More than 26.7 million people visited Thailand in 2013. A large percentage of these visitors come from neighboring South Asian countries but European and US visitors also make up a huge chunk. Thailand still retains its old world charm and its culture is largely intact. For a long time, Bangkok was a starting point for many backpacking tours into South and South East Asia.
Did you know that Thailand is a constitutional monarchy? This might come as a surprise to travelers from the West who are used to total democratic governments. There are a number of monuments and cultural attractions in Thailand including many in the capital Bangkok.
Thailand is actually much more than the neon lights and high rises that most tourists who come to Bangkok expect. If you care to go outside the city, you will find the people living an idyllic lifestyle. Most Thais are farmers and fishermen. Farms, rubber plantations and Buddhist temples dot the countryside. The major cities (for tourists) in Thailand are Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Pattaya, Ko Samui, Hua Hin District, Patong, Chiang Rai and Krabi.
Koh Samui Holiday
There are a couple of ways to get to Koh Samui from Bangkok, but for a first-time traveller, just book your tickets in advance at a reputable travel agent in Australia. (I say that now, 7 years after I did this trip. After 7 years of travelling I do all my own trip planning.)
The Journey Begins
The flight takes about 1hr 15 mins flying Thai or Bangkok Airlines. This was a holiday I was really looking forward to, just relax and chill out. The stresses of the last few months in Western Australia and some personal issues back in Perth had left their mark. This was going to be a week of doing very little.
The Thai are very friendly people. Some tourists have said that the Thai are some of the nicest people they have ever met. This comes from the region’s Buddhist influence. The typical Thai is always smiling, very polite, helpful and always happy. They will go out of their way to help you and even translate for you. They also treat guests very well. If you have ever made friends with a Thai, the next time he sees you, he will give you a big smile and a hug. No wonder, Thailand is called, ‘land of smiles.’
Most foreigners to Thailand arrive in Bangkok and start their journey from there. Bangkok has a number of famous Buddhist temples that are worth visiting. Please dress appropriately when you go to the temples otherwise you may be turned away. Wat Pho or ‘Temple of the Reclining Buddha’ is a must visit.
Thai food pays a lot of attention to detail, taste, color and texture. It is intricate, has good flavor and uses ingredients with medicinal properties. The Thai are not only concerned about how the food tastes, they are also interested in how it smells, how it looks and how it fits in with other food.
Most Thai dishes require light preparation, have strong aroma and are quite spicy. Seven Thai dishes have made the list of 50 most delicious foods from around the world (by CNN International). These dishes are Pad Thai, Tom Yam Goong, Massaman Curry, Som Tam, Thai fried rice, moo nam tok and green curry.
Some of the popular places for shopping in Thailand are Bangkok, Phuket and Chiang Mai. Carry a small hand towel with you to wipe yourself because it can get quite hot and sweaty during the day. The best time to visit a market is in the early morning or in the afternoon (because the markets are typically crowded in the evening). Plan where you want to go so you don’t go wandering in the city. Bangkok’s street markets are quite popular (Sampeng, Chatuchak, Saphan Phut, Pratunam). Do not offer a vendor a price, if you are not ready to meet it.
There are a number of travel options when in Thailand. Traveling in Thailand is inexpensive though not always fast. There are local buses in the cities but they may be crowded, so it is a good idea to rent a car when you are in Thailand (check for damages before you rent the car or the car owner will charge you for them later). Train is the prefered mode of transport for long distance travel. Please ask a local travel agent to help you with reservations.
Do note that foreigners may have to pay a bit more for long distance train tickets than locals. Women are recommended to travel with companions and it is better to avoid night travel.
Thailand’s climate can be divided into three parts. They are the rainy season (May to October), the cool winter (November to February) and the hot summer (March to May). The best time to visit Thailand is between November and February during the cool season. Don’t arrive during the rainy season because you will have to contend with heavy rains and slushy roads. Note that the ‘cool’ season is actually not cool (temperatures can easily reach up tp 30 degrees in the middle of the day).