General Thailand Information
Originally called Siam, Thailand is
a country rich in culture and natural beauty. It has been blessed with expansive natural
parks, fertile plains, remote jungles, beaches washed by turquoise waters and tropical
islands bathed in endless sunshine.
The country has more visible historical evidence of
its past cultures than any other country in Southeast Asian. Its history is very complex,
involving the invasion of many different peoples, the rule of different kings, the
establishment of various kingdoms and the interaction of diverse cultures.
The period of time from the mid
1800's until now is probably the most important in terms of the formation of modern day
Thailand. King Mongkut, who ruled the country from 1851 to 1868, was a well educated,
ex-monk who kept Thailand safe from European expansion. His son, Chulalongkorn, took over
in 1868 and continued theenlightenment and modernization of Thailand. King
Chulalongkornmade great strides in improving the country, however he refused to allow his
people democratic rights. This finally led to a takeover by Thai intellectuals, along with
military help, in 1932.
The name of the country was changed
from Siam to Thailand in 1939 by Prime Minister Phibun Songkhram, mainly because he wanted
to disassociate his country from the past. Translated literally, Thailand means "Land
of the Free".
The Thai race was previously
believed to have originated somewhere near Mongolia, later moving southward. However, new
theories based on historical discoveries regard the northeastern part of Thailand as the
birthplace of the Thai race.
Over the years, the country has
become home to many immigrants. The Thai people have managed to preserve the traditions of
their unique culture, at the same time absorbing the practices of modern living.
Nevertheless, the combination of
cultures and backgrounds of these immigrants make Thailand an interesting and memorable
country to visit. Tourism has become an important industry in the country. More people
visit Thailand than any other country in Southeast Asia. In 2000, more than 9? million
people visited Thailand.
Conventional long form: Kingdom of Thailand
Conventional short form: Thailand
Government type: constitutional
National capital: Bangkok
Independence: 1238 (traditional
founding date; never colonized)
National holiday: Birthday of His
Majesty the King, 5 December (1927)
Legal system: based on civil law
system, with influences of common law; has not accepted compulsory ICJ jurisdiction
Chief of state: King PHUMIPHON Adunyadet (since 9 June 1946); Heir Apparent Crown Prince
WACHIRALONGKON (born 28 July 1952)
Head of government: Prime Minister
Cabinet: Council of Ministers
Note: there is also a Privy Council
Elections : none; the king is a constitutional monarch; prime minister designated from
among the members of the House of Representatives; following elections in the House of
Representatives, the leader of the party that wins a plurality of seats usually becomes
Thailand has a humid, tropical
climate, and it is hot all year round.Summer is from March to May with average
temperatures around 93 F (34 C), but the temperature can reach over 105 F (40 C) for
Summer monsoons begin as the warm
humid air masses flow towards the north from the Indian Ocean. The monsoons end in the
fall when the wind reverses direction with the dry southwesterlies. The rainy season, with
periods of sunshine, lasts from June to September, with temperatures ranging from 80 F to
89 F (27 C to 32 C). The amount of rainfall varies with topography. The northeast receives
the least rain, while the south is flooded during the summer months.
The best time to visit Thailand is
during the cool season, from October though February, when it is not as humid as during
the summer and the rainy seasons. The average temperature is around 18 C to 32 C. During
this season, it can be very chilly in the north, with temperatures dropping to 7 C) at
Currency is the Thai Baht.
VISA and Mastercard are readily
accepted, American Express a bit less.
In Thailand, most middle class
hotels and restaurants as well as travel agents have the bad habit of charging you a fee
of 3 to 7% extra when you pay with your card. In the beginning I argued about this,
sometimes with success. Still, I think it is against the rules and you should protest,
maybe they'll change at the end.
It's quite easy to get a cash
advance with your card, although they will meticulously control every detail: passport,
signature, phonecall to the bank etc... I don't know about the costs yet.
Changing cash is no problem, and
there are no charges. Most Western currencies are accepted, but smaller currencies like
the Dutch Guilder get a bad rate compared to the US$.
You will consistently get more for
50 and 100 US$ notes then for smaller notes. Also make sure you get new notes, as some
banks do not accept older notes. One bank stated they did not accept the 1996 series.
Traveler checks are also readily
accepted, and above all you'll get a rate which is about 0,5 to 0,8% above the cash rate.
On the other hand there's a handling fee of 23 Bht per check, but for a 100 US$ cheques
you'll end up with a slightly better exchange rate.
About 56 countries are exempted from
getting a visa, and these citizens can get into the country for 30 days.
Citizens of another 99 countries can
get a tourist visa of 15 days upon arrival in the main airports.
Apart from that there are 3
Transit visa: 30 days, 200 Bht
Tourist visa: 60 days, 300 Bht
Non-immigrant visa: 90 days, 500
Bht, not available at airports.
Overstaying you visa will be fined
with 200 Bht per day (you are allowed to overstay with 24 hours at no extra cost to be
A passport and proof of onward passage are required for entry and exit by citizens of the
U.S., Canada, Australia and the UK. Those planning to stay longer than 30 days must obtain
a visa upon entering the country. Reconfirm all travel document requirements with carrier
If you have a slight case of
diarrhea, resist the urge to run to a local doctor -- most are quick to prescribe an
antibiotic whether there's reason to or not. If your ailment continues for more than three
or four days, see a doctor.
Drugstores are plentiful in Bangkok, and you don't need a
prescription to purchase medicine, which is generally reliable.
Be very cautious around animals:
Incidents of rabies are extremely high in rural areas and not unknown in Bangkok.
Tap water is treated, but to varying
degrees, so it's best to drink either boiled or bottled water. (Sometimes restaurants will
serve water that seems to have a slightly brown cast to it. This is actually a good sign
-- they've boiled the water and thrown in a tea leaf to prove it.) The better hotels have
Bangkok is crowded with street
vendors selling everything from omelettes to dessert crepes saturated in sugar and
sweetened condensed milk.
The general rule of thumb is that if it's hot and prepared right
in front of you, it's probably safe, but stay away from stalls that prepare food in
advance or aren't conscientious about brushing away flies. Outside of the large hotels,
sanitation is not up to the standards of industrialized countries (this applies to street
stands and open-air restaurants; enclosed restaurants usually maintain high standards of
Hot, freshly cooked food should be safe if the meat is well done. Peel
raw fruits and vegetables.
Although many visitors from other
countries claim they "love curries," Thai curries affect some digestive systems
differently from others. Ask that foods be mai pet (without too many chili peppers and hot
sauces) when starting your culinary explorations and then gradually work up to the intense
Sanitary napkins of every dimension are sold in 7-11 and many other
Thai condoms are unreliable --
supposedly they have an 11% failure rate. Take along better quality condoms from home.
AIDS is a serious problem in Thailand, and it's wise to avoid intimate contact with the
prostitutes in adult entertainment areas such as Patpong.
Bangkok uses 50-cycle, 220-volts AC.
A standard voltage adapter is sufficient. If you forget yours, you can buy one in Thailand
or borrow one from your hotel. Most outlets are set up for two prongs, round and flat, but
you will find the occasional three-prong outlet in more modern establishments.
The determining factor on what to
wear for most people visiting Bangkok is the relentless heat. Take clothes made from
lightweight natural fibers, because donning synthetic clothes is like wearing a plastic
bag in a sauna (even though Thais love synthetics, and sources for cotton clothing are
hard to find).
As far as business dress goes, it's
impossible to overdress.
Man or woman, you can't go wrong in a business suit, no matter
what the temperature is. Just pray for air-conditioning. Women can't wear too much makeup
in this status-obsessed society.
Rules for restaurant attire are much
more liberal. Very few require a jacket and tie.
For tourists, shorts, T-shirts and
sandals are acceptable -- but just barely.
You should know that you are instantly
identifying yourself as a tourist, and that many Thais take exception to exposed skin.
Aside from prostitutes, it's a rare Thai or expatriate woman who will wear sleeveless
blouses or shorts in public. Not many Thai men wear shorts or T-shirts.
When visiting religious monuments and
temples, long pants or skirts are mandated (and note that shoes should be removed before
entering religious shrines, private homes and some businesses -- the pile of shoes outside
the door will tip you off).
Many villagers from outlying areas
arrive in Bangkok hoping for a better life. Few find it. Many end up as street vendors,
some as prostitutes, and a not insignificant number become con artists, petty thieves or
Most crimes are committed by locals against locals and are seldom violent,
but travelers should take these basic precautions to avoid becoming victims:
Don't wear expensive jewelry or
watches when touring, and especially not after dark. Stow them in the safe in your hotel
room or at the front desk. Be sure to keep credit cards secure; if they're left in hotel
rooms, they can be stolen.
Beware of pickpockets on overcrowded public transportation, and
stay on well-lit streets after dark. Consult your hotel's concierge or front-desk staff if
you're unsure whether an activity or area is safe.
Don't take prostitutes (or, for that
matter, any stranger) to your room. You're exposing yourself not only to serious health
risks, but also to the possibility of robbery. Don't buy drugs (readily available in
Bangkok). Many drug dealers turn around and report the buyer to the police for a reward.
Thailand forcefully prosecutes foreigners.
Police who stop you on the street
without reason and ask to see a passport probably have evil intentions. Never get into a
police car under such circumstances. Disregard tuk-tuk drivers and other chatty folk who
will tell you an attraction is "closed today." (They're hoping to take you on a
Don't talk, either, to the well-dressed, middle-aged, mobile-phoned Asian
men who strike up conversations near Erawan Shrine and the intersection of Surawong and
Rama IV Roads. Be skeptical of tourists who approach you saying they've run out of money.
Don't accept drinks or candy from anyone while on a train or bus, no matter how innocent
it may seem, or rude to refuse. (The offering may be laced with drugs to induce sleep
while the friendly local makes off with your luggage.)
A few years ago the Bangkok city
government passed a tough litter control measure aimed at cleaning up the city. As you
will see, it has had no effect whatever. Nonetheless, you should heed the bilingual
posters threatening fines of 2,000 baht or US$100. Don't be complacent, even if surrounded
by Thais shedding plastic bags and you haven't passed a litter bin in an hour. Tourists,
including their children, are specifically targeted! You can be fined US$50 for dropping a
cigarette butt. Be especially litter conscious at tourist sites and near long-distance bus
stations, which are hunting grounds favored by police.
Should you get into trouble, Bangkok
has a large, helpful and friendly force of tourist police who speak English. They're
headquartered at 29/1 Unico Building, Soi Lang Suan, Ploenchit Road, phone 1699 or
652-1721. For further help, call the Tourist Assistance Center, 282-8129 or 281-5051. As
with most Thai agencies that deal with tourists, English is spoken to some degree. To
boost your chances of being understood over the phone, speak slowly and enunciate.
In the event of a serious problem,
contact the appropriate diplomatic headquarters: the Australian Embassy, 37 S. Sathorn
Rd., phone 287-6280, the British Embassy, 1031 Wittayu (Wireless) Rd., phone 253-0191/9;
the Canadian Embassy, 11th Floor, Boonmitr Building, 138 Silom Rd., phone 237-4125; or the
U.S. Embassy, 95 Wittayu (Wireless) Rd., next to the Imperial Hotel, phone 252-5040.
Mobile Police, 191; Fire Brigade,
199; Ambulance, 252-2171; Tourist Assistance Center, 281-5051 or 282-8129.
The country code for Thailand is 66,
Bangkok city code is 2. In Bangkok, dial a 0 before the number when calling outside of
your area code. The number 1 or 01 in front of a number indicates that it's a mobile
phone. Numbers that are only three or four digits long appear incomplete, but they are
Dial 13 for Directory Assistance,
and be patient: An English speaker will be found. Listings are neither comprehensive nor
up to date. Few of the public telephones work. The few that are equipped for international
calls are clearly marked. Those labeled in yellow Long-Distance signify that they're for
long-distance calls within Thailand.
Fees for using phones from hotel rooms are steep, but
few hotels have public phones in their lobbies; therefore, those in the city on business
may want to rent a mobile phone from their hotel. Prices will hover around US$15 per day,
with additional charges per call. Expect erratic reception.
Time, phone 181. Weather, 398-9830.
Thailand is seven hours
ahead of Greenwich Mean Time. Daylight Saving Time is not observed.
The VAT (value-added tax) has been
raised to 7%, levied in hotels, restaurants, supermarkets and department stores. Tourists
cannot be reimbursed for the VAT, although the possibility of reimbursements for purchases
in excess of 5,000 baht is being discussed. Big hotels and pretentious restaurants will
tack on an additional 20% service fee. The departure tax paid upon leaving the country by
air has been raised to 750 baht.