Thailand Travel Advice: General Information
You'll find Thailand an easy country to travel in as the tourism industry here is well developed and well organized. The people of Thailand are extremely friendly and polite, and crime problems are relatively rare. English is widely spoken in tourist areas, but keep your requests–and language and grammar–simple. Above all, avoid becoming frustrated and losing your temper as this will lead to doors of communication rapidly closing. The attitude of Jai Yen, or "Keep Your Cool", will go a long way towards making the time you spend here pleasant and enjoyable.
Formalities and Visas
All travelers must have a passport valid for at least six months. For stays shorter than 15 days, visas are not required for Southeast Asian nationals nor for most Europeans and North Americans. Visas are required for stays longer than 15 days, although some nationalities, are exempt and given 90 days upon arrival. Check with a Thai Embassy in your own country before departure since entry rules do change periodically. Altogether, the visa process is simple, convenient and inexpensive and available in most major cities. This website is generally kept up to date:
Communications and Telephony
It is necessary to dial the city or province code before the number wherever you are. For example, if you are in Phuket, you must dial 076 before every number dialed. The same thing goes if you are trying to call Phuket from Bangkok, 076 before the number. Charges are 3-baht per call locally, or from province to province, 8-12-baht per call. These are charges per call, not per minute.
Mobile phone prefixes are either 081 or 089. Mobile phone charges are between 1 and 3-baht per minute to call out, but there are no charges for receiving calls on your phone. SIM cards can be bought at any 7/11 in the country for almost nothing so if you have a GSM phone, it's very easy to get your own Thai number as soon as you land.
Cellular systems generally do not work on more remote dive sites, but are beginning to work in places like the Similan Islands; every year we get closer to good coverage. Most of the liveaboards now have some sort of satellite phone, but don't publish the numbers because they are expensive to use (even to receive calls). For more information on calling to Thailand or contacting us in case of an emergency, please go here.
Accessing email or the web in Thailand is relatively cheap and very painless, although the connections are slow in the provinces but getting better all of the time. There are hundreds of Internet cafes in all tourist areas, and most other areas as well. Prices range from 20-120 baht per hour; at hotels, often more, and at airports, a lot more! Not all hotel rooms have broadband or wireless, but again, it's getting better all of the time. If this is a concern, check with the hotel before booking. Also, bring electrical plug travel adaptors with you as plugs can be strange in some places. These are available at travel stores and electrical stores such as Radio Shack in the US and lots of stores online. They are very easy to find here in Thailand as well.
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Thai cuisine is famous the world-over for its remarkable variety and often blistering flavor. Experiment as often as you can. Southern Thailand–where most of the diving happens–is famous for its fresh seafood and hot, sour curries. Most often food is very inexpensive, but like everywhere in the world, you can pay more for atmosphere.
As in most Asian countries, rice is the main staple and is served with almost every dish that can be ordered here. Many different varieties of rice are available, depending on what kind of food you're ordering. Curries are absolutely fantastic in Thailand, and vary in heat-level from mild and sweet to high-powered and fiery.
Although this may shock some of you, quite often the best food is available right off the street. Thai's are extremely creative in business, and it is common to see Thai families set up a portable restaurant right on the street corner. Some will have a more permanent kwait diaw (noodle) shop on the sidewalk. Funnily enough, often this type of food is more fresh that what you would find in more expensive restaurants for the simple reason that the food stalls have no refrigeration. This forces them to buy foods fresh everyday. Above all, don't be afraid to experiment, even if that means trying the fried silkworms or dried and salted sardines (with are actually astonishingly tasty with a cold Singha beer and peanuts; really!).
Since Thailand is a tropical country, it wont surprise you that the fruits here are absolutely delicious. And I am sure that you will find that much of it you've never seen or heard about before, even if you've traveled widely in the tropics. Thai's have very creative ways to prepare fruit dishes and the best season for unusual fruit is from March until September. A favorite springtime dish is called mango and sticky rice (kao neaow matmuang), a concoction of fresh mango slices on a bed of rice that is marinated in coconut milk overnight. This is absolutely delicious. Also try the durian, an ugly and horrible-smelling fruit that Thai's insist is the best fruit in the universe. See for yourself.
Western food is available in all tourist areas as well. Liveaboard boats in Thailand offer some of the finest food you'll find, and often people come back time and time again not only for the diving, but for the incredible meals that are served on board. For many people who are only here for a short period of time, a liveaboard boat is their only chance to try a real Thai meal.
Protecting the environment is a fairly new concept in Thailand and all of Southeast Asia, but fortunately more and more people are beginning to think about this protection, and more importantly, starting to do something about it. Divers have long been aware of damage to coral reefs through dynamite fishing and anchoring, but only recently started thinking about the damage that can be done by divers themselves. For this reason, most centers have developed a hands-off policy. Thailand has some of the most environmentally progressive dive shops in the world, and this has helped to keep our reefs healthy and beautiful. When diving here, please try to respect the wishes of the diving community by not gathering or collecting any corals or shells, even from the beaches (don't take a home away from a hermit crab–or calcium from the sea–by taking even dead shells). Of course, never buy marine items from shell shops or anyone else as this only encourages them to go out and collect more.
Please do not spearfish. Spearfishing–though some argue is not damaging because it is selective–tends to frighten fish which makes them unapproachable. Also, since it is selective, divers tend to take only the larger animals of only certain species. This can severely damage the gene pool, and can create a species imbalance on the reef. Anyway, no dive boat in Thailand will allow you to spearfish, so best forget it.
Much of the seafood you eat here is grown in farms, but the majority of it is still harvested from the reefs. Please avoid eating shellfish with eggs and do not eat sharks, as they are heavily hunted. Remember, the more you eat in a restaurant, the less you'll see on the reef.
On land, you'll find that like in most countries, Thailand has its share of plastic garbage. Although this is a worldwide problem, make an effort to avoid using the stuff. Take your own bag or backpack to the store, and buy a canteen or reusable plastic container to hold drinking water during trips to the beach (your hotel will be more than happy to fill this up for you, especially if you explain why you are doing it this way). Think about where this plastic will end up; don't take an out of sight, out of mind attitude, because you just may see that bottle washed up on your favorite beach the next day.
Finally, most islands in Thailand have a fresh water shortage all year-round. Please do not waste water. You may see green tropical foliage surrounding you, but there is very little water in the ground. Shorten your showers, turn off the water while shaving, and generally be conscious about how you are using it.
All of these tips will help to keep our islands beautiful for years to come. Come and enjoy Thailand, and try to make your journey a positive one as well.