Cultural norms vary across the globe and while minor faux pas are forgivable and unavoidable, there are a handful of things you should try to avoid doing while you're visiting the Kingdom of Siam. Did you know that pointing your feet at something or someone is considered very offensive? Want to know what else not to do? Check out this list of five etiquette no-nos in Thailand.
While the golden arches and that expensive coffee chain with the green logo may seem ubiquitous, there are still local fast food chains to check out when you travel. In Thailand, there are a handful of chains that you'll only find here, for better or worse. Wanna try some tom yum gung pizza? Or see how the Thai's interpret Japanese fast food? Even if the food isn't "foodie" quality, when you dine at one of these places you'll get a little insight into popular culture. Check out this list of Thai fast food joints and don't be shy about visiting when you're here.
Asiatique, the night market, outdoor mall and eating area, has fast become one of Bangkok's most popular tourist destinations. It's the perfect place to head if you want to pick up some souvenirs, and it's also a great place to go for dinner, drinks or just people watching. It's set on the Chao Phraya river, and the view of the boats passing by is lovely. The only drawbacks are that it's only open at night and it can be a little bit of hassle to get there. There are ferries from Saphan Thaksin (a stop on the city's elevated Skytrain) so it's convenient, but the lines to get on the boats can be long when it's crowded. Still, there's nothing like Asiatique in Bangkok so most people find the hassle worthwhile.
High on many tourists' "experience" list is a visit to a Bangkok tailor for some custom-made clothes. When things work out, you go home with some snazzy new items to add to your wardrobe, plus you have a great story to tell every time someone compliments you on what you're wearing. But when things don't work it, it's a huge disappointment. The clothes don't fit well, they look cheap and you feel like you've been had by a fast-talking tout. In fact, it's one of the most common complaints I hear from visitors to Thailand. Like many tourism disasters, it's very easy to avoid if you just have a little information on your side. Read up on a few tips about Bangkok tailors before you go out looking for one (or before one finds you).
You might be surprised to hear me saying, in the same breath, that Ao Nang in Krabi province has a mediocre beach AND that it's still worth visiting. Although the beach you stay on is probably the single most important factor most people use in deciding where to go, Ao Nang has so many other things going for it (depending on the type of traveler you are) that they actually make up for the lack of a great beach. The biggest mitigating factor is that you can get to at least half a dozen small, beautiful uninhabited islands in less than 30 minutes by longtail boat, and you can easily visit Koh Phi Phi and Railey Beach, too. Read about Ao Nang to find out the other reasons.
Looking for natural beauty, a convenient location and inexpensive lodgings all rolled into one? Check out Sirinat National Park on Phuket. It's just a stone's throw from the airport, has a quite, pretty beach and cheap bungalows. If you're into camping, you can even pitch a tent on the beach! Those looking for something fun and unique to do on otherwise touristy Phuket will love it.
The recent death of two tourists on Samui is making headlines here in Thailand and abroad. The deaths, the result of a car accident, are terrible tragedies, and visitors to the country should be reminded that just because you're on vacation, common sense and safety precautions shouldn't be disregarded. Roads are more dangerous in Thailand than they are back at home (unless you come from Egypt or South Africa, two of the most dangerous countries in the world in terms of road accidents) and ironically visitors tend to follow fewer safety precautions. Here are some tips on staying safe in Thailand.
Phuket and Samui... Even if you don't know a lot about Thailand, you've probably heard of these two islands. They are home to some beautiful beaches and lots of other great things (like plentiful hotels and restaurants) that make visiting them easy and fun. But, they're also very popular with just about everyone so if your idea of a beach vacation includes the quiet enjoyment of nature or getting a little insight into Thai culture, you're going to be out of luck. Hotels and restaurants are also increasingly expensive on these islands, so it's harder to visit as a backpacker without feeling like a second-class citizen. Don't chuck the idea of visiting Thailand entirely, though. There are still lots of beautiful beaches that are relatively undiscovered by the rest of the world. They aren't secluded by any means, but they are less commercial and less over-run and if you visit one of these you might just feel like you're in Thailand. One, Khao Lak, is just a short drive from Phuket and just as easy to get to as the island's most popular beaches. Read up on Thailand's Other Best Beaches to find out more.
It's almost April and in Thailand that means the new year is about to begin. The Thai New Year is celebrated with a festival called Songkran. Thailand also celebrates a new year on January 1 (and that's the official calendar used in the country) and another new year during Chinese New Year. All three are important, but Songkran is when businesses close, many people take a week off, and those who are working or studying away from home head back to visit their families. It's also when the country goes a little wild! How so? Think Hawaiian shirts, parties and huge public water fights! It's a can't-miss event for travelers looking for unique experiences.
If you want to do a day trip from Bangkok, head right to Ayutthaya, the former capital that was destroyed by the Burmese in the 18th century. It's the perfect excursion from Bangkok as you can easily get there in less than two hours, and it has enough to keep you busy for a full day or even longer if you feel like spending the weekend.