businesses close, especially in the south. For banking hours,
What to Take
As the climate in Thailand is generally hot and humid, it is advisable to dress in cool, nonrestricting clothes made from natural fibers. A sweater may be needed in northern and northeastern regions during the cool season. The rainy season brings sudden downpours when a light raincoat is handy. If visiting temples, appropriate dress is required (see p463), as is easily removable footwear. A first-aid kit is also useful
Travelers with Special Needs
There are few facilities for disabled travelers in Thailand. Sidewalks can be uneven and pedestrian bridges are often accessed only by steep steps. Wheelchair access is limited to the top-class hotels. The easiest way to travel is to book an organized tour or to contact the Association of Physically Handicapped People for further information.
Traveling with Children
Children are always welcome in Thailand. The larger hotels have baby-sitting services, and TAT offers advice on attractions for kids. Hats and sunblock are a must for children out in the sun. There are plenty of fast-food outlets and adaptable chefs who will gladly provide a choice of suitable alternatives to spicy meals.
Older citizens of Thailand are treated with great respect, as are senior citizens from other countries. Unfortunately, this higher status does not translate into any discounts or savings.
Gay and Lesbian Travelers
On the whole Thai society takes a fairly relaxed attitude to homosexuality. A number of bars, clubs, and other venues cater exclusively to a gay and lesbian crowd. However, at heart, Thai society is still quite conservative, and public displays of affection by both homosexuals and hetero sexuals are frowned upon.
Prominent gay and lesbian scenes can be found in Bangkok, Pattaya, and Phuket, and to a lesser extent in Chiang Mai. General information for gay and lesbian visitors is available online at Dragoncastle, and both this website and Utopia are excellent for details of gay and lesbian related activities and events in Thailand.
Centers of Worship for Visitors
There are many facilities for visitors to undertake Buddhist studies . The Inter national Buddhist Meditation Center has details of English anguage courses at wats in and around Bangkok. Most other religious denomin ations are represented in Thailand – listed below are religious centers in Bangkok offering services in English. Christ Church holds Anglican and Episcopalian services. The International Church has services on Sundays, as does the Holy Redeemer Catholic Church. The Jewish Association of Thailand has occasional services at the Jewish Com munity Center. The Haroon Mosque has services for Muslims
It is always useful to learn a few Thai phrases . Many local people in tourist towns speak some English, as do most hotel receptionists. Sight and road names in these areas are transliterated, and menus are often in English as well as in Thai. Prices and road numbers are generally in Arabic numerals. Transliterated spellings vary in different maps and guides, and on signs. Note that “j” and “ch” are interchangeable, as are “d” and “t.” The letters “ph” are pronounced “p,” never “f.” Likewise, the “h” in “th” is always silent
Thai Time Systems and Calendar
Bangkok time is seven hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), 12 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time, and 15 hours ahead of Pacific Standard Time (6, 11, and 14 hours ahead, respectively, during Daylight Saving Hours). Although the standard clock and 24-hour clock are used and widely understood, Thailand also has its own unique system. Thais divide the day into four segments of six hours each. For example, 7am for us is 1am for Thais. Two calendars are used in Thailand: the Gregorian (Western) and the Buddhist calendars. The Buddhist Era (BE) starts 543 years before the Gregorian era. To convert from the Gregorian calendar to the Buddhist calendar, add 543 years. For example, AD 1957 is the equivalent of 2500 BE.
The electric current throughout Thailand is 220 volts AC, 50 cycles. Dual-prong rounded plugs as well as flat-pin plugs can be used. Major hotels also have 110-volt outlets for electric razors. Adaptors and power surge cables (for laptops) are sold in department stores and electrical stores.
In smaller towns, especially during the rainy season, there can be power failures and flashlights can be useful.
Attitudes towards environmen tal issues are slowly beginning to change in Thailand. The authorities are actively promoting awareness of the need for conservation, from prohibiting locals fishing with dynamite and drag-netting coral reefs, to encouraging tourists to “leave nothing but your footprints”. Ecologically aware dive companies forbid visitors to take anything away, even a seashell, and the use of plastic bags and plastic water bottles in national parks, where they might be abandoned, is increasingly discouraged.
Open World, an ecological tour operator, conducts culture, nature, and conservation tours throughout Thailand, which include a tiger conservation program, flora and fauna and birdwatching tours. The Thailand Environment Institute website has information about environmental projects and the conservation of natural resources in Thailand.
Set against all this good work, visitors should be aware that in some areas there are still environmentally destructive shrimp farms, the clearing of natural forest for palm oil plantations, and the farming of tigers in captivity for their body parts under the guise of “tiger zoos”.