Thailand is a fabulous short break from Singapore, whether you’re keen for Bangkok’s shops and nightlife, or sun and sand on Samui. If you’re planning a trip there in the near future, here’s what you need to know before you go – from climate to money and visas – plus some facts and trivia about the cultural side of this wonderful destination and the friendly Thai people.
Population: 70 million
Religion: Around 95% of the population is Buddhist
Emergency number: 191
- Thailand used to be known as Siam – and yes, Siamese cats are native to this country.
- The town of Kanchanaburi is home to the famous “Bridge Over the River Kwai”, part of the Burma-Siam railway; an estimated 80,000 to 100,000 people died constructing the project during the Second World War.
- At 127 metres high, Phra Pathommachedi in Nakhon Pathom is the tallest stupa in the world
- Thailand is the only country in Southeast Asia that has not been colonised by Europeans.
- Speaking of Europe, Bangkok was once called “the Venice of the East” due to buildings being built on stilts above the Chao Phraya River.
- It is strictly against the law to criticise the monarchy in Thailand.
- Bangkok’s full official ceremonial name is Krung Thep Mahanakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahinthara Ayuthaya Mahadilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udomratchaniwet Mahasathan Amon Piman Awatan Sathit Sakkathattiya Witsanukam Prasit.
- 13 to 17 April: Songkran Festival. The Thai New Year is celebrated in boisterous fashion (put it this way: you will get wet!).
- 13 October: The anniversary for the passing of King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Thailand’s much-loved king of 70 years died in 2016, aged 88.
Hot spots and itineraries
Hot spots include Bangkok, Phuket, Krabi, Chiang Mai, Koh Samui, Koh Phi Phi and Hua Hin. There are five World Heritage Sites in Thailand, including the historic towns of Ayutthaya and Sukhothai.
- Beach Break: Bangkok – Koh Samui – Koh Phangan – Phuket
- Highlands: Bangkok – Lopburi – Sukhothai – Chiang Mai – Chiang Rai
- Heartland: Bangkok – Kanchanaburi – Ayuthaya
Staying safe and healthy
The usual mosquito-borne diseases are common enough in Thailand, so make sure you’ve sprayed and covered up. Also be aware of cutaneous larva migrans; it’s a rash caused by dog hookworm that’s sometimes contracted on Thailand’s beaches (sounds awful, but it’s very easily treated with medication!). There are snakes around – we’ve seen some ourselves – so tread carefully when you’re off the beaten track. Finally, be sure to check the latest COVID restrictions and requirements.
While you’re there, please don’t…
- Wear your shoes into a temple or someone’s home.
- Raise your voice unnecessarily; anger and aggression are signs of disrespect in Thailand.
- Touch a Thai person on the head.
- Use your feet to point at anything.
Before you go, read …
- Sightseeing by Rattawut Lapcharoensap – short stories by a young award-winning Thai-American author
- A Child of the Northeast by Kampoon Boontawee – written in 1976 and set in the 1930s, this book tells of a family from the Isan region of Thailand.
- Bangkok 8 by John Burdett – the seamier side of Thailand is represented here (namely, the bars and brothels) but it’s a suspenseful and entertaining read.
Before you go, watch …
- Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives – winner of the Palme d’Or at Cannes, this film centres around the last days of the title character.
- The Legend of Suriyothai – the story of Queen Suriyothai who died in courageous fashion in 1548 in a battle against Burmese invaders.
- The Big Boss – if you’re a martial arts fan, you’ll love this Bruce Lee flick, which was filmed entirely in Thailand.
They said it…
“In Thailand’s history there have been dissensions from time to time, but in general, unity has prevailed.” – Bhumibol Adulyadej, King of Thailand (1946-2016)
“Bangkok is a rejuvenating tonic; the people seem to have found the magic elixir. Life, a visitor feels, has not been wasted on the Thais.” – Bernard Kalb, author
“Sanuk is the Thai word for fun, and in Thailand anything worth doing, even work, should have some element of sanuk. This doesn’t mean Thai people don’t want to work or strive. It’s just that they live more in the moment, and do their best to enjoy it.” – Anonymous
Do I need a visa?
Passport holders from over 60 countries, including Singapore, Australia, the UK, the US and Canada, do not require a visa for stays not exceeding 30 days. See the official visa website here.
How long will it take me to get there?
Flights are 2 hours (Phuket), 2.5 hours (Bangkok) and 3 hours (Chiang Mai) from Singapore. Thailand is 7 hours ahead of GMT and 1 hour behind Singapore.
What’s the money situation?
The official currency of Thailand is the Thai baht (THB). Foreign currency and travellers cheques can be exchanged at banks and Thai baht withdrawn at ATMs throughout the country. Credit cards are also widely accepted.
When’s the best time to visit?
The weather in Thailand is generally hot and humid across most of the country throughout most of the year. Avoid Bangkok and the inland areas in April when the weather is scorching. Beach lovers should be aware that the weather varies on the east and west coasts. On the west coast (Phuket, Phi Phi and Krabi), the southwest monsoon brings heavy storms from April to October. On the east coast (Koh Samui, Koh Phangan), most rainfall is between September and December.
What’s the lingo?
Thai is the official language, but most locals have at least a rudimentary understanding of English. Here are some phrases to get you started:
- Hello: Sawadee ka (female) / Sawadee krab (male)
- What is your name? Khun cheu arai?
- My name is __: Di-chan chuh __ (female) / Pom chuh __ (male)
- How much? Tao rai ka? (female) / Tao rai krub? (male)
- Thank you: Khorb khun ka (female) Khorb khun krab (male)
- Yes: Chi
- No, thank you: Mai ao ka (female) / Mai ao krab (male)
Last but not least
Is there anything I should know about meeting the locals?
To say hello in Thai, perform a wai: place your hands together close to your chest and dip your head in a slight bow.
What’s a must-try dish?
Pad Thai: rice noodles stir-fried with eggs and chopped firm tofu, flavoured with tamarind pulp, fish sauce, dried shrimp, garlic or shallots, red chillies, palm sugar, and served with lime wedges and chopped roasted peanuts. But there are so many other options!
What should I buy as a souvenir?
Thai silk, spa products, Thai cookbooks.
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