Thailand might almost have been designed with holidays in mind, so blessed is the country with attractions from bustling modern cities to golden tropical beaches. It’s a famously friendly country; thanks to the renowned hospitality of the Thai people it’s known as ‘The Land of Smiles’. The capital city Bangkok is full of life. Roads are packed with cars and noisy tuk tuks, pavements are crammed with ramshackle food stalls and shrines are laden with fragrant flowers. North of Bangkok, Kanchanaburi offers a green getaway with mountains, rivers and WWII sites including the famous Bridge over the River Kwai. The crumbling wats and palaces at Ayutthaya, once the royal capital of The Siamese Kingdom, create an atmospheric insight into this once-magnificent city. The beach resorts of Phuket and Koh Samui offer world class hotels, luxury spas, upscale boutiques and high-end restaurants. Less-visited Krabi’s coastline is dotted with limestone cliffs and pinnacles which rise steeply out of the turquoise sea, offering endless opportunities for snorkelling, diving and rock-climbing. In the north Chiang Mai is encircled by hills and displays its distinctive Lanna inheritance through architecture, cuisine and handicrafts. Chiang Mai, known as Thailand’s cultural hub, is home to wood carvers, silk weavers and artists. Its quieter neighbour, Chiang Rai, is an excellent base for visiting ethnic minorities in remote villages. Not far away is the notorious Golden Triangle, the former centre of opium growing in this border area.
Capital : Bangkok, called “Krung Thep” by locals
Time Zone : GMT +07:00 (Indochina Time Zone)
Language : Thai
Currency : Baht, available in 20, 50, 100, 500 and 1000 bill denominations.
Religion : Thai
Airport : International Airport : Suvarnabhumi International Airport
Thailand’s high season is November to February, when the weather is generally at its best throughout the country. In northern Thailand dry season is between November & May; June to October is characterised by heavy rainfall and temperatures are cooler between October & January. The south can be split into two: the wettest months on the west coast are between April & October; whilst the east coast experiences heavy rainfall from September to December. During the rest of the year, dry and sunny weather is the order of the day.
Thailand loves a festival, and it’s not surprising when you consider having fun and socialising is as central to Thai culture as eating spicy food. You’ll find festivals taking place all over Thailand, frequently held in temple grounds, and they are always a pleasant experience, but hardly worth flying half way around the world to see. However, there are also a handful of festivals that are a cut above. We have created this list to show you Thailand’s craziest, coolest and most bizarre festivals and gatherings, found all over the country, and graded for your pleasure. If you’re idea of cultural sightseeing is dancing the night away to village folk band, drinking shots of liquor with the locals and marvelling at things you will never truly understand, then this list is for you! Note: many festivals are planned according to the lunar calendar, so the exact date varies each year.
Everywhere – April
Songkran is an annual festival which takes place over three days during the traditional Thai New Year, April 13th-15th (in almost all provinces). The official Songkran festival lasts three days but in reality the whole week is taken over by a mass celebration as the whole country shuts down for a momentous water fight. Wild scenes of exuberance can be seen throughout the Kingdom with music, dancing, drinking and people drenched from head to toe. Water guns, hose pipes, buckets, in fact, anything youcan get your hands on can be used to splash people, and one thing is for certain: you will get wet!
Dan Sai, Loei Province – June or July
Combining religious traditions, local handicrafts and fun-loving party atmosphere, Phi Ta Khon is a three-day festival that’s renowned for the colourful masks worn by thousands of locals. The masks are ghastly, stretched faces with phallic noses, decorated in bright, gaudy colours. The origin of the festival is a mixture of animist and Buddhist beliefs. It is supposed to recreate the legend of when a party was thrown that was so fun, everyone wanted to attend – living or dead. We don’t really know the significance of the phallic noses. The Ghost Festival is held on the weekend of the 6th full moon of the lunar calendar. It usually has the main parade on the Friday (dressing up as a ghost optional), with pageants and music on the Saturday and Buddhist ceremonies on the Sunday. Located in Dan Sai Town in Loei Province, the Ghost Festival is quite hard to get to. It’s easiest from Udon Thani (a three-hour bus journey) or Chiang Mai (five-hour bus journey). From Bangkok, buses leave from Mo Chit Northern Bus Terminal about five times a day. It’s around a seven-hour journey. As Dan Sai is a small town, accommodation gets booked up quickly, so make sure you book your hotel or guesthouse early.
Chiang Mai - November
Chiang Mai’s lantern festival takes place every November and is truly a remarkable sight. Down by the banks of the Peng River, thousands of paper lanterns are released into the sky to float away on the evening breeze. It’s a more genteel affair than the other festivals on this list, but is a great opportunity for snapping some breathtaking photos. Releasing lanterns is the most photogenic part of the festival, but there are also parades, religious ceremonies, fireworks and the releasing of paper floats in the river.
Pattaya - December
The Wonderfruit Festival Pattaya is a three-day eco-friendly music and arts extravaganza on the outskirts of the city. Combining Thai, Asian and western cultures, the fantastic performances and wide-ranging workshops give it a Western-style festivalvibe, similar to Glastonbury in the UK or Woodstock in the US, though with significantly less mud
January or February
Chinese New Year brings one of the most exhilarating celebrations to Yaowaraj, which is officially the Chinatown of Bangkok. The narrow, bustling alleys of Chinatown are always a fun place to explore but, during Chinese New Year, things are ramped up a notch. The entire length of the street (and surrounding alleys) comes to life, with crowds of worshippers, exploding firecrackers, dragon dancers and families of Chinese descent, who gather to partake in the street fanfare as well as enjoy sumptuous Chinese banquets. The best place to experience the festival in Bangkok is at Wat Mangkon Kamalawat on Charoen Krung Street, at the northern edge of Chinatown.
When it comes to shopping, knowing the shopping landscape, where to find the best deals and the cheapest goods, and when and how to bargain is very important.
Shopping in Thailand is not difficult when you can find all you need to know on the TAT website. It is a good idea to browse many places to compare prices before making your purchase, but most of the time the prices vary according to the goods quality or if they are selling imitation goods, so it is worth checking carefully before you buy it. Buying in bulk is always a lot cheaper, so you should bring your friends to a wholesale market, trust us you will be surprised by the prices there.
You should bargain the price when buying stuff in Thailand as it is part of the culture to haggle. You can usually lower the price drastically by haggling at most stalls here, while only some are selling goods at fixed prices. If you want to bargain, the rule is 20% lower than the initially stated price.
If you want even bigger bargains, we suggest you cut out the middle man or wait until there is a sale expo or a midnight sale, where you will get incredibly cheap deals. Sales usually start at the beginning of the month and there are also big sales at the end of the year. For more information on sales, visit the TAT website.
Thailand shopping tips
Most malls open daily from 10.00 am - 10.00 pm. It is safe to say night markets always open until midnight and local fresh markets open around 4.00 - 9.00 am. All these are Thailand shopping experience you shouldn’t miss out on.
Places to shop
Bangkok - Chatuchak, Klong Thom, Sampeng, Pratunam, and Bobae Markets
Chiang Mai - Wualai Walking Street, Thapae Walking Street, Chiang Mai Night Bazar, and Kad Rin Come Night Market Hat Yai - Kim Yong and Santisuk Markets
Thai cuisine is well known for its spiciness, with Som Tam (a spicy papaya salad) being a famous example. In fact, however, the secret to Thai food is a balance of five flavors: sour, sweet, salty, bitter, and spicy. Some Thai dishes have a careful blend of all these tantalizing tastes. Others are served with something to help deal with the overpowering spiciness. For example, Tom Yum Goong, which is sour and spicy, is often paired with an omelet or rice. This could be the reason rice is always part of a Thai meal.
As well as many herbs and spices used in Thai food, fish sauce is often used in a similar way salt is, as it mellows the taste. This means vegetarians will have to take this into account and be more careful when choosing food in Thailand.
There is a great variety of Thai food for you to try, both main dishes and desserts. You can also try local foods, which are different in each part of the country. Northern Thai meals usually feature sticky rice, Nam Prik (spicy chili paste), fresh vegetable, and soup, northeastern Thai meals are famous for their spicy and sour dishes and an essential condiment Pla Ra (fermented fish sauce), while traditional southern foods are well-known for their herbs and spices.
There is also a lot of Chinese influence. Many Chinese restaurants and fusion foods exist in Thailand side by side with the authentic Thai cuisine restaurants.
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