Getting around Thailand

Thanks to its improved infrastructure and booming tourism, getting around Thailand is now easier compared to a few decades ago. You will find a wide range of different modes of transportation around Thailand, from auto rickshaws (tuk-tuks) to the modern Skytrain system.

Of course, do not expect all transportation options to be equal in terms of fare and level of convenience (or the amount of hassle). That’s why it helps to be flexible, patient and well-informed when commuting around the country, especially in cities like Bangkok which has its own share of heavy rush-hour traffic as well as opportunistic drivers and operators.

If you are a first-time tourist in Thailand in particular, then it’s really a must to explore these options and find out which any of them will work best for you.

1) Tuk-tuk
You won’t have the ultimate Thai experience if you haven’t hopped in to one of those tuk-tuks. Tuk-tuks, or auto rickshaws, are an ubiquitous sight in Thailand. This is a good option for short-distance travels. Riding in one of those tuk-tuks is a unique, memorable – but not always good – experience. Many tuk-tuk drivers are notorious scammers, especially towards foreigners. That’s why negotiating fares with them is an absolute must. Rates usually go anywhere between 80 to 150 baht. If you know how to speak a little Thai, the less likelihood that you’ll get ripped off by tuk-tuk drivers.

 

2) Taxi
If you don’t want to suck in all the exhaust fumes and experience heat at the same time, those clean and air-conditioned taxis are the more comfortable option. In fact, taxis are even a lot cheaper than tuk-tuks, as long as you make sure that the driver uses the meter. However, not all taxi drivers in Thailand are honest and not all of them use the meter, so make sure to find one. If you find out that the driver doesn’t have a meter and refuses to negotiate on the fare, keep on hailing until you manage to find a metered taxi. You see, it takes a bit of patience to find for the right taxi.

3) Motorcycle taxis
Motorcycle taxis have grown in popularity recently, as they are a quick and cheap transportation option for short distances. Plus, it is a great idea if you want to get away from tight traffic, and it is also a fast way to get around the city. To avoid yourself from getting scammed by unscrupulous motorcycle taxi drivers, you should choose only official and licensed motorcycle drivers by telling their vests (they are usually colored orange). Hop on in at the back of the motorcycle, hold on tight and get ready for a hair-raising ride.

4) Songthaew
Another mode transportation that is distinct in Thailand is the songthaew, a popular passenger vehicle which is actually a modified pick-up truck fitted with seats. The name itself literally means “two rows” in English, as there are usually two benches fixed along the sides of the vehicle.

Riding a songthaew is also a great and unique experience when in Thailand. Rates are also reasonable, costing at least 10 baht for the shortest destination.


5) Bus

Thailand’s bus system has significantly developed over the years. Not surprisingly, the capital Bangkok boasts the largest bus system in the country. Compared to other modes of transportation in Thailand, the bus is probably the cheapest option, costing as little as 7 baht. There are also long-haul buses that depart from Bangkok to the outskirts, other cities and towns as well as popular tourist destinations all over the country such as Phuket and Pattaya.

6) Bangkok’s mass rapid transit
What other way to get around Bangkok but to escape the horrible traffic? Take the MRT trains! They may be a bit more expensive but they are certainly a quicker way to get to your destination. There are two major MRT systems in the city:

Metropolitan Rapid Transport System (MRT) – the first underground railway in the Thai capital, it comprises of three heavy lines and two monorail lines. It stops at 18 stations which stretch from Chinatown in the south to Bang Sue in the north. It links to the BTS Skytrain but otherwise follows a somewhat different route to the BTS Skytrain, which allows commuters to travel to areas that are otherwise inaccessible by the Skytrain.

Bangkok Mass Transit System (BTS Skytrain) – an elevated train system which comprises of 43 stations across two lines: the Sukhumvit Line running north to east, and the Silom Line running south to west. The BTS links with the MRT at two points.

7) Trains
If you have the luxury of time, you can take the train ride. It can be a fun, enjoyable and rewarding experience as it gives you to opportunity to view spectacular scenes and slices of local life that unfold just right outside your train window. Plus, it’s more practical and eco-friendly than flying, and better than buses because it means scenic rides and opportunity for you to stretch your legs and take a walk on the train aisle.

Finding good trains is just a matter of luck (and money), though. If you want comfy train journeys, good news because there are new first class sleeper trains that stretch from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. These trains feature fold-down beds, restrooms, air conditioning, serving staff and food and drinks.

But to those backpackers and other tourists traveling on a budget, they usually default to second-class sleeper trains. They are typically clean but their air conditioning is usually freezing cold so don’t forget to bring your jacket. An attendant will come around and convert the facing seats into two bunks and draw the privacy curtains. However, the food and drinks sold there tend to be expensive but low-quality, so it’s better to bring your own food or go to the dining car at the back of the train.

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Alternative Things to Do in Thailand

After seeing all those world-famous beaches, venturing into many kinds of sports (such as doing rock climbing at scenic spots) and sampling nearly all kinds of street food, is there anything more left to do in Thailand? Well, there are lots, apparently.

If you are on the hunt for something more different, un-”mainstream” and intriguing in the Land of Smiles, you are sure to find more gems lurking along the way. Check out the following “alternative” suggestions that will make travelling in Thailand a unique and fulfilling experience:

1) Go to a fish spa.
There is a growing number of resorts and wellness centers in Thailand that offer these strange kinds of services called “fish spas” which incorporate these so-called “doctor fish.” Hundreds of these tiny fish (most commonly the red garra variety) are placed in large tanks where people dip their feet into. These doctor fishies nip around your foot, nibbling those excess dead skin away from it. The tickling sensation may send people giggling. Others are horrified just at the thought of these hungry fish eating at their feet. Although using fish as a spa treatment is still debated on grounds of effectiveness, safety and health risks, that doesn’t stop tourists and patrons from going to these fish spas.

2) Visit the Siriraj Medical Museum.
With its notorious moniker “Museum of Death,” you know you’ll be into something morbid but nevertheless fascinating. The Siriraj Medical Museum is actually a medical campus that houses six different museums. So a heads-up for those who wish to go to this museum: this is not for the faint-hearted. This museum in Bangkok features incredibly gut-wrenching and nightmarish displays such as a preserved corpse of a serial killer and cannibal (who ate more than 30 children before being executed), preserved fragments of human skins bearing tattoos, hundreds of skulls, preserved human organs and other medical oddities.

Although these things may nauseate you, remember that this is basically a medical and forensic science museum that aims to educate people, ostensibly. So needless to say, this place is a great resource for scientists as well as both medical students and professionals alike (admire them for their strong stomachs).

3) Spend a day in “hell”.
Adding to the list of unusual attractions to see in Thailand is the Wang Saen Suk Hell Garden, also known as the Thailand Hell Horror Park. It is the biggest hell garden in the country. This is not your typical garden or park, as this place aims to demonstrate what Buddhism’s idea of hell might look like. Instead of beautiful flowers and neat-trimmed shrubbery, the Wang Saen Suk Hell Garden is filled with appalling and terrifying cement-and-plaster statues and images depicting departed souls and sinners sent to hell, as well as underworld figures.

The Wang Saen Suk Hell Garden is located in Bang Saen city in Chonburi province.

4) Tiptoe at the Wat Pha Tak Suea Skywalk.
Not a few tourists are drawn to attractions that seem dangerous. If you’re into that sort of thing, you may get a thrill of a stride at the Wat Pha Tak Suea Skywalk, located at a Buddhist temple on top of the edge of a plateau flanking the Mekong River. Tourists attempt to step on the U-shaped see-through walkway, and those who dare to make it beyond the threshold will be rewarded with breathtaking views of the Mekong River and into Laos.

5) Dare to explore the “Ghost Tower”.
In every city, there is at least one abandoned skyscraper that has either seen better days or is unfinished. One of them is Sathorn Unique Tower in Bangkok. The planned 47-storey condominium tower, whose construction was halted during the 1997 Asian financial crisis, is now left to rot in neglect.

As it is now popularly known as the “Ghost Tower,” most locals keep their distance from it as they believe the building is haunted. Dead bodies are often reported to turn up in that building. On the other hand, Sathorn Unique Tower has become an unexpected and strange tourist attraction. Understandably, the building’s dilapidated and post-apocalyptic appearance gives an eerie feel.

Sathorn Unique Tower is now barricaded by a corrugated tin fence. Getting to the top of the tower is possible, but not exactly a good idea, as the structure is weak and fragile. Plus, the flooring has lots of holes. It is now illegal to enter this abandoned building, although some brazen and intrepid individuals still risk their lives by trying to sneak into the premises.

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The Challenges (and Perks) for Expats Living in Thailand

Being in another country can be sometimes rewarding and sometimes frustrating. But no doubt about it – it is always an enriching experience. But living in a foreign country (most likely permanently) is otherwise a completely different matter, compared to having a vacation there as a tourist. Building your professional life, raising your family or spending your retirement years in a completely foreign land is always a life-changing decision. And I can attest to that!

Thailand is an alluring country and a popular tourist destination. It is home to thousands of awesome temples, gorgeous beaches, delicious cuisine and the warm smiles of the Thai people that beat even the most sweltering Bangkok weather.

But it’s not all paradise in “The Land of Smiles.” Like in many countries, living in Thailand presents its own set of challenges, and some of them are quite frustrating. But don’t worry, not everything is an ordeal there. With learning more on how to adjust to everyday life in Thailand, you will be able to get used to it. There are also advantages and perks that make living in Thailand more than just tolerable — hey, even enjoyable! So read on…

The challenges

It is not usual to see Caucasians in Thailand, but most Thais view all white expatriates as Americans (and having lots of money). Like many foreigners living in a faraway land, adjusting to living in Thailand can be become very challenging, initially. Most foreigners live in Thailand because of business or work.

One of the first hurdles to get over is the language barrier, and there’s only a paucity of English speakers among native Thais. Although English is widely taught in schools, many locals still struggle to speak the language with facility or do not feel at ease speaking in English. Thus, the best way you should do when deciding to move to Thailand is to learn the basics of Thai language – speaking, reading and writing it. That will help everyday living in a Thailand a bit less challenging.

 

 

Bangkok is a megacity, and thus one of the common problems that every megacity faces are the traffic jams. For Western expats, traffic jams make commuting to and from work especially daunting, testing their patience. Expats who are used to driving around back in their home countries will definitely miss it the most once they live in Thailand.

Road accidents often happen due to lack of discipline among both motorists and commuters, making the traffic situation a lot much worse. This will hamper the efficiency of healthcare services, as ambulances fail to respond to emergencies on time because of the heavy gridlock.

But the good thing about getting around in Bangkok (and other Thai cities) is the number of decent public transportation such as buses, taxis, trains, and tuk-tuks.

 

Another concern to be seriously considered when living in Thailand is the lack of good public healthcare, like in the case of many developing countries. The dearth of general physicians and doctors can make it quite difficult when you need them. One of the usual scenes you see in local clinics, public hospitals and health facilities in Thailand is the long queues of patients. If not, patients in public healthcare facilities usually get lesser treatments than patients in private hospitals. Clearly, there’s inequality in Thailand’s healthcare situation.

For expats, the best way to counter against the challenges of public healthcare is to choose a private plan or an international health policy, which will give them access to the best healthcare.

 

Another challenge of living in Thailand is the bad Internet connection. Although most local service providers offer broadband, many Western expats still find Thailand’s Internet speed quite slow. In a recent speed test, Singapore leads the fastest Internet speed with 121.7 megabits per second (mbps), a far, far cry to Thailand’s measly 19.9 mbps.

The average Internet connection speed in Western countries (such as the US and the UK) play between 30 to 36 mbps, which may explain why expats find the Internet speed in Thailand to be frustratingly slow.

 

Bureaucracy and red tape are still common in Thailand, like in many developing nations. Going through a lengthy process in obtaining a visa, a work permit or any other required document can be a considerable challenge and frustration for many.

 

 

 

The perks

Thailand is a beautiful country, no doubt about it. It boasts wonderful natural sights such as world-class beaches, limestone cliffs, amazing rock formations, emerald-green mountains and breathtaking hidden waterfalls. You can also find beauty in the city, with ancient temples juxtaposing tall, modern buildings as well as colorful, diverse markets and beautiful public gardens. Beaches? They’re world-class! Check out the Top Beaches in Thailand to plan your next vacation!

 

 

If there’s something that Western expats love most about living in Thailand, it’s the cheap cost of living. The affordability in Thailand is unbelievable that sometimes you’d think it’s ridiculous. Living in Thailand allows you to stretch your dollar further. For only $1 you can enjoy a full meal consisting of rice, vegetables, or meat/poultry/fish/seafood.

From inner-city apartments and condominiums to luxurious Thai-style country retreats, getting a comfortable place to live in Thailand is incredibly cheap and easy. You can even get a tastefully modern, full-furnished apartment in the heart of Bangkok that is accessible to all amenities and all kinds of transportation for only $500 a month. A great Thai massage can cost you as low as $10. Even if you’re a low-to-middle-income earning expat, you will still be able to live a great quality of life in Thailand while saving a great deal of money at the same time.

 

Thailand is a land of great opportunities for different people with different lifestyles. Today more than ever, Thailand offers a wide range of activities to further maximize your leisure time. If you are a city slicker who loves to shop at big malls and love to party at night, you have Bangkok, Phuket or maybe even Chiang Mai to suit your preference.

If you want to experience a simple country life, you can do that in any of the thousand rural villages in Thailand. If you are a total beach bum, Thailand has lots of gorgeous beaches and many of them have access to basic amenities and facilities and offer an amazing nightlife. If you’re into outdoor activities, there are opportunities in Thailand for biking, cycling, hiking, mountaineering or extreme sports such as skydiving, rock climbing, scuba diving with whale sharks and bungee jumping. If you’re into jungle trekking, you won’t feel short of finding several untouched and pristine forests in Thailand.

 

Thailand is a food haven, especially if you love Thai food in particular. The country is every gastronome’s dream destination. Not only Thai food is delicious and offers a wide variety of flavors (not just spicy), it is also affordable. No wonder, Thai cuisine is certainly world-renowned. To truly experience authentic Thai cuisine, you’ve got to sample their amazing street food, such as pad thai, curries, roti and green papaya salads as well as fresh fruits — Thais love to eat fresh fruits and they usually do that at the end of the meal. If you’re the more adventurous type, try insects or durian.

If you are craving for Western-style food like burgers, pizzas and shakes, there are also fast-food restaurants in Thailand. Craving for Japanese, Chinese, Italian, French or Korean food? No problem, as Thailand also has a great number of restaurants serving international cuisine.

The bottomline

Thailand is a beautiful country. But like many other countries, Thailand has its own advantages and disadvantages. On the plus side, the country’s low cost of living, a wealth of opportunities as well as its exotic cuisine will entice foreigners, in addition to its natural beauty and the friendly Thai people (as long as you don’t annoy them).

You only have to deal with the negatives such as traffic jams, poor public healthcare and red tape. Being a tourist versus being a permanent resident in any foreign country are certainly different from one another. So, are you ready to live in Thailand? If you want to settle there as an expat, consider it carefully first before making the final decision that can dramatically change your life.

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Amazing Facts about Thailand

You may have probably heard of Thailand’s successful “Amazing Thailand” tourism campaign. As a result, more than 19 million tourists visit Thailand every year, making it the most heavily-visited country in Southeast Asia.

But beyond the gorgeous beaches, amazing cuisine, spellbinding temples, huge shopping malls, towering golden Buddhas and the welcoming smiles of the Thai people, there are some things that you should know about Thailand that make the country all the more amazing and enchanting.

1) Thailand was never colonized by Europeans.
Thailand is the only Southeast Asian country that was never conquered or colonized by the Europeans, while their neighbors were colonized by mostly either the French or the British. While Thailand has had alliances with the Japanese (during World War II) and the United States, it has never otherwise been conquered, technically speaking.

Thailand’s name in the Thai language is “Prathet Thai” which means “Land of the Free,” which the country truly is!

2) The real name of “Bangkok”
Bangkok is Thailand’s capital and largest city, home to about eight million people (as of 2010). You’re lucky if you know Bangkok as “Bangkok.” However, its actual name is (get ready for this):

Krungthepmahanakhon Amonrattanakosin Mahintharayutthaya Mahadilokphop Noppharatratchathaniburirom Udomratchaniwetmahasathan Amonphimanawatansathit Sakkathattiyawitsanukamprasit.

The name is a combination of Pali and Sanskrit root words. It is translated as: “City of angels, great city of immortals, magnificent city of the nine gems, seat of the king, city of royal palaces, home of gods incarnate, erected by Vishvakarman at Indra’s behest.”

3) Temples, lots of them!
Thailand is home to some 35,000 temples, so really, the country is the land of the temples. When you visit these temples, you are required to dress modestly. Meaning: no sleeveless tops, shorts and miniskirts.

4) The bigger, the better.
A nuclear family – consisting of two parents and their children – is rare in Thailand. Rather, large extended families are the norm there.

5) Bangkok — the hottest city in the world!
Bangkok was declared by the World Meteorological Organization as the hottest city in the world, with an average air temperature of 28 degrees Celsius (or 82.4 degrees Fahrenheit). It’s hot and sweltering all-year round. Yes, it even beats the temperatures in the desert which becomes chilly during the evenings and during the winter season. So get prepared to spend hot days (and nights) in Bangkok.

6) National language
Thailand’s sole and official language is Thai, which is believed to have been derived from Chinese, with several loanwords from English, French, Portuguese, Arabic and Khmer. Like Chinese, Thai is a tonal language. Its alphabet consists of 32 vowels and 44 consonants.

7) The biggest mineral found in Thailand?
When you hear of Thailand, it conjures images of gold and the dazzling diamonds and rubies that are embedded in their temples and Buddha statues. But this might surprise you, as tin is actually the most important mineral in Thailand. In fact, it is one of the world’s major tin producers.

8) Some weird laws
Strange laws exist in most countries in the world, and Thailand is no exception. These include: a) You must wear an underwear when going out of the house; and b) You must wear a shirt when driving a vehicle. Forget wearing any of them and you’re automatically breaking the law.

9) A wine country in Thailand? Yes, there is!
When you think of a “wine country,” you’d first think of Italy, France or Napa Valley in California. But Thailand? With its hot weather and chalky terrain, it’s hardly the first destination that most wine connoisseurs could think of. But the wine industry in Thailand is actually thriving, with locally-produced quality wines being served in expensive restaurants. These labels are also exported overseas.

There are at least about five wine regions in Thailand. Check out this interesting article “Unexpected Wine Destinations in the World” and you will find some information on Thailand’s most famous vineyards, the Monsoon Valley and the Silverlake Vineyard.

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Top Things to Do in Thailand

Thailand is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Southeast Asia. And why not?

With its enchanting beaches, awe-inspiring temples, unique cuisine, captivating culture and friendly people, it’s not hard to see why tourists keep coming back to the “Land of Smiles.”

There are innumerable things to see and do in Thailand. But for a start, we present you the top five things that you should do (and you would like to do) in the country, whether you’re traveling there for the first time or have been there several times.

Make sure you have all the essential (as well as non-essential) items ready before flying out to another country. If you may want to add something else to your baggage, check out suggestions in this link: Gift Ideas for Travelers.

1) Visit the Grand Palace
Bangkok is the commonly the first stop for foreign tourists. And while you’re there before going to the countryside or hitting the beaches, it’s essential that you should do some touring around this bustling Thai capital.

Bangkok is a charming mix of the old and the new. There are historical landmarks that will simply take your breath away. One of those is visiting the Grand Palace, one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city. Situated in the heart of Bangkok, the Grand Palace is probably the most famous landmark and tourist attraction there. This palace is situated on the banks of Chao Phraya River, and has been the official residence of the King, his court, and his royal government since the late 18th century.

The palace itself is nothing short of breathtaking; the sprawling grounds (with an area measuring 218,400 square meters), are adorned by beautiful gardens and surrounded by enormous walls. Please note though, that there is a strict dress code so you will have to visit there in appropriate clothing or else you’ll be denied entry.

2) Go for a day trip at Ayutthaya
Ayutthaya is an ancient capital and modern city located about 80 kilometers north of Bangkok. This historic city is something that you should seriously consider when listing down the things to do in Thailand. Ayutthaya was listed as a UNESCO heritage site in 1991. It will enchant you with its impressively preserved ruins that speak of its grandiose past, including the magnificent temples such as Wat Phra Si Sanphet and Wat Phra Mahathat.

 

3) Visit the floating markets
One of the enduring images of Thailand is its floating markets. Nearly every tourist has a visit to the floating market in mind when going to Thailand. There are about five floating markets in Bangkok alone that earned itself the nickname the “Venice of the East,” while the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market in Ratchaburi Province is probably the most notable (and the most authentic and traditional).

While obviously not as scenic or romantic as Venice, these floating markets are full of life, color and activity. Shopping like the locals do is definitely a unique experience. It’s certainly a worthy addition to your bucket list of “must-do” things in Thailand.

4) Eat Thai street food
Thai cuisine is popular all over the world, but nothing could be more authentic than trying Thai food in nowhere else than in Thailand itself, right? But the best and the most fun way to try Thai cuisine is to go out the streets! The country is not called the “Street Food Capital of the World” for nothing. Thai street food brings together different kinds of offerings such as pad thai, fish cakes, curries, roti, and a wide variety of snacks. To Western standards, they are super-cheap too. Eating Thai street food will certainly become one of your favorite things to do there.

5) Explore amazing beaches
Thailand is famous for its amazing beaches – clear blue waters, white powdery sands, diverse marine life, amazing rock formations and awesome nightlife. Some of these gorgeous beaches are featured in popular Hollywood films such as Ko Phi Phi (in the move The Beach starring Leonardo DiCaprio) and Kao Phing Kan aka James Bond Island (in the film The Man with the Golden Gun). Other popular beaches include Railay Beach and Phra Nang Beach in Krabi and Phuket’s Karon Beach and Kata Beach. One could only hope though that while Thailand’s beaches are commercially the most popular compared to their Southeast Asian neighbors’, their natural pristine beauty and cleanliness should be maintained and preserved.

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