value in luggage that is stored out of your of tourist lives every year, particularly off sight and be wary of accepting food and Phuket, Ko Chang (Trat), Hua Hin, Cha-am drink from fellow passengers as it may be and Ko Samui during stormy periods of the B A S ICS drugged. This might sound paranoid, but monsoon season, so always pay attention to there have been enough drug-muggings for warning signs and red ﬂags, and always ask TAT to publish a speciﬁc warning about the locally if unsure. Jellyﬁsh can be a problem | Crime and personal safety problem. Drinks can also be spiked in bars on any coast, especially just after a storm and clubs, especially by sex-workers who (see p.37 for further advice). For advice on later steal from their victim’s room. road safety see p.44. Violent crime against tourists is not com- mon, but it does occur, and there have been Regional issues several serious attacks on women travellers It’s advisable to travel with a guide if you’re in the last few years. However, bearing in going off the main roads in certain border mind that over ﬁve million foreign tourists visit areas or, if you’re on a motorbike, to take Thailand every year, the statistical likelihood advice before setting off. of becoming a victim is extremely small. Because of the violence in the deep Obvious precautions for travellers of either south, all Western governments are currently sex include locking accessible windows and advising against travel to or through the bor- doors at night – preferably with your own der provinces of Songkhla, Yala, Pattani and padlock (doors in many of the simpler guest Narathiwat, unless essential – see p.485 for houses and beach bungalows are designed further details. For up-to-the-minute advice for this) – and not travelling alone at night in on current political troublespots, consult your a taxi or tuk-tuk. Nor should you risk jump- government’s travel advisory. ing into an unlicensed taxi at the airport in Bangkok at any time of day: there have been Scams some very violent robberies in these, so take Despite the best efforts of guidebook writ- the well-marked licensed, metered taxis ers, TAT and the Thai tourist police, count- instead, or the airport bus (see p.94). less travellers to Thailand get scammed Unfortunately, it is also necessary for female every year. Nearly all scams are eas- tourists to think twice about spending time ily avoided if you’re on your guard against alone with a monk, as not all men of the cloth anyone who makes an unnatural effort to uphold the Buddhist precepts and there have befriend you. We have outlined the main been rapes and murders committed by men scams in the relevant sections of this guide, wearing the saffron robes of the monkhood. but con-artists are nothing if not creative, so See p.525 for more about the changing Thai if in doubt walk away at the earliest opportu- attitudes towards the monkhood. nity. The worst areas for scammers are the Though unpalatable and distressing, Thai- busy tourist centres, including many parts of land’s high-proﬁle sex industry is relatively Bangkok and the main beach resorts. unthreatening for Western women, with its Many tuk-tuk drivers earn most of their energy focused exclusively on farang men; living through securing commissions from it’s also quite easily avoided, being contained tourist-oriented shops; this is especially within certain pockets of the capital and a true in Bangkok, where they will do their couple of beach resorts. damnedest to get you to go to a gem shop As for harassment from men, it’s hard to (see below). The most common tactic is for generalize, but most Western women ﬁnd it drivers to pretend that the Grand Palace less of a problem in Thailand than they do or other major sight you intended to visit back home. Outside the main tourist spots, is closed for the day (they usually invent you’re more likely to be of interest as a for- a plausible reason, such as a festival or eigner rather than a woman and, if travelling royal occasion; see p.125 for more), and to alone, as an object of concern rather than of then offer to take you on a round-city tour sexual aggression. 70 instead, perhaps even for free. The tour Among hazards to watch out for in the will invariably include a visit to a gem shop. natural world, riptides claim a number The easiest way to avoid all this is to take a metered taxi; if you’re ﬁxed on taking a tuk- A less common but potentially more tuk, ignore any tuk-tuk that is parked up or frightening scam involves a similar cast of loitering and be ﬁrm about where you want warm-up artists leading tourists into a gam- B A S ICS to go. bling game. The scammers invite their victim Self-styled tourist guides, touts and any- home on an innocent-sounding pretext, get one else who might introduce themselves as out a pack of cards, and then set about | Gay and lesbian Thailand students or businesspeople and offer to ﬂeecing the incomer in any number of subtle take you somewhere of interest, or invite you ways. Often this can be especially scary as to meet their family, are often the ﬁrst piece the venue is likely to be far from hotels or of bait in a well-honed chain of con-artists. If recognizable landmarks. You’re unlikely to you bite, chances are you’ll end up either at get any sympathy from police, as gambling a gem shop or in a gambling den, or, at best, is illegal in Thailand. at a tour operator or hotel that you had not planned to patronize. This is not to say that Reporting a crime or you should never accept an invitation from a emergency local person, but be extremely wary of doing In emergencies, contact the English-speak- so following a street encounter in Bangkok ing tourist police, who maintain a 24-hour or the resorts. Tourist guides’ ID cards are toll-free nationwide line (T1155) and have easily faked. ofﬁces in the main tourist centres – getting For many of these characters the goal is to in touch with the tourist police ﬁrst is invari- get you inside a dodgy gem shop, nearly all ably more efﬁcient than directly contacting of which are located in Bangkok. There is a the local police, ambulance or ﬁre service. full rundown of advice on how to avoid fall- The tourist police’s job is to offer advice and ing for the notorious low-grade gems scam tell you what to do next, but they do not ﬁle on p.182, but the bottom line is that if you crime reports, which must be done at the are not experienced at buying and trading in nearest police station. TAT has a special valuable gems you will deﬁnitely be ripped department for mediating between tourists, off, possibly even to the tune of several thou- police and accused persons (particularly sand pounds or dollars. Check the 2Bang- shopkeepers and tour agents) – the Tour- kok website’s account of a typical gem ist Assistance Center, or TAC; it’s based in scam (Wwww.2bangkok.com/2bangkok/ the TAT ofﬁce on Thanon Rajdamnoen Nok, Scams/Sapphire.shtml) before you shell out Bangkok (daily 8.30am– 4.30pm; T02 281 any cash at all. 5051). Gay and lesbian Thailand Buddhist tolerance and a national abhorrence of confrontation and victimization combine to make Thai society relatively tolerant of homosexuality, if not exactly positive about same-sex relationships. Most Thais are extremely private and dis- creet about being gay, generally pursuing a “don’t ask, don’t tell” understanding with their family. The majority of people are horriﬁed by the idea of gay-bashing and generally regard it as unthinkable to spurn a child or relative for being gay. Hardly any Thai celebrities are out, yet the known and accepted. Transvestites (known predilections of several respected social, as katoey or “ladyboys”) and transsexuals 71 political and entertainment ﬁgures are widely are also a lot more visible in Thailand than in the West. You’ll ﬁnd cross-dressers doing lady). Where possible, we’ve listed lesbian ordinary jobs, even in small upcountry towns, meeting-places, but unless otherwise speci- ﬁed, gay means male throughout this guide. B A S ICS and there are a number of transvestites and transsexuals in the public eye too – including Although excessively physical displays of national volleyball stars and champion muay affection are frowned upon for both hetero- thai boxers. The government tourist ofﬁce sexuals and homosexuals, Western gay cou- | Gay and lesbian Thailand vigorously promotes the transvestite caba- ples should get no hassle about being seen rets in Pattaya, Phuket and Bangkok, all of together in public – it’s much more accept- which are advertised as family entertainment. able, and common, in fact, for friends of the Katoey also regularly appear as characters in same sex (gay or not) to walk hand-in-hand, soap operas, TV comedies and ﬁlms, where than for heterosexual couples to do so. they are depicted as harmless ﬁgures of fun. The farang-oriented gay sex industry is a There is no mention of homosexuality at tiny but highly visible part of Thailand’s gay all in Thai law, which means that the age of scene. With its tawdry ﬂoor shows and host consent for gay sex is ﬁfteen, the same as for services, it bears a dispiriting resemblance heterosexuals. However, this also means that to the straight sex trade, and is similarly gay rights are not protected under Thai law. most active in Bangkok, Pattaya and Patong (on Phuket). Like their female counterparts The scene in the heterosexual ﬂeshpots, many of the boys working in the gay sex bars that domi- Thailand’s gay scene is mainly focused on nate these districts are under age; note that mainstream venues like karaoke bars, res- anyone caught having sex with a prostitute taurants, massage parlours, gyms, saunas below the age of 18 faces imprisonment. A and escort agencies. For the sake of discre- signiﬁcant number of gay prostitutes are gay tion, gay venues are usually intermingled by economic necessity rather than by inclina- with equivalent straight venues. As in the tion. As with the straight sex scene, we do straight scene, venues reﬂect class and sta- not list commercial gay sex bars in the guide. tus differences. Expensive international-style places are very popular in Bangkok, attracting upper- and middle-class gays, many of whom Information and contacts for gay have travelled or been educated abroad and travellers developed Western tastes. These places also Anjaree PO Box 322, Rajdamnoen PO, Bangkok attract a contingent of Thais seeking foreign 10200 Eanjaree@loxinfo.com. General information sugar daddies. The biggest concentrations of on the lesbian community in Thailand. farang-friendly gay bars and clubs are found in Dreaded Ned’s Wwww.dreadedned.com. Events Bangkok, Phuket and Pattaya, and are listed listings and information on almost every gay venue in the relevant accounts in the guide chapters in the country. (note that you must be 21 years old to enter a Lesla W www.lesla.com. Thailand’s largest lesbian nightclub in Thailand, and ID checks are often organization hosts regular events and runs a enforced). The gay communities of Bangkok, web-board. Phuket and Pattaya all host ﬂamboyant annual Long Yang Club Wwww.longyangclub.org/ Gay Pride festivals (check upcoming dates thailand. This international organization was founded on the websites listed below). For a detailed to promote friendship between men of Western and guide to the gay and lesbian scene throughout Eastern origin and runs regular socials. the country, see the Utopia Guide to Thailand Utopia W www.utopia-asia.com and Wwww .utopia-asia.com/womthai.htm. Asia’s best gay and by John Goss, which can be downloaded via lesbian website lists clubs, events, accommodation Wwww.utopia-asia.com. and organizations for gays and lesbians and has Thailand’s gay scene is heavily male, and useful links to other sites in Asia and the rest of there are hardly any lesbian-only venues, the world. Its offshoot, Utopia Tours, is a gay- though Bangkok has a few mixed gay bars. oriented travel agency offering trips and guides Thai lesbians generally eschew the word within Thailand and the rest of Asia; tours can be 72 lesbian, which in Thailand is associated with booked through Door East, Tarntawan Palace Hotel, male fantasies, instead referring to them- 119/5–10 Thanon Suriwong (T02 238 3227, selves as either tom (for tomboy) or dee (for Wwww.utopia-tours.com). Travelling with children B A S ICS | Travelling with children There’s plenty in Thailand to appeal to children – especially the beach, the swim- ming pools and the water-based activities in the more developed resorts. Many dive centres will teach the PADI chil- kok has several child-friendly theme parks dren’s scuba courses on request: their Bub- and activity centres, listed on p.175, as does blemaker programme is open to 8-year-olds the beach resort of Pattaya (see p.210). and the Junior Open Water is designed for anyone over ten. An increasing number of Practicalities upmarket hotels in the big resorts arrange Many of the expensive hotels listed in this special activities for kids: the Laguna Resort guide offer special deals for families, usually hotels complex on Ao Bang Tao, Phuket allowing one or two under-twelves to share (see p.400) is particularly recommended for their parents’ room for free, as long as no its family-friendly accommodation and kids’ extra bedding is required. It’s often possible activities camp, as are the Novotel Phuket to cram two adults and two children into the Resort, and the Holiday Inn, both on Patong double rooms in inexpensive and mid-range Beach, Phuket (p.404), and the JW Marriott hotels (as opposed to guest houses), as Phuket Resort and Spa on Phuket’s Hat Mai beds in these places are usually big enough Khao (p.397). The activity-centred Club Med for two (see p.48). An increasing number of chain of hotels (Wwww.clubmed.com) also guest houses now offer three-person rooms, has a resort on Phuket (see p.411). Other and some even provide special family hotels that offer plenty of diversions for accommodation: see accommodation list- active teenagers include Le Royal Meridien ings throughout the book for details. Decent Baan Taling Ngam on Ko Samui (see p.317) cots are provided free in the bigger hotels, and the Amari Trang in Trang (see p.493). and in some smaller ones (though cots in Most of these hotels will also provide a these places can be a bit grotty). babysitting service. Few museums or transport companies Older children will relish the cheap supply offer student reductions, but in some cases of electronic games and brand-name cloth- children get discounts; these vary a lot, one ing on sale in the main tourist centres, and of the more bizarre provisos being the State might enjoy taking up the countless offers Railway’s regulation that a child aged three from beach masseuses to “plait your hair” to twelve qualiﬁes for half-fare only if under and “have manicure”. 150cm tall; in some stations you’ll see a Despite its lack of obvious child-centred measuring scale painted onto the ticket-hall activities, many parents ﬁnd that the mod- wall. On most domestic ﬂights, under-twos erately developed island of Ko Lanta (see pay ten percent of the full fare, and under- p.465) makes a good destination for kids of twelves pay ﬁfty percent. all ages, with reasonably priced accommo- Although most Thai babies don’t wear dation, fairly uncrowded sandy beaches and them, disposable nappies (diapers) are sold safe seas. However, as with almost any non- in Thailand at convenience stores, pharmacies mainstream destination in Thailand, the near- and supermarkets in big resorts and sizeable est top-class health centre is several hours’ towns; for longer, more out-of-the-way jour- away from Ko Lanta, in Phuket. On Ko Lanta neys and stays on lonely islands and beaches, and many other beaches, open-air shorefront consider bringing some washable ones as restaurants are the norm, so adults can eat in backup. A changing mat is another necessity relative peace while kids play within view. as there are few public toilets in Thailand, let Active children also enjoy the country’s alone ones with baby facilities (though posh 73 national parks and their waterfalls, plus the hotels are always a useful option). If your baby opportunities to go elephant-riding. Bang- is on powdered milk, it might be an idea to bring some of that; you can certainly get it ing water, heat and unfamiliar food. All that in Thailand but it may not taste the same as chilli in particular may be a problem, even at home. Thai women do not breastfeed in with older kids; consider packing a jar of B A S ICS public. Dried baby food, too, could be worth Marmite or equivalent child’s favourite, taking, though you can get international-brand so that you can always rely on toast if the baby food in big towns and resorts, and local food doesn’t go down so well. As | Travel essentials some parents ﬁnd restaurant-cooked rice and with adults, you should be careful about bananas go down just as well. unwashed fruit and salads and about dishes For touring, child-carrier backpacks are that have been left uncovered for a long time ideal. Opinions are divided on whether or (see p.51). As diarrhoea could be danger- not it’s worth bringing a buggy or three- ous for a child, rehydration solutions (see wheeled stroller. Where they exist, Thailand’s under “Health”, p.38) are vital if your child pavements are bumpy at best, and there’s goes down with it. Other signiﬁcant haz- an almost total absence of ramps; sand is ards include thundering trafﬁc; huge waves, especially difﬁcult for buggies, though less so strong currents and jellyﬁsh; and the sun for three-wheelers. Buggies and strollers do, – not least because many beaches offer only however, come in handy for feeding and even limited shade, if at all. Sunhats, sunblock bedding small children, as highchairs and and waterproof suntan lotions are essential, cots are only provided in the more upmarket and can be bought in the major resorts. You hotels. You can buy buggies fairly cheaply in should also make sure, if possible, that your most moderate-sized Thai towns, but if you child is aware of the dangers of rabies; keep bring your own and then wish you hadn’t, children away from animals, especially dogs most hotels and guest houses will keep it for and monkeys, and ask your medical adviser you until you leave. Taxis and car-rental com- about rabies jabs. panies never provide baby car seats, and even if you bring your own you’ll often ﬁnd Information and advice there are no seatbelts to strap them in with. Bambi Wwww.bambi-bangkok.org. The website of Children’s clothes are also very cheap in the Bangkok-based expat parents’ group has tips Thailand, and have the advantage of being on parents’ common concerns, in particular health designed for the climate. Even if you’ve issues, as well as ideas for child-friendly activities forgotten a crucial piece of children’s equip- in Thailand. ment, you’ll probably ﬁnd it in the nearest Kids To Go Wthorntree.lonelyplanet.com. The Kids big-city department store, nearly all of which To Go branch of this travel forum gets quite a lot of have dedicated kids’ sections selling eve- postings from parents who’ve already taken their rything from bottles and dummies. There’s kids to Thailand. even a branch of Mothercare in Bangkok. Thailand 4 Kids Wwww.thailand4kids.com. Sells Even more than their parents, children an e-book guide covering the practicalities of family holidays in Thailand. need protecting from the sun, unsafe drink- Travel essentials stands in, and then to distinguish where it is on Addresses that lot. Thus 154/7–10 Thanon Rajdamnoen 74 Thai addresses can be immensely confusing, means the building is on lot 154 and occupies mainly because property is often numbered numbers 7–10. There’s an additional idiosyn- twice, ﬁrst to show which real estate lot it crasy in the way Thai roads are sometimes Charities and volunteer projects B A S ICS for many people in Thailand. Countless charities work with Thailand’s many poor and disadvantaged communities: listed below are a few that would welcome help in | Travel essentials some way from visitors. The website of the Bangkok Post list of charitable foundations and projects in Thailand at W www.bangkokpost .com/outlookwecare. Human Development Foundation 100/11 Kae Ha Klong Toey 4, Thanon Damrongrathhaphipat, Klong Toey, Bangkok T 02 671 5313, Wwww.mercycentre.org. Since 1972, this organization – founded by locally famous Catholic priest Father Joe Maier – has been providing education and support for Bangkok’s street kids and slum-dwellers as well as caring for those with HIV-AIDS. It now runs more than thirty kindergartens in Bangkok’s slums and is staffed almost entirely by people who grew up in the slums themselves. Contact the centre for information about donations, sponsorship and volunteering, or visit it to purchase cards and gifts. Father Joe’s book, The Slaughterhouse: Stories from Bangkok’s Klong Toey Slum, is an eye-opening insight into this side of Thai life that tourists rarely encounter; it’s available from most Bangkok bookshops and proﬁts go to the Foundation (see p.535 for a review). North Andaman Tsunami Relief (NATR) Khuraburi T087 917 7165, Wwww. northandamantsunamirelief.com. This farang–Thai NGO has initiated a lot of post-tsunami reconstruction projects for the many devastated villages in the Khuraburi area and welcomes donations to help maintain the good work. It has also established a homestay programme at local ﬁshing villages, Andaman Discoveries (W www.andamandiscoveries.com), to help revitalize the local economy; for more details about this see p.368. The Students’ Education Trust (SET) W www.thaistudentcharity.org. High-school and further education in Thailand is a luxury that the poorest kids cannot afford – not only is there a lack of funds for fees, books, uniforms and even bus fares, but they often need to work to help support the family. Many are sent to live in temples to ease the burden on their relatives. The SET was founded by British-born Phra Peter Pannapadipo to help these kids pursue their education and escape from the poverty trap. He lived as a Thai monk for ten years and tells the heart-breaking stories of some of the boys at his temple in his book, Little Angels: The real-life stories of twelve Thai novice monks (see p.535 for a review). SET welcomes donations and sponsorship; see their website for details. Thai Child Development Foundation Pha To Wwww.thaichilddevelopment.org. This small Thai-Dutch-run village project in south Thailand helps house and educate needy local children. The foundation welcomes donations of games, toys, clothes and money, and takes on volunteers for 1–3 months, but you can also support it by joining one of the eco-tours or homestay programmes organized by its sister outﬁt Runs ‘N Roses (T 086 172 1090, W www.runsnroses.com), described on p.290. Tsunami Volunteer Center Khao Lak T089 882 8840, W www.tsunamivolunteer.net. Within days of the 2004 tsunami, a Thai NGO established this project in Khao Lak, site of the worst devastation along Thailand’s Andaman coast. In its ﬁrst year of operation the centre coordinated reconstruction and regeneration tasks for hundreds of volunteers but there are still many projects on the go and the centre continues to welcome donations as well as volunteers. The main projects involve construction work, IT and English teaching; minimum commitment is two weeks. Several other tsunami relief organizations also work in the Khao Lak area; see p.380 for more details. We-Train International House Bangkok T02 967 8550–4, W www.we-train.co.th. Run by the Association for the Promotion of the Status of Women (APSW), this is a hotel close to Bangkok’s Don Muang airport whose proﬁts go towards helping APSW support, house and train disadvantaged women and children. See p.95 for details. named: in large cities a minor road running name. Thanon Sukhumvit for example – Bang- off a major road is often numbered as a soi kok’s longest – has minor roads numbered Soi 75 (“lane” or “alley”, though it may be a sizeable 1 to Soi 103, with odd numbers on one side of thoroughfare), rather than given its own street the road and even on the other; so a Thanon Sukhumvit address could read something like practice for a lot of commercial transactions, 27/9–11 Soi 15, Thanon Sukhumvit, which particularly at markets and when hiring tuk- would mean the property occupies numbers B A S ICS tuks and taxis (though not in supermarkets 9–11 on lot 27 on minor road number 15 run- or department stores), bargaining is a ning off Thanon Sukhumvit. delicate art that requires humour, tact and patience. If your price is way out of line, the | Travel essentials Contact lens solutions vendor’s vehement refusal should be enough to make you increase your offer: never forget Opticians in all reasonable-sized towns sell that the few pennies or cents you’re making international brand-name contact lens such a fuss over will go a lot further in a Thai cleaning and disinfection solutions. person’s hands than in your own. It’s rare that foreigners can bargain a price Contraceptives down as low as a Thai could, anyway, while Condoms (meechai) are sold in all pharma- two-tier pricing has been made ofﬁcial at cies and in many hairdressers and village government-run sights, as a kind of informal shops as well. Birth-control pills can be tourist tax: at national museums and histori- bought in Bangkok (see p.189) and at some cal parks, for example, foreigners often pay pharmacies in major towns and resorts; sup- a B30–40 admission charge while Thais get plies of any other contraceptives should be in for B10; and at national parks, foreigners brought from home. have to pay B200 entry while Thais pay just B20. A number of privately owned tourist Costs attractions follow a similar two-tier system, posting an inﬂated price in English for for- Thailand can be a very cheap place to eigners and a lower price in Thai for locals. travel. At the bottom of the scale, you can manage on a daily budget of about B600 Customs regulations (£9/US$15) if you’re willing to opt for basic accommodation, stay away from the more The duty-free allowance on entry to Thai- expensive resorts like Phuket, Ko Samui and land is 200 cigarettes (or 250g of tobacco) Ko Phi Phi, and eat, drink and travel as the and a litre of spirits or wine. locals do. On this budget, you’ll be spend- To export antiques or religious artefacts ing under B200 for a dorm bed or single – especially Buddha images – from Thailand, room (less if you share the cost of a double you need to have a licence granted by the room), around B200 on three meals (eating Fine Arts Department, which can be obtained mainly at night markets and simple noodle through the Ofﬁce of Archeology and Nation- shops, and eschewing beer), and the rest on al Museums, 81/1 Thanon Si Ayutthaya travel (sticking mainly to non-air-con buses (near the National Library), Bangkok (T02 and third-class trains) and incidentals. With 628 5032), or Thalang Museum on Phuket extras like air-conditioning in rooms and on (see p.417). Applications take at least two long-distance buses and trains, taking the working days and need to be accompanied various forms of taxi rather than buses or by the object itself, two postcard-sized col- shared songthaews for cross-town journeys, our photos of it, taken face-on and against and a meal and a couple of beers in a more a white background, and photocopies of touristy restaurant, a day’s outlay would look the applicant’s passport; furthermore, if the more like B1000 (£15/US$25). Staying in object is a Buddha image, the passport comfortable, upmarket hotels and eating in photocopies need to be certiﬁed by your the more exclusive restaurants, you should embassy in Bangkok. Some antiques shops be able to live in great comfort for around can organize all this for you. B2000 a day (£30/US$50). Travellers soon get so used to the low cost Departure taxes 76 of living in Thailand that they start bargain- The international departure tax on all ing at every available opportunity, much foreigners leaving Thailand by air is B500, as Thai people do. Although it’s expected due to rise to B700 on February 1, 2007. oriented Internet cafés in every touristed Domestic departure taxes are included in town and resort in the country – there are the price of the ticket, except at Bangkok B A S ICS at least twenty in the Banglamphu district Airways’ Samui Airport, where a departure of Bangkok, for example – and even remote tax of B400 is payable. islands like Ko Mak and Ko Phayam provide Internet access via satellite phones. Com- | Travel essentials Electricity petition keeps prices low: upcountry you could expect to pay as little as B20 per hour, Mains electricity is supplied at 220 volts AC while rates in tourist centres average B1 and is available at all but the most remote vil- per minute. Nearly every mid-sized town in lages and basic beach huts. Where electricity Thailand also offers a public Internet service, is supplied by generators and/or solar power, called Catnet, at the government telephone for example on the smaller, less populated ofﬁce (usually located inside or adjacent to islands, it is often rationed to evenings only. If the main post ofﬁce). To use the service, you you’re packing phone and camera chargers, need to buy a B100 card with a Catnet PIN a hair-dryer, laptop or other appliance, you’ll (available at all phone ofﬁces), which gives need to take a set of travel-plug adapters you around three hours of Internet time at with you as several plug types are commonly any of these public terminals. in use, most usually with two round pins, but If you plan to email from your laptop in also with two ﬂat-blade pins, and sometimes Thailand, be advised that very few budget with both options. Check out W www.kropla. guest houses and cheap hotels have tel- com for a very helpful list, complete with pic- ephone sockets in the room. At the other tures, of the different sockets, voltage and end of the scale, luxury hotels charge astro- phone plugs used in Thailand. nomical rates for international calls, though many now offer broadband, or even wireless Insurance access. One potentially useful way round Most visitors to Thailand will need to take the cost issue is to become a temporary out specialist travel insurance, though you subscriber to the Thai ISP CS Loxinfo (T02 should check exactly what’s covered. Poli- 263 8222, W www.csloxinfo.com). Their cies generally exclude so-called dangerous Webnet deal, for example, with local dial-up sports unless an extra premium is paid: in numbers in every province in Thailand, is Thailand this can mean such things as scuba- aimed at international businesspeople and diving, whitewater rafting and trekking. tourists and can be bought online; it allows Rough Guides has teamed up with Colum- you 12 hours of Internet access for B160, bus Direct to offer you travel insurance that 30 hours for B380 or 63 hours for B750. The can be tailored to suit your needs. Products usual phone plug in Thailand is the American include a low-cost backpacker option for standard RJ11 phone jack. See Wwww. long stays; a short break option for city geta- kropla.com for detailed advice on how to set ways; a typical holiday package option; and up your modem before you go, and how to others. There are also annual multi-trip poli- hardwire phone plugs where necessary. cies for those who travel regularly. Different sports and activities, such as trekking, can be Laundry usually be covered if required. See our web- Guest houses and hotels all over the country site (Wwww.roughguidesinsurance.com) for run low-cost, same-day laundry services. eligibility and purchasing options. Alternative- In some places you pay per item, in others ly, call in the UK T0870/033 9988, in the US you’re charged by the kilo (generally from T1-800/749-4922, in Australia T1-300/669 B30–50/kg); ironing is often included in the 999 or elsewhere T+44 870/890 2843. price. Internet Left luggage 77 Internet access is very widespread and Most major train stations have left luggage very cheap in Thailand. You’ll ﬁnd traveller- facilities, where bags can be stored for up to twenty days (for B10–40 per item per day); Maps at bus stations you can usually persuade someone ofﬁcial to look after your stuff for For most major destinations, the maps in B A S ICS a few hours. Many guest houses and hotels this book should be all you need, though also offer an inexpensive and reliable service. you may want to supplement them with larger-scale maps of Bangkok and the whole | Travel essentials Mail country. Bangkok bookshops are the best source of these; where appropriate, detailed Overseas mail usually takes around seven local maps and their stockists are recom- days from Bangkok, a little longer from the mended in the relevant chapters of this more isolated areas. Post ofﬁce hours are guide. If you want to buy a map before you generally Mon–Fri 8.30am–4.30pm, Sat get there, Rough Guides’ 1:1,200,000 map 9am–noon; some close Mon–Fri noon–1pm of Thailand is a good option – and, since it’s and may stay open until 6pm. Almost all printed on special rip-proof paper, it won’t main post ofﬁces across the country operate tear. Reasonable alternatives include the a poste restante service and will hold let- 1:1,500,000 maps produced by Nelles and ters for one to three months. Mail should be Bartholomew. addressed: Name (family name underlined For drivers, PN Map Centre’s large-format or capitalized), Poste Restante, GPO, Town atlas Thailand Highway Map is good, and is or City, Thailand. It will be ﬁled by surname, updated regularly; it’s available at most book- though it’s always wise to check under your stores in Thailand where English-language ﬁrst initial as well. The smaller post ofﬁces material is sold. If you can’t get hold of that, pay scant attention to who takes what, but you could go for the relevant 1:300,000 maps in the busier GPOs you need to show your of each province published by PN Map Cen- passport, pay B1 per letter or B2 per parcel tre and sold at better bookshops in Bangkok received, and sign for them. and all over the country; some of the detail on Post ofﬁces are the best places to buy these maps is only in Thai, but they should stamps, though hotels and guest houses have enough English to be useful. Better than often sell them too, charging an extra B1 per both the above are the excellent World Class stamp. An airmail letter of under 10g costs Drives map-booklets, which are handed B17 to send to Europe or Australia and B19 out free to customers of Budget car rental: to North America; standard-sized postcards detailed and almost unfailingly accurate, cost B12, larger ones and aerogrammes these are designed for tourists, but only cover B15, regardless of where they’re going. All certain parts of the country. parcels must be ofﬁcially boxed and sealed (for a small fee) at special counters within Money main post ofﬁces, or in a private outlet just outside. In tourist centres (especially at Thailand’s unit of currency is the baht (abbre- Bangkok’s GPO) be prepared to queue, ﬁrst viated to “B”), divided into 100 satang – which for the packaging, then for the weighing and are rarely seen these days. Notes come in then again for the buying of stamps. The B20, B50, B100, B500 and B1000 denomi- surface rate for parcels to the UK is B950 nations, inscribed with Western as well as for the ﬁrst kg, then B175/kg; to the US Thai numerals, and increasing in size accord- B550 for the ﬁrst kg, then B140/kg; and to ing to value. The coinage is more confusing, Australia B650 for the ﬁrst kg, then B110/kg; because new shapes and sizes circulate the package should reach its destination in alongside older ones, which sometimes have three months. The airmail rate for parcels to only Thai numerals. There are three different the UK is B900 for the ﬁrst kg, then B380/ silver one-baht coins, all legal tender; the kg; to the US B950 for the ﬁrst kg, then smallest of these is the newest version, and B500/kg; and to Australia B750 for the ﬁrst the one accepted by public call-boxes. Silver kg, then B350/kg; the package should reach two-baht pieces are slightly bigger; silver 78 its destination in one or two weeks. ﬁve-baht pieces are bigger again and have a copper rim; ten-baht coins have a small brass centre encircled by a silver ring. At the time of writing, exchange rates the sensationalist tabloid Thai Rath attracts were averaging B40 to US$1, B50 to €1 and the widest readership, and the independent B70 to £1. A good site for current exchange Siam Rath, founded by M.R. Kukrit Pramoj B A S ICS rates is W www.xe.com. Note that Thailand (see p.155), and the broadly similar Matichon has no black market in foreign currency. are the most intellectual. Because of severe currency ﬂuctuations in Alongside these, two daily English- | Travel essentials the late 1990s, some tourist-oriented busi- language papers – the Bangkok Post (Wwww nesses now quote their prices in US dollars, .bangkokpost.com) and the Nation (Wwww particularly luxury hotels and dive centres. .nationmultimedia.com) – are capable of Banking hours are Monday to Friday from adopting a fairly critical attitude to governmen- 8.30am to 3.30 or 4.30pm, but exchange tal goings-on and cover major domestic and kiosks in the main tourist centres are always international stories as well as tourist-related open till at least 5pm, sometimes 10pm, and issues. Of the two, the Bangkok Post tends to upmarket hotels change money 24 hours a focus more on international stories, while the day. The Suvarnabhumi Airport exchange Nation has the most in-depth coverage of Thai counters also operate 24 hours, while and Southeast Asian issues. Both are sold exchange kiosks at overseas airports with at most newsstands in the capital as well as ﬂights to Thailand usually keep Thai currency. in major provincial towns and tourist resorts; Sterling and US dollar traveller’s cheques the more isolated places receive their few are accepted by banks, exchange booths copies at least one day late. Bangkok Metro, and upmarket hotels in every sizeable Thai the capital’s monthly English-language listings town, and most places also deal in a variety magazine, as well as reviews and previews of of other currencies; everyone offers better events in the city, carries lively articles on cul- rates for cheques than for straight cash. tural and contemporary life in Thailand. Generally, a total of B33 in commission and The more traveller-oriented monthly duty is charged per cheque – though kiosks magazine Untamed Travel (formerly Farang) and hotels in isolated places may charge reviews bars, clubs, restaurants and guest extra – so you’ll save money if you deal in houses in Thailand’s most popular dozen larger cheque denominations. tourist destinations and also prints some American Express, Visa and MasterCard interesting features on contemporary South- credit and debit cards are accepted at top east Asian culture; it is sold most widely in hotels as well as in some posh restaurants, Bangkok but is also available in some major department stores, tourist shops and travel tourist centres. agents, but surcharging of up to seven per- You can also pick up foreign publications cent is rife, and theft and forgery are major such as Newsweek, Time and the Interna- industries – always demand the carbon tional Herald Tribune in Bangkok and the copies, and never leave cards in baggage major resorts; from Monday to Friday, the IHT storage. If you have a personal identiﬁcation now carries an English-language supplement number (PIN) for your debit or credit card, devoted to Thailand, Thai Day. English-lan- you can also withdraw cash from hundreds guage bookstores such as Bookazine and of 24-hour ATMs around the country. Almost some expensive hotels carry air-freighted cop- every town now has at least one bank with ies of foreign national newspapers for at least an ATM that accepts Visa/Plus cards and B50 a copy. The weekly current affairs maga- MasterCard/Cirrus cards, and there are a zine Far Eastern Economic Review is also growing number of stand-alone ATMs in worth looking out for; available in major book- supermarkets. For an up-to-the-minute list shops and at newsstands in tourist centres, of ATM locations in Thailand, check Wwww it generally offers a very readable selection of .mastercard.com and W www.visa.com. articles on Thailand and the rest of Asia. Newspapers and magazines Opening hours and public holidays Of the hundreds of Thai-language newspa- Most shops open at least Monday to 79 pers and magazines published every week, Saturday from about 8am to 8pm, while Dec 5 King’s birthday: also celebrated as national department stores operate daily from Fathers’ Day. around 10am to 9pm. Private ofﬁce hours Dec 10 Constitution Day B A S ICS are generally Monday to Friday 8am to Dec 31 Western New Year’s Eve 5pm and Saturday 8am to noon, though in tourist areas these hours are longer, Phones with weekends worked like any other day. | Travel essentials Government ofﬁces work Monday to Friday Local calls within Thailand are very cheap 8.30am to noon and 1 to 4.30pm, and (as little as B1 for 3min from a coin pay- national museums tend to stick to these phone), but inter-provincial rates can be as hours too, but some close on Mondays and high as B12/minute. To save ﬁddling around Tuesdays rather than at weekends. with coins, which will soon be gobbled up Many tourists only register national holi- on a long-distance call, you may well be bet- days because trains and buses suddenly get ter off buying a domestic TOT phonecard extraordinarily crowded: although banks and for B100; this comes with a PIN number, government ofﬁces shut on these days, most is available from hotels and a wide variety shops and tourist-oriented businesses carry of shops, and can be used in designated on regardless, and TAT branches continue orange or green cardphones or in stainless to dispense information. The only time an steel payphones. In some provincial towns, inconvenient number of shops, restaurants enterprising mobile-phone owners hang and hotels do close is during Chinese New out on the main streets, often with a simple Year, which, though not marked as an ofﬁ- fold-out table and makeshift cardboard sign, cial national holiday, brings many businesses offering cheap long-distance, and sometimes to a standstill for several days in late Janu- international, calls. ary or February. You’ll notice it particularly in When dialling any number in Thailand, the south, where most service industries are you must now always preface it with what Chinese-managed. used to be the area code, even when dial- Thais use both the Western Gregorian cal- ling from the same area; in this book we’ve endar and a Buddhist calendar – the Bud- separated off this code, for easy recognition dha is said to have died (or entered Nirvana) (you’ll still come across plenty of business in the year 543 BC, so Thai dates start from cards and brochures which give only the old that point: thus 2007 AD becomes 2550 BE local number, to which you’ll need to add (Buddhist Era). the area code). Where we’ve given several line numbers – eg T02 431 1802–9 – you National holidays can substitute the last digit, 2, with any digit Jan 1 Western New Year’s Day between 3 and 9. For directory enquiries Feb (day of full moon) Maha Puja: within Thailand, call T1133. commemorates the Buddha preaching to a All mobile phone numbers in Thailand have spontaneously assembled crowd of 1250. recently been changed from nine to ten dig- April 6 Chakri Day: the founding of the Chakri its, by adding the lucky number “8” after the dynasty. initial zero (again you’re likely to come across April (usually 13–15) Songkhran: Thai New Year. cards and brochures giving the old number). May 1 National Labour Day Note also, however, that Thais tend to May 5 Coronation Day change mobile-phone providers – and there- May (early in the month) Royal Ploughing Ceremony: marks start of rice-planting season. fore numbers – comparatively frequently, in May (day of full moon) Visakha Puja: the holiest search of a better deal. of all Buddhist holidays, which celebrates the birth, One ﬁnal local idiosyncrasy: Thai phone enlightenment and death of the Buddha. books list people by their ﬁrst name, not their July (day of full moon) Khao Pansa: the start family name. of the annual three-month Buddhist rains retreat, when new monks are ordained. Mobile phones 80 Aug 12 Queen’s birthday An increasing number of tourists are taking Oct 23 Chulalongkorn Day: the anniversary of their mobile phones to Thailand. Visitors Rama V’s death. from the US may well need to have a dual- and to New Zealand B22/minute. For most or tri-band phone, but GSM 900Hz and other countries, there are three time periods 1800Hz, the systems most commonly found with different rates: the most expensive, or B A S ICS in other parts of the world, are both available standard, time to call is from 7am to 9pm in Thailand. Most foreign networks have links (economy rate applies on Sundays); the with Thai networks, but it’s worth checking economy period runs from 9pm to midnight | Travel essentials with your phone provider before you travel; and 5am to 7am; the reduced rate applies it’s also worth checking how much coverage between midnight and 5am. The per-minute there is for your network within Thailand. For rate for a direct-dial call to Ireland is B30 a full list of network types and providers in standard, B24 economy and B24 reduced, Thailand, along with coverage maps and to South Africa B45/B36/B32. roaming partners, go to Wwww.gsmworld You can use these government rates .com/roaming. by buying a Thaicard, the international If you want to use your mobile a lot in phonecard issued by CAT (Communica- Thailand, it may well be worth getting hold tions Authority of Thailand). Available in of a rechargeable Thai SIM card with a B100–3000 denominations at post ofﬁces local phone number. An AIS 1-2-Call card and many shops, Thaicards can be used in (W www.ais.co.th) will give you the widest designated purple cardphones – if you can’t coverage in Thailand, and top-up cards are happen to ﬁnd one, head for the nearest available at 7-11 stores across the country. government telephone centre, which is usu- Their call rates aren’t the cheapest, however, ally located within or adjacent to a town’s at B5 for the ﬁrst minute, then B2 per minute main post ofﬁce. within Thailand; international calls can cost There’s also a private international card- as much as around B30 per minute, but you phone system called Lenso, which operates can get far cheaper rates (B7/min to the UK, in Bangkok and the biggest resorts. To use for example) by using voice-over-internet Lenso’s yellow phones, you either need a protocol (VOIP; see below), preﬁxing the special Lenso phonecard (available from relevant country code with T009; texts cost shops near the phones in B200, B300 and B2 domestic, around B9 international. B500 denominations), or you can use a Your own network operator may be able to credit card. Rates, however, are ten percent give you useful advice about exchanging SIM higher than government IDD rates. cards before you leave home, but the best You can take advantage of the cheaper place in Thailand to buy a card and have rates of 009 calls by buying one of CAT’s any necessary technical adjustments made Phone Net cards, which come in denomina- is the Mah Boon Krong Centre in Bangkok tions of B300 and B500. They’re available (see p.178); an AIS 1-2-Call SIM card, for from the same outlets as Thaicards (see example, will cost you around B220, includ- above) and can be used in the same card- ing your ﬁrst B50 worth of calls. Because of phones. Whatever time of day it is, tariffs heightened security fears, you’ll need to take are B5/minute to North America, B6/minute your passport along and ﬁll in a simple reg- to Australia, South Africa and the UK, B14/ istration form when you buy a rechargeable minute to New Zealand and B24/minute to Thai SIM card. Ireland. Many private international call ofﬁces (where your call is timed and you pay at International calls the end) in tourist areas such as Bangkok’s There are two basic ways of making inter- Thanon Khao San now use VOIP to access national calls from Thailand: by international these rates – plus a service charge to the direct-dialling (IDD), preﬁxing the relevant customer, of course. country code with T 001; and far more cheaply, by voice over internet protocol International dialling codes (VOIP), preﬁxing the relevant country code Calling from abroad, the international coun- with T 009. try code for Thailand is T66, after which 81 001 calls to North America cost B9/ you leave off the initial zero of the Thai minute, to Australia or the UK B18/minute number. Calling from Thailand, for Burma, Cambo- Tampons dia, Laos or Malaysia dial T 007 then the subscriber number, or for cheap-rate calls to Few Thai women use tampons, which are B A S ICS Malaysia T 002 then the subscriber number. not widely available, except from branches For anywhere else, dial T001 or T 009 (see of Boots in Bangkok and the resorts, and p.80) and then the relevant country code: from a few tourist-oriented minimarkets in | Travel essentials Australia T61 the biggest resorts. Canada T1 Ireland T353 Television New Zealand T 64 South Africa T 27 There are ﬁve government-controlled TV UK T 44 channels in Thailand: channels 3, 5, 7 and US T 1 9 transmit a blend of news, documenta- For international directory enquiries and ries, soaps, talk and quiz shows, while the operator services, call T 100. more serious-minded 11 is a public-service channel, owned and operated by the gov- Photography ernment’s public relations department. ITV is the only supposedly independent channel, Most towns and all resorts have at least owned and operated by Shin Corp, a com- one camera shop where you will be able munications conglomerate that was founded to download digital pictures on to a CD for by Thaksin Shinawatra, but was recently B100–150 per CD. They all have card read- sold, under controversial circumstances, to ers so there’s no need to bring cables. In Temasek Holdings of Singapore; what effect, tourist centres many Internet cafés also offer if any, this will have on editorial policy is CD-burning services, though if you want to unclear. Cable networks – available in many email your pictures bringing your own cable mid-range and most upmarket hotel rooms will make life easier. For expert advice on – carry channels from all around the world, digital image storage while travelling see including CNN from the US, BBC World W adrianwarren.com. from the UK, ABC from Australia, English- language movie channels, MTV and various Radio sports and documentary channels. Both the Bangkok Post and the Nation print the daily Thailand boasts over ﬁve hundred radio sta- TV and cable schedule. tions, mostly music-oriented, ranging from Virgin Radio’s Eazy (105.5 FM), which serves Time up Western pop, to Fat Radio, which plays Thai Indie sounds (104.5 FM). At the oppo- Bangkok is seven hours ahead of GMT, site end of the taste spectrum, Chulalong- twelve hours ahead of US Eastern Stand- korn University Radio (101.5 FM) plays clas- ard Time and three hours behind Australian sical music from 9.30pm to midnight every Eastern Standard Time. night. Meanwhile, the government-controlled Radio Thailand broadcasts news in English Tourist information on 95.5 FM and 105 FM every day at 7am, noon and 7pm. The Tourism Authority of Thailand, or With a shortwave radio – or by going online TAT (W www.tourismthailand.org) maintains – you can pick up the BBC World Service ofﬁces in several cities abroad and has 24 (Wwww.bbcworldservice.com), Radio Aus- branches within Thailand (all open daily tralia (Wwww.abc.net.au/ra), Voice of America 8.30am–4.30pm, though a few close noon– (Wwww.voa.gov), Radio Canada (Wwww. 1pm for lunch). Regional ofﬁces should have rcinet.ca) and other international stations up-to-date information on local festival dates right across Thailand. Times and wavelengths and transport schedules, but none of them change often, so get hold of a recent schedule offers accommodation booking, and service 82 just before you travel or consult the websites can be variable. You can contact the TAT for frequency and programme guides. tourist assistance phoneline from anywhere in the country for free on T1672 (daily travellers with disabilities ﬁnd Thais only too 8am–8pm). In Bangkok, TAT plays sec- happy to offer assistance where they can. ond ﬁddle to the Bangkok Tourist Bureau, Hiring a local tour guide to accompany you B A S ICS details of which can be found on p.97. In on a day’s sightseeing is particularly recom- some smaller towns that don’t qualify for a mended: government tour guides can be local TAT ofﬁce, the information gap is ﬁlled arranged through any TAT ofﬁce. | Travel essentials by a municipal tourist assistance ofﬁce, Most wheelchair-users end up driving on though at some of these you may ﬁnd it hard the roads because it’s too hard to negoti- to locate a ﬂuent English speaker. ate the uneven pavements, which are high to allow for ﬂooding and invariably lack TAT ofﬁces abroad dropped kerbs. Crossing the road can be Australia and New Zealand Level 2, 75 Pitt St, a trial, particularly in Bangkok and other big Sydney, NSW 2000 T02/9247 7549, W www. cities, where it’s usually a question of climb- thailand.net.au. ing steps up to a bridge rather than taking South Africa Contact the UK ofﬁce. a ramped underpass. Few buses and trains UK and Ireland 3rd Floor, Brook House, 98–99 have ramps but in Bangkok some Skytrain Jermyn St, London SW1Y 6EE T 020/7925 2511, stations and all subway stations have lifts. recorded information on T 0870/900 2007, Several tour companies in Thailand spe- W www.thaismile.co.uk. cialize in organizing trips featuring adapted US and Canada 61 Broadway, Suite 2810, New facilities, accessible transport and escorts. York, NY 10006 T 212/432-0433, Einfo@tatny. The Pattaya-based Adventure Holidays com; 611 North Larchmont Blvd, 1st Floor, Los Thailand (T038 233502, Wwww.adventure- Angeles, CA 90004 T 323/461-9814, Etatla@ holidays-thailand.com) has a reputation for ix.netcom.com. its can-do attitude to travel for disabled and physically challenged people and its tailor- Tipping made tours of Thailand can be designed to It is usual to tip hotel bellboys and porters include elephant-riding and rafting as well as B20, and to round up taxi fares to the near- more traditional sightseeing. The Bangkok- est B10. Most guides, drivers, masseurs, based Help and Care Travel Company (T02 waiters and maids also depend on tips, and 720 5395, Wwww.wheelchairtours.com), although some upmarket hotels and res- which designs accessible holidays in Thai- taurants will add an automatic ten percent land for slow walkers and wheelchair users, service charge to your bill, this is not always can provide transport and escort services; shared out. its website carries a (short) list of wheel- chair-accessible hotels in the main tourist Travellers with disabilities centres. Mermaid’s Dive Centre in Pattaya (T 038 232219, Wwww.learn-in-asia.com/ Thailand makes few provisions for its disa- handicapped_diving.htm; see p.209) runs bled citizens and this obviously affects trav- International Association of Handicapped ellers with disabilities, but taxis, comfort- Divers programmes for disabled divers and able hotels and personal tour guides are all instructors. more affordable than in the West and most 83 1 BANGKOK Bangkok | 87 CH APTER 1 Highlights BANGKOK Q The Grand Palace The Q The canals of Thonburi country’s least missable See the Bangkok of yes- sight, incorporating its teryear on a touristy but | Highlights holiest and most dazzling memorable longtail boat temple, Wat Phra Kaeo. ride. See p.145 See p.125 Q Jim Thompson’s House Q Wat Pho Admire the An elegant Thai design Reclining Buddha and the classic. See p.152 lavish architecture, and Q Chatuchak Weekend leave time for a relaxing Market Eight thousand massage. See p.130 stalls selling everything Q The National Museum from triangular pillows to The central repository second-hand Levis. of the country’s artistic See p.159 riches. See p.134 Q Thai boxing Nightly Q Chinatown Kilometre- bouts at the national long alleyway markets, stadia, complete with live and the world’s largest musical accompaniment solid-gold Buddha. and frenetic betting. See p.139 See p.177 88 Ramayana mural, Wat Phra Kaeo, the Grand Palace 1 BANGKOK Bangkok | he headlong pace and flawed modernity of Bangkok match few people’s T visions of the capital of exotic Siam. Spiked with scores of high-rise buildings of concrete and glass, it’s a vast flatness that holds a popu- lation of at least nine million, and feels even bigger. But under the shadow of the skyscrapers you’ll find a heady mix of chaos and refinement, of frenetic markets and hushed golden temples, of dispiriting, zombie-like sex shows and early-morning alms-giving ceremonies. One way or another, the place will probably get under your skin – and if you don’t enjoy the chal- lenge of slogging through jams of buses and tuk-tuks, which fill the air with a chainsaw drone and clouds of pollution, you can spend a couple of days on the most impressive temples and museums, have a quick shopping spree and then strike out for the provinces. Most budget travellers head for the Banglamphu district, where if you’re not careful you could end up watching DVDs all day long and selling your shoes when you run out of money. The district is far from having a monopoly on Bangkok accommodation, but it does have the advantage of being just a short walk from the major sights in the Ratanakosin area: the dazzling osten- tation of the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaeo, lively and grandiose Wat Pho and the National Museum’s hoard of exquisite works of art. Once those cultural essentials have been seen, you can choose from a whole bevy of lesser sights, including Wat Benjamabophit (the “Marble Temple”), especially at festival time, and Jim Thompson’s House, a small, personal museum of Thai design. For livelier scenes, explore the dark alleys of Chinatown’s bazaars or head for the water: the great Chao Phraya River, which breaks up and adds zest to the city’s landscape, is the backbone of a network of canals that remains fundamen- tally intact in the west-bank Thonburi district. Inevitably the waterways have earned Bangkok the title of “Venice of the East”, a tag that seems all too apt when you’re wading through ﬂooded streets in the rainy season; indeed, the city is year by year subsiding into the marshy ground, literally sinking under the weight of its burgeoning concrete towers. Shopping on dry land varies from touristic outlets pushing silks, handicrafts and counterfeit watches, through home-grown boutiques selling street-wise fashions and stunning contemporary decor, to thronging local markets where half the fun is watching the crowds. Similarly, the city offers the country’s most varied entertainment, ranging from traditional dancing and the orchestrated bedlam of Thai boxing, through hip bars and clubs playing the latest imported sounds, to the 89 farang-only sex bars of the notorious Patpong district, a tinseltown Babylon that’s the tip of a dangerous iceberg. City of angels When Rama I was crowned in 1782, he gave his new capital a grand 43-syllable name to match his ambitious plans for the building of the city. Since then, 21 more syllables have been added. Krungthepmahanakhornbowornrattanakosinmahintar ayutthayamahadilokpopnopparatratchathaniburiromudomratchaniwetmahasathan- amornpimanavatarnsathitsakkathattiyavisnukarprasit is certiﬁed by the Guinness BANGKOK Book of Records as the longest place name in the world, roughly translating as “Great city of angels, the supreme repository of divine jewels, the great land unconquerable, the grand and prominent realm, the royal and delightful capital city full of nine noble gems, the highest royal dwelling and grand palace, the divine shelter and living place of the reincarnated spirits”. Fortunately, all Thais refer to the city simply as Krung Thep, | “City of Angels”, though plenty can recite the full name at the drop of a hat. Bangkok – “Village of the Plum Olive” – was the name of the original village on the Thonburi side; with remarkable persistence, it has remained in use by foreigners since the time of the French garrison. 90 Arrival, information, transport and accommodation BANGKOK Finding a place to stay in Bangkok is usually no problem: the city has a huge range of accommodation, from the murkiest backstreet bunk to the plushest ﬁve-star riverside suite, and you don’t have to spend a lot to get a comfortable | Arrival place. Getting to your guest house or hotel, however, is unlikely to put you in a good mood, for there can be few cities in the world where transport is such a headache. Bumper-to-bumper vehicles create fumes so bad that some days the city’s carbon monoxide emissions come close to the international danger level, and it’s not unusual for residents to spend three hours getting to work – and these are people who know where they’re going. However, the recent openings of the subway system and the elevated train network called the Bangkok Transit System, or BTS Skytrain, have radically improved public transport in downtown areas of the city. Unfortunately for tourists, these systems do not stretch as far as Ratana- kosin or Banglamphu, where boats still provide the fastest means of hopping from one sight to another. Arriving in Bangkok Unless you arrive in Bangkok by train, be prepared for a long slog into the centre. Both the old airport at Don Muang and its brand-new replacement, Suvarnabhumi Airport, are a slow 25km from the city centre. Even if you arrive by coach, you’ll still have a lot of work to do to get into the centre. By air: Suvarnabhumi Airport At the time of going to press, the new Suvarnabhumi Airport (pro- nounced “soo-wanna-poom”; W www.suvarnabhumiairport.com, or go to W www.2bangkok.com or W www.bangkokairportonline.com for the latest news) had just opened, 25km east of central Bangkok off the main Bang Na–Trat highway towards Chonburi, at inauspiciously named Nong Ngu Hao (mean- ing “cobra swamp”). It is slated to handle all scheduled ﬂights (international and domestic), while the old Don Muang Airport may continue handling charter airlines. Suvarnabhumi is the largest airport in Southeast Asia, capable of handling 76 ﬂights an hour; it’s also said to have the world’s largest single terminal building, which serves passengers on both international and domestic ﬂights, as well as the tallest control tower. Facilities at Suvarnabhumi include tourist information and accommodation- booking desks in the Arrivals hall, plenty of cafés and restaurants (on Level 6), two 24-hour clinics, a spa and an airport hotel. Left-luggage storage is located between the international and domestic arrivals areas and charges B100 per 24hr; it’s open 24 hours. However, some of Suvarnabhumi’s facilities and transport connections are still a work in progress so some of the following transport information may 91 change; check with the information desks at the airport for latest details.