Thailand travel guide
The attractions of Thailand are myriad – ruined cities, ancient monasteries, Buddhist monks, colourful hill tribes, floating markets, rave parties, dense rainforests, exotic wildlife, tropical islands, golden beaches and pristine coral reefs. Then there’s Bangkok, the most exuberant capital city in Southeast Asia, which would justify a trip to Thailand all by itself.
The Thai people are famously hospitable, and Thailand was one of the first corners of Southeast Asia to really open up to outsiders – helped by the 19th-century king Rama IV, and his love of all things Western. It was Rama IV who launched Thailand on the path to modernisation, and also persuaded his people to swap chopsticks for knives and forks.
This travel smorgasbord has attracted everyone from backpackers to billionaires, and visitors can find any level of comfort they desire, from hippy hostels to five-star palaces. If anything, Thailand has become more upmarket as a destination since its backpacker heyday, with air-conditioning everywhere and almost every hotel offering Thai massages and spa treatments.
As well as relaxation – and what could be more relaxing than a massage on the beach? – Thailand is a place for adventure. The beaches and islands of the south call out to scuba divers, rock-climbers and watersports enthusiasts, while the dense jungles of the north are a natural playground for trekkers and wildlife spotters. Try bathing under a waterfall in an orchid-filled jungle clearing – you won’t forget it.
Then there’s the cuisine – one of the world’s finest, and certainly one of the spiciest. From fine restaurants to street stalls and night markets, Thailand always seems to have a fork in its hand. Above all else, though, Thailand is a place to feel at ease – stroll along the sand, take tea with a monk, snorkel over a coral reef, and let the stresses of modern life slowly slip away.
513,115 sq km (198,115 sq miles).
68,146,609 (UN estimate 2016).
132.5 per sq km.
HM King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavanangkun since October 2016.
Interim Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha since 2014.
220 volts AC, 50Hz. American-style plugs (two flat pins, with or without grounding pin) and European-style plugs (two round pins) are used; many sockets accept both.
Last updated: 13 March 2017
The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. ‘We’ refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
The political situation in Thailand is unpredictable and sometimes volatile. Over recent years there have been instances of civil and political unrest resulting in large demonstrations and in some cases violence.
On 13 October 2016, the death of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej was announced. On 1 December 2016, the Crown Prince acceded to the throne and was pronounced His Majesty King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun, or His Majesty King Rama X. There is currently no date set for his coronation.
On 22 May 2014, the military took control of government. Martial law was in place across Thailand until 1 April 2015 when it was lifted from all areas except the southern provinces of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat, the Sadao district of Songkhla province and some border areas. However, Article 44 of the interim constitution gives General Prayuth Chan-o-cha, head of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), wide powers to continue to take action to enforce law and order, and restrictions remain on freedom of assembly and expression. Before the military coup there were large-scale demonstrations and protests in Bangkok and other cities. Some of these were violent. You should avoid any protests, political gatherings, demonstrations or marches.
A number of media outlets, including international media, have been taken off air and some internet sites remain blocked. It’s illegal to criticise the coup and you should be wary of making political statements in public. Lèse-majesté, (criticism of the monarchy and the Royal Family) is a crime, which could carry a long jail sentence. You should monitor local news and social media for developments.
Be on your guard against pickpockets and bag snatchers. Foreigners have had items snatched by thieves on motorbikes when walking along busy streets or travelling in open transport like tuk tuks. If you travel by bus or rail, make sure passports, cash and valuables are kept securely and out of sight. Passengers have had items taken from bags while asleep.
Don’t hand over your passport to third parties as a guarantee (eg, to motorcycle or jet ski rental businesses). Unscrupulous owners have been known to hold on to passports against claimed damage.
Violent sexual assaults and unprovoked attacks have been reported in popular tourist destinations, including in the Koh Samui archipelago and Krabi province. These are particularly common during the monthly Full Moon parties and generally occur late at night near bars.
Drink spiking has been reported in tourist destinations around Thailand. Be careful about taking drinks from strangers and at clubs and parties, or leaving your drinks unattended, particularly in Koh Samui, Pattaya and at the Full Moon party on Koh Phangan, where date rapes have been reported.
Alcohol and drugs can lead to you being less alert, less in control and less aware of your environment resulting in accidents, injuries, robbery, assaults and lost travel documents. If you drink, know your limit. Drinks served in bars overseas are often stronger than those in the UK. Some British nationals in Thailand have suffered severe psychiatric problems because of drug use, resulting in some suicides.
Be aware of the possibility of credit card fraud. Don’t lose sight of your card during transactions. There have been incidents of ATM skimming in Thailand. Where possible use an ATM within a bank and always protect your PIN.
Be careful to observe demarcation lines between shops and stalls, particularly in market areas and at Suvarnabhumi Airport. Taking items from one shop’s area to another may be treated as suspected theft.
Gem scams are common. There have been reports of visitors buying gems for inflated prices from seemingly respectable establishments then later finding out the stones are worth a tiny fraction of the purchase price.
Foreign nationals have been caught up in property scams. Buying a property in Thailand isn’t straightforward and you should seek professional advice before making financial commitments.
You should report any incidents of crime to the Thai police before leaving the country.
There are occasional clashes between the Thai security forces, armed criminal groups and drug traffickers along the Thai/Burma border. Outside the main towns, police and military checkpoints are actively manned and travellers may be asked to produce ID. See the Tourism Thailand website and seek advice locally before you travel to this part of the country.
Only cross into Burma at an official border checkpoint, and after obtaining any relevant permissions/visas from the Burmese and Thai authorities.
The line of the international border near the Preah Vihear temple was disputed by Cambodia and Thailand. Since 2008 there were occasional clashes, and hostilities occurred in February 2011 resulting in civilian and military fatalities on both sides. There have also been disputes over control of the Ta Moan and Ta Krabey temples, which lie close to the Thailand/Cambodia border, and fighting broke out between Cambodian and Thai troops at Ta Krabey in April 2011. In 2013, the International Court of Justice ruled that Cambodia has sovereignty over the whole territory of the Preah Vihear temple.
The situation has now improved, but you should take extra care in border areas and follow the instructions of the local authorities. Due to the ongoing risk of unexploded landmines in the border region, you should stay on marked paths if you visit this area, especially around Ta Krabey where there have been reports of unmarked mines.
Remain alert to the local situation when travelling anywhere near to the border with Cambodia, and at land crossings between the two countries.
Not all land border crossings into Laos are open to foreigners and you may need to get a Laos visa before you arrive to cross the border.
There are two airports in Bangkok. Suvarnabhumi International Airport is the city’s main international airport. Don Muang Airport handles mainly domestic and regional flights.
Areas of southern Thailand, including Phuket, have experienced poor air quality as a result of haze in the region. Areas of northern and north-eastern Thailand, including Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai also experience poor air quality between March and April as a result of haze caused by slash-and-burn farming techniques. This can cause disruption to local and regional air travel, and may have an impact on public health. You should monitor local advice if you’re travelling in the area.
There have been a number of train derailments in Thailand. Some have resulted in deaths and injuries.
You can drive in Thailand using an International Driving Permit or Thai driving licence.
There are a high number of road traffic accidents in Thailand. According to the WHO, 14,059 people were killed in 2012. In the UK in 2014 there were 1,775 fatalities. In any comparison of these statistics, you should note that there is a difference in the method of calculating statistics for road deaths in Thailand (at the scene of the accident) and the UK (within 30 days of the accident). The risk of death or injury on the road increases if you travel at night.
With motorcycles so widely used in Thailand the majority of road traffic accidents involve motorcycles, contributing to around 70% of all road deaths. If you’re riding a motorcycle take extra care and make sure you have appropriate insurance. According to the law, safety helmets must be worn.
Serious accidents involving other vehicles including cars, coaches and mini-buses also occur. Many accidents are due to poor vehicle and driver safety standards. There have been a number of accidents involving overnight coach travel. Seek local advice if you are in any doubt about the safety of your transport provider.
Motorcycles or scooters for hire in beach resorts are often unregistered and can’t be used legally on a public road. Before you hire a vehicle, make sure you’re covered by your travel insurance and check the small print of the lease agreement. Don’t hand over your passport as a guarantee against returning a motorcycle or scooter. Unscrupulous owners regularly hold on to passports against payment for claimed damage to the motorcycle or scooter.
Riding ‘Quad-bikes’ can also be dangerous. It is illegal to drive these on the roads in Thailand even though they’re available to hire on the roadside.
There are numerous passenger boat services operating between the mainland and islands in Thailand. There have been some sinkings and collisions which have resulted in fatalities, including 2 British nationals. These incidents are usually due to overloading and/or poor maintenance, but also due to rough seas, particularly during local monsoon season.
During the Full Moon parties, speedboats to and from Koh Phangan are often overloaded. Take care at all times and avoid travelling on vessels that are clearly overloaded or in poor condition. Make sure life jackets are available and check local weather conditions before travelling by sea.
Adventurous activities and swimming
Check that your insurance covers you for any adventure activities.
Bungee jumping can be dangerous and accidents occur. If you undertake this activity you should satisfy yourself that the company is using the most up-to-date equipment and safety features, and that they are fully licensed and insured.
If you are considering jungle trekking use a reliable, licensed tour guide. Elephant treks and rides can be dangerous, especially when the elephants are mistreated or not handled properly. A British national and other tourists have been killed and seriously injured when handlers have lost control of their elephants.
Take particular care when swimming off coastal areas, especially during monsoon season. Strong riptides have drowned people in several areas including Phuket, Koh Chang, Hua Hin, Cha-am, Rayong, Pattaya and the Koh Samui archipelago. Always comply with warning signs, especially red flags, and only swim from approved beaches.
Jellyfish can swim close to the shore, particularly during the rainy season. Their sting can be fatal. If in doubt take local advice from hotel management and dive centres.
Take care when swimming, diving, kayaking or white water rafting in rivers or close to waterfalls, particularly in the rainy season. Currents can be extremely strong.
If you rent Jet Skis or water sports equipment, satisfy yourself that adequate safety precautions are in place. Rent only from reputable, licensed and insured operators, thoroughly check for damage before use and insist on training.
The standards maintained by diving schools and rescue services are not always as high as in the UK. Check a dive operator’s credentials carefully before using them and make sure you’re covered by your insurance. If you’ve had no previous diving experience ask your dive operator to explain what cover they offer before signing up for a course. Make sure safety equipment is available on the boat, particularly oxygen.
You should also ask about contingency plans which should include the ability to call for help while at sea and to evacuate divers to the nearest hyperbaric chamber if necessary.