Friendly and fun-loving, exotic and tropical, cultured and historic. Thailand radiates a golden hue. From its glittering temples and tropical beaches to the ever-comforting Thai smile.
In between the busy cities and towns is the rural heartland, a mix of rice paddies, tropical forests and squat villages. In the north, the forests and fields bump up against blue mountains decorated by silvery waterfalls. In the south there are limestone cliffs poking out of the cultivated landscape like prehistoric buildings. The usually arid and dry northeast beams an emerald hue during the rainy season when green rice shoots carpet the landscape.
Loved around the world, Thai food expresses the fundamental aspects of Thai culture. It is generous, warm, refreshing and relaxed. Every Thai dish uses fresh, local ingredients – lemongrass, searing chillies and plump seafood. A varied national menu is built around the four fundamental flavours: spicy, sweet, salty and sour. Big appetites go on eating tours of Bangkok noodle shacks, seafood pavilions in Phuket and Burmese market stalls in Mae Hong Son. Mastering the market is an important survival skill for Thailand.
The celestial world is a close confidant in Thailand’s nation and religious devotion is colourful. Shiny temples and golden Buddhas frame the rural and modern land. Ancient banyan trees are wrapped in sacred cloth to honour the resident spirits. Fortune-bringing shrines decorate the homes as well as malls. Garland-festooned dashboards ward off traffic accidents. Visitors can join in on the conversation through meditation retreats in Chiang Mai, religious festivals in northeastern Thailand, underground cave shrines in Kanchanaburi and Phetchaburi and hilltop temples in northern Thailand.
With a long coastline and islands anchored in beautiful waters, Thailand is a tropical getaway for pretty much anyone. This paradise offers a varied menu: playing in the gentle surf of Ko Lipe, diving with whale sharks in Ko Tao, scaling the sea cliffs of Krabi, kiteboarding in Hua Hin, partying on Ko Phi Phi, recuperating at a health resort in Ko Samui and feasting on the beach.
Top things to do in Thailand
Chiang Mai Night Bazaar
Chiang Mai Night Bazaar is one of the city’s main night-time attractions, especially for families, and is the modern legacy of the original trading caravans that stopped there along the ancient trade route
The Grand Palace in Bangkok
If there is one must-see sight that no visit to Bangkok would be complete without, it is the spectacular Grand Palace. The palace is undoubtedly the city’s most famous landmark. It was built in 1782 – and was, for 150 years, the home of the Thai King, the Royal court and the administrative seat of government. – It continues to leave visitors in awe with its stunning architecture and intricate details. Within The Palace walls were also the Thai war ministry, state departments, and even the mint. Today, the complex remains the spiritual heart of the Thai Kingdom.
Similan Islands – Mu Koh Similan National Park
This group of rocks and islands lies about 90 minutes, by speedboat, off the coast of Phang-Nga. If you would rather take the slow boat from Phuket this trip will take 8 or more hours. The area was declared a marine national park in 1982 and still remains largely undeveloped. The waters that surround the Similans are teeming with tropical fish, colourful coral, and offer fantastic underwater visibility. The diving here is considered to be the best in the region, and compares favourably with some of the best in the world. Part of the reason for this is the very interesting submarine topography, due to the giant granite boulders which litter the shoreline and also lie in jumbled heaps beneath the waves to depths of 35 metres and beyond.
Bangkok Floating Markets
Even though the markets are more concerned with tourists rather than locals these days, the floating market’s boats are still piled high with tropical fruit and vegetables. As well as fresh, ready-to-drink coconut juice and local food cooked from floating kitchens located right there in the boat. To enjoy the atmosphere without haggling over prices, try to relax on a guided boat tour of Damnoen Saduak market. Floating markets are Taling Chan Market, Bang Ku Wiang Market, Tha Kha, and Damnoen Saduak.
Khao Yai National Park
Khao Yai is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is Thailand’s second largest and one of the most visited national parks. It spreads across four provinces, Saraburi (west), Nakhon Nayok (east), Nakhon Ratchasima (north) and Prachinburi (east). The highest peak is 1,351 metres above sea level. With a lush, mountainous landscape, and fertile valleys, pounding waterfalls and rich biodiversity, Khao Yai is a year-round getaway just three hours’ drive from Bangkok. It is also home to a rich diversity of animal life and thousands of different types of plants.
The best places to stay
To backpackers on shoe-strings and luxury-seekers alike, Thailand is the ultimate paradise. Style and comfort can be found on any budget, and it varies from well-loved hostels to stunning resorts. Here are some of our top picks:
- The Siam Heritage boutique suites – A 5 minute walk from Patpong, this hotel offers a restaurant, a rooftop swimming pool, and all the rooms feature antique furnishings. Traditional Thai dishes are served at the restaurant but it also features an international and Asian menu. There is a pool bar as well, which offers a variety of drinks and snacks.
- Baan Bayan Hua Hin – This hotel is only 320 metres from Hua Hin Market Village. This beach front hotel is 4 star and has an outdoor swimming pool. The hotel also offers free Wi-Fi and parking and it has a massage room and a restaurant.
- Mandarin Oriental Bangkok – This hotel is situated in the heart of Bangkok. This is a 5-star hotel and is close to Wat Pho and Grand Palace. The hotel has a lovely restaurant that serves lunch and dinner. There is also a spa at this hotel and two outdoor swimming pools.
- Ariyasom Villa – Ariyasom Villa is a peaceful garden hotel situated within Bangkok. It is conveniently located at the start of Sukhumvit Road. This hotel is decorated with 1940s heritage Thai decor and it has a cosy outdoor pool, an organic restaurant and a pampering spa.
- Woodlands Hotel & Resort – This is a 4-star resort within close proximity of Pattaya City Hall and Art in Paradise. Enjoy the spa where you can get facials and massages, or make your way to the 2 outdoor swimming pools or the waterslide. There is also a fitness center.
Health in Thailand
Health risks and the quality of medical facilities will vary depending on where you travel in Thailand and how you travel. Most of the cities and popular tourist areas have very good medical care. But if you travel to remote rural areas you can be exposed to some health risks and less adequate medical care. Travellers tend to worry about contracting exotic infectious diseases when visiting the tropics, but these diseases are far less common than problems with pre-existing medical conditions such as heart disease, and accidental injury, especially as a result of a traffic accident. Others include respiratory infections, diarrhoea and dengue fever. Luckily most of these can be prevented or are easily treated.
The advice given below is a general guide and does not replace the advice of a doctor trained in travel medicine.
Before You Go:
Pack medicines in a clearly labelled original container. You also need to obtain a signed and dated letter from your physician describing your conditions, medications and syringes or needles. If you have a heart condition please bring a copy of your electrocardiography (ECG) taken just prior to your trip. Bring double of your regular medication in case of loss or theft. In Thailand you can buy many medications over the counter without a doctor’s prescription, but it can be difficult to find the exact medication that you are taking. Contact your own country’s Department of Foreign Affairs and register your trip as this is a helpful precaution in the event of a natural disaster.
Even if you are fit and healthy, don’t travel without health insurance. (Accidents do happen). You may need extra cover for adventure activities like rock climbing or diving, as well as scooter/motorcycle riding. If your health insurance does not cover you for any medical expenses abroad then ensure you get specific travel insurance. Most hospitals will require an upfront guarantee of payment (from yourself or your insurer) prior to admitting you. Ask about payment of medical charges before your trip and keep all documentation (medical reports, invoices etc) for claim purposes.
Items recommended for a personal medical kit: (Most of these medicines are available in Thailand.)
- Antifungal cream, eg Clotrimazole
- Antibacterial cream, eg Muciprocin
- Antibiotic for skin infections, eg Amoxicillin/Clavulanate or Cephalexin
- Antibiotics for diarrhoea include Norfloxacin, Ciprofloxacin or Azithromycin for bacterial diarrhoea; for giardiasis or
- Amoebic dysentery take Tinidazole
- Antihistamine – there are many options, eg Cetrizine for daytime and Promethazine for night-time
- Antiseptic, eg Betadine
- Antispasmodic for stomach cramps, eg Buscopan
- DEET-based insect repellent
- Oral rehydration solution for diarrhoea (eg Gastrolyte), diarrhoea ‘stopper’ (eg Loperamide) and antinausea medication
- First-aid items such as scissors, Elastoplasts, bandages, gauze, thermometer (but not one with mercury), sterile needles and syringes (with a doctor’s letter), safety pins and tweezers
- Hand gel (alcohol based) or alcohol-based hand wipes
- Ibuprofen or another anti-inflammatory
- Indigestion medication, eg Quick Eze or Mylanta
- Laxative, eg Coloxyl
- Migraine medicine – for migraine sufferers
- Permethrin to impregnate clothing and mosquito nets if at high risk
- Steroid cream for allergic/itchy rashes, eg 1% to 2% hydrocortisone
- Sunscreen, sunglasses and hat
- Throat lozenges
- Thrush (vaginal yeast infection) treatment, eg Clotrimazole pessaries or Diflucan tablet
- Ural or equivalent if prone to urine infections
You should arrange your vaccines six to eight weeks prior to departure though a specialised travel-medicine clinic.
The only vaccine required by international regulations is for yellow fever. If you are travelling to Thailand from Africa or South America you should check to see if you require proof of vaccination.
Mosquito Avoidance Tips
Travellers are advised to prevent mosquito bites by taking these steps:
- Use a DEET-containing insect repellent on exposed skin
- Sleep under a mosquito net, ideally impregnated with Permethrin
- Choose accommodation with screens and fans
- Impregnate clothing with Permethrin in high-risk areas
- Wear long sleeves and trousers in light colours
- Use mosquito coils
- Spray your room with insect repellent before going out
- In Thailand
- Infectious Diseases
There is a lot of misinformation concerning malaria. Malaria is caused by a parasite transmitted by the bite of an infected mosquito. The most important symptom of malaria is fever, but general symptoms such as headache, diarrhoea, cough or chills can also occur – the same symptoms as many other infections. A diagnosis can only be made by taking a blood sample.
Most parts of Thailand visited by tourists have minimal to no risk of malaria, and the risk of side effects from taking antimalarial tablets is likely to outweigh the risk of getting the disease. If you are travelling to high-risk rural areas (unlikely for most visitors), seek medical advice on the right medication and dosage for yourself.
This is a serious bacterial infection, and is spread through food and water. It gives a high and slowly progressive fever, severe headache, and can be accompanied by a dry cough and stomach pains. It is diagnosed by blood tests and can be treated with antibiotics. Vaccination is recommended for all travellers spending more than a week in Thailand, or travelling into the rural areas. Be aware that these vaccinations are not 100% effective so you must still be careful with what you eat and drink.
Influenza (flu) is present year round and symptoms include high fever, muscle aches, runny nose, cough and sore throat. Flu is the most common vaccine-preventable disease contracted by travellers and everyone should consider vaccination. There is no specific treatment, just rest and paracetamol. Complications such as bronchitis or middle-ear infection may require antibiotic treatment.
Cutaneous Larva Migrans:
This disease, which is caused by dog or cat hookworm, is very common on the beaches of Thailand. The rash starts as a small lump, and then spreads like a winding line. It is very itchy, especially at night, but is easily treated with medications and should not be cut out or frozen.
Rare But Be Aware:
- Avian Influenza – Most of those infected have had close contact with sick or dead birds.
- Filariasis – A mosquito-borne disease that is common in the local population; practise mosquito-avoidance measures.
- Hepatitis E – Transmitted through contaminated food and water and has similar symptoms to hepatitis A; can be a severe problem in pregnant women. Follow safe eating and drinking guidelines.
- Japanese B Encephalitis – Viral disease transmitted by mosquitoes, typically occurring in rural areas; vaccination is recommended for travellers spending more than one month outside cities or for long-term expats.
- Meliodosis – Contracted by skin contact with soil. Affects up to 30% of the local population in northeastern Thailand.
- The symptoms are very similar to those experienced by tuberculosis (TB) sufferers. There is no vaccine but it can be treated with medications.
- Strongyloides – A parasite transmitted by skin contact with soil; common in the local population. It is characterised by an unusual skin rash – a linear rash on the trunk which comes and goes. An overwhelming infection can follow. It can be treated with medications.
- Tuberculosis – Medical and aid workers and long-term travellers who have significant contact with the local population should take precautions. Vaccination is recommended for children spending more than three months in Thailand. The main symptoms are fever, cough, weight loss, night sweats and tiredness. Treatment is available with long-term multidrug regimens.
- Typhus – Murine typhus is spread by the bite of a flea; scrub typhus is spread via a mite. Symptoms include fever, muscle pains and a rash. Following general insect-avoidance measures and Doxycycline will also prevent it.
This mosquito-borne disease is very problematic in Thailand, especially in the cities. And as there is no vaccine, it can only be prevented by avoiding mosquito bites. The mosquito that carries dengue is a daytime biter, so use insect repellent measures at all times. Symptoms include: high fever, severe headache (especially behind the eyes), nausea and body aches (dengue was previously known as ‘breakbone fever’). Some people may develop a rash (which can be very itchy) and experience diarrhoea. Chiang Mai and the southern islands are high-risk areas. There is no specific treatment, just rest and paracetamol – do not take aspirin or ibuprofen as they increase the risk of haemorrhaging.
The risk of Hepatitis A in Bangkok is decreasing but there is still significant risk in the rest of the country. This food and waterborne virus infects the liver which causes jaundice (yellow skin and eyes), nausea and lethargy. There is no specific treatment for hepatitis A and in rare instances, it can be fatal for those over the age of 40. All those going to Thailand should be vaccinated against hepatitis A.
This is the only sexually transmitted disease (STD) that can be prevented by vaccination. Hepatitis B is spread by body fluids, including sexual contact. In some parts of Thailand, up to 20% of the population are carriers of hepatitis B, and are usually unaware of this. The long-term consequences can include liver cancer, cirrhosis and death.
This is contracted from exposure to infected surface water and most commonly after river rafting or canyoning. Early symptoms are very similar to flu and include a headache and fever. It can be a mild ailment or a fatal disease. Diagnosis is made through blood tests and it is easily treated with Doxycycline.
This is a highly contagious viral infection and is spread through coughing and sneezing. Most people born before 1966 are immune as they had the disease during their childhood. Measles starts with a high fever and rash and can be complicated by pneumonia and brain disease. There is no specific treatment. Ensure you are fully vaccinated.
This disease is fatal if left untreated. It is spread by the bite or lick of an infected animal, most commonly a dog or monkey. You should seek medical advice immediately after any animal bite and start with post-exposure treatment. Having a pretravel vaccination means the postbite treatment is greatly simplified. If an animal bites you, gently wash the wound with soap and water, and apply iodine-based antiseptic. If you are not prevaccinated you will need to receive rabies immunoglobulin as soon as possible, followed by five shots of vaccine over 28 days. If prevaccinated you need just two shots of vaccine given three days apart.
HIV is now one of the most common causes of death in people under the age of 50 in Thailand. Always practice safe sex and avoid getting tattoos or using unclean syringes.
Sexually transmitted diseases most common in Thailand include herpes, warts, syphilis, gonorrhoea and chlamydia. People carrying these diseases often have no signs of infection. Condoms will prevent gonorrhoea and chlamydia but not warts or herpes. If, after a sexual encounter, you start to develop any rash, lumps, discharge or pain when passing urine seek immediate medical attention. If you have been sexually active during your travels have an STD check on your return home.
Jellyfish Stings – Box jellyfish stings range from minor to deadly. It is best to presume a box jelly is dangerous until proven otherwise. There are two main types of box jellyfish – multitentacled and single-tentacled.
Multi-tentacled box jellyfish are present in Thai waters – these are the most dangerous and their severe venom can kill an adult within two minutes. They are generally found on sandy beaches near river mouths and mangroves during the warmer months.
There are many types of single-tentacled box jellyfish, some of which can cause severe symptoms known as the Irukandji syndrome. The initial sting can seem minor, however severe symptoms such as back pain, nausea, vomiting, sweating, difficulty breathing and a feeling of impending doom can develop between five and 40 minutes later.
There are many other jellyfish in Thailand that cause irritating stings but no serious effects. The only way to prevent these stings is to wear protective clothing.
FIRST AID FOR SEVERE STINGS:
For severe life-threatening venoms the first priority is keeping the person alive. Send someone to call for medical help, and start immediate CPR if they are unconscious. If the victim is conscious douse the stung area liberally with vinegar for 30 seconds. Vinegar can also reduce irritation from minor stings as well. It is best to seek medical care quickly in case any other symptoms develop over the next 40 minutes.
Eating in restaurants is the biggest risk factor for contracting traveller’s diarrhoea. Ways to avoid it include eating only freshly cooked food, and avoiding food that has been sitting around in buffets. Peel all the fruit and cook the vegetables. Eat in busy restaurants with a a lot of customers.
Snake bites are generally rare for travellers, but there are over 85 species of venomous snakes in Thailand. Always wear boots and long pants if walking in an area that may have snakes. The Thai Red Cross produces anti-venom for many of the poisonous snakes in Thailand.
Insect Bites & Stings:
Bedbugs live in the cracks of furniture and walls and then move to the bed at night to feed on humans. You can treat an itch with an antihistamine.
Ticks are contracted when walking in rural areas. They are commonly found behind the ears, on the belly and in armpits. If you have been bitten by a tick and a rash develops at the site of the bite or elsewhere, along with fever or muscle aches, then you need to see a doctor. Doxycycline prevents tick-borne diseases.
Leeches are found in the humid rainforests. They do not transmit disease but their bites are often itchy for weeks and can become infected quite easily. Apply an iodine-based antiseptic to the bite to help prevent an infection.
Bee and wasp stings mainly cause problems for the people who are allergic to them. Anyone with a serious allergy should carry an injection of adrenaline in case of an emergency. For others, pain is the main problem – apply ice to the sting and take a painkiller.
For most of the people visiting Thailand it takes at least two weeks to adapt to the hot climate. Prevent swelling of feet and ankles as well as muscle cramps caused by drinking lots of water and avoiding excessive activity in the heat of the day.
Heat stroke requires immediate medical treatment. Symptoms come very quickly and include weakness, nausea, a hot dry body with a body temperature of over 41°C, dizziness, confusion, loss of coordination, fits and eventually collapse and loss of consciousness.
Prickly heat is a common skin rash in the tropics which is caused by sweat being trapped under the skin. Treat this by taking cool showers and using powders.
There are two fungal rashes that commonly affect travellers. The first occurs in the groin, armpits and between the toes. It starts as a red patch that slowly spreads and is itchy. Treatment involves keeping the skin dry, avoiding chafing and using an anti-fungal cream such as Lamisil. The fungus Tinea versicolor causes small and light-coloured patches, most commonly on the back, chest and shoulders. Consult a doctor.
Cuts and scratches can become easily infected in humid climates. Immediately wash all wounds in clean water and apply antiseptic. If you develop signs of infection, see a doctor. Coral cuts can also become easily infected.
Even on a cloudy day sunburn can occur very quickly. Use a strong sunscreen (factor 30 and above), and make sure to reapply after a swim. Always wear a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses when you are outdoors. If you become sunburnt stay out of the sun until you have recovered, apply cool compresses and take painkillers for any discomfort.
A number of parasites are common in local populations in Thailand, but most of these are rare for travellers. To avoid parasitic infections, wear shoes and avoid eating raw food, especially fish, pork and vegetables.
Traveller’s diarrhoea is by far the most common problem affecting travellers. In over 80% of cases, traveller’s diarrhoea is caused by a bacteria, and responds right away to treatment with antibiotics.
Travelling With Children
Thailand is generally safe for children. Consult a doctor who specialises in travel medicine prior to travel to make sure that your child is prepared. A medical kit designed specifically for children includes liquid medicines for children who can not swallow tablets.
Pregnant women should receive specialised advice before travelling. The ideal time to travel is in the second trimester, when pregnancy-related risks are low. Avoid rural areas with poor transport and medical facilities. Ensure travel insurance covers all pregnancy-related possibilities, including premature labour.
Malaria is a high-risk disease for pregnant women. You should not travel to those areas with Chloroquine-resistant malaria.
Traveller’s diarrhoea can quickly lead to dehydration and result in inadequate blood flow to the placenta. Azithromycin is considered one of the safest anti-diarrhoea drugs in pregnancy.
In Thailand’s urban areas, supplies of sanitary products are readily available. Bring adequate supplies of your personal birth-control option. Heat, humidity and antibiotics can all contribute to thrush, which can be treated with antifungal creams and Clotrimazole. A practical alternative is one tablet of fluconazole (Diflucan). Urinary-tract infections can be precipitated by dehydration or long bus journeys without toilet stops; bring suitable antibiotics for treatment.
Availability & Cost of Health Care:
Bangkok is considered a centre of medical excellence in Southeast Asia. Private hospitals are more expensive than other medical facilities but offer a superior standard of care and English-speaking staff. The cost of health care is relatively cheap in Thailand compared to most Western countries.
Jet Lag & Motion Sickness:
Jet lag is common when crossing more than five time zones; it results in insomnia, fatigue, malaise or nausea. To avoid jet lag drink plenty of fluids (nonalcoholic) and eat light meals. Upon arrival, seek exposure to natural sunlight and readjust your schedule. Some people find melatonin helpful.
Sedating antihistamines such as dimenhydrinate (Dramamine) or Prochlorperazine (Phenergan) are usually the first choice for treating motion sickness. Their main side effect is drowsiness. A herbal alternative is ginger. Scopolamine patches are considered the most effective prevention.