Welcome to the land of Smiles
Most visitors get their first introduction to the country in Bangkok, the “City of Angels”. A contrast to its traditional sister cities, Bangkok is a glitzy metropolis with towering skyscrapers, gleaming shopping malls, hip restaurants and international nightclubs. From Bangkok, most visitors head either north or south. Northern destinations include the former capital city of Sukhothai, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and the Golden Triangle. The north is known for its fantastic trekking possibilities, colourful hill tribes, and peaceful Lanna culture. In recent years, Chiang Mai has become a center for learning with places offering classes in Thai culture like Thai massage, Thai cooking, fruit carving, meditation, and yoga. Southern Thailand has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, most notably Krabi, Koh Samui, and Phuket. Luxury resorts along with lively entertainment and international restaurants are a common feature at these beach destinations. Thailand offers an endless array of activities and attractions which is the reason why many travelers make more than one visit to this fascinating country.
Long established as a popular holiday destination, Thai hospitality welcomes people with open arms. With a diverse range of destinations it has something for everyone from the idyllic beaches and limestone cliffs of the south to the wild jungles and mountains of the north and everything in between. It is even popular for those who like a bit of an urban adventure.
In between activities, take time to sample some of the delectable Thai food and visit some of the most charming temples on earth.
About a third of Thailand’s 65 million people live in urban areas. 75% are ethnic Thais, who may be divided into three groups with different dialects: the central Thais of the Chao Phraya Delta; the Thai Lao of the northeast; and the Thai Pak Tai of the south. People of Chinese descent account for about 10% of the population, and Malays for about four percent. Some smaller ethnic groups are concentrated in highland regions. Ethnic groups from neighboring countries, such as the Hmong and Akha groups from southern China, tend to migrate to northern Thailand and are often seen by tourists.
Some 95% of the population practices Theravada Buddhism. This branch of Buddhism, sometimes called the “Southern School”, is also followed in Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar.
About the same size as France, Thailand offers everything from high mountains in the north to tropical islands in the south. The country is divided into four main geographic regions: a fertile central area fed by the Chao Phraya River; a north-eastern plateau; the mountains and fertile valleys of the north; and the rainforests and beaches of the southern peninsula. To the east this peninsula borders the Gulf of Thailand, to the west the Andaman Sea. Hundreds of islands dot both sides of the peninsula.
Thailand can best be described as tropical and humid for the majority of the country during most of the year. The area of Thailand north of Bangkok has a climate determined by three seasons while the southern peninsular region of Thailand has only two.
In northern Thailand the seasons are clearly defined. Between November and May the weather is mostly dry, however this is broken up into the periods November to February and March to May. The latter of these two periods has higher temperatures. The other northern season is from May to November and is dominated by the southwest monsoon, during which time rainfall in the north is at its heaviest. The average high temperature for this region is 32ºC (90ºF) and average low is 21ºC (70ºF), although it can drop down to as low as 8ºC (46ºF) in the winter months.
The central region of Thailand has a hot, tropical climate with daytime temperature reaching the mid-30 ºC (91ºF) throughout the year. November to February is the driest time of year and the most popular with tourists. March, April and May are the hottest months, and the rainy season runs from May to October. During the wet season short showers are likely during the afternoon, though some days it will rain all day.
The southern region of Thailand really has only two seasons - the wet and the dry. These seasons do not run at the same time on the east and west sides of the peninsular. On the west coast the southwest monsoon brings rain from May through to October, whilst on the east coast the most rain falls between September and December. The average high temperature is 33ºC (91ºF) and average low is 25ºC (77ºF).
In general, the best time to visit Thailand is from November to February when the northeast monsoon is blowing cool dry air. During this cool season, the temperature ranges from 18ºC (64ºF) to 32ºC (90ºF) in Bangkok, while in northern and northeast Thailand, temperatures can get quite cool with morning temperatures as low as 8º C (46ºF) to 12º C (54ºF) with the occasional 20ºC (68F) day. Nights can be particularly chilly and at high altitudes the temperatures can and do drop below freezing.
The history of Thailand begins with the migration of the Thais from their ancestral home in southern China into mainland Southeast Asia around the 10th century AD. Prior to this, Mon, Khmer and Malay kingdoms ruled the region. Thais consider the Sukhothai Kingdom, which arose in 1238, to be the first true Thai kingdom and a golden age of peace and prosperity. In 1376 Sukhothai was annexed by the Thai kingdom of Ayutthaya, which defeated the Khmer kingdom of Angkor in 1431. These states fought each other and were under constant threat from the Khmers, Burma and Vietnam. Much later, the European colonial powers threatened in the 19th and early 20th centuries, but Thailand survived as the only Southeast Asian state to avoid colonial rule. After the end of the absolute monarchy in 1932, Thailand endured sixty years of almost permanent military rule before the establishment of the current democratic system.
Thai cuisine is world-famous and consists of a blend of particular tastes: hot (spicy), sour (piquant), sweet, and always highlighted with citrus (lemongrass and lime). Although Thais generally prefer spicy food, not all dishes are so intense and there are grades of Spiciness as Thai food can be modulated to suit most tastes. Thailand is also the perfect place for a large choice of tropical fruits such as mangos, pineapple, mangosteens, as well as durian for its very special smell and taste.
Drinking tap water is not advisable. Bottled drinking water is widely available for a reasonable price. The majority of hotels and restaurants will use hygienic ice, however, if eating at a market or on the street it may be best to avoid ice.
Southeast Asia is still developing, and so its people can be very persistent when trying to make money, especially around tourists whom they may perceive as very wealthy. People will try to overcharge you, but rather than becoming irritated, join the game and bargain hard! It is also recommendable to check prices of the same items in the neighborhood before reaching a deal. If you being followed by street vendors and do not wish to make a purchase, often the best course of action is say “no” firmly and politely, and continue on your way. Do not hesitate or linger, as this will encourage the seller to try and engage you further. Upscale boutiques and shopping malls in Thailand have set prices. If you choose to ship items home, we highly recommend that you buy shipping insurance and check the policy details. As shops are not responsible for damages incurred en route, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Southeast Asia is still developing, and so its people can be very persistent when trying to make money, especially around tourists whom they may perceive as very wealthy. People will try to overcharge you, but rather than becoming irritated, join the game and bargain hard! It is also recommendable to check prices of the same items in the neighborhood before reaching a deal. If you are being followed by street vendors and do not wish to make a purchase, often the best course of action is say “no” firmly and politely, and continue on your way. Do not hesitate or linger, as this will encourage the seller to try and engage you further. Upscale boutiques and shopping malls in Thailand have set prices. If you choose to ship items home, we highly recommend that you buy shipping insurance and check the policy details. As shops are not responsible for damages incurred en route, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
For men and women greeting either men or women of the same approximate age, greeting those of higher social status (monks, teachers, doctors, government big-shots), or greeting someone who is your elder, the “wai” (hands are placed in a prayer position and then touched to somewhere between the chest and top of the head) is used.
In Thailand, revealing clothing is unacceptable off the beach. Shorts are generally fine, as long as they aren’t too short.
When visiting pagodas and temples, shorts and tank-tops are unacceptable. Your knees and shoulders must be covered. Footwear and socks must be removed in religious sites. Shoes are often removed upon entering private homes too. Visitors to the Royal Palace in Bangkok are required to wear closed-toe shoes, long trousers (or skirts) and sleeved tops. Some upscale nightclubs and restaurants in Bangkok will refuse entry to men wearing flip-flops.
For women, it is best to avoid touching or sitting next to monks.
The Thais are devoted to their royal family. It is unacceptable to make disparaging comments about the monarchy. Everyone is expected to stand upon hearing the national or royal anthem. If you go to a movie in Thailand you should stand during the tribute to the king.
Thai people are deeply religious, and that for most of them, Buddhism plays an important role in their lives. Buddhism and traditional values place great importance on family, friends and social harmony.