Guide

THAILAND GUIDE

Welcome to our Thailand guide where we will try to help you with travel, hotels, beaches, activities, food and other Thailand knowledge and information including nightlife that you may find helpful when traveling in and around Thailand.

Thailand Transport

BackpackerTravel in Thailand is exceptionally well-organized and makes the total stay in Thailand comfortable and straightforward. The air, rail, bus, road and water transport is very competent. The different islands including Phuket and Thailand cities are connected to each other. Visitors can easily move about the country. Bookings and reservations should be made preferably in advance to dodge the rush at the last minute. The transport in Thailand is broadly separated into five categories. They are,

Thailand Travel Methods

arrowairplaneBY PLANE
Bangkok is one of Asia’s largest hubs as well as the busiest airport in Southeast Asia; virtually every airline that flies to Asia also flies to Bangkok, meaning competition is stiff and prices are low. There are also international flights directly to/from Chiang Mai, Ko Samui, Phuket, Krabi and Udon Thani and many other regional provincial towns serviced form the main airports.

arrowBY ROADS
Many international border crossings from Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore and Myanmar.Traveling by road is an experience but frankly once you have done it, you’ve done it!!

arrowinternational trainBY TRAIN
Thailand’s sole international train service links to Butterworth (near Penang) and Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, continuing all the way to Singapore. Tickets are inexpensive even in first class sleepers, but it can be a time-consuming ride; the 2-hour flight to Singapore will take you close to 48 hours by rail, as you have to change trains twice.

arrowBY FERRY
It is feasible now to travel by ferries in hi season(Nov-May) from Phuket and island hop your way down the coast all the way to Indonesia.

Getting Around Guide

arrowAirplaneBY PLANE
Thailand is a big country, and if sitting in a car for 11 hours is not your idea of a fun time, you may well want to consider domestic flights. By no means terribly expensive to start with (at least by Western standards), the deregulation of the industry has brought in a crop of new operators: With a little research, it’s possible to fly pretty much anywhere in the country for less than 2000 baht. Note that various taxes and (often hefty) surcharges are regularly added to “advertised” prices.

arrowBY TRAIN
State Railway of Thailand (SRT) has a 4000-km network covering most of the country, from Chiang Mai in the north all the way to (and beyond) the Malaysian border in the south. Compared to buses, most trains are relatively slow and prone to delays, but safer. You can pick up fruits, food and drink and cooked food from hawkers at most stations.

arrowBTS skytrainTHE BTS SKYTRAIN
The BTSSky train is the safest, most comfortable and expedient way to get around Bangkok. In service since December 5, 1999, it has transformed the face of municipal transportation in the Thai capital, for the first time offering both residents and tourists a comfortable ride through central Bangkok – lifting commuters on top of the chronic congestion, noise and pollution of the streets underneath.

arrowBY ROAD
Thailand’s roads are head and shoulders above its neighbors Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia, but driving habits are still quite treacherous.Drunk driving, speeding and reckless passing are depressingly normal, and bus and taxi drivers work inhuman shifts and often take drugs to keep themselves alert, with predictable and tragic results. It’s normal for motorbikes – even police! – to drive close to the curb on the wrong side of the road. Death tolls sky-rocket around main holidays, especially Songkhran, when bystanders often throw water on passing cars and bikes. Many drivers don’t use headlights at night, multiplying risks, and it is wise to avoid or reduce overnight travel by road.

arrowBY BUS
Buses travel all over the country and the government’s motor vehicle company BKS (Baw Kaw Saw), well-known in English simply as the Transport Company, has a terminal in each province of any size.

arrowBY SONGTHAEW
A songthaew is a truck-based vehicle with a pair of bench seats in the back, one on either side – hence the name, which means “two rows” in Thai.

arrowtuk tukBY TUK-TUK
The name tuk-tuk is used to describe a wide variety of small/lightweight vehicles. The vast majority have three wheels; some are entirely purpose-built (others are partially based on motorcycle components (primarily engines, steering, front suspension, fuel tank, drivers seat). A relatively new development is the four wheeled tuk-tuk (basically a microvan-songthaew) as found in Phuket, but take attention for price fixing and rip offs.

arrowBY TAXI
Metered taxis are ubiquitous in Bangkok and starting to become more popular in Chiang Mai, but rare elsewhere in the country. When available, they are an excellent means of transport – insist on the meter. Beware of taxis which idle around touristy areas and wait for people. They are looking for a tourist who will take their taxi without using a meter.

arrowmotorbikeBY MOTORBIKE
These are very widely used as taxis, with fares starting from as low as 20 baht. Negotiate the fare to the driver before using his service or he will charge you too much. Motorcycles can be rented without problems in many locations. Rates start at around 150 baht/day for recent 100-125cc semi-automatic (foot operated gear change, automatic clutch) step-through models, 200 baht/day for fully automatic scooters

arrowRENTAL CAR
Driving your own car in Thailand is not for the faint-hearted, and many rental companies can supply drivers at a very reasonable price. Prices without insurance for a self-driven car start from around 800 baht/day for small cars, and from as little as 600 baht/day for open-top jeeps; cars with insurance start at barely under 1000 baht/day, and come down to around 5600 baht/week or 18000 baht/month.

arrowferryBY BOAT
One of the Thais’ many names for themselves is jao naam, the Water Lords, and from the river expresses of Bangkok to the fishing trawlers of Phuket, boats remain an indispensable way of getting around many parts of the country.

Perhaps the most identifiably Thai boat is the long-tail boat (reua hang yao), a lengthy, thin wooden boat with the propeller at the end of a long ‘tail’ stretching from the boat. This makes them supremely manouverable even in shallow waters, but they’re a little underpowered for longer trips and you’ll get wet if it’s even a little choppy. Long-tails usually act as taxis that can be chartered, although prices vary widely – figure on 300-400 baht for a few hours’ rental, or up to 1500 for a full day. In a few locations like Krabi, long-tails run along set routes and charge fixed prices per passenger.

Activities

Thailand’s a large enough country that you can discover a place to practice almost any outdoor sport.

Some selections:

arrowGolf – see the separate Golf in Thailand article

arrowdivingRock climbing – the cliffs of Rai Leh in Krabi are arguably amongst the best in the world.

arrowScuba diving – easily accessible Ko Tao and Ang Thong National Marine Park(near Ko Samui) draws the crowds, but also possible in Phuket, Pattaya and Krabi, and the Similan Islands are worth the journey. One of the newest hot spots for diving is Ko Lipe – little island in the middle of Tarutao National Park amazingly unspoilt, splendid reefs and beaches unquestionably stunning, a must see. Please see this Diving in Thailand before you go.

arrowSiam Safari Elephant TrekkingTrekking – very prevalent in the north around Chiang Mai and Chiang Ra.

arrowSurfing – possible in Khao Lak, Phuket and Koh Samui.

arrowLiveaboard Diving – see the separate Diving in Thailand article.

arrowMedical tourism – Many travelers go to Thailand to undergo medical and dental treatments at a fraction of the cost charged in their home countries.The renowned Bumrungrad Hospital in Bangkok attracts on average 400,000 foreign patients per year or an average of 1,000+ a day. Other hospitals, such as Phuket International Hospital also focus in serving foreigners. Private hospitals in Thailand are accredited by the government according to standards that meet or exceed those in North America, and many of the doctors in Thailand hold international accreditation and relevant licenses. Popular treatments, ranging from cosmetic, organ transplants and orthopedic treatments to dental and cardiac surgeries, are accessible at a price much lower than the US or Europe. Treatments moreover include physical and mental therapies.

arrowspaSpas – Although spas weren’t introduced here until the early 1990s, Thailand has quickly develop into the second-highest ranking spa destination in the world. There are a unparalleled variety of spa types, and spas can be found at almost every destination in the country. The most popular spas can be found at major tourism destinations such as Phuket, Pattaya, Hua Hin, Bangkok, Ko Samui and Chiang Mai.

Money

The currency of Thailand is the baht (THB, ฿), written in Thai as บาท or บ. There are six coins and six notes.The most useful bills tend to be 20s and 100s, as many small shops and stalls don’t carry much change. Taxi drivers also like to pull the “no change” trick; if caught, hop into the nearest convenience store and make a small purchase

arrowATMs can be found in all cities and large towns, and international withdrawals are not a problem.

arrowCredit cards
are widely accepted in the tourist industry, restaurant and shopping mall or widely used in Bangkok and major cities.

arrowThai MoneyCosts

Thailand is cheap, and excellent value to boot: the combination of a weak currency, low labor costs and plenty of visitors means that everything a tourist could possibly want is both available and affordable. 800 baht will get a backpacker a dorm bed or cheap room, three square meals a day and leave enough for transport and sightseeing. Doubling that budget will let you stay in decent 3-star hotels, and if you’re willing to fork out 4000 baht per day or more you can live like a king. Bangkok requires a more generous budget than upcountry destinations, but also offers by far the most competitive prices for shoppers who shop around. The most popular tourism islands such as Phuket and Ko Samui tend to have higher prices in general.

Shopping

MBKThailand is a shopper’s paradise and many visitors to Bangkok in particular end up spending much of their time in the countless markets and malls. Particularly good buys are clothing, both cheap locally produced streetwear and fancy Thai silk, and all sorts of handicrafts. Electronics and computer gear are also widely available, but prices are slightly higher than in Singapore, Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur.

A Thai specialty are the night markets found in almost every town, the largest and best-known of which are in Bangkok and the Night Bazaar in Chiang Mai. Here a variety of vendors from designers to handicraft sellers have stalls selling goods which cannot normally be found in malls and day markets. Most night markets also have large open air food courts attached.

Suanlum Night PlazaYou can also find marvelously tacky modern clothing accessories. Witness pink sandals with clear plastic platform heels filled with fake flowers. Night markets along the main roads and Bangkok’s Mahboonkrong (MBK) Mall, near the Siam skytrain stop, are particularly good sources. Not to be left out is what is often touted as the world’s biggest weekend bazaar – The Chatuchak Weekend Market or know to locals simply as “JJ” Market. Chatuchak sells a myriad of products ranging from clothes to antiques, covers over 35 acres (1.1 km square) and is growing by the day!

Sleep

hotelThailand has a plethora of accommodation in every price bracket. Always take a look at the room (or better still several rooms) before agreeing a price. In smaller establishments also do ask for the agreed price in writing to avoid problems during check out.

The best prices (30%-50% off rack rates) for accommodation can be found during Thailand’s low season, which is during May – August, which not surprisingly also coincides with the region’s monsoon season. The peak season is during December – February.

Guesthouses are usually the cheapest option, costing under 200 baht per night (or less for a dorm bed). This gets you a room with a fan, a squat toilet (often shared) and not much else.

Thailand hotels start around 200 baht and go up to whatever your budget allows, the upper end of this range will have all the bells and whistles, the lower end will not. The primary difference is that with a hotel room, your bathroom should be private, bed linen and towels should be provided, and there may be a hot shower.

Banyan Tree SamuiTourist hotels are generally around 1000 baht and offer the basics for a beach vacation: swimming pool, room service and colour TV.

Thai Boutique hotels, 2000 baht and up have mushroomed during the past few years, they usually provide less number of rooms (usually 10 or less) and a more personalized service. The more recognized of this genre include The Old Bangkok Inn , Chakrabongse Villa both of which have royal connections, and The Aleenta group of hotels which is based in Thailand’s Southern beaches.

Business and luxury hotels , 4000 baht and up, offer every modern amenity you can think of and are largely indistinguishable from hotels anywhere else in the world. Some, notably Bangkok’s The Oriental, The Sukhothai and The Peninsula are among the world’s best hotels. The most luxurious resorts also fall in this price category, with some of the very best and most private adding a zero to the price.

Food and Eating out

pad thaiThe food alone is really reason enough for a trip to Thailand. Curries, fruit shakes, stir fries, fresh fish made a zillion ways – and that’s just the beginning. Food in Thailand can be as cheap and easy as 20 baht phat thai (Thai fried noodles) cooked at a street stall or as expensive and complicated as a $100 ten-course meal by a royal chef served in one of Bangkok’s 5 star hotels.

Since most backpackers will be sticking closer to the first than the second, one of the great things about Thailand is that food from stalls and tiny sidewalk restaurants is usually quite safe. Unlike some Asian countries, travelers should worry more about overeating or too much curry spice than about unclean kitchens and bad food. In fact, street restaurants, where you can see what you’ll get and everything is cooked on the spot (usually in a pool of germ- and diet-killing vegetable oil) can be a safe option.

arrowRice
The Thai staple food is rice (khao), so much so that in Thai eating a meal, kin khao, literally means “eat rice”.

arrowNoodles

Thais are great noodle eaters. The most common kind is rice noodles, served angel-hair (sen mii), small (sen lek), large (sen yai) and giant (kuay tio), but egg noodles (ba mii), Chinese-style stuffed wonton ravioli (kio) and glass noodles made from mung beans (wun sen) are also popular.

arrowSoups and curries

The line between soups (tom, literally just “boiled”) and curries (kaeng) is a little fuzzy, and many dishes the Thais call curries would be soups to an Indian. A plate of rice with a ladleful of a curry or two on top, known as khao kaeng  is a very popular quick meal if eating alone.

arrowMains

Thais like their mains fried (thot or phat) or grilled (yaang). Fish, in particular, is often deep-fried until the meat turns brown and crispy.

arrowSalads

About the only thing Thai salads (yam) have in common with the Western variety is that they are both based on raw vegetables. A uniquely Thai flavor is achieved by drowning the ingredients in fish sauce, lime juice and chillies – the end result can be very spicy indeed!

arrowDessert

Thais don’t usually eat “dessert” in the Western after-meal sense, although you may get a few slices of fresh fruit (ponlamai) for free at fancier places, but they certainly have a finely honed sweet tooth.

Drinks

arrowLamond grass drinkTap water
Is usually not drinkable in Thailand. Bottled water (naam plao) is cheap and ubiquitous at 5-10 baht a bottle, and drinking water served in restaurants is always at least boiled (naam tom). Ice (naam khaeng) in Thailand usually comes packaged straight from the factory and is safe; there is only reason to worry if you are served hand-cut ice.

arrowIced drinks

Coconut water (naam ma-phrao), iced and drunk directly from a fresh coconut is a cheap and healthy way to cool the body – available at restaurants and also from vendors that specialize in fruit juice.  Fruit juices, freezes and milkshakes of all kinds are very popular with Thais and visitors alike. Most cafés and restaurants charge 20-40 baht, but a bottle of freshly squeezed.

arrowtea and coffeeTea and coffee

One of Thailand’s most characteristic drinks is Thai iced tea (chaa yen, lit. “cold tea”). Instantly identifiable thanks to its lurid orange color, this is the side effect of adding ground tamarind seed (or, these days, artificial color) during the curing process. The iced tea is always very strong and very sweet, and usually served with a dash of condensed milk; ask for chaa dam yen to skip the milk.

arrowEnergy drinks
Thailand is the original home of the Red Bull brand energy drink – a licensed and re-branded version of Thailand’s original Krathing Daeng (“Red Bull”), complete with the familiar logo of two bulls charging at each other.   The Thai version, however, is syrupy sweet, uncarbonated and comes packaged in medicinal-looking brown glass bottles, as the target customers are not trendy clubbers, but Thailand’s working class of construction workers and bus drivers in need of a pick-me-up.

arrowAlcohol Alcohol

Drinking alcohol in Thailand, especially if you like Western tipples, is actually comparatively expensive – but still very affordable by Western standards.

Note that retail sales of alcohol in supermarkets, convenience stores etc are banned between midnight and 11 AM and, more bizarrely, 2-5 PM. Restaurants and bars are not affected, and smaller, non-chain stores are often willing to ignore the rules.

arrowWhisky

The misnamed Thai whisky (lao) refers to a number of distilled rice liquors, the best known being the infamous Mae Khong (“Mekong”) brand and its competitor, the sweeter, vaguely rum-like Saeng Som (“Sangsom”). The only resemblances to whisky are the brown color and high alcohol content, and indeed many people liken the smell to nail polish remover, but the taste is not quite as bad, especially when diluted with cola or tonic water.

beerThis is also by far the cheapest way to get blotto, as a pocket flask of the stuff (available in any convenience store or supermarket) costs only around 50 baht.

arrowBeer
Beer (bia) is a bit of an upmarket drink in Thailand, with the price of a small bottle hovering between 50 and 100 baht in most pubs, bars and restaurants. Thais like their lagers with relatively high alcohol content (around 6%), as it is designed to be drunk with ice, so the beer in Thailand may pack more of a punch than you are used to.

Thailand Nightlife

Thailand NightlifeAlthough in most people’s minds Thailand’s nightlife is probably more synonymous with the Bangkok capital than the rest of the country, nightlife in almost every part of Thailand is abundant and very enjoyable.

Thailand is rightly famous for its nightlife. The kingdom has some of the best clubs playing the latest music, and not all of them in the capital – Thailand’s islands host world-class music venues and events (like “Full Moon Parties”) as do some of the regional capitals such as Chiang Mai.

The kingdom also represents excellent value for film goers – ticket prices are much cheaper than in many other parts of the world and most of the country’s cinemas are top of the range.

nightlifeAside from that, the country also has world-class shows (cabaret, etc.) and the world’s top performing artists grace Thailand’s shores on a regular basis – so far in 2005, Sting and Marilyn Manson with a host of others planned for the rest of the year! Of course, discussion on Thailand’s nightlife wouldn’t be complete with a mention of its’ world famous Go-Go scene.

Again, this is not only confined to Bangkok – Pattaya and Phuket are recognised Go-Go centres, but this type of entertainment can be found in a number of parts of the kingdom. Wherever you are in Thailand, a great time can be had by all – whatever your taste in nightlife!