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Some basic advice for travelers to Thailand.

General information for travelling in Thailand.


1. Best time of the year to travel.
2. Travel route. Where to go?
3. Travelling alone or in (tour) group.
4. Health matters.
5. What about the nightlife?
6. Traditional Thai massage & massage parlours.

1. Best time of the year to travel.

The best months to travel through Thailand are December and January. Second best are November and February. These months constitute the 'cold' seasons. In Bangkok temperatures are still as high as during a good West-European summer though. At night, it cools off a bit, and especially in the north of the country, it can be quite chilly, temperatures dropping below 10 degrees Celsius. In Bangkok, temperatures will rarely drop below 20 degrees Celsius, even at night.
From roughly March till May, Thailand experiences the hot season, when temperatures can soar into the 40 degrees range. Not the best time of year to go walking about cities or countryside.
From roughly May till October, we have the rainy season. It is quite unpredictable when it is going to rain though, and there are sometimes episodes of up to two months during this period, when there is no rain fall. Other years, rain falls more consistently almost every week. Traditionally rain falls during the late afternoon. It seldom lasts more than a few hours. Flooding of areas of Bangkok and in the provinces occurs, more at the end of the rainy season in Bangkok (the drains are more clogged by then). Temperatures tend to be high, but cool off somewhat each time it has rained.

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2. Travel route. Where to go?

Personally, I prefer the culturally inspired holidays. So I would recommend going where there is something interesting to see and schedule your itinerary around those places of interest.
A route going up north from Bangkok to Chiangmai is rather 'classical' and a good start. Going up north from Bangkok, interesting places to visit are :
Bangkok, Ayuthaya, Lopburi, Sukhothai, Sri Satchanalai, Chiang Mai. I have underlined the 'must see' places. To the west of Bangkok, Kanchanaburi may be of interest, especially to those who have still war memories. While the province may be of interest for those who have time and want to relax in a pleasant green environment, it does not warrant a great detour, if you are on a tight schedule. Close to Chiang Mai, Lamphun is worth a half-day trip. Chiang Rai should be rather optional, there is not much to be seen at the so called Golden Triangle. So again, depending on your time available, you may skip this area. Phitsanulok, in between Bangkok and Chiang Mai, can be a good base to visit Sukhothai and Sri Satchanalai. Sri Satchanalai was the sister city of Sukhothai during the Sukhothai kingdom, and has some interesting ruins, though not as extensive as the ones in Sukhothai itself. All the cities above are connected by bus routes. Day and nighttime trains go between Bangkok and Chiang Mai, go and stop in Phitsanulok, but do not go through Sukhothai.

Apart from this route from Bangkok up north to Chiang Mai, another culturally interesting area is around Nakhon Ratchasima(Khorat). From there you can visit the interesting Khmer sites of Phimai, and Phanom Rung, on separate day trips. They are located on opposite sites from Khorat, and Phanom Rung in Buriram province takes a few hours by bus both ways. Khorat can be reached from Bangkok by train and bus. Another possibility is to go to Khorat from the Phitsanulok area. That way you would not have to go back all the way to Bangkok to go to the North Eastern provinces.

As for beaches, I will be short. Phuket is the most fancy place and the most expensive. It is however located way in the south, and you would need a plane trip to go there. Ko Samui is now also well developed and can be reached by plane. Pattaya is close to Bangkok, but it is rather a well known prostitution center. If you do not like that scene, you should confine your time to the hotel swimming pool. Huahin may be an alternative. It is not far to reach from Bangkok.
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3. Travelling alone or in (tour) group?

Travelling alone (we mean, not in an organized tour) is the preferred way. However, conditions apply. You have to be in good health, reasonably fit, and need more time than when travelling in a tour group. It wil allow you to see things you will not see when joining a tour, and you will interact more with local people. Most tour groups will go to great lenghts to avoid overexerting people and only go to places that are easily accessible. Travelling alone consumes more time, you have to continuously look for a place to spend the night, go to bus stations, make arrangements with taxis to visit the places etc. Tour groups on the other hand, will often book hotels on the outskirts of town, so that even in the evening free hours, it is somewhat difficult to go and experience the local scene. Contacts will mainly be with hotel personnel. You will eat bland westernized Thai food, often of the 'buffet' variety.
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4. Health matters.

Health is important, to have it and to keep it. A lot of money is spent on various health preparations for a trip to 'underdeveloped' countries. I will not dwell further on what is necessary or overkill. The Center of Disease Control in Atlanta is probably as good as any to find more information on this matter. To a great extent the amount of money you spend on this matter, and the various preventive measures you take, depends on how much you tend to 'medicalize' your life. One can definitively go to far, for instance, not eating any local food for fear of an infection. The Thai kitchen is one of the best in the world, and you miss out on the experience, if you are too afraid.

When travelling, I want to stress two issues often overlooked. First, be aware of dehydration. It is often very hot in Thailand, and taking in sufficient fluids is paramount. By fluid, I mean water. The simple rule should be, drink as much as necessary, to keep you going regularly to the bathroom. Do not drink alcoholic beverages during the daytime, and skip the cola drinks. Both are diuretics, that si they will make you pass water more than necessary and than is good for you.
Second, be
reasonably fit when travelling. If not, you will be easily tired and weary. Even when with a tour group, you will feel like staying on the bus, instead of being enthusiastic about visiting yet another site.

There are some excellent hospitals in Bangkok and reasonably good ones in most provinces. Bumrungrad hospital in Bangkok, among others, is a good choice. As a rule, in some remote areas, the best hospital choice may be the closest military hospital.
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5. What about the nightlife?

The nightlife of Bangkok is world (in)famous. The most well known entertainment center is Patpong on Silom Road. Nowadays it is more subdued than before, and it actually quite difficult to find your way around the area, because a very busy night market occupies the street area, making it hard to orientate yourself and see where the bars actually are. Another more busy nightlife center is Nana Plaza, located on Sukhumvit Soi 4. It caters mostly to tourists. An area more frequented by local residents is Soi Cowboy on Soi 23, Sukhumvit road. Some tour groups include an evening outing to one of the bars. If you feel so, it is safe to visit the places. Prices for a drink are around 100 baht. There has been a persistent crackdown on this kind of nighttime activity over the last year or so. Nudity and shows are rare now. However, you can also enjoy the scene without entering the bars, by having a drink in one of the outside beer bars. If on your own, or in only male company, you can however expect multiple invitations for extracurricular activities. Interestingly, all the places mentioned here generally are there for tourists, foreign residents only, you will not see them frequented by Thais, who have there own entertainment centers.
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6. Traditional Thai massage & massage parlours.

Traditional Thai massage places are to be found all around Bangkok and in most towns around Thailand. Sessions lasts usually for two hours, and have nothing to do whatsoever with 'sex'. They are based on old ways of medicine. A well known center for traditional Thai massage is located at Wat Pho. Most people working in the massage places around town, will claim to have been trained at Wat Pho, but more likely they have learned it simply from their friends. The quality of the massage varies a lot, but generally speaking it will be a pleasant experience, especially after a lot of walking or after a good exercise in the gym. It is usefull to tell in advance about any problems you have, so the masseuse can avoid to much pressure on problem areas. If in doubt, avoid problems. It will be very pleasant if you are in good health, but have tired or sore legs from walking etc. But I would not recommend it as a cure for a bad back, or arthritic knees etc., especially since, as I mentioned, a lot of the people working there will not have a lot of medical knowledge. With these warnings, I can recommend it in general. Prices for a massage are around 300 baht for a two hour session.
Most places nowadays will also offer
oil massage. This has nothing to do with traditional Thai massage whatsoever. Thai massage consists mainly in applying pressure to various ligaments, muscles and joints. Oil massage consists mainly of rubbing oil on the skin.(more like a massage you may get in a spa in your own country) Some girls, working in the massage shops, will try to entice you to enjoy the oil massage. A reason may be that it is priced somewhat higher and is easier to apply. However, oil massage frequently ends up in the girl arousing the (male) customer, and getting a huge tip for further services provided. Prices for oil massage around 300-400 baht per one hour session. (tips for add-on's not included)

Massage parlours are another matter. You will recognize them by big billboards around Bangkok and the main cities. Massage parlours are for sexual experiences. Customers are washed and rubbed in a bathtub, get body-to-body type of massage, with some Thai massage thrown in for good measure, then engage in further sexual activity. Prices usually around 2000-3000 baht. Lower, possibly around 1000 baht, for the smaller, seedier places.
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Travel in Thailand :

Bang Pa-In Palace, Ayutthaya


Hua Hin
A train ride between Bangkok and Hua Hin
Cycling around Hua Hin

Ko Si Chang (Chonburi
Kanchanaburi and Suphanburi
Nakhon Pathom
Samut Songkhram

About Travelling in Thailand
A personal travel story

Other destinations covered in another section :

Ayutthaya (many pages)
Si Satchanalai
Kamphaeng Phet

Prasat Hin Phimai
Phanom Wan
Prasat Phanom Rung
Muang Tam

: Contains Video.


Content, including images, by Guido Vanhaleweyk, Bangkok. Contact
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