This site describes our 2005/2006 New Year trip to Thailand.
This site is an author project containing personal impressions based on a single 10 days trip. The authors of this site and the content of this site have no connection to any Thai official, tourism or business structures. The authors' impressions and their opinion don't necessarily meet the position of Thai government and tourism authorities as well as Thai business holders.
The formal Thailand links are here :
Thailand Tourism Authority
Thailand is a country in Southeastern Asia; it is a constitutional monarchy bordering Myanmar ( Burma ) on the west, Laos and Cambodia on the east, and Malaysia on the south.
The climate of Thailand is tropical : hot and very humid, more clouds and rains from May to September and less from November to May. The temperatures don't really depend on the seasons and remain 25-35C ( ~ 75-95F ) all year long. Only in the northern part of the country the temperature may drop to 15-16C ( ~ 60F ) in the coldest season which is December-January. The open Indian Ocean bounds Thailand on the west ( what sometimes results to catastrophic storms and even tsunami on the west coast ), while Gulf of Thailand and especially cozy Bight of Bangkok bound the south coast of the country protecting it from natural disasters.
The area of Thailand is about 514000 sq km, what is comparable with the area or France or Spain, and more than the area of state of California while less than the area of Texas.
The population of Thailand is about 65 million inhabitants, what is slightly more than the population of such countries as France or Spain and is equal to almost half of population of Russia. The majority of people in Thailand are Buddhists, almost 95%. Other 5% are Muslims ( more than 4% ) and Christians. The Muslims are mostly concentrated in the southernmost part of the country in the areas bordering Malaysia. Some people in that region claim creation of independent Islamic state what sometimes results into riot and terrorist attacks.
The relief of central and southern Thailand is mostly flat while the western and northern parts are mountain areas.
Having a beautiful nature, climate and good geographic location, Thailand however suffers from air pollution because of vehicle emissions and water pollution because of organic and factory wastes.
Thailand is better developed than most other southeast Asian countries; the infrastructure allows convenient transport by plane, bus or train; western facilities are available in all major destinations although even basic English is frequently not understood.
Being for a long while mostly agricultural country and the source of natural resources ( mainly tin ), Thailand now exports a wide variety of goods, such as garment, textiles, fish products, rice, tapioca, jewelry, electrical appliances, furniture, plastics and some kinds of integrated circuits.
A unified Thai kingdom was established in the mid-14th century. Known as Siam until 1939, Thailand is the only southeast Asian country never to have been taken over by a European power.
The King of Thailand, Rama IX, is the World's Longest Serving Monarch : more than 60 years passed since his coronation ( more details are here ). The King is the most honorable person in Thailand. His portraits are everywhere on streets, roads and private buildings. The Thais call him "our beloved King". Everybody ( including foreigners ) is supposed to say nothing wrong about the King as well as do nothing that could be considered as a disrespect to the King. Thus, maltreating the money or stepping on the money bearing King's face will likely result into the problems with Police or local people. One more important thing to outline is that any hardcore drug trafficking, possessing and producing is punishable to death.
The literacy in Thailand is about 90-95%, while the young generation is actually totally literate. However, a very few people in Thailand speaks English. It still remains the language of the elite.
Despite the majority of population look poor, there is nobody begging for money on the streets and there are a very few homeless people seen.
Thailand Voltage standard is 220V/50Hz, like in European countries. The plugs meet European standard.
The Thailand currency is Baht; 40Bahts ~ 1USD.
Driving in Thailand is on the left side.
Thailand has a single Time Zone.
The time difference between Thailand time and UT is +7hours.
The time difference between Thailand time and EST is +12hours.
Being for a long period closed for affection of western culture, now Thailand is widely open for the tourism which is important part of its national income.
Thailand is a major tourist destination in the region, offering innumerable cultural sites ( temples, pagodas etc...), as well as a vibrant nightlife in popular towns. One of the features of the nightlife is the sex-tourism that dominates parts of Bangkok, Pattaya or Phuket, but also other places are not untouched by this business. However, one can avoid these districts or travel as a couple.
One specific Thailand thing that we never encountered in other counties is so-called "Tourist Police." This structure pretends to be a special Police department helping the foreigners who got into a difficult situation, while from our impression they seem mostly investigating the goals and intentions the tourists and other foreigners are visiting the country with.
Regarding overall safety situation, it has always been good, when it comes to violence or robbery though some sad accidents happen to the tourists, so care about the safety is never a waste. Regarding personally us, we didn't encounter any safety problems. Definitely, there are certainly more dangerous places in the USA, Russia or Europe. When it comes to fraud, lying and stealing, especially Bangkok has quite a bad reputation nowadays. The best is to stay away from jewelers and similar businesses and not to trust any strangers.
Shocking in the first hours because of plenty of cars closely ( almost bump-to-bump ) approaching each other, absolutely irregular structure of the cities, traffic signs and posters written mostly in Thai language as well as swarms of bikers maneuvering amongst the moving cars as amongst still objects, driving in Thailand appears not too bad after getting the experience of day or two. In spite of chaotic structure of city streets, bikers that seem coming from everywhere including the opposite direction, lack of road information in English and a few people able to answer questions asked in English, the streets and roads are mostly well paved and maintained, and the detailed bilingual road maps are available from the stores ( mostly from 7/11 shops that just flood the country ). Despite the drivers tend to approach each other and you very close, press in the delays and follow you very close to make you change the lane on the highway, they themselves accept and obey the same "rules of game", and never do unexpected things as well as avoid doing what can really result into to an accident. Actually, the main thing is getting of the feeling of this "threshold of permissible and necessary pressing" what will allow you to avoid being a "traffic derelict" whose behavior can easily become the reason of the accident.
As soon as you become a part of the traffic on Thai roads, you will be pleasantly surprised that rules are mostly obeyed and even on the highways the traffic goes below the speed limit. Thus, the highway speed limit for cars is 120km/hour ( for trucks it is lower ), but the car drivers rarely exceed it and usually drive at speed of 90-100km/hour. The traffic lights counting the seconds remaining to change the light will be another pleasant surprise making the driving more convenient.
The specific thing that features Bangkok can be called "two level road system". The first ( low, or ground ) level presents the regular ( in some parts historic ) city streets with intersections, traffic lights, etc... The second ( high ) level presents the system of elevated motorways. Frequently, the motorways follow the regular streets repeating their turns and bends. However, these two systems exist as in "parallel Worlds", so few connections are between them. In some places you can drive kilometers underneath the motorway that covers the street as a massive concrete roof preventing GPS and other receivers from working.
Actually, the basic rule we revealed is that the ascending sections of the streets could likely be the gates to motorways as descending sections direct to the maze of downtown. So, if you would like to enter a motorway, or remain on the motorway, or avoid getting to the downtown labyrinth : keep up, and you'll eventually get to the motorway ! Conversely, if you would like to exit a motorway and get to the system of regular city streets : keep down !
Regarding the habits of Thai Police, they will unlikely follow you to make you stop as the Police do in the USA. The Thai Police prefer to arrange mobile checkpoints on the roads and stop the drivers checking the id.
Another thing that will definitely draw your attention on Thai roads is the variety of smells. If you keep the windows of your car open, the strong smells changing one another will accompany you everywhere. It will be the smells from nice cooking scents to nasty odors coming from leaking sewer. But they will be always strong and unexpected being the part of your adventure.
Regarding the situation with bilingual road signs and posters, the lack of English information certainly impedes the orienting while the situation is still incomparable to the situation in such countries as Russia where out of main cities all road information is provided in national language only what makes to feel that the foreign driver is an unwelcome person on the road.
The gas prices in Thailand are relatively low ( slightly higher than in the USA ) while since the most popular car brands are Japanese compact and economy ones, the cost of one unit of distance is approximately the same as in the USA. Some roads in Thailand ( especially motorways in capital area ) are toll roads. The charges usually vary from 20 to 50 Bahts ( ~ from half to one USD ). The important thing to remember driving in Thailand is that all gas station close at 10PM !
Filling the tank is what the driver is never supposed to do him- or herself. At any gas station there is always a group of "helpers" who immediately surround the car and do everything themselves : from opening the tank and filling it with the gas to washing the windshield and accepting the money. These people expect 20-30Bahts tips while avoiding their "help" will definitely offend them and may result to a conflict. Giving coins as the tips is also offending. Only banknotes are expected as the tips.
Our overall impression of Thai service is that is slightly cheaper but notably worse than the service in the USA.
There are a lot of places to stay in Thailand : from luxurious 5* hotels to ugly rooms for rent which frequently are not equipped even with fridge and air conditioner what hard to imagine in tropical climate. The prices vary appropriately, but the rule is that they are slightly less than they would be for the same facilities in the USA.
The similar situation is with the food. There are a lot of places to eat : from luxurious restaurants, to common street cafes, and to ugly and nasty smelling places. The prices are comparable to the prices in the USA. The good dinner in a common restaurant is 15-20USD for person. Tipping in Thailand is usually accepted and appreciated : about 20% are expected after a good meal. Like everywhere in Thailand, giving coins as the tips is offending. Only banknotes are expected as the tips.
Regarding the food and accommodation, the general rule is very simple : just believe your eyes and nose. What looks nice is actually nice ( you will unlikely get any problems because of staying and/or eating there ), but what looks and smells ugly is actually ugly ( avoid such places ).
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The places we visited
The image below is our last Thai sunrise how we saw it from our balcony on 2006 January 4th :
Thank you, Thailand !