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					                              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       (            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 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 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 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
                             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 and Wwww
                                                                      Asia’s best gay and
                             by John Goss, which can be downloaded via
                                                                               lesbian website lists clubs, events, accommodation
                                                                               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
                    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 ( 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 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 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 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
                                                                        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
  Human Development Foundation 100/11 Kae Ha Klong Toey 4, Thanon Damrongrathhaphipat,
  Klong Toey, Bangkok T 02 671 5313, 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. 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, to help revitalize the local
  economy; for more details about this see p.368.
  The Students’ Education Trust (SET) W 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 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, described
  on p.290.
  Tsunami Volunteer Center Khao Lak T089 882 8840, W 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 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
                                                                       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
                                                     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 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- 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 ( 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.
                                                     Left luggage
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 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, and the Nation (Wwww
particularly luxury hotels and dive centres. – 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 and W              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,
                      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
                                                                              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 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
  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                              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
                      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 maintains
                      – you can pick up the BBC World Service          offices in several cities abroad and has 24
                      (, Radio Aus-           branches within Thailand (all open daily
                      tralia (, Voice of America    8.30am–4.30pm, though a few close noon–
                      (, Radio Canada (Wwww.              1pm for lunch). Regional offices should have
             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
                      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-                                  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                            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@
                                         has a reputation for
                                                  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,,
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,
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




               CH APTER 1             Highlights

               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

                                               Ramayana mural, Wat Phra Kaeo, the Grand Palace


        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
  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
           amornpimanavatarnsathitsakkathattiyavisnukarprasit is certified by the Guinness

           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.

Arrival, information, transport
and accommodation

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, or go to
W or W 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
change; check with the information desks at the airport for latest details.

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