- Capital city: Bangkok
- Area: 198,120 sq mi (513,120 km2)
- Population: 68,863,514
- Official language: Thai
- Currency: Thai baht
- Time zone: ICT
- Drive on the: Left
WHERE IN THE WORLD
Situated in Southeast Asia, Thailand’s central location provides easy access to its neighboring countries: Myanmar, Laos, and Cambodia. The southern border runs along the Gulf of Thailand, sharing maritime boundaries with Vietnam, Indonesia, and India.
The Thai landscape is varied. The northern regions feature green hills, while the southern region along the coast is dotted with white sand beaches and beautiful blue water. There are mountain ranges and valleys in the eastern and western parts of the country, and flat farmland in central Thailand.
A BIT OF HISTORY
Thousands of years ago, both indigenous Mon-Khmer and Malay civilizations lived in what is modern-day Thailand. The Khmer ruled over what is now central Thailand, and Thai tribes expanded southward in the period from around 900 to 1400. As the Khmer Empire grew weaker, various city states in Thailand became independent, took more control and consequently fought one another for power. The Kingdom of Ayutthaya was eventually successful, and remained independent for approximately 400 years before falling to the Burmese.
In the mid-1700s, General Taksin liberated the city states from Burmese control and united them to form a country called “Siam.” His successor, General Chakri, was the founding father of the Chakri dynasty that still rules Thailand.
Thailand was known until “Siam” until 1939. During WWII, Thailand was able to remain free of Japanese rule and became an ally of the United States following the war. King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX) resided over the country for 70 years, until his death in 2016. He was the longest reigning head of state in the world.
Of all the countries in Southeast Asia, Thailand is the only one to never have been colonized by a foreign power.
International visitors to Thailand will likely arrive at one of six major airports: Suvarnabhumi International Airport (BKK) or Don Mueang International Airport (DMK) in Bangkok, Chiang Mai International Airport (CNX), Phuket International Airport (HKT), Hat Yai International Airport in Khlong Hoi Khong (HDY), or Mae Fah Luang International Airport in Chiang Rai (CEI).
Traveling within Thailand is possible through several means. Buses are a fast and cheap option, while trains are slower, but safer. There are also many sleeper or overnight trains for long-distance journeys. If you decide to hire a motorcycle taxi for a short distance, be sure to decide on the price before you leave.
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
The best time to visit Thailand is from November to April, after the rainy season ends, but before the temperatures get too high. Temperatures will vary depending on where you’re traveling within Thailand — the northern mountains can have a very different climate than the beaches in the south.
Expect to see (and visit) many Thai temples during your visit. It’s good to know that the Thai word for temple is “Wat,” and all temples will begin with “Wat,” followed by the temple name. Female travelers should be prepared with a shawl or something to throw over your shoulders — Thai society is relatively modest, so dress accordingly in places of worship and city centers.
You’ll be able to find delicious food at restaurants, but don’t discount street vendors either. Though they were once outlawed in Bangkok, the street food scene is alive and thriving. Popular dishes include som tam (papaya salad), khao pad (fried rice), pad thai kung (noodles with shrimp), khao mun gai (steamed chicken on rice), and gai/moo bing (grilled chicken/pork skewers). As always, the stalls where the locals themselves dine will be the best!
At Thai restaurants, tips are not expected. But if you pay in cash and leave your bill (say, 30 baht for a meal that cost 25 baht), that would be acceptable.
The Thai people are known to be extremely friendly, but make sure to remember that you should always be respectful with your feet. It is considered rude to show the underside of your feet, or toss your shoes off. And, whatever your political beliefs, keep your opinions about the Thai monarchy to yourself. There are laws that could lead to jail time if you speak ill of the royal family.
Finally, research ethical animal tourism, pack an extra roll of toilet paper (you won’t find it in some places around the country), and be ready to barter at the markets. And, use the traditional Thai greeting (known as a Wai) whenever you can — press your hands together like in prayer and bow slightly! Locals will appreciate the gesture.
Header image by Laura Bell.