Thailand holiday highlights

One of the most diverse destinations in Asia, Thailand is a vibrant tapestry of culture, wildlife and awe-inspiring landscapes. Walk through temples home to larger-than-life Buddha statues, and then drink in the views of Bangkok’s clamorous streets from a slick rooftop bar, or people-watch from a lively spot on vibrant Khao San Road. As you venture up north it’s a different realm altogether, where the cuisine takes on a more earthy flavour and lush mountainous vistas replace sea and skyscrapers. In the northern capital, Chiang Mai, you can immerse yourself in the hum of its night market or learn about the lives of local hill tribes.

Combining a mainland stay with Thailand’s beautiful beaches is easy with regular domestic flights – and even the more remote islands are worth the journey as you transfer to your hotel via traditional long-tail boat. On Thailand’s gold and white-sand beaches, you can take it easy with a cocktail in hand or a massage in a beachfront sala, or head out into the emerald waters for day trips that wash you ashore idyllic islands or to protected marine parks for snorkelling and diving.

And then there’s the food. Cheap and delicious bites from street vendors, aromatic spices freshly ground with a pestle and mortar in a city cooking class or exquisite morsels at a fine dining restaurant; dining is a treat for all foodies.

Where is Thailand?
Between the Indian and Pacific oceans, Thailand’s mainland is nestled in-between Myanmar (Burma) and Laos in the north as well as bordering Cambodia and Malaysia in the south. It’s home to over 1400 islands which are found around its coast in the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand.

Getting around
Taxis are the most convenient mode of transport for most journeys, and local metered taxis are often much cheaper than hotel taxis – just make sure the meter is running or to agree on a price beforehand. Thailand’s famous tuk-tuks are a thrilling and unmissable way to get around most cities and resorts. For multi-centre holidays, domestic flights are the easiest and best value way to combine the Northern, Southern and Central Thailand, with some larger islands reachable by air too. For more remote islands, a traditional long-tail boat is a serene way to transfer to your hotel while speedboats are often available too.

Shopping
A Thai market is an essential experience in Thailand; you can buy beautiful silks, teak-carved handicrafts and flower-carved soaps among the plentiful display of souvenir-worthy trinkets. With the exception of department stores where prices are usually fixed, almost everything is haggled for in Thailand, and many stalls will sell the same items so it can be worth looking around before you buy.

Diving & snorkelling
Thailand has some excellent snorkelling and diving spots. Sea temperatures are warm year-round and visibility can reach over 30 metres during peak season between November and April. Divers can hope to see manta rays, whale sharks, leopard sharks, hawksbill turtles and plenty of tropical fish. The Surin and Similan Islands are some of Thailand’s best dive and snorkelling sites. Both are found off the south-west coast and can be reached by around 1½-hour’s land and speedboat transfer from Khao Lak. Both parks are open between 15 October and 15 May. There’s also snorkelling and diving on the eastern coast in the Gulf of Thailand, where Koh Tao and Koh Phi Phi are popular options.

Food & drink
The Thai philosophy is 'eat when you’re hungry', and it’s a great excuse when you’re in a country with world-famous cuisine. Familiar favourites definitely worth a try from its home include pad Thai (fried rice noodles), fragrant and spicy tom yum soup and of course, Thailand’s multiple variations of curry like massaman and penang. And it’s a rite of passage to taste one of the cheap and cheerful morsels from Thailand’s street stalls. Thai food can be very spicy, but instead of gulping down water, eat a few mouthfuls of plain boiled rice to ease the heat. Hotel and resort restaurants will usually cater to western palates; it might be worth asking how spicy a dish is beforehand or specifying how spicy you like it.

As well as chilli, typical Thai ingredients include lemongrass, coconut milk, garlic, ginger and mint. A caramel-coloured fish sauce called nam pla is used in many dishes, and the notorious durian fruit is a definite marmite food. Encased in a spiked outer shell, the creamy yellow fruit can be instantly recognised by its pungent aroma; it’s so strong-smelling that many hotels won’t allow guests to bring it inside. Other exotic fruit includes longan, lychee, rambutan and mango, which is famously eaten which sticky rice and coconut cream as a sweet dessert.

Cuisine noticeably varies by region, and travellers can expect more seafood and curries in the south while Northern Thailand serves up less spicy food with sticky rice. A kantok dinner, based on traditional Lanna banquets, is where you'll try authentic dishes served on a low table and accompanied by classic dance performances. As a rule, it’s safest to stick with bottled water.

Thailand key facts

Time difference

GMT +7 hours

Capital

Bangkok

Currency

Thai Baht

Flying time to destination

Varies between 11½ and 13 hours depending on the airport.

Population

65,493,296

Language

Thai. English is widely spoken at beach resorts.

Passport & 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. 

Getting around

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

Getting there

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

Thailand good to know

Etiquette

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.

Health and vaccinations

No vaccinations are compulsory but some are recommended. For more detailed and up-to-date information, contact your GP or a specialised vaccination centre.

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%.

What to wear

•   Dress neatly in all religious shrines - never go shirtless or in shorts, hot pants or other scanty attire.
•   Take off your shoes when entering private Thai homes, chapels that house Buddhist images, and mosques.

Weddings

A kaleidoscope of glistening temples, incredible beaches, energetic cities and tranquil villages, Thailand is enthralling and seductive and will captivate you for years after your first visit. Spend a couple of days enjoying the excitement of Bangkok as you complete the legal paperwork, then travel to your hotel to relax and prepare for your wedding celebration.

You can choose an extraordinary Buddhist-style ceremony involving chanting monks, blessings and the lighting of candles, or a western ceremony where you can exchange vows and rings in a stunning setting. Most ceremonies take place in the grounds of your hotel, in the gardens or on the beach.