A Guide to Visiting Thailand for the First Time
What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when talking about Thailand? Pristine beaches? Magnificent temples? Shopping in Bangkok? Well, perhaps even all of it!
The famous “Land of Smile” is located just a few degrees above the equator and shares borders with Burma to the west and northwest, Laos to the east and northeast, Cambodia to the southeast and Malaysia to the south. The climate is tropical all year round, yet may vary slightly between the north and south. Most nationalities are granted a stay for up to 30 days without the need of obtaining any visa prior. Make sure to check the website of the nearest Thai Embassy.
Thailand boasts a compelling mix of attractions paired with an immense amount of activities to choose from. How about a few suggestions:
- Participating in a Muay Thai camp: Yes you read right. Rather than “just” going to a stadium and watch a fight, why don’t you designate time to learn it? Dating back to the 16th century, Muay Thai is a not only a highly respected martial art, but also the signature sport of Thailand. Whether you want to become a professional fighter or not: it’s perfect to strengthen your endurance and to relief stress.
- Visiting UNESCO World Heritage Sites: from the remains of ancient kingdoms such as Ayutthaya or Sukhothai to protected wildlife sanctuaries such as the Thungyai-Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary along the Thai-Burmese border – Thailand is blessed with a remarkable amount of natural and historical sites.
- Taking a train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai: guaranteed a story to share with your friends and family at home. Drive along the captivating countryside of Thailand and see places that won’t be seen by most visitors.
If you have never visited Thailand or maybe even Southeast Asia before, here are a few but important points to highlight when preparing for your trip:
- Thai Culture
Don’t get too much into learning the do’s and don’ts of social etiquettes as most indiscretions will be quickly forgiven or not even realized, since Thais know that foreigners have their own ways of doing things. The most important point is to respect the Royal Family and Buddhism:
Thailand is a monarchy lead by King Bhumibol Adulyadej and currently governed by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha. Once stepping your foot into Thailand, it would be quite difficult not to realize the admiration Thais have for their king and queen: pictures and portraits are depicted almost everywhere, from public places over homes to businesses.
Thai people take in general huge pride in their country; one important fact is that Thailand has never been occupied / colonized, unlike all other ASEAN countries such as Indonesia (the Netherlands) or Cambodia (France) for example.
Every day at 08:00 am and 06:00 pm the national anthem will be played on national television / radio and public places: for about a minute, people will stop doing any sort of activity to pay homage to the kingdom. Just do the same: remain silent, stand up if you should be sitting and just wait until the anthem is over.
Advice: Whether you personally like it or not, the affection the king receives is inviolable. Means that anything purposely said or done against him will be punished with up to 15 years jail. Tip: do not crumple any money or even step on it (it depicts the king).
About 95% of Thais adhering to Theravada Buddhism, which focuses on personal spiritual development and is based on the teachings of Lord Buddha, “the enlightened one”, who lived roughly 25 centuries ago. It plays an important role in the social life of Thais: small temples also known as “Spirit Houses” can be found outside homes and businesses where offerings and prayers are done on regular basis, while there is a larger temple (known as ‘Wat’) in every neighbourhood where Thais gathering for worships, especially during full moons. Several religious festivals such as Songkran (New Year) or Visakha Day (the birthday of Buddha) are held and celebrated throughout the year.
Advice: Make sure to wear decent clothes when visiting a temple (avoid black in any way, as black is only worn during funerals), speaking no sleeveless muscle shirts / mini-skirts, etc. and remove your shoes / sandals / slippers before entering.
As briefly mentioned earlier, Thailand’s vast natural diversity and beauty is incredible. Did you know that Thailand has more than 1400 islands? You will find many unspoiled beaches for your very own Robinson Crusoe experience. Central Thailand is quite flat and boasts some spectacular forests with a number of Asia’s most beautiful waterfalls and caves, such as the famous Erawan Waterfall or the Snake Mountain Cave. While heading further north, you will notice that the landscape changes slowly into a more mountainous one. Doi Inthanon is Thailand’s highest mountain at an elevation of 2565m – locals often refer to it as “the Roof of Thailand”. It is part of the Doi Inthanon National Park which features a fascinating biodiversity, particular in terms of bird species.
- The Food
Oh the food. It’s hard to find any other place on earth, offering such a large variety of food. The blend of ingredients, the flavours, the spices, the colours…..- If you don’t pay a visit to a market or get at least a dish from a mobile food seller whilst visiting Thailand, you would actually miss out a real chance to know more about the culture. Try meals away from the regular ones such as Pad Thai or Mango Sticky Rice and go for more exotic ones such as Som Tum (Green Papaya Salad), Tom Kha Gai (Spicy Chicken Soup) or Gaeng Khiao Wan (Green Chicken Curry). Wanna have the ultimate kick? How about trying fried grass hoppers?
- A Final Word
Without question, Thailand is one of the most charming and mesmerizing countries in Asia. Whatever you going for- whether it’s spending time around idyllic islands, vibrant cities or historical places - you will be amazed by the warm and heartfelt hospitality of the Thai people.