Full country name: Kingdom of Thailand
Area: 517,000sq km
Population: 62 million
Capital City: Bangkok (pop 6 million)
People: 75% Thai, 11% Chinese, 3.5% Malay, also Mon, Khmer, Phuan and Karen minorities
Religion: 95% Buddhism, 4% Muslim
Government: Democratic constitutional monarchy
Prime Minister: Yingluck Shinawatra
Head of State: King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX)
GDP: US$166 billion
GDP per head: US$2168
Annual Growth: 3.5%
Major products: Computers, garments, integrated circuits, gems, jewellery
Major trading partners: ASEAN, USA, European Union
April: Songkran is celebrated ‘bathing’ Buddha images, paying respects to monks and elders by sprinkling water over their hands
May: Festivities to kick off the official rice-planting season.
September: The Vegetarian Festival in Phuket and Trang, during which devout Chinese Buddhists eat only vegetarian food.
November: The Elephant Roundup in Surin featuring the pachyderms playing soccer.
Banks or legal moneychangers offer the best rates. Credit cards are becoming increasingly acceptable in quality shops, hotels and restaurants. Visa is the most useful, followed by MasterCard. ATMs which accept Visa and other credit cards. Tipping is not customary in Thailand, although Thais are getting used to the idea in up-market hotels.
This provincial town is hardly visited by foreign tourists mainly because it’s not on the major road or rail networks out of the capital. It’s home to one of the most sacred Buddha images in Thailand – Phra Phuttha Sothon – which is housed in the Wat Sothon Wararam Worawihaan. The image is said to be associated with a famous monk with holy powers who supposedly predicted the exact moment of his death. Chachoengsao is a great place to experience provincial Thai life. Buses and trains to Chachoengsao leave frequently from Bangkok. Mae Sot
Located close to the Burmese border, in the northern Tak Province, Mae Sot has thriving black-market trade (guns, narcotics, teak and gems). It attracts an interesting mixture of ethnicities – Burmese Muslims, members of the local Karen hill tribes, Chinese and Indian shopkeepers and poppy-clad Thai army rangers. Prasat Hin Khao Phanom Rung Historical Park
The complex is located on an extinct volcano and dominates the surrounding countryside. It has a fine promenade leading to the main gate, numerous galleries and halls, and the only three naga bridges left in Thailand. The best time to visit Phanom Rung is before 10 am, when it is still cool, the light is good for photography and the site has few visitors. Phanom Rung is not an easy place to reach but it is well worth the effort.
The earliest civilization in Thailand is believed to have been that of the Mons in central Thailand, who brought a Buddhist culture from the Indian subcontinent. The Burmese invaded Siam in the 16th and 18th centuries. They captured Chiang Mai and destroyed Ayuthaya. The Thais expelled the Burmese and moved their capital to Thonburi. In 1782, the current Chakri dynasty was founded by King Rama I and the capital was moved across the river to Bangkok.
In the 19th century, Siam remained independent by deftly playing off one European power against another. In 1932, a peaceful coup converted the country into a constitutional monarchy. In 1939 Siam became Thailand. During WW II, the Thai government allowed Japanese troops to occupy Thailand. After the war, Thailand was dominated by the military and experienced more than 20 coups and countercoups. In between were short-lived experiments with democracy. Democratic elections in 1979 were followed by a long period of stability and prosperity. Power shifted away from the military.
But the country had not seen the last of the men in uniform. In February 1991 a military coup ousted the Chatichai government, but bloody demonstrations in May 1992 led to the reinstatement of a civilian government with Chuan Leekpai at the helm. This coalition government collapsed in May 1995 over a land-reform scandal. Replacement Prime Minister Banharn Silpa-archa however was no better. Dubbed a ‘walking ATM’ by the Thai press, he was forced to relinquish the prime-ministership just over a year later after a spate of corruption scandals. Ex-general and former deputy PM Chavalit Yongchaiyudh headed a dubious coalition until late 1997, when veteran pragmatist Chuan Leekpai retook the reins.
In 2000, Thaksin Shinawatra and his ‘Thai Loves Thai’ party had a landslide victory in national elections. In 1997 the Thai baht pretty much collapsed, dragging the economy (and many other South-East Asian economies) down. In August the International Monetary Fund stepped in with a bailout package of austerity measures, which seemed to have turned things around by early 1998. By the turn of the new century, Thailand’s economy had stopped going into free fall, but rebuilding had only just begun.
Thais are tolerant of most behavior, as long as it doesn’t insult their monarchy or religion. Buddhism is the dominant religion. orange-robed monks and gold, marble and stone Buddhas are common sights. Thai is a complicated language with its own unique alphabet, but it’s fun to try at least a few words. Thai art, principally sculpture and architecture, is divided into a number of historical styles and spans from the 6th to the 19th century. Classical Thai music and theatrical dance are also popular artistic forms. Thai cuisine is pungent and spicy and is seasoned with heaps of garlic and chilies and a characteristic mix of lime juice, lemon grass and fresh coriander. Galanga root, basil, ground peanuts, tamarind juice, ginger and coconut milk are other common additions. Main dishes include hot and sour fish ragout, green and red curries, various soups and noodle dishes. Thai food is served with a variety of condiments and dipping sauces.
Thailand shares borders with Malaysia, Myanmar (Burma), Laos and Cambodia. For agricultural reasons, the country is divided into four main zones. One-fifth of Thailand is covered by monsoon forest or rainforest, and the country has an incredible array of fruit trees, bamboo and tropical hardwoods. There are 80 national parks and 32 wildlife sanctuaries, covering 13 per cent of the country. Over development on Ko Phi Phi is starving the coral reefs of sunlight and smothering the surface in pollutants. The destruction of the reef is a micro-example of the problems occurring on a national scale, with the finger being pointed in the direction of tourism. Thailand’s climate is ruled by monsoons that produce three seasons in northern, northeastern and central Thailand and two in southern Thailand.
It can be quite expensive flying to Bangkok. A host of international carriers land at Bangkok’s major airport terminal. Flights in and out of Thailand are often overbooked so it’s imperative that you reconfirm ongoing flights as soon as you arrive. Overland travel from Malaysia is also popular and there are four border crossings between Thailand and Malaysia. It’s not possible to buy through-fare tickets for rail journeys between Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur or Singapore. It’s legal for non-Thai foreigners to cross the Mekong River by ferry between Thailand and Laos at several points along the river.
Thai International has a useful domestic flight network. But travellers tend to prefer Thailand’s good bus and train transport. The buses are very fast and they are also well serviced and air-conditioned. Trains are comfortable, frequent, punctual, moderately priced and rather slow. Cars, jeeps or vans can be rented in Bangkok and large provincial capitals. Motorcycles can be rented in major towns and tourist centers.
The best period for visiting Thailand is between November and February. It rains least during these months and it is not too hot. In Bangkok, the worth months are April (very hot) and October (heavy rainfall). The peak tourist months are December and August, and the least crowded months May, June and September.
PATTAYA is a city in Thailand, located on the east coast of the Gulf of Thailand, about 165 km southeast of Bangkok. The main sweep of the bay area is divided into two principal beachfronts. Pattaya Beach is parallel to city centre, and runs from Pattaya Nuea south to Walking Street. Along Beach Road are restaurants, shopping areas, and night attractions. Jomtien Beach in the southern part of the bay area is divided from Pattaya beach by the promontory of Pratumnak Hill. It consists of high-rise condominiums, beachside hotels, bungalow complexes, shops, bars, and restaurants. On weekends, it becomes increasingly crowded, with many Thai visitors coming from Bangkok. It offers of watersport activities such as jet skis, parasailing and small sail boat hire.
Bangkok manages to preserve its cultural heritage even as it grows rapidly as a modern commercial center. The metropolitan part of the city covers 612 sq miles of southern Thailand. It is also located in the center of the most fertile rice-producing delta in the world. A network of natural and artificial canals can be seen all over the city.
Bangkok is divided into two by the main north-south train line. Old Bangkok, with its large number of temples and palaces, lies between the river and the railway. On the eastern side of the railway line is `new’ Bangkok, comprising of the main business, tourist and sprawling residential districts. Outside the city center are new high-rise neighborhoods where most of the city’s inhabitants reside. Bangkok is the region’s most exotic and, at the same time, most chaotic capital city.
Boats of all sizes and shapes cruise on the Chao Phraya River day and night. Among them, the strangest, most frequently seen boat on the river is the hang yao, or long-tailed water taxi, a long, thin, graceful vessel. These water taxis carry passengers.
Shopping is a popular activity in Bangkok. The best known market is the one held on Saturdays and Sundays at Chatuchak from 7 in the morning to 5 or 6 in the afternoon. Bangkok is well-known for Southeast Asian handicrafts, antiques, silk, and jewels. It also provides a vibrant, exciting nightlife with Thai classical dance, jazz, discos, cabarets, pubs, and dinner cruises. The city has one of the greatest concentrations of luxury hotels of any city in the world. As the capital of Thai cuisine, it offers some of the best dining options. Visitors find that in the midst of the masses of people, cars, and constant activity, there is a tradition of a gracious welcoming. There is special kindness and friendliness to children.
Population: 7.6 million
Area: 1569 sq km (612 sq mi)
Telephone area code: 02
With so many cultures and beliefs colliding in Bangkok, it’s rare to be in town and not run into a festival of some description. This is especially true in the cooler months from November to February, but religious and cultural events occur year-round.
When to go:
There is no no bad time to visit Bangkok. But rain and extreme heat are less frequent between November and February. April is hit while October brings the heaviest rains.
Ayuthaya The former Thai capital is located around 86 km north of Bangkok. It attracts people interested in ruins and museums, and is definitely worth a visit if you are a history freak. Along with its two impressive museums – Chao Sam Phraya National Museum and Chan Kasem Palace – the city’s large collection of temples and ruins have been declared World Heritage sites by UNESCO.
At Bangkok’s northern edge is Ko Kret, one of Thailand’s oldest Mon settlements. From the 6th to the 10th centuries, the Mon people dominated Thai history and culture, and their ancient crafts still draw visitors from around the world. Pottery is the main claim to fame of the Mon and visitors to the island can visit the Ancient Mon Pottery Center, which displays a wide variety of local earthenware. The capital city offers a wide variety of sporting and fitness options including golf, swimming, squash, bowling, gyms and even polo. You can learn or experience traditional Thai massage or sign up for courses in Thai cooking or Thai martial arts.
Bangkok became Thailand’s capital in 1782. Prior to that it was an outlying district of Thonburi, a town founded as a trading post in the mid-16th century. In the 18th century, a fortress was built on the banks of the Chao Phraya and a great iron chain hung across the river to block unwelcome arrivals. The Chakri Dynasty was founded in the late 18th century. Shortly after, in 1782, King Rama I moved the capital to Bangkok on the other side of the river. Using thousands of Khmer prisoners of war, city walls were built, the canal system was expanded, and new temples were erected by artisans from Ayuthaya. The construction of the new capital was finished in 1785. The first half of the 19th century in Bangkok saw a frenzy of temple building under the rule of Rama III. He also oversaw the construction of the city’s first road in 1861. More roads were soon added and well before the turn of the century, horse-drawn carriages and rickshaws had replaced watercraft as the favored mode of urban travel. In 1932 Thailand established a constitutional government and Bangkok became the hub of a vast and still expanding public service. In WW II the Japanese briefly occupied parts of the city and following the war Bangkok quickened its pace towards modernization. From the mid-1960s the city became a favorite ‘rest and recreation’ spot for foreign troops involved in the Vietnam conflict and the sex trade continues to this day in the form of various nightclubs and massage parlors. After riding a double-digit economic boom through the 1980s, Bangkok was hit hard by the economic crisis that swept Asia in 1997.
Bangkok is one of the cheapest places to fly out of. If you find a cheap deal flying into Bangkok, snap it up because you’ll always be able to locate a return ticket that’s just as cheap or cheaper. For national travel, several domestic airlines operate within the country. The government bus company (Baw Khaw Saw) and a number of private bus companies have services to neighboring countries. Although the private buses are more expensive, in reality they are no more comfortable or faster than the government buses. But both bus companies lose out to the State Railway of Thailand, which is both efficient and inexpensive.
Bangkok international airport, is 25 km north of the city. The domestic airport is only a short walk south of the international terminals. Buses run at regular intervals from Bangkok international to three major drop-off points in the city. The easiest and most novel way of getting around within the city is via the river or canals (khlongs), although many of the waterways have been replaced with roads. The cheapest form of public transport is the bus system and it’s probably worth the extra couple of baht for vehicles of the air-con variety, but you should be wary of being ‘razored’ (ie having your bag quietly slashed, and wallet removed, by dexterous thieves).
The light rail system alleviates Bangkok’s nightmarish traffic problem: the city is famous for its motorized jams and sheer volume of traffic. If the congestion doesn’t faze you, you can hire cars and motorbikes, but you’d probably be better off hiring a taxi or tuk-tuk.
Diving, snorkeling and canoeing are some of the popular water-based activities. Inland raft trips are available down the Mae Klong River in central Thailand. Wilderness walking is northern Thailand’s biggest draw. Chiang Mai is the main center for treks into mountainous areas inhabited by hill tribes, but there are also trekking areas around Mae Hong Son and Chiang Rai. Cyclists favor the flat terrain and lush river scenery of the Mekong River area. Tuitions are also available in Thai boxing as well as Thai cooking and traditional massage.