Thursday, October 25, 2007


Founded in 1296 AD, the culturally rich city of Chiang Mai is the longest continuously inhabited settlement from the ancient days of Siam. Located amidst the rolling foot hills of the Himalayan Mountains 700km north of Bangkok, it could only be reached by an arduous river journey or an elephant back trip until the 1920's, isolation which has helped keep Chiang Mai's distinctive charm intact to this day.
Chiang Mai's historical centre is the walled city (chiang in Thai, hence Chiang Mai - "New Walled City"). Sections of the wall remain at the gates and corners, but of the rest only the moat remains.
Inside Chiang Mai's remaining city walls are more than 30 temples dating back to the founding of the principality, in a combination of Burmese, Sri Lankan and Lanna Thai styles, decorated with beautiful wood carvings, Naga staircases, leonine and angelic guardians, gilded umbrellas and pagodas laced with gold filigree. The most famous is Doi Suthep, which overlooks the city from a mountainside 13km away.
Modern-day Chiang Mai has expanded in all directions, but particularly to the east towards the Ping River (Mae Nam Ping), where Thanon Chang Klan, the famous Night Bazaar and the bulk of Chiang Mai's hotels and guesthouses are located. The locals say you've not experienced Chiang Mai until you've seen the view from Doi Suthep, eaten a bowl of kao soi, and purchased an umbrella from Bo Sang.
[edit] Get in
[edit] By plane
Chiang Mai International Airport (CNX) handles both domestic and regional international flights. The route from Bangkok is one of the busiest in the country (Thai Airways flies daily almost every hour, with additional flights in the peak tourist season). Other airlines operating direct services from/to Chiang Mai include:
Air Asia - from/to Bangkok; also Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia)
Air Mandalay - from/to Myanmar
Bangkok Airways - to Ko Samui (flights from Ko Samui are indirect) and from/to Sukhothai; also Jinghong (China)
China Airlines - from/to Kaohsiung, Taiwan
Hong Kong Express - from/to Hong Kong
Lao Aviation - from/to Laos
Nok Air - from/to Bangkok, Mae Hong Son & Udon Thani
One-Two-Go (part of Orient Thai Airlines ) from/to Bangkok
SGA - from/to Chiang Rai (once daily) and Pai (once daily)
Silk Air - from/to Singapore
Thai Airways - from/to Bangkok and Mae Hong Son; also Kunming (China); in addition, flights from and/or to Phuket & possibly Nan may also be available seasonally
Tiger Airways - from/to Singapore

International departure hall at Chiang Mai Airport
The airport is some 3km south-west of the city centre, only 10-15 minutes away by car. Legal airport taxis charge a flat 140 baht for up to 5 passengers anywhere in the city; if you take a metered taxi, the fee will start from 40 baht + a 50 baht service fee from the Meter Taxi counter. The taxis operate from the exit at the north end of the terminal - after baggage claim and/or customs, walk into the reception hall and turn left. Alternatively, take bus #4 to the city center for 15 baht, or charter a tuk-tuk or songthaew for 50-60 baht. Most hotels and guesthouses offer cheap or free pick-up/drop-off services.
[edit] By bus
Buses to Chiang Mai leave from Bangkok's Northern Bus Terminal (Moh Chit). The cheapest, non-aircon, stop-everywhere government buses take around 12 hours; non-stop VIP 24-seaters manage the trip in 9 hours on a good day. Chiang Mai also has good bus connections to practically everywhere in the North, and major destinations/hubs in the North-East (Isaan); there's even a direct service to Pattaya and Rayong in the East.
[edit] By train
Various rapid, express and sleeper services leave from Bangkok's Hualamphong Train Station, taking 12-15 hours depending on the service selected. Sprinter trains are entirely second class air-con, have no sleeper berths, and are the only ones which cannot transport bicycles. Daytime trains are entirely second and third class, with no sleeper berths; the first "overnight" train of the day departs Chiang Mai at 14:50 and arrives in Bangkok at 05:30.
The overnight trains - especially second class sleeper berths - are very popular, safe, comfortable and fun, and good value too - sleeper fares start at 531 baht for an upper berth in a 2nd class fan carriage. 2nd class lower berths are slightly more expensive than, but also slightly wider than, upper berths; air-con is of course a little more expensive than non-aircon. Those who wish to avoid sharing the relatively basic second class "bathroom" facilities can book a private first class two-berth cabin (the attendant cleans the first class bathrooms frequently).
Tickets can be purchased up to 60 days in advance; advance booking is advisable year-round, but especially between November and March - see SRT timetables and prices.
SRT charges 90 baht to transport a bicycle between Bangkok and Chiang Mai.
[edit] Get around
Chiang Mai now has a new large air conditioned bus service. You can see these nice air conditioned white buses all over the major city routes. There are also pedicabs called samlor; the 3-wheeled tuk-tuk; and the most popular, the songthaew.
[edit] By songthaew or seelor

A songthaew
The most common way to get around Chiang Mai is by songthaew, also known more locally as rod-daeng or "seelor". These are covered pick-up trucks with two benches in the back, and indeed songthaew means "two benches" in Thai. Seen everywhere, to board one just put your arm out and look at the driver, who will stop. Then tell the driver which street you want to go to, and if he is going that way, he will nod his head "yes"; if not, he will say "no" and go on. Don't worry - there will be another one right behind him. When the driver turns down the street you want, start looking for where you want to get off and press the switch located on the roof of the cab. The driver will pull over, let you out, and then you pay him. The fare should be 15 baht for regular trips around town. If you specify a hotel or establishment, the driver will think you want to hire him for a private trip, and the price will be much higher. Negotiate any price beforehand if you want to go to a specific address. The best way to avoid this "charter" situation is to discuss your destination and not the price; asking for a price is interpreted as asking for a charter. Then, when you arrive, hand the driver the correct change. If the driver demands more, then it is up to you to work out a fair payment, but armed with this information, you should have a reasonable idea of the proper fare, and that will aid you in your bargaining.
The colour of the songthaew indicates its general route or usage. Most common by far are red songthaews (hence the alternative rod daeng, "red car" name), which roam the main streets in the city itself. Warorot Market (by the Ping River) is the most common terminus for songthaews that travel along fixed routes. From Warorot Market, white songthaews travel to the eastern suburban city of Sankampaeng, yellow songthaews travel to Mae Rim in the north, blue songthaews travel to Sarapee and Lamphun in the south, and green songthaews travel to Mae Jo in the north-east. The flat rate cost along these fixed routes is 10-20 baht.
From Pratu Chiang Mai market, songthaews also travel to Hang Dong (20 baht) and San Patong, south-west of Chiang Mai.
You may see songthaews out on the highways in the countryside, travelling to and from small towns and villages. It is probably not proper for them to do this (as such travel is supposed to be done by bus companies), but in Thailand people will find a way to make some extra money.
[edit] By tuk-tuk or samlor
Tuk-tuks serve as Chiang Mai's taxis, going point to point for 30 baht and up depending on your haggling skills. A few three-wheeled bicycles (samlor) still cruise the streets and will go your way for the same price, which is a great way to see the inner city temples. Try taking a samlor from Wat Prasing Temple to Wat Chedi Luang Temple in the early evening around sunset, or around the inner city at sunrise to see the monks walking around with their bowls collecting alms from the citizens.
[edit] By taxi
Chiang Mai has finally introduced Bangkok-style metered taxis. In early 2005 there were only 15 plying the streets (versus 2700 songthaews), but one year later there were over 45, with the number growing monthly. Rates are very reasonable at 30 baht for the first 2km and 4 baht/km after that, however it's very hard to persuade the driver to use the meter. Dial +66 53-279291 for advance bookings, which are particularly useful when going to the airport (100 baht flat fare).
[edit] By bus
Chiang Mai's on-again, off-again local bus service began operation again in November 2005. There are currently 5 routes and fares are a flat 15 baht. Route 4, connecting to the airport, is probably the most useful. See Chiang Mai Bus for a route map.
[edit] By motorcycle
Chiang Mai has an abundance of motorcycle rental services, with choices aplenty. Typical Asian motorbikes can be rented, such as Honda and Yamaha 110cc and 125cc models (both step-through and automatic), but off-road bikes and larger street bikes can also be found quite easily. Renting a small bike starts at around 200 baht/day with insurance; larger machines can climb to 800 baht/day for a V-twin chopper or large sport-bike, also with insurance. Expect discounts when renting for several days. Passports are usually taken as a deposit, although some shops will accept a photocopy with a cash deposit of a few thousand baht. As with any other tourist town in Thailand (except possibly in Bangkok), a valid international permit (IDP) isn't required by the rental shop; however, if you find yourself stopped by the police for whatever reason, be prepared to discreetly pay a small "mai pen rai" fee of at least 200 baht.
[edit] By bicycle
Within the old city walls biking is still an easy option to get around. You can get everywhere in town within 10 minutes and it saves the hassle of negotiating with tuk-tuk drivers all the time. Bikes rentals are offered at every other street corner, and for a simple bike start from 30 baht/day.
[edit] See
[edit] Museums

The Chiang Mai City Arts and Culture Center building
Chiang Mai City Arts & Cultural Center
This fully modernised multimedia history and cultural education centre is located in the very centre of the old city on Prapokklao Road between Rajdumnern Road and Rajwithee Road. If travelling by tuk-tuk or songthaew, it's easiest to ask for the "Three Kings Monument" (Saam Kasat); it's the large, elegant white building just behind the statue.
Guides dressed in elegant traditional Thai clothing will usher you into an air-conditioned room to watch an English-subtitled orientation video about Chiang Mai and the north. Next, you will be pointed to a series of rooms documenting the region's history and culture in chronological order from the pre-Muang period (7,000-12,000 years ago) to the early river civilizations, to the early kings through the wars with the Burmese and the last dynasty, to the city today and its plans for the future. Other rooms are devoted to Buddhism and other regional beliefs, agricultural history, hill tribe peoples and other regional cultures, and a run-down of the royal dynasties. The exhibits consist of a smart visual mix of video, scale models, enlarged photos, wall murals and text in Thai and English. The museum is open 08:30-17:00 except Mondays. Admission is 90 baht. +66 53-217793

The Lisu Hill Tribe display at the Hilltribe Research Institute Museum
Hilltribe Research Institute Museum
Founded in 1965 as a result of a proposal by the noted anthropologist Prof. W.R. Geddes, who was doing research with the hilltribe peoples at the time, the Institute Museum offers exhibits concerning the lives and cultures of nine hilltribe peoples in Thailand: the Akha, Lahu, Lisu, Yao, Hmong, Karen, Lua, Khamu, and H'tin. Also included are a non-hilltribe ethnic minority, the Mlabri, associated by some with the 'spirit of the yellow leaves'. The Mlabri population has dwindled to only approximately 180 individuals at present.
The daily lives of the various hilltribe peoples are illustrated through exhibits of photographs, agricultural implements, household utensils, artefacts associated with the various traditional religions, musical instruments, and ethnic costumes. Some exhibits include models dressed in complete traditional costumes depicting daily activities, such as a Hmong family having a meal or a Lisu man serenading his sweetheart.
The Institute has established a new museum in a three-story pavilion located on the attractively landscaped grounds of Ratchamangkala Park (Suan Lor Gao) on Chotana Road, just a fifteen minute drive from the city centre. At present the museum is open weekdays 09:00-16:00, with a slide and video show available daily 10:00-14:00. Special group tours at weekends are possible with advance notice. For more information contact the Hilltribe Institute Museum, Chotana Road +66 53-210872 / +66 53-211933
Chiang Mai Numismatic Museum (Treasury Hall), 52 Ratchadamnoen Road, tel: 053-22 4237/8. M-Sa 09.00-15.30.
Chiang Mai University Art Museum, corner of Suthep and Nimmanhaemin Roads, tel: 053-944833. Tue-Sun 09:00-17:00 (free).
Museum of World Insects and Narural Wonders, Srimankalajarn Road, Soi 13 (midway between Suithep and Huay Kaew roads near Suan Dok Hospital); tel: 053-211891. One of Asia's most unusual museums housing butterflies, beetles and beyond. Daily 09:00-17:00 (200 baht).
Postal Museum, at Mae Ping Post Office, (1-2km south of Wat Phra Singh). Tu-Sa 08:30-16:30 (free).
Art Galleries and Exhibitions [1] There are many art galleries and exhibitions in Chiang Mai, featuring contemporary artwork of both local Thai and Myanmar artists.
CMU Art Museum & Alliance Francaise
[edit] Temples
Buddhist temples in Chiang Mai show off a mixture of architectural styles that reflect the varied heritage of Northern Thailand. Elements from Lanna Thai, Burmese, Sri Lankan and Mon temples have all been used in one form or another. Intricate woodcarvings and protective Naga serpent staircases add a flamboyance that reflects an awesome reverence for the Buddhist religion. Gilded umbrellas, guardian figures from the tales of the Ramayana and stupas trimmed with gold filigree combine to heighten the overall effect.
To date, there have been some 300 temples constructed in Chiang Mai and its outskirts. Visitors should take the time to visit the most revered temples in the city, built during the noble Lanna Thai dynasty. The largest ones draw crowds, but it's well worth wandering off the beaten path and finding a temple not on the tour bus circuit.
The Thai patrons of Chiang Mai's temples are pleased to see that visitors take an interest in the images and traditions of Lord Buddha's teachings. All that they ask is that temple visitors show respect by wearing appropriate attire (long pants for men, modest tops and skirts for women, no bare shoulders and women must wear a brassier) so that monks and worshippers will not be offended within the sacred temple grounds.

Courtyard of Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep
Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep [2]. Established in 1383, this magnificent temple overlooks the city from its 1,073m elevation on the slopes of Doi (Mount) Suthep, which peaks at 1,685m. It is famous for its large gold-plated chedi, visible from the city on a good clear day. Although Wat Doi Suthep is the most recently built of the temples dating from the Lanna Thai period, it is the symbol of Chiang Mai. The site was selected by sending an elephant to roam at will up the mountainside. When it reached this spot, it trumpeted, circled three times, and knelt down - which was interpreted as a sign indicating an auspicious site. Entrance to the temple is free for those who wish to climb the 300-plus steps; alternatively, there's a cable car with a 50 baht fare for foreigners. Clearly marked songthaews to Doi Suthep leave from Pratu Chang Phuak, passing Chiang Mai University and the zoo on the way. Prices are fixed at 40 baht up and 30 baht down; the drivers wait until they have sufficient (up to 8) passengers before they depart. The trip takes about 30 minutes one way. Alternatively, the 18km journey from town can be made by motorcycle or a bicycle with appropriate gearing. The final 12km from the zoo onwards is entirely uphill and will take 60-90 minutes if cycling.
Wat Phra Singh is located in the centre of the city at the intersection of Singharaj and Rajdamnern Road (west end) and is probably Chiang Mai's best-known temple, housing the Phra Singh image, completed between 1385 and 1400. Of particular note historically is Wihaan Lai Kham in the back, featuring Lanna-style temple murals and intricate gold patterns on red lacquer behind the altar. The large chedi was built in 1345 by King Pha Yu to house the remains of his father King Kam Fu. A typical scripture repository is located at this temple as well. These repositories were designed to keep and protect the delicate sa or mulberry paper sheets used by monks and scribes to keep records and write down folklore. The high stucco-covered stone base of the repository protected the delicate scriptures from the rain, floods and pests. The walls of the chapel are covered with murals illustrating Lanna customs, dress, and scenes from daily life. The lovely Lai Kam chapel houses the revered Phra Singh Buddha image. Sadly, the head was stolen in 1922, and a reproduction is now seen.
Wat Chiang Mun, Rajpakinai Road. The oldest temple in the city. Presumed to date from the year Chiang Mai was founded (1296), it is famed for two Buddha images, which according to legend are 1800 and 2500 years old. King Mengrai allegedly lived here while the city of Chiang Mai was being constructed. Enshrined in Wat Chiang Mun is a tiny crystal Buddha called Pra Seh-Taang Kamaneeee, which is thought to have the power to bring rain. Another image, called Phra Sila Khoa, reflects the fine workmanship of Indian craftsmen from thousands of years ago.
Wat Chedi Luang, Prapokklao Road. Located directly in Chiang Mai centre, this is the site of a formerly massive pagoda that was unfortunately destroyed in the great earthquake of 1545. The temple was originally constructed in 1401 on the orders of King Saeng Muang Ma. In 1454, reigning King Tilo-Garaj enlarged the chedi (pronounced jedee) to a height of 86 meters. After the earthquake, the chedi lay in ruins until 1991-92, during which time it was reconstructed at a cost of several million baht. A magnificent testament to Lanna (northern Thai) architecture and art, it is now every bit as impressive as it was when it was first built, and one of Chiang Mai's top tourist attractions. Wat Chedi Luang is also home to the "Pillar of the City", a totem used in ancient Thai fertility rites.
Wat Phra Jao Mengrai, off Ratchamankha Road (near Heuan Phen). An atmospheric wooden temple away from the beaten track, quiet and gently crumbling in the absence of tourist hordes.
Wat Oo-Mong, off Suthep Road. An ancient temple in the forest just outside Chiang Mai. King Mengrai built this temple for a highly respected forest monk who liked to wander in the countryside, hence the isolated location where the monk could stay quietly and meditate. It is unusual in that it has tunnel-like chambers in the ground, some of the walls of which still have the original paintings of birds and animals visible.
[edit] Elephants
Elephant Nature Park [3]. Approximately 60km north of Chiang Mai. This is a sanctuary for rescued and distressed elephants. They are not here to perform or do tricks but people visiting here will leave with a whole new understanding of these magnificent creatures.
Maesa Elephant Camp, 119/9 Tapae Road, Muang District, +66 53-206247 or +66 53-206248, [4]. An elephant camp in the hills about a half hour's drive north of the city center. It has an elephant show, which includes elephants playing football and painting. You can also take half hour or one hour elephant rides. Not exactly a place to bring a PETA activist, but many do enjoy the performances.
[edit] Other
Bhuping Palace is located on the same road beyond Doi Suthep (22km from town). This royal winter palace has lavishly landscaped gardens and is open to the public daily 08:30-11:30 & 13:00-15:00 when the Thai royal family is not in residence. 50 baht for foreigners, 20 baht for locals, 10 baht for children.
Chiangmai Zoo, at the foot of Doi Suthep, [5]. Home to over 7,000 animals in a wooded natural environment. Its popularity was boosted recently when it received a pair of Giant Pandas from Sichuan, China.
Simon Cabaret, [6]. Take in a drag show of Chiang Mai's 'Guys as Dolls.' In good taste and family oriented.
hot springs
night safari
orchid and butterfly farms
puppet shows


Sukhumvit – The long Sukhumvit Road, changing name to Ploenchit Road and Rama I Road going west, is Bangkok's modern commercial core, full of glitzy malls and hotels. The Skytrain intersection at Siam Square is the closest thing Bangkok has to a centre.
Silom – To the south of Sukhumvit, the area around Silom Road and Sathorn Road is Thailand's sober financial center by day, but Bangkok's primary party district by night when quarters like the infamous Patpong come alive.Suriwongse Road -The Entrance to Patpong road and the gay paradise opposite to it.
Rattanakosin – Between the river and Sukhumvit lies the densely packed "Old Bangkok", home to Bangkok's best-known wats. Yaowarat (Chinatown) and sights around the Chao Phraya River are also included here. Bangkok's backpacker mecca Khao San Road and the surrounding district of Banglamphu are located on the northern part of Rattanakosin.
Thonburi – The quieter west bank of the Chao Phraya River, with many small canals and some offbeat attractions.
Phahonyothin – The area around Phahonyothin Road and Viphavadi Rangsit Road is best known for the Chatuchak Weekend Market and Don Muang Airport.
Ratchadaphisek – The district north of Sukhumvit centered around Ratchadaphisek Road (part of which is called Asoke) and reaching from Phetchaburi Road to Lat Phrao. This area has really opened up recently as the new metro line follows Ratchadaphisek Road.
[edit] Understand

The concrete jungle of central Bangkok
Just under 14 degrees North of the Equator, Bangkok is a tropical metropolis that is also one of the most traveller-friendly cities in Asia. A furious assault on the senses, the first things that impress many visitors are the heat, the congestion both on streets and sidewalks, the pollution inherent to rapid development, the squalor that accompanies a gaping chasm between rich and poor, and the irrepressible smiles of the Thais. Despite the sensationalized international news reports and first impressions, the city is surprisingly safe, more organized than it initially appears, and full of hidden gems waiting to be discovered. The high relative humidity and warm temperature favor the growth of tropical plants — you'll find exotic orchids and delicious fruit everywhere. Thai cuisine is singular, justifiably famous, varied, and affordable. Bangkok, for many, represents the quintessential Asian capital. Saffron-robed monks, garish neon signs, graceful Thai architecture, spicy dishes, colourful markets, traffic jams, and the tropical climate come together in a happy coincidence. It is difficult to leave with lukewarm impressions of the city.
[edit] History
Bangkok (originally Bang Makok) was a small village on the banks of the Chao Phraya river, until a new capital was founded on the west bank (present-day Thonburi) after the fall of Ayutthaya. In 1782, King Rama I built a palace on the east bank (now Rattanakosin) and renamed the city as Krung Thep, as it is now known to Thais -- the City of Angels (and much more: the full name is listed as the world's longest place name by the Guinness Book of Records; an English rendering goes like this: "Krung thep mahanakhon amorn ratanakosin mahintharayutthaya mahadilok pop noparatratchathani burirom udomratchanivetmahasathan amornpiman avatarnsathit sakkathattiyavisnukarmprasit" -- "The city of angels, the great city, the residence of the Emerald Buddha, the impregnable city (of Ayutthaya) of God Indra, the grand capital of the world endowed with nine precious gems, the happy city, abounding in an enormous Royal Palace that resembles the heavenly abode where reigns the reincarnated god, a city given by Indra and built by Vishnukarn"). The original village has long since ceased to exist, but for some reason foreigners never caught on to the change.
[edit] Addresses & Navigation
Addresses in Bangkok use the Thai addressing system, which may be a little confusing to the uninitiated. Large roads such as Silom or Sukhumvit are thanon (ถนน), often abbreviated Th or glossed "Road/Avenue", while the side streets branching off from them are called soi (ซอย). Sois are numbered, with even numbers on one side and odd ones on the other. Thus, an address like "25 Soi Sukhumvit 3" means the 25th building on the 3rd soi of Sukhumvit Road. While the soi numbers on each side will always advance upward, the numbers often do not advance evenly between sides - for example, Soi 55 could be across from soi 36. Many well-known sois have an additional name, which can be used instead of the number. Soi 3 is also known as "Soi Nana", so the address above might thus also be expressed as "25 Soi Nana". The extension /x is used for new streets created between existing streets, as seen in Sukhumvit's soi pattern 7, 7/1, 7/2, 9, 11. Note that some short alleys are called trok (ตรอก) instead of soi.

To make things a little more complex, some large sois like Soi Ekamai (Sukhumvit Soi 63) and Soi Ari (Phahonyothin Soi 7) have their own sois. In these cases an address like "Soi Ari 3" means "the 3rd soi off Soi Ari", and you may even spot addresses like "68/2 Soi Ekamai 4, 63 Sukhumvit Road", meaning "2nd house beside house 68, 4th soi off Ekamai, the 63rd soi of Sukhumvit". In many sois the house numbers are not simply increasing, but may spread around.
To further bewilder the tourist who doesn't read Thai, the renderings of Thai street names in the Latin alphabet are not consistent. The road running towards the (former) airport from the Victory Monument may be spelled Phahon Yothin or Pahon Yothin or Phahonyothin or Phaholyothin depending on which street sign or map you consult. It's all the same in Thai, of course -- only the romanisation varies.
And if that's not confusing enough, most of the larger streets tend to change names altogether every few kilometers. Sukhumvit is called Sukhumvit on one side of the tollway (roughly east), but it becomes Ploenchit just before you cross Thanon Witthayu (aka Wireless) going towards the river. Keep going just a few more streets and it becomes Thanon Rama I (usually said as just Rama I) after you pass Thanon Ratchadamri. But if you were to turn right onto Ratchadamri, in just a few blocks you'll find yourself on Thanon Ratchaprarop (past Petchaburi, aka New Phetburi, which is called Phitsanulok closer to the river). Got it?
But wait, there's logic to these name changes: most of them are neighborhoods. It wouldn't make sense to call the road Sukhumvit if it's no longer running through the Sukhumvit area, would it? Thus, Sukhumvit becomes Ploenchit where it runs though the Ploenchit area. It's when you're able to grasp the city in terms of its neighborhoods that it both becomes more navigable and more charming. Likewise, Pratunam and Chatuchak are much more than just markets; they're boroughs, each with its own distinct character.
Related to this last point, compass directions are not widely used by Thais to navigate in Bangkok. That's probably because they aren't very useful: the city's darwinistic layout, the changing street names, the winding river, and the lack of obvious landmarks all conspire to confuse your internal compass. Thus, asking for directions in terms of "is that west from here?" will probably earn you little more than a confused look from a local. You're better off to familiarize yourself with the neighborhoods and navigate to and from them. "How do I get to Thonglor?" will get you there faster than asking for directions to Sukhumvit Soi 55.
One exception: the Chao Phyra River is THE landmark in Bangkok, and many directional references can be made as "toward the river" or "away from the river". If you aren't TOO close, that is: since the river winds around the most popular tourist areas, river references tend to be most helpful when you're wandering farther afield than Banglamphoo or Sanam Luang or Rattana. And wander you should.
[edit] Get in
[edit] By plane
Bangkok now has two airports operating. Allow at least three hours to connect between them.
[edit] Suvarnabhumi Airport
Departure tax
Bangkok used to have a departure tax (called the "Passenger Service Charge") of 700 baht for international flights. This was payable in cash after check-in; however, it is now included in your airline ticket. If you purchased the tickets prior to Dec 2006, this may not be the case. Check your tickets!
Located 30 kilometres (19 miles) to the east of Bangkok, space-age Suvarnabhumi Airport (สุวรรณภูมิ, pronounced "soo-wanna-poom", (IATA: BKK) (ICAO: VTBS), [2] started operations in September 2006 and is now Bangkok's main airport, used by all international flights as well as all Air Asia and some Thai Airways domestic flights. There is only one terminal building, which covers both domestic and international flights, but it's huge (by some measures the world's largest) so allow time for getting around.

Suvarnabhumi Airport
All the facilities you'd expect are available (transit hotel, ATMs, money exchange). The cheapest place to eat is the Magic food court on the 1st floor, while perhaps the most comfortable and relaxing of the airport's restaurants and cafes is the Sky Lounge on the 5th floor. Here you can have your latte while sitting in plush leather sofas and enjoying a panoramic view over the runways - prices are also quite reasonable with coffee around 70 baht a cup. There are a few stores in the check-in area including a convenience store and a post office; however, the real shopping experience awaits travellers on the other side of immigration in the departure lounge area where the number of shops and duty free outlets leaves you wondering if you are in a mall or an airport. Beware, though, that past security in the gate waiting area there is practically nothing except steel chairs.
Limousine taxis (which charge by distance, e.g. around 800 baht to central Sukhumvit) can be reserved at the limousine hire counter on the 2nd floor (just outside Arrivals), and a limited number of ordinary metered taxis are available outside the exit on the 1st floor (take the escalator downstairs). If there is a huge taxi queue, consider taking a free shuttle bus to the satellite terminal, which has more taxis. There is a 50 baht surcharge on the meter, meaning that trips to the city will cost 300-400 baht (plus 65 baht highway tolls) and take 40-60 minutes depending on traffic.
There is also a stop outside the 1st floor exit for airport express buses [3], which charge a flat 150 baht and operate hourly until midnight, covering four routes, each taking about 60 to 90 minutes:
AE1: Suvarnabhumi-Silom
AE2: Suvarnabhumi-Khao San Road
AE3: Suvarnabhumi-Sukhumvit
AE4: Suvarnahhumi-Victory Monument-Hua Lamphong (train station)
Local (Bangkok) public buses to/from Suvarnabhumi charge a flat 35 baht. To take a public bus, you must first take a free shuttle bus ride (from the outside 2nd floor) to the separate terminal. The lines are:
549: Suvarnabhumi-Bangkapi
550: Suvarnabhumi-Happy Land
551: Suvarnabhumi-Victory Monument (BTS)
552: Suvarnabhumi-On Nut (BTS)-Klong Toei
552A: Suvarnabhumi - Sam Rong
553: Suvarnabhumi-Samut Phrakan
554: Suvarnabhumi-Don Muang Airport
555: Suvarnabhumi-Rangsit (Expressway)
557: merged with 558
558: Suvarnabhumi-Central Rama II-Wong Wien Yai
559: Suvarnabhumi-Rangsit (Outer Ring Road)
These services take about 1 hour to 2 hours depending on Bangkok traffic and frequency is usually every 20 mins during daytime and night time ranges from 20 mins to 1 hour depending on route. Long-distance 1st class bus services connect Suvarnabhumi directly with Chachoengsao, Hua Hin, Nong Khai, Pattaya, Rayong, and Trat.
An airport express train to the future City Air Terminal at Makkasan (connecting to MRT Phetchaburi) and onward to Phaya Thai (connecting to BTS Phaya Thai) is under construction, but is not expected to be ready before the end of 2007 at the earliest. Die-hard rail fans with lots of time to kill can take bus 517 to Hua Takhe station (15 baht), a few km from the airport, and continue on any 3rd class train to Asok or Hualamphong (7 baht).
At present, there are only a few hotels located near Suvarnabhumi Airport, though with huge construction projects planned for the area this will change over the next few years. Day room facilities for transit passengers are now available at the 'Miracle Grand Louis Tavern' on floor 4, section G (Tel+66 6 317-2211, 2000 baht per 4-hour block, no reservations accepted). Cheapskate travelers looking for a free quiet place to doze undisturbed at night should head for the prayer rooms.
The Tourist Authority of Thailand and other hotel and tourist agencies have counters on the second floor of the main terminal. These agencies offer hotel reservation service. Check for special promotions and also whether the hotel offers airport pick up and drop off service - especially useful for late night arrivals and early morning departures.
Novotel Suvarnabhumi Airport Hotel, Suvarnabhumi Airport. Tel:+66 2 131-1111 [4]. The only hotel in the airport itself, connected to the main airport terminal by a pedestrian bridge. (As of Mar 2007, the pedestrian bridge is still not ready for use and passengers are taken to the hotel via a free shuttle bus service which takes less than 5 mins.) Rooms: 3,500+ baht.
Queen's Garden Resort, 44 Soi 7, Suvarnabhumi, Lat Krabang. Tel:+66 2734 4540-3. Fax: +66 2 734 4542, e-mail, [5]. The hotel is just 5-10 minutes from Suvarnabhumi Airport. Located on the banks of a sleepy river, the Resort has views towards Lat Krabang Temple. Rooms 900+ Baht.
Royal Princess Srinakarin, 905 Moo 6, Srinakarin Road, Nongbon, Pravet. Tel:+66 2 728-400. Fax:721- 8432 - a 20-30 minute drive from airport. Rooms 3,500+ baht.
Sananwan Palace, 18/11 moo 11. Sukapibarn Road 5 , Bangpli Yai. Tel:+66 2 752-1658 ,(Mobile) +66 818644615. Family-owned budget accommodation with swimming pool, TV and high speed internet about 20 minutes drive from the airport. Rooms with A/C: 600 baht.
Grand Inn Come Hotel, 99 Moo 6, Kingkaew Road, Rachataeva, Bangplee, Samutprakan. Tel:+66 2 738 8191-3 - about a 15-20 minute drive from the airport. Bus 553 stops here. Rooms between 1,200 - 2,000 baht.
Avana Hotel, 23/1 Moo 12 Soi 14/1, Bangna-Trad Road. Tel:+66 2 763-2900. 3-star hotel about 30 minutes drive from the airport. Rooms 1,200 to 3,000 baht.
Nasa Vegas Hotel[6]. 44 Ramkhamhaeng Road. Tel :+66 2 719-9888 Fax:+66 2 719-9899 - about 15 mins drive from the new airport. Rooms from 590 + baht.
Ratchana Place[7]. 199 Moo 4, Soi Wat Sirisaothong, Bangna Trad Highway KM 26, Bangbo, Samutprakan 10540 Tel:+66 2 313-4480~9 - about 15-20 mins drive from the airport. Rooms between 350 - 700 baht.
Bansabai Hostel[8]. 8/137 Moo 3, Soi Sahakon 15, Latphrao 71, Latphrao Rd, Bangkok 10230, Thailand+66 2 932-9200 [9] - about 30-40 mins drive from the airport. Rooms rate between 600 - 800 baht.
Unico Grande Sukhumvit[10]. 27 Sukhumvit Soi1, Sukhumvit Rd, Klongtoey-Nua, Wattana Bangkok 10110, Thailand+66 2 655 3993 [11] - about 30-40 mins drive from the airport. Rooms rate between 2,500 - 5,000 baht.
[edit] Don Muang Airport
Don Muang Airport (IATA: DMK) (or Don Mueang), 20 km north of downtown, was Bangkok's main airport until 2006. The airport handles Nok Air, PB Air and most Thai Airways domestic flights, but the former international terminal is now limited to charters and general aviation.
The public taxi stand is located on the sidewalk outside the arrivals area (don't be fooled by all the taxi service booths in the main hall), and is probably your best bet for getting into town — it's also your only option after 11 PM. Give your destination (English is understood) and you will receive a two-part ticket at the booth. The charge into town will be the meter + 50 baht + toll if you take the expressway (recommended, 30-70 baht), for a usual total of 200-300 baht. The small part is for your driver, the large part is for you. This ticket is for complaints and is how the system is enforced: hold on to it to help avoid arguments later. The trip into town takes 30 minutes and up depending on traffic conditions.
If the line at the taxi stand is long or you need a more spacious car, you may want to book a (so-called) limousine from the desks in the terminal. This will get you a slightly nicer car at about twice the price (500-600 baht). Ignore any touts outside and do not get into any car with white license plates, as these are not licensed to carry passengers.
Across a covered overpass from the airport is the train station. Tickets to Hualamphong station cost 5 baht at the ticket booth. While taking the train is the cheapest way to get from the airport to Bangkok, it is not for the faint-of-heart: schedules are erratic, the run-down passenger cars often have beggars roaming through them, and are relatively empty late at night.
There are also a number of public transport buses going by the airport. Just take a overpass to the real road bypassing the airport and stop the bus of your choice. For example the air-con bus 504 will take you to the World Trade Center, from where you'll have access to the Skytrain as well as many other buses, or Lumpini Park, from where you get access to the subway, for 20 Baht. Note that large baggage is not allowed.
If you're flying Thai Airways, you can do a city check-in at Lad Phrao MRT station, from where free shuttle buses leave 1:50 before each Thai flight. The same buses also run in the reverse direction from the airport.
[edit] By bus
Bangkok's three official long haul bus terminals are:
Eastern Bus Terminal - also known as Ekamai, this relatively compact terminal is located right next to Ekamai BTS station on Sukhumvit (E7). Ekamai serves Eastern Thailand destinations, including Pattaya, Rayong, Ban Phe, Chanthaburi and Trat.
North & North Eastern Bus Terminal - also known as Moh Chit (or Mor Chit or Morchit), this is the largest, busiest, and most modern terminal. The upper floor serves the North-East (Isaan); the ground floor serves the North, as well as sharing some destinations with Ekamai (including Pattaya, Rayong, Chanthaburi and Trat). It's a 30-baht moto hop (or a lengthy hike across Chatuchak Park) from BTS Moh Chit/Metro Chatuchak stations (N8/18), or take the 77 bus and pay the 7-baht flat fare on board.
See the Phahonyothin District guide for more details.
Southern Bus Terminal - also known as Sai Tai Mai, this older and relatively chaotic sprawling terminal serves all points west and south from its somewhat inconvenient location on the "wrong" side of the river. The terminal is scheduled to move to a new, even more remote location in Phutthamonthon Sai 1 in December 2007 — enquire locally.
See the Thonburi District guide for more details.
when arriving in Bangkok...
...late at night, the easiest way from Northern or Southern terminal to your final destination will be by meter taxi. tourist bus you may find yourself delivered to their favorite hotel or guest-house, otherwise you'll probably be dropped off in the vicinity of one of the long haul terminals, or if it's a service catering primarily for backpackers, somewhere near Khao San Road.
[edit] By train
The three main stations in Bangkok are:
[edit] Hualamphong Train Station

Inside view of Hualampong train station, looking towards the platform
The main station and the terminus of the Bangkok Metro line. Located right in the middle of downtown Bangkok, it is a huge and surprisingly nice station, built during the reign of King Rama VI and spared bombing in world War II at the request of the Free Thai underground. The station has a good tourist office. (Only listen to the people at the Info desk - anyone walking around offering to help you 'find' a hotel or taxi is just a tout, even if they are wearing very official looking badges).
Tickets for trains leaving the same or next day can be bought on the counters under the red/orange/green screens (see photo). The Advance Booking Office is located to the right of the platforms as you walk towards them and is quite well organised. You can select your seat/berth from a plan of the train, and payments by credit card are accepted.
The taxi pick up and drop off point is to the left of the platforms as you walk towards them, and is generally chaotic at busy periods with scant regard for any queue.
The left luggage facility is at the opposite end of the concourse, on the far right as you walk away from the platforms.

WARNING: The TAT Authorized Tourism Information offices in the second floor sell you a private "VIP bus" ticket if there is no place in first and second class trains. They offer a direct trip to the destination with a VIP bus faster than the train. Although the trip starts with a VIP bus, it ends up with a "surprise" transfer to a minibus and extremely long journeys. Just refuse the offered private bus ticket and buy public bus tickets from the main bus terminals if you cannot find ticket for train.

[edit] Bang Sue Train Station
If coming from the north or north-east, connecting to the Metro here can shave the last half-hour off your train trip. This is not a very good place to board trains though, as there is practically no information or signage in English. However, this situation will doubtless improve as more and more long-distance departures are switched to here from Hualamphong.
See Phahonyothin District for more details.
[edit] Thonburi Train Station
Also known as Bangkok Noi, this station is located on the "wrong" side of the river in Thonburi District and is the starting point for services to Kanchanaburi (via Nakhon Pathom), River Kwai Bridge and Nam Tok.
There are two daily 3rd class trains: [12]
depart Thonburi 07:45, arrive Nam Tok 12:20, return 13:00, terminate Thonburi at 17:36
depart Nam Tok 05:25, arrive Thonburi 10:05, return 13:50, terminate Nam Tok at 18:20
Note that the weekend-only 2nd class air-con Kanchanaburi/Nam Tok "tourist" trains depart from Hualamphong. [13]
[edit] By ship
Cruise ships visiting Bangkok arrive at Laem Chabang, about 90 minutes south-east of Bangkok and about 30 minutes north of Pattaya.
A taxi service desk is available on the wharf, but charges extortionate prices - a whopping 2600 baht to charter a taxi (4 passengers), or about 5000 baht to charter a minibus (usually 11 passenger seats), for a trip into Bangkok. Slightly lower prices can be found by walking out to the main road (about 4000 baht for a minibus), however even these rates are almost double the typical rate in the opposite direction. Better deals may be possible for round trips (even if returning the following day).
Frequent first and second class bus services directly connect Laem Chabang with Ekamai (Bangkok's Eastern Bus Terminal, on Sukhumvit); less frequent direct services run to Moh Chit (Bangkok's Northern Bus Terminal). A first class air-con bus (blue and white) to either will usually take 90 minutes or less; the fare is around 100 baht. A good way to make the most of a quick visit is to board an Ekamai bus and then disembark early at the On Nut Skytrain Station on Sukhumvit Road in Bangkok (the bus will always pause here provided a passenger requests it); in the opposite direction, use the Ekamai Skytrain Station and board the bus at the terminus. To get to or return from the Chatuchak Weekend Market, use the Moh Chit bus instead.
Buses en route to Pattaya (southbound) can be boarded at the traffic lights on Sukhumvit Road in Laem Chabang, are extremely frequent (at least 10 per hour), and charge less than 50 baht.
[edit] Get around
Bangkok has the full spectrum of public transportation methods. Buses and taxis operate everywhere in the city. The Sky Train (BTS) and metro are available only in the city centre. And vans generally operate only in more out-lying areas.

BTS Sukhumvit
BTS Silom
Mo Chit
Sam Yan
Saphan Khwai
Si Lom
Khlong Toei
Sanam Pao
Queen Sirikit NCC
Victory Monument
Phaya Thai
National Stadium
Phra Ram 9
Thai Cultural Center
Chit Lom
Huai Khwang
Phloen Chit
Sala Daeng
Chong Nonsi
Lat Phrao
Phrom Phong
Phahon Yothin
Thong Lo
Saphan Taksin
Chatuchak Park
Kamphaeng Phet
Phra Khanong
Bang Sue
On Nut
[edit] By train
[edit] Skytrain
The Bangkok Skytrain (BTS, pronunced bee-tee-et in Thai but also rót fai fáa or just skytrain) deserves a visit simply for the Disneyland space-ageness of it. Built in a desperate effort to ease Bangkok's insane traffic and pollution, the Skytrain covers most of downtown and is especially convenient for visiting the Siam Square area. There are two lines: the light green Sukhumvit line which travels along Sukhumvit road and then goes up Phayonyothin to northern Bangkok, where it terminates near the Chatuchak Weekend Market (N8), and the dark green Silom line, which travels from the Silom area, interchanges with the Sukhumvit line at Siam Square (C) and ends at National Stadium, right next to MBK. There isn't, unfortunately, a station near Banglampu District (aka the Khao San Road area), but the river ferry connects between Tha Banglampu and Tha Sathorn, which is under the Silom line terminus at Saphan Taksin (S6).
You must have 5 or 10 baht coins to purchase Skytrain tickets from the vending machines near the entrance, so hold on to them. Fares range from 15 to 40 baht depending upon how many zones you are travelling. Consult the map (in English) near each ticket machine. If you do not have coins, queue for change from the staff at the booth. If you are in town for several days, weigh your options and consider a rechargable stored-value card (from 100 baht, with a 30-baht refundable deposit), a "ride all you like" tourist pass (from 100 baht/day) or a multiple ride pass of 10 trips or more. They will certainly save you time, scrambling for coins, and maybe even money. Check for information with the English speaking staff.
Four stations are fully accessible to wheelchair users, plus one station, On Nut is accessible only on the arrival side. The other fully accessible stations are Asok/Sukhumvit, Siam, Chong Nonsi and Mo Chit. To acceed to concourse level in these stations, you can use the lift - press the call button and an attendant will come and get you. At On Nut stations on the departures side, the attendant will help you also to get to platform level through the escalator since the elevator can be used only to get to intercourse level. Siam Station is also accessible independently through the linked Siam Paragon department store.
Bangkok Metro finally opened in July 2004. The Blue Line connects the central Hualamphong railway station (1) to the northern Bang Sue station (18), with interchanges to the Skytrain at Silom/Sala Daeng (3/S2), Sukhumvit/Asok (7/E4) and Chatuchak/Mo Chit (15/N8). You can also transfer to north/northeast-bound SRT trains at the northern terminus Bang Sue.
Metro tickets are not interchangeable with Skytrain tickets. Rides cost from 15 to 39 baht depending on distance; pre-paid cards of up to 1000 baht are also available. For single ride fares, a round plastic token is used.
The subway stop for the Chatuchak Weekend Market is not Chatuchak Park, but one stop further at Kamphaeng Phet (16). The latter drops you right inside the market.
All metro stations are fully accessible to wheelchair users. If the elevator has been put out of service, just ask the security staff present at every station and an attendant will come and get you to help you to deal with all the process of buying tickets and get to the train platform level.
[edit] By boat

Chao Phraya Express Boat
A ride on the Chao Phraya River should be high on any tourist's agenda. The cheapest and most popular option is the Chao Phraya Express Boat, basically an aquatic bus plying up and down the river. The basic service plies from Wat Rajsingkorn (S4) all the way to Nonthaburi (N30) is now 13 baht, with stops at most of Rattanakosin's major attractions including the Grand Palace, the Temple of Dawn, etc. Board at piers with a sign showing the route and pay the ticket collector who will approach you bearing a long metal cylinder. In addition to the basic service, there are express services flagged with yellow or orange flags, which stop only at major piers and should be avoided unless you're sure where you're going. The new signposting of the piers is quite clear, with numbered piers and English route maps, and the Central station offers easy interchange to the BTS Saphan Taksin station.
In addition to the workaday express boat, there is also a Tourist Boat which stops at a different subset of piers, offers commentary in English and charges twice the price. The boats are slightly more comfortable and not a bad option for a hop or two, but don't get bullied into buying the overpriced day pass.

Canal boats
Canal boats also serve some of Bangkok's many canals (khlong). They're cheap and immune to Bangkok's notorious traffic jams, but mostly used by locals who use these water taxis to commute to work and school and shopping, so you get to see the 'backside' of the neighborhoods, so to speak. They're also comparatively safe -- just watch your step when boarding and disembarking (they don't stop at the pier for long) and be wary of the water as it can be quite polluted, do not let it get in your eyes. Pay the fare (8-20 baht) to the crazy helmet-wearing ticket collectors who hang onto the outside of the boat, ducking at bridges, as it barrels down the canal. One particularly useful line runs up and down Khlong Saen Saep, parallel to Petchaburi Road, and provides the easiest access from the city center to the Golden Mount. There's a boarding pier across from the WTC under the bridge where Ratchadamri crosses the khlong near Petchburi, and piers now even have (tiny) signs in English.
Finally, for trips outside the set routes, you can hire a long-tail river taxi at any major pier. These are fairly expensive and will attempt to charge as much as 500 baht/hour, but with haggling may be suitable for small groups. To circumvent the mafia-like touts who attempt to get a (large) cut for every ride, agree for the price of the shortest possible ride (half an hour etc), then negotiate directly with the captain when on board.
[edit] By bus
Local buses, mostly operated by the Bangkok Mass Transit Authority (BMTA), are cheapest but also the most challenging way of getting around, as there is a bewildering plethora of routes, usually marked only in Thai. If you can speak Thai you can call 184 Bus Route Hotline. Bus stops usually list only the bus numbers that stop there and nothing more. They are also subject to Bangkok's notorious traffic, often terribly crowded, and many are not air-conditioned. Honestly, unless you're terribly strapped for cash, or are staying in Bangkok for a while, it is not worth figuring out the buses! Take a taxi. The hierarchy of Bangkok's buses from cheapest to best can be ranked as follows:
Small green bus, 7.50 baht flat fare. Cramped, no air-con, no fan, famously suicidal drivers, not advisable for more than short hops.
Red bus, 7 baht flat fare. More spacious and fan-cooled (in theory). Unlike other buses, some of these run through the night (1.50 baht surcharge). These buses are BMTA run.
White/blue bus, 8 baht flat fare. Exactly the same as the red buses, but cost one baht more. These buses are owned by private entities operated in conjunction with BMTA.
Blue/Yellow and Cream/Blue air-con, 11 baht for the first 8 kilometers, up to 18 baht max. These buses are quite comfy. The blue/yellow striped buses are privately owned while the Blue/Cream buses are BMTA owned.
Orange air-con (Euro II), 13 baht for the first few kilometers, up to 22 baht max. These are all BMTA-run, newer, and more comfortable.
Purple Microbus, 20 baht flat fare. Skytrain feeder services used to use these, but the service has been terminated.
Buses stop only when needed, so wave them down (arm out, palm down) when you see one barreling your way. In all buses except the Microbus, pay the roaming collector after you board; on Microbuses, drop the money into a slot next to the driver as you board. In all buses, keep the ticket as there are occasional spot-checks, and press the signal buzzer (usually near the door) when you want to get off.
Two further pitfalls are that buses of the same number may run slightly different routes depending on the color, and there are also express services (mostly indicated by yellow signs) that skip some stops and may take the expressway (2 baht extra).
The best online resources for decrypting bus routes are the official BMTA homepage, which has up-to-date if slightly incomplete listings of bus routes in English but no maps, and the ThailandOnline bus route map (bus info only in Thai, the map itself is bilingual). As a printed reference, the Bus Routes & Map guide (50 baht) by Bangkok Guides is another option.
Recently they have changed the rules regarding luggage on local buses within Bangkok, with the exception of airport buses you cannot take large amounts of luggage (ie. backpacks or suitcases) on the local buses.
Useful bus lines include the following:
Red Bus No. 2 can bring people from Sanam Luang (very close to Khao San Road) to Sukhumvit Road. It's a good way to get from the Khao San Road area to connections with the Skytrain or MRT. It passes Pantip Plaza on the way.
'Air Con Bus 511 takes people from Sukhumvit and the Democracy Monument to the Southern Bus Terminal. If you want to go to Sukhumvit from Khao San Road, be sure to take the bus WITHOUT the yellow sign in front, as this will take you to Rangsit.
Red Bus No. 15 will take you from Khao San Road to Siam Square.
[edit] By taxi
Taxis are a quick and comfortable way to get around town, at least if the traffic is flowing your way. All taxis are now metered and air-conditioned: the hailing fee is 35 baht and most trips within Bangkok cost less than 100 baht. There are no surcharges (except from the airport), even at night. A red lit sign on the front window means that the taxi is available.
When the meter is switched on you will see a red '35' somewhere on the dashboard or between the driver and you. Be sure to check for this at the start of the ride, as many drivers will "forget" to start the meter in order to overcharge you at the end of your trip. Most will start the meter when asked politely to do so (meter na khrap (male) / kha (female)); if the driver refuses to use the meter after a couple of attempts, simply exit the taxi. In some cases, late at night and especially near major tourist districts like Khao San or Patpong, you will need to walk a block away to catch a meter cab. The effort can save you as much as 150 baht. This is often also the case for taxis that park all day in front of your hotel. The only two reasons that they are there: 1) To take you places where they can get their commissions (Jewelry stores, massage parlors, etc) and 2) To overcharge you by not using the meter. Your best bet is to walk to the road and catch an unoccupied metered taxi in motion (easier than it sounds, as Bangkok traffic tends to crawl the majority of the time, and one car out of four is a taxi). Be sure to either know the correct pronunciation of your destination, or have it written in Thai; taxi drivers in Bangkok are notoriously bad at reading maps. Most hotels and guesthouses will happily write out addresses in Thai for you. While most drivers will recognize the names of tourist hot spots, even if grossly mispronounced, it is often difficult to properly pronounce addresses in Thai, a tonal language. If your mobile phone works in Thailand, it is sometimes useful to phone your hotel and ask the staff to speak to your driver in Thai.
If you're pinching pennies or fussy about your means of transportation, you may wish to think twice before getting into one of the (very common) yellow-green taxis. They are owner-operated and of highly variable quality, and occasionally they have rigged meters. All other colors belong to large taxi companies, which usually enforce their standards better.
From the airport and on some routes in the city the driver will ask if he should use the Tollway. You should affirm this, it will save a lot of time. You have to pay the cost (20/40 baht) immediately. Watch how much the driver really pays, they may try to keep the change.
When getting out, try to have small bills (100 baht or less) or expect problems with change. Tips are not necessary, but are certainly welcome (especially considering that taxi fares have not risen in well over 5 years, despite rising gas prices!). Note that most local passengers will round up, or leave any coin change as tip.
[edit] By motorbike
When traffic slows to a crawl and there are no mass-transit alternatives for your destination, by far the fastest mode of transport is a motorbike taxi (or in Thai, "motosai lapjang"). No, those guys in the pink smocks aren't biker gangs; they're motosai cabbies. They typically wear colorful fluorescent yellow-orange vests and wait for passengers at street corners and near shopping malls. Prices are negotiable; negotiate before you ride.

WARNING: Motorcycle accidents are brutally common, and many (tourists and Thai alike) consider transportation of this sort to be inherently hazardous. Motorcycle taxis in Bangkok should generally be avoided except as a last resort.
For the unfaint-of-heart, a wild motosai ride can provide a fantastic rush. Imagine weaving through rows of stopped vehicles at 50km/h with mere centimetres to spare on each side, dodging pedestrians, other motorbikes, tuk-tuks, stray dogs and the occasional elephant while the driver blithely ignores all traffic laws and defies even some laws of physics. Now, do the same ride while facing backwards on the bike and balancing a large television on your lap — then you can qualify as a local.
The overwhelming majority of motorcycle taxis do not travel long distances, but simply shuttle up and down long sois (side-streets) not serviced by other transport for a fixed 5-20 baht fare. These are marginally less dangerous, especially if you happen to travel with the flow on a one-way street.
The law requires that both driver and passenger must wear a helmet. It is the driver's responsibility to provide you with one, so if you are stopped by police, any fine is also the driver's responsibility. This is worth bearing in mind when you hire a motorbike or moped. Make sure that if there are two of you, the hirer provides two helmets not one. When riding, keep a firm grasp on the seat handle and watch out for your knees.
[edit] By tuk-tuk

Tuk-tuks on the prowl
Finally, what would Bangkok be without the much-loathed and much-loved tuk-tuks? You'll know them when you hear them, and you'll hate them when you smell them — these three-wheeled contraptions blaze around Bangkok leaving a black cloud of smog in their wake. For anything more than a 5-10 minute jaunt or just the experience, they really are not worth the price — and, if you let them get away with it, the price will usually be 4 or 5 times what it should be anyway (which, for Thais, is around 30% less than the equivalent metered taxi fare). On the other hand, you can sometimes ride for free if you agree to visit touristy clothing or jewelry shops (which give the tuk-tuk driver gas coupons and commissions for bringing customers). The shops' salesmen are pushy, but you are free to leave after five to ten minutes of browsing. Visitors should beware though, sometimes one stop can turn in to three, and your tuk-tuk driver may not be interested in taking you where you need to go once he has his gas coupons. Also, with Bangkok's densly congested traffic it is sure to spend hours of your time.
In case you actually want to get somewhere, and you're an all-male party, be careful with the tuk-tuk drivers, they will usually just ignore your destination and start driving you to some bordello ("beautiful girls"). Insist continually and forcefully on going only to your destination.
There's also a less-heralded, less-colourful and less-touristy version of the tuk-tuk that usually serves the back sois in residential neighborhoods. They usually have four wheels instead of three and resemble a tiny truck / ute / lorry, and they run on petrol instead of LP. The maids and locals tend to use them to return home from market with loads of groceries, or for quick trips if they're available. Negotiate before you get in, but don't expect to go much beyond the edge of that particular neighborhood.
[edit] See



Wat Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai
Mainland Thai culture is heavily influenced by Buddhism. However, unlike the Buddhist countries of East Asia, Thailand's Buddhists follow the Therevada school, which is arguably closer to its Indian roots and places a heavier emphasis on monasticism. Thai temples known as wats, resplendent with gold and easily identifiable thanks to their ornate, multicolored, pointy roofs are ubiquitous and becoming an orange-robed monk for a short period, typically the three-month rainy season, is a common rite of passage for young Thai boys and men.
One pre-Buddhist tradition that still survives is the spirit house (ศาลพระภูมิ saan phraphuum), usually found at the corner of any house or business, which houses spirits so they don't enter the house and cause trouble. The grander the building, the larger the spirit house, and buildings placed in particularly unlucky spots may have very large ones. Perhaps the most famous spirit house in Thailand is the Erawan Shrine in central Bangkok, which protects the Erawan Hotel (now the Grand Hyatt Erawan) - built in 1956 on a former execution ground - and is now one of the busiest and most popular shrines in the city.
Some traditional arts popular in Thailand include traditional Thai dancing and music, based on religious rituals and court entertainment. Famously brutal Thai boxing (muay Thai), derived from the military training of Thai warriors, is undoubtedly the country's best known indigenous sport.
In addition to the mainland Thai culture, there are many other cultures in Thailand including those of the "hill tribes" in the northern mountainous regions of Thailand (e.g., Hmong, Karen, Lisu, Lahu, Akha), the southern Muslims, and indigenous island peoples of the Andaman Sea.
[edit] Calendar
In addition to the Gregorian calendar, Thailand also uses the Thai solar calendar, which is 543 years ahead. Thus, Thai year 2550 corresponds to the Western year 2007. Thai dates in English are often written as B.E., short for "Buddhist Era".
Some Thai holidays are still calculated with the older Thai lunar calendar, so their dates change every year.
[edit] Holidays
Thailand has a lot of holidays, mostly related to Buddhism and the monarchy. Nobody celebrates all of them, except for banks, which seem to be closed a lot.
Makha Bucha falls on the full moon in of the fourth Lunar month, which usually falls in February or March, and commemorates the spontaneous gathering of 1,250 people before the Buddha, which led to their ordination and subsequent enlightenment. At temples in Bangkok and throughout Thailand, Buddhists carry candles and walk around the main shrine three times in a clockwise direction.
During Chinese New Year, Chinese Thais, who are numerous in Bangkok, celebrate by cleaning their houses and offering food to their ancestors. This is, mainly, a time where feasts are abound. Visit Bangkok's Chinatown or Yaowarat to fully embrace the festivity.
Songkran (สงกรานต์) - undoubtedly the most fun holiday - is the celebration of the Thai New Year, sometime in April (officially April 13th to 15th, but the date varies in some locations). What started off as polite ritual to wash away the sins of the prior year has evolved into the world's largest water fight, which lasts for three full days. Water pistols and Super Soakers are advised and are on sale everywhere. The best places to participate are Chiang Mai, the Khao San Road area in Bangkok and holiday resorts like Pattaya, Ko Samui and Phuket. Be advised that you will get very wet, this is not a spectator sport. In recent years, the water-throwing has been getting more and more unpleasant as people have started splashing iced water onto each other. It is advisable to wear dark clothing, as light colors may become transparent when wet.
Loy Krathong (ลอยกระทง) falls on the first full moon day in November, when people head to rivers, lakes and even hotel swimming pools to float flower and candle-laden banana-leaf (or, these days, styrofoam) floats called krathong. The krathong is meant as a thank you offering to the river goddess who gives life to the people. Thais also believe that this is a good time to float away your bad luck and many will place a few strand of hair or finger nail clippings in the kratong. According to tradition, if you make a wish when you set down your krathong and it floats out of sight before the candle burns out, your wish will come true. Some provinces have their own version of Loy Krathong, such as Sukhothai where a spectacular show takes place. To the North, Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, have their own unique tradition of floating Kom or lit laterns. This sight can be breath-taking as the sky is suddenly filled with lights, rivalling the full moon.
Coronation Day (May 5) commemorates the crowning of the current King in 1950 (although his reign actually began on June 9 1946 - making him not only the longest-serving monarch in Thai history, but also the world's longest-serving current Head of State).
The King's Birthday (December 5) is the country's National Day and also celebrated as Father's Day, when Thais pay respect to and show their love for His Majesty the King. Buildings and homes are decorated with the King's flag (yellow with his insignia in the middle) and his portrait. Government buildings, as well as commercial buildings, are decorated with lights. In Old Bangkok (Rattanakosin) in particular, around the Royal Palace, you will see lavish light displays on trees, buildings, and the roads. The Queen's Birthday (August 12) is Mother's Day, and is celebrated similarly if with a little less pomp.
[edit] Tourism
Tourism Authority of Thailand
[edit] Get in
Ordinary passport holders of most countries, including the United States, Canada, European Union countries, Russia, Japan and Australia, do not need a visa if their purpose of visit is tourism and if their stay does not exceed 30 days. Thai immigration requires visitors' passports to have a minimum of 6 months validity and at least one completely blank visa page remaining. Visa-on-arrival is available at certain entry points for passport holders of 20 other nations, including India and China. Check the latest scoop from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs [1].
Proof of onward transit, long happily ignored by Thai immigration, has for unknown reasons been zealously enforced again since 2007. (Airlines, who have to pay for your return flight if immigration doesn't let you in, also check this.) A print-out of an e-ticket on a budget airline is sufficient to convince the enforcers, but those planning on continuing by land may have to get a little creative. Buying a fully refundable ticket and getting it refunded once in Thailand is also an option.
Overstaying in Thailand is dodgy. If you make it to Immigration and are less than 10 days over, you'll probably be allowed out with a fine of 500 baht per day. However, if for any reason you're busted overstaying by regular cops — and drug raids etc are fairly common — you'll be carted off to the notoriously unpleasant illegal immigrant holding pens and may be blacklisted from Thailand entirely. For most people it's not worth the risk: get a legal extension or do a visa run to the nearest border instead.
[edit] By plane
Bangkok is one of Asia's largest hubs; practically every airline that flies to Asia also flies to Bangkok, meaning competition is stiff and prices are low.
There are also international flights directly to/from Chiang Mai, Hat Yai, Ko Samui, Phuket, and Pattaya.
The national carrier is the well-regarded THAI Airways, with Bangkok Airways filling in some gaps in the nearby region. Bangkok Airways offers free internet access while you wait for boarding to start at your gate.
Many low-cost carriers serve Thailand - see Discount airlines in Asia for an up to date list.
For a full at-a-glance list of all Thai-based carriers, see the Thai airlines section (below).
[edit] By road
Cambodia - six international border crossings. The highway from Siem Reap and the temples of Angkor via Poipet to Aranyaprathet, once the stuff of nightmares, is now merely bad and can usually be covered in less than 3 hours.
Laos - the busiest border crossing is at the Friendship Bridge across the Mekong between Nong Khai and the Lao capital Vientiane. It's also possible to cross the Mekong at Chiang Khong / Huay Xai, Nakhon Phanom / Tha Khaek, Mukdahan / Savannakhet, and elsewhere.
Malaysia and Singapore - driving up is entirely possible, although not with a rented vehicle. Main crossings (with name of town on Malaysian side in brackets) between Thailand and Malaysia are Padang Besar (Padang Besar) and Sadao (Bukit Kayu Hitam) in Songkhla province, Betong (Pengkalan Hulu) in Yala province, and Sungai Kolok (Rantau Panjang) in Narathiwat province. There are regular buses across the border, mostly to the southern hub of Hat Yai.
Mae Sai / Tachileik - foreigners can access this crossing from either side, and enter and/or exit either country here; no onward travel restrictions; to get to Tachileik or Kengtung from the rest of Myanmar, a domestic flight must be taken (eg from Heho).
Mae Sot / Myawaddy - foreigners can only access this crossing from the Thai side; neither onward travel into Myanmar (ie beyond the border town) nor overnight stays are possible. No visa needed; instead there's an entry stamp fee - USD10 if paid with USD notes, more (500 baht) if paid with Thai currency.
Three Pagodas Pass (Sangkhlaburi / Payathonzu) - foreigners can only access this crossing from the Thai side; onward travel into Myanmar (ie beyond the border town) is not possible; entry/exit stamps are NOT issued here, and foreigners passports are held at the Myanmar checkpoint, where a fee is levied - USD10 if paid with USD notes, more (500 baht) if paid with Thai currency.
Ranong / Kawthoung - foreigners can access this crossing from either side, and enter and/or exit either country here; no onward travel restrictions (other than those that apply to everyone, no matter how they enter); access to/from Kawthoung is by sea (Mergui/Dawei & Yangon) and air (Mergui & Yangon). If entering without a visa, maximum stay is 3 days / 2 nights, travel beyond Kawthoung is not permitted, and there's an entry stamp fee - USD10 if paid with USD notes, more (500 baht) if paid with Thai currency.
[edit] By train
Thailand's sole international train service links to Butterworth (near Penang) and Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, continuing all the way to Singapore. Tickets are cheap even in first class sleepers, but it can be a slow ride; the 2-hour flight to Singapore will take you close to 48 hours by rail, as you have to change trains twice. The luxury option is to take the Eastern & Oriental Express [2], a refurbished super-luxury train that runs along the same route once per week, with gourmet dining, personal butler service and every other colonial perk you can think of. However, at around US$1000 one-way just from Bangkok to Butterworth, this is approximately 30 times more expensive than an ordinary first-class sleeper!
While you can't get to Laos or Cambodia by train, you can get very close, with railheads just across the border at Nong Khai (across the river from Vientiane) and Aranyaprathet (for Poipet, on the road to Siem Reap). There are plans to connect to both countries someday, but this is unlikely to happen anytime soon.
There are no rail services to Myanmar, but the Thai part of the infamous Burma Death Railway is still operating near Kanchanaburi.
[edit] By ferry
Ferries cross from Satun in southern Thailand to the Malaysian island of Langkawi, while over in Narathiwat province, a vehicular ferry shuttles between Tak Bai and Pengkalan Kubur, near Kota Bharu in Malaysia's Kelantan state.
There are also occasional cruises from Malaysia and Singapore to Phuket and Bangkok, the main operator being Star Cruises [3], but no scheduled services.
[edit] Get around
[edit] By plane
Thailand is a large country, and if sitting in a bus for 11 hours is not your idea of a fun time, you may well want to consider domestic flights. Never terribly expensive to begin with (at least by Western standards), the deregulation of the industry has brought in a crop of new operators; it's now possible to show up at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi airports, buy your ticket and fly pretty much anywhere in the country for less than 2000 baht. Note that various taxes and (often hefty) surcharges are invariably added to "advertised" prices.
[edit] Thai airlines
Bangkok Airways promotes itself as "Asia's Boutique Airline", and has a monopoly on flights to its own airports at Ko Samui, Sukhothai and Trat. Their Discovery Airpass with fixed per segment rates can be good value, especially if used to fly to Siem Reap (Cambodia) or Luang Prabang (Laos). Note that the Discovery Airpass can now only be purchased from abroad.
Hua Hin Air Shuttle is currently the only passenger carrier offering regular flights to/from Hua Hin Airport.
Jetstar Asia Airways is a newer budget airline with some good deals. Keep in mind the price displayed in your search results is only the base fare, additional "taxes and fees" mean the true price will be appreciably higher.
Nok Air took to the skies in 2004 sporting a lurid purple paint scheme with a bird's beak painted on the nose, and employing a price scheme similar to that of Air Asia. It is a join-partnership of more than 8 partners. The major shareholders are Thai Airways International (Thai: การบินไทย), Siam Commercial Asset Co.,Ltd, The Crown Property Bureau, etc. Nok Air planes are leased from and maintain by Thai Airways International using the same standard of safety.
Passenger can make booking directly at, call-center Tel-1318 or at the airports. Payment can be made via credit card, counter service, 7-11, or online credit card. Those who make the booking online can choose the seating right after the purchase.
Currently, they fly to a number of domestic destinations ;i.e., Chiang Mai, Hat Yai, Phuket, Nakorn Sri Thammarat, Udon Thani,Trang, Krabi, Loei and the new routes are Chiang Mai - Pai and Chiang Mai – Prae which cooperated with SGA.
One-Two-Go (part of Orient Thai Airlines) is a low-cost brand with 1-3 flights daily to a handful of domestic destinations. Their punctuality record is notoriously bad; the 747-100s they use are flying museum pieces (but mean there's usually room to spare); and their ticketing counters can be chronically congested (one-hour queues are not unusual, but if you just want to hop on the next flight, you can head to the express ticketing counter at check-in not less than 40 minutes before departure). One of their planes crashed in 2007, killing over 60 people.
PB Air flies domestically to Lampang, Nan, Mae Hong Son, Roi Et, Sakon Nakhon, Nakhon Phanom, Buriram, Nakhon Si Thammarat, and also to Danang (Vietnam).
Thai AirAsia is a budget airline offering discounted tickets if booked well in advance, but prices rise steadily as planes fill up. They fly from Bangkok to a number of places domestically, as well as Cambodia, China and Macau, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, and Vietnam. Keep in mind the price displayed in your search results is only the base fare, additional "taxes and fees" mean the true price will be appreciably higher. On-line booking is straightforward but must be done at least twenty-four hours in advance; ticket sales at the check-in desk close one hour before the departure time.
Thai Airways is the most reliable and frequent Thai airline, but also the most expensive. Unusually, little to no discount is given for flying return. Travel agents can usually sell only THAI Airways tickets; you can also book on-line.
Thai Sky Airlines flies to Incheon (Seoul, South Korea) and Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia).
Tiger Airways is another newer budget airline with prices that beat AirAsia's. Keep in mind the price displayed in your search results is only the base fare, additional "taxes and fees" mean the true price will be appreciably higher.
[edit] By train

SRT railway network
State Railway of Thailand (SRT) has a 4000-km network covering most of the country, from Chiang Mai in the north all the way to (and beyond) the Malaysian border in the south. Compared to buses, most trains are relatively slow, but safer. Point-to-point fares depend on the type (speed) of the train and the class of the carriage. There are three main classes:
First class (chan neung) 2-berth sleeping compartments with individually regulated air conditioning are available on some trains, but prices are sometimes matched by budget airfares.
Second class (chan song) is a good compromise, costing about the same as 1st class buses and with a comparable level of comfort. Some 2nd class trains are air-con, others aren't; air-con costs a little more. Second class sleeper berths are comfortable and good value, with the narrower upper bunks costing a little less than the wider lower bunks. Food and WCs are basic. 2nd class Express Railcar trains have reclining seats and refreshments are included in the fare; unlike all other Thai passenger trains, they can match buses for speed, but cannot carry bicycles.
Third class (chan saam) is the cheapest way to travel in Thailand, with virtually nominal fares, and can be great fun. Sometimes packed with tuk-tuk drivers heading home with a sack of rice and a bottle of cheap whisky for company, as a farang you're guaranteed to be the center of attention - quite enjoyable in small doses, but 10 hours of this might be a bit much. Some 3rd class trains have wooden seats, others are upholstered; some services can be pre-booked, others cannot; refreshments are available from hawkers who roam the aisles.
Pre-booking is recommended, especially for sleeper berths. Many travel agencies will spare you the trouble of travelling to the station to buy tickets for a service fee (often 100 baht/ticket), or you can reserve with SRT directly by e-mail at for a 200 baht/booking surcharge.

[edit] By road
Thailand's roads are head and shoulders above its neighbors Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia, but driving habits are still quite dangerous. Drunk driving, speeding and reckless passing are depressingly common, and bus and taxi drivers (especially for private companies) work inhuman shifts and often take drugs to keep themselves awake, with predictable and tragic results. It's common for motorbikes — even police! — to drive close to the curb on the wrong side of the road. Death tolls sky-rocket around major holidays, especially Songkhran, when bystanders often throw water on passing cars and bikes. Many drivers don't use headlights at night, multiplying risks, and it is wise to avoid or minimize overnight travel by road.
[edit] Bus
Very Inferior Product
Travel agencies, particularly those on Bangkok's Khao San Road, are keen to sell you VIP bus tickets. These are more often than not cramped minibuses that will do their best to arrive late, often by breaking down right next to a conveniently located restaurant, and sell you to the guesthouse that gives them the highest commissions. Theft, particularly on routes to the south, is also a major problem. Thais never use them, opting for public BKS buses instead - and you should too.
Buses travel throughout the country and the government's bus company BKS (บขส Baw Kaw Saw), known in English simply as the Transport Company, has a terminal in every town of any size.
Generally speaking, BKS buses are the best option for both price and comfort. There are also many private bus companies, who mainly compete on price and are less reliable in terms of amenities, schedules and safety. In particular, beware of non-government "VIP" buses, which may be nothing of the sort. A special subclass are the cheap Khao San Road buses, targeted at backpackers. These are the slimiest of the lot and you may find that your supposed VIP bus is in fact a cramped minivan - after paying in advance, that is.
The basic bus types are:
Local - relatively slow, can be cramped when full (nevertheless there's always room for one more), and stop at every village and cowshed along the way. Many are of larger songthaew flavour. Not suitable for long-distance travel, but may be the only cheap way to get around locally.
Express (rot duan) - skip some stops, but no other frills. Identifiable by their orange colour. Size varies, with the largest having around 65 seats (five seats per row) as well as an open space across the width of the bus by the back door for you to sling your rice / chickens / bicycle / backpack.
Second class (chan song) - skip more stops, but often take a less direct route than 1st class / VIP / S-VIP. Blue and white with an orange stripe, usually 45-48 seats per bus, air conditioned (some provide blankets, some do not), and most have no on-board toilet (however the frequent stops mean this isn't a problem).
First class (chan neung) - generally take the most direct routes and make very few stops. Blue and white in colour, air conditioned, blanket usually provided, fewer (larger, longer pitch) seats (typically 40, but some double-decker types seat 60+), snack and drinking water included. Most have a toilet on board (only very short haul services sometimes do not).
"VIP" - as per 1st class, but with only 32-34 seats, which have more leg room and recline further. Basic meal included and freshly laundered shrink-wrapped blanket provided. Also blue and white (or sometimes blue and silver) but usually signed "VIP".
"S-VIP" - Super-VIP is very similar to VIP, except there are only 24 seats, which are wider - the aisle is offset, each row having a pair of seats on the right and only a single seat on the left. Primarily used on overnight services.
Some buses may have TVs and sound systems blaring, so earplugs are well worth having, just in case.
On long-haul buses, if your ticket allocates you a front seat, you may have to switch seats if a monk boards.
[edit] Songthaew
A songthaew is a truck-based vehicle with a pair of bench seats in the back, one on either side. By far the most common type is based on a pick-up truck and has a roof and open sides. Larger types start life as small lorries, and may have windows, and an additional central bench; smaller types are converted micro-vans, with a front bench facing backwards and a rear bench facing forwards.
Songthaews are operated extensively as local buses (generally the most economical way to travel shorter distances) and also as taxis; sometimes the same vehicle will be used for both. Be careful if asking a songthaew to take you to someplace if there is nobody in the back, the driver might charge you the taxi price. In this case, check the price of the ride before embarking.
[edit] Tuk-tuk

Tuk-tuks on the prowl, Bangkok
The name tuk-tuk is used to describe a wide variety of small/lightweight vehicles. The vast majority have three wheels; some are entirely purpose-built (eg the ubiquitous Bangkok tuk-tuk), others are partially based on motorcycle components (primarily engines, steering, front suspension, fuel tank, drivers seat). A relatively recent development is the four wheeled tuk-tuk (basically a microvan-songthaew) as found in Phuket.
[edit] Taxi
Metered taxis are ubiquitous in Bangkok, but rare elsewhere in the country. When available, they are an excellent means of transport - insist on the meter. Beware of taxis which idle around touristy areas and wait for people. They are looking for a tourist who will take their taxi without using a meter. Always use the meter!

[edit] Motorbike
As is the case throughout virtually all of Asia, motorcycles (motosai) are the most common form of transport overall; the most popular type are the 100cc-125cc step-through models. These are very widely used as taxis, with fares starting from as low as 5 baht.
Motorcycles can be rented without difficulty in many locations. Rates start at around 150 baht/day for recent 100-125cc semi-automatic (foot operated gearchange, automatic clutch) step-through models, 200 baht/day for fully automatic scooters; larger capacity models can also easily be found, although the rates reflect the risks - up to around 2500 baht/day for the very latest model high capacity sport bikes, such as the Honda CBR1000RR. In all cases, lower prices will apply if paying upfront for more than a week or so; in some cases, long-distance travel may be prohibited. Motorcycle rentals do not include insurance, and both motorcycling accidents and motorbike thefts are common.
Many places will rent to you without requiring a license, but legally speaking you must have a valid Thai license or International Driver's Permit. Often a deposit will be required; sometimes a passport photocopy, or even the passport itself (don't do this- bargain to leave some baht instead), will be requested. Helmets are normally included, but are usually ultra-basic models with very flimsy chin-strap fasteners - if you're intending to travel by motorcycle and have a good quality helmet at home, then bring it with you. If supplied a helmet with a chin-cup (many cheap rental helmets are), slide the cup up the strap out of the way and securely fasten the bare strap directly under the jaw, as this is much safer.
Insurance is usually not included (or even available), so try to ensure in advance that the insurance you leave home with is going to cover you; alternatively, arrange cover with an insurance broker locally in Thailand. If you rent a vehicle without insurance and it's damaged or stolen, the bottom line is that you will be required to pay in full the cost of repairing or replacing it.
Motorcyclists (including passengers) are required to wear crash helmets and to keep their headlights switched on at all times. Enforcement varies widely, but in tourist areas spot checks for helmets and/or licences are commonplace. While the fines are light (typically 200 baht) the inconvenience can be considerable as offender's vehicle is impounded until the fine is paid, and the queue at the police station can be lengthy.
Some (but not all) border crossings allow motorcycles through. At those which do, documentation including proof of ownership must be produced (with the possible exception of day visits to Payathonzu, Myanmar via Three Pagodas Pass).
[edit] Rental car
Driving your own car in Thailand is not for the faint-hearted, and many rental companies can supply drivers at a very reasonable price. Prices without insurance for a self-driven car start from around 800 baht/day for small cars, and from as little as 600 baht/day for open-top jeeps; cars with insurance start at just under 1000 baht/day, and come down to around 5600 baht/week or 18000 baht/month.
Driving is (usually, but not always!) on the left hand side of the road. As of September 2007, fuel at large petrol stations is 27-30 baht/litre. Small kerbside vendors who pump by hand from drums and/or pour from bottles charge a few baht more.
Cars can be rented without difficulty in many locations. It's worth paying a little more than the absolute minimum in order to use one of the international franchises (eg Avis, Budget, Hertz) to minimize the risk of hassles, and to ensure that any included insurance is actually worth something.
More reputable agencies require that valid licences be produced: foreigners who do not have a Thai driving licence must carry a valid International Driving Permit. Even if you manage to rent a car without an IDP, not having one will invalidate the insurance and count against you in the event of an accident.
A common rental scam involves the owner taking a deposit, and then later refusing to refund it in full on the basis that the customer is responsible for previous damage; the Tourist Police (dial 1155) may be able to help. Another common scam involves the owner having someone follow the rented vehicle and later "steal" it, using a set of spare keys. Always report thefts: a "stolen" vehicle may mysteriously turn up as soon as the police become involved.
[edit] By boat

Long-tail boats, Ao Nang, Krabi
One of the Thais' many names for themselves is jao naam, the Water Lords, and from the river expresses of Bangkok to the fishing trawlers of Phuket, boats remain an indispensable way of getting around many parts of the country.
Perhaps the most identifiably Thai boat is the long-tail boat (reua hang yao), a long, thin wooden boat with the propeller at the end of a long 'tail' stretching from the boat. This makes them supremely manouverable even in shallow waters, but they're a little underpowered for longer trips and you'll get wet if it's even a little choppy. Long-tails usually act as taxis that can be chartered, although prices vary widely - figure on 300-400 baht for a few hours' rental, or up to 1500 for a full day. In some locations like Krabi, long-tails run along set routes and charge fixed prices per passenger.
Modern, air-conditioned speedboat services as well as slower, sometimes overnight ferries also run from the mainland to popular islands like Ko Samui and the Phi Phi Islands. Truly long-distance services (eg. Bangkok to any other major city) have, however, effectively ceased to exist as buses, planes and even trains are faster. Safety measures are rudimentary and ferries and speedboats do sink occasionally, so avoid overloaded ships in poor weather, and scope out the nearest life jackets when on board.
[edit] Do
Thailand's a big enough country that you can find a place to practice almost any outdoor sport. Some selections:
Golf - see the separate Golf in Thailand article
Rock climbing - the cliffs of Rai Leh in Krabi are arguably among the best in the world
Scuba diving - easily accessible Ko Tao (near Samui) draws the crowds, but also possible in Pattaya and Krabi, and the Similan Islands are worth the journey
Trekking - very popular up north around Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai
[edit] Talk
The official language of Thailand is Thai. There are dozens of small language groups in the tribal areas of the north, and a small number of places where Thai speakers are few and far between. Thai is a tonal language (think about the difference in your voice when saying "yes." versus "yes?" - that's tonal) which can make it tricky for Westerners to learn quickly, but despite this, everyone will appreciate any attempt you do make so pick up a phrase book and give it a go.
Thai script can look like complete gibberish, but many street signs and some shop signs have Roman transcriptions (using the "Western alphabet") as well. The upside is that when there is Roman script, it will usually be fairly phonetic - for example "Sawatdee" (meaning hello) is pronounced just as it reads: sa-wat-dee. The downside is that there's no universal agreement on how to transcribe Thai letters that don't have a Roman equivalent, so Khao San Road for example is also commonly spelt Kao Sarn, Kao Sahn, Khao San, Koh Saan, Khaosan, and many other variations. Maps with names in both Thai and Roman make it easier for locals to try and help you.
Most "front desk" people in the travel industry speak at least enough English to communicate, and many are relatively fluent; some also speak one or more other languages popular with their clientele, such as Chinese, Japanese, German, etc.
Many Thais have trouble pronouncing the consonants clusters of the English language. Common confusion comes from the fact that Thais often pronounce "twenty" as "TEH-wen-ty", making it sound like they're saying "seventy".
[edit] Buy
Weighty bahts
Is your new girlfriend asking for a one-baht gold ring? Watch out, as this isn't the cheap trinket it sounds like: for jewellers and goldsmiths, the baht is also a measure of weight, or 15.244 grams (around 0.5 oz) to be exact. At 2006 gold prices, one baht of gold would thus cost you well north of 10,000 baht in cash!
The currency of Thailand is the baht (THB, ฿), written in Thai as บาท or บ. There are six coins and six notes:
25 and 50 satang (cent, copper colour) coins - nearly worthless and only readily accepted (and handed out) by supermarkets and 7-11s
1, 2 and 5 (silver colour) and 10 baht (silver/gold) coins
10 (brown - now very rare), 20 (green), 50 (blue), 100 (red), 500 (purple) and 1000 (grey-brown) baht notes
The most useful bills tend to be 20s and 100s, as many small shops and stalls don't carry much change. Taxi drivers also like to pull the "no change" trick; if caught, hop into the nearest convenience store and make a small purchase (or ask them for exchange).
ATMs can be found in all cities and large towns, and international withdrawals are not a problem. However, more remote areas (including smaller islands) don't have banks or ATMs, so cash or traveller's checks are essential. Many hotels and guest houses will change money for guests, but hefty commissions and poor rates may apply. US dollars in small bills (1s, 5s, and 20s) are invaluable for onward travel to neighbouring countries other than Malaysia, but are only useful in Thailand for exceptional purchases (eg paying visa fees for Cambodia).
Credit cards are widely accepted in the tourist industry, restaurant and shopping mall or widely used in Bangkok and major cities.
[edit] Costs
In a word, Thailand is cheap, and excellent value to boot: the combination of a weak currency, low labor costs and plenty of visitors means that everything a tourist could possibly want is both available and affordable. 800 baht will get a backpacker a dorm bed or cheap room, three square meals a day and leave enough for transport and sightseeing. Doubling that budget will let you stay in decent 3-star hotels, and if you're willing to fork out 4000 baht per day or more you can live like a king. Bangkok requires a more generous budget than upcountry destinations, but also offers by far the most competitive prices for shoppers who shop around. The most popular tourism islands such as Phuket and Ko Samui tend to have higher prices in general.
[edit] Shopping

Racks of clothing at Siam Square, Bangkok
Thailand is a shopper's paradise and many visitors to Bangkok in particular end up spending much of their time in the countless markets and malls. Particularly good buys are clothing, both cheap locally produced streetwear and fancy Thai silk, and all sorts of handicrafts. Electronics and computer gear are also widely available, but prices are higher than in Singapore, Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur.
A Thai speciality are the night markets found in almost every town, the largest and best-known of which include Suan Lum Night Bazaar in Bangkok and the Night Bazaar in Chiang Mai. Here a variety of vendors from designers to handicraft sellers have stalls selling goods which cannot normally be found in malls and day markets. Most night markets also have large open air food courts attached.
You can also find marvelously tacky modern clothing accessories. Witness pink sandals with clear plastic platform heels filled with fake flowers. Night markets along the main roads and Maboonkrong (MBK) Mall, near the Siam sky train stop, are particularly good sources.
Haggling is the norm and Thai's will to charge you as much as they think you can afford to pay which is usually much more than an item is worth. It's not uncommon to buy something, walk outside, and find somebody who bought the same item for half or one third what you paid (or even less). Especially if they ask where you are from, avoid telling them if you are an American because they assume all Americans are rich.
See also: Electronics and entertainment shopping in Thailand
[edit] Sleep
Thailand has a plethora of accommodation in every price bracket. Always take a look at the room (or better still several rooms) before agreeing a price.
Guesthouses are usually the cheapest option, costing under 200 baht per night (or less for a dorm bed). This gets you a room with a fan, a squat toilet (often shared) and not much else.
Thai hotels start around 200 baht and go up to around 800 baht. The upper end of this range will be air-conditioned, the lower end will not. The primary difference is that with a hotel room, your bathroom should be private, bed linen and towels should be provided, and there may be a hot shower.
Tourist hotels are generally around 1000 baht and offer the basics for a beach vacation: swimming pool, room service and colour TV.
Business and luxury hotels, 2000 baht and up, offer every modern amenity you can think of and are largely indistinguishable from hotels anywhere else in the world. Some, notably Bangkok's The Oriental and The Peninsula are among the world's best hotels. The most luxurious resorts also fall in this price category, with some of the very best and most private adding a zero to the price.
[edit] Learn
Teaching Certification in ESL (English as a Second Language)
Thai Language
[edit] Work
The two main opportunities for work for foreigners are teaching English and dive instruction, but both are very competitive and dive masters in particular are paid a pittance. Finding any other kind of work in Thailand can be difficult, as wages are poor and a large number of occupations are legally off limits to non-Thais. Thai law requires foreigner to earn a quite high wage to be eligible for a work permit. Companies and school should assist their employees in obtaining the visa and work permit, but some school fear the extra work involved.
An excellent way to get to know and understand more of the country is to do some voluntary work. There are several organizations such as Thai-Experience and Travel to Teach that arrange work for international volunteers in Thailand and other countries in the region.
[edit] Eat

Thai-style seafood curry
The food alone is really reason enough for a trip to Thailand. Curries, fruit shakes, stir fries, fresh fish made a zillion ways - and that's just the beginning. Food in Thailand can be as cheap and easy as 20 baht phat thai (Thai fried noodles) cooked at a street stall or as expensive and complicated as a $100 ten-course meal by a royal chef served in one of Bangkok's 5 star hotels.
Since most backpackers will be sticking closer to the first than the second, one of the great things about Thailand is that food from stalls and tiny sidewalk restaurants is usually quite safe. Unlike some Asian countries, travellers should worry more about overeating or too much curry spice than about unclean kitchens and bad food. In fact, street restaurants, where you can see what you'll get and everything is cooked on the spot (usually in a pool of germ- and diet-killing vegetable oil) can be a safe option.
[edit] Etiquette
Thai food is most commonly eaten with fork and spoon. Hold the spoon in your right hand and use it to eat, and reserve the fork for piling food onto your spoon. Chopsticks are only employed for noodle soups and Chinese-style dishes.
Thai food is meant for sharing. Everybody gets their own plate of rice and tiny soup bowl, but all the other dishes are laid out in the center of the table and you're free to eat what you wish. Though some people believe that taking the last piece from a shared plate is considered slightly unlucky, and you may hear people make wishes for others to compensate for their own misfortune — a popular wish is that "may my girl/boyfriend be beautiful"!
[edit] Thai cuisine
Thai cuisine is characterized by strong flavors, especially lime juice, lemon grass and fresh coriander, the combination of which gives Thai food its distinctive taste. In addition, Thai food has a deserved reputation for being spicy, with hot little torpedo-shaped chillies called phrik khii nuu (พริกขี้หนู, lit. "mouse shit chillies") making their way into many a dish. Thais are well aware that these can be more than Westerners can handle and will often ask if you like it hot (เผ็ด phet); answer "yes" at your own risk!
Thai dishes can be roughly categorized into central Thai food (around Bangkok), northern Thai food (from the northern region around Chiang Mai, with Burmese and Chinese influence), north-eastern Thai food (from the Isaan region bordering with Laos) and southern Thai food (with heavy influences from Malaysia). The following list covers some better-known dishes; see Isaan for Isaan food, which is widely available throughout the country.
The Thai staple food is rice (ข้าว khao), so much so that in Thai eating a meal, kin khao, literally means "eat rice".
Khao suai (ข้าวสวย) or "beautiful rice" is the plain white steamed rice that serves as the base of almost every meal.
Khao phat (ข้าวผัด) is simple fried rice, usually with some pork (muu) or chicken (kai) mixed in.
Khao tom (ข้าวต้ม) is a salty and watery rice porridge served with condiments, quite popular at breakfast.
Khao nio (ข้าวเหนียว) or "sticky rice" is glutinous rice - usually eaten dry, traditionally by hand, with grilled/fried pork or chicken or beef.
Thais are great noodle eaters. The most common kind is rice noodles, served angel-hair (เส้นหมี่ sen mii), small (เส้นเล็ก sen lek), large (เส้นใหญ่ sen yai) and giant (ก๋วยเตี๋ยว kuay tio), but egg noodles (บะหมี่ ba mii), Chinese-style stuffed wonton ravioli (เกี๊ยว kio) and glass noodles made from mung beans (วุ้นเส้น wun sen) are also popular.
Unlike other Thai foods, noodles are usually eaten with chopsticks. They are also usually served with a rack of four condiments, namely dried red chillies , fish sauce, vinegar and sugar which diners can add to their own taste.
Phat thai (ผัดไทย), literally "fried Thai", means thin rice noodles fried in a tamarind-based sauce. Ubiquitous, cheap and often excellent - and as an added bonus, it's usually chili-free!
Ba mii muu daeng (บะหมี่หมูเเดง) is egg noodles with slices of Chinese-style barbecued pork.
Kuai tio ruea (ก๋วยเตี๋ยวเรือ) is a rice noodle soup with a fiery pork blood stock and an assortment of offal. An acquired taste, but an addictive one.
Soups and curries
The line between soups (ต้ม tom, literally just "boiled") and curries (เเกง kaeng) is a little fuzzy, and many dishes the Thais call curries would be soups to an Indian. A plate of rice with a ladleful of a curry or two on top, known as khao kaeng (ข้าวเเกง), is a very popular quick meal if eating alone.
Tom yam kung (ต้มยำกุ้ง) is the quintessential Thai dish, a sour soup with prawns, lemongrass and galangal. The real thing is quite spicy, but toned-down versions are often available on request.
Tom kha kai (ต้มข่าไก่) is the Thai version of chicken soup in a rich galangal-flavored coconut stock, with mushrooms and not a few chillies.
Kaeng daeng (เเกงเเดง, "red curry") and kaeng phet (เเกงเผ็ด, "hot curry") are the same dish and, as you might guess, this coconut-based dish can be spicy. Red curry with roast duck (kaeng pet yaang เเกงเป็ดย่าง) is particularly popular.
Kaeng khio-waan (เเกงเขียวหวาน), sweet green curry, is a coconut-based curry with strong accents of lemongrass and kaffir lime. Usually milder than the red variety.
Kaeng som (เเกงส้ม), orange curry, is more like tamarind soup than curry, usually served with pieces of herb omelette in the soup.
Thais like their mains fried (ทอด thot or ผัด phat) or grilled (yaang ย่าง). Fish, in particular, is often deep-fried until the meat turns brown and crispy.
Ka-phrao kai (กะเพราไก่), literally "basil chicken" is a simple but intensely fragrant stirfry made from peppery holy basil leaves, chillies and chicken.
About the only thing Thai salads (ยำ yam) have in common with the Western variety is that they are both based on raw vegetables. A uniquely Thai flavor is achieved by drowning the ingredients in fish sauce, lime juice and chillies - the end result can be very spicy indeed!
Som tam (ส้มตำ), a salad made from shredded and pounded raw papaya is often considered a classic Thai dish, but it actually originates from neighboring Laos. However, the Thai version is less sour and more sweet than the original, with peanuts and dried shrimp mixed in.
Yam ponlamai (ยำผลไม้) is Thai-style fruit salad, meaning that instead of canned maraschino cherries it has fresh fruit topped with oodles of fish sauce and chillies.
Yam som-o (ยำส้มโอ) is an unusual salad made from pomelo (a mutant version of grapefruit) and anything else on hand, often including chicken or dried shrimp.
Yam wunsen (ยำวุ้นเส้น) is perhaps the most common yam, with glass noodles and shrimp.
Thais don't usually eat "dessert" in the Western after-meal sense, although you may get a few slices of fresh fruit (ผลไม้ ponlamai) for free at fancier places, but they certainly have a finely honed sweet tooth.
Khanom (ขนม) covers a vast range of cookies, biscuits, chips and anything else snackable, and piles of the stuff can be found in any Thai office after lunch. One common variety called khanom khrok (ขนมครก) is worth a special mention: these are little lens-shaped pancakes of rice and coconut, freshly cooked and served by street vendors everywhere.
Khao nio ma-muang (ข้าวเหนียวมะม่วง) means "sticky rice with mango", and that's what you get, with some coconut milk drizzled on top. Filling and delicious.
Waan yen (หวานเย็น), literally "sweet cold", consists of a pile of ingredients of your choice (including things like sweet corn and kidney beans) topped with syrup, coconut cream and a pile of ice, and is great for cooling down on a hot day or after a searing curry.
[edit] Vegetarian food
Vegetarians won't have too many problems surviving in Thailand, with one significant exception: fish sauce (น้ำปลา naam plaa) is to Thai cuisine what soy sauce is to Chinese food, and keeping it out of soups, curries and stir-fries will be a challenge.
That said, Thailand is a Buddhist country and vegetarianism is a fairly well-understood concept, especially among Chinese Thais (many of whom eat only vegetarian food during several festivals). Tofu is a traditional Thai ingredient and they aren't afraid to mix it up in some non traditional dishes such as omelettes (with or without eggs), submarine sandwiches, and burritos. Since Thai dishes are usually made to order, it's easy to ask for anything on the menu to be made without meat or fish. Bangkok features several fantastic veggie and vegan restaurants, but outside of big cities make sure to check that your idea of "veggie" matches the chef's.
Some key phrases for vegetarians:
phom kin je (m) / di-chan kin je (f) ผม(ดิฉัน)กินเจ "I eat only vegetarian food"
karunaa mai sai naam plaa กรุณาไม่ใส่น้ำปลา "Please don't use fish sauce"
[edit] Restaurant chains
Thailand has a large number of indigenous restaurant chains offering much the same fare as your average street stall, but with the added advantages of air conditioning, printed menus (often in English) and some semblance of hygiene. All the chains are heavily concentrated in Bangkok, but larger cities and popular tourist spots may have an outlet or two.
MK and Coca are near-ubiquitous chains specializing in what the Thais call suki, perhaps better known as "hotpot" or "steamboat". A cauldron boils in the middle of your table, you buy ingredients (10-30 baht a pop) and brew your own soup. The longer you spend, the better it tastes, and the bigger the group you're with, the more fun this is!
S&P [4] outlets are a bakery, a café and a restaurant all rolled into one, but their menu's a lot larger than you'd expect: it has all the Thai mainstays you can think of and then some, and most all of it is good. Portions are generally rather small, with prices mostly in the 50-100 baht range.
Yum Saap (signs in Thai; look for the big yellow smiley logo) is known for their Thai-style salads (yam), but they offer all the usual suspects as well. Quite cheap with mains around 50 baht.
Kuaitio Ruea (signs in Thai; look for the boat-shaped decor and hungry rat logo) does dirt-cheap noodles with prices starting at 25B. Portions aren't too generous, but at that price you can get two! No concessions to English speakers in menu or taste, so point & choose from the pictures and watch out for the spicier soups.
Fuji [5] and Zen specialize in surprisingly passable Japanese food at very cheap prices (at least compared to Japanese restaurants almost anywhere else); rice/noodle mains are less than 100 baht, and you can stuff yourself full of sushi for less than 500 baht.
And yes, you can find the usual McDonalds, KFC, Pizza Hut, Komalas etc if you insist. If you do end up at McD's, at least try the un-Maclike fried chicken with McSomTam (green papaya salad). For those craving American-style pizza, try the ubiquitous The Pizza Company, which is a less expensive and (arguably) tastier local chain.
[edit] Drink
Tap water is usually not drinkable in Thailand. Bottled water (น้ำเปล่า naam plao) is cheap and ubiquitous at 5-10 baht a bottle, and drinking water served in restaurants is always at least boiled (น้ำต้ม naam tom). Ice (น้ำแข็ง naam khaeng) in Thailand usually comes packaged straight from the factory and is safe; there is only reason to worry if you are served hand-cut ice.
[edit] Iced drinks
Coconut water (น้ำมะพร้าว naam ma-phrao), iced and drunk directly from a fresh coconut is a cheap and healthy way to cool the body - available at restaurants and also from vendors that specialize in fruit juice.
Fruit juices, freezes and milkshakes of all kinds are very popular with Thais and visitors alike. Most cafés and restaurants charge 20-40 baht, but a bottle of freshly squeezed Thai sweet orange juice (น้ำส้ม naam som) - which really is orange in color! - can be sold on the street for 10 baht or less. Thais often add salt to their fruit juices-- an acquired taste that you might just learn to like. Thais also like to have basil seeds in their iced fruit juice sold on the road - which looks like small jelly balls down of the bottle.
[edit] Tea and coffee
One of Thailand's most characteristic drinks is Thai iced tea (ชาเย็น chaa yen, lit. "cold tea"). Instantly identifiable thanks to its lurid orange color, this is the side effect of adding ground tamarind seed (or, these days, artificial color) during the curing process. The iced tea is always very strong and very sweet, and usually served with a dash of condensed milk; ask for chaa dam yen to skip the milk.
Naam chaa and chaa jiin are weak and full-strength Chinese tea, often served in restaurants for free. Western-style black tea is chaa ron (ชาร้อน). Coffee (กาแฟ kaafae) is also widely available, and is usually served with condensed milk and lots of sugar. Ask for kaafae thung to get traditional filtered "bag" coffee instead of instant.
The Starbucks phenomenon has also arrived in Thailand, but for the moment local competitors Black Canyon Coffee and S&P still have the edge in marketshare. These are the places to look for if you want that triple-moccha latte with hazelnut swirl and are willing to pay 100 baht for the privilege.
Black Canyon Coffee [6] is Thailand's home-brewed Starbucks, but while coffee is their mainstay they also offer a limited meal menu. Try the chaa yen (lurid orange Thai iced tea with milk).
[edit] Energy drinks
Thailand is the original home of the Red Bull brand energy drink - a licensed and re-branded version of Thailand's original Krathing Daeng (กระทิงแดง, "Red Bull"), complete with the familiar logo of two bulls charging at each other.
The Thai version, however, is syrupy sweet, uncarbonated and comes packaged in medicinal-looking brown glass bottles, as the target customers are not trendy clubbers, but Thailand's working class of construction workers and bus drivers in need of a pick-me-up. Krathing Daeng and its many competitors (including M150, Shark, .357 and the inevitable Karabao Daeng, "Red Buffalo") are available in any convenience store for 10 baht a pop, although in some places you can now buy imported European Red Bull for five times the price.
[edit] Alcohol
Drinking alcohol in Thailand, especially if you like Western tipples, is actually comparatively expensive - but still very affordable by Western standards.
The misnamed Thai whisky (lao) refers to a number of distilled rice liquors, the best known being the infamous Mae Khong ("Mekong") brand and its competitor Saeng Som. The only resemblances to whisky are the brown color and high alcohol content, and indeed many people liken the smell to nail polish remover, but the somewhat rum-like taste is not quite as bad, especially when diluted with cola or tonic water. This is also by far the cheapest way to get blotto, as a pocket flask of the stuff (available in any convenience store or supermarket) costs only around 50 baht.
Out in the countryside many villages distil their own moonshine (lao thuean), which is strictly speaking illegal, but nobody seems to mind very much. Especially when hilltribe trekking in the North you're likely to be invited to sample some, and it's polite to at least take a sip.
Beer (เบียร์ bia) is a bit of an upmarket drink in Thailand, with the price of a small bottle hovering between 50 and 100 baht in most pubs, bars and restaurants. For many years the only locally brewed beer was Singha (pronounced just Sing) but it has lost market to cheaper and stronger Chang. Two upmarket brands are available today, Heineken and Tiger, and longstanding minor brands Kloster and Leo enjoy some popularity. Thais like their lagers with relatively high alcohol content (around 6%), as it is designed to be drunk with ice, so the beer in Thailand may pack more of a punch than you are used to.
'Imported drinks'
Imported liquors, wines and beers are widely available but prohibitively priced for the average Thai. A shot of any brand-name liquor is at least 100 baht, a pint of Guinness will set you back at least 200 baht and, thanks to an inexplicable 340% tax, even the cheapest bottle of wine will set you back over 500 baht. Note that, in cheaper bars (especially the go-go kind), the content of that familiar bottle of Jack Daniels may be something entirely different.
[edit] Stay safe
[edit] Scams
Thailand has more than its fair share of scams, but most are easily avoided with a modicum of common sense.
More a nuisance than a danger, a common scam by touts, taxi drivers and tuk-tuk drivers in Thailand is to wait by important monuments and temples and waylay Western travellers, telling them that the site is closed for a "Buddhist holiday", "repairs" or a similar reason. The 'helpful' driver will then offer to take the traveller to another site, such as a market or store. Travellers who accept these offers will often end up at out-of-the-way markets with outrageous prices - and no way to get back to the center of town where they came from. Always check at the front gate of the site you're visiting to make sure it's really closed.
Avoid any tuk-tuks in Bangkok. Tuk-tuk drivers might demand much higher price than agreed, or they might take you to a sex show, pretending they didn't understand the address (they get commissions from sex shows). For the same reason, avoid drivers who propose their services without being asked, especially near major tourist attractions.
Don't buy any sightseeing tours at the airport. If you do, they will phone several times to your hotel in order to remind you about the tour. During the tour, you will be shortly taken to a small temple, without a guide, and then one shop after another (they get commissions). They might refuse to take you back home until you see all the shops. On your way back, they pressure you to buy more tours.
Easily identified with practice, it is not uncommon in tourist areas to be approached by a clean cut, well dressed man who often will be toting a cellphone. These scammers will start up polite conversation, showing interest in the unsuspecting tourist's background, family, or itinerary. Inevitably, the conversation will drift to the meat of the scam. This may be something as innocuous as over-priced tickets to a kantok meal and show, or as serious as a gambling scam or (particularly in Bangkok) the infamous gem scam. Once identified, the wary traveller should have no trouble picking out these scammers from a crowd. The tell-tale well pressed slacks and button down shirt, freshly cut hair of a conservative style, and late-model cellphone comprise their uniform. Milling around tourist areas without any clear purpose for doing so, the careful traveller should have no difficulty detecting and avoiding these scammers.
Many visitors will encounter young Thai ladies armed with a clipboard and a smile enquiring as to their nationality, often with an aside along the lines of "please help me to earn 30 baht". The suggestion is that the visitor completes a tourism questionnaire (which includes supplying their hotel name and room number) with the incentive that they just might win a prize - the reality is that everyone gets a call to say that they are a "winner", however the prize can only be collected by attending an arduous time-share presentation. Note that the lady with the clipboard doesn't get her 30 baht if you don't attend the presentation; also that only English-speaking nationalities are targeted.
Another recurrent scam involves foreigners - sometimes accompanied by small children - who claim to be on the last day of their vacation in Thailand, and having just packed all their belongings into one bag in preparation for their flight home, lost everything when that bag was stolen. Now cash is urgently needed in order to get to the airport in a hurry and arrange a replacement ticket for his/her return flight in a few hours time.
[edit] Prostitution
Thailand's age of consent is 15 but a higher minimum age of 18 applies in the case of prostitutes. Thai penalties for sex with minors are harsh, and even if your partner is over the age of consent in Thailand, tourists who have sex with minors may be prosecuted by their home country. As far as ascertaining the age of your partner goes, all adult Thais must carry an identity card, which will state that they were born in 2531 or earlier if they were over the age of 18 on January 1st 2007 (in the Thai calendar, AD 2007 is the year 2550).
Some prostitutes are "freelancers", but most are employed by bars or similar businesses, if hiring a prostitute from a bar or similar business, you will have to pay a fee for the establishment called a "bar fine". The prostitutes who work at bars may be deceptive to first-time travelers, as they are also often the bartenders, or as they are called there, "bargirls". Be wary of prostitutes: most are very poor and some are indentured sex slaves. They're far more likely to be interested in money you can give them than in any continuing relationship for its own sake. More importantly, Thailand has a high rate of STD infection, including HIV/AIDS, both among the general population and among prostitutes. Condoms can be bought easily in Thailand in all convenience shops and pharmacies but may not be as safe as Western ones.
Technically, some aspects of prostitution in Thailand are illegal (e.g. soliciting, pimping), however enforcement is liberal and brothels are commonplace. It's not illegal to pay for sex or to pay a "bar fine".
[edit] Drugs
Thailand has extremely strict drug laws and your foreign passport is not enough to get you out of legal hot water. Possession and trafficking offenses that would merit traffic-ticket misdemeanors in other countries can result in life imprisonment or even death in Thailand. Police frequently raid nightclubs, particularly in Bangkok, with urine tests and full body searches on all patrons. Ko Pha Ngan's notoriously drug-fueled Full Moon Parties also often draw police attention.
Possession of cannabis (กัญชา ganchaa), while illegal, is treated less harshly and, if busted, you may be able to pay an "on the spot fine" to get out, although even this can set you back tens of thousands of baht. It's highly unwise to rely on this.
[edit] Civil conflict
In 2004, long-simmering resentment in the southern-most Muslim-majority provinces burst into violence in Narathiwat, Pattani and Yala provinces. All are off the beaten tourist trail, although the eastern rail line from Hat Yai to Sungai Kolok (gateway to Malaysia's east coast) passes through the area and has been disrupted several times by attacks.
Hat Yai (Thailand's largest city after Bangkok and its Nonthaburi suburbs) in Songkhla has also been hit by a series of related bombings, however the main cross-border rail line connecting Hat Yai and Butterworth (on the west coast) has not been affected, and none of the islands or the west coast beaches have been targeted.
In September 2006, three foreigners were killed in bombings in Hat Yai. Some rebel groups have threatened foreigners, but while targets have included hotels, karaoke lounges and shopping malls, westerners have not been singled out for attacks.
[edit] Stay healthy
Being a tropical country, Thailand has its fair share of exotic tropical diseases. Malaria is generally not a problem in any of the major tourist destinations, but is endemic in rural areas along the borders with Cambodia (including Ko Chang in Trat Province), Laos and Myanmar. As is the case throughout South-East Asia, dengue fever can be encountered just about anywhere, including the most modern cities.
HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases are common. Condoms are sold in all convenience stores, supermarkets, pharmacies, etc.
[edit] Respect
Thais are a polite people and, while remarkably tolerant of farangs gallivanting on their beaches and with their women, you'll find that you will get more respect if you in turn treat them and their customs with respect.
[edit] The wai

Ronald McDonald showing how it's done
The traditional greeting known as the wai, where you press your hands together as is in prayer and bow slightly, is unique to Thailand and still widely practised. Among Thais, there are strict rules of hierarchy that dictate how and when the wai should be given: in brief, inferiors salute superiors first, and the higher your hands go the more respectful you are. You will also often see Thais doing a wai as they walk past temples and spirit houses. As a foreign visitor, you are not expected to know how to wai, nor to reciprocate when wai'd to; while you're unlikely to cause offense if you do, you may well look slightly ridiculous. If somebody makes a wai to you, a slight bow alone is more than sufficient for ordinary occasions, and for business most Thais will shake hands with foreigners instead of waiing anyway.
[edit] Dress
Personal appearance is very important in Thailand as a measure of respect to other people, so clothes should be neat, clean, and free from holes or tears. Traditionally, Thais are very modest, and thus clothing should avoid showing a lot of skin. Pants should be at or below the knee, and if tank tops are worn, the straps should be thick. Swimsuits should not be revealing. You will find that dressing appropriately means that you are shown more respect in return. This translates in many ways, even sometimes lowering initial offering prices at markets.
It is best to play it safe with wats and other sacred sites in Thailand. Shorts, and sleeveless shirts are frowned on and sometimes not allowed. However remember that you will frequently need to remove your shoes when entering rooms, so don't wear shoes that are slow to get on and off. The rules are even more strict for foreign visitors, so even if you see a local in shorts it's not OK for everyone.
It's hard to find agreement on what dress is conservative enough for women. For sacred sites, some recommend that women wear only full length dresses and skirts; you should at least make sure that your clothing covers your shoulders and your knees and some places may require that you wear ankle-length pants or skirts and long sleeved tops. Women should not go topless on the beach. Women are sometimes advised to wear a T-shirt over their swimming gear; this is more important at primarily-Thai beach resorts, and will be almost entirely ignored at the most heavily westernized areas. Outside of sacred sites or the beach normal western dress is generally acceptable.
[edit] Women
Buddhist monks are meant to avoid the temptation of women, and in particular they do not touch women or take things from women's hands. Women should avoid offering anything to a monk to take. Monks will sometimes be aided by a layman who will accept things from women merit-makers on their behalf.
[edit] Other
Never touch or pat a Thai on the head, including children. Similarly, do not touch people with your feet, or even point with them; the feet are considered dirty and low. If someone is sitting with outstretched feet, avoid stepping over them, as this is very rude and could even spark a confrontation (even if the person is sleeping, it is best to go around, as others are likely to notice). It is considered impolite and disrespectful to visibly sniff food before eating it, particularly when eating in someone's home (this is true even if the sniffing is done in appreciation). Do not audibly blow your nose in public. Do not turn your back to a Buddhist statue or pose alongside one for a photo. It's OK to take photos of a statue, but everyone should be facing it. Also, as doorway thresholds are considered a sanctuary for spirits, it's important not to step on a raised threshold, but rather to step over it. Keep this in mind especially when visiting temples.
Physical affection is rarely if ever shown in public--even married Thai men and women do not touch in public. However, it is not uncommon for same sex close friends to hold hands as an expression of affection. You may see a Thai woman expressing affection physically in public with a foreign man, but often this means that the Thai woman is a prostitute.
In Thailand, expression of negative emotions such as anger or sadness is almost never overt, and it is possible to enjoy a vacation in Thailand without ever seeming to see an argument or an unhappy person. Thai people smile constantly, and to outsiders this is seen as happiness or friendliness. In reality, smiling is a very subtle way to communicate, and to those who live in Thailand, a smile can indicate any emotion--from fear, to anger, to sadness, to joy, etc.
It's illegal (lese majeste) to show disrespect for the King and/or the Royal Family. Since the King is on the country's currency, don't burn or mutilate it - especially in the presence of other Thais. If you drop a coin, do not step on it to stop it - this is very rude, since you are stomping on the picture of the King's head that is printed on the coin. Also, anything related to the stories and movies The King and I and Anna and the King is illegal to possess in Thailand. Almost all Thais, even ones in other countries, feel very strongly when it comes to any version of this story. They feel that it makes a mockery of their age-old monarchy and is entirely inaccurate. In 2007, a Swiss man was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment for spraying graffiti on the King's portrait, although he later expressed remorse and was pardoned by His Majesty personally (quote: "It troubles Me when such harsh sentences are passed.") and deported.
[edit] Cope
Bring an open mind and a sense of humour. Don't come with too many preconceived ideas about what Thailand is like, as media and friends’ experiences have a habit of distorting reality.
If you're sticking to major cities and tourist areas, don't worry too much about under-packing; you can get hold of any essentials you've forgotten. Essentials are a swimming costume, a day pack, a raincoat/umbrella in rainy season and some warm clothes if traveling in October to December, as some areas get cool. You will only need a couple of changes of clothes as you can get washing done anywhere cheaply. Sandals for when your hiking shoes are too hot can be bought cheaply in Thailand, although large sizes for women are harder to come by. If female and anything above a size 2, busty, or tall, it is often difficult to find clothes that will fit you in any of the Thai shops. If you are male and have a waist more than 38" you will have trouble finding pants. You will largely be limited to backpacker gear (the omnipresent fisherman pants and "Same Same" t-shirts) or Western imports in Bangkok malls, for the same prices as back home or more. While laundry is cheap, it is useful to bring a few changes of clothes, as you may sweat your way through several outfits a day in the Thai weather.
Take enough padlocks for every double zipper to stop wandering hands and lock up your sacred belongings, even in your hotel room. Not that this does anything really since most double zipper bags can easily be opened even when padlocked just by spreading the zippers apart as far as they'll go with the lock and then pulling the material out through them. Go ahead, try it. Also the real danger is from razor-blade artists.
Take snorkeling gear or buy it on arrival if you plan to spend a lot of your time in the water. Alternatively put up a notice looking for gear from someone who is leaving. A tent for camping if you are a national park buff is a good idea, as is a compass. You might like to bring compact binoculars too if wildlife is your thing. A good map of Thailand is also handy.
Take earplugs for when you're stuck in a noisy room or want to sleep on the bus. Take a mirror for shaving, as often budget places won’t have any. String is very handy for hanging up washing. Cigarette papers can be difficult to find, except in tourist centres. Climbing shoes for rock climbing are useful as Thailand has some of the best cliffs in South-East Asia.
A spare pair of prescription glasses or contact lenses plus a copy of your prescription is a good idea. Bring a book you're prepared to swap. A personal music player is great as a huge range of cheap music is available everywhere.
Into the toiletries bag throw sun screen and insect repellent. Mosquito coils are also a good idea. A small pocket size torch / flashlight will come in handy when the electricity goes out or for investigating caves. Condoms, of course. Passport photos come in handy for visas.
If you plan to travel long distances by motorbike, purchase a good quality helmet, which you can do in Thailand. Last but not least, pack your stuff in plastic bags to stop them from getting wet, especially when travelling in the rainy season or on boats.
Aside from the above, the following are recommended:
Prescriptions for any prescription medications being brought through customs
Travel insurance
Blood donor/type card
Details of your next of kin
A second photo ID other than your passport
Credit card plus a backup card for a separate account
[edit] Contact
Connectivity in Thailand is generally quite good.
[edit] Telephone
To place an international call, you can buy a prepaid card (available for 300 baht at many convenience stores and guesthouses) to use with one of the bright yellow Lenso payphones. You should rarely have trouble finding either of these unless you're way out in the countryside. The international access code is 001.
For mobile phone users, Thailand has three GSM mobile service providers - AIS, DTAC and Truemove) - which may be useful if you have (or can afford!) a mobile phone that will work on either one or both of the GSM 900 or 1800 frequency bands (consult your phone's technical specifications). If you have one, you can buy a prepaid SIM card for any of the Thai carriers in any convenience store for as little as 200 baht and charge it up as you go. Most mobile providers lock the phone to their own SIM card when you first purchase the service, so if your phone refuses to work with another SIM card, the wizards at Bangkok's MBK shopping mall will be happy to solve this for less than 500 baht. If you need to buy a mobile phone, you can pick those up at MBK as well, as a huge selection of cheap secondhand mobiles can be found on the upper floors. International rates from a Thai carrier are surprisingly good - DTAC, for example, charges 10 baht/minute to call America (and, with DTAC, you can reduce rates even further by predialing 08 before the international country code - for instance, 08 0011 for America). Coverage is very good in Bangkok and at many tourist destinations, including resort islands.
Thai-SIM - Pre-paid Thailand nationwide SIM cards
GSM World - Thailand - list of networks, coverage maps, and frequency bands
[edit] Internet
Internet cafés are widespread and most are inexpensive - prices as low as 20 baht/hour are commonplace, and speed and reliability of connection is generally reasonable. Higher prices prevail in major package-tourist destinations (60 baht/hour is typical, 120 baht/hour is not unusual). Islands with multiple Internet cafés include Ko Phi Phi (Don), Ko Lanta (Yai), Ko Samui, Ko Pha Ngan, Ko Tao, Ko Chang (Trat), Ko Samet (Rayong), Ko Si Chang (Chonburi), and of course Phuket. Many budget hotels and guesthouses ("mansions") now provide free or inexpensive Internet access by LAN or Wi-Fi, so bring your own laptop computer.
Keyloggers are all too often installed on the computers in cheap cafes, so be on your guard if using online banking, stock broking or even PayPal. Using cut and paste to enter part of your password may defeat some of them.
If you suddenly and unexpectedly find yourself typing in Thai (or any other alien script) you've probably accidentally hit whatever key-combination the computer you're using has been configured to use for switching between languages (often Ctrl+spacebar). To change back, use the "Text Services and Input Languages" option (a quick-access menu is usually available via a "TH" icon visible on the taskbar - simply switch it to "EN").