Travel in Thailand Miscellaneous

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Visas

Visitors from Western countries to Thailand get 30 days permission to stay in Thailand upon arrival if arriving at an airport or 15 days if crossing into Thailand overland. If you wish to stay longer, you can exit the country and re-enter immediately getting another 15 or 30 days. You can apply for a tourist visa to visit Thailand outside of the country which is good for 60 days and can be extended inside the country for another 30 days, at a cost of 1,900 baht. For more extensive information on Thailand visas, check out this section.

Weather

With regards to the weather most people feel that the best time to visit Thailand is December through to the end of February, which is curiously named the "cool season". It doesn't usually get what I would term cold, or even cool, in the central or southern regions of the country. In the north and the northeast it can get cool in the evenings, especially in the mountains and in the border regions – so if you are visiting those areas in the cool season may need to pack clothes accordingly.

March through to mid June is the hot season and it gets very hot across the entire country. You simply cannot escape the heat. In addition to the heat, in some parts of the country it can get hazy, which may mean breathing problems if you have any such ailments. It also means that visibility is limited in some areas, such as Chiang Mai where from the city centre it can be difficult to see the mountains even though they are only a few kilometres away!

The rainy season runs from early September – November and that is obviously the wettest time of year. Still, it doesn't rain every day and even when it does rain, it doesn't rain for that long – and the rain is usually only mid to late afternoon for an hour or two. It can be very heavy when it comes down though! It is not an entirely unpleasant time to travel but is perhaps not the best time of year for a beach or sunbathing holiday.

Most travelers to Thailand find the weather to be very hot, no matter what time of year they come! So, with this hot weather in mind, should one just chuck on a singlet and a pair of shorts and sandals and explore the country? Well, this may be the most comfortable type of clothing BUT, the Thais are not that fond of such clothing being worn and it is deemed to be somewhat impolite with the notable exception of wearing such clothes at the beach. Thais tend to cover themselves up and a shirt and trousers are the norm for men and for females, something of a similar vein that is not too revealing.

In some of the chicer places in Bangkok, one can see the Bangkok Thais wearing all manner of clothes but generally speaking, they seem to stick with a sort of semi-formal clothes regime. You'd think that such clothes would make you roast in the Thai heat but actually, with the light fabrics used in the manufacture of many of the clothes bought in Thailand, most people are comfortable. There is nothing stopping you from wearing shorts and a singlet but in many places, the Thais will deem this inappropriate, particularly shopping malls, cinemas, restaurants but especially temples or places of cultural or religious importance to the Thais where those decked out in such gear may be refused entry. Whatever you decide to wear, loose fitting clothes are the order of the day. The Thais place little importance on footwear and after a while in the Kingdom, seeing a Thai businessman walking around in an expensive suit accompanied with a pair of cheap plastic flip flops won't surprise you!

The tourist high season runs from around late November through to mid April. At certain times, particularly Christmas, New Year, the Chinese New Year and Songkran the most popular beaches and islands can be extremely busy to the point that getting accommodation can become a bit of a problem. Hotels and even some guesthouses hike their prices – and people are willing to pay it. So if you are travelling over any of these periods it pays to book well in advance.

With regards to other factors of when it is best to visit, Thailand doesn't tend to have any periods where it closes down like some Western countries, for example Italy, do. The major holiday period is mid April, the peak of the hot season, when the Songkran holiday is celebrated. At this time of year, businesses close down for up to a week and many Thais return to their homes back in the provinces. While tourist related services continue to operate and most major shops remain open, intercity transport can be very hard to come by. Airplanes, buses and trains are usually booked solid from April 10 for about the next week or so. But for the staff in shopping centres / temples etc., it is just another day at the office. Some smaller shops close over this period but really, travellers shouldn't be effected greatly.

The Songkran period marks the end of the tourism high season.

There are a number of other holidays throughout the year and on some of these holidays nightlife areas and bars and discos can be closed – and the sale of alcohol is outlawed. Some bars slip the boys in brown a bit of cash so they can remain open. Generally speaking it is the Buddhist holidays and December 5th, the birthday of HM The King, when most places close and alcohol is hard to come by.

Health

I first visited Thailand with a good mate in the late '90s and within 24 hours of arriving I got a dreadful dose of food poisoning. We both ordered the same dish, a seafood combination with rice. He thought the shrimps didn't smell right so he didn't eat his. Me, being quite the pig, not only wolfed mine down, but ate his too. A few hours later I was staring down the toilet bowl and throwing up every last bit of whatever was in my system. It was a fairly nasty bout of food poisoning and took me a few days to get over it.

One has to be careful with what they eat in Thailand. Let me say right off though that you should not be any more concerned about the food that is sold on the street that the food sold in restaurants. Thai people eat food off the street every day and seldom have any problems at all – and so most Westerners can eat this food without problems too. However if the vendor looks like they have poor hygiene then move on to the next place to eat.

One also should be careful with spicy food if you're not used to it. Eating a lot of spicy food when your system is not used to it is never a good idea.

Finally when it comes to food, do drink as much water as you can. Thailand is very hot for much of the year and it is easy to become dehydrated.

With regards to health, you should consult your local doctor before leaving home regarding any vaccinations that you may or may not need. A lot of people come to Thailand and do not bother with any vaccinations while others line up their arm as a pin cushion and get the full batch. I am not a doctor and the following should be taken as my experience only. I do not know anyone who has caught any of the diseases for which vaccinations are available and most of the people I know who have visited Thailand did not get any vaccinations.

When I went to see my local doctor, he recommended that I got typhoid and hepatitis shots as these are two of the most common and easily contracted diseases. If you reside in a country where the vaccinations are very cheap or even free, like in England, then bugger it, get the damned lot and protect yourself – though many are no doubt unnecessary. Like I said at the start, consult your doctor as he or she knows best. Remember that you may need to go and see your doctor a couple of months before you take off on your travels as some vaccinations require not one, but a whole course of shots. Oooh, what fun!

While some of the shots may not be particularly necessary for Thailand, if you are going on to other countries in the region then you need to check out the need of shots for those countries too. I believe that travellers to Laos and Cambodia may require certain shots, whereas travellers to Malaysia and Singapore need not worry.

If you are going to be getting any malarial prophylactics, then the word on the street is to avoid Larium. I have both read and heard a number of horror stories about this drug and its dreadful side effects, which include intense nightmares and hallucinations – so if any doctor tries to get you to go on this one, do your research first!

If you think you're going to be a naughty boy and get involved with the ladies of the night in Thailand then make sure you use condoms. It goes without saying that AIDS is much more common in Thailand than in your own country and the prevalence of STDs amongst sex workers AND women who may liaise with travellers on a frequent basis is high. Condoms are available locally, but to be safe I recommend you bring your favourite brand from home. Durex is the top selling brand locally, but avoid buying the Kingtex range as they are made for the local market – and too small for the average Westerner.

I want my money back!

Thailand is a wonderful country for a holiday but many people experience a problem of some sort or another and as often as not, it has to do with the expected level of service. Service in Thailand is a little different to in the West and while it can be a lot better at times, sometimes things aren't handled as well as they could have been. If you are staying in the best hotels and eating in the best restaurants then you should largely be dealing with well trained service staff who have a good understanding of what western tourists expect. It's when things go wrong that some Westerners start to lose the plot a little. As mentioned in the scams and problems section, remain cool, point out the issue and don't get too loud! After that you may need to hope for the best!

One thing that justifiably annoys some tourists to Thailand is that if you do suffer a problem while in the country, it is VERY seldom that you will receive a refund – it's quite simply not the Thai way to give people their money back.

If you do have a problem with anything, do not lose your temper. Stay calm, smile and try to very slowly and clearly explain yourself. Losing one's temper will simply have the opposite effect on the vendor or service provider and make them disinterested in in your problem to the point of being totally unhelpful and perhaps even walking away. Put enough pressure on them and complain loudly enough and you will likely get nowhere!

Communication

The language of Thailand is Thai and while English is widely spoken, the level is often still pretty low. When speaking English with the locals, try to speak slowly and as clearly as possible in order that the person that you are communicating with has as much chance as possible to understand you. Do what us English teachers call "grading our language".

Learning Thai is the way to go but if you are only in the country for a short holiday, it isn't really worth the effort. Further, even if you say a few words of Thai with utter mediocrity, don't be surprised if the Thai you're speaking to replies to you with a string of Thai, and a big grin on their face followed by confusion that the white person who just spoke some Thai is now not able to understand! You generally find that in Thailand, the Thais speak a functional level of English that enables them to carry out their job. Get away from this specific language that they use every day and you can quickly lose them. Frankly, as long as you stay on the main tourist path, like most people do, the ability to speak Thai, while nice, is not necessary. Other languages such as French, German and other European languages are not widely spoken in Thailand at all. There is a growing interest in learning other Asian languages but for the time being it is often only a basic smattering of English that the locals understand other than Thai.

Arriving in Thailand

Most foreign visitors arriving in Thailand fly into Suwannaphum, Bangkok's international airport. Your first time in Thailand, which may be your first time in Asia, can be more than a little confusing. After a long trip you probably want to get to your hotel as soon as possible. To make matters easy I recommend you grab a cab – they're easy and inexpensive and a trip to Sukhumvit or Silom Road should cost you less than 300 baht, and even all the way to Khao San Road shouldn't be more than 400 baht.

There are buses available but if you do not know where to get off then you risk getting lost.

When you grab a cab at the airport the driver should use the meter. Please note that he is entitled to tack on a surcharge of 50 baht – that is for all airport pick ups.