Known as the “Land of Smiles,” the Kingdom of Thailand is the ideal destination for travelers, tourists, and curious free-spirits who are looking to explore, discover, and savor life in one of the most beautiful corners of the world. With its world-renowned and picturesque beaches and coastlines, deliciously vibrant culinary traditions, golden Buddhist temples, generous culture, and tropical climate, Thailand is sure to warm the cockles of anyone’s heart.
Furthermore, those who wish to hop around Southeast Asia should definitely not miss visiting Thailand, which borders Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, and Myanmar. In fact, it should even be placed on the top of the list of anyone considering exploring the region. Nature lovers, shopping enthusiasts, food fanatics, and history buffs will love this gorgeous and vibrant country. However, before you jump on a plane to Thailand, you’ll need to do some pre-trip planning to cover the basics of your adventure, regardless of whether you have in mind a quick visit or a lengthy stay. Here is a quick guide to help you in the planning process:
Getting to and Around Thailand
Getting the business of travel documents and visas cleared up is the first and most important task. To start, make sure your passport’s expiration date is valid for more than 6 months. Citizens of 41 nations, including the United States, Australia, New Zealand, and most European countries are granted tourist visa exemptions that allow them to arrive and enter Thailand without a prearranged visa. If you enter Thailand by air, you will be given a fee-free 30-day visa. If you enter by land, on the other hand, your arrival visa will be good for 15 days. When passing through the immigration check, be prepared to show proof of your onward ticket and/or means of financial support, such as a credit card.
In Thailand, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is the government agency that deals with all visa and immigration issues. If you plan on staying longer than your arrival visa will allow, simply apply for an extended 60-day tourist visa by visiting a Thai embassy or consulate before arriving in Thailand. Extending your visa while in Thailand is another option, albeit it is a slightly longer and costlier one than getting it done beforehand. Doing some pre-trip planning will help you get an idea of how many days you want to spend in Thailand and figure out what kind of visa you will need. Only then will you be able to avoid the stress, hassle, and expenses of overstaying your visa and paying penalty fines.
Bangkok, the bustling and dynamic capital of Thailand, is known as Krung Thep among the Thai. Thailand’s new main international airport, Suvarnabhumi Airport, is located 30 km east of Bangkok. If you are entering Thailand by air, this will most likely be your point of entry and departure. Don Mueang Airport is Bangkok’s old international airport, and it still serves as a busy hub of commercial flights. Outside of the capital, the two next busiest airports in the country are located in Phuket and Chiang Mai. All of these airports serve international as well as intercontinental and domestic flights. The two main national airlines are Thai Airways International and Bangkok Airways. If you aren’t able to arrange your tickets online through booking websites, then purchasing through an agent is the next best option.
If you’re looking to arrive by land from the neighboring countries, you have several options before you. There are six international border crossings between Cambodia and Thailand, and there are several border crossings with the other neighboring countries of Lao, Myanmar, and Malaysia. You can easily find a bus that runs into Thailand from Lao or Malaysia, but you’ll need to hire a shared taxi to travel to Thailand from Cambodia or Myanmar. If you’re entering from Malaysia, you can opt to ride a train from either The State Railway of Thailand or Malaysian Railway. If you’re entering the country by watercraft, the most popular check-in port for boats is Phuket. You can also island-hop on a ferry service that runs from Phuket all the way to Indonesia.
Once you’re in Thailand, you have a diverse array of transportation options open to you. Long tail boats are popular for navigating through the rivers and canals of Bangkok and other cities. Public transportation via buses and sǎwngthǎew are cheap and easy to find in Bangkok and most provinces. Motorcycles, cars, and vans are all available for rentals in most major cities. The State Railway of Thailand provides rail service that is an ideal alternative to buses if you’re looking to traveling to either the northern or the southern parts of the country. Tuk-tuks are small, lightweight three-wheeled vehicles that, in many cases, can navigate through the bustling city traffic much faster than automobiles. Taxis, scooters, and motorcycles are also good means of getting around.
The Best Time to Visit Thailand
Thailand’s tropical climate provides a generally warm and humid weather year-round. It has three distinct seasons: November to March as the cool, dry season, March to June as the hot season, and July to October as the rainy monsoon season. The most popular time to visit Thailand is between December and March. On the subject of airplane and accommodation rates, this is also the high season because of the high influx of tourists.
You can also plan your trip around the dates of the major holidays and celebrations. The Thai New Year, Songkran, usually falls in the second week of April. It is regarded as one of the most fun celebrations in Thailand as it includes a huge three-day-long water fight that evolved from the rituals of washing away the last year’s sins. The 15-day Chinese New Year, usually around late January and early February, is also a time of great festivities in Thailand. Loy Krathong, in November, is a beautiful celebration where people place lit candles on flowers and banana leaves and float them down the rivers or release lit lanterns into the sky.
With the ideal weather conditions and the number of major festivals and celebrations taking place, it’s no wonder that November to March is the high season. If you are looking to get a taste of Thai culture and tradition, and don’t mind paying higher rates and vacationing amidst the hustle and bustle of major holidays, then this may be the best time for you to visit. Nevertheless, visiting Thailand outside of these months will undoubtedly prove to be magnificent and unforgettable as well.
Popular Cities and Tourist Attractions
Thailand is made of five main geographic, cultural, and culinary regions. For example, the hot and humid south is famous for its coconut milk and hot and spicy foods. Its wonderful waters are brimming with fish that can be mixed with fresh chilies and peanuts to produce a delectable and traditional coconut curry. In the mountainous jungles of the north, however, where fish is rarely eaten, the cuisine makes use of more red meats in its creamy curries. Unlike in other regions, where it is mainly enjoyed as a dessert, sticky rice is eaten daily in the north. Apart from the mouth-watering selections of Thai food, there are plenty of attractions that draw tourists to Thailand. Here’s a quick guide of the must-see attractions that Thailand has to offer across its diverse and vibrant terrain:
Khao Yai National Park
Aside from being a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Thailand’s oldest and most popular reserve, Kaho Yai National Park also covers one of the largest intact monsoon forests of Asia. Inside the park are wild elephants, tigers, otters, black bears, leopards, hornbills, and over 300 species of birds. As you enjoy the waterfalls, rivers, and lush green trees, you can revel in the fact that it is one of the best wildlife-watching sites in Southeast Asia.
In the 18th century, the ancient and sacred city of Ayuthaya was the capital of one of the greatest Southeast Asian empires. With its tall and ancient ruins, Buddha statues, vastly recorded history, and a Buddha head beautifully embedded in twisted tree roots, Ayuthaya should definitely be seen by travelers interested in the history of the Thai kingdom.
Sukhothai and Si Satchanalai
Located in Lower Northern Thailand, Sukhothai served as Thailand’s first capital and saw its golden years in the 13th and 14th centuries. The old city features the ancient ruins of the Sukhothai kingdom, with its classic and distinct architecture and religious art. Combine your Sukhothai exploration with a trip to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Si Satchanalai, and you’ll get your fill of the historical ruins of old Siam.
Thailand’s oldest beach, Hua Hin, is a favorite weekend beach getaway for Bangkok residents as it is a mere two and a half hour drive from the capital. With the humid tropical climate and little rain, the beach can be visited at any time of the year. The beach was given a recent major makeover so if you are looking for a seaside spot that boasts resorts, condos, and hotels, Hua Hin may be worth checking out.
Ko Samui and the Beaches of the Krabi Province
Discovered only a few decades ago, the beaches of Ko Samui are now full-blown resorts after having undergone development and seen the construction of modern infrastructure. However, many beautiful and less-developed beaches can still be found in the Krabi Province. For example, known as a paradise island, Ko Phi Phi has been a popular island stop for Thailand travelers. Another alternative you might want to try is Ko Chang, which has a more laidback vibe and is mainly visited by backpackers.
As Thailand’s bustling, modern capital, Bangkok has experienced rapid development over the years. However, throughout all these changes, the city hasn’t lost its history and traditions. Bangkok is where you can visit Thailand’s most sacred Buddhist temple, the Wat Phra Kaew, and its treasured Emerald Buddha. Several other important temples, such as Wat Pho and Wat Arun, are also located in the capital. With its air of magic, Bangkok can have you locating floating markets, exploring Chinatown, getting around by boat rides, and strolling through the Grand Palace’s decorated monuments. Bangkok’s street food is world-famous so be sure to savor the Thai cuisine’s delicate balance of sweet, spicy, sour, and salty. Noodles, sticky rice with mangos, coconut milk, creamy curries of all colors, soups, and delicious peanutty pad thai all await you.
Khao Sok National Park
Located in the eastern central provinces of Thailand, Khao Sok National Park is home to the remnants of a 160 million year old ecosystem with its thick native rain forests, bustling waterfalls, and mountainous landscapes. Filled with bamboos, ferns, and rare flowers, the park also features the wild lotus, which is one of the world’s largest flowers. Its wildlife includes wild elephants, leopards langurs, tigers, and sun bears.
Wherever you may be in Thailand, be sure to treat yourself to a traditional Thai massage. With a history dating back to more than 2,500 years, the Thai massage focuses not only on the muscles but also on the body’s many invisible lines of energy. It works to unblock and release the lines for an open and free-flow of energy throughout the body. This traditional massage will relieve and revive not only your body, but also your spirit.
Chiang Mai, sprinkled with various temples and suffused with a dynamic, spiced atmosphere, is a perfect place to indulge your senses. While visiting the monumental historic sites around town, you can also take the opportunity to feed elephants at any of the several local elephant camps. As you savor the unique flavors of Chiang Mai street food, you can also put some serious thought into taking one of the city’s famous cooking classes, where you can learn all about the different variety of spices, herbs, and fresh ingredients used in Thai cuisine.
There are many tours to choose from that will help you to see the major sites and attractions of Thailand. The Thailand Classic Tour offered by Asian Trails is a 6-day tour that travels by air and railway to visit the essential sites in Bangkok, Ayutthaya, and Sukhothai as well as several other destinations along the way such as Chiang Mai and Lopburi. There are boat tours and river cruises that depart from Bangkok to explore the ruins of Ayutthaya. The 14-day exclusive Amazing Thailand tour guides you from the airport to explore Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, and Ayutthaya.
Home to paradise-like beaches, exotic and mesmerizing food, and magnificent ancient ruins of kingdoms gone by, Thailand is truly the golden treasure in the chest of the world. Don’t wait any longer! Throw your hesitations aside, and take a leap to explore, discover, and live what will be one of the most amazing and unforgettable adventures of your life.