Thailand, once called Siam, is today widely known as 'The Land of Smiles', an accurate description, as visitors from abroad soon discover. Covering an area of 518,000 square kilometres (about the same size as France), Thailand has a population of some 61 million people, of whom over ten percent live in the capital city, Bangkok.
Thailand is a constitutional monarchy, with a democratic system of government -and a much beloved monarch, HM King Bhumibol Adulyadej, Rama IX of the Chakri dynasty.
The Thai people are believed to have migrated originally from southern China, but archaeological remains have been discovered dating civilisation here back over six thousand years. Over 95 percent of the population are Buddhist, with Muslim, Christian, Hindu and animist minorities. Their national language is Thai, although many speak local and Chinese dialects. English is also widely spoken, especially in cities and towns.
Thailand's climate is tropical, with three main seasons: hot - March to June; rainy - July to October; and cool November to February. Average day-time temperatures range from 20- 35 C. The weather is always cooler in northern and mountainous regions.
Passports and visas
All visitors to Thailand require valid passports, but visas are not necessary for most nationalities for a stay of up to 28 days, For a longer visit a tourist visa, issued by overseas Thai consular offices, is valid for a stay of up to 60 days. It must be used within three months from the date of issue and can usually be extended.
Customs & currency regulations
Visitors are permitted to bring in duty-free 200 cigarettes and one litre of wine or spirits. Strict restrictions apply against the import of weapons, narcotics, pornography etc.
Any amount of foreign exchange in travellers cheques or drafts may be imported, but cash in excess of US$10,000 must be declared on arrival. It is not permitted to import more than 2,000 Baht per person, nor export more than 50,000 Baht per person in cash.
Antiques and Buddha images require export licences.
Certificates of inoculation against cholera and yellow fever are not required, unless arriving from an infected area. Bangkok has excellent medical facilities and hospitals, with all hotels having doctors on 24-hour call.
Do not drink tap water. Purified bottled water is available everywhere.
Thailand has five international gateways: Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Phuket and Hat Yai.
In Bangkok, THAI operates a reliable airport-city transfer service. An airconditioned limousine costs between B450 and B650, depending on model, to any city destination. Provincial airports are mostly served by public taxi or hotel limousine services.
A regular, free shuttle-bus operates between Bangkok's international and domestic air terminals. A THAI limousine from Bangkok Airport to Pattaya Beach costs B1,500, one-way. THAI also operates bus services to Pattaya three times daily, fare B150.
Airport tax: B500 for international flights. Free baggage trolleys are available at airports.
Airport caution: In Bangkok, unauthorised taxi and sightseeing touts may seek to divert arriving passengers from their pre-arrangedl holiday travel plans. If in doubt, ask to see airport staff authority.
Money, exchange & credit cards
Thai currency is the Baht, divided into 100 Satang. Exchange rate, Thai notes are in denominations of B1000, 500, 100, 5O, 20 and 10. Coins are of B10, 5 , I and S50 and 25.
Cash and travellers cheques can be exchanged freely, with banks or money changers giving better rates than hotels. Major international credit cards are widely accepted in hotels, restaurants and shops.
Major hotels and restaurants add ten percent service charge to bills, otherwise tip around ten per cent. Hotel porters and bag boys B10-20. Taxi drivers tipped to next 10 Baht above meter fare shown.
Time, office & banking hours
Thailand time is GMT plus seven hours.
Government offices work a five day week, Monday-Friday, 8:30 am to 4:30 pm. Business offices usually open rather later and some work Saturday mornings. Banks open Monday-Friday, 8:30 am to 3:30 pm.
Travelling in Thailand
THAI operates domestic flights to 21 key cities, towns and resorts throughout the country. Thailand's rail and trunk bus services are efficient, but travel times can be long in this large country
Roads in Thailand are good. Driving is on the left and self - drive or chauffeur driven rental cars are easily available, from airports or hotels.
Getting around Bangkok
Most hotels operate reliable air-conditioned, but relatively expensive, limousine services. Public taxis are plentiful and inexpensive. Use only those with 'Taxi Meter' sign on roof. Check that meter is started only after you enter. Flagfall is 35 Baht, for first two kilometers. Pay extra for expressway tolls, at cost. Take with you a card from the hotel with its name written in Thai to make the return trip easier.
Public buses are cheap and follow set routes. A map is available from book stores showing routes. Three-wheel mini taxis, called 'tuk-tuks' are cheaper, and more exciting, but must be bargained for in advance. Drivers do not usually speak English.