Friday, 20 November 2009

Facts on Thailand: a Travel Guide for Beginners.


While researching this blog I was struck by an alarming fact: there are a lot of facts about Amazing Thailand that people – yes, including me – simply don’t know. And that’s a fact.

Like what, you might ask? Well, when I stumbled across a Google search statistic that showed 170 people a month were searching for ‘Chiang Mai Surfers’ that hit pretty close to home – given that I live in Chiang Mai – and I thought, damn that’s one thing I haven’t done here in ages … gone to the local beach for a surf.

Well, sorry to break it to you like this, surfer dudes, the nearest beach to Chiang Mai is probably around 750 km away, and that’s probably in Burma. (Burma, yeah dude, that’s another country in Asia. No, dude, Asia’s a continent. Yeah, we’ve got beaches in Thailand because we’ve got 2705 kilometres of shoreline, just not in Chiang Mai, so chill.)

Little known fact #1: Chiang Mai province is actually home to five of Thailand’s eight highest peaks but I’ll deal with that in a later blog.

So I thought a few bare facts for anyone looking at Thailand travel (or Thailande, Tailand, Koh Thailand or even Thialand as many people mistype it) would be a great place to start this journey.

Local Thai customs:



Thailand is one of the most devout Buddhist countries in the world, with over 90% of its population practicing Theravada Buddhism. Monks and temples are respected and revered, so do use common sense in terms of modest dress and behaviour in their vicinity. The gesture of respect is the Wai, pronounced why. (There’s no truth in the rumour Tom Jones’ song Wai, wai, wai Delihah was written after he had to continually remind his girlfriend to show respect). The wai is performed by raising your clasped hands in a praying position in front of your face with your fingertips about level with your chin plus a downward tilt of the head.



The royal family is absolutely revered by the Thai people, and rightly so. At cinemas they’ll play the royal song, and often at 6pm on a Sunday evening in public markets and stations. It is correct to stand still and silent for the duration.



For years, Thailand has been known as the Land of Smiles. It is not a put on for tourists – I’ve seen plenty of evidence of this well off the beaten track. If you smile it shows your heart is in the right place (jai dee), and you will get an excellent return on investment with a gleaming smile back. A smile is like a master key, and you’ll find it opens the door to better service, better treatment, and possibly friendships. But at very least YOU will feel better and happier within yourself.



The one golden rule for Thais is sanuk (fun). If something’s not sanuk, forget about it.




Popular Thai destinations:




To help you start researching your own Thailand holiday and Thailand hotels, here are the key gateways and destinations you might want to include in your itinerary:


Ayutthaya
Bangkok (not spelt Bankok)
Chiang Mai (no, it’s not spelt Chiangmai or Chang Mai)
Chiang Rai
Hua Hin
Kanchanaburi
Khao Lak
Khao Yai
Koh Chang
Koh Phanghan
Koh Samui
Krabi
Pattaya
Phuket (including Patong)
Sukhothai



I’ll deal with each of these in upcoming blogs, and of course there are thousands more places in between … it’ll take me a lifetime to cover them all, which I fully intend to do. (And if I embrace Buddhism, I’ll have the next life, and the next … to do it.)



Approximate distances between main centres in Thailand.




Bangkok to ...


Ayutthaya: 80 km. Driving time around 1.5 hours.
Chiang Mai: 700 km. Flying time 1 hour 15 mins
Chiang Rai: 825 km. Flying time 1 hour 20 mins.
Hua Hin: 300 km. Driving time 3 hours.
Kanchanaburi: 139 km. Driving time 2.5 hours.
Khao Lak (via Phuket). 880 km. Driving time 12 hours.
Khao Yai: 250 km. Driving time 3 hours.
Koh Chang (via Trat): 330 km. Flying time 1 hour then boat.
Koh Panghan (via Ko Samui): 340 km. Flying time 1 hour then boat.
Koh Samui: 575 km. Flying time around 1 hour 15 mins.
Krabi: 946 km. Flying time 1 hour 20 minutes.
Pattaya: 120 km. Flying time 1 hour 10 mins.
Phuket: 830 km. Flying time 1 hour 25 mins
Sukhothai: 425 km. Flying time 1 hour 25 minutes.



There are 12 airlines (including several budget carriers offering cheap flights) to get you around the country, plus an excellent rail system, buses, boats, tuk tuks, scooters and even elephants. The roads by and large are very good, and I’ll be giving you the low-down on driving Thailand and how best to motorcycle Thailand in later blogs.



Weather:




Mostly hot and humid year round. Hey, it’s a tropical country, what’d you expect? But …



North of Bangkok: From June to October southwest monsoon and rains.
November to February, mostly dry.
March to May, dry and increasingly hot.



South of Bangkok: On west coast, from April to October southwest monsoon. On east coast monsoonal rains from September to December. The south is generally wetter than the north.



Currency:




Thai baht. It’s easy to remember if you’re a fan of the Simpsons – ‘Doh Bart!’ Amazing Thailand has been rated the world’s 2nd best value travel destination, according to Lonely Planet’s ‘Best in Travel 2010’ guide, behind only Iceland which is suffering financial meltdown. Now’s a great time to get Thailand deals due to relative weakness of the Baht. See www.oanda.com for currency exchange rates.



For much more detail on all of the above see www.tourismthailand.org. They’ve even got a cool itinerary generator tool to get you started on planning your next Thialand, er, Tailand, um, Thailand holiday.



So no matter how far you live from the sea, you can always surf across to that site.



PS: Any other facts you think would be useful for me to include? Please leave your comments and suggestions here.

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