A visit to Thailand brings a variety of new cultural experiences, and a visitor will soon realize how different life is from home. Be prepared for some unfamiliar situations: New, surprising, not always what they may seem at first sight. You may find in many ways the Thai people have an outlook on life and value-systems which are different from yours, consequently there are customs and ways of behavior which you may find unfamiliar. It is therefore important to have an open mind, to observe and listen, and to be unbiased. Try to get to know Thai life and values so your knowledge is enriched by these new experiences.
For some people these unfamiliar ways may be confusing, possibly putting one’s own values or standards into question, where perhaps comparisons are not worthwhile. To travel means to experience and enjoy ‘the other’ and ‘the new’. Often it can be the unusual or even uncomfortable experiences that are the most memorable, and recounted later on. The Thais’ enjoyment of life requires something of an innovative approach to situations, and the more you can accept their ways with magnanimity, your visit will become not just a stay but a stimulating experience.
The information given here is not intended to be a travel guide. Rather, it is a collection of practical information to help you become more quickly acclimatized to this wonderful country of Thailand. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.
We wish you an interesting and enriching stay in the ‘Land of Smiles’.
Passport and Visas
Many nationalities, including the citizens of Australia, Canada, South Africa, the USA and most European countries, do not need a visa for stays of up to 30 days. A passport valid for at least 6 months beyond the date of entry, return ticket or onward travel arrangement needs to be presented upon request at your arrival in Thailand. These requirements are subject to change. Please check with the embassy or consulate in your home country before departure.
No vaccinations are presently required unless you are traveling from or through contaminated areas. It is recommended that you be immunized against polio, typhoid, tetanus and hepatitis A and B. In the areas of Thailand frequented by tourists, medical facilities such as clinics, hospitals or dental surgeries are good. The main drugs and medicines found in Europe are also generally available in pharmacies (drug stores) but at more reasonable prices. Prescriptions are not necessarily requested if you can explain what you need, or if you can show your old packet. If you need medical assistance please contact your representative or the hotel reception.
The time difference from GMT is +6 hours in summer, + 7 hours in winter. (New York + 10/+ 11; Johannesburg + 4/+ 5; Sydney – 4/- 3; Auckland – 5/- 4hrs.)
220 volts, but take note of any relevant instructions i.e. in the bathroom. If your plug does not fit the socket, you may ask at the reception to borrow an adaptor.
Thailand is well served with Internet providers. There are Internet café’s almost everywhere, hotels usually provide a service in the lobby or business centre, while some hotels provide access via in room cables which may be connected upon request. Connection speeds up country may be slower than in larger cities. Broadband is available in some locations such as hotels and cafes.
The Thai currency is Baht, 1 Baht = 100 Satang, but Satang are not much used nowadays. Notes come in values of 20, 50, 100, 500 and 1000 Baht; the coins are 25 and 50 Satang and 1, 2, 5 and 10 Baht.
Credit cards are widely accepted in department stores, major hotels, up-market shops and restaurants. They can also be used for cash advances at banks and exchange counters. The most commonly accepted cards are VISA and Mastercard, followed by American Express. Please remember that the amount will usually be subject to a 3 to 10 percent surcharge by the bank.
Safety & Security
Thailand is a safe country, but like anywhere in the world, it is wise to be a little cautious. Simple safety precautions such as ignoring touts, keeping away from trouble areas, not wearing excessive jewelry, being careful when crossing roads (remember: left-hand traffic!) and taking care of valuables will keep you out of trouble. Valuables such as money, travelers cheques, passports and flight tickets are best kept in the safety box of your hotel.
In some hotels and news-stands you will find the English language daily newspapers Bangkok Post and The Nation on sale. Imported newspapers and magazines from all over the world are also available, especially in hotels.
In most large hotels English, French and German language programs can be received. BBC and CNN have hourly news; the Sports Channels offers world sport events; MTV and Channel V are for music fans. At the weekend there are live broadcasts of various European football matches. Also there are the film channels, HBO, Cinemax, Hallmark, Starmovie, and sometimes other European or Australian channels.
Thailand is a paradise for shoppers. Gemstones, electronic gadgets, Thai silk, made-to-measure suits, glasses, sports and leisure clothes, fake designer labels (careful: importing these goods back home may possibly be prohibited), furniture, pearls, and craftwork, are highly desirable. Shopping Centers in Bangkok such as ‘Emporium’, ‘Central Chidlom’, ‘Siam Center’, ‘Discovery Center’, ‘Siam Paragon’, ‘World Central Plaza’ and the ‘Mahboonkrong Center’ are connected to the Skytrain like airport terminals. The favorite night-time street markets in Sukhumvit Road (Nana or Asoke), or in Patpong Road (Saladaeng) also have their own local stations. But if you have not done your shopping in Bangkok, there are plenty of opportunities in the street markets at the beach resorts. In the street markets bartering is an integral part of the shopping experience.
Food and drink
Thailand is known for its cuisine. The crown for the best gourmet city belongs to Bangkok. The many restaurants and the high concentration of top hotels guarantee a wide choice and healthy competition. The result is a great variety in oriental cuisine, Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Malaysian, as well as Italian and French, also mid-European style. There is an unbelievable selection in every price category. Here you are not offered the fashionable crossover cuisine as in Europe. Thailand is a melting-pot of world cuisine, creating amazing food, which mirrors the ethnic variety, a fusion of great tastes. However, the indigenous cuisine remains the best choice. The diverse Thai cuisine is closely related to Indian, Chinese and Ceylonese. With the great variety of different herbs, spices and ingredients, cooking evolved into the typical Thai character and has gained worldwide popularity. Thai food is famous for its honesty and simplicity with sensational clean flavors, stunning colors and unique textures. The wide selection of ingredients and the different methods of preparation always lead to new discoveries, however many times you have eaten Thai food. As only the freshest produce is used, and just lightly cooked, the world-famous Gourmet D’Hommat named it “the healthiest and tastiest diet in the world. A culinary aromatherapy for the taste buds!” Thai food is not an ordinary meal, it is always a special treat. Everyone will find something to tickle their taste buds and stimulate their gastronomic curiosity. For drinking, the choice is water, fruit juice, ice tea, beer or wine. Thai wine has become one of the most important representatives of the ‘New Latitude Wines’. The Thai wines are famous for their freshness and have a perfectly balanced acidity to match Thai food.
The traditional Thai massage is a type of acupressure for the whole body. Most tourists become acquainted with the one-hour massage given on the beach, but do try a real traditional massage ‘nuat phaen boran’ elsewhere. It is usually soothing because of its emphasis on stretching and loosening the body. Originating over 2’500 year ago in India and drawing from Ayurveda, it has inevitably incorporated modalities like yoga. The receiver is put into many yoga like positions during the course of the massage. In the northern style there are a lot of stretching movements unlike the southern style where pressure is emphasised.
The lives of the Thais are infused with the teachings of Buddha. Thanks to their natural friendliness and politeness the people are very hospitable. Please treat your Thai hosts with the same respect you would wish for yourself. As a people, they have enormous respect for their King and Royal Family, and it is expected that visitors will emulate this respect. Monks are highly respected, and it is not permitted for women to touch them or give them donations or food directly. The Thai way is generally to avoid confrontation, which is considered to be rude. You will have a happy and enjoyable experience in Thailand if you smile a lot and be lighthearted.
For Thailand’s hot and often humid climate, cotton is the most suitable clothing. The Thais place emphasis on being well dressed according to their means. Untidy or dirty clothes as well as body odour are offending. Unreasonable behaviour and unseemly clothing give the impression of being on the fringe of society, and are only just tolerated. In the street and on the beach do not be too scantily clothed, and remember that European standards of dress have no validity in Thailand. As a rule you are treated according to how presentably you are dressed. You will not be welcome in every restaurant wearing bathing- or beachwear, nor with shorts in the evening. As a matter of courtesy to others, restaurant and hotel owners may require guests to wear long trousers and appropriate clothing whilst dining in their restaurants. The higher the category of hotel, the more formal the dress code. When visiting temples the rules are: shorts or leggings are not permitted, shoulders and knees have to be covered up. On a visit to the Grand Palace in Bangkok, both men and ladies should wear proper shoes, not sandals or flip-flops. For cooler evenings in the north, in air-conditioned rooms or in the coach, a light jacket or pullover is recommended. There is no actual prohibition of topless bathing, but the Thais do regard it as morally objectionable and disrespectful towards their feelings. Not only that, but it is also worth considering the effect on other people around you.
The Buddhist belief is that the head is the most holy part of the body, therefore it is quite out of order to touch anyone’s head. It is regarded as very impolite to push something with your foot, or to point towards someone with the feet, so avoid placing your leg over your knee in a way that inevitably points a foot towards another person. Also, when in a house or sitting on the floor in a temple, it is important to place your feet so that they are not pointing towards anyone. Preferably sit cross-legged or sit in a mermaid position, sitting sideways with your legs tucked under. Always remove your shoes when entering a temple or a private house.
The practice of giving a tip is not usual in small restaurants, taxis and tuk-tuks. However, tipping the waiters, porters, maids, drivers and guides is appreciated as elsewhere in the world, but this should relate to the pleasure felt by the guest. The tip helps the service staff eke out their somewhat meagre income. In hotels and restaurants a 10% service charge and 7% VAT is added to your bill. If you have been served well you may wish to round this up to 10% plus loose change.
Thailand and especially Bangkok generates thousands of kilograms of waste everyday, especially plastic. There is no formal re-cycling program in place, so when you go shopping, please think about this. An idea is to take a daypack or bag with shoulder strap, in which you can carry your purchased items, so you do not have to use the plastic bags from the shops. Re-usable drinking water bottles are good idea also which may be refilled, often free, from water dispensers at some hotels. Otherwise the drinking water in plastic bottles at convenience stores, is safe and cheap while the plastic is re-cyclable. If walking to waterfalls or other natural areas please carry your rubbish out with you, ‘leave nothing but footsteps’.
Value Added Tax
When you leave the country you can request a refund of VAT on goods purchased in Thailand. This is available only at the airports of Bangkok, Phuket, Chiang Mai and Hat Yai. The goods must have been bought in a shop with VAT refund status. Further conditions: the value of items must be over 2000 Baht per item, the total value of purchases must be at least 5000 Baht, claims must be made within 60 days of purchase and you need the VAT refund form and receipt which the shop provided at the time of purchase. These forms and the goods bought must be checked at the customs desk. The refund will be paid either in cash, by cheque, or through direct transfer to your bank account.
Importation of all kinds of narcotics (opium, heroin, cocaine, etc.) and pornographic media are strictly prohibited. Firearms and ammunition can be imported only after a permit has been obtained from the local police department. A reasonable amount of clothing for personal use, toiletries and professional instruments can be brought in free of duty. In addition, 200 cigarettes or smoking materials in total of 250 grams, one liter of wine or spirits, one video camera and one item of electrical goods per person are allowed in duty free. Buddha images, antiques or fragments thereof are not allowed to be taken out of Thailand without authorization from the Fine Arts Department.