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9 Useful Things that first time visitors to Thailand should know…
Thailand is a beautiful, exotic location with friendly natives and a colourful, captivating culture. It can, however, be a bit daunting for the first time visitor to the country. The following information is useful for any first time visitor to Thailand.
Mosquitoes in Thailand can be quite ferocious and can carry mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria, dengue fever, and Japanese Encephalitis. Japanese Encephalitis is rare but there is a risk and vaccination should be considered if you are heading for rural areas, especially for prolonged periods of time; likewise, anti-malarial medication should be considered if you intend spending time near the Cambodian border or the Myanmar (Burmese) border; there is also a risk of dengue fever in most areas of Thailand.
Generally, mosquitoes are most active at sunrise and sunset but different species are active at different times of the day (Aedes Aegypti, the mosquito responsible for transmitting the dengue virus to humans is active throughout the day). Mosquito repellent is your first line of defence against all species of mosquito; covering up exposed skin with light clothing is another way to avoid getting bitten. Unless you are travelling to a known malarial area it is best to NOT take anti-malarial medication as the side effects can be quite unpleasant for some people.
Rest assured, most mosquito bites that you get in Thailand will result in nothing more than itchy red blotches on your skin, bite prevention, however, and being ‘mozzy-aware’, is considered good practise wherever you are in Thailand.
Note: There have been reports of the ZIKA virus in Thailand in 2016. Pregnant women are advised to postpone non-essential travel to all countries with active ZIKA transmission until after pregnancy.
2. Street Food
Street food in Thailand is cheap, fast, and delicious. From the frenetic streets of Bangkok to the tranquil islands in the south, food stalls and food carts entice hungry locals with a vast array of exotic fare. Eating for Thai people is a national pastime and popular street food includes deep-fried insects such as crickets, silk worms, water beetles, scorpions, and ants. For the less adventurous palate, mobile street-food vendors also serve up many delicious meals and snacks ranging from char-grilled seafood and spicy noodles and barbequed chicken and pork to fresh tropical fruit and oriental desserts. Street food is generally regarded as safe for foreigners (farangs) to consume and is a good way to eat out and save money.
3. Thai Customs & Culture
A few Thai customs to remember are as follows:
- Don’t touch the head of a Thai adult or ruffle their hair. The head is the highest part of the body and is regarded as being sacred. It is normally okay to touch the head of a child.
- Thais greet one another with a ‘Wai’ – palms pressed together in a prayer-like gesture, bowing slightly. There are different variations of how to ‘Wai’ depending on who the recipient is ie: monk, teacher, King etc., but the common ‘Wai’ (as described above) is suffice for farangs and most Thais are very honoured when Westerners return the polite gesture; the wai of a small child is best returned by a big smile.
- Thais regard the feet as unclean, don’t point them at others or step over those seated or lying on the floor. Always remove your shoes before entering a Thai home or temple.
- Lèse majesté laws in Thailand make it illegal to insult or threaten the king, queen, heir-apparent or regent. Do NOT insult the Thai monarchy in any way when visiting Thailand or you may find yourself in big trouble.
Section 112 of Thai Criminal Code currently reads as follows: ‘Whoever defames, insults or threatens the King, the Queen, the Heir-apparent or the Regent, shall be punished with imprisonment of three to fifteen years.’
Following the death of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej there is now an official period of mourning of one year from 14 October 2016. You should respect the feelings and sensitivities of the Thai people at this time – foreign embassies in Thailand are advising their citizens to wear dark-coloured and respectful clothing when in public areas.
Tourism is a major industry in Thailand and the country is regarded throughout the world as being a safe destination for tourists; however, like many destinations around the world crime in Thailand is present and tourists in Thailand are sometimes victims of crime. For more on scams and crime in Thailand, see my blogpost here
5. The Sex Industry in Thailand
Prostitution has existed in Thai society for centuries but it is only over the past few decades that the sex industry in Thailand has gained its notoriety. Prostitution was legalized in 1934 by King Rama V but in 1960 The Thai government outlawed the practise after pressure from the United Nations. Nothing much changed as a result of this new law and in 1964 an influx of U.S. Military personel flooded the bars and brothels of Thailand whilst on R & R breaks from the Vietnam War; by the time the war ended, sex-industry establishments had expanded across the country.
Today, all over Thailand – most notably in the Sukhumvit area of Bangkok, the coastal resort of Pattaya, Chiang Mai in the north, and Phuket in the south – it is common to see western tourists (sex-pats) walking hand in hand with their temporary Thai ‘girlfriends’. Prostitution in Thailand is still ‘ILLEGAL’ but – as can be seen in places like Pattaya – the laws are rarely enforced.
Engaging in the sex industry in Thailand can not only be detrimental to your health (by contracting sexually transmitted diseases) but also to your wealth (fleeced by hardened sex workers or ruthless sex industry establishments).
There is also the question of morality and the exploitation issues which arise in contributing to the growing problems prostitution creates.
6. Drugs in Thailand
Drug laws in Thailand are severe. Possession of even very small quantities of drugs in Thailand can lead to imprisonment. If you are arrested and found guilty of being in possession of cannabis then you could receive a long prison sentence and/or a heavy fine. If you are found guilty of being in possession of Class A drugs then you risk receiving the death penalty. Methamphetamines – Ice (Ya-ice) and Ya-baa are Class A drugs and possession or trafficking carries the same penalty as other Class A drugs such as heroin. For more on drugs in Thailand, see my blogpost here
Accommodation in Thailand ranges from inner-city, cockroach infested hovels to luxury condominiums and idyllic beach-side villas. An average price for a decent hotel throughout Thailand will set you back between 500 & 1000 Baht (depending on the season). If staying put in one place for extended periods, then renting an apartment or long-term room will save you lots of money. Below you can check out Agoda for accommodation in Thailand – one of Asia’s biggest accommodation booking sites
Northeastern Thailand – referred to as Isaan by its inhabitants, is the poorest region of Thailand. Once an important part of the mighty Khmer Empire (of Cambodia), the entire Isaan region is rich with ancient Khmer shrines and temples. Not surprisingly, the twenty million plus Isaan people who inhabit the northeastern Region (and who comprise one-third of the nation’s total population), are mostly descended from Khmer, Mon, and Laotian stock.
Considering their historical background, Isaan people have a culture and dialect more closely tied to Cambodia and Laos than to Thailand, and this is no more evident than in the ancient traditions and customs still practised in fairs and festivals throughout the northeast.
Prasat Phanom Rung in Buriram province is the largest and best restored of all Khmer monuments in Thailand and is still considered as being somewhat off-the-beaten-track. Isaan also has a specific regional cuisine which is quite distinct from central Thai food. The northeast of Thailand is a fascinating place that offers anyone looking for a unique insight into the ‘REAL’ Thailand and the many different cultures that make up The Kingdom
9. Travel Insurance
In a ‘nutshell’ – if you travel without travel insurance you are asking for big trouble. Even with an overload of preventative measures in place, accidents can – and will – still happen. Most accidents -thankfully, don’t require hospital visits or expensive helicopter AVACS , but on the occasion that the ‘sh#t does hit the fan’ then you’ll be thanking your lucky stars that you had signed up for some. Whenever I am on the road I use World Nomads. World Nomads are a quality travel Insurance Company that offer a wide range of insurance policies that will cover exactly what you require. You can ask for a quote from World Nomads using the box below.
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9 Useful Things that first time visitors to Thailand should know
Copyright © 2016 Raymond Carroll