Koh Phi Phi

At a glance

  • Explore the waters beyond exquisite beaches
  • Visit the ancient temples of the north
  • Savour the unique flavours of Thai cuisine

Thailand insider review

Population:
65,493,296
Language:

Thai. English is widely spoken at beach resorts.

Passport and Visas:

•   You need a full EU 10-year passport. We recommend that the expiry date is at least six months after your arrival back in the UK.
•   You only need a visa if you’re staying longer than 30 days (29 nights), and you can get one from the Thai Embassy.

Voltage & Electricity:

220 volts AC, 50Hz and two-pin plugs are standard. 

Events & Festivals:

•   April: Songkran traditional New Year celebrations, countrywide.
•   June, September to October: International Festival of Dance & Music, Bangkok.
•   December: His Majesty the Late King's Birthday

Transfers and getting around:

Tuk tuks are the most convenient way of getting around most cities and resorts in Thailand.

Beaches:

Thailand's beach resorts boast idyllic white-sand stretches lapped by clear water.

Sports:

Try a plethora of watersports including diving, snorkelling and kayaking. Your hotel may also offer various land sports.

Eating / Drinking:

Food
•   The Thai philosophy is 'eat when you’re hungry', and street stalls offer spicy, healthy food. Some restaurants cater to tourists, but street food is the real thing.
•   Rice and noodle dishes include kao pad (fried rice with meat chunks) and mee grob (sweet-and-sour crisp-fried rice noodles with shrimp, pork, beansprouts and egg).
•   Thai food can be very spicy, but instead of gulping down water, eat a few mouthfuls of plain boiled rice to ease the heat.
•   Apart from chilli, typical Thai ingredients include lemongrass, coconut milk, garlic, ginger and mint. Instead of salt, a caramel-coloured fish sauce called nam pla is used.
•   Chiang Mai's cuisine is less spicy than central Thailand's, and features sticky rice.
•   Curries are common in the south.
•   In Bangkok, food is more varied and better quality, and some restaurants specialise in foreign cuisines.
•   In the north and northeast the staple is khao niaow, a sticky rice imported from Laos. Pick up a clump with your fingers and dip it into dishes.
•   Sign up for a kantok dinner, based on traditional Lan Na banquets, where you'll try authentic dishes accompanied by classical dance and hill tribe performances.
•   Seafood is popular in the south. Try pla preow wan (fried fish in thick sweet-and-sour sauce). Meat dishes include gaeng mud-sa-man (a milder, peanutty beef curry), kao na ga (sliced chicken with spring onion and bamboo shoots) and sa lud neua san (roast beef salad mixed with vegetables, chillies, garlic and sometimes mint).
•   Fruits include longan, lychee, mango, pineapple, rambutan and watermelon. The Thais’ favourite fruit is the smelly durian, which they eat with sticky rice. Apples, pears, melons and strawberries are grown in the cooler north.

Drink
•   Iced water is often served with a meal. It will probably be decent drinking water, but if in doubt ask for bottled water and skip the ice.
•   Thai men sometimes drink whisky with dinner.
•   Wine is extortionate in Thailand, but the local beer is good - and a lot stronger than you might expect.

Shopping:

From amethysts to zircons, antiques to toy zebras, you can shop for anything in Thailand. Stick to local products, and ignore touts as they get commission from shop owners.

Haggling
•   Almost everything is haggled for in Thailand, except in big department stores where prices are fixed.
•   Be relaxed and cheerful, never seeming anxious to close a deal. If the price is too high, don't scowl - just smile or laugh at the ridiculous suggestion.

Silk
•   Thailand's famous silk is long-lasting and well worth buying, from delicate blouses to heavy bedspreads.
•   For a solid bargain you can have silk and other fabrics custom tailored within 24 hours, but it's better to allow several days.

Gems
•   Bangkok claims to be the world’s top gem-cutting centre. Rubies and sapphires are indigenous to Thailand, while jade is imported from Burma.
•   Find a shop displaying the TAT (Tourist Authority of Thailand) emblem.

Antiques
•   Collectors can find pieces from Thailand, Burma, Cambodia, China and Laos at Thieves Market or in smart shops, but you’ll need an official export permit to take them home.
•   Whatever you're told, remember it's forbidden to take any Buddha image out of Thailand - not just an antique one.
•   Beware of Thailand’s dubious reputation as Asia's counterfeit capital. A safer alternative is Thai artwork.

Bronze
•   Bronze-work is a Thai tradition, now used for rust-free tableware as well as lamps, bells, candelabra and statues.
•   Haggle for animal-shaped gold and black lacquerware boxes, or multi-coloured bowls and plates.

Other products
•   Bargain for teak carved salad bowls and picture frames.
•   Pottery products include cooking pots and elegant figurines. For centuries, northern artisans have used special wood to fire the kilns for celadon - porcelain baked to a grey-green glaze.
•   Children will love dolls of Thai dancers, animal figures and kites.

North Thailand is a great place to buy handicrafts, from tribal relics to the latest fashions, thanks to the distinctive fabrics and jewellery of the hill tribes.  
•   Head to Chiang Mai, or get closer to the artisans in smaller towns.
•   The 'umbrella' village of Bo Sang is a wonder of rainbow-coloured, hand-made parasols.
•   San Kamphaeng produces lovely silk.
•   All along the 13km 'Artisans’ Road' from Chiang Mai to San Kamphaeng, you'll find shops selling silverware, lacquerware, wood carvings and silk.

Good to know:

Religion
Theravada Buddhism. Minority religions include Islam, Christianity, Hinduism and Sikhism.

Etiquette
•   Thais revere their royal family, so never express disregard for it.
•   Outward expressions of anger are regarded as crude and boorish.
•   Each Buddha image - large or small, ruined or not - is considered sacred. Never climb onto one to take a photograph or do anything that might show lack of respect.
•   Public displays of affection between couples are frowned upon. Westernised Thai couples may hold hands but that’s as far as it goes in polite society.
•   It is considered rude to point your foot at a person or object.
•   Never pat a Thai on the head – they see it as the highest part of the body, both literally and figuratively.

Tipping:

Tip porters and hotel staff if you’re happy with their service. If a service charge isn’t added to your restaurant bill, tip 10-15%.

Religion:

Buddhism 95%, Muslim 3.8%, Christianity 0.5%, Hinduism 0.1%