Thailand Quick Guide:
- Population: 67 million
- Language: Thai 75%, Chinese 14%, other 11%
- Government: Constitutional Monarchy
- Capital: Bangkok
- Currency: Baht
- GDP: $345.6 billion (2011), ranked 29th in the world
- GDP Growth Rate: 0.1% (2011 est.)
- Size compared to US: Twice the size of Wyoming
- Religions: 95% Buddhist (official religion)
- Ethnic Groups: 75% Thai, Chinese 14%, Other 11%
- Median Age: 34.7 years
- Visa Information: US citizens don’t need a visa to enter Thailand (and I think the same applies for most Western European nations as well). If you enter through a border crossing (such as crossing by bus from Cambodia or Laos), they will stamp your passport for a 15-day single entry. However, if you enter by air (such as flying to Bangkok from Kuala Lumpur or Hong Kong), they will stamp your passport for a 30-day single entry. So basically you get 2 weeks by land, 4 weeks by air. If you want to stay in the country for longer, then you can apply for a 90 day visa ahead of time or figure it out once you’re already in Thailand. If you accidentally overstay your visit by a few days it’s not a big deal. I think they’ll fine you a small amount when you’re exiting the country, although it’s probably not a good idea to overstay your entry stamp by too long. You have to fill out an immigration card which looks like a visa form, upon entering the country, but not to worry, you don’t have to pay any fee. More information about entry/exit requirements can be found on the State Dept’s website.
- Transportation: Thailand has one of the best road networks in Southeast Asia. Almost all of the major roads are paved and there are highways around most of the major cities. Buses are more expensive than in other parts of SEA, but they’re also much nicer. An overnight VIP bus is about 1,000 baht/person, but the seats fully recline and are very comfortable (the VIP buses have the 2-1 seat rows, versus the standard 2-2, so they’re more spacious). Try to always request a 24-seat government bus when possible. The VIP buses tend to sell out quickly so always try to book a few days in advance if possible. Thai Air Asia and Bangkok Airways also offer good deals so definitely check out their fares if you’re crunched for time and need to fly places.
- Weather: We visited Thailand in early April, which is supposedly the hottest month of the year. I wouldn’t recommend going to Bangkok that time of year as it’s not fun to walk around a city in scorching heat, but it was the perfect time to visit the beaches on the Andaman Coast. We had mostly sunny weather in the south along the coast (it only rained a couple of times during the week) and it wasn’t crowded. If you’re looking for pristine sunshine every day, it’s better to visit in Dec, Jan or Feb, but since that’s high season it will also be very crowded and accommodations will be more expensive. Chiang Mai, in Northern Thailand, was also very hot during the day, but we didn’t notice since we spent most of our time walking around soaking wet. More on that later!
- Food: The food in Thailand was some of the best on our entire trip. We consistently had excellent meals and the ingredients were so fresh. I was surprised to find that “American” Thai food is pretty similar to traditional Thai food. Dishes that are popular in the US like pad thai, green curry, red curry, chicken with basil, chicken with cashews, pad see ew etc., are also very popular in Thailand. It wasn’t the most exotic food we tried on our trip, but it was also nice to finally know what you were ordering and that it would most likely be good.
- People: It’s not called “Land of a Thousand Smiles” for nothing! Thai people are truly one of the friendliest people in the world. We became friends with all the owners of our guesthouses in Thailand because they were so kind and welcoming.
- Dress: Along with Singapore and Bali, Thailand was definitely the least conservative of the places we visited in SEA. Women can wear whatever they want (except in temples), but it’s important to also be respectful, especially in southern Thailand, which has a large muslim population.