Thailand has long been one of the world's most popular tourist destinations. Everywhere you go you, can find high quality, restaurants, hotels, museums and transportation. If you know what you are doing you can find them at far cheaper prices than back home. The trick is to plan ahead.
Planning a Thailand Trip
The visa information provided here applies to U.S. citizens or others who will obtain their visa from the U.S.
Where to Apply
You can apply for your tourist visa either by visiting the Thai embassy or consulate affiliated with your state or via mail. If you apply in person your visa can be processed as quickly as two days. Otherwise it can take up to ten days.
How to Apply
To apply for a visa you will need a completed application form (this can be downloaded via the Thai Embassy's website), a passport valid for at least another 6 months and with at least one empty page, two 2"x 2" photos, a copy of a round-trip ticket or itinerary and a recent bank statement - individuals should have at least $700 to spend and families at least $1500. The consulate or embassy will receive in-person applications between 9 a.m. and 12 p.m. Monday through Friday. It costs $40 for a 60 day three-entry visa. They only accept payment by checks or money orders.
Lonely Planet claims "The best time to visit most of Thailand is between November and February, because it rains the least and it is not too hot. This period is also Thailand's main season for festivals, like Loi Krathong." That is true, but it is also when the country and its attractions are at their most crowded and expensive. If you want to avoid the crowds and finder cheaper accommodation. A good time to go is between July and October. Between April and July, temperatures in Thailand can get excessively hot.
Visit your doctor before you leave. They will usually recommend Hepatitis A vaccines, obtained at least two weeks before departure. Typhoid vaccines are also a good idea for those who like to venture beyond restaurant food. Visitors should also be up-to-date on tetanus and MMR vaccines. Malaria is only really a problem in jungle and forest regions such as Phang Nga and Phuket.
Getting Around in Thailand
Once you understand how transport in the cities works, it can be very cheap and efficient. Towns such as Phuket and Chiang Mai have red buses called Songtaew that will, whilst picking up other passengers going in the same direction, take you anywhere in the city for 20-40 baht. Tuk-tuks are more expensive, particularly as drivers like to overcharge foreigners. Unfortunately, they can be your only option late at night. Outside of Bangkok taxis tend to be rare. Bangkok also has metro and sky train systems. These are both an excellent way to get around the center but to get to the outskirts, which includes the backpackers area - Khaosan Road - you will need to take either a taxi boat or a taxi car.
Thailand has rail lines that run the length and breadth of the country. Though the Lonely Planet claims that the trains are rarely on time, they are usually a comfortable and fast way to travel. Most trains have three classes. In third class, the cheapest option, you will have to sit on a bench. In second class you can put your chair back and lie down. In first class you get a private cabin with a wash basin and free drinking water. It is advised you book in advance and at the train station.
On a bus, you will get to see the Thai villages and towns you would otherwise miss if you traveled by train. The larger buses are pleasant and comfortable and often show films and provide drinks. Even if the weather is scorching, however, take something warm to wear. The Thai bus drivers like to turn up the air conditioning to the max. A faster and just slightly more expensive option is the mini-buses. Approach them with caution. The drivers are infamous for driving at ridiculous speeds and you are strongly recommended to book a bus or minibus through a reputable company. If you are not sure ask the hotel or hostel you are staying at for advice.
Most people in the tourist areas of the major cities will have some understanding of English, particularly people working in hotels and the restaurants. However, even those that only speak Thai are used to dealing with foreigners and you can usually express what you need.
You can find Banks and currency-exchange booths in all major tourist areas, which will issue cash advances on your Visa or MasterCard and cash Traveler's checks. You can find ATMs with international banking systems outside convenience stores, banks and shopping areas. You can use Major credit cards in most big shops and high-quality restaurants, but smaller businesses only accept cash.
Bangkok's Must See Attractions
Wake up at sunrise, or as many visitors to Bangkok do party until sunrise, and you will be surprised just how peaceful this city can be - temples sparkle in the sunlight, monks collect alms and the people start putting out food offerings at their spirit houses. Truly a city with two very different faces.
The Grand Palace
Probably Thailand's most famous attraction, its structures include the Grand Palace itself and the Wat Phra Kaew museum. It was originally built for King Rama I in the late 1700s.
Jim Thompson House and Museum
This complex of six teak houses was built for Thailand's most famous farang (foreigner), Jim Thompson - U.S. Businessman who revitalized Thailand's silk industry. The house and museum is a monument to both his work and his extensive art and antiques collection.
Up and down the alleys and lanes of this bustling Chinese neighborhood you'll find fresh-food hawkers, street side merchants and traders, and the occasional Chinese temple. Sampaeng Lane, its most famous and popular road, is the best place in the city to find quality and reasonably priced fabrics.
Chiang Mai's Must See Attractions
Chiang Mai is the main city in the north of Thailand and probably its most religious. In the old and new parts of town there are seemingly an endless number of Buddhist temples, each one busy throughout the day with chattering tourists and meditating monks. As soon as they close, however, the city's bars and clubs open, and stay open until late into the night.
Towering over the city at over 1600 meters tall, Doi Suthep is Chiang Mai's biggest tourist puller. Inside its valleys and rivers, you will find hill tribe villages, temples, including Wat Phra That Doi Suthep and a national park that includes over 300 species of bird and 2,000 types of plants.
Running every night of the week, this huge market sells all sorts of goods from traditional Thai silk to counterfeit designer clothes. Prices are not as attractive as they used to be, but you can still bargain your way down to something reasonable.
Phuket's Must See Attractions
Phuket, the pearl of the Andaman Sea, is Thailand's largest and probably most notorious island. Among its world class beach resorts, the most famous of which is Patong, there is a world of shopping, massage parlors, bar girls and clubbing.
Sea Shell Museum
The museum features more than 2,000 species of shells and fossils and the world's largest golden pearl (140 karats).
The Phi Phi Islands
The two islands of Koh Phi Phi Don and Phi Phi Leh are among Thailand's most beautiful destinations. Many complain their involvement in the film the Beach has turned the islands into just another tourist attraction, but that's a little unfair. Most visitors still marvel at the area's natural beauty and crystal clear waters.
Most visitors go to Phuket for the fine sandy beaches and crystal clear waters of the Andaman Sea. Beach resorts include Patong, Kata and Karon. As you can imagine these places make for excellent snorkeling.
Pattaya's Must See Attractions
Pattaya, Thailand's first beach resort, has evolved into one of the most country's most popular tourist towns. This is partly due to its night life that includes a range of go-go bars, pubs and clubs partly because of its natural resources. As well as beaches, Pattaya it has elephant villages and a collection of nearby islands.
Ko Tan, Ko Krok and Ko Sak
Only 13 km away these islands offer stunning beaches ideal for sunbathing, snorkeling and swimming. Boats leaves for the islands every two hours from 8 a.m. to 16.30.
Pattaya Elephant Village
Elephant Village is a sanctuary for former working elephants. Here you can watch their shows and climb on their back for one of their three hour treks.
Pattaya Dive Center
The Pattaya Dive Center offers several dive trips and snorkeling excursions ranging from one to four days. Those wanting to gain a diving certificate can take a PADI open water certification course over four days.
Recommended Travel Packages
From sailing over crystal waters to exotic island locations to exploring the ruins of ancient capitals, Thailand has a variety of tours for family, couples and singles. Below are just a few examples of the wide range available.
Thailand On a Shoestring
On this 16-day tour you will visit the two biggest cities in Thailand - Bangkok and Chiang Mai - before trekking through the northern hill tribes and visiting such national treasures as Khao Sok national park. A night train will take you back to Bangkok. It costs from $1,249 per person.
Thailand Family Adventure
After two days in Bangkok you and your family will visit Erawan National Park - home to the Erawan waterfall - and Ayatthaya, Thailand's former capital. You will then head to the capital of northern Thailand, Chiang Mai, before finishing off back in Bangkok. This 12 day tour costs from $999 per person.
Phi Phi to Phuket Sailing
Over four exciting days you will visit the isolated beaches and mangroves of Ko Yao Yi, the golden beaches of Phi Phi and participate in either diving or snorkeling at Ko Racha. The tour finishes in the tourist town of Phuket. Costs start at $717 per person.
Thailand Beaches West Coat
In between the lively beach resort of Ao Nang and all its excesses you will visit the nearby but far quieter town of Krabi and the idyllic, peaceful island of Ko Yai Noi. This 9 day tour finishes in Phuket and costs from $945 per person.
Explore Northern Thailand
Over eight days you will visit the temple, markets and sights in the Northern Thai cities of Chiang Mai and Sukothai. With a homestay with local friends of the tour company included, this is far more than just a sightseeing trip. Tour pricing begins at $870 per person.
Before You Leave
Thailand can leave you in awe at the beauty of its landscape and the friendliness of its people. It can also leave you empty of pocket, and with little to show for it. It is not the kind of place you can turn up on a whim. If you don't know what you are doing, people will overcharge you and some may even try to scam you. On the other hand, if you know exactly what you want to see and plan carefully, you just might have the time of your life