Unlike its neighbours, Thailand has never been colonised. As a result, locals call their country, the “land of the free”, and tourists call it “the jewel of Southeast Asia”. Regardless of which you prefer, it remains the most popular destination in South East Asia. Tourism developed as early as the 1980s. Since then it has been the tourism capital of Asia. Starting with mass tourism, it has diversified to become the most sought after destination of Asia year after year, despite recent atrocities. Long been considered an easy escape, and many still associate it as an ideal destination for a wedding or honeymoon, golf or beach vacation! This wondrous kingdom has something for everyone: from delectable food, wildlife and beaches to islands and floating markets.
If the country is shaped like an elephant’s head, then Bangkok its capital is its golden tooth. Situated near the Gulf, Bangkok has a population 13 times larger than the next biggest city. The most frequented cities by tourists are Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Phuket. A plus-side for visitors is that English is widely understood. Apart from this, Thailand is a safe county. Theft is not common. Nonetheless, what tourists should be wary of are those “helpful” tuk-tuk drivers who propose places other than where one desires. The weather is another issue to note. Flooding occurs annually during the monsoon season—August and September are the worst months, unless you don’t mind being stranded on island resorts.
Despite the economic benefits that tourism brings, planning has often been short-sighted, and environmental degradation an inevitable consequence. The country has long passed the first stage of tourism development, one reliant on nature. The next stages require heavy infrastructure investment. So, quality tourism will be key to sustaining tourism development well into the future. Central to this is catering to those well-educated and high-earning tourists who do not mind paying a premium for responsible and sustainable travel.
Although Thailand is an international hub, still, surprisingly, the country’s cultural integrity remains intact. Thailand was and remains an ancient land, where you can appreciate temples, palaces and ancient ruins. It remains the only country in Southeast Asia to never have been colonized. To maintain sovereignty, foreign trade taxes were reduced and royal monopolies abolished. As a result, the kingdom became wealthier and its army better equipped. For the tourist, much of its history remains in-tact for all to appreciate.
Religion, monarchy and the military are perhaps the three greatest forces that shape society. Kings are held at high esteem, every home and business had his picture on their wall. What’s more, it is known for its contrasting dual image of "Temples and Brothels". Buddhism penetrates every aspect of society, from architecture to daily life. Whereas, ever since it was a US military base, GI presence has promoted Bangkok as the "Brothel of Asia". Today’s "sex capital" of the world is sustained by unskilled labour flowing into the city as go-go girls in Patpong Road or other similar establishments.
Because everyone is smiling and the sun is shining
Everybody likes warm, sunny weather. It is a country of smiles. That’s why Bangkok is viewed as a perfect destination. The city is warm all year long round. While it does not have the highest peak temperatures, the country’s capital is the hottest city in the world, an average of 28°C (82.4°F).
Maybe it is the good weather that has left many people with positive impressions of the country. But that is not all. It is also the kindness and happiness found in people. Locals are genuinely friendly and only too willing to help. They are known for their hospitality and warmness. In Thai, you’ll learn the art of “Mai Pen Rai,” or as Aussies say ‘No worries mate!”
Because of its location and convenience
Situated at a crossroads of Southeast Asia, Thailand lies in the middle of everything. A perfect stopover in the Asia-Pacific: three hours to Hong Kong, two hours to Singapore, four hours to Bali and half way between Australia and Europe. It’s an ideal place to start your overseas adventure.
Local speak Thai as their native tongue, but English is the lingua franca. Apart from language, Bangkok is a cosmopolitan and international city, featuring an array of international restaurants. More than that, Bangkok is a convenient city, taxis are always available, shops and restaurants are open until wee-hours of morning.
Because your money goes a long way!
It was once said, “The dollar goes a long way in Thailand”. But today repeated visitors reminisce, “It ain’t as cheap as it used to be.” Bangkok now ranks as the second most expensive city in Southeast Asia, behind Singapore.
Upon saying that, still, as one expects resorts, hotels and food remain significantly less than you would pay back home, unless you are already living in South East Asia! The costs of moving around the country is cheap. Plus, tailor-made dresses or suits are a better price than back at home. While you cannot live like a king on a daily budget of US$ 20-$30 a day, as you once could, travelling nowadays requires more than a generous budget.
For the price-conscious, affordable living and bargains can be found by those willing to shop around. We all know that in tourist areas, it is common to be charged several times more than the actual price. So, the easiest way to save is to simply live like a local and shop where locals and expats routinely go.
You’ll never go hungry in Thailand. Everywhere you go, you’ll find food. Thailand along with France, Italy and Hong Kong are considered the world’s greatest culinary destinations. Even though hygiene and cleanliness may not be up to a Western standards, the food industry is not trying to poison you. But let us warn you, if you don’t, you will really miss out!
What to eat?
Those who like Thai food but haven’t been to the country, are not only missing out, but probably don’t realise how diverse Thai food really is. Below are a few dishes to put some spice in your life, giving you the option to try something other than the much loved pad Thai and Tom Yum soup.
The Thais eat something quite different to their Western counterparts.
Jauk or rice porridge is served with either minced pork or chicken. The rice porridge and stock are served together in a bowl.
Pa-tong-goh or deep-fried donuts is a lot of fun to watch vendors make. Try to get the original fat X-shape, where two pieces join together. Those with a sweet tooth will love to dip it in a sweetened condensed milk or green or orange Thai custard (sang-khaya).
Thais will have a plate or bowl of something, like curry with rice, fried noodles, or noodle soup.
Pad see ew is perhaps the most common stirred fried noodle dish. It is made of thick ice noodles with soy sauce.
Kway Teow Soup is a fish balls with vermicelli in chicken soup, bean sprouts and prawn.
If you opt for something familiar, Tom Yum—the tangiest spicy Thai shrimp soup is available in countless varieties. Depending on what you can take, “mai pet” (meaning “not spicy”, one chili). But the essentials are all there: lemongrass, lime leaves, galangal, chilies, and shrimp.
As a major world producer and exporter, rice is a popular staple. In Thai cuisine, a full meal consists of rice and four dishes, including a soup, a curry and salad.
Must try items include oyster omelette and sticky rice. Oyster omelette consists of a heavenly combination of oyster and eggs, made into a patty of crispy fried batter; and can be easily found at Chinatown. Khao niew or steamed sticky rice on a banana leaf is a very filling meal.
Glutinous rice is consumed with various pastes, or chili, grilled or fried fish. It can also be part of a dessert, such as khao niew ma muang served with mango (Westerners prefer the nam dok mai variety). Another well-loved dessert is khao niew nam gati turian or sticky rice durian. Lovers of durian go crazy over this dessert, but those not used to its aroma find it disturbing.
Another refreshing delight for the sweet-tooth is coconut ice-cream, I-dtim mat phrao. In Bangkok it is made of coconut (rather than cow’s milk) and served with crushed peanuts, red bean and mango. It can be bought from mobile vendors in a number of places, including Lumpini Park entrance.
Both durian and mango are native to the region and are seasonal fruits. Mango is available from March to June, and durian from May to August. Another local favourite is mangosteen or locally known as mang-khud, a tropical thick reddish-purple fruit appearing from May to September. The "queen of fruits" is deliciously sweet and slightly sour, when ripe, the rink becomes dark-purple.
Other than these authentic tastes, today’s predominance of “falang” (tourists and expats) means a diverse of more international flavours are also available if ever tourists are missing something more familiar.
What to drink?
The ultimate thirst quencher is coconut water. A natural product of the region, coconuts protect us against harmful bacteria and viruses. Roadside stall are hard to miss.
Saeng Som and Mehkong are the two most consumed beverages. These brown liquors resemble rum more than whiskey. Tourists can find them at 7-Eleven, super markets or at the airport. Chang beer is another popular beverage.
Bottled water (น้ำเปล่า naam plao) can be purchased at ฿5-20. Generally, tap water is fine for brushing your teeth or washing dishes, but not drinking. Water served at restaurants is always at least boiled.
Unforgettable dining experiences
Apart from the variety and freshness, adventurous holidaymakers can also enjoy an exceptional experience like none other. On Ko Kut, a perfect Thai island with more coconut palms than buildings, you can enjoy nesting high in the air and watching the sunset as you dine in nature’s embrace. At Treepod, diners sit 5 m above ground level (16 feet) over an ancient forest. If you are looking for something more down-to-earth, a downtown Bangkok places include:
Soei (ร้านเส่ย) serves dangerously spicy and flavoursome food. The fried mackerel cheeks in garlic is a must try.
Mit Ko Yuan (ร้านมิตรโกหย่วน) is one of the best joints for tom yum. Located in an old shop-house, it mostly offers stir fried Thai dishes, like pad-see-ew.
Apart from eating in the world culinary hub, a number of cooking classes are available. Most involve a local market tour to help you better understand the ingredients. And at the end of a half day, other than having fun, you will take away a few recipes (sometimes even complimentary cookbooks) so you can re-create the flavours of the Thai kitchen and impress your family and friends at home.
On holidays, most prefer to remain far away from hospitals as possible, but the trend is changing. A growing number of travellers are combining treatment and tourism. Increasing costs of living in high-income countries and the popularisation of travel have resulted in the trend of travelling aboard to countries with lower standard of living for healthcare.
Bangkok and Singapore have become Asia’s top two “medical destinations”. When doing a price comparison, Thailand wins. This effectively means Bangkok is a haven for inexpensive medical treatment in Asia and Thailand the top medical tourism destination in the world. The country’s “tourism package” and affordable treatments annually entices 1.2 million medical tourists; in other words, Thailand offers first world services at third world prices.
In terms of cost, procedures are considerable cheap in Thailand, at least 60% lower than Western countries. Plus waiting time is minimal. What’s more, effective treatment relies on modern, cutting edge technology by trained specialists offering nothing but first-class service. Coming to Thailand means you will be served by western-trained doctors (UK, USA or Singapore) who speak English, making the consultation hassle free. At a number of clinics specialized language interpretation services are also available.
At Bangkok Hospital there is an entire wing reserved for Japanese patients, whereas Phyathai Hospitals Group, which has three sites, offers 22 language interpretations, including services form Russian and Arabic to Dutch.
What kind of procedures are offered?
Thailand is reputable for simple, standard and uncomplicated conditions, such as, check-ups and medical consultations. Excellent price and facilities means that common procedures including cosmetic, facelift, botox, laser hair removals hip replacements to dental care (crowns, implants and fillings). Other surgeries include breast augmentations (lifts or reductions), rhinoplasty, liposuction chin and arm lifts heart bypass procedures, spinal fusions, balloon angioplasty, orthopaedics, gastric bypass and prostate surgeries. What’s more, since the threat of malpractice lawsuits is not an issue, treatments not offered in OECD countries can be performed in Thailand.
Where to go?
Thailand has 39 international accredited Joint Commission International. These institutions provide quality services and use state-of-the-art equipment, including cutting edge therapies and stem cell research. In fact, some even exceed healthcare standards of the US.
Hospitals and clinics are scattered all over the country. Major tourist destinations like Phuket offer less serious procedures like cosmetic surgery, dental and eye treatment or annual medical check-ups. As one would expect, the best doctors reside in Bangkok. The availability of affordable accommodation makes it a desirable medical destination.
Bumrungrad International Hospital is the world’s most marketed hospital. Also the first in Asia to be accredited by the JCI, it features 520 beds and 900 full-time doctors. Bangkok Hospital is another world class facility. It attracts international patients for more complex procedures, due to its more advanced technology and internationally trained staff that speak the language of its patients. Comparing the two, there is little difference with simple procedures, Bangkok Hospital is a better choice for more serious treatment, like heart surgery. Samitivej Hospital (also in Bangkok) is also known for its technology and multi-lingual translation services.
The main medical tourist market is Asian, but this does not mean patients are not coming from other places. Those from UK, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the US are also finding it is easy and affordable to fly across the world for treatment rather than waiting and paying more to be treated at home. But as with any major decision regarding your well-being, it is advisable to do your research before making a reservation. It may help to hear from past patients for advice before making your decision.
Visa on arrival of 15-30 days with options for extensions are available. Tourists can also apply for a non-immigrant visa for medical reasons. A certificate or letter of proof from the licensed medical facility must be obtained to apply for a 90 day permit beforehand.
A feel good holiday
Holidays to Thailand leave visitors feeling great. It’s not just the sunshine or the beach. The country's traditional healing arts have been recognised as a sustainable and alternative tourism form. The abundance of wellness programs and retreats, makes Thailand the ultimate pampering destination.
What Thailand has to offer?
If Asia has a natural advantage, it is wellness. Making use of its age-old culture and attentive customer service quality, the country has been able capitalise on both medical and also post-treatment recovery, and in doing so, is recognized as the foremost healthcare center of Asia.
A variety of international health treatments, including traditional Thai massage, sauna and aromatherapy services are available. Spas and wellness centres can be found throughout the country. in cities like Bangkok, Pattaya, Phuket, Koh Samui, Chiang Mai and Hua Hin, they are most abundant. The diverse variety and offer means there is a price for all budgets; the range is so extensive that it varies from extravagant five star hotels to the ubiquitous no-frills massage shop off the streets of Bangkok. Comparing the lower price spectrum, an hour-long massage is a quarter the price one is expected to pay in the US. At a good value with no extras, you can enjoy the most authentic and effective treatment at affordable prices.
genuine healing experiences based on traditional religious practice and meditation
eco-friendly spa products, such as herbs and flowers
inexpensive and high service quality
If you have never tried an authentic Thai massage, you probably won't know that it is a whole new experience. Some describe it as a lazy person's yoga, other say it is an extension of Muay Thai. Regardless of which, and in any case, it is based on an ancient practice of healing, transmitted orally and evolved over thousands of years. Traditional wisdom teaches us that tightened muscles lead to stress, inflexibility and diminish energy flow and that 80-90% injury is related to stress. Influences from India, China and South East Asia are noticeable, and stretching is an important component.
Therapists begin by greeting clients with a “prayer position” bow, followed by a foot wash with relaxing music played to produce a calming atmosphere. Then by applying pressure on specific parts of body—manipulating soft tissues with hands, fingers, forearms and elbows, so blood circulation is increased. This unique practice is physically demanding for both the therapist and client. Variations include a gentler “northern” to a more vigorous and invasive “southern” style. Regardless of which, both are said to help to calm one’s mood, restore a sense of balance and invigorate the body and Improves overall wellbeing. In a nut sheet, deep muscle tensions become relaxed, effectively slowing aging, alleviating disease (migraines, anxiety and autistic) and boosting immunity in the process. While it is still not scientifically understood nor medically proven, but repeated patronage is solid testimony that it works. As with any remedy, one would expect, regular appointments are desirable. The streets of Bangkok are the most obvious locales, but not the only place.
Other affordable priced venues can be found at:
A massage lasts 60-90 min starting from ฿200-400 (US$5-10) an hour.
No lotions or oils are used. The client remains fully clothed throughout the session.
Four types of massage establishments (from cheapest to most expensive):
The more expensive establishments, such as spas and high end resorts, are more experience with English-speaking clientele. Yet heighten professionalism may mean a lack of local flavour.
Blind masseurs provide the best service as they have a heightened sense of touch.
Precaution: not suitable for cancer patients, pregnant women, or those with back injuries.
Without a healthy mind, the body cannot truly be healthy. Indulging in a pampering treatment effectively reduces stress, improves blood circulation, stimulates removal of toxins, recharge the body with nutrients, and moisten the skin, and you will walk away feeling refreshed. Spa tourism is centred upon the curative benefits of water-based treatments—like the early Greeks and Romans “taking the waters”.
It is said that Asia-Pacific is the world’s most diversified spa culture region. With its peaceful surroundings, Thailand has some the most exclusive and sought after spa centres in the world. Treatments are mostly natural remedies and herbs that are good for your body and soul. The staff are professional and polite. A Thai spa is value for money and an experience not to be missed. The cost is relatively cheap compared to the disposable income of those in the West; the location and environment are both conductive to promoting good health.
Standards are also in place to ensure the industry remains internationally competitive and professional, including the Asia-Pacific Spa and Wellness Council, Bali Spa and Wellness Association.
Among the more renowned include the following award winning spas:
Chiva-Som (“haven of life”)
Bayan Tree in Phuket
At spa resorts, nutritious cuisine are included that nurturing the body, mind and soul.
A number of massage services—foot, traditional Thai and oil are also available. Male spa goer can also experience a gentlemen's facials.
Other than enjoying the tropical sun and sea breeze, tourists can also benefits from a natural foot massage when strolling on the beach. Minerals in the sand are absorbed when walking bare feet. Your body weight exerts pressure on the reflex areas on your soles, effectively creating a “foot massage”, stimulating blood circulation and promoting well-being.
At the beach consider: Vitamin D is produced when your skin is exposed to the sun's ultraviolet rays. So avoid the risk of skin cancer and pick a morning or late afternoon, when the sun is less intense. Applying sunscreen as well as repellent or coconut oil keeps sand flies or other insects away. Watch every step you take, broken glass and other sharp objects may be buried in the sand.
In a country famous for its sun, sand and sea, there are countless beaches to reap the benefits of a foot massage. Plus, it’s an activity that is free and can be done at your own pace!
Just because you can benefit from an excellent exchange rate, it does not mean one should be spending money on luxurious pleasures that one might not afford back home. Avoid elephant rides, tiger temples, full moon parties, and the sex trade.
Also, as one of the fastest growing economies in Southeast Asia, the country enjoys an incredibly low unemployment rate. Many locals have gone abroad to make a living. The lack of manpower gives international volunteers a chance to take part in meaningful work.
Soil erosion and coastal degradation has put major pressure on our marine life. It is reported that 50% of reef is under threat, much will not recover. To ensure that your visit does not further damage our fragile ecosystem, avoid touching, standing on or damaging coral. Also, be careful not to kick up clouds of sand that can interfere with the marine ecology. Likewise, avoid disturbing the food chain by feeling fish or disposing food scraps into the water. A pro-active way to maintaining the ecology is to join a coral clean up campaigns organized by dive shops.
Benefits of volunteering
As a volunteer, you will be rewarded with a life transforming experience. Volunteering allows you to add depth and meaning to your travels. Your journey involves engaging with the local culture, interacting with others and making a real contribution to society. Volunteers are often assigned housing near their project. By living like locals helps travellers understand the local way of life and their concerns better. But having said all this, volunteering does not suit everyone, some may be more suited to being responsible tourists.
How to be involved?
Thailand is the most popular place in Asia for volunteerism. Participating in Thai-led projects based in Bangkok or Chiang Mai will be a way you can leave a direct and lasting impact on the country. Projects are so varied that they can be geared towards any interest—from teaching English, to childcare, working with animals, at a hospital to promoting ecological preservation.
With over 180 national parks, marine national parks, and protected forest areas, Thailand is a particularly popular place for those who are concerned about the environment. Habitat loss however is a major threat–worse than hunting and illegal wildlife trade. Fauna and flora is lost to deforestation, and many species become endangered.
In the highlands of Northern Thailand (near Chiang Mai), volunteers often work on reforestation projects, or with local wildlife. One such place is the Elephant Nature Park. This sanctuary rescues elephants and allows visitors to shower and feed these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat.
Riding is obviously not encouraged due to animal welfare concerns. If you're allowed to ride them, it's a sign that the elephant was subjected to domestication—it often involves mistreatment (wild elephants do not let humans ride them!) Increasingly more reports show riding is harmful and a more responsible approach is walking or bathing elephants.
In Thailand, we find the problem is that traditionally elephants were “workers”, but many are “out of work”—the changing economy and low of habitat has, unfortunately (or not) displaced their "use-value". Reports indicates that to ensure elephants remain living comfortably under sanctuary care, requires ฿30,000 a month.
There are ample opportunities to teach English at local schools or at Buddhist temples.
Volunteering at kindergartens or orphanages are also ways to provide assistance and work with children.
Working in healthcare
Healthcare in Thailand is of an international-calibre. Its leading hospitals promote the highest standards. Bangkok and Chiang Mai recruit medical interns, who are given the opportunity to shadow a doctor or nurse on daily rounds. Interns may even have the opportunity to administer some treatment, depending on your experience and qualifications.
A number of commercial carriers serve the county. Bangkok Airways mainly operates in Asia. It is most expensive and considered as “Asia's Boutique Airline". Low cost airlines include Thai Lion Air, NonAir and Oriental Thai. For more information on flights, check individual carriers’ websites below:
Thailand is well connected by air. In fact, Bangkok’s high connectivity makes it the gateway of South East Asia. Suvarnabhumi (pronounced “sue-wan-na-poom”) is a premier international Airport located in southeastern Bangkok, and the biggest hub for many major international airlines. Don Mueang, the older airport, serves domestic flights.
Passengers arriving on international flights who intend to transfer using a budget airline can take free shuttle buses that shuttle between Suvarnabhumi Airport to the budget terminal at Don Mueang (exit at 2nd floor, gate 3). This service runs hourly in both directions starting at 5am. At Don Mueang, it departs from the 1st floor. (The shuttle doesn't have a conductor. If there is one, you are on another bus!)
For more information on airports, check the following websites:
The best way from Suvarnabhumi into town is to take the Airport Rail Link: the BTS (“Skytrain”) and the MRT (underground system), at either Makkasan or Phaya Thai stations provide connections. Daily or weekly cards exist, but operate on a separate system.
Cross border travel
Thailand borders a number of countries, such as Laos,Malaysia, Cambodia and Myanmar. Connectivity between them include boats, buses and trains. Crossing into Northern Thailand from Laos is hassle free. Direct buses and friendship bridges connect the two countries. Travel from Malaysia can be via boat, bus or train. Myanmar is connected by road, meaning you can take a bus or taxi to the border then continue your journey on the other side.
Trains are comfortable way to move around the city. There are different types, including: ordinary, rapid, express, special express and special express sprinter.
Rapid trains provide a long distance service. It stops at all the main stations.
Express trains run long distance services. They stop at fewer stations and are more expensive.
Special express trains offer long distance services.
Sprinter trains offer long distance services and stop at a few more stations than special express trains. There is no restaurant carriage on sprinter trains, but a meal and snacks are included.
Sleeper Trains operate long-haul and travel overnight. To save on a night’ accommodation, take a sleeper train. Carriages are only available on rapid, express and special express trains. You can choose a suitable class based on your budget and an affinity for air-conditioning.
There are five main routes and a number of auxiliary routes to smaller towns.
Bangkok – Chiang Mai
Bangkok – Ubon Ratchathani
Bangkok – Nong Khai
Bangkok – Aranyaprathet
Bangkok – Ban Phlu Ta Luang via Pattaya (weekdays)
Bangkok – Sungai Golok
Bangkok – Padang Besar
Bangkok – Nam Tok via Kanchanaburi
Bangkok – Suphan Buri
Northern routes pass through Bangkok to Chiang Mai and a number of other stops. A train ride is the best way to experience Thailand, especially if you want to appreciate the scenery and see how people in the countryside live. You can also meet friendly Thai people on the train. Routes operate daily. There are also night trains which are in high demand.
Point-to-point fares depend on the type (speed) and the class of the carriage. There are three classes:
First class (chan neung) 2-berth sleeping compartments with individually regulated air-conditioning are available, but prices can match budget airfares. Some compartments have two berths, others single-berth. Compartments are usually booked in advance.
Second class (chan song) is similar in price to a 1st class bus, but twice as cheap as a 1st class train ticket. Second class sleepers are comfortable and good value, some cabins are air-conditioned, and others aren't, food and WCs are basic. 2nd class Express Railcar trains have reclining seats and refreshments are included; unlike other passenger trains, they can match buses for speed.
Third class (chan saam) are the cheapest; they are crowded, uncomfortable and slow, a classic train ride. Overall, it is not particularly enjoyable for long distances. Every carriage has a toilet, choose a seat as far as possible to avoid unpleasant odours.
Pre-booking is recommended, especially for sleeper berths. A few agencies sell tickets for a service fee, and requires pickup from their office. For information regarding routes, timetables, and ticket prices, check the State Railway of Thailand website.
The larger train stations have computerized ticketing. Advanced reservations of up to 30-60 days can be made. Small stations only issue same-day travel tickets. A 24-hour Thai Call Center can be reached by calling 1690.
When reserving your seats, you will receive a 10-digit code. Bring this with you when you collect your tickets. Pick-up should take place within 24 hours of making a booking. Anybody with the code can help you collect the tickets on your behalf.
Tickets can be changed or refunded. Each transaction can only take place once and at a ฿20 – 50 surcharge. Refunding tickets is possible until 1 hour before departure from the station of origin, but will incur a refunding fee of 50% the ticket. If the ticket is refunded 3 days or more before the departure date, the fee is 20%.
Third class trains are the cheapest form of transportation, fares are based on distance. Always buy your train tickets from a train station.
Ordinary tickets are sold within an hour before the train arrives. Seats cannot be reserved. Overnight trains to Chiang Mai are very popular, therefore it's recommended to make an advanced booking, even during off season. It's advisable to call 1690 to check the schedule.
State Railway of Thailand (SRT) has a 4,000km network covering most of the country, most are slow and prone to delays. Stay chilled while traveling in Thailand, or as the Thai say, “sabai sabai” –don't worry and relax. Enjoy the fruit and snacks that are available from hawkers at most stations.
Taxis are very convenient and affordable. They operate in major cities, Bangkok, Phuket and Chiang Mai, but not everywhere. In Bangkok, taxis are legally metered and waiting outside hotels.
Two facts tourists should know when taking a taxi in Bangkok: Traffic can be horrible and drivers are not always honest and occasionally overcharge foreigners. Some even insist on price fixing (usually doubling the fare), ignore them and find another taxi with a meter. During peak hour, it is advisable to take public transport; making your way through impenetrable traffic is not sensible. Outside rush hour, taxis operate at a flag fall of ฿35. From the airport a fare to central Bangkok is around ฿350, plus an airport surcharge of ฿50 and any tollway fees. To reach the taxi rank, go to the first floor, exit the revolving door at #4 or #7, take a ticket, then go to the number on your ticket.
Taxis in Chiang Mai, Phutket, Ko Samui do not use meters, but quotes fixed rates. Ask hotel for advice and check with several drivers before committing to a fare. Taxis are also available for an hourly or full-day service.
An alternative is Uber. Introduced in 2014, although the app was deemed illegal (as it avoids tax), but still it remains hidden and is informally in use.
A number of different buses serve the country. The cheapest and slower ones can be cramped when full. The express service (rot duan) skip some stops, but offers a no frills service. Second class service (chan song) usually does not have on-board toilets, although it stops frequently. First class (chan neung) is most direct with few stops. Snacks and drinking water are included and a toilet is usually found.
Buses are comfortable and quicker for short journeys, but tourists should opt for a train or plane for longer journeys. In fact, some small towns can only be reached by bus. The most reliable service is the government owned Baw Khaw Saw (BKS). Rot-aa (air-con buses) go short distances. For longer routes, take the first class, VIP or super VIP or sleeper (rot norm). The more superior buses have air-conditioned, reclining seats and hostesses to serve beverages. Remember to bring a jacket as the temperature may be chilly.
City buses operate on a pay after taking a seat or pay as you disembark basis. Other types of buses include minivan especially catering to tourists. Some are run by private companies and involve direct hotel pick-up. Passengers should avoid sitting in the front, unless you wish to “see” reckless driving first-hand.
Road safety is a major issue. High accident rates are not uncommon as private buses unfortunately seem to care less. Tourists should take caution, boarding unauthorized vehicles may involve risk and scams. Do not accept food from strangers, there has been cases of thieves offering poisoned food with sleep-induced drugs.
Some stations, especially in small towns are on a dirt road or located near markets.
Tickets are available up to 60 days in advance. They are sold at all government bus-ticket offices, during office hours (8 am - 4 pm). It is also possible to contact the call centre at 1490 or book your tickets at any 7-Eleven store. During public holidays (such as Songkran in mid-April), it's advisable that passengers buy first-class or VIP tickets. During ordinary days, purchasing a second class bus tickets on the day of travel may be a be more economical. Tickets can only be changed once, but doing so will incur a 10% refund fee. The procedure must be carried out at least 4 hours prior to departure.
Songthawew are basically pick-up trucks that roam across Thailand. They provide a minibus or shared taxi service, with a pair of hard bench seats in the back, thus its name in Thai (pronounced “sorng-taa-ou“) meaning "two rows". Operating a fixed route, but at a negotiated fare, passengers should check when boarding. Usually, it starts at ฿20 within the downtown area, ฿30–40 to the Arcade bus station or the railway station. After flagging a driver, show them your destination to confirm you are heading in the same direction. And depending on your itinerary, some songthawews can provide a daily rental service at ฿2,000. This option is suitable when you are travelling in a group.
BTS is a modern and popular “above ground” mass transit system. It is available only in the inner city. Two lines connects passengers to 34 stations, including a number of hotels, popular attractions and entertainment districts: The Sukhumvit Line runs from the north to the south, the Silom Line travels along Silom and Sathon Roads.
Stored value cards can be brought from station vending machines, which only accept coins. For more information and route map, visit the company website:
The MRT is Thailand’s subway system. It operates between 5 am and midnight. Stations are air-conditioned and equipped with elevators and escalators as well as shops, ATM and other modern-day conveniences. Fares ranges from about ฿15 – 52 per ride, depending on distance. Separate tickets are required for interchange, such as traveling on the BTS. For more information, visit their website:
The waterways are an important means of inland transport. Waterborne services are cheap and help to alleviate land traffic congestion.
Long tail boat
In Thailand, long tails (ren-ahahng yow เรือหางยาว) are the gondolas of the south. They are one of the country’s most distinctive forms of waterborne transport. Although rudimentary, they are an indispensable means of getting around. These 10m long long-tails are essentially water-taxis. Their future, however, is far from optimistic. Conservationists have prohibited logging in the country, what’s more, imported timber is expensive. On top of that, speedboats have become more common (and faster too). So, the current use of these boats are twofold: for tourists and traditional competitions.
Speed boats and ferries
Modern, air-conditioned speedboat services and ferries shuttle between popular islands like Ko Samui and Ko Pha Ngan. Safety measures remain rudimentary and ferries and speedboats occasionally sink. Avoid overloaded vessels, travelling in poor weather, and always check the availability of life jackets upon boarding.
Chao Phraya River Boat
The Chao Phraya Express Boat is a riverine express passage, connecting Bangkok with Nonthaburi. It makes it highly convenient to reach Khao San Road and the Grand Palace area. Passengers can catch the BTS Skytrain to Saphan Taksin Station which is next to the Sathon pier. Tickets start at ฿15 (orange flag local boat) or ฿40 (yellow flag tourist boat) and services run from 6 am–7 pm. For more information on routes as well as bus transfer, click on the following website:
Khlong Saen Saep Express Boat provides a fast, inexpensive passage through the city's traffic-congested commercial districts. The 18km route operates from 5:30am to 8:30pm daily on weekdays (7pm at the weekend). Prices are ฿8-20, depending on distance travelled. For more information on routes, click on the website:
Tuk-tuks are an icon of Thailand. These small/lightweight vehicles come in two varieties: the human pedaled sam-lors and the gasoline powered tuk-tuk.
Racing around at noisy speeds, the motorised type are unmetered. Drivers are accustomed to over-charge unsuspecting tourists. In Bangkok, some drivers prowl around near major attractions. Some are notorious for telling tourists that places they wish to visit are closed for the day and take you elsewhere. In effect, they can be more expensive than an air-conditioned taxi, even when they do not go everywhere (you want to reach)!
In smaller cities, like Chaing Mai, Ayutthaya and Sukhothai, where no trains or fleets of local buses run, getting around by foot or tuk-tuk are more common. While there are less chance of scams, fare negotiation is still essential. In Chiang Mai, for example, a short ride can cost anywhere from ฿60–80, while a longer ride to the train station or Nimmanhemin can cost at least ฿100.
An extension of the tuk-tuk is the four wheeler—a microvan-songthaew. These are most prevalent in Phuket.
Hitching is seldom done and doing so can be risky. Should there be a need, however, wave with palm facing the ground—the local gesture of flagging down a bus or taxi.
Due to the heat and traffic, it is generally not advisable to cycle in Thailand. Having said this, cycling tours with an experienced guide may be an option for those who want to cycle in Thailand.
In Thailand, everyone owns a scooter or motorbike. It makes travel easy and economical. The most widely used models are 100cc-125cc step-through. Tourists can enjoy a self-directed tour of the countryside by hire one, or going with a driver.
The rental procedure is straightforward. Go to a trusted international brand, like Avis and Hertz. By law, in order to hire, a Thai license or International Driver's Permit is required. It can be acquired at home or collected at the AAA or CAA in Thailand, provided you have the necessary supporting papers. Having said that, many shops allow patrons without a license, but require a photocopy of your passport, if not the actual thing as collateral. A better idea is to bargain and leave some baht instead.
Thoroughly inspect the vehicle condition before use. Helmets are often included, if not, do ask. Better still, if you have your own, bring it--it should be better quality.
Be forewarned that rental costs do not cover insurance. Given that traffic rules exists, although ignored by most drivers, and that the risk of accidents involving motorbikes is as high as 75% and that thefts is common, obtaining comprehensive coverage is a small price to pay.
If you are new to driving in Thailand, take your time to familiarize yourself with the road conditions. Sooner or later you will find out that motorbikes are low on the road hierarchy, so don't expect other vehicles to look out for you. If this sounds worrying, motorcycle taxis are available. They are found in some cities and hired for short distances. As with other local transport, it is best to negotiate the fare before heading off.
In Thailand, the plus of having your own vehicle is it allows you to get off the beaten track. In its two main cities—Bangkok and most of Chiang Mai—roads are in excellent condition and most signage is bilingual (Thai and English).
Cars drive on the left (most of the time), otherwise everything goes! Traffic rules exists, but are seldom followed. Driving habits are quite dangerous—including drunk driving, speeding and reckless diving. The roads are considered the 2nd deadliest in the world, with more than double the world average in terms of fatalities.
There are subtle signals that drivers should be familiar about, like honking or flashing lights, both meaning let me through. Size does matter in Thailand: If you see a bigger car coming through, do get out of the way! Do learn as much as you can about the traffic conditions before hoping behind the wheel, it can save your life!
City speeds are 50 km/h on urban roads, 80-100km/h on highways, but it can range from 30km/h to 150km/h! Parking remains unrestricted, make sure you don’t block road access. Take extra care especially at night or during national holidays. Be on the alert for agricultural equipment and farm animals.
Cars can be rented without difficulty in many locations. Foreigners who do not have a Thai driving license must hold a valid International Driving Permit. To minimize the risk, ensure that you have adequate insurance coverage. Local drivers can be hired at modest rates. This could be a safer option for those not ready or used to Thai roads.
7-3 century BC
Archaeological evidence of primitive rice farmers
Integration of Buddhism and Hinduism
Sukhothai Period, Golden age of Thai culture, independent nation by King Intaradit
Thai alphabet developed
Ayutthaya Period, Basis of modern Thai state
Siam becomes world power, established diplomatic embassies
Defeated by Burmese forces
BANGKOK ERA (since 1782)
Bangkok becomes capital
King Mongkut (Rama IV) monarch in The King and I ascends the throne
Chulalongkorn (Rama V) history's most dynamic kings
Slavery is abolished
Chulalongkorn, first Thailand University Estbalished
MODERN AGE (since 1925)
Siam becomes constitutional monarchy
Pibul Songkhram become Prime Minister
Name change to Thailand, meaning “land of the free”
Thailand as US military base in Vietnam War, popularisation of night clubs
First post-WWII military coup, military retains power until 1973
"Day of Great Sorrow"; Thai Student Movement, end of military dictatorship
Tourism develops as an economic booster
Military power resumes
BTS skytrain begins operation
Telecommunication tycoon Thaksin Shinawatra becomes Prime Minister
Tsunami killed over 5000 people
Military leaders stage a bloodless coup
Red shirt activists protest, 91 dead
Pro-Thaksin Pheu Thai party wins a landslide victory. Yingluck is prime minister
Multiple bombings, 16 dead, over 300 injured
Army again seizes power
Erawan Shrine bombing, killed 20 and injured more than 120
King Bhumibol Adulyadej dies after 70 years on the throne
A basic estimate of daily spending (per person) is illustrated below.*
Guesthouse or hostel
Food & Drink
Street food or simple meals
Local - local bus, songthaew , riverboat Regional - third class trains
Staying at high-end hotel
Food & Drink
Local - taxi, car rental, motorbike hire Regional - first class and express trains
Total basic daily spending ฿595 (<US$ 20)
Total basic daily spending ฿4,725 (US$ 135)
*This excludes sightseeing, shopping and other personal tourism activities, such as beauty care and hiring eco-guides.