NEED TO KNOW
Capital City: Bangkok
Population: 65 million
Area: 198,456 square miles
Telephone Calling Code(s): 66
Electricity: 220V, 50 Hz
Currency: As of Nov 22, 2011:
1 Thailand Baht = $0.03 US Calculate Other Amounts
Thailand does not require visas for citizens of the United States. A valid passport is sufficient for a 30-day stay.
GOOD TO KNOW
Books and Movies
The Beach is a dark tale of mindless hedonism run amok starring Leo DiCaprio as "that dangerously stupid American tourist" and a stretch of Thailand's relatively undisturbed Phi Phi Islands as "the perfect beach." A more lighthearted view of Thailand's recent past can be seen in the James Bond film, Man With the Golden Gun. Due to its stable political climate, Thailand has also been a favorite filming location for movies set elsewhere in South East Asia—standing in for Vietnam in The Deer Hunter, and Cambodia in The Killing Fields.
Thailand is home to an exhilarating cuisine whose hallmarks are red, green, and yellow curries. Made from aromatic mashes of garlic, kaffir lime, lemongrass, and galangal, these tasty treats are nothing like Indian curries except in concept. Luckily for most tourists, Thai restaurants tone down the intense spices of their cuisine for visitors. However, there's more to Thailand than fiery curry, so be sure to branch out into enchanting, but rarely exported items like fish ragout and cold sweet noodles and coconut. Thailand's lush landscape also produces an array of fruit most Americans have never seen. Start with a mango—the best you've ever had between March and May—before moving onto more exotic fare like jackfruit, mangosteen, and rambutan. The final challenge is a durian, Thailand's favorite fruit. The uninitiated will find the intense odor overpowering and disgusting, and most hotels won't even allow them in the door. But after one bite of the rich, crème brûlée flesh, you'll be a convert. If this is all a bit too much for a first trip, take solace in the wallet-friendly local rum, whiskey and, of course, Singha beer.
Thailand is one of the world's best shopping destinations for bargain-hunting explorers. If great designer knock-offs are your thing, you'll be in heaven. Sure, it doesn't always look all that convincing, but $5 for a Prada-ish handbag is a deal anywhere. Thai silk is exquisite, but the treat here is the tailor who can turn bolt cloth into finery. Men's suits that would cost thousands of dollars elsewhere, can be had for about $200. The sights, sounds, and smells of the Thai marketplace are a great way to spend an afternoon even if you don't plan on buying anything. Just don't purchase anything particularly pricey unless you're an expert—fakes and disposable junk are everywhere.
All purchases, except the officially condemned designer imposters mentioned above, will be charged a value added tax of seven percent. But tourists, provided they spend at least $154, can get this refunded before leaving the country with the proper forms (obtained with purchases of $61 or more at stores with "VAT Refund for Tourists" signs). Unless a ten percent service charge is added to your bill, most restaurant workers will expect some kind of tip.
The Thai admire good manners and a sense of humor; shouting or a public loss of temper will get you nowhere. Shaking hands is farang (foreigner) behavior. When Thais greet each other, they bow and press their palms together in a prayer-like wai gesture. Never point your feet, considered the lowest part of the body, at someone. And never use your left hand to give anything to a Thai; traditionally it's the unclean limb used for bathroom duty. Shoes as well as short shorts, tank tops, or strapless dresses are considered improper when visiting a Buddhist temple. Thailand has strict lèse-majesté laws. The musical The King and I and its film adaptations are banned as insulting. Denigrating the royal family, especially revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej, is illegal.
January: 1, New Year's Day
April: 6, Chakri Memorial Day; 13–15, Thai New Year
May: 1, Labor Day; 5, Coronation Day
July: 1, Mid-Year Day
August: 12, Mother's Day (Queen's Birthday)
October: 23, Chulalongkorn Day
December: 5, King's Birthday; 10, Constitution Day; 31, New Year's Eve
Winter: Makha Bucha (March)
Spring: Visakha Bucha (May)
Summer: Asanha Bucha and Khao Phansa, also called "Buddhist Lent" (July)