Thailand

Thailand is a constitutional monarchy. Approximately 95 percent of the population is Buddhist and ethnically Thai, with Muslim and Christian minorities. Standard Thai is the official language of Thailand and is spoken in every province, though many areas also have a local dialect, and in the Deep South, a variant of Malay is widely spoken. Most Thais working in the tourist industry and in businesses dealing with foreigners can speak at least rudimentary English. Thailand is a popular travel destination, and tourist facilities and services are available throughout the country. At many tourist attractions, including national parks, foreigners are charged admission fees up to ten times higher than those charged to Thais.

The Kingdom of Thailand draws more visitors than any other country in Southeast Asia with its irresistible combination of breathtaking natural beauty, inspiring temples, renowned hospitality, robust cuisine and ruins of fabulous ancient kingdoms.

From the Stupa-studded Mountains of Mae Hong Son and the verdant limestone islands of the Andaman Sea, to the pulse-pounding dance clubs of Bangkok and the tranquil villages moored along the Mekong River, Thailand offers many things for every type of traveler.

Geography
Thailand, known for centuries as Siam, is now officially known as the Kingdom of Thailand. Thailand is found in Southeast Asia surrounded by Myanmar to its north and west, Laos on its northeast, Cambodia and the Gulf of Thailand on its southeast and by Malaysia and Myanmar on its south and southwest, respectively.
The largest city in Thailand is Bangkok, with about 5.5 million people living there in 1992. In addition to being the largest city, Bangkok has the distinction of being the capital of Thailand as well as the chief seaport.
Dominating Thailand’s terrain are mountainous areas, which can be found all through the country. Taking up a third of Thailand is the Khorat Plateau, a flat, barren plateau that borders the Mekong River valley. The main river in Thailand, Chao Phraya, goes through an alluvial plain that is sandwiched between the central and western mountains. This plain, along with a fertile delta near Bangkok, which was created by the Chao Phraya, is the most productive agricultural part of Thailand, and is the most densely populated.
Monsoon winds have an impact on Thailand’s tropical climate. When the winds come from the southwest, the temperatures are usually a little higher and more humid (ranging from 78 -98 degrees F), while the northeastern winds bring the temperature down a little (ranging from 56 – 92 degrees F). Rainfall is more likely during the summer months of June through October, and the average rainfall varies from region to region. In the northern, central and western regions, about 1500 mm is expected, while the Thai section of the Malay peninsula usually gets over 2500 mm. The Khorat Plateau gets the least rainfall with about 1270 mm or less per year.

Weather/Climate
The weather is cool all year round. A visit during the rainy season (July to October) is the best time to enjoy waterfalls, and the forest is at its peak of greenery. Trails at the park are known for an abundance of leeches during the rainy season, so keep some repellent handy. The cool season provides refreshing breezes. Park visitors can also ask park officials to arrange a night-time outing to observe wildlife near the park office

Food
Thai food is widely known for being hot and spicy since almost all Thai food is cooked with basic ingredients such as garlic, chillies, limejuice, lemon grass and fresh coriander leaf and fermented fish sauce (nam pia) or shrimp paste (kapi) to make it salty.
The basic characteristic taste of Thai food in different parts of the country can be described in different ways: in the central region, food is hot, salty, sweet and sour. Rice is served with different types of nam phrik and soups e.g. tom yam kung (prawn soup with lemon grass. Dishes usually contain a lot of condiments and spices. In the North, food is mild or hot, salty and sour, but never sweet. Sticky rice is served with boiled vegetables, nam phrik oong and soups or curries. The North is also well-known for its sausage called “naem” which consists of fermented minced pork. It has a sour flavour and is sold wrapped in cellophane and banana leaf.
Food in the Northeast is hot, salty and sour. Their favourite foods include papaya salad (som tam), sour chopped meat salad “koi”, and sour minced meat salad (lard) .People use a lot of condiments but not many spices. Their meals generally consist of sticky rice and nam phrik pla raa accompanid by a lot of vegetableas including those found growing wild. On the other hand, food in the South is renowned for being very hot, salty and sour-tasting. Curries are popular and made with a lot of spices and condiments. Khao yam (a mixture of rice) raw vegetables and fermented fish sauce or boo doo is also a common dish. Generally southern people eat little meat and other varieties of nam phrik are not so popular, the most common one is nam phrik kapi.

Transportation
Known as one of the most cosmopolitan cities in Asia, Bangkok is also known for its traffic! In Thailand, a total of 37 million hours is spent travelling to work everyday. The average working person living in Thailand spends 2 hours everyday travelling to and from work—because of this, a lot of transport modes exist to make commuting a breeze even for the Bangkok novice. These modes of transport, which fits every kind of budget and need, ensure that you will eventually get to your destination despite the congested roads.

PRIVATE CARS & VANS
You can rent a car or van if you want a comfortable and safe way of transport. International car rental companies have branches in Bangkok and other major cities. The rental rates are between B. 1,500 – 15.000 per day and B. 9,000 – 20,000 per week, depending on the car brand. Do note that you must have a valid international license if you are doing the driving yourself.

TAXI
Air-conditioned taxis with meters are common and recognizable by a sign on the cab’s roof along with their bright colors (hot pink, green, orange, yellow). The taxi charge is 35 Baht for the first 2 kms, then fares increase from 4.50 – 5.50 Baht depending on the distance. A surcharge of 1.25 Baht kicks in when the taxi travels at less than 6 kph. Booking a taxi for the whole day will cost between 1,000 – 1,500 Baht.
Non-metered taxis are also available but are usually more expensive, so one must negotiate the rate. A trip within central Bangkok should cost between 60 – 80 Baht (plus an additional 10 – 20 during peak hours). The trip to the airport is about 200 – 300 Baht. Whether meter or non-meter, the freeway tolls (20 – 49 Baht) are paid by the customers.

TUK-TUK
The ineffable tuk-tuk, or sailors, are usually faster than taxis in traffic jams as they can weave in between cars, but you must be prepared for inhaling a day’s dose of traffic fumes. Tuk-tuk fares have escalated and they are now on par with metered taxis. Be prepared to pay about 40 baht for a short hop, or better yet, negotiate with the driver before you take the ride.

MOTORBIKES
Those in a hurry can use motorcycle taxis to beat the jams. Fares are about the same as taking the tuk-tuk. But be forewarned that riding a motorcycle taxi on the main thoroughfares can be a little dangerous, although they are a perfectly safe and pleasant solution in the sois (lane or secondary streets) where Bangkok retains a village-like atmosphere. Some of the motorcycle taxis provide a helmet for their passengers though.

BTS (Bangkok Mass Transit System)
Bangkok’s answer to traffic jams along its key stops offers two routes at the moment and cover the two main commercial areas: Sukhumvit line (from Mo chit to On Nut) and the Silom line (from National Stadium to Saphan Taksin Bridge). Running from 6 a.m. to midnight, the fare depends on distance traveled, ranging from 10 – 40 baht/person. For frequent riders, it would be best to buy a stored value card, ranging from 440 – 800 baht/person that would ensure you a multiple trips at a flat rate of 20 baht per trip regardless of the destination.

SUBWAY (Bangkok Mass Rapid Transit)
Bangkok’s newest mass transit system, the subway, was inaugurated in July 2004. With fares ranging from 14 – 36 baht, the subway run from the city’s main railway station, Hua Lampong, under two major thoroughfares, Rama 4 Road and Ratchadaphisak Road.

Clothes
Clothing choices for Thailand tend to be personal and depend on activities, seasons and locations .Although the Thai people will never say anything about the way you are dressed (except when entering a temple) it is good manners to cover the top of your arms and not to wear very short skirts or shorts. An everyday T-Shirt is fine and long shorts are fine. For the adventure travelers will be more prone to walking shorts and pullover cotton shirts.

People
The country has a population of about 60 million with about three-fourths of the population being ethnic Thais. There are many minorities to be found in Thailand, but the largest group is comprised of the Chinese, with almost fifteen percent of the population. Other races to be found include Vietnamese, Cambodian, Malays and hill tribes.
The population density for Thailand is about 116 people per sq km, although this may seem deceptive since the majority of the population lives in central Thailand. Although Bangkok is a large city and has a population of over 5 million, about 80 percent of Thais live in rural areas.

Shopping in Thailand
If your body type falls in the medium weight category and you are not overly tall, finding clothing at the sidewalk markets and department stores in the larger cities if usually easy. If you are staying for longer periods of time, tailored shirts, blouses, dresses, trousers, suits and shoes can be a bargain compared to western prices.

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