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Thailand , officially the Kingdom of Thailand is a country in Southeast Asia with coasts on the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand. It borders Myanmar (Burma) to the northwest, Laos to the northeast, Cambodia to the southeast, and Malaysia to the south. With great food, a tropical climate, fascinating culture and superb beaches, Thailand is a magnet for travellers the world over.
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The earliest identifiable Thai kingdom was founded in Sukhothai in 1238, reaching its zenith under King Ramkhamhaeng in the 14th century before falling under the control of the kingdom of Ayutthaya, which ruled most of present-day Thailand and much of today's Laos and Cambodia as well, eventually also absorbing the northern kingdom of Lanna. Ayutthaya was sacked in 1767 by the Burmese, but King Taksin regrouped and founded a new capital at Thonburi. His successor, General Chakri, moved across the river to Bangkok and became King Rama I, the founding father of the Chakri dynasty that rules (constitutionally) to this day.
Known as Siam until 1939, Thailand is the only Southeast Asian country never to have been colonised by a foreign power, and the country's inhabitants are fiercely proud of that fact. A bloodless revolution in 1932 led to a constitutional monarchy. During World War II, while Japan conquered the rest of Southeast Asia, only Thailand was not conquered by the Japanese due to smart political moves. Allied with Japan during World War II, Thailand became a US ally following the conflict. After a string of military dictatorships and quickly toppled civilian prime ministers, Thailand finally stabilized into a fair approximation of a democracy and the economy boomed through tourism and industry. Above it all presided King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX), the world's longest-reigning monarch and a deeply loved and respected figure of near-mythic proportions.
In September 2006, a swift and bloodless military coup overthrew populist tycoon Thaksin Shinawatra's democratically-elected but widely criticized government, exposing a fault line between the urban elite that has ruled Thailand traditionally and the rural masses that supported Thaksin. Thaksin went into exile and a series of unstable governments followed, with the successors of Thaksin's Thai Rak Thai party and the royalist-conservative People's Alliance for Democracy duking it out both behind the scenes and, occasionally, out in the streets, culminating in Bangkok's airports being seized and shut down for a week in Nov 2008. As of 2009, things have quieted down, but the political scene remains in flux and the direction of the country when the ailing king passes away is a question mark.
Thailand is largely tropical. It's hot and humid all year around with temperatures in the 28-35°C range (82-95°F), a degree of relief provided only in the mountains in the far north of Thailand. The careful observer will, however, note three seasons:
- Cool: From Nov to the end of Feb, it doesn't rain much and temperatures are at their lowest, although you will barely notice the difference in the south and will only need to pack a sweater if hiking in the northern mountains, where temperatures can fall as low as 5°C. This is the most popular time to visit and, especially around Christmas and New Year's or at Chinese New Year a few weeks later, finding flights and accommodation can be expensive and difficult.
- Hot: From Mar-Jun, Thailand swelters in temperatures as high as 40°C (104°F). Pleasant enough when sitting on the beach with a drink in hand, but not the best time of year to go temple-tramping in Bangkok.
- Rainy: From Jul-Oct, although it only really gets underway in Sep, tropical monsoons hit most of the country. This doesn't mean it rains non-stop, but when it does it pours and flooding is not uncommon.
There are local variations to these general patterns. In particular, the southeast coast of Thailand (including Ko Samui) has the rains reversed, with the peak season being May-Oct and the rainy off-season in Nov-Feb.
Golf arrived in Thailand during the reign of King Rama V one hundred years ago. It was first played by nobles and other high society elites, but since then, things have certainly changed. Over the past decade or so, the popularity of golf in Thailand has escalated; it is now popular with Thais and visiting tourists and expatriates.
Catering to the needs of an average of 400,000 foreign golfers coming to Thailand annually, golf in Thailand has turned into a huge local industry with new courses constantly being churned out. Golf alone annually brings 8 billion baht into the local economy. Thailand offers over two hundred courses with high standards. Internationally renowned courses can be found in tourist-spots like Bangkok, Pattaya, and Phuket.
There is an abundance of reasons why golf in Thailand has become so popular. First, if you compare the cost to most golfing countries in the world, membership and course fees are exceptionally low. The general low cost of travel in Thailand itself makes the country ideal for cost-efficiency minded tourists. Also, many of the golf courses in Thailand have been designed by top names in the game such as Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo and Greg Norman.
- Thailand Golf Courses Association, 96 Moo 3, Viphavadi-Rangsit Rd, Bangkok, ☎ +66 2 6625234.
Thailand's a big enough country, the size of Spain, that you can find a place to practice almost any outdoor sport. Ko Tao is becoming one of Asia's great scuba diving centres, with Ang Thong National Marine Park near Ko Samui and the Similan Islands off Khao Lak also drawing crowds. One of the newest hot spots for diving is Ko Lipe, a small island that is relatively unspoiled with great reefs and stunning beaches. Snorkelling can be done at pretty much every beach, but the coral reefs of the Similan Islands stand out as particularly worthwhile.
While Thailand does not match surf paradises like Bali, surfing does have its place. The waves are generally small, good for longboarding and those wanting to learn to surf. Khao Lak and Phuket's west coast beaches are among the better ones, but the best waves are to be found at the relatively unknown Ko Kradang on the west coast of Trang Province. Other surf-spots include Rayong and Ko Samui, but the waves of the Gulf Coast are less reliable.
Phang Nga Bay's gravity-defying limestone formations are usually seen with boat tours, but if you go sea-canoeing, you can get into areas unexplored by the tourist masses. The limestone cliffs of Rai Leh are among the best in the world for rock-climbing.
Traditional Thai massage has a history of more than 2,500 years. Practitioners of Thai massage operate on the belief that many invisible lines of energy run through the body. The masseur uses his or her hands, elbows, feet, heels and knees to exert pressure on these lines, releasing blockages that may exist, allowing a free flow of energy through the body. Many Thais believe that these massages are beneficial both for treating diseases and aiding general well-being. You're supposed to feel both relaxed and energised after a session.
Although spas weren't introduced here until the early 1990s, Thailand has quickly become one of the highest ranking spa destinations in the world. Besides traditional Thai massage, there is a phenomenal variety of international treatments, including aromatherapy, Swedish massage and many others. There is usually an option for every budget, varying from extravagant wellness centres in luxury hotels to the ubiquitous little massage shops found on many street corners.
The food alone is really reason enough for a trip to Thailand. Curries, fruit shakes, stir fries, fresh fish made a zillion ways - and that's just the beginning. Food in Thailand can be as cheap and easy as 25 baht pad Thai (ผัดไทย, Thai fried noodles) cooked at a street stall or as expensive and complicated as a USD100 ten-course meal by a royal chef served in one of Bangkok's luxury hotels.
Since most backpackers will be sticking closer to the first than the second, one of the great things about Thailand is that food from stalls and tiny sidewalk restaurants is usually quite safe. Unlike some Asian countries, travellers should worry more about overeating or too much curry spice than about unclean kitchens and bad food. In fact, street restaurants, where you can see what you'll get and everything is cooked on the spot can be a safe option.
Thai food is most commonly eaten with fork and spoon. Hold the spoon in your right hand and use it to eat, and reserve the fork for piling food onto your spoon. Chopsticks are only employed for noodle soups and East Asian-style dishes. Eat sticky rice with your right hand.
Thai food is meant for sharing. Everybody gets their own plate of rice and tiny soup bowl, but all the other dishes are laid out in the centre of the table and you're free to eat what you wish. Though some people believe that taking the last piece from a shared plate is considered slightly unlucky, and you may hear people make wishes for others to compensate for their own misfortune. A popular wish is that "may my girlfriend/boyfriend be good-looking!"
Food is also generally brought out a dish at a time as it is prepared. It is not expected of diners to wait until all meals are brought out before they start eating as is polite in Western culture. Instead they should tuck into the nearest dish as it arrives.
Thai cuisine is characterized by balance and strong flavours, especially lime juice, lemon grass and fresh coriander, the combination of which gives Thai food its distinctive taste. In addition, Thai food has a deserved reputation for being spicy, with hot little torpedo-shaped chillies called phrik khii nuu (พริกขี้หนู, lit. "mouse shit chillies") making their way into many a dish. Thais are well aware that these can be more than Westerners can handle and will often ask if you like it hot (เผ็ด phet). Answer "yes" at your own risk!
Thai dishes can be roughly categorized into central Thai food (around Bangkok), northern Thai food (from the northern region around Chiang Mai, with Burmese and Chinese influence), northeastern Thai food (from the Isaan region bordering with Laos) and southern Thai food (with heavy influences from Malaysia). The following list covers some better-known dishes. See Isaan for Isaan food, which is widely available throughout the country.
The Thai staple food is rice (ข้าว khao), so much so that in Thai eating a meal, gin khao, literally means "eat rice".
- Khao suai (ข้าวสวย) or "beautiful rice" is the plain white steamed rice that serves as the base of almost every meal.
- Khao pat (ข้าวผัด) is simple fried rice, usually with some crab (pu), pork (muu) or chicken (kai) mixed in, and flavoured with fish sauce.
- Khao tom (ข้าวต้ม) is a salty and watery rice porridge served with condiments, quite popular at breakfast.
- Khao niao (ข้าวเหนียว) or "sticky rice" is glutinous rice - usually eaten dry, traditionally by hand, with grilled/fried pork or chicken or beef. It is especially popular (more than plain rice) in northeastern (Isaan) and northern provinces, but is widely available throughout the country, especially in places specializing on Isaan or Lao cuisine.
Thais are great noodle eaters. The most common kind is rice noodles, served angel-hair (เส้นหมี่ sen mii), small (เส้นเล็ก sen lek), large (เส้นใหญ่ sen yai) and giant (ก๋วยเตี๋ยว kuay tiao), but egg noodles (บะหมี่ ba mii), Chinese-style stuffed wonton ravioli (เกี๊ยว kio) and glass noodles made from mung beans (วุ้นเส้น wun sen) are also popular.
Unlike other Thai foods, noodles are usually eaten with chopsticks. They are also usually served with a rack of four condiments, namely dried red chillies, fish sauce, vinegar, and sugar which diners can add to their own taste.
- Pad Thai (ผัดไทย), literally "fried Thai", means thin rice noodles fried in a tamarind-based sauce. Ubiquitous, cheap and often excellent. As an added bonus, it's usually chili-free (you can add yourself, however, or ask to do so if buying of the street, but be warned, it is often really hot).
- Ba mii muu daeng (บะหมี่หมูเเดง) is egg noodles with slices of Chinese-style barbecued pork.
- Kuai tiao ruea (ก๋วยเตี๋ยวเรือ) is a rice noodle soup with a fiery pork blood stock and an assortment of offal. An acquired taste, but an addictive one.
Soups and curries
The line between soups (ต้ม tom, literally just "boiled") and curries (แกง kaeng) is a little fuzzy, and many dishes the Thais call curries would be soups to an Indian. A plate of rice with a ladle-full of a curry or two on top, known as khao kaeng (ข้าวแกง), is a very popular quick meal if eating alone.
- Tom yam kung (ต้มยำกุ้ง) is the quintessential Thai dish, a sour soup with prawns, lemon grass and galangal. The real thing is quite spicy, but toned-down versions are often available on request.
- Tom kha kai (ต้มข่าไก่) is the Thai version of chicken soup in a rich galangal-flavored coconut stock, with mushrooms and not a few chillies.
- Kaeng daeng (แกงเเดง, "red curry") and kaeng phet (แกงเผ็ด, "hot curry") are the same dish and, as you might guess, this coconut-based dish can be spicy. Red curry with roast duck (kaeng phet pet yaang แกงเผ็ดเป็ดย่าง) is particularly popular.
- Kaeng khio-waan (แกงเขียวหวาน), sweet green curry, is a coconut-based curry with strong accents of lemongrass and kaffir lime. Usually milder than the red variety.
- Kaeng som (แกงส้ม), orange curry, is more like tamarind soup than curry, usually served with pieces of herb omelette in the soup.
Thais like their mains fried (ทอด thot or ผัด phat) or grilled (yaang ย่าง). Fish, in particular, is often deep-fried until the meat turns brown and crispy.
- Ka-phrao kai (กะเพราไก่), literally "basil chicken" is a simple but intensely fragrant stir-fry made from peppery holy basil leaves, chillies and chicken.
About the only thing Thai salads (ยำ yam) have in common with the Western variety is that they are both based on raw vegetables. A uniquely Thai flavour is achieved by drowning the ingredients in fish sauce, lime juice and chillies. The end result can be very spicy indeed!
- Som tam (ส้มตำ), a salad made from shredded and pounded raw papaya is often considered a classic Thai dish, but it actually originates from neighboring Laos. However, the Thai version is less sour and more sweet than the original, with peanuts and dried shrimp mixed in.
- Yam pon la mai (ยำผลไม้) is Thai-style fruit salad, meaning that instead of canned maraschino cherries it has fresh fruit topped with oodles of fish sauce and chillies.
- Yam som-o (ยำส้มโอ) is an unusual salad made from pomelo (a mutant version of grapefruit) and anything else on hand, often including chicken or dried shrimp.
- Yam wunsen (ยำวุ้นเส้น) is perhaps the most common yam, with glass noodles and shrimp.
Thais don't usually eat "dessert" in the Western after-meal sense, although you may get a few slices of fresh fruit (ผลไม้ pon la mai) for free at fancier places, but they certainly have a finely honed sweet tooth.
- Khanom (ขนม) covers a vast range of cookies, biscuits, chips and anything else snackable, and piles of the stuff can be found in any Thai office after lunch. One common variety called khanom khrok (ขนมครก) is worth a special mention: these are little lens-shaped pancakes of rice and coconut, freshly cooked and served by street vendors everywhere.
- Khao niao ma-muang (ข้าวเหนียวมะม่วง) means "sticky rice with mango", and that's what you get, with some coconut milk drizzled on top. Filling and delicious and an excellent way to cool the palate after a spicey Thai dish! Alternatively, for the more adventurous type, an equally popular dish is Khao nio tu-rean in which you get durian instead of mango with your sticky rice.
- Waan yen (หวานเย็น), literally "sweet cold", consists of a pile of ingredients of your choice (including things like sweet corn and kidney beans) topped with syrup, coconut cream and a pile of ice, and is great for cooling down on a hot day or after a searing curry.
Vegetarians won't have too many problems surviving in Thailand, with one significant exception: fish sauce (น้ำปลา naam plaa) is to Thai cuisine what soy sauce is to Chinese food, and keeping it out of soups, curries and stir-fries will be a challenge.
That said, Thailand is a Buddhist country and vegetarianism is a fairly well-understood concept, especially among Chinese Thais (many of whom eat only vegetarian food during several festivals). Tofu is a traditional Thai ingredient and they aren't afraid to mix it up in some non-traditional dishes such as omelettes (with or without eggs), submarine sandwiches, and burritos. Since Thai dishes are usually made to order, it's easy to ask for anything on the menu to be made without meat or fish. Bangkok features several fantastic veggie and vegan restaurants, but outside of big cities make sure to check that your idea of "veggie" matches the chef's.
Some key phrases for vegetarians:
- phom kin je (m) / di-chan kin je (f) ผม(ดิฉัน)กินเจ "I eat only vegetarian food"
- karunaa mai sai naam plaa กรุณาไม่ใส่น้ำปลา "Please don't use fish sauce"
Thailand has a large number of indigenous restaurant chains offering much the same fare as your average street stall, but with the added advantages of air conditioning, printed menus (often in English), clean storefront. All the chains are heavily concentrated in Bangkok, but larger cities and popular tourist spots may have an outlet or two.
- Coca and MK. Near-ubiquitous chains specializing in what the Thais call suki, perhaps better known as "hotpot" or "steamboat". A cauldron boils in the middle of your table, you buy ingredients (10-30 baht a pop) and brew your own soup. The longer you spend, the better it tastes, and the bigger the group you're with, the more fun this is!
- Fuji. And Zen specialize in surprisingly passable Japanese food at very cheap prices (at least compared to Japanese restaurants almost anywhere else). Rice/noodle mains are less than 100 baht, and you can stuff yourself full of sushi for less than 500 baht.
- Kuaytiew Ruea Siam (Signs in Thai; look for the boat-shaped decor and hungry red pig logo). Dirt-cheap noodles with prices starting at 25 baht. Portions aren't too generous, but at that price you can get two! No concessions to English speakers in menu or taste, so point and choose from the pictures and watch out for the spicier soups.
- S&P. Outlets are a bakery, a café and a restaurant all rolled into one, but their menu's a lot larger than you'd expect: it has all the Thai mainstays you can think of and then some, and most all of it is good. Portions are generally rather small, with prices mostly in the 50-100 baht range.
- Yum Saap (Signs in Thai; look for the big yellow smiley logo). Known for their Thai-style salads (yam), but they offer all the usual as well. Quite cheap with mains around 50 baht.
And yes, you can find the usual McDonalds, KFC, Pizza Hut, Komalas etc. if you insist. If you do end up at McDs, at least try the un-Maclike fried chicken with McSomTam (green papaya salad). For those craving American-style pizza, try the ubiquitous The Pizza Company, which is a less expensive and (arguably) tastier local chain.
Tap water is usually not drinkable in Thailand outside of Bangkok. In many places in Bangkok however, particularly in new buildings, drinking tap water is perfectly safe. However, if you don't want to chance it, buying a bottle of water is the obvious solution. Bottled water (น้ำเปล่า naam plao) is cheap and ubiquitous at 5-20 baht a bottle depending on its size and brand, and drinking water served in restaurants is always at least boiled (น้ำต้ม naam tom). Ice (น้ำแข็ง naam khaeng) in Thailand usually comes packaged straight from the factory and is safe; there is only reason to worry if you are served hand-cut ice. You can buy a large package of ice in most 7-Elevens for 7 baht, too.
Mainly in residential areas, machines selling water into your own bottle (1 baht/liter, or 50 satang (0.5 baht/litre) if paid more than 5 baht) are often available, located in some (Thai mostly) hotels, local shops, or just on the street near one. This is a clean (the water is cleaned and UV-treated on the spot) and extremely cheap option, also, this way you'll avoid making unnecessary plastic waste from empty bottles.
Coconut water (น้ำมะพร้าว naam ma-phrao), iced and drunk directly from a fresh coconut is a cheap and healthy way to cool the body. Available at restaurants and also from fruit juice vendors.
Fruit juices, freezes and milkshakes of all kinds are very popular with Thais and visitors alike. Most cafés and restaurants charge 20-40 baht, but a bottle of freshly squeezed Thai sweet orange juice (น้ำส้ม naam som) - which really is orange in color! - can be sold on the street for 15-30 baht. Thais often add salt to their fruit juices-- an acquired taste that you might just learn to like. Thais also like to have basil seeds in their iced fruit juice sold on the road. They look like small jelly balls down in the bottle.
Tea and coffee
One of Thailand's most characteristic drinks is Thai iced tea (ชาเย็น chaa yen, lit. "cold tea"). Instantly identifiable thanks to its lurid orange colour, this is the side effect of adding ground tamarind seed (or, these days, artificial colour) during the curing process. The iced tea is always very strong and very sweet, and usually served with a dash of condensed milk; ask for chaa dam yen to skip the milk.
Naam chaa and chaa jiin are weak and full-strength Chinese tea, often served in restaurants for free. Western-style black tea is chaa ron (ชาร้อน). Coffee (กาแฟ kaafae) is also widely available, and is usually served with condensed milk and lots of sugar. Ask for kaafae thung to get traditional filtered "bag" coffee instead of instant.
Starbucks is present in Thailand, but for the moment local competitors Black Canyon Coffee and S&P still have the edge in market share. These are the places to look for if you want that triple-mocha latte with hazelnut swirl and are willing to pay 75 baht for the privilege.
- Black Canyon Coffee. Is Thailand's home-brewed Starbucks, but while coffee is their mainstay they also offer a limited meal menu. Try the chaa yen (lurid orange Thai iced tea with milk).
Thailand is the original home of the Red Bull brand energy drink - a licensed and re-branded version of Thailand's original Krathing Daeng (กระทิงแดง, "Red Bull"), complete with the familiar logo of two bulls charging at each other.
The Thai version, however, is syrupy sweet, uncarbonated and comes packaged in medicinal-looking brown glass bottles, as the target customers are not trendy clubbers, but Thailand's working class of construction workers and bus drivers in need of a pick-me-up. And a pick-me-up it most certainly is; the caffeine content is higher even than Western-style Red Bull, and packs a punch equivalent to two or three shots of espresso coffee. Krathing Daeng and its many competitors (including M150, Shark, .357 and the inevitable Karabao Daeng, "Red Buffalo") are available in any convenience store for 10 baht a pop, although in some places you can now buy imported Red Bull for five times the price.
Drinking alcohol in Thailand, especially if you like Western tipples, is actually comparatively expensive, but still very affordable by Western standards.
Retail sales of alcohol in supermarkets and multi-national convenience stores, are limited to between 11:00-14:00 and 17:00-24:00. Restaurants and bars are not affected, and smaller, non-chain stores rarely observe this rule. 7-Eleven is a stickler for following this rule. However, in certain circumstances these rules are relaxed for alcohol purchases above a particular quantity. For example, if you try to purchase 5 litres of wine during the restricted period, it will not be allowed. However, if you were to purchase, say 10 litres of wine, in the same period then this might be permitted. Convenience stores at gas stations are not permitted to sell alcohol at any time.
There are also occasional days throughout the year when alcohol can't be sold anywhere, even the small mom & pop shops normally adhere to the rules on these days, and most bars and pubs do too (although you can probably find a beer somewhere if you're desperate enough). Upmarket hotel bars and restaurants are probably the only places that are realistically likely to be exempt. Religious holidays and elections are normally the reason for these restrictions.
Western-style beer (เบียร์ bia) is a bit of an upmarket drink in Thailand, with the price of a small bottle hovering between 40 and 100 baht in most pubs, bars and restaurants. Thais like their lagers with relatively high alcohol content (around 6%), as it is designed to be drunk with ice, so the beer in Thailand may pack more of a punch than you are used to. However, if you are an experienced drinker from Western Europe, namely Belgium or Germany, you will find it familiar.
- Local brews: For many years the only locally brewed beer was Singha (pronounced just Sing) but it has lost market to cheaper and stronger Chang. Both are pretty strong (Chang especially, being 6%, and Singha 5%), but for those who prefer something a bit lighter, both local brands have introduced low-alcohol versions of their beers. Singha Light comes in at 3.5%, Chang Draught is 5% and Chang Light is 4.2%. Both are strong in alcohol percentage, gives a little spicy taste (for Europeans, you can compare them to Leffe or Duvel) rather than blended smoothness of German beers (Erdinger or Paulaner). There are also some cheaper local beers - Leo (very popular among locals and expats, with price 10-20% cheaper than Singha) and Archa (cheapest, but the taste is not as nice, it's not sold in the bars often, but is available in almost any 7-Eleven) being among the most popular.
- Premium brands: The two most popular premium brands are Heineken and Tiger, but San Miguel, Federbrau and other Asian beers such as the Japanese Asahi are also fairly commonplace. The premium beers tend to be a bit weaker than the full-strength local beers, and are about 10-20% more expensive.
- Imported beers: Most upmarket pubs in touristy areas will have at least a couple of imported beers available along with the usual local brands, either on draught, in bottles or both. Belgian and German beers can often be found, as well as Irish stouts and ales such as Guinness, British bitters such as John Smiths and the light Mexican beer Corona is gaining in popularity. Regional favourite Beerlao has also started to make an appearance in bars and pubs around the country. All imported beers (with the exception of Beerlao) are very expensive though, being about twice the price of locally sourced beers.
- Other non-beers: The usual range of "alcopops" is available in Thailand, with Bacardi Breezer enjoying the lion's share of the market. Spy wine cooler (of about 10 varieties) is also popular. Cider is harder to find, although some pubs have started to stock Magners and Bulmers.
Imported liquors, wines and beers are widely available but prohibitively priced for the average Thai. A shot of any brand-name liquor is at least 100 baht, a pint of Guinness will set you back at least 200 baht and, thanks to an inexplicable 340% tax, even the cheapest bottle of wine will set you back over 500 baht. Note that, in cheaper bars (especially the go-go kind), the content of that familiar bottle of Jack Daniels may be something entirely different.
Thai rice wine (สาโท sato) is actually a beer brewed from glutinous rice, and thus a spiritual cousin of Japanese sake. While traditionally associated with Isaan, it's now sold nationwide under the brand Siam Sato, available in any 7-Eleven at 25 baht for a 0.65L bottle. At 8% alcohol, it's cheap and potent, but you may regret it the next morning! The original style of brewing and serving sato is in earthenware jars called hai, hence the drink's other name lao hai (เหล้าไห). These are served by breaking the seal on the jar, adding water, and drinking immediately with either glasses or, traditionally, with a straw directly from the pot.
The misnamed Thai whisky (lao) refers to a number of liquors. The best known are the infamous Mae Khong (แม่โขง "Mekong") brand and its competitor, the sweeter Saeng Som ("Sangsom"), which are both brewed primarily from sugarcane and thus technically rum. Indeed, the only resemblances to whisky are the brown color and high alcohol content, and indeed many people liken the smell to nail polish remover, but the taste is not quite as bad, especially when diluted with cola or tonic water. This is also by far the cheapest way to get blotto, as a pocket flask of the stuff (available in any convenience store or supermarket) costs only around 50 baht.
The "real" Thai whisky is lao khao (เหล้าขาว "white liquor"), which is distilled from rice. While commercial versions are available, it's mostly distilled at home as moonshine, in which case it also goes by the name lao theuan ("jungle liquor"). White liquor with herbs added for flavor and medical effect is called ya dong (ยาดอง). Strictly speaking, both are is illegal, but nobody seems to mind very much, especially when hill tribe trekking in the North you're likely to be invited to sample some, and it's polite to at least take a sip.
The currency of Thailand is the baht (THB, ฿), written in Thai as บาท or บ, which is divided into 100 satang (สตางค์). There are six coins and six notes:
- 25 and 50 satang (cent, copper colour) coins - nearly worthless and only readily accepted (and handed out) by buses, supermarkets and 7-Elevens
- 1, 5 (silver colour), 2 (gold) and 10 baht (silver/gold) coins
- 20 (green), 50 (blue), 100 (red), 500 (purple) and 1000 (grey-brown) baht notes
The most useful bills tend to be 20s and 100s, as many small shops and stalls don't carry much change. Taxi drivers also like to pull the "no change" trick; if caught, hop into the nearest convenience store and make a small purchase. Beware of 1,000 baht notes, as counterfeits are not uncommon: feel the embossing, look for the watermark and tilt to see colour-changing ink to make sure the note is real.
ATMs are ubiquitous, and international withdrawals are not a problem. When using a debit card, an ATM will typically provide a much better exchange rate than a money exchange counter, and this is especially the case if you have a card that does not charge a transaction fee for overseas withdrawals (becoming common in countries such as Australia). ATMs are available at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi airport (BKK) after collecting your bag and clearing customs, and while it is advisable to arrive with a small amount of baht if possible, you may obtain cash from an ATM after landing as well. There's a 150 baht surcharge for using foreign cards at all ATMs, and only Aeon Bank appear to be holding out in not charging (Nov 2013). (There are also occasional unconfirmed reports of success with other banks such as HSBC or GSB.) Aeon ATMs are in most Big C malls. Anyway, you'll be notified about this fee in any ATM which charges it, so you always have an option to cancel. Yellow Ayudhya (Krungsri) ATM's should be avoided; not only do they charge 150 baht surcharge, but the exchange rate is horrible.
One notable money exchanger is SuperRich, with branches in Bangkok at Silom, Ratchadamri, Khao San Road, and Chatuchak. No fees are charged and the exchange rate is typically better than at ATMs (even before you consider ATM and your local bank fees), with a very small buy/sell spread. For a comparison of all the bank's exchange rate (updated every 10 mins)check out DaytoDayData .
More remote areas (including smaller islands) don't have banks or ATMs, so cash or traveller's cheques are essential. Many hotels and guesthouses will change money for guests, but hefty commissions and poor rates may apply. US dollars in small bills (USD1, 5, and 20) are invaluable for onward travel to neighbouring countries other than Malaysia, but are only useful in Thailand for exceptional purchases (eg, paying visa fees for Cambodia).
Credit cards are widely accepted in the tourist industry such as in restaurants, shopping malls and shops catering to tourists. Fraud is regrettably common though, so use them sparingly and tell your bank in advance, so your card doesn't get locked down because you are using it. Some businesses add a surcharge (usually 2-3%) if you're paying by credit card; in this case, it can turn out cheaper to pay them in cash.
Thailand is not as cheap as it used to be, with Bangkok recently being named the second most expensive city in SE Asia behind Singapore. However, budget travellers who are careful with what they spend will still find that 1,000 baht will get a backpacker a dorm bed or cheap room, three square meals a day and leave enough for transport, sightseeing, and even partying. Doubling that budget will let you stay in decent hotels, and if you're willing to fork out 5,000 baht per day or more you can live like a king. Bangkok requires a more generous budget than upcountry destinations, but also offers by far the most competitive prices for shoppers who shop around. The most popular tourism islands such as Phuket and Ko Samui tend to have higher prices in general. It is common for tourists to be charged several times the actual price in tourist areas of other places as well. If you want to have an idea what the real Thai prices are, consider visiting malls like Big C, Tesco, or Carrefour where locals and expats routinely shop. Those are available in major cities (in Bangkok, there are dozens of them) and on larger islands such as Phuket or Ko Samui.
Thailand is a shopper's paradise and many visitors to Bangkok in particular end up spending much of their time in the countless markets and malls. Particularly good buys are clothing, both cheap locally produced street wear and fancy Thai silk, and all sorts of handicrafts. Electronics and computer gear are also widely available, but prices are slightly higher than in Singapore, Hong Kong, Philippines, and Kuala Lumpur.
A Thai speciality are the night markets found in almost every town, the largest and best-known of which are in Bangkok and the Night Bazaar in Chiang Mai. Here a variety of vendors from designers to handicraft sellers have stalls selling goods which cannot normally be found in malls and day markets. Most night markets also have large open air food courts attached.
You can also find marvellously tacky modern clothing accessories. Witness pink sandals with clear plastic platform heels filled with fake flowers. Night markets along the main roads and Bangkok's Mahboonkrong (MBK) Mall, near the Siam Skytrain stop, are particularly good sources. Not to be left out is what is often touted as the world's biggest weekend bazaar - The Chatuchak Weekend Market or known to locals simply as "JJ" Market. Chatuchak sells a myriad of products ranging from clothes to antiques, covers over 35 acres (1.1km²) and is growing by the day!
Haggling is the norm and often market and road-side vendors will try to charge you as much as they think you can afford to pay. It's not uncommon to buy something, walk outside, and find somebody who bought the same item for half or one third what you paid (or even less). Try to figure out the item's rough value first — adjacent stalls, government-run fixed price shops and even hotel gift shops are a good starting point — and you'll find that prices drop drastically when the seller realizes you have some idea of what it costs.
This article is based on Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike 3.0 Licensed text from the article Thailand on Wikivoyage.
Popular cities in Thailand
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Bangkok is the capital of Thailand and, with a population of over eleven million inhabitants, by far its largest city. Its high-rise buildings, heavy traffic congestion, intense heat and naughty nightlife do not immediately give you a warm welcome — but don't let your first impression mislead you. It is one ... (read more)
- Wat Pho
- Saranrom Park
- Silpakorn University
- Wat Mahathat
- Wat Arun
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Ko Samui , often called just Samui is an island in the Gulf of Thailand, about 700 km south of Bangkok and 80 km from the eastern coastline of Southern Thailand.
- Wat Phra Yai
- Big Buddha Statue
- Nathon Pier
- Coco Splash Waterpark
- Samui Crocodile Farm
504 hotels in this place
Chiang Mai is the hub of Northern Thailand. With a population of over 170,000 in the city proper (but more than one million in the metropolitan area), it is Thailand's sixth-largest city. On a plain at an elevation of 316 m, surrounded by mountains and lush countryside, it is much greener and quieter than ... (read more)
- Wat Chedi Luang
- Sunday Walking Street Market
- Wat Chiang Man
- Tha Phae Gate
- Warorot Market
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Pattaya is a seaside resort on the Eastern Gulf Coast of Thailand, about 150 km southeast of Bangkok. Pattaya is mostly famous for its go-go and beer bars, but local authorities have made some efforts to provide more family-friendly attractions and activities. Although the sex industry is still going strong ... (read more)
- Royal Garden Plaza
- Walking Street
- Central Festival Pattaya Beach
- Nong Nooch Tropical Botanical Garden
- Pattaya Pier
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Krabi , the capital of Krabi Province, sits a little upstream from the mouth of the Krabi River and is mainly visited en route to the nearby beaches of Had Yao, Ao Nang or Rai Leh (Railay).
- West Railay Beach
- Phra Nang Beach
- Phra Nang Cave
- East Railay Beach
- Wat Kaew Korawaram
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Ko Pha Ngan is an island off the Central Gulf Coast of Southern Thailand and forms part of the Chumphon Archipelago. Halfway between the islands of Ko Samui and Ko Tao, it is known as a land of coconut trees and the world-(in)famous Full Moon Party that have placed the island firmly on the Banana Pancake ... (read more)
- Full Moon Beach
- Haad Rin Nai Beach
- Raja Ferry Port
- Thong Nai Pan Yai Beach
- Haad Leela Beach
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Hua Hin is a seaside resort city of about 50,000 residents (2012) in Thailand. 195 km from Bangkok, it is popular with Thais, having become quite fashionable as a weekend getaway spot for Bangkok residents, as well as with foreigners and as an expat retirement or holiday home location. Although developing ... (read more)
- Hua Hin Pier
- Wat Khao Takiab
- Pone Kingpetch Statue
- Hua Hin Railway Station
- Royal Hua Hin Golf Course
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Ko Lanta is an island off the Andaman Coast of Southern Thailand. Like many other destinations in Krabi Province, it is known for its diving and long white beaches.
- Ta Noad Beach
- Long Beach
- Bamboo Bay
- Ba Kan Tiang Beach
- Mu Ko Lanta National Park
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Ko Phi Phi is a small archipelago in Krabi Province, Southern Thailand.
- Maya Beach
- Ao Ton Sai Beach
- Loh Bagao Beach
- Viking Cave
- Long Beach
States in Thailand
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Points of Interest in Thailand
Historical and cultural attractions
Bangkok is at the start of many visitors' itineraries, and while a modern city, it has a rich cultural heritage. Most visitors at least take in the Grand Palace, a collection of highly decorated buildings and monuments. It is home to Wat Phra Kaew, the most sacred Buddhist temple in Thailand that houses the Emerald Buddha. Other cultural attractions include Wat Pho, Wat Arun and Jim Thompson's House, but these are just a fraction of possible sights you could visit.
The former capitals of Siam, Ayutthaya and Sukhothai, make excellent stops for those interested in Thai history. The latter could be combined with a visit to Si Satchanalai and Kamphaeng Phet, all of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Khmer architecture is mostly found in Isaan, with the historical remains of Phimai and Phanom Rung being the most significant.
In the northern provinces live unique hill-tribe peoples, often visited as part of a trekking. The six major hill tribes in Thailand are the Akha, Lahu, Karen, Hmong, Mien and Lisu, each with a distinct language and culture. Chiang Mai makes a good base for arranging these treks, and has some cultural sights of its own, such as Wat Doi Suthep.
For those interested in recent history, Kanchanaburi has a lot of sights related to WWII. The Bridge over the River Kwai, popularised by the film of the same name, is the most famous one, but the museums in its vicinity are a lot more moving. The "The Dead Railway"(tang rod fai sai morana) is the railway constructed by captive allied soldiers during WWII. This railway has a nice view all along its route.
Beaches and islands
Thailand's beaches and islands attract millions of visitors each year from all over the globe. Hua Hin is Thailand's oldest beach resort, made famous by King Rama VII in the 1920s as an ideal getaway from Bangkok. Things have considerably changed since then. Pattaya, Phuket, and Ko Samui only came to prominance in the 1970s, and these are now by far the most developed beach resorts.
Krabi Province has some beautiful spots, including Ao Nang, Rai Leh and the long golden beaches of Ko Lanta. Ko Phi Phi, renowned as a true island paradise, has been undergoing massive development since the release of the film The Beach in 2000. Ko Pha Ngan offers the best of both worlds, with both well-developed beaches and empty ones a short ride away. It is also where the infamous "Full Moon Party" takes place.
Ko Chang is a bit like Ko Samui used to be. It has a backpacker vibe, but is fairly laid-back and there is accommodation in all price ranges. If you're looking for unspoiled beaches, Ko Kut is very thinly populated, but also difficult to explore. Ko Samet is the closest island beach to Bangkok, but its northern beaches are quite developed and hotels are pretty much sold out on weekends and public holidays.
While not as beautiful as Malaysia or Indonesia, Thailand does have its fair share of tropical forest. Khao Yai National Park, the first national park of Thailand, is the closest to Bangkok. Wild tigers and elephants are increasingly rare, but you can't miss the macaques, gibbons, deer, and species of birds. The stretch of jungle at Khao Sok National Park is probably even more impressive, and you can spend the night in the middle of the jungle.
Waterfalls can be found all over Thailand. The Heo Suwat Waterfall in Khao Yai National Park and the 7-tiered Erawan Falls in Kanchanaburi are among the most visited, but the Thee Lor Sue Waterfall in Umphang and the 11-tiered Pa La-u Falls in Kaeng Krachan National Park are equally exciting. Finally, the gravity-defying limestone formations of the Phang Nga Bay shouldn't be missed by anyone who stays in the region.
- Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai in 3 days — three-day tour through undiscovered Northern Thailand
- Five days in the Golden Triangle — a five-day tour of the Golden Triangle region through Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar
- Mae Hong Son Loop — the popular route right through the mountains of Mae Hong Son Province
- One day in Bangkok — if you have just one day to spare and want to catch a feel for the city
- Rattanakosin Tour — a quick tour along Bangkok's famed historic district
- Samoeng Loop — a 100 km loop popular with bicyclists and motorcyclists through the mountains starting and ending in Chiang Mai
- Yaowarat and Phahurat Tour — a full-day walking tour through this multicultural district
Wat Pho - Bangkok
Wat Phra Si Sanphet - Ayutthaya
Royal Garden Plaza - Pattaya
Wat Chedi Luang - Chiang Mai
Jungceylon Shopping Center - Patong
Maya Beach - Ko Phi Phi
West Railay Beach - Krabi
Bridge Over the River Kwai - Kanchanaburi
Lee Garden Plaza - Hat Yai
Dino Park Mini Golf - Karon
Wat Ma Ha That - Sukhothai
Hua Hin Pier - Hua Hin
Nai Harn Beach - Rawai
Ko Nang Yuan - Ko Tao
Saranrom Park - Bangkok
Silpakorn University - Bangkok
Wat Mahathat - Bangkok
Wat Arun - Bangkok
Temple of the Emerald Buddha - Bangkok
Phra Phuttha Yodfa Bridge - Bangkok