Thailand is a country that has managed to retain its cultural integrity in spite of being a major tourist destination. You can find everything here - pristine beaches, coral reefs, dense forests, ancient monasteries, Buddhist monks, floating markets and food to treat your taste buds. The people of Thailand are some of the most hospitable people you will meet, which only add to the overall charm of this place.
Pristine beaches with great diving. Wild nightlife. Deep cultural roots. Amazing food. Cheap.
Very touristy. Not much food for vegetarians. Expensive transport on islands.
Beach lovers and diving enthusiasts. Budget travellers. Guys on a bachelor trip.
Thailand is divided into five geographical and cultural regions:
There are accommodation options for all kind of travellers in Thailand, from backpackers to the luxury travellers. Thailand's budget accommodation consists of hostels, guesthouses and bungalows which are very tourist friendly. The cheapest rooms will cost around THB 150 - 300 for two people. The most popular guesthouses near the tourist centres tend to be full during the peak seasons, so you might want to book them in advance.
The budget hotels are another option for staying in Thailand, which cost around THB 160 - 300. These are typically run by Chinese-Thais and found near bus stations or central markets. The rooms are decent, but there is rarely an on-site restaurant available in these hotels. The mid-ranking hotels cost THB 600 - 2000.
The Thai culture is heavily influenced by Buddhism and has some Indian roots. There are Hindu, Christian and Muslim minorities too.
A Thai greeting typically consists of closed hands and a slight bow of the head called the 'wai'. One pre-Buddhist tradition that can still be found in Thailand is the spirit house. These houses can be found at the corners of any house or office and are believed to keep the evil spirits at bay. Thai dances and music are ritual based and form a primary source of entertainment for the locals.
The official language of Thailand is Thai. Thai is a tonal language and is a little tricky to comprehend. The public signs found here are bilingual, written in both English and Thai. English is widely spoken, especially in tourist areas as Thailand sees a great influx of visitors throughout the year.
Thailand offers an incredible culinary experience, with Bangkok and Chiang Mai dominating the food scene. The best of Thai cuisines can be found in these two areas. Thai curries flavoured with herbs, roots, spices and chillies represent the flavours of Southeast Asia. A Thai meal is mainly dominated by rice which cools the fiery flavours of the curry.
The best part about Thailand that is you never need to enter a restaurant to eat, since there are large numbers of hawkers selling street food at every corner. Most of these road side stalls are pretty hygienic and can safely be eaten at.
When in Thailand, do visit the local night markets which are gatherings of open-air night-time kitchens found everywhere in the country. They are not the cheapest option, costing around THB 150 for a person. However, they are worth experiencing. They typically operate from 18:00 - 6:00 in the morning and can be found in the central areas of the cities.
Drinking the tap water is not recommended and it is advisable to buy packaged drinking water. When in Thailand do try the Thai iced tea. It is very strong and very sweet and served with a dash of condensed milk. Fruit juices and coconut water are also very popular in Thailand and sold on the streets.
The popular beers here are Singha and Chang, widely available throughout the country. Alcohol buckets, which are literally buckets filled with a few varieties of alcohol and mixers, stand out as offerings at pubs and bars. These are more often than not a rip-off, as the alcohol content is very low in these mixes. They are worth a try though.
Thai Baht (THB)
The currency of Thailand is Baht, which consists of six kinds of coins and notes. The most useful of them are the bills of 20 and 100 as the local vendors tend to ask for change. No other currency is accepted in Thailand.
Credit cards can be used at all the big retail stores and restaurants. However, most local stores don't take them.
ATMs are found in most major cities in Thailand and withdrawal is not a problem. If you are using a debit card, ATMs will provide a much better exchange rate than the money counters. There is a surcharge of 150 Bahts for using the foreign ATM cards in all banks. You can also carry traveller's cheques as many remote areas are devoid of an ATM.
An attractive option for bachelor parties around the world, Thailand is the party destination in Asia. Thailand nightlife is affordable, it is ubiquitous, but most importantly, it can be totally wild!
Most places in Thailand offer their own brand of nightlife. If it's the unspeakable kind of fun you are looking for, head to the infamous Walking Street in Pattaya. Amass with a-go-go bars, cabarets and strip clubs, Pattaya is a must-visit for your bachelor trip. Phuket adds to this its beach parties, while Bangkok adds its rooftop bars on top of tall skyscrapers. The Full Moon Party, which is held on all full moon nights at the Haad Rin beach in Koh Pha Ngan, is another unique feature of the Thailand nightlife. Chiang Mai offers a relatively quieter time and can be quite charming with its pubs playing live music by the river.
Thailand is a shopper's paradise, and many people travel to this country specifically to shop. Thai speciality is the night markets which are found in every town. The biggest night markets are the ones in Bangkok and Chiang Mai. These markets normally have items which cannot be found in any mall or day markets. These markets also usually have a food court attached to it, which only adds to the fun of shopping.
Haggling is the norm in many of the local markets, and you will find many vendors trying to charge as much as they think you can afford. These vendors drop the prices drastically once they know you have an idea of what it costs. It is okay to bargain for prices but not as hard as you might do in some other countries.
Shopping can also be done from the duty-free shops located at Bangkok, Phuket, Chiang Mai and Had Yai airports. Souvenirs such as handicrafts, ceramic, jewellery, textiles and antiques are available at these shops and are excellent value.
The culture of Thailand is an amalgamation of a variety of religions and has influences from the neighbouring countries of India and China. And so, doubtlessly, the Thai celebrate a large number of festivals throughout the year. The reasons behind these festivals are the usual - thanking the gods, warding off evil, welcoming good fortune. Reasons notwithstanding, these festivals can be fun, picturesque and totally bizarre, sometimes all three at once.
The most popular festival is the Songkran festival or the Water festival, celebrated during the Thai New Year. Other festivals which can be an interesting experience include the Lopburi Monkey Banquet, the Vegetarian festival and Yi Peng (the Lantern festival).
Since Thailand is a tropical country, it has its share of tropical diseases. Malaria is generally not found in the country but is endemic to some of the rural areas. Like in most of the South-east Asian countries, dengue can be found just about anywhere, so one needs to be very careful. Cover your legs and arms after dusk and carry a mosquito repellent.
Food hygiene level is very high in Thailand, and you can easily eat the street food being offered. However, it is preferable to use bottled water for drinking. Beware of dairy products made with unboiled milk. Go for freshly cooked meat over reheated one. Avoid eating raw vegetables and fruits.