Thailand offers an unbeatable combination of Eastern exoticism and Western modernism that brings ten million people a year to the country's gorgeous beaches and magical countryside.
The Thai people are renowned for being friendly and hospitable, in spite of the massive influx of foreign visitors over the last few years. Billed as the "Land of Smiles", Thailand has an extraordinary diversity of flavours and sights to experience. A lot of people are pleasantly surprised at how modern the country is, with its up-to-date facilities. Nowhere is this more evident than in the vibrant capital Bangkok, where a burgeoning 21st century city is growing around centuries-old relics and icons.
Thailand is celebrated for its outstanding beaches from the secluded sands of Koh Chang near Cambodia, to the world-famous full-moon parties of Koh Phang-Nga and the luxury of Phuket's beach resorts. And of course there is the wonderfully rich and accessible culture to explore, from the temples of Bangkok to the hill tribes of Chiang Mai.
Thailand also remains an inexpensive destination with something to offer travellers of every budget - and the tourists that descend on the country are often every bit as varied and interesting as the colourful inhabitants.
Add to all this the delectable food and a perfect climate and you too will fall in love with this exciting and hospitable country.
Demographics and Stats
The Thais are justly known as a laid back, friendly people who are enthusiastic about life and hospitable to foreigners (farangs). The culture is largely underpinned by Buddhism, evidenced by the many wats and temples, and by valuing mutual respect and an appreciation for the present moment.
Thais have great respect and reverence for the monarchy. Thailand has a largely homogenous population of 61 million people, 90 per cent of who are practising Therevada Buddhists. Over 75 per cent of the people live in rural farming areas.
Thailand is a highly rated shopping destination, with competitive prices and an astounding range of merchandise from computer software to unusual souvenirs and handcrafts. The colourful markets are particularly worthwhile, although your haggling skills will be tested at every transaction.
Thai silk is of a very high quality and can be bought woven and dyed from markets and shops throughout the country. Thai silk sarongs make an ideal gift. Ratten and wickerwork may not fit in your suitcase but most dealers will be able to ship your purchases home for you. Gemstones are exceptionally good value whether bought uncut, or set in fine jewellery. Our advice is keep to licensed shops and retailers in Bangkok.
Counterfeit culture: Although less brazen than the markets of Vietnam and Cambodia, Thailand has an abundance of counterfeit goods and brand name clothing. CDs, CD-ROMs, cassettes and DVDs cost a fraction of the price of their legitimate equivalents. Knock-off watches are also big business; the copies are remarkably accurate, but don't expect a guarantee. Note: Counterfeit merchandise may be freely available but it is illegal, even in Thailand.
Tailoring: The tailors of Bangkok and Chiang Mai create good quality suits and dresses according to your style and specification, within a 48-hour period. Take in a magazine and they will be able to copy the design perfectly. Prices are a fraction of the European or American equivalent. Bargain hard, but expect to pay in the region of THB4000 for a suit.
Shops are generally open from 10h00-22h00 Mon-Sun. When leaving Thailand, all non-Thai visitors who have been in the country for less than 180 days and who depart by air from one of the International airports can apply for a tax refund on goods bought.
Currency: Baht (THB). THB1=100 satang
Notes: THB20, 50, 100, 500 and 1000
Coins: THB1, 5, 10 and 25 and 50 satang
Credit cards: Major credit cards, including American Express, are widely accepted in hotels, restaurants and shops. The use of Diners Club, however, is more limited.
Thailand has a world class transport infrastructure and is certainly the best in the region. Through using buses, boats and trains you can reach any destination you choose in style and comfort - and at a very reasonable price. The roads are good, except in rural areas where a bumpy ride is likely. Public buses are mostly air-conditioned and enjoy very comprehensive route coverage.
Trains are a very comfortable and enjoyable way to cover long distances. Two pieces of advice: Book well ahead, and bring your own food. There are four main railway lines, plus some side routes. Good timetables in English are available free of charge at Hualamphong train station in central Bangkok, near Chinatown.
A valid International Driving Licence is required if you wish to hire a car in Thailand. Your passport and driving licence must be carried with you at all times when driving. To rent a vehicle in Thailand, you must be 21 years of age. Most rental places will have pre-insured their vehicles - ask, in the nicest possible way, to see proof of this. If none is forthcoming it is advisable to walk away.
Yellow fever is not a risk to travellers in Thailand, but a yellow fever vaccination and vaccination certificate is required for visitors over six months of age that are residents in or have travelled in affected areas. Carriers of infectious diseases including AIDS, are not allowed entry into Thailand.
Malaria is present in some rural areas, especially along the borders near Cambodia and Myanmar. If planning to travel in rural areas consult your doctor about anti-malaria prophylactic treatment before you travel. You are not at real risk from malaria in cities or tourist resorts.
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Thailand enjoys a tropical climate with an average temperature of 28°C throughout the year. The best time of year to visit is between November to March. Be aware that it is the monsoon season between June and late September.