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Thailand Travel Tips

Country & population
Originally called Siam, Thailand is a country rich in culture and natural beauty. It has been blessed with expansive natural parks, fertile plains, remote jungles, beaches washed by turquoise waters and tropical islands bathed in endless sunshine. The country has more visible historical evidence of its past cultures than any other country in Southeast Asian. Its history is very complex, involving the invasion of many different peoples, the rule of different kings, the establishment of various kingdoms and the interaction of diverse cultures. 

The period of time from the mid 1800's until now is probably the most important in terms of the formation of modern day Thailand. King Mongkut, who ruled the country from 1851 to 1868, was a well educated, ex-monk who kept Thailand safe from European expansion. His son, Chulalongkorn, took over in 1868 and continued the enlightenment and modernization of Thailand. King Chulalongkorn made great strides in improving the country, however he refused to allow his people democratic rights. This finally led to a takeover by Thai intellectuals, along with military help, in 1932.

The name of the country was changed from Siam to Thailand in 1939 by Prime Minister Phibun Songkhram, mainly because he wanted to disassociate his country from the past. Translated literally, Thailand means "Land of the Free". 

The Thai race was previously believed to have originated somewhere near Mongolia, later moving southward. However, new theories based on historical discoveries regard the northeastern part of Thailand as the birthplace of the Thai race. 

Over the years, the country has become home to many immigrants. The Thai people have managed to preserve the traditions of their unique culture, at the same time absorbing the practices of modern living. Nevertheless, the combination of cultures and backgrounds of these immigrants make Thailand an interesting and memorable country to visit. 

Tourism has become an important industry in the country. More people visit Thailand than any other country in Southeast Asia. In 1999, about eight million people visited Thailand. 


Passport & visa
All visitors must have a passport valid at least six months beyond than their intended stay in Thailand. Those who are staying for 30 days or less and have a ticket for an onward journey may enter the country without a visa. Visitors who stay longer than their limit are fined B200 for each day upon departure at the airport. Foreign nationals who intend to stay more than 30 days must obtain a visa in advance from a Thai diplomatic mission. 


Customs & formalities
Duty-Free Items: Cigarettes, cigars or smoking tobacco must not exceed a total of 250 grams in weight. Cigarettes not exceeding 200 in quantity and one liter of wine or spirits may be brought in free of duty. One still camera or one movie camera, five rolls of still camera film or three rolls of 8 to 16mm movie camera film may be brought into the country. All kinds of narcotics and obscene literature, pictures or articles are prohibited. 


Currency
The unit of currency in Thailand is the Baht. It is divided into 100 satang. There is no currency black market in Thailand. 

Traveler's checks can be cashed at banks throughout the country - even small towns have foreign exchange services. Visitors are allowed to bring up to B2,000 per person and unlimited foreign currency, although amounts exceeding US$10,000 must be declared. 

A maximum amount of B500 per person is allowed to be taken out of the country. Copper coins are valued at 25 and 50 satang while silver coins are in denominations of 1, 2 and 5 Baht. A 10-Baht coin is composed of both silver and copper. 

Bank notes come in denominations of 10 Baht (brown), 20 Baht (green), 50 Baht (blue), 100 Baht (red), 500 Baht (purple) and 1000 Baht (gray). 

45 Baht = US$1. 


Climate
Thailand has a humid, tropical climate, and it is hot all year round. Summer is from March to May with average temperatures around 93F (34oC), but the temperature can reach over 105F (40oC) for extended periods. 

Summer monsoons begin as the warm humid air masses flow towards the north from the Indian Ocean. The monsoons end in the fall when the wind reverses direction with the dry southwester lies. The rainy season, with periods of sunshine, lasts from June to September, with temperatures ranging from 80F to 89F (27oC to 32oC). The amount of rainfall varies with topography. 

The northeast receives the least rain, while the south is flooded during the summer months. The best time to visit Thailand is during the cool season, from October through February, when it is not as humid as during the summer and the rainy seasons. The average temperature is around 18oC to 32oC. During this season, it can be very chilly in the north, with temperatures dropping to 7oC) at night. 


Heath requirements
Of the insect-born diseases, there have been recent large outbreaks of dengue fever in the region, so you should take appreciate measures to avoid mosquito botes. Malaria is mostly restricted to a few rival areas - notably the islands of the eastern seaboard (Rayong to Trat) and the provinces (but not the capitals) of Kanchanaburi, Chaiyaphum, Phetchabun, Mea Hoang Son and Tak. There are small epidemics of Japanese encephalitis in northern Thailand each rainy season, so tourists should consider getting vaccinated in case of planning to spend long periods of time in these areas. 


International flights
Thailand has three international airports: Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Phuket. 

Flights are available from Cambodia (Pnom Penh/Siem Reap - Bangkok), to China (Hong Kong - Bangkok/Chiang Mai), from Laos (Daily Bangkok - Vientaine by Laos Aviation & THAI, Vientiane & Chiang Mai in Thursday & Sunday only & Chiang Mai - Luang Prabang in Thursday by Laos Aviation), from Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur - Bangkok/Chiang Mai, Penang - Bangkok & Hat Yai - Phuket), from Myanmar (Bangkok - Yangon - Bangkok), from Philippines (Manila - Bangkok) & from Vietnam (Hanoi/Ho Chi Minh City - Bangkok).

Two domestic carriers, Thai Airways International (THAI) and Bangkok Airways, make use of international and domestic airports in 26 cities around the country.


Language
Althrough Thai is a rather complicated language with a unique alphabet, it's fun to try at least a few words. The Thai phrasebook by Lonely Planet gives a handle basic introduction to the language and contains many helpful words & phrases. 


Public holidays
Jan 1 : New Year's Day 

Feb 14 : Makha Bucha (Full moon day) 

Apr 6 : Chakri Memorial Day 

Apr 12-14 : Sonkran Festival (Thai New Year)

May 1 : International Labor Day 

May 5 : Coronation Day

May 13 : Wisakha Bucha (Full moom day)

Jul 11 : Wisakha Bucha (Full moom day)

Jul 12 : Buddhist Lent Day

Aug 18 : H.M the Queens birthday 

Oct 23 : Chulalongkron Day

Dec 5 : H.M the King's birthday

Dec 10 : Constitution day

Dec 31 : New Year's Eve 


Tipping
Tipping is not customary except in the big tourist hotels of Bangkok, Pattaya, Phuket and Chiangmai. Even here, if a service charge is added to the bill, tipping isn't necessary. 


Airport tax
Domestic departure tax costs 30B and is usually collected at the airline check-in counter.

The departure tax on international flights is 500B. When you're flying out of Thailand, the tax must be paid at separate booths in the airport before the departure lounge.


Business hours
Thailand has one time zone. It is 7 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time. It is 14 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time and 11 hours ahead of Pacific Standard Time.

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