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Reasons to Visit Thailand
Thailand is a country that I would recommend to any would-be visitor. Having had a close relationship with Thailand for over 20 years (at various times visiting, living and working), I've seen my fair share of both its charms and challenges. Overall, the charms win hands-down. Here are a few charms and challenges along with travel info to help you make the most of your visit to Thailand.
As a Brit, I'm well aware that some countries get less than their fair share of sunshine. Thailand gets more than its fair share. The hot season, which reaches its peak temperature in April might be a bit too uncomfortable for those not used to it (expect daily highs of 35 C) but the cool dry season, which runs from November to February is perfect. Temperatures are around 28-30C with virtually no sign of rain for most of the country. Even after dark, the warm evenings are perfect for walking around. There's a rainy season too, (June - October) which brings heavy downpours, but even then there are periods of days with no rain or light (and quite refreshing) rain, where it's easy to forget that it actually is the rainy season- at least until the next tropical storm appears as a spectacular reminder. Flooding can be a problem, but visitors (unlike the unfortunate residents) can easily avoid flooded areas.
Thailand is famous for its many beaches and seaside resorts. The country has a huge coastline dotted with seaside towns, such as Pattaya, Krabi, Cha Am and Hua Hin and many coastal resorts with all the comforts and facilities you could hope for.
There are also countless islands within easy reach (by ferry) from the mainland. You can find resorts to suit all tastes from very low key, quiet and relaxing places where the nature is as unspoiled as possible to highly-developed resorts with all kinds of watersports (including tuition if required) and a nightlife ranging from quiet bars and restaurants to full blown dusk til' dawn club scenes, full moon parties and many other activities of varying degrees of legality.
If you're from any western country, you'll find prices in Thailand very attractive for most things. Rough and ready dormitory accommodation can be found for as little as 100 baht per night ($3) while comfortable guest houses with private bathroom, shower, aircon and wifi, etc. are plentiful and cost around 300 -1000 baht ($10 - $33) per night, depending on location and quality. If you must have a standard hotel, there are plenty of those too - similar to, but significantly cheaper than, typical western hotels.
Shopping is a highly popular pastime in Thailand for visitors due to the attractive prices on most consumer items - not on electronics, though, at least not on authentic brand products.
Dining in restaurants is far cheaper than in any western country and the range available covers all tastes from authentic Thai, to Indian, to Chinese, to McDonalds. Street food stalls (with seating) are common too, and very cheap with most dishes costing less than a dollar.
Transport all over the country (and beyond) is impressively inexpensive, whether you travel long distance by bus, train or even plane. Short distance travel by taxi is also far cheaper than in the west. Tobacco is cheap - but alcohol isn't so cheap, unless you buy the local moonshine sold at some street stalls (Lao Kow).
Thai cuisine is world famous, and, as you'd expect, is at its most authentic and most affordable in Thailand itself. Street food is available in stalls everywhere, and there are plenty of stand-alone restaurants as well as in most guest houses and hotels. Other cuisines are common too: Indian, Italian, Middle Eastern, and the inevitable McDonald's, Pizza express and Burger King are also in abundance in the bigger cities, such as Bangkok and Chiang Mai.
Thailand has a bewildering array of fruit. You can buy ready-to-eat fresh fruit (kept on ice) from market stalls, including: custard apple, rose apple, mango, durian, dragon fruit, star fruit, jack fruit, banana, pomegranate, pineapple, watermelon, papaya, lychee, rambutan - to name just a few. Mobile fruit carts are also common in streets and outside temples, etc.
Thai beers, such as Singha, Leo and Chang are popular. Thai spirits, such as Sang som (rum) are an acquired taste - but many visitors soon acquire the taste. Imported spirits are widely available too and cocktails are available in bars and streetside pickup trucks that set up shop at the side of the road to attract (mostly) tourists with pina coladas, black Russians, tequila sunrise etc - costing around 100 baht.
Many bars in areas popular with tourists are westernised in décor and in entertainments with lots of good reggae, jazz and rock bands and DJs. There's also the usual selection of 'girlie bars, especially in the more x-rated areas such as the seaside resort of Pattaya or in Bangkok's Patpong and Soi Cowboy.
Things to do in Thailand
Diving, trekking, shopping, sightseeing, jet-skiing, paragliding, partying and many more activities are all available. You can also learn something new and worthwhile. Many places offer short tuition courses in Thai cooking, Thai boxing, massage, etc. Formal long-term study requires the proper non-immigrant (ED) visa, but short casual courses don't.
Wherever you stay, you'll be offered trips to local sights worth seeing, whether it's an elephant training camp, an orchid farm, butterfly farm, silk factory, crafts centres, etc. You are encouraged to buy anything that takes your fancy as that produces a commission for whoever takes you - but, compared to some middle eastern countries, there's no high pressure selling involved.
Trekking is popular in the north of Thailand and involves a few days hiking along forested mountain trails as part of a small group with guides, usually stopping off at hilltribe villages for the night. Part of the route may be by elephant and part by bamboo raft on the rivers - all depending on the route and location of the trek you signed up for.
Thailand has a very rich culture that has evolved over many centuries. As a Buddhist country, it has no shortage of strikingly beautiful Buddhist temples both new and ancient. Both Thai classical and Thai traditional music and dance performances can be seen throughout the country in local venues. Each of the four geographical region of Thailand (north, central, northeast and south) boasts its own distinct cultural features ( a reflection of their previously separate and independent identities and histories).
Hill tribes from mountain villages in the north of the country also have their own distinctive cultures and customs. These tribes include Akha, Lisu, Hmong, Karen and Lahu.
Colourful Thai Festivals
Thailand has no shortage of colourful and vibrant festivals. Each year starts off following the New Year Countdown and is accompanied by fireworks and sky lanterns filling the night sky.
The water-throwing festival of Songkran is held throughout the country over a couple of days and which marks the start of the traditional Thai new year in mid-April. Most visitors and locals alike get into the spirit of it and give as good as they get with everyone ending up completely soaked from by buckets of water thrown from passing pick-up trucks or water-rifle armed pedestrians.
The Loi Krathong festival in November pays tribute to the water spirits responsible for good irrigation of crops. Thais celebrate it by floating ornately crafted krathong - floral baskets made from banana leaves decorated with candles and incense on just about every river and waterway in Thailand. Fireworks and (in northern parts of the country, where the Yi Peng Festival is celebrated at the same time), thousands of Chinese lanterns fill the night sky.
In addition to the many national festivals, there are also local festivals in most parts of the country, such as the Chiang Mai Flower Festival, held in February with incredibly intricate floral designs on floats paraded through the town accompanied by long processions of marching bands and dancers.
No country is perfect, and Thailand, like every country, has its fair share of things to avoid. Fortunately, with some basic local knowledge, caution and common sense, most of these situations are easily avoided. Flooding and political unrest crop up from time to time - just stay away from those areas where they occur.
As Thailand is a tropical country, it's host to a number of tropical diseases, including malaria and cholera. Again - take innoculations or anti malarial drugs - or simply steer clear of regions known to be currently at risk (these are always remote areas). Take care of your belongings, and if you're offered deals that sound too good to be true - then that's exactly what they are. A good example is the offer to sell you gemstones that you can sell back home for many times the price that you paid. That's a well-known scam. The gems they want to sell aren't fake, but of very low quality, which is how they can get away with doing it. It's illegal to sell fake gemstones, but it's not illegal to sell genuine but low quality gemstones for any price they like.
Visit the Neighbours.
While you're in the region, you can take advantage of the cheap travel available to Thailand's immediate neighbours: Malaysia, Myanmar (Burma), Laos and Cambodia. Trips to those places are fairly easy to arrange and obtaining visas (where necessary, depending on the country and also on your country) is straightforward, especially if the travel agent offers to do it for you. Keep in mind, though, that any Thai visa (or permission to stay without a visa) that you obtained before coming to Thailand, or on entry, will automatically expire as soon as you exit the country (unless you first obtain a re-entry permit from Thai Immigration).
If you visit a neighbouring country, you may be able to re-enter Thailand without a visa. Currently (2018), most western countries' citizens can enter Thailand without a visa for a period of 15 days twice per calendar year via a land border or 30 days if arriving arrive by air. Officially, you need to have an onward or return ticket plus at least 20,000 baht to cover expenses in the country, but it's not always asked for at immigration.
Renew your Visa
Alternatively, you can visit one of the neighbouring countries, and while you're there, apply for a new Thai tourist visa at any Thai embassy or consulate in that country. You can't do it too often, though, or they'll start asking why you need so much time as a tourist in the country. Again, they may assume you're working illegally, and not a tourist at all.
Note* You can't use the overland Mae -Sai - Tachileik in Myanmar crossing point for the purpose of obtaining a new visa as there are no consular services there, and unless you have previously obtained a Myanmar visa, you can't travel outside of the Tachileik - Kentung to obtain a new Thai visa from Yangon.
Those who have previously obtained a more expensive multiple entry tourist or non-immigrant visa before arriving in Thailand simply need to exit Thailand to one of the neighbouring countries, and when they're ready to return, they can re-enter on the same visa to receive another two or three months permission to stay. This can only be done provided your final entry is within the original visa's 6 month period of validity, which starts from the day that the visa was issued. As long as you enter Thailand before it expires, you'll get the full two or three months permission to stay on entry - even if the period of validity expires a couple of days after your final entry. Your passport stamp tells you the date that you must leave on or before.
Overstaying your visa is definitely NOT recommended. When you eventually leave Thailand, it will cost you 500 baht ($16) for every day that you've overstayed up to a maximum of 20,000 baht. This is payable at the point of exit. As you're on your way out, anyway, you won't be arrested, but if you've overstayed more than 90 days, you'll be banned from re-entering Thailand for at least a year. Far worse than that, though, is if you're caught without a valid visa (or 15/30 day permission to stay) before leaving. That can get you a brief stay in the highly-overcrowded IDC (Immigration Detention Centre) until you can arrange to leave. In addition, you'll receive a 5-year ban from re-entering the country.
Whatever your interests, you're sure to find Thailand has lots to offer you. With friendly and welcoming people, attractive prices, great weather and so much to see, do and discover, Thailand is simply unbeatable as a travellers' destination.
© 2012 chasmac