Thailand holidaysThe sample prices are per person based on two people travelling!
Thai is the official language of Thailand, spoken in education and government. There are many dialects of Thai, with variations in both the north and south of the country. However, it is Central Thai, the version spoken in Bangkok, which serves as the lingua franca. Signs and maps are mostly bilingual in Thai and English. However, because there isn’t a standard for Thai to English transliteration, English spellings of Thai names vary. English is widely spoken by locals working in the tourism industry, although not always very well.
The official currency is the Thai baht. Most items are priced in multiples of 10 so small change is not always necessary. Twenty and 100 baht notes are most useful for small purchases. ATMs are available throughout the country. However, since 2009, all Thai banks charge foreign cards 150 baht fee on top of the card holder’s bank charges for withdrawals. Most mid-range to high-end establishments accept credit cards, but it is best to have cash for small shops and markets.
Most visitors flying into Thailand, including British nationals, automatically get 30 days of travel time. Thus, most tourists need not obtain a tourist visa from a Thai embassy outside of Thailand beforehand. However, when entering Thailand overland from the neighbouring countries of Laos, Cambodia and Malaysia, most nationals only get a 15-day visa-free stay.
The climate of Thailand is largely tropical, with warm weather all year round. During the winter months, from November to February, some degree of cold weather is experienced in the north. In some places, particularly in the mountains, the temperature dips to 5°C at this time. The same cannot be said about central and southern Thailand as hot weather prevails for most of the year. March to June is the swelteringly hot season, while monsoon rains and storms prevail throughout the months of July to October.
Bangkok is a hub not only for flights to destinations throughout Southeast Asia but also intercontinental flights servicing Europe, the Middle East and the rest of Asia. Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK), located about 15 miles (25kms) east of Bangkok’s downtown, is where most flights land. Authorities are slowly reviving Bangkok’s older airport, Don Muang (DMK), with more and more airlines scheduled to make it their Bangkok stopover.
Thailand’s national carrier, Thai Airways International, is the major airline operating in Thailand, with connections all over the world, including a direct route to London Heathrow. Other airlines servicing the direct UK to Thailand route are British Airways and EVA Air, both from Heathrow. Carriers with hubs in the Middle East, such as Etihad, Gulf Air and Emirates, are cheaper options for those who do not mind layovers and longer times in transit. The total direct flight time from London to Bangkok is 10 to 11 hours.
As Thailand is a popular travel destination and Bangkok a hub for flight routes in the region and internationally, competition is stiff among airlines. Travellers will be able to find great deals on fares throughout the year. However, it is during the high season of November to February when ticket prices, not to mention hotels rates, go up. It is best to book ahead of time to get a good bargain.
Other Transport Options
If coming from other countries in Southeast Asia and long overland journeys are not an issue, Thailand can be accessed via bus and train. There is a train route connecting Singapore, Malaysia, southern Thailand, Bangkok and Chiang Mai in northern Thailand. This is an especially good option for travellers planning to make a lot of stopovers. Buses, on the other hand, are a good option when coming from Laos or Cambodia.
Getting around Thailand is fairly easy, not to mention inexpensive. The more you are willing to endure long overland journeys, the cheaper your holiday will be, but most visitors prefer the comfort of short and inexpensive domestic flights. Roads and highways, especially those that connect major cities, are good. The main train line runs from south to north, connecting the border with Malaysia and Chiang Mai.
With fairly cheap discounted fares throughout the year, flying is a good option to get around Thailand. For a very reasonable outlay, you can fly almost anywhere in the country. Low-cost carriers, such as AirAsia, Bangkok Airways and Nok Air, are recommended. These airlines connect most major destinations in Thailand, north, east and south.
Thailand’s bus system is fairly comprehensive as it covers the entire country, especially the mountainous areas of the north and the remote regions in the east. Government buses, known as BKS or simply Transport Company, are reliable but there are also many private companies offering VIP services which offer comfy seats and meals.
The State Railway of Thailand covers around 2,500 miles (4,000kms) of train tracks in the south, north, east and northeast of the country. While trains can be slow and are prone to delays, they are safer than buses. Pre-booking of tickets is highly advisable, especially when booking the sleeper train between Bangkok and Chiang Mai. First class ticket prices are comparable with flight prices, but second class tickets offers savings over flying.
While roads and highways in Thailand are in better condition and connectivity is better than in the rest of Southeast Asia, accidents are still very common due to reckless drivers. Driving during the night is highly inadvisable. National and local car hire companies as well as motorbike hire companies are available in all major cities and common tourist stops.
Thailand offers visitors the best of Southeast Asia. From the mountains and jungles in the north to the most beautiful of tropical beaches in the south, it is highly unlikely that a visitor will leave Thailand without having had some great travel experiences.
The first stop to any Thailand trip is Bangkok. With its mad streets jammed to the brim with cars, tuk-tuk (open-air, three-wheeled taxis) and motorbikes, as well as its sprawling markets and vast malls, Bangkok gives visitors a first-hand look into the modern, urban Thai culture.
Heading south from Bangkok, you and millions of other tourists that come to Thailand each year will come upon the beautiful Thai islands. You can choose to go to the most developed of beach destinations such as Phuket, bordering the Andaman Sea, or Pattaya and Koh Samui in the Gulf of Thailand. Many mid-range to high-end luxury resort hotels have locations in these beach destinations.
One popular island destination is Koh Phi Phi, the beaches of which were made famous by the film The Beach. Then, there is the wild Full Moon Party at Koh Pha Ngan. For a more laid-back island vibe, you can head to Koh Chang in Trat province.
A trip to Thailand is incomplete without a taste of the cultures of the north. Not only do Thai northerners have their own identity, the mountains in northern Thailand are home to Thailand’s hill tribes. First stop in northern Thailand is Chiang Mai, the de facto capital of the region. Here, various activities can be arranged such as jungle trekking, zip lining, elephant riding, game fishing and river rafting.
Go further north and you will find yourself in the Golden Triangle in Chiang Rai province, famous in the old days for its opium trade. This is where the countries of Thailand, Burma (Myanmar) and Laos meet, separated only by the great Mekong River.
Because of its rich history and culture, Thailand boasts some of the top landmarks in Southeast Asia. Within Bangkok’s historic centre is Thailand’s most significant Buddhist temple. Located within Bangkok’s Grand Palace, Wat Phra Kaew, or the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, is a sight to behold with its ornate royal architecture.
Just two hours’ drive north of Bangkok is the ancient Siam capital of Ayutthaya. At its height, this UNESCO World Heritage site was the flourishing trade capital of Asia, with merchants from India, China and the Malay islands passing through here. After being pillaged by Burmese invaders, however, Ayutthaya is now only an archaeological site full of ancient stone temples and towers.
Similar to Ayutthaya is Sukhothai, also an archaeological UNESCO World Heritage site, located further to the north. This is the first capital of the Kingdom of Siam. Found here are the ruins of the old Thai capital and other historical monuments.
To explore Thailand’s more recent history, a stop at Kanchanaburi province is a must. Here, you can find a number of sites and museums depicting Thailand’s involvement in WWII. The main thing to see here is the incarnation of the Bridge on the River Kwai, the start of the infamous Japanese railway connecting Thailand and Burma.
The more adventurous travellers will want to visit two of Thailand’s most beautiful jungle reserves: Khao Yai National Park in Isaan and Khao Sok National Park in southern Thailand. Found here are ancient rainforests, pristine waterfalls and a rich diversity of plants and animals.
Because of Thailand’s popularity with western tourists and its fairly liberal attitude, its entertainment scene has grown to be legendary in Southeast Asia. The liveliest and most exciting, not to mention the seediest and grittiest nightlife, can be found in Bangkok.
The financial district of Silom is the capital’s business centre by day, but the place to party by night. The area close to Sala Daeng station is where most of the party venues are found. Also found in Silom is the infamous Patpong Night Market, a seedy centre of bars and clubs that are popular with western travellers.
Another of Bangkok’s happening place is the backpacker centre of Khao San Road. Young, western tourists on a jaunt around Southeast Asia make this their first and final stop for their travels in the region. Bars and clubs here start early in the evening and carry on well into the morning.
Meanwhile, in the north, Chiang Mai boasts some of the best nightlife in Thailand. Apart from the party venues at trendy Nimmanhemin Road, the city also has some of the best night markets. The Saturday Walking Street and Sunday Walking Street are the place to be at the weekend for locals and tourists alike.
Finally, when in the islands, it doesn’t get any better than the Full Moon Party at Koh Pha Ngan. The beach village of Haad Rin in the southern part of the island is where the biggest party in Thailand happens every month. Bars and clubs here blast loud music and hand out cheap buckets of booze throughout the night.
There is a valid reason why Thai cuisine is known the world over. Heading to Thailand to find that reason is enough to make any holiday memorable. Thai food is rich and characterised by the balancing of strong flavours. Be it street food, a seven-course meal at a five-star hotel or an elegant banquet of royal Thai cuisine, no travel to Thailand is complete without diving into its food culture no matter at what level.
Delicate western stomachs need not worry as most Thai street food is clean and safe. The most famous of these street foods is the quintessential pad Thai, thin rice noodles fried with bean sprouts, spring onions, shrimp, pork, chicken and tofu. Fruit juices and shakes made from the freshest tropical fruits are also popular, with fruit stalls found at every street corner.
In the north, Thai cuisine takes influences from Burma and northern Laos. One such dish with varying versions in each of these three countries is khao soi. The dish consists of boiled egg noodles, with thick, coconut milk-based curry as its broth, topped with crispy fried egg noodles. The curry can be served with pork, beef or chicken.
Rice is almost always eaten at every meal and consumed with various meat dishes and curries. This is especially true in southern Thailand, whose cuisine takes influences from its Malay neighbours. Massaman curry, considered one of the most delicious dishes in the world, is an Indian curry developed by Thai Muslims in the south.
Some of the best beach destinations in Southeast Asia can be found in Thailand. They are, in fact, Thailand’s top tourist attractions. There are quite a number of choices. Foremost is Phuket on the Andaman Sea coast. Found here are some of the best beach destinations and luxury beach resorts. Also bordering the Andaman is Krabi province with its famous Koh Phi Phi island. Meanwhile, in the Gulf of Thailand, the best party beach destination is Koh Pha Ngan and Koh Samui. Closer to Bangkok, Pattaya and Koh Samet are top picks.
A stay on a quiet, off-the-beaten path Thai island or in some of Thailand’s top luxury island resorts is just one romantic getaway option in this country. Even in destinations overrun with tourists, such as Koh Pha Ngan and Krabi, it is possible to hire a local boatman to take you and your significant other to a quiet island with no one around. If money is not an issue, then a stay at a top luxury resort in Phuket, his and hers spa treatment and massages included, will surely be the key to igniting the passion in your relationship.
Families on vacation will not run out of things to do in Thailand. In Bangkok, a visit to Dreamworld, Bangkok’s largest theme park, or the Floating Market will surely be an activity the kids will love. Chiang Mai, in northern Thailand, is particularly popular with families because of the animal wildlife reserves such as the Mae Sa Elephant Camp and Tiger Kingdom.
There are a number of adventure destinations in Thailand, stretching from the north to the south. With some of the most beautiful and best preserved coral reefs in the world, it is no wonder Thailand has become a top diving destination. The reefs of Koh Tao, Koh Samui and the Similan Islands are particularly popular with diving enthusiasts. In the north, adventure junkies will have the mountains close to Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai as their playgrounds. Activities here include jungle trekking, mountain biking, zip lining and river rafting.