What you need to know before traveling to Thailand

Officially known as the Kingdom of Thailand, the nation of Thailand is located in Southeast Asia. The country offers coastline along the Andaman Sea to the west and the Gulf of Thailand to the east. Thailand is the most visited nation in Southeast Asia, sharing its tropical climate, stunning mountains, and pristine beaches with countless individuals from around the globe each year. Thailand's tropical climate draws millions of visitors each year, but it is the fascinating culture that will pull you in and leave you with a desire to return again and again.

  • Key facts
    Thailand is generally broken down into five regions that are all culturally and geographically diverse.

    • Northern Thailand is home to the city of Chiang Mai, the region's capital and heart of the Lanna culture, as well as the Golden Triangle.

    • The northeast region of Thailand, known as Isaan, is landlocked against Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia. Here you'll find dense jungles and incredible cuisine, even if it's off the beaten path for most visitors.

    • Central, Eastern, and Southern Thailand are more frequently visited by foreigners. You'll find the national capital of Bangkok in Central Thailand, set amidst the lowlands of the nation.

    • Eastern Thailand is a magnificent beach destination with offshore islands nearby.

    • Southern Thailand is home to the nation's lush rainforests and hundreds of miles of coastline along both the Andaman Sea and Gulf of Thailand. The resort paradise of Phuket is located here.

    Thai is the official language of Thailand, but there are also many minority languages spoken throughout the country as well.
    The nation's currency is the Thai baht (THB).
    The vast majority of the population are indigenous Thai people, but there are also significant Chinese minority groups throughout the country. Muslims populate the nation's southern reaches along its border with Malaysia, while Karen and Hmong people live in the inland hill country to the north.
  • Weather & when to go
    Thailand's location in tropical Southeast Asia means that the weather is often hot and humid on a year-round basis. The annual high temperature rarely strays from a tight range of 82 F (28 C) to 95 F (35 C). Seasons in Thailand are observed less by calendar dates and months of the year, and more by subtle changes in the weather itself.
    The cool seasons runs from November to the end of February. There is little rain and the temperatures reach their lowest highs of any point in the year. If you visit Southern Thailand, you won't notice much of a difference. However, if you visit the mountainous north, you'll want a sweater for the evenings.
    Cool season is followed by Thailand's hot season, which is accompanied by ample sunshine and sweltering humidity. It is not uncommon for high temperatures to reach 105 F (40 C), but the average high is much closer to 95 F (35 C). This season runs from March to June. Last but not least, July through October is considered the rainy season. Temperatures remain high, but monsoons are a frequent issue. These storms can bring disruptive flooding.
  • Getting around
    As with any international destination, Americans will need to pack a passport when they prepare to visit Thailand. The country has two major international airports, located in Bangkok and Phuket. These airports enjoy ample service from major international carriers. Additionally, international airports are located in Hat Yai, Krabi, Ko Samui, and Chiang Mai, but most flights into these airports connect American travelers through other Southeast Asian nations.
    Thailand stretches a great distance from north to south, so if your plans include visiting the mountainous north and the sun kissed beaches of the south, domestic travel is best done by air. AirAsia, Bangkok Airways, and Thai Airways are the major domestic carriers. The alternative is to ride a bus for 11 hours to cover the distance.
    The nation does have a rail network that covers 2,485 miles (4,000 km) of track, but it largely connects the major cities and is prone to significant delays. The lines offer numerous stops along the major routes that create delays that prolong any trip via rail. Travel between cities is also available via the government's bus company, BKS, but the rides are long and it can be dangerous driving on Thai roads.
    Within major cities, taxis, motorbike rentals, car rentals, songthaew (trucks), and tuk-tuks (small trucks) offer transportation to and from tourist attractions, shopping centers, and dining options. Keep in mind however that traffic congestion is quite terrible in Bangkok, in particular, so walking when you can is a great alternative.
  • Know before you go
    While you plan an itinerary for your visit to Thailand, consider trekking off the beaten path to discover all that Thailand has to offer the millions of individuals who visit each year. If you stay in Bangkok the whole trip, make sure to visit the Grand Palace. Rich in Thai cultural heritage, it is home to the Wat Phra Kaew, a sacred Buddhist temple that houses the Emerald Buddha. If you are looking for even more history in your trip and a little bit of mountain trekking, head north.
    The former capital city of Siam is always popular, but the nation once called the cities of Ayutthaya and Sukhothai the national capital as well. Each city is rich in history. The city of Chiang Mai makes a good home base if you're interested in hiking the northern provinces and meeting people from the nation's six hill tribes; the Akha, Lahu, Karen, Hmon, Mien, and Lisu.
    Finally, if the beach is more your thing, Phuket and Ko Samui are extremely popular among Westerners and have built up considerably in recent decades to include modern amenities. However, Hua Hin is the oldest beach resort in Thailand. It was discovered in the 1920s by Thailand's King Rama VII as an escape from Bangkok, and offers a truly unique beach getaway.
  • Travel tips & recommendations

    • Thai is the nation's official language, but Chinese dialects are spoken throughout the country, with a Malay tongue spoken in the Muslim-dominated south.

    • Thai people are not taught English in school on a widespread basis, so there aren't as many native residents fluent in English as in other Southeast Asian destinations.

    • Thailand is famous for its night markets, and they are worth checking out for handcrafted goods and designer items not found in modern malls.

    • Whenever possible, try local cuisines. The nation is known around the globe for its flavorful, balanced cuisine.

    • Tap water is not drinkable outside of Bangkok in most cases.

    • Be alert when you're out and about, scammers are an increasing concern for travelers.

    • Malaria is still an issue in the northern hill areas, and dengue fever is prevalent throughout even major cities.

    • The national emergency number is 999.

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