Thailand at a Glance
Population: 67.2 Million
Capital City: Bangkok
People: Mostly indigenous Thai, but with significant minorities of Thai-Chinese and ethnic Chinese near the border, as well as Karen and Hmong tribes in the northern mountains
Language: Thai, minority languages
Currency: Thai baht (THB)
Time Zone: GMT +7 Hours
International Dialing Code: +66
Passport and visa
A passport with at least six months validity from the date of entry is required. Visitors from most countries who arrive in Thailand without a visa will be granted a 30 day stay if they have proof of an onward ticket and adequate funds. Some nationalities will need to pay around 1000 THB for a visa on arrival. Be aware that some nationalities cannot apply for a visa on arrival at all. We advise you to contact the Thai embassy or consulate in your country of origins for complete information. For longer stays, a visa should be applied for prior to departure. You need to enter Thailand within 90 days of the visa being issued, otherwise it will be invalid.
Phones and Internet Service
The Thai postal service is very reliable and there are also courier services widely available. Calling abroad is easy but expensive. Internet access is available in all major tourist places and you will find WiFi in most cafes in more developed areas.
People, History & Culture
Originating from southern China, the people that now make up the majority of Thailand's population began migrating into modern-day Thailand around the 7th Century. Since then, the nation has been the center of a great deal of foreign conflict, but it remains the only country in Southeast Asia to have never been under European colonial rule. Instead, Thailand served as a neutral ground between the British and French during colonial times. This independence is a great source of pride for many Thai people.
An overwhelming 95% of Thailand's population are devout Buddhists. A "live and let live" mentality is beautifully interwoven into the fabric of Thai culture, lending to a wide perception of Thailand by outsiders as being an extremely warm and welcoming country, which it is. Even in areas of the deep south, where a significant proportion of the people are Muslim, a shared concept of "Thai-ness", which celebrates diversity and openness, binds people together. The harmony between cultures in Thailand, both local and foreign, and the welcoming nature of its people, have always been one of the country's biggest draws.
Nearly fifteen percent of Thailand's population live in and around metropolitan Bangkok, but a large percentage of Thailand's population still live in rural areas, relying mostly on agriculture. Most of these rural areas are in the northeast of Thailand, and visitors are likely to see the cultural impact that Thailand's place as the second largest exporter of rice has had on its people.
More than anything, visitors to Thailand will find the Thai people's relaxed and joyful attitude towards life vividly apparent. Locals cherish a cheerful and carefree lifestyle, and have a knack for making you smile even during the shortest of exchanges. So effervescent are some Thai locals that Thailand is sometimes referred to as the "Land of Smiles"!
Roughly resembling the shape of an elephant's head, Thailand is in geographic heart of Southeast Asia. It shares borders with Malaysia in the south, Myanmar in the northwest as well as Cambodia and Laos in the northeast, its central location has played a significant role in shaping the country's culture and history and continues to significantly impact it today.
The north of the Thailand is characterised by mountainous territory that increases in height as you approach the northern border. The northeast of Thailand, Isaan, is drier than the rest of Thailand, and is characterised by rolling plains and hills, with vast stretches of area cultivated by rice. Central and southern Thailand are decidedly tropical in nature, with jungle encompassing just about anything that isn't freshly manicured. The east coast of Thailand runs along the Gulf of Thailand while the west coast of Thailand runs along the Andaman Sea. Both coasts boast an astounding number of beaches that are ripe for holidays in paradise.
Transportation throughout Thailand is varied, chaotic and exciting. In the space of a single day one can buzz through bustling streets in a glowing tuk tuk, rub shoulders with a fellow traveller on an ornately-decorated transit bus with its own sound-system and churn through shallow tropical seas on a quirky-looking longtail boat en route to a palm-fringed island. No matter how you get to where you're going in Thailand, the trip there is, more often than not, part of the experience.
The major cities in Thailand often have train and bus terminals that offer convenient means of getting from one place to another over long distances. However, these same cities often offer domestic flights to the same places for prices that rival or sometimes beat those of buses or trains -so be sure to compare prices before booking anything. Although roads and trains are of reasonably high quality in Thailand, flying is easily the most comfortable and convenient way to get around. When travelling in coastal areas, the modus operandis for getting around over long distances is often by ferry.
When to visit Thailand
Thailand's climate is decidedly tropical in nature. With the exception of areas in the far north, Thailand is warm throughout the year. Overall, there are three distinct seasons: a hot season, a hotter season and a rainy season. Weather in the south of Thailand varies considerably less than weather in central areas, and, because of the high elevation, a cool breeze can almost always be found in the northern mountains.
From November through February, rain is less common and temperatures are typically a bit cooler than normal. Consequently, this time of the year is considered to be "high season" for tourism. Expect tourist areas to be more crowded and the prices for travel and accommodation to be considerably more expensive than other times of the year.
March through June are typically the hottest months of the year in Thailand, with temperatures as high as 40°C not being out of ordinary. Be sure to bring plenty of sunblock, as the sun can be unforgiving during this time of the year.
Thailand's monsoon season, also known as rainy season, lasts from July through October, typically peaking in September. In recent years, partly to boost tourism, rainy season has begun to be referred to as "green season" by the Thai Tourism Authority. Although it may seem like a sales gimmick, there is some truth to it. Visitors during this time will notice that foliage is noticeably more vibrant than other times of the year. This gives the entire country a slightly more "tropical" feel. Consequently, when the weather is good during rainy season -which it can be- it's actually the most beautiful time of the year.
Festivals and National Holidays
The biggest holiday of the year in Thailand is Songkran, or Thai New Year. Based on the Thai lunar calendar, it's typically held mid-April and lasts from one to three days. The name "Songkran" comes from the Sanskrit word meaning “passing” or “approaching”. Water plays an important part during the holiday and symbolizes cleansing or renewal. Families traditionally spend the holiday together visiting local temples and enjoying quality time together. While the festival retains its genuinely spiritual roots, it has also taken on a slightly more raucous character in recent years. These days, Songkran is also characterised by a good deal of partying, and the practise of cleansing has turned into all-out water gun fights that take places on streets throughout Thailand. It's great fun, but be prepared for getting wet!
The next biggest holiday in Thailand is Yi Peng (in the north) and Loi Krathong (in the rest of the country). Together, these holidays comprise Thailand’s Festival of Lights, which is one of Southeast Asia's most photogenic occassions. During the Festival of Lights, which takes place on the evening of the full moon of the 12th month in the traditional Thai lunar calendar, people release khom loi (lit lanterns) into the night sky or krathong (small floating vessels made of banana stalks and decorated with flowers and candles) into bodies of water. The effect is extraordinary, as thousands of lit-up vessels float across the waters or up into the air.
Other important holidays include:
Chulalongkorn Day, 23 October
Constitution Day, 10 December
Makha Buddha, 4 March
Top places to visit in Thailand
A bustling, colourful metropolis, Bangkok boasts glistening golden temples to towering modern skyscrapers, and is perhaps the liveliest of the cities in Thailand to visit. It is where historic Thai culture and Asian modernity converge, leaving in this merge a blend of lights, delicious food and exciting adventure. Nestled on the majestic Chao Phraya River, Bangkok also has a fascinating history centred around its waterways and canals, where you'll still find beautiful floating markets.
Krabi’s is arguably the epicentre of Thailand’s abundant natural beauty -and rightfully so. With dozens of statuesque islands just off its shores, incredibly lush scenery and westward facing beaches that are host to some of Thailand’s best sunsets, there is no shortage of things to see and do in Krabi. Whether relaxing on one of Krabi’s trademark beaches, braving the world-famous rock-climbing walls, or enjoying a multi-day cruise around the islands, a holiday in Krabi is a perfect getaway destination.
A painless flight from Bangkok to the Surat Thani Province will take you to the Gulf of Thailand, home to a string of scenic islands that boast some of Thailand's best wilderness. Here you'll find the former hippie town of Koh Samui, which is now one of the most popular luxury getaway destinations in the area. Head to Koh Tao for some of Thailand's best snorkeling and diving, and explore Khao Sok National Park for a glimpse at Thailand's magical jungle scenery.
Few places in Thailand are more synonymous the term “getaway” than Phuket. As Thailand's largest island, Phuket has one of the country’s most easily accessed waypoints that makes it a perfect stop-off during a journey through Thailand. Phuket is often considered the most developed island in terms of infrastructure and tourism, but getting away from all of the hustle and bustle is surprisingly easy. Put Phuket on your list if you're looking for a quick getaway or a longer, cultural exploration.
The largest city in northern Thailand, Chiang Mai ranks on Trip Advisor’s list of “25 Best Destinations in the World.” A city bursting with fascinating history as the former capital of the Lanna Kingdom, modern Chiang Mai possesses incredible ancient architecture found in its elegant temples and palaces. Chiang Mai is also a great place to sample Thailand’s most delicious food, with a special northern flavour. Not far north is also Chiang Rai, where you'll find Wat Rong Khun, also known as the White Temple. Or, head south for the lush green scenery at Doi Inthanon National Park.
Top things to do in Thailand
Walk and Eat Your Way Through Bangkok
On a food tour through Bangkok, experience the best of the city's iconic food scene. Discover the foods and traditions of the Thai-Chinese in the city’s bustling Chinatown neighborhood and dive into the rich cultural history of Bangrak on a tasting tour through one of Bangkok’s oldest neighborhoods and culinary melting pots. For an adventurous twist on the standard food tour, head out for a thrilling tuk tuk ride through Bangkok’s vibrant streets to experience a foodie adventure with a local twist.
Explore Chiang Mai by Samlor
Exploring the historic northern city of Chiang Mai from the seat of a traditional samlor is one of the most exciting ways to experience Chiang Mai's fascinating story architecture and history. While weaving through the city’s cultural centre, cruise down the banks of the Ping River, explore numerous temples and learn about the significance of the city's historical sites. Along the way, catch a glimpse of the city's local culture with a slow-paced stroll through its charming backstreets and alleys. See Wat Chedi Luang, the hilltop Wat Phra That Doi Suthep and the lion statue-flanked Wat Phra Singha along the way.
Island Hop in the Andaman Sea
The Andaman Sea, in southwestern Thailand, features 16 national parks and four candidates for UNESCO World Heritage status. Its jaw-dropping jungle-clad karst formations, turquoise water, thriving coral reefs and abundant natural caves make it one of the world's most alluring beach and island destinations. Embark from bustling Phuket or charming Krabi on excursions throughout the Andaman archipelago. Experience multi-day adventures through the region’s cultural hotspots and scenery, stay with the Moken sea gypsy tribe on Koh Surin, or go on tropical adventures to Railay, the Hong Islands or the world-famous Koh Phi Phi. Alternatively, snorkel at one of Thailand's most spectacular coral reefs in the famously clear waters off of Koh Lipe, or kayak through the lush mangroves of Ao Thalane surrounded by monolithic karst formations.
Treat Yourself to a Thai Massage
The ancient art of Thai massage has deep roots in traditional Thai culture. Used as both a means of physical therapy and of spiritual rejuvenation, depictions of the practice can be found on historical artefacts dating back some 2,500 years. It's not uncommon at all to see locals practising the art even from childhood. Because of its cultural importance and the incredible amount of experience that many masseuses in Thailand have, there may be no better place in the world to indulge yourself in a relaxing massage. The country boasts some of the best spas in Asia. To boot, therapeutic massage experiences can often be had at rates that are almost laughably cheap compared to those of lesser-quality in most tourists' home countries. Simply put, getting a massage at least once during your holiday in Thailand is an absolute must.
Float the Night Away in Kanchanaburi
Beyond its world-class beaches and thriving urban areas, Thailand’s interior is lush with vibrant jungles, soaring mountains and colourful river ecosystems. Spending a night at The Float House, nestled on the banks of the River Kwai, lets you wake up amidst some of Asia's most breathtaking scenery. Kanchanaburi sits about 120 kilometres northwest of Bangkok, and excursions here allow you to explore the region’s rich and fascinating history.