Thailand / Travel Information

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Thailand


Entry Regulations

comparatively strict, Thailand is in principle an open country, not only for those coming for short tourist visits but also for those wishing to stay longer. People have stayed for years on ordinary tourist visas without being looked upon with suspicion by immigration authorities. This is the case not only for foreigners from rich countries but also for those from neighboring Asian countries, such as Indonesia, Malaysia or the Philippines.

There are, however, large numbers of immigrants from poor neighboring countries, e.g. Burma and Cambodia who stay without being in possession of any visa or even a passport.

Under Thai immigration law, those who stay illegally are detained for a certain period of time prior to deportation. A fine of 100 Baht per day is imposed on those who overstay their visa. The fine is collected at airports and at border crossings rather informally. However, without paying, departure is not permitted.

The inclusion of a child or children on a parent's passport can cause problems if the parent wants to travel out of Thailand without the child or children. Thai immigration laws prescribe that a child sharing a parent's passport must leave the country with the parent. The solution is to have separate passports issued for children.

No inoculation or vaccination is required unless the foreigner comes from a contaminated or high-risk area.

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Currency

Baht which consists of 100 Satangs. Coins include 25 satang, 50 satang, 1 Baht, 5 Baht and 10 Baht pieces but the confusing fact about coins is that they are of different sizes for the same value coin and only the newer coins have Arabic numerals. The 5 Baht coin (silver with copper edge) and the 1 Baht coin (silver) each come in three sizes. The 10 Baht coin has a copper center with silver border, the 50 and 25 satang coins are copper colored, and both circulate in two sizes.

Paper money is clearer since the notes have Arabic (as well as Thai) numerals and are color coded as well as of different sizes for different denominations - the larger the denomination the larger the size. 10's are brown, 20's green, 50's blue, 100's red, 500's purple and 1000 Baht notes are grey.

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Health

health care in Bangkok matches the standards of health care in Western cities, at least for those who have enough money. In rural areas, however, health care has to be considered barely adequate on a Western scale.

Health care in Thailand has both private and public institutions. Private institutions generally have higher standards, and one can usually say the more expensive the better.

Luxurious hospitalization is available at some private hospitals. There, some suite rooms may match luxury hotels in comfort - wall-to-wall carpeting, refrigerator, a reception area, color TV, telephone, and of course aircon.

It is a custom that when a Thai is hospitalized, family members, friends or a companion stays with the patient most of the time. Rooms in private hospitals usually provide sleeping space for at least one companion per patient. There are usually no set visiting hours and at least in the case of private rooms, there is 24 hour access.

Common opinion is that private hospitals generally require a deposit before admission. The Australian-New Zealand Women's Group advises: "Be aware that a deposit in cash of Baht 20,000 and submission of passport may be required before admission."

But of course, as provided by law and medical ethics, doctors will attend to any patient in an emergency situation, without asking for money in advance. And the experience of an expatriate member of the editorial staff of this handbook had been quite the opposite of what the Australian-New Zealand Women's Group suggests. To be admitted for delivery at the Sukhumvit Hospital on Sukhumvit Road, neither passport nor a cash deposit was required. Actually, when a few hours after admission the staff's partner approached the cashier with a pocket full of money to make a deposit before what appeared would be a Caesarian birth, the offer of any advance payment was expressly turned down and he was told that a bill would only be made upon checking out - as it later was the case.

Private hospitals in Thailand generally accept credit cards in payment of bills and credit card holders will probably never be required to make a deposit.

Most private hospitals house a number of clinics with medical specialists. On weekdays, clinic hours are usually in the late afternoons and well into the evenings while on Saturdays and Sundays clinic hours are often all day.

Doctor's fees are not regulated and physicians or hospitals set their own charges. Fees vary widely. A general practitioner in Bangkok may charge 100 to 200 Baht per consultation, while a specialist may request considerably more. In provincial cities, doctor's fees are lower, and in rural areas, they are about a fourth or less of what is charged in the capital.

Doctor's fees in hospitals are often not charged by the doctor but by the hospital that employs a physician permanently. This is in pleasant contrast to some other Asian countries (for example the Philippines) where the hospital charges the patient only for the facilities used while the doctor's fee is set by the physician. A common habit in the Philippines is that physicians set their fees not according to the services they rendered but according to what they believe a person could afford to lose. It must be noted that there is much less risk of being treated that way in Thailand than there is in the Philippines.

Emergency rooms often also function as out-patient clinics, with the advantage of immediate attention. Clinics in hospitals have more sophisticated diagnostic equipment and laboratories than doctors' offices.

Unlike in the West many medications can be bought over the counter. While prescription regulations exist in Thailand for certain drugs, they are often not observed and many drugs requiring a prescription in Western countries are sold freely. There is widespread amphetamine abuse, especially among professional drivers.

Medical drugs sold in Thailand are either manufactured by international companies which often have local subsidies, or by smaller local companies. Drug patents are not observed very strictly so there are many clones. However, it is generally assumed that the medical drugs of international companies are of a more consistent quality. They are also more expensive.

Most Thai doctors, especially in tourist areas, speak sufficient English to communicate with foreigners. Patients who do not speak English well may wish to consult physicians speaking their own languages.

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Holidays

New Year Day and Labor Day.

Thailand has more holidays than most Western countries. They are easily categorized in two groups: religious holidays and holidays pertaining to the monarchy.

Aside from the normal national holidays, there are many regional holidays, mostly in context with local religious festivals. Then there are ethnic holidays which are not of national ranking but nevertheless have the effect that many businesses are closed. The most important but not the only one is Chinese New Year in February.

Furthermore, the government may declare a holiday for special occasions. This had happened in October 1991 when the IMF and the Worldbank had their joint meeting in Bangkok. The two weekdays of the meeting were declared holidays primarily to ease traffic in Bangkok. But in spite of the fact that the IMF and the Worldbank had no business in the Thai provinces, the holiday was observed throughout the country and even at Thai embassies and consulates abroad. The cost of two additional holidays must have been immense for the national economy but no-one bothered to do any accounting.

Most religious holidays, like in the Christian religious calendar, are attached to the lunar calendar and are frequently on nights of a full moon. This writer feels that these were logically chosen because before the days of electrical illumination it was mainly the moon which had to provide light after dark.

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Thailand / Celebrations / Songkran

Songkran, the Thai New Year celebrated from April 13 to April 16, is the most important, the best known and the gayest of Thailand's festivals.

Songkran, the Thai New Year celebrated from April 13 to April 16, is the most important, the best known and the gayest of Thailand's festivals. To the Thai people, this festival is one of water throwing and although it has religious significance, it usually turns into great fun. Everyone gets soaking wet and since it is the hottest season of the year, the custom is quite refreshing.

Songkran is not only observed in Thailand but also in Burma, Laos and Cambodia.

The word Songkran is from the Sanskrit, meaning the beginning of a new solar year. The Thai calendar used to switch to a new year on April 13 but the date was changed to January 1 to bring the country in line with the rest of the world.

In some ways, Songkran resembles the Christian Easter with it's feasts and processions of people wearing new clothes. Young and old dress in new attire and visit their Wat where food is offered to the monks. Music is often played on the streets as well as at the Wats.

On the eve of Songkran, housewives give their homes a thorough cleaning. Worn-out clothing or household effects and rubbish are burned - it is a spring cleaning day, supported by the religious belief that anything old and useless must be thrown away or it will bring bad luck to the owner.

During the afternoon of the 13th, Buddha images are bathed as part of the ceremony. Young people pour scented water into the hands of elders and parents as a mark of respect while seeking the blessing of the older people. In ancient days, old people were actually given a bath and clothed in new apparel presented by the young folks as a sign of respect.

Another unique Songkran custom is the releasing of caged birds and live fish, caught throughout the country and sold / purchased in the markets for this occasion. It is believed that great merit is gained through this kind act. In Paklat (Phra Pradaeng) south of Bangkok, girls in gay dresses form a procession and carry fish bowls to the rivers where the fish are released.

The custom to set free some fish goes back to the days when the central plains of Thailand were flooded during the rainy season. After the water subsided, pools were left and as the pools gradually dried up, baby fish were trapped. Farmers in those days caught small fish and kept them at home until Songkran Day when they released them into the canals, thereby gaining merit as well as preserving one of the main items of their diet.

The whole country celebrates Songkran but the festivities are nowhere as exalted as in Chiang Mai.

If a visitor happens to be in a village, out on a country road or up in Chiang Mai, he can well expect a drenching. All people, particularly the younger ones, throw water on one another during the 3-day holiday.

In Chiang Mai, there are processions of groups of women and girls, and bands play at many places. A Queen of the Water Festival is chosen amidst much noise and gaiety. The Ping River, which runs through the city, is crowded with people wading in the water and scooping it up with pans and buckets. The visitor who wants to be in Chiang Mai for the event must plan his/her trip well in advance as hotels are usually fully booked.

Different parts of the kingdom have their own unique games, songs and dances to celebrate Songkran. Farmers in many parts of the country have ample time for the celebration as they cannot do much work in the fields until the rain comes.

According to an old belief Nagas (mythical serpents) brought rain by spouting water from the seas. The more they spouted, the more rain there would be. So, the Songkran custom of throwing water can be interpreted as an attempt in rain-making.

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Thailand / Other Celebrations

The Thai holiday calendar varies widely from the Western holiday calendar.

The Thai holiday calendar varies widely from the Western holiday calendar. As the country is Buddhist there is not a single Christian holiday, neither Easter nor Christmas. The only holidays that match the Western calendar are New Year Day and Labor Day.

Thailand has more holidays than most Western countries. They are easily categorized in two groups: religious holidays and holidays pertaining to the monarchy.

Aside from the normal national holidays, there are many regional holidays, mostly in context with local religious festivals. Then there are ethnic holidays which are not of national ranking but nevertheless have the effect that many businesses are closed. The most important but not the only one is Chinese New Year in February.

Furthermore, the government may declare a holiday for special occasions. This had happened in October 1991 when the IMF and the Worldbank had their joint meeting in Bangkok. The two weekdays of the meeting were declared holidays primarily to ease traffic in Bangkok. But in spite of the fact that the IMF and the Worldbank had no business in the Thai provinces, the holiday was observed throughout the country and even at Thai embassies and consulates abroad. The cost of two additional holidays must have been immense for the national economy but no-one bothered to do any accounting.

Most religious holidays, like in the Christian religious calendar, are attached to the lunar calendar and are frequently on nights of a full moon. This writer feels that these were logically chosen because before the days of electrical illumination it was mainly the moon which had to provide light after dark.

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Food and Drink

greatest bargains available on this globe. This is the case for Thai cuisine as well as Western fare. The only exception is beer - not because restaurants charge an exceptionally high mark-up on drinks (even at stores beer is priced higher than in Europe); the reason is a heavy tax. In simple restaurants, a small bottle of beer costs more than the meal itself. It's a tax levied especially on foreigners in the kingdom as Thais prefer the national beverage Mekong, a whiskey more reasonably priced than beer.

A unique fact in Thailand is the quality provided by street kitchens. For 15 to 40 Baht, one can get a full meal at a street kitchen, and while the food there is cheap, it is certainly not cheapish. In Thailand, street kitchens are frequented not only by the poor. For years the author has observed rich people eating at street kitchens at the corner of Sukhumvit Rd and Soi 38 Sukhumvit Rd.

For Westerners it's amazing to see in a Mercedes limousine chauffeured by a uniformed driver parking near a street kitchen, a millionaire and his wife getting out, taking a place at a fragile table and ordering 20 or 30 Baht meals just as their driver would. The setting doesn't seem to be of much importance. What counts is the quality of the food.

The most common dishes at street kitchens are soups. Curry (chicken, beef, or fish) with rice is also commonly served, or noodles with duck, chicken, beef balls or pork. Less common but available at specialized street kitchens are unique things like fried locusts. One doesn't need to speak Thai to order at street kitchens as what one sees is what one gets and it is enough just to point.

Bangkok, aside from having many restaurants famous for the originality of their food, also has one of the most originally named restaurants in the world: Cabbages and Condoms. If one wonders how the latter are prepared as a dish, then one must remain disappointed. It isn't. The solution to the mystery is that this restaurant is run by the Population and Community Development Association (PDA). PDA is a Thai non-profit that implements a variety of family planning, AIDS education and community develpment projects, run by Mr Mechai who is world famous for the open manner in which he propagates condoms. To name this restaurant Cabbages and Condoms was just one more publicity stunt of Mr Mechai (and it worked at least in as far as gaining condoms a special entry in this dining guide). Take note, a regular diner wrote that the food is truly delicious!