The Emerald Palace in Bangkok. Photo by Chris Schoenbaum.
A hilltribe village surrounded by rice fields in north Thailand. Photo by Dennis Jarvis.
‘The Land of Smiles’ offers a massive variety of assets at a minimal price. There’s a staggering variety of incredible cuisine often served in gorgeous outdoor settings. A vibrant collection of sights, from glittering, elegant temples to colourful floating markets to lunatic festivals. Local people who are more relaxed and charming than they should be under siege by a planeloads of impolite, drunk foreigners, but they keep on smiling, as the sun keeps on shining.
Thailand’s beaches are huge, well serviced and in settings that are often strange but always comfortable, busy but relaxed.
The country has all kinds of holidays for all kinds of people on all kinds of budgets, from huts on a beach or a mountain to the best hotel in the world, Bangkok’s Oriental.
And the shopping is sensational – silks, tailor-made outfits in a couple of days, jewelery, wood carvings. . .
This is one of Asia’s most varied and interesting countries and a perfect base to visit other Asian destinations such as Myanmar or Cambodia.
Wat Arun Buddhist temple in Bangkok, one of over 30, 000 buddhist temples in Thailand. Arun is a prominent landmark on the west bank of the Chao Phraya River. Photo by Dennis Jarvis.
• Bangkok is infamous for traffic chaos tho’ the BTS Skytrain and Metro are cool, clean, cheap alternatives to tuk-tuks and taxis, so try to stay near a train stop, or even near an intersection of both, such as Asok/Sukhumvit. They won’t carry you everywhere but will shorten tuk-tuk rides and BTS will get you to/from both airports BKK and DMK into the city centre (DMK will need a short ride on the frequent A1 bus to get to Mo Chit station).
• Thailand has a reputation for petty thievery, but usually without violence, so be alert.
Recently bag snatching by guys on bikes or sidewalk is in mode so watch yourself walking and especially sitting casually in a tuk-tuk.
• Stay safe, don’t shake hands with strangers!
Hustlers in competitive situations have a tendency to say hello and try to shake hands. This may be simply an excuse to get you involved in a dialogue that inevitably ends in a hustle, or worst case scenario a pickpocketing.
When I was walking at night in Sukhumvit in 2017 two quite cute girls (?) grabbed each of my arms with cries of ecstasy. Maybe it was love at first sight but my instinct was to assume it was a pickpocket prelude and reacted violently. I may have hurt their feelings but I didn’t lose anything.
• Avoid unmarked taxis. Official taxis are safe, have air con and are metered so you avoid money squabbles. Tuk-tuks should be cheaper but it’s imperative to decide the price before getting in. As a rule of thumb ask the price and then offer to pay at least 30% less.
The dramatic story of Ramayana (Ramakien) seen in Bangkok by Dennis Jarvis.
• There have been sporadic bomb attacks on tourist areas such as Bangkok, Hua Hin, Surat Thani and Patong in Phuket and Ko Samui over the last couple of years including a series of explosions in August 2016, probably the work of separist insurgents. Britain’s Foreign Office says the country is safe but stay away from southern areas near Malaysia.
• There have also been a number of drink and drug-related incidents (especially during Full Moon parties on Koh Phangan) resulting in violent assaults and rape. Do not accept drinks from strangers at clubs/parties as they may be drugged.
Best: November-February, except in the northern mountains.
Worst: April-May due to excessive heat. Long rains on east side beaches November-early December. Long rains on west side beaches May-October.
Air Pollution January-April, north Thai
North Thailand half way down to Bangkok and including Chiang Mai has been suffering severe air pollution over the last few years from January to April due to uncontrolled burning of vegetation by farmers both in Thailand and Burma.
An email extract April 2012: “By mid February we had sore streaming eyes, sore throats and a persistent cough and had to take anti histamines every day to control the symptoms. Some days the smog was so bad that people were advised to stay indoors and even just walking a couple of Kms to the restaurant brought on a coughing fit”. Don’t go there at that time!
Thailand main attractions
Wat Pho, Bangkok, beside the Royal Palace.
***Bangkok, noisy, chaotic city with great sights, temples, canals, fabulous foods, incredible shopping and wild night life.
Backpackers shouldn’t miss Khao San Road, its colourful offerings, tours and good-value services for backpackers such as visa acquisition.
Take a long-tail boat ride on the river.
See a few glorious, dazzling temples.
Eat off a food stall.
Check out Patpong nightlife and maybe Thai boxing at the stadium?
Don’t book a long-distance night bus (e.g. down to Phuket) unless you’re ready for thieves along for the ride.
See the best Bangkok tips collected by the Guardian newspaper.
**Ayutthaya, atmospheric ruins, once the Orient’s most magnificent capital.
*Sukhotai, an historic park with ancient ruined capital surrounded by lakes and woods.
**Chiang Mai, a lively city with beautiful temples and shrines, famous for night markets and as a base to explore further north, take elephant rides, do multi-day hikes around hilltribe villages and so on. Also Chang Rai, more north, less developed (but not January-April due to appaling air pollution).
Crab-eating macaques on Ao Nang beach in – appropriately – Krabi province. Photo by Kallerna.
Typical Thai longtail river boats. Photo by Doug88888.
Canals: Around Bangkok waterways on noisy but unique long-tail boats.
Shopping: Bangkok, Chiang Mai.
Trekking: into the mountains in north Thailand to visit hill tribes. The best bases are Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, and Mae Hong Son.
Driving: either bike or car hire easily available, good value and safe, with great sights and guest houses en route – especially of cultural interest is the area west of Chang Mai, towards Burma.
Scuba & Snorkelling: all around the southwest, especially off Phi Phi or Similan Islands.
Elephant rides: Mostly from Chiang Mai.
Motorbiking: trail bike hire is available all over, as is gravel rash! Take care on wiggly, slippery roads and especially when wearing little more than shorts and T shirt.
• Petty thievery is common in Bangkok, bigger resorts and small cheap hotels, so look out for your valuables, especially if you’re busy getting wrecked so secure your goodies before a night on the rampage.
• Private long-distance buses have a bad reputation. Thievery is rife on board especially during overnight trips and actively supported by many bus operators, including stowing a lad with a light and lock-picks in the luggage hold during the entire journey! Locks are no protection, keep all valuables on your body and beware when the lights go out! And/or take a bus from a government bus station.
• Also use a little common sense about going off to lonely places with friendly Thais, and do not take unmarked taxis, particularly women.
• Ensure hotel rooms are secured at night, sneak in thievery is common, especially in cheap hotels where locks are inefficient. Stick a chair or wedge under the door.
• Hill trekking is terrific but beware border areas with Myanmar and Cambodia where well-armed banditry is rife. The sensible approach would be to take a knowledgeable Thai guide along. See Bugbog’s Safety page.
• Don’t be rude about Thailand’s royal family or Buddhism as Thais take these very seriously.
• Countries where Brits have most chance of getting into trouble or sick(and asking help from the British Embassy), according to the UK Foreign Office: Thailand, India, Greece, Spain.