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Introduction to Thailand Part 1

The "Land of Smiles", is not only my favorite holiday destination, it also is the country where my wife comes from.

This page is intended to give you a first impression of Thailand. Although this page is mainly intended for "beginners" to Thailand, I expect to give some useful tips to more "experienced" travelers too!

Please note that this page is no longer completely up-to-date, but I could not rewrite it with the enthousism I had, shortly after my first visit to Thailand! Therefore I leave it as it is. Most of the information below is, however, still correct.



Arrival Hall in Bangkok

What will your first impressions be when you come to Thailand? I can tell you that you will be overwhelmed. You will start your visit in Bangkok, of course. The arrival hall, with all the exchange offices (in the old airport), is shown above. Do not use a taxi from any of the "touts" offering you one in the arrival hall. Go outside first (see below for details).
When you leave the air terminal, a heat of around 30 C (around 100 F) will fall upon you.
Before you leave the terminal, however, you will be greeted with the first Thai word you have to learn, which means "Hello". Because you will not yet be able to read the Thai alphabet (and I dare to say that you will never learn this properly!), it is also transliterated into English for you. Be aware that the second letter "S" in this word is pronounced as a "T" (for reasons far beyond your comprehension, on that first day!).

Thai greeting (Thai)
Thai greeting (English)

You will probably take a taxi to your hotel (a very comfortable and affordable way) (look at the FAQ section of this site how to do this!) and you will find yourself immediately in the middle of one the worst traffic jams in the World:

Traffic jam in Bangkok Road underneath concrete structure

The Thai Government has tried to do something about his by making "Express Ways" over the existing roads and by designing a "Skytrain" system, that has been opened on 5 December 1999, and these measures do help a bit, but look at the right hand side picture to see how it is to walk under the concrete "monsters", that have resulted from these solutions!

You have to get accustomed to the permanent traffic jam as well as you can, while you are in Bangkok. But that is just one aspect of Bangkok. As soon as you have become accustomed to this you will soon discover why Thailand is also called "The Land of Smiles". Everywhere people will be smiling at you! This is not some sort of a trick to promote tourism, it is real! Go to the market and the sellers will smile at you, whether you buy something or not. Take a taxi and the driver will smile at you. This really will give you a special "kick". I can assure that from my own experience.

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Bangkok has more to offer than crowded streets. It has quieter places too. I prefer to relax near the Chao Phraya River. If you have a hotel at the riverside, you may see something like the picture below when you look out of your window. That picture was taken from one of the balconies of a "Riverfront" room in the Royal River Hotel, the oldest hotel on the West bank of the river (the "Thonburi side").

Chao Praya River in Bangkok

On the above picture you see a very quiet part of the river, at the North end of Bangkok. More to the South (or rather: more to the center of the City) there is a lot of traffic on the river (and there are many more riverside hotels).
Although I prefer a riverside hotel, others have different preferences. A very popular area with tourists is the area around Sukhumvit Road. You will find many guesthouses, bars, shops and other attractions there. You will also find most of the Indian tailors there. I have nothing against Indian tailors, but in my humble opinion you should go to a Thai tailor when in Thailand. See the FAQ section of this site and lower on this page where to find them. But if you are going to stay in the Sukhumvit area, be aware that you are staying quite far from the City Center, that is the area where most of the sights are. I do not like the Sukhumvit area, and the picture below may show you why: I find it too chaotic. Do recall the riverside picture above as a comparison!

The Sukhumvit Road area

If you want to stay in a budget guest house I would advise you to go to the area called Banglampoo (sometimes spelled as "Banglamphu"). It is a relatively quiet area, not very far from several major tourist attractions and it is also the area where you can find many Thai tailors (another place to find them is near the GPO (General Post Office). Below you can see typical streets in Banglampoo.



Street in Banglampoo A small street in Banglampoo

Going back to the river now: One type of boat that you will only find in Bangkok, is the "long tailed boat". Be sure to take a picture of it. As I said, you won't find it elsewhere! Often a "roof" is placed on top of the boat in order to protect the passengers for the sunshine (or occasionally for the rain), as shown in the right hand picture.

Long tailed boats Top view of long tailed boat

Other places where you can always find peace and quiet are the hundreds of Temples in Bangkok. You can freely enter them (in some "touristic" Temples a small entrance fee is being asked; consider that as a donation), and taking pictures of the impressive Buddha images is always allowed.
During my first visit to Bangkok I still thought that it would be possible to make pictures of all the Temples, including the Buddha Images, in Bangkok. Now I have understood that this is a task far beyond the possibilities of one person in one lifetime. There literally are hundreds of Temples, and new ones are built continuously. But almost all of them are worth a visit. So just walk inside one to get your first impression of a Thai Temple. A selection of Temples in and around Bangkok can be found elsewhere on this site. (Always follow the pull-down menu at the top of each page.)

Just a Temple A Reclining Buddha image

This is an example of just a "no name" Temple, somewhere in Bangkok. You will find a quiet place there. Around the famous Temples it can be quite crowded, whereas around this Temple we were almost the only visitors at the time.

Monks, waiting for a boat

Buddhist monks are not just to be seen in Temples, but everywhere. They belong to the Country. Every Thai man will normally become a monk once in his lifetime, for three months. Even HM the King was a monk, begging for his food, for this period!
Of course you always have to be polite to Monks and respect them. On the other hand, in many cases they will want to talk to you. So use this opportunity -if offered- to get to know a bit more about Buddhism. If you are a woman: never touch a monk. You will embarrass him, because he is not allowed to touch women. Also when you pass a monk in the street, be certain not to touch him.

When you have come to rest in a Temple, walk around at one of the many markets. Where? I bet that there is one right outside your hotel doorstep! Look at the pages about markets in Bangkok (See an example on the next page).

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