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From taking in the sights and sounds of Bangkok to sipping full moon cocktails on a balmy southern beach, tropical Thailand will captivate your senses

Rightly famous for its hospitality, Thailand welcomes travellers with open arms and a wide smile. Golden beaches line her southern shores, while the cooler climes of the north are home to remote hill tribes and verdant tea plantations.

The spiritual life of the country can been seen at every turn – from the golden spires of Buddhist temples to the saffron robed monks and their flower petal offerings.

The sublime Thai cuisine is a hit the world over, and whether you’re dining in an elegant restaurant or stopping at a food cart on a Bangkok street corner, you’re sure to be in for a treat.

 

Culture and history

The vast majority of Thais practise Buddhism. Western visitors to Thailand are often greeted with a handshake, but the local greeting is the wai – a slight bow with your palms pressed together. If you receive a wai it’s considered impolite if you don’t reciprocate. It’s also considered quite rude to point your finger – or your feet – at someone in Thailand.

If you’re planning to visit any temples during your stay you’ll be expected to remove your shoes – this also applies to some restaurants and shops. A good way to tell whether or not you need to remove your shoes is to check the feet of the staff.

With regards to Thailand’s history, the Thais were most certainly early adopters as there’s evidence of rice cultivation in the region dating back as early as 4000 BC. In fact signs of human activity around the Mekong River valley can be traced back even further, to around 10,000 years ago, although the facts are somewhat hazy. By the sixth century AD the picture is clearer, and we know that the country at this time was predominantly made up of the Mon people. Their Dvaravati culture was largely Buddhist and, to a lesser extent, Hindu. By the 11th century AD the Mon fell into decline and other powers in the region advanced their reach. The Khmer of Cambodia proceeded to spread their influence throughout much of present-day central Thailand.

By the late 13th century, with Khmer power on the wane, the first kingdoms of Thailand began to take shape. The Sukhothai expanded south before being eclipsed by a second Thai Kingdom – the Ayutthaya – who were to rule for the next four centuries. In 1767 the Burmese succeeded in invading Thailand, taking the then capital and bringing Ayutthayan rule to an abrupt end. By the 1780s the Burmese were ousted and a new dynasty ruled from a brand new capital city – the Chakri in Bangkok. The country was swiftly modernised under the Chakri who established trade with Europe and took their place on the world stage. The Chakri Dynasty ruled right up until a bloodless coup in 1932 whose instigators called for a constitutional monarchy similar to that of the UK.

Things to do

Picture yourself on the perfect beach, cocktail in hand and lounger in place, ready to drink in the show of a Technicolor sunset over the Andaman Sea – not bad eh? Names like Krabi, Khaolak and Phuket are now synonymous with beach holidays, and they most certainly have it down to a fine art. On Saga’s Stay & Relax holidays we’ve carefully chosen the best beach resorts to guarantee you an exceptional trip.

If you’d like to pick up the pace a little you can travel north to tour the temples and tea plantations of Chiang Rai and explore the markets and foodie scene in the capital Bangkok. Slow it down again in rural Thailand, visiting hill tribes or perhaps boating down the River Kwai. Don’t forget that you can also stop off at some of Thailand’s most blissful beaches on our cruises of Southeast Asia and beyond.

Bangkok and central Thailand

Central Thailand stretches along the western border with Myanmar and is home to both the old and the new capital cities. Infamous Bangkok is a force to be reckoned with – buzz downriver on a long-tail boat, marvel at the opulent architecture of the Grand Palace and calm your mind at the Buddhist Temple of Wat Pho. Heading out of the city you can step back in time amid the temples of the former capital Ayutthaya, or hit the beach at popular Pattaya on the beautiful blue Gulf of Thailand.

Southern Thailand

Welcome to beach heaven. White sandy shores, turquoise waters, delicious tropical cuisine and year-round sunshine – southern Thailand has indeed been dealt a good hand. The region is long and thin, with the Gulf of Thailand on one side and the Andaman Sea on the other. To the west you’ll find Krabi and Phuket, while off the east coast are the islands of Ko Samui, Ko Pha Ngan (of full moon party fame) and Ko Tao – ever popular with divers for its dazzling underwater displays.

Northern Thailand

The slightly cooler north feels very different to the beach scene of the south. Here you’ll find a mountainous region of lush tea plantations, wilderness and wildlife. The ancient city of Chiang Mai has temples galore and a fabulous night market, while gentle Chiang Rai is the gateway to the wilder regions of the north along the borders with Myanmar and Laos.

Flight time

From London to Chiang Mai it takes from 11 hours and 40 minutes, or it’s from 12 hours, 20 minutes to Bangkok, or from 12 hours and 50 minutes to Phuket.

Currency

Baht -

The currency is the baht, divided into 100 satang.

Passports and visas

British nationals don’t need a visa, but you’ll need a passport valid for six months if you want to travel to Thailand.

Visit GOV.UK for more advice on passports and visas.

Phrases

Sa-wat dee – hello/goodbye

Ga-ru-nah – please

Korp khun – thank you

Chai – yes

Mai – no

Mai kao jai – I don’t understand

Kor toht – sorry/excuse me

Timezone

Seven hours ahead, eight in British summertime.

Electricity

Mains voltage is 220 volts AC (50 cycles). Round two-pin plugs are used, so you’ll need an adaptor.

Language

Thai,English -

Thai is the official language, although English is widely spoken.

Tipping

Though tipping isn’t customary in Thailand, it will always be appreciated. Many restaurants include a service charge as part of the bill so a tip isn’t always necessary, but hotel staff, taxi drivers, masseurs, etc. will be very grateful for a small tip (50-100 baht).

Climate

Thailand is generally hot all year round. It can also get quite humid and torrential rain occur frequently in the monsoon season from June to October.

Between November and February it’s slightly milder but still very much beach weather.

Health

As health information can change at any time, we'd advise you to consult your GP at least 12 weeks before departure.

Country-specific information and advice on possible health risks is also published by the National Travel Health Network and Centre and The British Foreign and Commonwealth Travel Advice Unit provides important health and safety information for British nationals travelling abroad.

Population and size

The population is approximately 67.5 million, a few more than live in France.

Thailand measures 513,115 square kilometres, which is roughly the same size as Spain.

Smoking

Smoking is banned in all open-air markets and entertainment venues.


Places in Thailand

Cha-Am

Much quieter than the nearby resort of Hua Hin, laid-back Cha-Am is around 200 kilometres south of Bangkok

Chiang Mai

Packed with even more wats than an AC/DC concert, the city of Chiang Mai is a bastion of Buddhism

Phuket

Thailand’s largest island is famous for its jaw-dropping coastline, glittering green sea and palm fringed beaches