The Kingdom of Thailand lies in the heart of Southeast Asia, making it a natural gateway to Indochina, Myanmar and Southern China. Its shape and geography divide into four natural regions: the mountains and forests of the North; the vast rice fields of the Central Plains; the semi-arid farm lands of the Northeast plateau; and the tropical islands and long coastline of the peninsula South.
The country comprises 76 provinces that are further divided into districts, subdistricts and villages. Bangkok is the capital city end centre of political, commercial, industrial and cultural activities. It is also the seat of Thailand's revered Royal Family, with His Majesty the King recognised as Head of State, Head of the Armed Forces, Upholder of the Buddhist religion and Upholder of all religions.
Thailand is a constitutional monarchy with His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej, or King Rama IX, the ninth king of the Chakri Dynasty, the present king. The King has reigned for more than half a century, making him the longestreigning Thai monarch. Thailand embraces a rich diversity of cultures and traditions. With its proud history, tropical climate and renowned hospitality, the Kingdom is a never-ending source of fascination and pleasure for international visitors.
The Thai calendar Thailand has adopted the western calendar to divided the year into days, weeks and months, using Thai names for these units. Years are numbered according to the Buddhist era (BE) which commenced 543 years before the Christian era. Therefore 2001 AD is BE 2544 and 2002 is BE 2545.
National public holidays Thailand's national public holidays are linked to religious or agricultural traditions and follow the lunar calendar, therefore the dates for some of the holidays change each year. For the precise dates of the lunar holidays and festival locations, check www.tourismthailand.org
Thailand enjoys a tropical climate with three distinct seasons - hot and dry from February to May (average temperature 34 degrees Celsius and 75` ,~, humidity); rainy with plenty of sunshine from June to October (average day temperature 29 degrees Celsius and 87% humidity); and cool from November to January (temperatures range from 32 degrees Celsius to below 20 degrees Celsius with a drop in humidity). Much lower temperatures are experienced in the North and Northeast during nighttime. The South has a tropical rainforest climate with temperatures averaging 28 degrees Celsius almost all year round.
Population Thailand has a population of approximately 62 million people, of which 80% are ethnic Thais, 10°/, Chinese and 4% Malays, plus Lao, Mon, Khmer, Indian and Burmese minorities. Such diversity reflects the countrv°'s long history as an important crossroads of Southeast Asia. Thai,, are a friendly and easy-going people with a great reverence for the Buddhist faith.
Language Spoken and written Thai is largely incomprehensible to the casual visitor. However, English is widely understood, particularly in Bangkok where it is almost the major commercial language. English and some European languages are spoken in most hotels, shops and restaurants in major tourist destinations, and Thai-English road and street signs are found nationwide.
Religion The majority of Thais are devout Buddhists. Muslims form the largest of the religious minorities and are located mainly in the four southern provinces. Other minority groups include Hindus, Sikhs and Christians.
Currency The Thai unit of currencv is the baht. One baht is divided into 100 satang. Notes are in denominations of 1,000 (brown), 500 (purple), 100 (red), 50 (blue), 20 (green) and 10 (brown) baht. Coins consist of 25 satan•, 50 satang, 1 baht, 5 baht and 10 baht.
Currency Exchange Major currency bills and travellers cheques are cashed easily at hotels, tourist shops, all provincial banks, shopping centres and money changers. Travellers cheques are best changed in banks (you will need your passport). Rates of exchange at banks or authorised money changers are better than those at hotels and department stores.
Credit Card Credit cards are widely accepted. For lost cards: American Express, Tel: 0 2273 5100 or 0 2273 0022; Diners Club, Tel: 0 2238 2920 or 0 2238 2680; MasterCard, Tel: 0 2256 7326-7; and Visa, Tel: 0 2256 7326-7.
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Electricity The electric current is 220 volt AC (50 cycles) throughout the country. Many different types of plugs and sockets are in use. Travellers with electric shavers, hair drVers, tape recorders and other appliances should carry a plug adapter kit. The better hotels will make available 110-volt transformers.
Tap Water Tap water is clean but drinking from it directly should be avoided. Bottled water is recommended.
Weight & Measure The metric system is used throughout Thailand. Numerals on vehicle speedometers, highway markers and speed limits all indicate kilometres.
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Clothing Light, cool clothes are sensible and a jacket is needed for formal meetings and dining in top restaurants. Shorts (except knee length walking shorts), sleeveless shirts, tank tops and other beach-style attire are considered inappropriate dress when not actually at the beach or in a resort area.
The time in Thailand is seven hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (+7 hours GMT).
Most commercial concerns in Bangkok operate on a five-day week, usually from 8 am to 5 pin. Many stores open seven days a week from 10 am to 10 pm. Government offices are generally open between 8:30 am and 4:30 pin with a noon to 1 pm lunch break, Monday to Friday except on publicholidays. Banks are open Mondays to Fridays from 9:30 am to 3:30 pm except on public holidays.
Tipping Tipping is not standard practice in Thailand, although it is becoming increasingly common. Many larger hotels and restaurants add a 10%> service charge to the bill. Taxi drivers do not expect a tip but the gesture is appreciated and 10-20 baht is acceptable for porters.
Social Customs Being Buddhists, Thai are tolerant people. Avoiding offensive behaviour can generallv be achieved through simple courtesy and common sense. A few taboos do exist, though, mostly in regard to the monarchy and Buddhism. Visitors should not make any disparaging remarks or gestures that denigrate the Royal Family or any religion, and when visiting a temple or royal palace, always dress appropriately.
Traditionally, Thais greet each other with a wai (by pressing the palms together at the chest), so if a Thai offers a wai then it is proper to return it. Please avoid touching people on the head as Thais believe the head to be the most sacred part of the body. It is also inappropriate to use the foot for pointing.
Telephone services At present, all telephone numbers (for local calls and long distance calls within the country) have nine digits.
For Bangkok calls, 02 is added to the existing numbers i.e. 0 2694 1222.
For provincial calls, an area code is added to the existing numbers. For example, area code for Chiang Mai is 053 = 0 5324 8604; area code for Phuket is 076 = 0 7621 1036.
For mobile phones, 01 or 09 is added to the existing numbers. • The new system has no effect on international phone calls.
The international dialling code for Thailand is 66.
When making international calls to Thailand, add 66 and omit the leading 0.
When making international calls from Thailand, first dial 001 + country code + area code + telephone number
If calling Laos or Malaysia, there is a special code which is charged at a semi-domestic rate.
When calling Laos, first dial 007 + 856 + area code + telephone number
When calling Malaysia, first dial 09 + 60 + area code + telephone number
Direct assistance: 1133 (local), 100 (international)