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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 Monarchy
Thailand Government
Thailand Tourism Authority
Presented by:


Svetlana Davydova and Konstantin Yakovlev
( Светлана Давыдова и Константин Яковлев )
( Russia )                     ( USA )

Country Facts

       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.
Tourism Facts

       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.

Service, Dining, Accommodation

       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 ).


The full size images (2288x1712px) are available upon request

The places we visited

The Town

       Pattaya City is a somewhat tacky resort town : full of hotels ( from ugly to nice ), restaurants and other places to eat ( also from ugly to nice ), pubs, massage and tattoo saloons, shopping centers as well as small souvenir shops. Swarms of foreign tourists flood the congested streets, and bands of stray dogs occupy the footpaths. The life in the town is mostly evening or night. In the morning hours the town looks deserted : few cars and people on the streets, closed stores, shops and restaurants, etc... But in the night the face of the town changes drastically : traffic is so heavy that crossing the streets becomes a challenge. The crowd on the footpaths, the restaurants, pubs and stores which are open till really late hours, music sounding from everywhere, flashes of the fireworks and shots of petards don't let you sleep till the morning.
       The tourist infrastructure in Pattaya is pretty good : ATMs, currency exchanges, car rentals, ticket shops and travel agencies are almost at any corner. Public transportation is presented with regular taxi cabs as well as "tuk-tuk" -- a three-wheeled motorized vehicle which can be found on almost any city or town road and is a symbol of Thai ingenuity. Nevertheless, trying to see any real Thai life, historical sites, national traditions and architecture or culture elements is meaningless there. Pattaya is also known as a famous center of sexual tourism. The bottom line is that if you are traveling with your wife or girlfriend and sexual tourism is not your primary goal, it doesn't make sense to stay there. We were not aware of such details and we were rather sorry that we chose that place for staying.
       Regarding the environment, everything is very polluted in Pattaya : air because of car exhaust, water in the sea because of oil leaking from boat engines, beaches because of trash and garbage.
The Beaches

       The beaches in Pattaya are narrow and congested, and their entire length is filled with umbrellas and chaise longues ( beach seats ). There is frequently no room even for taking a walk along the beach, and nobody is allowed to enter the beach without paying for being seated. And even after being seated, everybody remains under persistent watch of beach vendors who observe the usage of beach equipment and fine the people for improper use. Though even the proper use of seats don't protect you from people soliciting for massage, snacks and drinks. Unlike the USA, the consumption of alcoholic drinks is allowed on the beaches in Thailand.
       Swimming in the sea is also a challenge. The bay is full of boats and water bikes, and the drivers of these water-borne vehicles seem crazy what makes swimming safe only is designated areas fenced with ropes and buoys ( but sometimes the water biker get even there ).
The Hotel

       The place of our stay in Pattaya was a 3* "Golden Beach" hotel located in 10 minutes walking from the beach.
       It was a regular hotel with a security at the entrance : nothing really impressive and nothing really irregular. The large rooms were clean and neat, and there was a restaurant downstairs. The staff at the reception was nice and friendly while their English was very poor : hardly enough to understand room number, so any communication with hotel administration was a real challenge. What really drew our attentions was a plenty of Russian tourists and the large posters everywhere ( even in the elevator ) written in Russian and posting fees for lost, stolen and broken items. It looks like the hotel administration considered Russians as people who are supposed only to lose, steal and break...
       Besides the Russians, there were some Indians and Vietnamese in the hotel although I have no idea what was the interest for them spend the vacation in the country with the same climate....
       The only inconvenience ( besides the receptionists who didn't speak English ) was the problem with making phone calls : there was no way to make any international call from the room, so the guest was supposed to go to the reception, ask the receptionist to dial the number ( encountering the language barrier ) and talk in the presence of receptionists and guests...
The Tide

       The really amazing thing we encountered in Pattaya was the great tide featuring that piece of coast. During the morning and day hours the high water level makes beaches be narrow strip of the sand filled with people, tents and seats. In some places the surf touches the seats and tents making the stroll along the beach impossible. Evening or night beaches present a completely different scene making the site unrecognizable. The sea recedes by dozens of meters widely uncovering the bottom revealing low muddy islands and the shallow hollows filled with water. By the time of low tide the beach equipment ( tents, seats ) is removed, and the beaches convert to a wide promenade lit with the lights of the city.
The Adult Shows

       It is not an exaggeration to say that "Alcazar Cabaret" is the most popular adult show in Pattaya. The entertainment includes full cabaret performances featuring performers who are almost invariably transsexuals. All "women" on the images below are actually the men who had experienced gender reassignment.
              The only way to get to these offshore islands is the private boat. It was our second day in the country, we were not familiar with the prices yet, and when the boat owner asked for 2500Bahts ( ~62USD ) we considered it to be a fair price... Well, a few hours later we learned that the real price was at least two times less, but it was too late... Anyway, the island was worth too see : one time in the life...
              The Grand Palace and the Royal Grounds are located nearby in the very heart of Bangkok and curved by the bend of Chao Phraya River : the main river of Thailand. In the morning and afternoon hours this area is overcrowded with tourists, cars, taxi, tuk-tuks and buses. The hot Sun burns, the engines roar, the air is filled with the exhaust, you feel dizzy, tired and overwhelmed... Nevertheless, the gorgeous structures are awaiting you beyond the ancient walls of the Grand Palace and Royal Grounds.
       If you go to the central Bangkok by your car, you'll definitely encounter the problems with parking. There are neither underground nor street visitor parking lots there, so everybody is parking just along the streets surrounding the Grand Palace and Royal Grounds. Since the majority of parking spaces along these streets is limited for use of public and tourist buses as well as taxi, parking of a private car is a challenge. The more so, even if you are lucky to find a parking space next to the historical center, you have to remember that absolutely no parking is permitted there after 4PM. That was what happened to us. We were lucky to find a vacant public parking spot just across the street from the wall of Royal Grounds, we paid 40Bahts ( ~ 1USD ) to the guy who was watching that parking, he took the money ( although without issuing any receipt ), said "OK", but when we came back to our car about 6PM we found the front wheel locked with Police lock and a ticket attached to the windshield. That guy who took our money didn't warn us that we are allowed to park till 4PM only, while we were unable to read and understand the poster written in Thai language. The further development was we had to find a Police Station, show the ticked, pay the fine ( which turned to be 400Bahts or ~ 10USD ), and thank the God that Thai Police just lock the wheel but not tow the cars away, and besides that they release them as prompt as they arrest them.
       May be it makes more sense to park your car somewhere apart from the city center and then use the public transportation to get to the center, but we doubt that there are less parking problems in other parts of the city... Besides that, there are no metro station or public bus stops conveniently located to the historical center.
The Royal Grounds

       The gorgeous Royal Grounds is definitely a place that is worth to see despite all the adventures that may happen while getting there...
       On the Royal Grounds the visitor can see the largest temple in Bangkok which is also famous for its 46 meter long, 15 meter high gold-plated reclining Buddha which rests in a large hall built in the reign of Rama III in 1832 as well as many other temples and Buddhist sanctuaries. Another area to see is the site of unique pyramid-like tombs of people whose deeds greatly affected Thailand history. The cute groups of stony sculptures finish the composition.
       The mandatory rule all visitors must obey entering any Buddhist temple is taking the shoes off. The shelves for shoes are provided at temple entrances while the visitors are leaving the shoes on their own risk and nobody is keeping an eye on the left items. The photographing is also prohibited in some temples but the visitors are allowed to take the cameras inside.
The Grand Palace

       The Grand Palace is the actual residence of the King of Thailand; it means the place where he actually lives. That's why not all its area is open for public. And that's why the Thai Army, but not the securities guard the Palace. Thus, even the vendors in the buffet are Thai Army military.
       Besides the actual throne halls that were built and used by different Kings in different times, the Grand Palace offers a plenty of noble temples, Buddhist sanctuaries and beautiful architecture structures to see, including the famous Temple of Emerald Buddha. Like in the Royal Grounds, no shoes are allowed inside the temples, and the photographing is not allowed inside the most important parts of the Palace ( throne halls, Emerald Buddha Temple, etc... ). In addition, the special restrictions apply to the clothing. Thus, the visitors are not allowed to wear shorts and the women must not have their shoulders bare.
Oriental Venice

       The western part of the city of Bangkok located across Chao Phraya river presents a grand system of channels, the real "city on the water", the "Oriental Venice", where the channels are streets and the boats are the only means of transportation. Like in every city, the houses have the numbers and the streets have the names written on the nameplates located on the poles staying right in the water. And like in every city, there are the traffic rules the boat drivers must obey. Thus, all the boats keep right what is very curious since the car traffic in Thailand is on the left side.
       Our boat trip took about two hours, and even that was not enough to explore all parts of "water city".
Parking ticket

       Concluding the story about Bangkok, here is the parking ticket we got because we failed to read and understand the signs written in Thai and posting that no parking after 4PM is allowed around the King Grounds while the guy who was watching the parking didn't consider such explanation to be his due. Well, having such papers in our hands, understanding nothing in Thai, and being among the people hardly speaking English, we however managed to find the Police Station, pay the fine and make the Police release our car. By the way, I still have no clue what is written there... The only thing we know that what is above the text is Thai Police official emblem.
       The night is the time of low tide in Pattaya, but the tide in New Year night was extremely low as it was specially put up to get more room for the people enjoying the beautiful show of fireworks, beams and Chinese lanterns... We were standing and walking right on the sea bottom that was partially bare, partially hardly covered with nice warm water.

New Year on the Hotel Balcony

New Year on the Sea Bottom


       Our trip from Pattaya to Erawan Waterfall took about 9 hours only for the way there. Taking into account that it was January 1st, such trip was a real challenge ! Imagine, on the first day of the year, after the New Year night, we got up very early and crossed almost a half of the country. In addition, we were relying on good traffic conditions but our hopes were completely deceived. The day of January 1st meant nothing for Thais ( who celebrate the New Year by Chinese calendar ), so the traffic was like in a regular Sunday morning : we encountered the delays and advanced not as fast as we expected.
       As a result, it was already the late afternoon when we eventually got to the Waterfall and we were the last ones whom the ranger admitted to get to the upper tier although he limited our staying there with 5 minutes. Since no visitors are allowed to be at the Waterfall after dusk, the rangers starts closing the tiers in advance from upper to lower ones, so the upper tier closes the first, around 4PM, while the lower tiers and the park itself close around 5PM. So, should we come 5-10 minutes later, our 9 hours driving would be the waste ! But on the positive side, as the last admitted ones we had the great opportunity to take the images of the Waterfall and ourselves without the background of swarms of people swimming and having fun in the water.
       One more thing to mention is that while driving to the Waterfall we spared the lives of at least four dogs ! They were just crossing the road paying absolutely no attention to our car. In four or five cases if we don't slam on the brakes and/or make a sharp turn, those dogs would be definitely corpses now... Taking into account that according to Chinese calendar the year of 2006 is a "Dog's" year, we hope that what we did is promising us a bunch of bonuses in 2006.

       Taking the last image was a real challenge both because of getting dark ( that's why the images is unfocused ) and because of band of dogs watching us very nervously what made our hands shake ( that's also why the image is unfocused ).



Just come, look and enjoy the turtles : World's best animals !

Zoo : other animals

Elephant Show

       The elephant Show consisted of two parts : the first part was a costume performance in the pavilion and the second part was actual Elephant Show under the open sky.

First Part

Second Part

       ...We didn't have time to stay a few days on the island and had to explore it in a single day. That's why we didn't see too much there : just the narrow and crowded ( as everywhere in Thailand ) beaches and the road around the island. We attempted to find and see a couple of waterfalls marked on the map of the island, but failed. Actually, we found a secondary road going to one of the waterfalls, but the lady watching the gate told us that the waterfall is out of water. Regarding the second waterfalls, the road going there appeared so disused and unkept that we discontinued and turned back because we were running out of time while only the God knew how far is the waterfall from the end of that road and whether there was any water there...
       In the conclusion we have to mention a sad episode that happened while we were boarding the ferry on our way to the island. The ferry was not positioned properly, the gap between it and the pier was too wide and deep, and the ferryman put the ramps very careless. As a result, our car slipped down from the ramps and got a strong hit into its rear part what cost us 125USD upon returning the car. Of course, the ferry staff ignored all our requests to provide us with any proof that we were not in fault in that case.

Getting to the island

On the island

Getting back

The image below is our last Thai sunrise how we saw it from our balcony on 2006 January 4th :

Thank you, Thailand !