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Introduction to Thailand

Thailand Flag

The Kingdom of Thailand attracts more visitors because of its irresistible combination of breathtaking natural beauty, inspiring temples, hospitality, robust cuisine and with the histry of fabulous ancient kingdoms.

Perhaps the main reason for Thailand's popularity is its diversity - it doesn't matter which aspect of Thailand you consider, you are confronted by extremes wherever you look.

Thailand offers many types of landscape. The mountain regions of the north with its valleys filled with fogs and mists which createss a stark contrast to the plains of central and northeastern Thailand.

Eastern Thailand's plains and hills offer fertile land for jungle and agriculture, and as with southern Thailand, offers some of the most beautiful beaches and islands on the planet. After, all this nature is set against Thailand's metropolitan areas; Thailand is home to some major cities, Bangkok, the country's capital, certainly the largest and the most formidable.

Traveler Facts

  • Time Zone: GMT/UTC +7
  • Dialling Code: 66
  • Electricity: 220V ,50Hz
  • Weights & measures: Metric
  • Currency: Baht (Bht or THB)

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Attractions

Bangkok

Bangkok will look fascinating, vibrant, colourful, and at times even mind-boggling. Surrounded by gleaming skyscrapers grace the skyline alongside dazzling, historical temples, and luxurious hotels. Past, present and future live harmoniously together.

From floating markets and fruit carvings to robed monks and the infamous tuk-tuks, postcard images abound. But, to experience the true marvels of this city of contrast and diversity, take a deeper look Ė far beyond the visual images you are familiar.

While youíre in Bangkok, make sure to make the most of the city's famous nightlife, experience the excitement of a Muay Thai boxing match, or the glitz and glam of a ladyboy show. Perhaps an elegant dinner cruise on the Chao Phraya River which may tickle your fantasy.

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Ayuthaya Historical Park

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Ayuthaya's historic temples are scattered throughout this once magnificent city and along the encircling rivers.

More Central ruins which can visited by foot are:

  • Wat Phra Si Sanphet
  • Wat Mongkhon Bophit
  • Wat Na Phra Meru
  • Wat Thammikarat
  • Wat Ratburana
  • Wat Phra Mahathat

An ideal way to travel around the central ruins by adding even more temples by touring the city is on a rented bicycle. Additionally if you want to visit the outlying ruins use a long-tail boat.

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Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai has a striking mountain backdrop, over 300 temples and a quaint historical aura. It's also a modern, friendly, internationally-flavoured city with much to offer the visitor - food, accommodation and shopping are all top quality and cheap, and the nights are relatively cool.

Chiang Mai's plethora of temples will probably exhaust you before you exhaust them. For variety, try a wander round the night bazaar, acquaint yourself with local culture at the musuems, or practice your Buddhist calm under a palm tree in the city's gardens.

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Ko Samui

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Ayuthaya's historic temples are scattered throughout this once magnificent city and along the encircling rivers.

The most popular beaches are Hat Chaweng and Hat Lamai: both have good swimming and snorkelling but are getting a little crowded. For more peace and quiet, try Mae Nam, Bo Phut and Big Buddha on the northern coast. The main town on the island is Na Thon.

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Nakhon Pathom

Nakhon Pathom, west of Bangkok, is regarded as the oldest city in Thailand and is host to the 127m (417ft), orange-tiled Phra Pathom Chedi, the tallest Buddhist monument in the world. The original monument, buried within the massive dome, was erected in the 6th century by Theravada Buddhists.

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Phuket

Dubbed 'Pearl of the South' by the tourist industry, Phuket is Thailand's largest, most populous and most visited island. A whirl of colour and cosmopolitanism, Thailand's only island province revolves around and thrives on tourism, but still retains a spark of the real Thailand.

Phuket is more about doing thinsg - or doing nothing at all - than it is about sightseeing. That said, there are some interesting markets, temples, examples of Sino-Portuguese architecture and nature reserves to check out when you can go no deeper shade of brown.

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Best Time to Visit

As far as Thailand is concerned, the best time of year for a visit is between November and February. Generally, the weather is cooler during this period and there is certainly less rain than at other times in the year.

The peak seasons are August, November, December, February and March, with secondary peak months in January and July. If your main objective is to avoid crowds and to take advantage of discounted rooms and low-season rates, you should consider travelling during the least crowded months (April, May, June, September and October). On the other hand it's not difficult to leave the crowds behind, even during peak months, if you simply avoid some of the most popular destinations likeChiang Mai and all islands and beaches. This is also the prime time for diving in terms of visibility and accessibility.

Thailandís Seasons

Thailandís seasons are reasonably uniform through the country, but there are some regional differences. What follows is a summary of the seasons as they impact the kingdomís various regions:

Central Thailand and the East

In central Thailand and the eastern provinces, the really hot summer weather starts around March and goes on to around November. During this time extreme temperatures can go up to the 45 degrees centigrade mark. The winter months are November to February. There may really be only a few days of genuinely cold weather during these months, but the period leading up to the New Year are a welcome respite from the heat throughout the rest of the year. Aside from these days, visitors from Europe still may feel the temperatures as being a bit warm during Thailandís winter, although not uncomfortably so. The rainy season kicks in around the end of May and goes on until October. The rain is frequent and sometimes fierce. Usually though rainstorms go on for around 30 minutes or so, and after a storm the weather is significantly cooler.

Northern Thailand and the Northeast

Northern Thailand and the Northeast have the same basic seasons as those in the central and eastern regions. The winters are though significantly cooler. Mountainous regions can get particularly cold, on some occasions down to 0 degrees centigrade. In these parts of Thailandís winter starts in November and goes on to January. Without doubt these are the best months for a visit to the North and Northeast Ė flowers are in bloom, it is dry and cool, and in the mountains mists and fogs often form making what is already wonderful scenery exquisite.

Southern Thailand

Southern Thailandís seasons are less distinct and really there are only two proper seasons - summer and the rainy season. The Gulf of Thailand lies to the east of the Thai peninsula while the Andaman Sea lies to the west. Visiting areas west of the peninsula (Phuket, Phang Nga, Krabi) is best done between November and April to avoid the monsoons that occur during other months Ė monsoons obviously make visiting islands by boat difficult and sometimes dangerous. Clearly they are best to be avoided. Areas east of the peninsula (Koh Samui, Hat Yai) are best visited between May and October. If you are planning to visit both sides of the coast during your stay in Thailand, March to April would be the best months.

For more information please visit:  Thai Governmentís Meteorological Department Website

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Events

Many festivals are linked to Buddhist or Brahman rituals and follow a lunar calendar. New Year/Songkran, is celebrated in mid-April by 'bathing' Buddha images, paying respects to monks and elders by sprinkling water over their hands, and generally tossing a lot of water in the air for fun. Expect to get soaked, unless you'd prefer to skulk in your room. The sowing and harvesting of rice has given rise to a cycle of festivals. To kick off the official rice-planting season in early May, the king participates in an ancient Brahman ritual in a large field in central Bangkok; a Rocket Festival is held in May in the country's northeast, using a volatile mixture of bamboo and gunpowder to convince the sky to send rain for the new rice season; and the rice harvest from September through to May leads to joyous local celebrations throughout Thailand.

The Vegetarian Festival in Phuket and Trang, during which devout Chinese Buddhists eat only vegetarian food, runs for nine days from late September to early October. Merit-making processions are the most visible expression of this festival, but there are also ceremonies at Chinese temples. The Elephant Roundup in Surin in November is a festival popular with the kind of people who enjoy watching pachyderms play soccer. During the Loi Krathong Festival, held after the rainy season (usually in November), candle-lit floats are cast into waterways to bring good fortune for the coming year.

Public Holidays

1 Jan - New Year's Day

on the full moon of the third lunar month - Magha Puja

6 Apr - Chakri Day

1 May - International Labour Day

15th day of the waxing moon in the 6th lunar month - Visakha Puja

mid-late-July - Khao Phansa

12 Aug - Queen's Birthday

23 Oct - Chulalongkorn Day

5 Dec - Kingís Birthday

10 Dec - Constitution Day

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Costs / Approx. Spending

Meals

Budget:Bht90-180 Mid-range:Bht180-300
High:Bht300-500 Deluxe:Bht500+

Lodging

Budget:Bht130-650 Mid-range:Bht650-4000
High:Bht4000-10000 Deluxe:Bht10000+

If you're travelling on a budget, you should be able to get by on around THB650.00 a day anywhere in Thailand. Visitors staying in comfortable hotels and eating at restaurants should budget on around THB750.00-THB1250.00 a day outside Bangkok and around double this amount when in the capital. If money is no object, you can spend to your heart's content in Bangkok, since the capital has several of the world's most sumptuous hotels. Your spending levels will be curtailed by the scarcity of luxury accommodation and quality restaurants when you get off the beaten track.

Tipping is not customary in Thailand, although Thais are getting used to the idea of it in upmarket hotels.

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