For many travellers, Thailand represents the perfect location. The beaches and islands are extraordinary, the architecture is fantastic, the food is affordable and high in flavour, and the diversity of wildlife is stunning. And while many holidaymakers just visit the capital Bangkok or beautiful Phuket, there are also many other great areas to explore.
If you’re visiting the country for less than 30 days you won’t need a visa. Recommended vaccinations include hepatitis A and tetanus, and perhaps more depending on the regions you’re planning to visit. The risk of malaria is low unless visiting rural or forested areas. Accommodation can be as cheap or expensive as you wish, but in many hotels even a family suite can be as little as £30-40 a night.
One thing to note if booking in late 2016 or early 2017 – beloved King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s death on October 13 has resulted in the declaration of a year of official mourning, and Thai people are taking this very seriously. Traditional events, sporting occasions and festivals are in danger of being cancelled, including New Year celebrations. Bear this in mind before planning a trip around any of these events, but remember – no matter what goes ahead or doesn’t, Thailand is still a dream destination.
Things to prepare for
The biggest airports in Thailand are Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang Airport. The former caters for around 50 million passengers each year enjoying business strips or holidays to Thailand, and is an incredibly attractive building in its own right. Upon exit, you’ll be confronted with large numbers of taxi ranks eager for your trade, with varying prices. In the cities taxi cabs are available (look out for glowing red vacant signs) but just as common are motorcycles and mopeds. While these are incredibly handy for zipping around the city at speed, drivers often don’t concern themselves with helmets and may not have them for passengers either. Check this before renting a moped.
Another tip for Thailand is a simple one: travel light. The open-air markets are a must for those looking for a bargain, selling local crafts, clothing, electrical equipment, and other gifts. You should barter hard – with a little skill and persistence you’ll pick up some lovely items. If you don’t get the price you want, then move on – many of the items on sale will be available in other stalls anyway. Elsewhere skilled tailors can quickly size up suits and dresses of excellent quality in the many shopping malls.
The dining options are splendid, both inside and outdoors. The street food really has to be sampled as the flavours of the red curries and tom yum soup are to die for – you’ll be delighted with the taste, the experience and the price, too. Be aware that water quality from the taps is still hit and miss so it’s much safer to stick with bottled water, while beer (the most common brands are Singha, Leo and Chang) is cheap and strong.
Things to remember
The temperature in Thailand in the winter – the country marks its seasons at the same time as the UK – is still warm, although slightly easier to bear from November to February. Expect temperatures of a maximum of 27-28C in those months, compared to 30 degrees in the summer. January can drop as low as 20 degrees.
Thais regard the feet as the lowest and dirtiest part of the body, and pointing them at someone or showing the soles of the feet is regarded as an insult. Remember this while lounging at a resort or putting feet up at a bar, and especially at temples where you will be asked to remove your shoes before entering. Do not point your feet at the Buddhas, and dress modestly otherwise you will simply not be allowed inside. Take this advice on board, but don’t be scared of the temples – visiting them will be one of the most rewarding and peaceful activities you’ll enjoy.
As an additional tip, the head is a sacred area and should not be touched – even patting a child on the head could be construed as insulting.
With some careful planning and research, your visit to Thailand will become a dream holiday and an unforgettable experience. It’s a country full of culture, fun and vibrancy – go once and you’ll probably want to return again… and again!