Thailand is a country of scenic diversity and ancient traditions; of serene temples and cosmopolitan vibrancy. With an uninterrupted history of independence stretching back many hundreds of years, it has nevertheless managed to absorb a variety of cultural influences and blend them into something uniquely and memorably Thai.
The Kingdom of Thailand, with a population of approximately 60 million, is situated in the heart of Southeast Asia, bordered by Malaysia in the south and Myanmar, the Lao PDR and Cambodia in the north and northeast. The country is divided into four geographical regions: the Central Plains, dominated by Greater Bangkok; the mountainous North, with Chiang Mai as its hub; the South, with its famous beaches and world-renowned resort islands of Phuket and Samui; and the predominantly agricultural Northeast, known locally as Isaan. Additionally, the Eastern Seaboard has recently experienced extensive development, especially Pattaya, Rayong and the deep-seaport of Laem Chabang.
In addition to exotic cuisine and stunning scenery, the nation is famous for the warm hospitality and graciousness of its people, who welcome the visitor and provide service with a smile.
Politically, Thailand is a democratic constitutional monarchy with an elected parliament which in turn elects the Prime Minister. His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej (King Rama IX) is the greatly loved and deeply respected ninth monarch of the Chakri Dynasty and the longest-reigning monarch in the world today.
Bangkok, the “City of Angels”, blends historic enclaves with the über chic. Bangkok became the capital in 1782 with the founding of the Chakri Dynasty that still occupies the Thai throne. Its early rulers sought to recreate the glories of the old capital of Ayutthaya and many of the city’s landmarks date from this period, among them the magnificent Grand Palace and the adjacent Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha); Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn); and Wat Pho (Temple of the Reclining Buddha). The spirit of Bangkok’s past is best captured by a boat ride down the Chao Phraya River, the so-called “River of Kings”, which flows through its traditional heart, or by an exploration of the picturesque klongs (canals) a reminder that the city was once known as “the Venice of the East.”
The modernization of Bangkok has outwardly transformed the city into a bustling metropolis unrivalled in Asia for its dazzling kaleidoscope of sights and experiences, with gleaming skyscraper, sophisticated department stores and international hotels.
This juxtaposition of old and new means that Bangkok has contrasting attractions to offer to the 21st century tourist: glittering temples and elegant boutiques; traditional markets and air-conditioned malls; traditional culture and Western convenience. However, Bangkok remains quintessentially Thai, with lustrous silks, bronze-ware, antiques, and gemstones to tempt the traveller. For more details visit the official website of the Bangkok Tourism Division: www.bangkoktourist.com
The 14th IACC will take place at the beginning of Thailand’s dry/cool season, (November-February) when temperatures can be expected to range from the mid-20°Cs to the mid-30°Cs.
All tourist destinations and provincial capitals have hospitals and clinics staffed by well-trained doctors and nurses. In case of an emergency, an ambulance can be summoned from any private hospital.
Vaccinations: Visitors are not required to have vaccination certification unless coming from/passing through a designated infected area.
Western-style suits are the norm for doing business in Thailand. For casual wear, light, loose cotton clothing is advised. When visiting temples and other historic properties, shorts and sleeveless tops are deemed inappropriate.
Currency and Banking Facilities http://www.oanda.com/currency/converter/
The monetary unit in Thailand is the Thai Baht (international abbreviation: “THB.”), with the exchange rate currently being approximately US$ 1 = 33 THB. Bank notes are issued in denominations of 20, 50, 100, 500 and 1000 baht. Most major credit cards are accepted while travellers’ cheques and banknotes of all major currencies can be exchanged at any commercial bank. Most hotels provide exchange facilities for guests.
Taxation and Vat
7% Government Value Added Tax (VAT) is applied to goods and services in Thailand. However, there is a VAT refund scheme for tourists available at the international airports. In addition, a minimum of 10% service charge is normally added to bills in major hotels and restaurants.
International and Domestic Flights
Bangkok’s stunning new airport, Suvarnabhumi (pronounced soo-wa-na-poom) is the country’s main international flight hub and also serves domestic destinations. Several other provincial airports, like Chiang Mai, Phuket, Samui and Had Yai, also have international terminals. Some low cost airlines still fly from Bangkok’s old Don Muang Airport. For details check the website of the Airports of Thailand Public Company Limited (AOT): http://www2.airportthai.co.th/airportnew/main/index.asp?lang=en
Public transport in Thailand is plentiful and inexpensive, making life for the visitor convenient and enjoyable. The main forms are as follows:
Taxis cruising the city streets are metered. They charge a minimum fare of 35 baht for the first 3 kilometres, and approximately 5 baht per kilometre thereafter. Try to make sure you have the correct money, as taxi drivers are often reluctant to give change! If using an expressway, passengers must pay the amount indicated at each tollgate.
These three-wheeled open-air taxis, named after their engine’s distinctive sound, are popular for short journeys, although they are often more expensive than taxis unless you are good at bargaining the fare in advance. Expect to pay 40 baht upwards for even a very short trip.
BTS Sky Train
The BTS Sky Trains link the Weekend Market in the north with Sukhumvit in the east and the National Stadium with Thonburi on the western side of the Chao Phraya River. Siam Square is the interchange station for the 2 lines. The fares range from 10 to 40 baht according to the distance travelled with one-day passes being a convenient option.
MRT Underground (Metro)
The city’s underground system, opened in 2004, connects many of the top tourist attractions with hotels, markets, and the central business district. Fares range from 14 to 36 baht. The MRT intersects with the BTS network at three stations: Sukhumvit/Asoke; Lumpini/Sala Daeng; and Chatuchak/Morchit. The trains run from 6 a.m. to midnight.
Escape the traffic jams and enjoy fresh air by making use of the river boats. Ferries ply between the Bangkok and Thonburi sides of the Chao Phraya River, while the Chao Phraya Express Boats provide a regular service up and down the river. Alternatively, “long-tailed boats” are available for charter by the hour for exploring the riverside sites and klongs.
Personal Effects and Other Articles
Participants may bring personal effects, including still/video cameras, laptop or notebook computers etc. into Thailand without paying duty.
Some “Do’s and Don’ts in Thailand
The Monarchy: Thai people have a deep, traditional reverence for the monarchy: visitors should show respect for the King, Queen and all other members of the royal family. For more information please visit: http://www.constitutionalcourt.or.th/
Greetings: Thais don’t normally shake hands when they greet one another, but instead press the palms together in a prayer-like gesture called a wai. Generally, a younger person wais an elder who then returns the greeting.
Head and Feet: Thais regard the head as the highest part of the body and feet as the lowest, literally and figuratively. Therefore, avoid touching people on the head and try not to point your feet at people or objects, especially a Buddha image as this is considered very impolite. Shoes should be removed when entering a private Thai home or a temple.
Displays of Affection: Although there is now greater leeway than in the past, public displays of affection between men and women should be discreet and anything more than a hug or holding hands is still frowned upon, especially outside Bangkok.
Mineral and drinking water is readily available throughout the country. Drinking tap water in not recommended.
The electric current in Thailand is 220 volts AC (50 cycles) throughout the country with various kinds of plugs and sockets in use. Although many hotels have 110 volt outlets, travellers with shavers and other small appliances are advised to bring a plug adapter kit.
Thailand is one of the most devout Buddhist countries in the world. The national religion is Theravada Buddhism, a branch of Hinayana Buddhism, practised by more than 90% of all Thais. The remainder of the population adheres to Islam, Christianity, Hinduism and other faiths, all of which are allowed full freedom of expression.
Places of Worship
Places of worship for most religious faiths can be found in Bangkok and the surrounding areas. Among them are the following:
· Anglican/Episcopal: Christ Church 11 Convent Rd. Tel: 02-234-3634
· Catholic: Assumption Cathedral, 23 Oriental Lane Charoen Krung Rd. Tel: 02- 234-8556
· Hindu: Maha Uma Devi Temple, Silom and Pan Rd.
· Islam: Haroon Mosque, Charoen Krung Rd,
· Jewish: Jewish Association of Thailand 121/3 Soi 22 Sukhumvit Rd.
· Protestant: Calvary Baptist Church 88 Sukhumvit Soi 2. Tel: 02-251-8278.