Thailand What to Expect

Police & Law in Thailand 
Foreign travelers need to be aware about certain facts regarding Thai law and police. 

Firstly, by Western standards, Thai laws and penalties can appear harsh. The penalties for possession of even small quantities of drugs, for example, include lengthy jail terms (several years) in local prisons. Also, the death penalty is still practiced in Thailand, and is widely perceived as a necessary measure to deter serious crime. Yet, for many crimes, enforcement is generally lax, and it is often possible to 'pay a fine' instead of be formally charged.

Secondly, Thai law requires all travelers to carry photo identification, their passports, and their tourist visas (stamped upon entering the country) with them at all times. However, given the hazards of losing your passport, you can carry a photocopy of your passport ID page and your stamped tourist visa (or visa exemption) page.

Thirdly, there are two police branches available to foreign travelers in Thailand: the regular police and the tourist police. The Thai tourist police is an English speaking division of the police department, and a tourist in trouble with local police can often request the tourist police to assist with translation.

Fourthly, travellers should understand that bribe taking by policemen is common and the reasons for it complex. Thai police are not paid well enough to survive, and rely on bribe taking as an income supplement. In fact, regular bribes from local businesses are seen as a form of taxation, levied on businesses that would otherwise not pay any taxes! However, Thai policemen are (despite taking bribes) honest and hard working people, and it is unheard of for a policeman to dishonestly entrap and extort tourists for bribes. 

Dealing with Thai police
Like with any police officer anywhere in the world, it is absolutely critical that you remain calm and respectful when dealing with Thai police. Displays of anger can be perceived as a challenge to the authority of the policeman. While foreigners that dress well are more likely to be respected by the police, it is not expected that you dress up while on holiday. Finally, when confronted with the possibility of being charged, you may ask the officer if a fine can be paid instead of formal charges - don't expect a receipt!

Additional regulations worth mentioning
Punishments for purchasing of wild animals belonging to protected species are very harsh. Travelers must remember that Thai law requires a license from the Department of Fine Arts for the export of any Buddha images, Bodhisattva images or other such artifacts of historical, cultural or artistic significance. (see Before you go – Customs & Immigration section above).

Drug trafficking and use
Individuals convicted of drug trafficking can expect heavy fines and long prison sentences (prison conditions in Thailand are incredibly harsh). Serious drug offenses can lead to the death penalty (there have been executions of convicted traffickers in the past).
 
Thai police occasionally raid nightclubs, bars, and other nightlife venues in search of drug users and underage patrons. During such raids, they typically check everyone’s IDs and get a them to provide a urine sample to test for the presence of narcotics. Anyone whose urine tests positive for drugs will be arrested and charged.

The King
It is a criminal offense to criticize or insult the king or other members of the royal family in Thailand. This crime is referred to as “lese majeste”, and is punishable by prison sentences of 3 to 15 years. Purposefully damaging or defiling anything bearing the image of representation of the king, such as Thai bank notes and certain official uniforms, can also be considered a “lese majeste” offense, and prison sentences have been given for stepping on bank notes.
Last edited Mar 13, 13 9:20 PM. Contributors: Contributors: Jason K.
Traveling with Children in Thailand 
Traveling with Children in Thailand is as easy as it is in any developed country. Thais love children, and the only problem parents are likely to encounter is the spoiling of their kids by adoring locals. Virtually all children’s supplies are easily accessible in Thailand. Diapers, nappies, baby formula and other foods can be found in convenience stores, chemists and supermarkets throughout the country. Cots and buggies can be found in most medium-sized towns as well as the larger cities. Finally, clothing of all kinds is incredibly inexpensive, including those for children and small infants.
 
Getting around from one area of the country to another with children can be difficult due to long periods in transit, sometimes exceeding 12 hours. Using planes as a primary means of transportation alleviates this problem.

Prices are often cheaper for children in Thailand. Small children that must be carried generally ride for 10% of the cost of the adult fare, while children under the age of 12 usually ride for half the price. Children having reached their 12th birthday are expected to pay full adult fares. The exception is Thailand’s train system, where children under the age of 12 pay full adult fares.


Last edited Aug 30, 07 3:33 PM. Contributors:
Thailand
Be careful of the monkies, little kids and elephants they are trained to pick pockett. and yes I did say elephants
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Aranyaprathet, Eastern Thailand, Thailand
Meet up with other travellers while making the crossing into Poipet and take a taxi in Siemreab together for $20 in total ($5 each if you have a full car). This is a much better alternative to taking the crowed bus over the extremely bumpy road to Siemreab. Taking a taxi is even fun... like going on a rollercoaster ride (This is a seriously bad road). When crossing at Aranyaprathet it's best to have obtained your visa in advance at a Thai guesthouse. When walking over to Poipet do not keep anything valuable in your pockets. In fact, don't even wear anything with pockets because the children around this area are master pickpockets and completely blatant about their theiving too!
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Bangkok, Central Thailand, Thailand
I was met at the airport by a representative of the travel company, and we headed straight off for the hotel. The first thing she told us on our journey into the center of Bangkok was that we were staying right on the doorstep of the world famous Patpong red light district, where every fantasy known to man and a few others known only to men in dodgy raincoats can be served up on a plate with cherries on top. She told us this, presumably because it was exactly what the two little old ladies and the young married couple on the bus with me had flown several thousand miles to hear. No information about stunningly beautiful temples or how breathtaking their majestic city is to behold, but if any of us needed instant sexual gratification upon arrival, she wanted us to know we were sorted. It struck me, as we drove into town on a seemingly endless spiral of spaghetti junctions, that there is a distinct class separation in Thailand. The roads that we were driving along were in pristine condition, and every now and again we were required to pull up at a toll booth to pay for the privilege of getting any closer to our destination. Directly below us, though, underneath the huge motorways, the landscape was filled with shanty towns over which we drove. Kids were playing in the streets outside houses that appeared to be no more than pieces of tin stacked on top of each other. We were not all going to the same hotel, so we had to stop en-route to drop people off. At the first place we went to, I nearly lost my luggage - If I hadn't happened to look out of the window at the right moment and notice that the porter was nonchalantly escorting my suitcase into the wrong hotel, I would have had to solve the mystery of the vanishing bag on my first day in a strange country. The Dusit Thani, which is where I was eventually deposited, turns out to be one of the more exclusive hotels in Bangkok: A sort of Thai version of the Ritz Carlton.
Quite how I got myself booked into this den of wealth I cannot say, but I intend to make the most of it. Upon my arrival, my bags were whisked away by an invisible porter. All sorts of elegantly dressed gentlemen bowed and opened doors for me as I approached, and a young Thai lady escorted me across the lobby of the hotel (Which was more like Kings Cross station painted gold) to the check-in desk. Here, I was treated like a visiting dignitary and shown to my room on the 12th floor personally. The corridors are finely carpeted, with so many mirrors on the walls that I turned a corner and politely greeted myself at least twice - and the finery doesn't stop there. My room is quite the largest I have ever seen in all my travels - The bed is large enough to sleep about five, and given the proximity of Patpong this may well be the idea! I have a fully stocked fridge and bar, a big walk-in closet which has all sorts of twinkly lights that come on as I approach, and a view of Bangkok from my window that stops the heart dead! There is a video system in the room and a library of tapes for my viewing pleasure - although I so far haven't had the guts to see what sort of viewing material they have provided me with! The bathroom goes on until tomorrow - Mirrors on the mirrors, walk in shower, and I've never seen so many free toiletries in a hotel room. Soap, Cotton buds, sewing kit, shower cap, detergent, bottles of body lotion, shampoo and conditioner, toothbrush, comb, and an emery board. I can hardly shut my case.
In the wardrobe is a complementary dressing gown, and I have a book in front of me telling me about so many hotel services that it is dizzying!
There are five restaurants, a nightclub, swimming pool and spa, Gym, A whole floor of shops and boutiques. And the prices are laughably cheap - A notice in my room invites me to leave my entire wardrobe to be washed and returned the same day for about ten pounds ($7US).You can read my complete travel journals at http://www.offexploring.com/globalwanderer
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Kanchanaburi, Central Thailand, Thailand
I had to be up at 6.00 this morning to get the coach, as I wanted to get to Kanchanaburi in time to pick up the train that was to take me along the infamous "Death Railway". The train also crosses the Bridge over the River Kwai, which was added incentive to drag myself out of bed. Breakfast today was sliced Banana (a little more exotic, although not much), toast and tea, served by a gentleman who had obviously been taking bowing lessons and wanted to practice the art. Not a lot has been going on in Asia over the last twenty-four hours, as The Nation today is primarily focussed on the Clinton impeachment hearings in America - something which will probably continue to dominate world news for most of the time it takes me to get there. It's not just the news here that seems to have a western theme to it, either - The "Funnies" page in The Nation consists of Calvin and Hobbes, Hagar the Horrible, The Far Side and Dilbert. And no, Dilbert still doesn't make any sense. Even in Thailand. As we were setting out before the rush hour, there was slightly more than sod-all chance of getting the coach out of Bangkok through the traffic jams - Not that the concept of rush hour means much here, since there is usually only just about enough room to squeeze a bicycle through anywhere at the best of times! Going out of town, I saw for the first time another side to the city, which quite took me by surprise, and that was the sheer beauty of the temples. Driving right through the center of the city, all the shanty towns and disused buildings gave way to miles and miles of incredibly ornate buildings and gold covered temples in intricate designs which I would be hard pressed to describe without you thinking I was exaggerating. Tall spires of gold rise from facades of golden Buddha images and intricate artwork which glints in the morning sun. For a moment, it is even possible to forget the fact that, 200 yards further down the street, the city is covered in a dense smog; that large sections of it's population seems to be begging on the streets or working in Go-Go bars over in Patpong; or that the only way the traffic police can remain healthy is to walk around all day with pollution filters strapped to their faces. This is what really draws people to Bangkok (The temples, I mean, not the pollution and begging), and it is exactly what I will be coming back for after my brief excursion to Kanchaburi. Kanchanaburi is a different story entirely. One hundred and Seventy Kilometres north-west of Bangkok, Kanchanaburi War Cemetery contains the remains of sixteen-hundred soldiers from the Japanese, English, American, Australian, Thai and Danish armies who died here in POW camps between September 16th 1942 and December 25th 1943, building the 415 Kilometre "Death Railway" which the occupying Japanese forces saw as their way of getting stocks to their army in Burma (1) who were attempting to hold back the allied forces. In a large commemorative garden outside town, the graves are all laid out neatly in rows, a simple headstone naming each soldier resting within. In the Kanchanaburi War Museum, photographs are on display showing the full horror of what happened here, and you can walk through a reconstruction of a Bamboo hut that would have been the living quarters of the POWs. Many original artefacts are on display at the JEARTH museum, including pistols, knives, and the bomb which was dropped to destroy the Bridge on the Kwai and the railway - to prevent transportation of Japanese troops between Thailand and Burma. You really get a sense of the scale of the treatment here - The original Japanese engineers estimated that the railway (303 Km on the Thai side, 112 Km on the Burmese side) would take five years to build. The prisoners were forced to complete this task in sixteen months. During this time, sixteen thousand POWs and one hundred thousand labourers died from various diseases due to lack of facilities. It is possible to cross the Bridge on the River Kwai by foot, and many hundreds of tourists do just this every day - Myself included. There is no handrail and nothing between you and the river below but a large drop. Nevertheless, tourists flock here every day to peer over the side into the jaws of death before boarding the famous "Death Railway" which still runs between here and Wang Po on the border with Burma.I finally gave in to all of my touristy instincts this morning, buying a Tee-Shirt from a vendor at the station. It had a gold picture of the Bridge on it, and said "River Kwae (Thailand)" - This last disclaimer obviously designed to avoid confusion with the other, little known River Kwai which runs through Watford! Notice, also, the proper local spelling of Kwae - As opposed to the one everybody else uses. Anyhow, it only cost me 200 Baht, which is a little less than four pounds sterling. The "Death Train" isn't much more than a rickety old carriage that runs along a single track between Kanchanaburi and Burma. The windows are not filled, so a cool breeze blows throughout the journey, and the passengers can stick their heads out of the window and enjoy the splendour of the Thai countryside without any risk of being decapitated unexpectedly by a passing Intercity express. The journey to the Burmese border at Wang Po takes around two hours, and I happily sat with my head out of the window watching the fields and mountains go by, farmers waving from their little shacks and kids sitting by the tracks without a care in the world. My companions on this trip included a young Australian couple from Melbourne, who had been married for all of three weeks and were on the last step of their honeymoon before returning to wedded bliss in the country of Neighbours and Shrimps on the Barbie! Lisa and Matt had spent the last two weeks in Phuket, which is where I shall be next week if all goes to plan, and couldn't recommend it highly enough - Beautiful beaches, crystal clear waters, the stuff of honeymoon dreams. They also visited nearby Phi-Phi Island, which they say is absolutely incredible if I can survive the ferry crossing! Among the other travellers to Wang Po were a couple of girls from Devon, who were making their way across the vast expanse of heat which is Thailand: This certainly seems to be the place to come to relax and take in the scenery, one thing you can always say about travelling is that there are always plenty of other like minded people around to swap experiences with. Every ten or twelve seconds, I was snapped out of my admiring gaze through the windows by a salesman trying to sell me a souvenir, Sandwich or some other useful accessory: They wander up and down the length of the carriage, endlessly assuming that if they come back often enough you may finally cave in and scream "Oh, go on then. I'll have two photos of the king and a Tee-Shirt with "my friend went to Thailand and all I got was this crappy Tee-Shirt' scrawled across it!". In fact, it is entirely possible if you are not careful at the beginning of the trip, to be so caught up in buying souvenirs that you go straight over the River Kwai bridge without noticing and miss the whole point of your trip in the first place! I am reliably informed by an American tourist on the train, however, that if you hold out your hand towards the salesman palm-upwards, they look offended and don't come back again. Having no idea what such a gesture might mean out here, and imagining that I might want to be allowed back into the country at some point in the future, I make do with a cheery "No, Thanks." Towards the end of the journey, we hit the reason why so many people take this trip: Crossing the Death Valley Gorge on the way into Wang Po is quite an experience even for the well seasoned explorer. Rising from the most magnificent view of the River Kwai, with its floating homes and miles of surrounding countryside, is the most dangerous looking river crossing you will ever see. Crawling along at about 3 Mph, the train crosses the gorge at a height of several hundred feet - there is nothing to support the vehicle other than the single narrow track which is held up by girders jutting from the cliff face. Out of one side of the train, nothing but rock-face can be seen: On the other, it appears that you are flying through the air hundreds of feet above the river. People race to the windows, cameras poised. The braver souls among us climb down onto the steps of the train, sitting with feet dangling over a quick death. Then, as quickly as it appears, the gorge is gone... And it's on to Wang Po. My fascinated gaze out of the train window all the way from Kanchanaburi seems to have been something of a mistake. Every insect and bug known to mankind has hurled itself kamikaze-style at my face, and now my eyes have blown up to three times their normal size and the conjunctiva has turned to jelly. I look like Gomez Adams from the Adams Family. I knew something was wrong because my eyes felt like they had been pricked by a thousand needles, but when I looked in the mirror on the way out of the train I nearly fainted.
Over lunch in a local restaurant, in which I spent a great deal of time splashing water from a bottle onto my eyeballs, Matt tells me that the same thing happened to him a few years ago and that a few hours rest will set everything straight again. I sure hope so, 'cos if there is one thing sure to make the locals stay away from me wherever I go, it's having a couple of jelly-balls for eyes!

(1) Burma is now officially called Myanmar. If you didn't know this, it doesn't come as a huge surprise to me - although the name Myanmar has been accepted by the United Nations, it would seem that The United Kingdom and the United States are sticking their fingers in their respective ears and going "la la la" rather than choosing to entertain the idea, so to them Burma remains Burma. It's almost like being back at school.
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Pattaya, Eastern Thailand, Thailand
Pattaya Beach is a place which has managed over the years to earn itself the unfortunate title "Patpong by the sea", due to the huge amount of Go-Go bars and girly shows that have sprung up at the southern end of the strip. This reputation is probably a bit unfair, and has its roots in the Second World War, when randy young sailors would pull into port looking for a good time. Now, however, Pattaya attracts families by the thousand, and if you ignore the most southern end of the strip and stay by the beach, you probably wouldn't even know there was anything seedy about the place. Of course, I've never seen a holiday show on television which remembers that anything exists south of the shopping center, but that's hardly to be expected.
Again, my travel agent back in England seems to have checked me into three days of unashamed luxury. My hotel invoice describes what I have in front of me at the moment as an ocean view, and they aren't kidding; if it weren't for the horizon, I'm certain I'd be able to see all the way home! My room on the fifth floor has a set of French doors onto a balcony overlooking a wide view of the bay and the hotels private beach, with palm trees, guys on surf boards, the lot. Later on my journey, I will be going to Hawaii - and I can't imagine it could look much different from this. The pool, which is directly below my balcony, has a huge flower engraved into the bottom of it, the symbol of the Dusit hotel chain, and the hotel itself seems to be slightly smaller than the average airport. Each floor is circular, and all the walls are comprised of huge picture windows looking out on to a panoramic paradise. It really is such a shame that so much expense is spent on making sure tourists can spend several days visiting a place as culturally diverse as Thailand and pretend that they are on a beach in California! I wouldn't have been surprised if somebody had told me the whole building actually revolved. I went out. It was mid-afternoon so I figured I would take a leisurely stroll around the bay and see what Pattaya had to offer. I acquired a local map from reception and set off along the beach road. The trouble is, there is no scale on the map - Pattaya beach is a two mile bay, at either end of which are the two main places of interest in the area, one wholesome and family oriented and the other, well, not so much so! I strolled along, the Sun setting over the clear waters, and marvelled at the range of shops and street stalls I was passing, selling both Thai souvenirs and western delicacies such as donuts and pizza. The Northern end of the strip is certainly very much aimed at the tourist in us all. Restaurants displaying large signs advertising delicious food (have you ever seen one advertising revolting food?), Gem shops, tourist TAT (which, interestingly, is the name of the Thai Tourist Authority), and one place that wanted to offer me a physical massage. I can only imagine this to be the opposite of a surreal massage, where you stay at home all day and imagine that somebody is stroking your back with a wet fish! After about an hour of walking, I decided that it was just too hot to be attempting such a trek during daylight hours. I arrived back at the hotel in a quivering, steaming heap, and enquired at reception about any other way of getting further along the beach road in one piece.
"Have you tried our fitness centre, Sir?" the receptionist asked, that ever present Thai smile refusing to give away whether she was genuinely worried about me or had simply had so much experience of western tourists that she had mastered the fine art of British sarcasm. Undercover of darkness (Insert James Bond theme here), I returned to the Beach Road and carried on walking-eventually reaching the point that I had reached earlier. Shortly beyond this point, things like Burger King and McDonalds started to spring up. I knew I was getting towards the night life. Sure enough, four hundred yards further on the road ended, and was replaced by a mile long pedestrian walkway over the entrance of which was a huge marble archway on which was written "Only sexual deviants beyond this point". Actually that's a lie-what it said was "Welcome to Walking Street, South Pattaya". Nonetheless, I'm sure they were still one letter out, because I've never seen so many Go-Go bars in my life: and just in case you forget for a moment what the excuse for all this is, the archway is topped off with a big picture of a winking sailor! Clearly, the word subtle hasn't yet reached these shores! The entire length of the mile was crowded with Thai families out for an evening's stroll, indicating that the locals don't see anything wrong with any of it. I am led to believe that it is not unusual here for girls, when asked at school what they want to be when they grow up, to reply "A prostitute like mummy" - and since it is clearly one of the few easy jobs with a steady wage out here, I can well believe it. I may not understand it, but I can believe it. Every store front is a bar, in which the most striking nymphets in long red dresses crowd around all the bars waiting to pounce on any red blooded male who sits at their bar stool. At least a proportion of these will be the ladyboys you've heard about on TV (pun intended) - men either dressed up as women or having gone the whole hog and had the operation... and believe me, anybody would be hard pressed to tell the difference. It's not like in the West where a man dressed as a woman normally stands out a mile; here, the only way you're likely to know is by asking. I'm told by a young male group in the hotel, who are clearly here for all the wrong reasons, that it is difficult if not impossible to tell the difference until it's too late, which really makes the mind boggle. The Thai's have turned transvestism into an art form! But here's the thing: I didn't see a single girl (or whatever) who looked remotely tacky. No standing around on street corners wearing skin tight leather and f-me boots here, they were all perfectly dressed, they were all beautiful, and they all had smiles from ear to ear and seemed to be out for a night on the town. Up and down the street, families with young children were stopping to look, or to eat at street side stalls, if you didn't know what was going on behind the scenes courtesy of the bars and the mama-sans taking care of the girls, you could almost think this was a top nightclub district and nothing more. It's all illegal, of course, but widely tolerated. Guys stand outside each bar, looking out for the local constabulary - by the time the police get into any of the establishments, everybody is innocently sipping their drink and saying "Can I help you, officer?". Inside the bars, according to John (name changed to protect the guilty), one of the sexual athletes staying in my hotel, the girls are looked after not by dodgy east-end pimps but by the mama-san, who is essentially mother to all the girls. The girls will drink with you, dance with you, and you can buy the girls "lady drinks". If you want to take the girl away with you, you pay the mama-san an exit fee which relieves the girl of her obligation to work and she can leave with you. You can then either take the girl to a dodgy hotel, of which there appear to be many, or you can pay a bit more for "long time" which means she will stay with you all night and, if you like, be your companion for several days. In fact, I'm led to believe that many of the girls become so attached to their clients that they spend weeks with them. According to a local guide, girls have even been known to commit suicide upon realising that their client doesn't really love them and isn't coming back for them the next week as promised. I think I'll leave it there. A full debate on the rights and wrongs of what happens here is beyond the scope of this journal. Depressing, yes. Wrong? You decide.My complete travel journals can be found at www.offexploring.com/globalwanderer
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Dangers & Annoyances in Thailand 
Thailand is usually a very safe place to travel in, with its relatively low levels of danger largely made up for by the high degree of annoyances to be expected in the country. (There are a lot of hazards and pitfalls that can really take the fun out of a traveler’s experience in the country.) However, recent events, such as a rise in Terrorist activity since 2004 and political uncertainty surrounding Thailand’s most recent military coup in 2006, have changed this dynamic. Certain places within the country such as its southern tip are now considered dangerous, and travelers are urged to exercise caution in all major urban centers and tourist hotspots.

Terrorism
Thailand has experienced a sharp rise in Terrorist activities within the country since 2004. Muslim extremists in the country’s southernmost provinces wanting to separate from the rest of Thailand have resorted to violent tactics including the use of bombs targeting both government and commercial sites. Although these groups focus primarily on Thai government interests, some of the recent attacks in the area have targeted public places, including areas where tourists congregate such as the Hat Yai International airport.  Most of this terrorist activity is concentrated in the provinces of Narathiwat, Pattani, Yala, and Songkhla, and the government of Thailand has declared a serious state of emergency in these areas. Since 2004, there have been over 1700 deaths attributed to the terrorist attacks in the south of Thailand. It has long been feared that these attacks may spread to other areas of Thailand such as Bangkok and other tourist areas such as Phuket and Pattaya, and on December 31st a series of bombings were detonated throughout the city of Bangkok, including in areas frequented by travelers.
 
Given the situation, travelers should be extremely cautious - extending their application of regular common sense - when traveling in Thailand right now.  Considering the exotic locals one must still pay particular attention to anything out of the ordinary in major public areas, including major tourist sites, transportation terminals, hotels, bars, and highly-trafficked shopping areas. It is strongly recommended that travelers stay away from the provinces of Narathiwat, Pattani, Yala, and Songkhla. 
 
Never ignore common sense when dealing with your own health and safety.  Take the long way round if you have to get somewhere.  If something is too good to be true, it usually is.  Stay on the beaten track wherever and whenever possible.

Political Tension
While Thailand’s current leaders have just lifted martial law in 41 of its 76 provinces, it remains in full or partial force in some regions such as Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai. Visitors are advised to head the local authorities, and avoid public demonstrations.

There is also some risk in areas near the border with Burma, as conflict occurs sporadically between the Myanmar military and armed opposition groups, as well as between Thai security forces and drug traffickers. Travelers wishing to visit such areas are strongly advised to check with local authorities on recent levels of local conflict before heading out.

Crime
Petty crime is unfortunately quite common in Thailand, with pick-pocketing and snatch theft on the rise. Money, passports, and other valuable personal belongings such as digital cameras can be stolen from bags and luggage at transportation terminals, buses stopped at a midway point during transit, and even hotel rooms. Sometimes, thieves use razor blades to cut open backpacks in search of valuables, and are skilled enough to do it and go unnoticed even when travelers are wearing the backpacks. Thieves usually operate in crowded areas where travelers are most likely to be distracted and less likely to notice someone fiddling with their stuff such as in a bus station, popular city square or market place. Remaining alert and well aware of your surroundings can go a long way in reducing your chances of being robbed, as thieves generally go after tired or bewildered travelers. Traveling with a buddy when going to market places or other crowded places so that you can keep an eye on one another is also very helpful. Keep a close eye on your bags and luggage, especially when on a bus during an intermediate stop during transit (the theft of luggage from buses is especially common between Bangkok and Surat Thani). Also, bringing a padlock to lock up your room when you are away is a must. Finally, it is always good to keep your most important belongings with you at all times.
 
If you have your passport stolen, it is very important that you inform the local authorities and your nation’s embassy.
Touts Touts are individuals hired by local businesses to strike up conversations with travelers and then get them to follow them to towards some business nearby. They receive kickback commissions on the sales made to the individuals they bring, all of which come directly out of the pocket of travelers in the form of higher prices. The places touts bring travelers to are rarely any better than others—some are not even legitimate, and may be involved in scams (see below). The more heavily touristed areas of Thailand have an overwhelming number of touts each trying to get travelers to go to a specific club, restaurant, tour agency, massage house, brothel, or whatever commercial enterprise they are in involved with. This can be incredibly annoying, and it usually takes a firm no to get them to leave you alone.

Scams
There are a lot of different types of scams that cons can run on travelers in Thailand. These tend to be more common in areas heavily visited by tourists, such as major attractions and club districts. They often involve gems, city tours or entertainment venues. Bogus investment schemes are also used to swindle travelers out of large sums of money. Credit cards should only be used in reputable well-established businesses and the charged amount should always be verified for accuracy. Keep in mind that Thais are generally shy people, and it is not a good sign of someone walks right up to you and engages in a conversation that seems at all pushy.
 
Perhaps the most common one would be the Jewelry scam. This type of scam usually starts off with a taxi driver or stranger who subtly shifts the conversation over to gems, jewelry and gold, then brings you to a small out-of-the-way shop that tries to get you to spend thousands of dollars on items of little or no value that the store claims you could sell in your home country at a profit of over 100%. Some the these scams can be very elaborate, and even involve other foreigners playing a specific role, such as attesting to the validity of the shop or “special sale” in question. Thousands of tourists get caught up in this kind of scam every year.
 
If you are interested in purchasing jewelry or gems while in Thailand, the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) can provide official advice on the purchase such items. Whatever touts may say, no jewelry shop in Thailand is owned or operated or sponsored by the government or the royal family. A list of gem dealers that abide by TAT guidelines are available online at http://www.tatnews.org/special_interest/shopping/979.asp.  Travelers who have fallen victim to a gem scam should contact the local branch of the Tourist Police, or call their country-wide toll-free number: 1155.

Getting ripped off
While the majority of businesses in Thailand are above board in their dealings with travelers, some tour agencies and operators may try to rip off travelers. A common way travelers get ripped off is by handing over money without receiving a receipt. Receipts are you’re only credible proof of transaction in Thailand, and without it, tour agencies may ask you to pay a second time or walk away with your money. As such, it is imperative that travelers never hand over money without a receipt and always keep their receipts before and during their tour.
 
Also, be careful when tour operators try to interest you in a tour departing from another town or region of Thailand than the one you are presently in. Agencies often claim that tours get booked up easily and that you should book in advance with them to secure you a spot. Sometimes this is true, other times the agency is simply trying to make a commission. The trouble for travelers is that, booking in advance from another town or city is usually more expensive than booking when you get there. The best way to be sure that the agency’s claim has any merit is to talk to other travelers having just arrived from the area you plan on going to. Hopefully they will have a pretty good idea of how booked up the tours are. Also, keep in mind that this is a great way for dishonest tour operators to swindle travelers: you pay them, travel several hours to your next destination to find that the local operator hasn’t shown up, head back to where you started to confront the tour operator who claims that their partners had been there and that you were the one that hadn’t shown up.

Getting drugged and subsequently robbed
Food or drink spiking (usually with Scopolamine) followed by robbery happen from time to time, especially around popular backpacker hangout spots such as the area in and around Khao San road in Bangkok, the club districts of Bangkok and Pattaya, and the full moon parties at Koh Phangan. Perpetrators are often prostitutes or bar owners, casual acquaintances met at a bar, and even fellow travelers. Travelers are therefore advised to very careful about the circumstances in which they consume alcohol and to keep a close eye on their drinks. Also, be very careful about who you befriend, accept food or drink from and invite into your space.

Violent Crime
Violent crimes against foreigners, such as muggings and shootings are relatively rare in Thailand. Sexual assault against foreigners does occur from time to time, but no more so than in other countries. Incidents of these kinds happen when taxis and tuk-tuks bring travelers to an isolated location instead of where they had asked to be taken. Travelers should not hesitate for a moment in getting out of a taxi if the driver is acting suspiciously.

Other Travelers
Do not assume that other Travelers are more trustworthy than the locals. A high degree of problems generally occur in and around the farang areas, not just by local thieves and criminals but also by deadbeat farang.

Road Safety
Thailand does not have an ideal road safety record. According to official police statistics, there were 12,858 deaths related to accidents on the road in 2005. Thailand’s health sector estimates this number to be in the 20,000 range if the victims that died afterwards in ambulances, hospitals or other emergency medical centers were included. Serious bus crashes occur frequently in Thailand, especially on the overnight trips.
 
The high level of road accidents are attributed to the deadly mix of motorcycles and trucks on the road, driving under the influence of alcohol or other substances, and dangerous driving. Traffic moves on the left in Thailand, though motorcycles and small cars often drive illegally on the right against traffic. Speeding, reckless passing, and failure to obey traffic laws are all very common. Finally, it certainly doesn’t help that so few Thais use seatbelts or protective helmets, or that commercial drivers often consume alcohol, amphetamines and other stimulants.
 
Travelers are urged to be very careful when crossing the street in Thailand. Look both ways even if the light is red and it is your turn to cross. Always use a crosswalk if there is one. Finally, travelers should be very careful during New Years and the Songkran festival in April. Ten percent of the deaths caused by road accidents occur over the 6 day period surrounding New Years, and the 9 days surrounding the Songkran festival.

Drugs and other Recreational Substances
Alcoholic beverages and drugs can be more potent or of an alternate composition that their counterparts in North America or Europe. Several travelers die every year of premature heart attack after consuming alcohol or drugs in Thailand. Other than alcohol, the two most common drugs are amphetamines ("ya ba") and ecstasy ("ya E").

Forces of Nature and Natural
Disasters Major storms and heavy rainfall can occur without warning during the monsoon season (June to October). This can lead to extensive flooding in the north. In 2006 flooding in the areas of Sukhothai, Uttaradit, Phrae, Lampang, and Nan lead to several deaths and injuries.
 
The tsunami disaster of 2004 was caused by earthquakes along major tectonic plate boundaries in the Indian Ocean. While such tectonic activity can happen in any ocean, it is more frequent in the Indian and Pacific oceans. If any kind of natural disaster occurs while you are in Thailand, follow the advice of local authorities.
 
Strong seasonal undercurrents at beaches can be danger to swimmers, and drowning is the lead cause of death for tourists visiting Phuket. The main beaches have warning flags that indicate the risk of swimming (red flag: dangerous for swimming, yellow flag: rough sea conditions, green flag: stable conditions), so be sure to heed these warnings.
Last edited Aug 30, 07 5:19 PM. Contributors:
Bangkok, Central Thailand, Thailand
Bangkok is the best place for cheap shopping of all kinds. They are renowned for their authentic-looking rip-off designer goods, and clothing is amazingly cheap. Best markets/places to go include: Chat Tu Chak (although it is really hot and crowded can become overwhelming), Sum Lum Night Bazaar is good for a night out, MBK (Mahboonkrong) Center sells great bags and clothes (and is wonderfully air-conditioned), but by far the best place for shopping (and just to check out the scene) is Patpong. It is certainly the Thai experience. I kinda hate Bangkok, as it is a falling down mess, but the shopping and food are unbeatable. I suggest being adventurous buying from the street sellers... they really make the best food although it looks dodgy. Great places to visit are: The Royal Palace, Wat Arun, Wat Pho, and taking an hour or so train to the abandoned city of Ayutthaya (although I suggest seeing Ayutthaya before ever going to Cambodia for Angkor Wat). After Angkor Wat, Ayutthaya is quite disappointing.
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Ko Lanta, Andaman Coast, Thailand
Hotel: Relax Bay.
Geiles Hotel, echt
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Kanchanaburi, Central Thailand, Thailand
Wear bug repelent!!! (Normally they don't bug* me but here they were EVERYWHERE!) Also, the famous Bridge over the river Kwai is walking distance from most accomodations along the river, so don't get scammed into paying $20 for a boat to it unless you want to see all the extras the boat trip includes- (there are far more impressive versions of most extras accross Thailand.)
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Phuket, Andaman Coast, Thailand
When you come out of the airport you may need a shuttle but/taxi. Be careful as sometimes the stop at a jewellry store/tour/hotel booking centre….they will try to sell you tours and stuff to make a commission. Simply tell them you want to go straight to the hotel and that all your tours are booked. We had a major hassle, but I remembered to tell them to just take us to the hotel. We stayed in Patong. Please note that this is a party town! There is a strip with all bars and clubs and it gets rowdy everynight. So don’t stay in a place located near the main strips (Bangka Road) if you want peace and quiet. The beach was nice, but the water was very rough (at the beginning of July). Not much swimming- just avoiding waves. Still some beach activities like parasailing and jet skiing.
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Pattaya, Eastern Thailand, Thailand
Pattaya was a disappointment for me. I'm an asian girl and i was traveling alone in Pattaya. Does this alone necessarily mean i'm looking for someone??? Pattaya's swarmed with dodgy old blokes and putas. I really disliked the atmosphere there and ended up staying in the hotel's swimming pool for 4 days! Pattaya is an oversized red light district. Unless your interest is in prostitution, go somewhere else!
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Thailand Health 
Thailand’s hot climate presents a number of health and safety hazards that all travelers would be aware of. Familiarization with these hazards, basic precautions and the proper handling of problems that do occur greatly mitigate the health risks of traveling in Thailand.

Medical Resources
While medical care is generally adequate throughout the country, the city of Bangkok has some excellent medical care medical facilities.

Contaminated food and water
Despite recent sanitation efforts, Thailand’s running water is still questionable. Travelers may drink the water and be fine, but there is still a risk they will get sick. Drinking the water can result in gastro-intestinal sickness that can last up to several weeks, with vomiting and diarrhea, which in turn can lead to severe dehydration. The water in restaurants is almost always safe. All the same, it may be safer just to ask for a bottle of drinking water. Street vendors in Thailand get their ice from factories that only use purified water, and that are routinely inspected by the government. Intestinal worms can be transmitted through improperly cooked meat and vegetables.
It is recommended that travelers do not drink any form of running water unless it has been treated with water purification tablets. Boiling the water for 5-8 minutes is another option, but not at higher altitudes where water boils at lower temperatures that certain microorganisms can survive in. bottled water (aqua con gas & aqua sin gas) is available almost everywhere in Thailand—do not buy bottles that have a broken seal as they may have been contaminated. Raw fruits and vegetables that have already been cut up and washed, may also result in gastro-intestinal sickness if contaminated water has been used.

Sunburn
Located just north of the equator, Thailand’s sunrays are quite strong. It is recommended that travelers use sunblock with an SPF of at least 30.

Hyperthermia (Heat Stroke)
Hot climates place a great deal of stress on the body, forcing it to work hard at dissipating its internal heat. Overworking the body this way will result in heat exhaustion and dehydration. If the body is unable to keep itself cool, it’s temperature will begin to rise to dangerous levels. This condition is called a heat stroke and it is life-threatening. To avoid heat exhaustion and heat stroke, allow yourself 1-2 days to acclimatize to the heat, avoid or limit strenuous physical exertion, drink lots of fluids, and take frequent breaks during the day to cool down. Learn more…

Infectious Diseases
Thailand is host to several infectious diseases, most of which can be avoided though immunization (see “Vaccines” in the “Before You Go” section) including:
  • Traveler’s diarrhea
  • Leptospirosis
  • Onchocerciasis
  • Filariasis
  • Rabies
  • Hepatitis A
  • Hepatitis B
  • Typhoid fever
  • Yellow fever
  • Influenza
  • Smallpox
  • Tetanus
  • Diphtheria
  • Poliomyelitis
Infectious diseases that cannot be avoided through prior immunization, include:
  • Rabies – Immunization is administered immediately after a bite by an animal that could be infected with rabies.
  • Malaria – Travelers entering malaria zones should use insect repellent and take anti-malaria medication.
  • HIV & AIDS  – Thailand has been experiencing an epidemic of HIV infections and AIDS.  HIV is common among prostitutes and injection drug users. It is estimated that between X% to Y% of the Thai population suffers from AIDS or HIV.  Travelers are urged to exercise caution and engage in safe protected sex.
Parasites, Animal Stings and Bites
Thailand’s urban areas are overrun by street hounds looking like some of the most miserable animals on the planet, and are not much more respected than rats in Thailand. The real trouble is that rabies can get into their populations, and bites from such dogs require that the individual be inoculated immediately. The same goes for bites from monkeys, and other animals one might encounter while in the country.
 
Thailand has a large number of snakes. While most are not poisonous, some are. They tend to shy away from people, and are rarely found in cities and towns. If you are bitten by a snake, go straight to emergency at the nearest hospital. Being able to describe the snake that bit you can be very helpful to physician trying to treat the bite.

Infections
All bites, stings, cuts and scratches must be thoroughly disinfected. Thailand’s hot, humid climate ensures that if they are not properly sanitized, they can quickly develop into dangerous infections. Heat rash caused by the clogging of overactive sweat pores is also a problem. Fungal infections can be contracted, usually on the scalp, in the groin area, or between the toes. The best way to prevent fungal infections from taking root is to stay as dry as possible and not walk around barefoot. Be sure to dry thoroughly after bathing or showering, and ware loose-fitting clothes that that breathe well. To treat fungal infections, travelers must eradicate the fungus from their apparel as well as their bodies. This means washing clothes, towels and bed sheets in hot water as well as regularly disinfecting and treating the infected skin with anti-fungal creams or powders such as Tinactin.
 
Eye infections are significantly more common in Thailand than they are in western countries. Be careful about rubbing your eyes or nose after touching surfaces in public areas that come in frequent contact with others.
 
Several species of intestinal worms that make their way into the intestines are present in the soil and feces of animals in Thailand. These include hookworms and whipworms, both of which cause serious bleeding in the intestines, which can eventually lead to anemia. These worms can be contracted by eating improperly washed/peeled fruits or vegetables that were grown in soil containing the worm eggs. Some species are able to bore their way into the skin, making it possible for individuals to contract the worms simply by walking bare feet in the contaminated soil. As such, be sure not to go bare feet in the farmland or forested regions of the country.
Last edited Sep 11, 07 7:27 PM. Contributors:
Kanchanaburi, Central Thailand, Thailand
I had to be up at 6.00 this morning to get the coach, as I wanted to get to Kanchanaburi in time to pick up the train that was to take me along the infamous "Death Railway". The train also crosses the Bridge over the River Kwai, which was added incentive to drag myself out of bed. Breakfast today was sliced Banana (a little more exotic, although not much), toast and tea, served by a gentleman who had obviously been taking bowing lessons and wanted to practice the art. Not a lot has been going on in Asia over the last twenty-four hours, as The Nation today is primarily focussed on the Clinton impeachment hearings in America - something which will probably continue to dominate world news for most of the time it takes me to get there. It's not just the news here that seems to have a western theme to it, either - The "Funnies" page in The Nation consists of Calvin and Hobbes, Hagar the Horrible, The Far Side and Dilbert. And no, Dilbert still doesn't make any sense. Even in Thailand. As we were setting out before the rush hour, there was slightly more than sod-all chance of getting the coach out of Bangkok through the traffic jams - Not that the concept of rush hour means much here, since there is usually only just about enough room to squeeze a bicycle through anywhere at the best of times! Going out of town, I saw for the first time another side to the city, which quite took me by surprise, and that was the sheer beauty of the temples. Driving right through the center of the city, all the shanty towns and disused buildings gave way to miles and miles of incredibly ornate buildings and gold covered temples in intricate designs which I would be hard pressed to describe without you thinking I was exaggerating. Tall spires of gold rise from facades of golden Buddha images and intricate artwork which glints in the morning sun. For a moment, it is even possible to forget the fact that, 200 yards further down the street, the city is covered in a dense smog; that large sections of it's population seems to be begging on the streets or working in Go-Go bars over in Patpong; or that the only way the traffic police can remain healthy is to walk around all day with pollution filters strapped to their faces. This is what really draws people to Bangkok (The temples, I mean, not the pollution and begging), and it is exactly what I will be coming back for after my brief excursion to Kanchaburi. Kanchanaburi is a different story entirely. One hundred and Seventy Kilometres north-west of Bangkok, Kanchanaburi War Cemetery contains the remains of sixteen-hundred soldiers from the Japanese, English, American, Australian, Thai and Danish armies who died here in POW camps between September 16th 1942 and December 25th 1943, building the 415 Kilometre "Death Railway" which the occupying Japanese forces saw as their way of getting stocks to their army in Burma (1) who were attempting to hold back the allied forces. In a large commemorative garden outside town, the graves are all laid out neatly in rows, a simple headstone naming each soldier resting within. In the Kanchanaburi War Museum, photographs are on display showing the full horror of what happened here, and you can walk through a reconstruction of a Bamboo hut that would have been the living quarters of the POWs. Many original artefacts are on display at the JEARTH museum, including pistols, knives, and the bomb which was dropped to destroy the Bridge on the Kwai and the railway - to prevent transportation of Japanese troops between Thailand and Burma. You really get a sense of the scale of the treatment here - The original Japanese engineers estimated that the railway (303 Km on the Thai side, 112 Km on the Burmese side) would take five years to build. The prisoners were forced to complete this task in sixteen months. During this time, sixteen thousand POWs and one hundred thousand labourers died from various diseases due to lack of facilities. It is possible to cross the Bridge on the River Kwai by foot, and many hundreds of tourists do just this every day - Myself included. There is no handrail and nothing between you and the river below but a large drop. Nevertheless, tourists flock here every day to peer over the side into the jaws of death before boarding the famous "Death Railway" which still runs between here and Wang Po on the border with Burma.I finally gave in to all of my touristy instincts this morning, buying a Tee-Shirt from a vendor at the station. It had a gold picture of the Bridge on it, and said "River Kwae (Thailand)" - This last disclaimer obviously designed to avoid confusion with the other, little known River Kwai which runs through Watford! Notice, also, the proper local spelling of Kwae - As opposed to the one everybody else uses. Anyhow, it only cost me 200 Baht, which is a little less than four pounds sterling. The "Death Train" isn't much more than a rickety old carriage that runs along a single track between Kanchanaburi and Burma. The windows are not filled, so a cool breeze blows throughout the journey, and the passengers can stick their heads out of the window and enjoy the splendour of the Thai countryside without any risk of being decapitated unexpectedly by a passing Intercity express. The journey to the Burmese border at Wang Po takes around two hours, and I happily sat with my head out of the window watching the fields and mountains go by, farmers waving from their little shacks and kids sitting by the tracks without a care in the world. My companions on this trip included a young Australian couple from Melbourne, who had been married for all of three weeks and were on the last step of their honeymoon before returning to wedded bliss in the country of Neighbours and Shrimps on the Barbie! Lisa and Matt had spent the last two weeks in Phuket, which is where I shall be next week if all goes to plan, and couldn't recommend it highly enough - Beautiful beaches, crystal clear waters, the stuff of honeymoon dreams. They also visited nearby Phi-Phi Island, which they say is absolutely incredible if I can survive the ferry crossing! Among the other travellers to Wang Po were a couple of girls from Devon, who were making their way across the vast expanse of heat which is Thailand: This certainly seems to be the place to come to relax and take in the scenery, one thing you can always say about travelling is that there are always plenty of other like minded people around to swap experiences with. Every ten or twelve seconds, I was snapped out of my admiring gaze through the windows by a salesman trying to sell me a souvenir, Sandwich or some other useful accessory: They wander up and down the length of the carriage, endlessly assuming that if they come back often enough you may finally cave in and scream "Oh, go on then. I'll have two photos of the king and a Tee-Shirt with "my friend went to Thailand and all I got was this crappy Tee-Shirt' scrawled across it!". In fact, it is entirely possible if you are not careful at the beginning of the trip, to be so caught up in buying souvenirs that you go straight over the River Kwai bridge without noticing and miss the whole point of your trip in the first place! I am reliably informed by an American tourist on the train, however, that if you hold out your hand towards the salesman palm-upwards, they look offended and don't come back again. Having no idea what such a gesture might mean out here, and imagining that I might want to be allowed back into the country at some point in the future, I make do with a cheery "No, Thanks." Towards the end of the journey, we hit the reason why so many people take this trip: Crossing the Death Valley Gorge on the way into Wang Po is quite an experience even for the well seasoned explorer. Rising from the most magnificent view of the River Kwai, with its floating homes and miles of surrounding countryside, is the most dangerous looking river crossing you will ever see. Crawling along at about 3 Mph, the train crosses the gorge at a height of several hundred feet - there is nothing to support the vehicle other than the single narrow track which is held up by girders jutting from the cliff face. Out of one side of the train, nothing but rock-face can be seen: On the other, it appears that you are flying through the air hundreds of feet above the river. People race to the windows, cameras poised. The braver souls among us climb down onto the steps of the train, sitting with feet dangling over a quick death. Then, as quickly as it appears, the gorge is gone... And it's on to Wang Po. My fascinated gaze out of the train window all the way from Kanchanaburi seems to have been something of a mistake. Every insect and bug known to mankind has hurled itself kamikaze-style at my face, and now my eyes have blown up to three times their normal size and the conjunctiva has turned to jelly. I look like Gomez Adams from the Adams Family. I knew something was wrong because my eyes felt like they had been pricked by a thousand needles, but when I looked in the mirror on the way out of the train I nearly fainted.
Over lunch in a local restaurant, in which I spent a great deal of time splashing water from a bottle onto my eyeballs, Matt tells me that the same thing happened to him a few years ago and that a few hours rest will set everything straight again. I sure hope so, 'cos if there is one thing sure to make the locals stay away from me wherever I go, it's having a couple of jelly-balls for eyes!

(1) Burma is now officially called Myanmar. If you didn't know this, it doesn't come as a huge surprise to me - although the name Myanmar has been accepted by the United Nations, it would seem that The United Kingdom and the United States are sticking their fingers in their respective ears and going "la la la" rather than choosing to entertain the idea, so to them Burma remains Burma. It's almost like being back at school.
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Mae Hong Son, Northern Thailand, Thailand
On our last day in Mae Hong Son, we had arranged a full day tour to three of the local attractions and suddenly found ourselves having to get up early for the first time since we arrived. It's funny how you get used to lazing around a pool all day after only doing it for a couple of days, isn't it? We were collected from the front of the hotel and driven down to the banks of the Mae Hong Son River where we boarded a long tailed motor boat, a vehicle which was obviously trying very hard to look like an authentic tribal canoe but was actually having quite a hard time hiding its rather obvious outboard motor. It would've been quite nice to be paddled slowly along the river to our destination, but instead we sat in single file behind the driver and sped through the water with the wind blowing our hair about and the front of the boat skipping up and down on the waves. The scenery, however, was second to none. Having got used to living in the village and observing the surrounding forests from a distance, it was fantastic to find ourselves sailing along the river with nothing but dense woodland along both banks and the sight of tall mountains shrouded in mist rising above the trees all around. This is what we had come to Mae Hong Son to see. Arriving at our destination, we disembarked from our canoe and waited for an elephant and rider to emerge from the river in front of us and stomp off along a heavily trodden dirt track into the forest. We then followed at a discrete distance, smiling ear to ear, pointing excitedly and whispering "elephant" at each other as though unable to grasp the fact that these gentle giants actually existed outside of a David Attenborough documentary. After about five minutes or so, we emerged suddenly behind our elephant escort into a large clearing and found ourselves in the elephant camp. This was the moment when, if this had been a major Hollywood feature film, the camera would've pulled back and shot up into the canopy to reveal a bustling area full of elephants entering and leaving with tourists on their backs and guides steering people up steps into raised huts from which they could climb on board! But it wasn't a major feature film, so we had to content ourselves with observing all this from ground level - which was no less impressive. Obviously, nobody is expected to just sit on an elephant's back. Each of them has a harness attached which holds a small seat in place - this isn't, however, much more than a low wooden platform for two riders to sit side by side. It's only really us politically correct westerners that go in for the whole health and safety thing! Three sides are raised in an attempt to stop you falling off, although the back of the chair only came up to the small of my back so I feel sure that any slight lurch would've sent us tumbling to the ground. We also had a tiny leather strap which fastened across the front of the chair, but this was clearly more for show than as a safety precaution - not only didn't it come anywhere near our laps, but it was about a foot in front of where we were sitting. If the elephant had suddenly decided to sit down at any point we would've simply slipped underneath the strap and disappeared, only to be found later doing a really good impression of a couple of pancakes after it stood up again. Once Tanya and I were perched precariously on our elephant's back, our mahout (a much better word than "elephant driver", I think you'll agree) climbed on board. No dodgy looking wobbly seat for this guy - he just plonked himself down on the elephant's neck with his legs dangling into the air on either side, and signalled for us to get under way. Our mahout didn't seem to have any sort of reins for steering, instead simply holding onto a small stick with which he would carefully stroke or lightly poke the elephant on either side of its thick neck to indicate which way it should go. Moving away from the raised platform from which we had boarded, our elephant stomped its way across the clearing and back towards the river. The elephant and our mahout seemed to have an unspoken agreement to get all the really scary stuff out of the way at the beginning. Getting into the river was something of an experience as it involved riding down a steep bank into the water, a manoeuvre which forced us to slip so far forward in our seats that we had to hold on for dear life to avoid slipping under the seatbelt. After wading across the river, climbing back up the opposite bank wasn't much better, pushing us back into our seats and shaking us from side to side as the elephant tried to find the best footholds in the soft mud to haul itself up onto dry land. But the worst was over, and the rest of our ride was a delightful serene experience as we trekked through the forest and along well trodden (by elephant, anyway) pathways between collections of huts in which the local people lived. As we sauntered along, our ride would occasionally stop to munch on some tasty looking treat next to the path - giving us an opportunity to release our vice like grip on the edge of our seat for a moment and gaze around at the scenery while the driver desperately poked at the elephants thick neck with his stick as it completely ignored him. It was obvious that the mahout only had as much control over our elephant as it wanted him to have. From time to time we would stop to allow another elephant to pass by, usually carrying residents on the way between their homes and the local market. Often, these elephants would have several people perched on their backs and would be seemingly covered in bags and boxes full of food - and it was very obvious that they provided a much more useful service than simply attracting the tourists. In Mae Hong Son, elephants are the local taxis. The elephants eventually led us out to the local Padaung Karen village. The Padaung are famous the world over and are popularly known in the west as the long-necked Karen due to their tradition of wearing heavy brass rings around their necks. This isn't entirely accurate, however, as it is only a very small group of Karen who practice this form of self mutilation. The vast majority of Karen have never had anything to do with the wearing of rings and many find it as curious as we do in the west. For the Padaung the tradition starts at an early age with small children being given a single ring to wear around their necks, more being added as they grow older. Upon reaching adulthood, many women will have more than twenty brass brings weighing them down. It's difficult to know where to stand on the moral issues here, as the Padaung are very insistent that the wearing of the rings is a local custom that shouldn't be interfered with and that it doesn't hurt - but when you see these women in person, it's hard not to be a little disturbed and feel that they can't be doing themselves any good. Besides, it could be argued that if you've been wearing heavy metal rings around your neck since you were a small child then you may have grown to accept any discomfort as just a part of life and no longer think of it as pain. It doesn't help, of course, that the Padaung (and unfortunately, due to ignorance, the Karen in general) are often referred to in the west as the Giraffe women, hardly a name they would feel happy about. Their appearance is considered locally to be highly beautiful, and the Padaung are more than happy to pose for photographs as tourism is now a major part of their income, but life in the village seems to somehow still manage to be carefree and relaxed despite the constant stream of western feet passing through. As unthinking foreigners march past gaping at everyone they see and clicking away with their cameras without even asking first, the women go about their everyday lives - cleaning, hanging out washing, selling their goods at the market stalls and chatting among themselves. Children run around playing in the dust, dogs lay in dark corners with their tongues hanging out - if it wasn't for the brass rings around the necks of everyone you see being a dead give away that you're in a Padaung Karen village, this could be any other hill tribe settlement in Thailand. I couldn't help wondering, however, where all the men were. The idea that the rings cause the Padaung women to grow elongated necks is actually a common misconception. In fact, if this were the case then they would all be paralysed from the neck down due to stretching or snapping of the spinal cord. In reality, pressure of the heavy brass rings on the collar bone and upper ribs actually disfigures the upper body so that the collar is pushed upwards at an angle and appears to be part of the neck. It's a matter of some debate as to why these women choose to mutilate themselves in this way. The Padaung women themselves seem to know little about it beyond the fact that it is their tradition, and new theories come into circulation every day. Wherever you go, somebody will be ready to give you the definitive explanation, and every story will be different. Some say that the rings were originally put there to protect the women from having their necks savaged in tiger attacks; others think it was more to do with making them look unattractive to visitors from other tribes and slave traders who may abduct them. In fact, the traditional punishment for adultery is to have the rings removed - the result of which is that the body is suddenly unable to support the head and the woman can no longer stand or sit for more than a few seconds at a time and pretty much has to spend the rest of her life laying on her back. The Padaung are not the only Karen group with traditions which may seem a little bizarre to western eyes, although they are by far the most well known. Among other groups is the originally named "big-eared Karen", who insert small ear-rings inside their ear lobes at an early age and then progressively replace them with larger versions as they grow older until their ears are stretched out of all proportion. Personally I haven't encountered this particular group for myself and am therefore not really qualified to comment, but I do have to wonder how many of these traditions would have died out long ago if it wasn't for the tourist trade. From the Padaung village, we were herded on board a coach and driven out to another local attraction known simply as the Fish Cave. I can honestly say, without fear of contradiction, that this was one of the least exciting things I've ever done in my entire life - and yet, at the same time, if I hadn't experienced it at all then I wouldn't have one of my most commonly repeated anecdotes about the misuse of English. The so-called Fish Cave is actually within a large park, so after parking the coach we had to walk some distance through formal gardens and across carefully mown lawns before arriving at the cave itself. This wasn't really anything more than a shallow opening on the rock face next to which was a natural rock pond into which somebody had crammed altogether too many Carp. Without exaggerating in the slightest, I can honestly say that if one more fish was added to that pond then they would've been springing out of the water like jack-in-the-boxes under the pressure. This seems to be what passes for entertainment around here, and the locals come every day to feed the fish with bread which can be purchased from the park shop - an activity which presumably only serves to make the fish bigger and the amount of free space in their home smaller. Above the pond is a metal sign, tacked onto the rock wall, which has to be one of the best examples of why you should always employ a proof reader I have ever come across (see the photo on page 26) - although many of the tourists around us certainly seemed to agree with the sign as displayed. I knew I was going to miss Mae Hong Son, but it seemed as though as soon as we'd arrived it was time to be heading back to Bangkok and on to an island off the coast of Krabi which I hoped would be every bit as romantic as it looked in the brochure.You can find my complete travel journals at www.offexploring.com/globalwanderer and www.offexploring.com/globalwanderer2
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Krabi, Andaman Coast, Thailand
Take a local bus to Ao Nang. From there a long Tail boat to Tonsai Beach. HAVE FUN!!! Check out Raileys Beaches, much nicer than Tonsai. Stay in Tonsai.
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Bangkok, Central Thailand, Thailand
When I arrived in BKK, soon I realized that I forgot almost everything important. However, it didn't matter as Bangkok is equipped with all the fancy things westerners are used to - but available at remarkably lower prices. For instance, you can buy copies of guidebooks, toilet requisites, flip flops, medication and probably everything else if only you a) really want it and b) have enough money.

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Bangkok, Central Thailand, Thailand
Eat the street food. Do not be afraid. Bangkok streets seem to be filled with food stalls which often offer minimal seating. Since the Thais seem to eat and want to eat at all hours of the day or night, the stalls always have customers. The staple is a savory broth into which they ladle anything you pick from their array of beef, chicken, shrimp, vegetables and noodles. Do like the Thais do, have a bowl of soup for or five times a day. The purveyors will spice it up to your liking.
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Women Travelers in Thailand 
Overall, Thailand is relatively safe country for women travelers, and that Thais are generally very polite and respectful. There are however, certain dangers and annoyances women travelers need to be especially aware of. Firstly, as in all countries, avoid walking alone at night in isolated areas. Secondly, be aware that Thais have some fairly conservative views about women regarding their dress and behavior, and that foreign women traveling in Thailand can be perceived as being more adventuresome and sexually available. As such, do not interact with Thai men in an isolated environment when alone, be it a bar, nightclub, or simply on the street after dark, and be careful how you dress. Women in Thailand tend to dress conservatively, so short skirts and sleeveless tops may signal to the local men that you are sexually available and easy to seduce. Wearing a ring on your wedding finger will also help reduce the attention of local men. It is also recommended that you be careful with Taxi drivers, who occasionally bring travelers to different locations that those requested (see dangers & annoyances section). Finally, if you are traveling alone, it is probably best not to let men know this.
 
Another important note: women originating from cooler, more temperate countries may not be aware of the importance of good hygiene and cleanliness in their intimate areas when traveling in Thailand’s hot, humid environment. Yeast infections and other problems are easily acquired, and often difficult to get rid of. It is highly recommended that you wash yourself regularly, and you wear breathable undergarments.
Last edited Aug 30, 07 3:31 PM. Contributors:
Ko Lan, Eastern Thailand, Thailand
How does the idea of riding a three man miniature submarine under the gulf of Thailand grab you? Yeah, me too. Now, I have to confess at this point that I've never posed any real threat to the British Olympic swimming team, neither am I likely to do so in the foreseeable future. Come to think of it, I could go the whole hog and admit that if you put me in a 100 meter swimming race against a large house brick I'd probably come in second. One of my most treasured memories, and I mean that most sarcastically, is being called to the front of assembly in front of some 500 primary school children in my final year to be congratulated on achieving my bronze swimming certificate - something which everybody else had managed to do several years before. However, having previously had the pleasure of SCUBA (1) diving the barrier reef the last time I was down under and BOB diving in the Canary Islands (2), I am certainly no stranger to the ocean, and imagined that a miniature submarine would be the perfect way to have a look around the perfect blue oceans of the Gulf of Thailand before moving on to Phuket. My breakfast was finished off in a state of some excitement. I had really high hopes for the day and wasn't going to let anything spoil it - I was only slightly fazed, in fact, upon discovering that this morning's crispy bacon did, in fact, double as a projectile weapon upon contact with a fork and that I was able to single-handedly put several people in hospital without moving from my table. Koh Larn is a small island that can clearly be seen across the bay from the hotel. It is so small, in fact, that it's difficult to find it on any map and the mapping facility I'm using to track my journey refuses to believe it exists at all and insists that I point out where it is myself. Although only a few miles away, the quality of the sand is much cleaner than Pattaya and it has become a popular destination for day trippers and locals alike, who go back and forth at the not unreasonable rate of 20 Baht one way (I can't remember what the exchange rate was at the time, but this is something akin to taking a train from North London to South London for a couple of pennies). Of course, having booked a considerably more expensive excursion (IE: The tourist option), I was privileged to be driven to the beach at Jontien, a little south of Pattaya, and taken by speed boat out to the pontoon from which the submarine launches. The motor launch jumped and tossed about all the way: the sea was quite rough today, but even the threat of seeing my breakfast again wasn't going to put me off what I was about to do. At the Pontoon, the submarine was being prepared - so the speedboat continued on to one of Koh Larn's beautiful white sandy beaches where I was able to spend an hour or so relaxing in the sun. The beach here was a totally different experience from Koh Samet the other day - There was the same long sandy beach, but this time no sign of restaurants or any other tourist activity other than a couple of Jet skis out in the bay. Instead, there was a native hut, with a campfire and hoards of locals scurrying about, and a row of deckchairs. My guide was a local guy, although he had a very strong American accent and explained that this was because of the many years he had spent there before waking up one morning wondering why he had left in the first place and coming straight back to set up the submarine business. He told me that the locals would happily look after me while I waited for the launch, so I sat on the beach under the shade of a palm tree being terribly British and drinking tea! Nobody looked as though they had left the island in years - and it was refreshing to have a guide who spoke perfect English - despite the amount of western visitors, most people here really have a hard time understanding my accent! When the sub was ready, and the local women had given up asking me about my life back in England and trying to fix me up with their daughters (who, for the record, were something more than stunning), I hopped back into the speed boat and raced out to the Pontoon - The guide took my camera and said that he would take a couple of pictures for me, although when I got it back later he had taken 15 and one of the female tourists with us had borrowed it to take a close up photo of her breasts, which came as something of a surprise when I got the film developed later, I can tell you. There were two other guys waiting on the Pontoon, stereotypically gay to the point that they could almost have been winding us up. They seemed to be under the impression that the top was going to come off the submarine so that they could climb in from above. When they saw that they actually had to get in the water and duck down underneath to get in they suddenly had a remarkable change of heart. The rest of us stood there, genuinely bemused by the conversation:
"Oh, But Davey - You know I don't like the water"
"I thought you'd be like this. You're always like this when it's something fun…"
"You go. I'll stay here and watch you"
"No, If you're not going then I'm not going…"
I had to cringe, thinking about the trouble these guys would've been in if the pontoon had been filled with unsympathetic British lager louts. As it was, the small group of us tried to do anything we could to persuade these two really nice guys to have a go, but they really weren't having it and ended up leaving on the next launch... There was a great long list of questions and disclaimers to be filled in before I could get in the sub, mainly saying that if I was to have an argument with a great white shark while I was down there then it wasn't anybodies fault but the shark - that sort of thing.
On my trip, the pilot turned out to be a "Driver under instruction". My English speaking guide sat there the whole time telling him which buttons to press and saying useful things like "Watch out for that rock" and "Remember that things look closer than they are through this glass". All the same, we developed the disturbing habit of sinking to the bottom and hitting the rocks just a little bit too much for my liking. Mind you, it was a superb experience and I would do it again in an instant: The coral and the little coloured fish are just something else to watch swimming around in their world down there, but on reflection it's probably just as well that we didn't have two neurotic guys having a panic attack along with us as well... It was a great experience in the sub, although nothing to equal SCUBA diving the Barrier Reef in Cairns. In fact, the brochure for the submarine trip even goes so far as to point out that you shouldn't expect it to live up to the Barrier Reef - so they must have quite a few visitors from that part of the world. On the way back to the mainland, I saw my first sign of rain on the trip so far - And boy, did it rain! I mean, never again will I step out of my house at home in England and say "I can't go out today, It's raining". Until you have experienced a tropical rainstorm like the one here this afternoon, you simply cannot imagine what it is like. There were trees opposite the hotel, but I couldn't see them from the lobby as there was basically a sheet of water in the way.
Nevertheless, I had to find an ATM that would accept my card so that I could take out some money for the next few days. Struggling against the wind and the rain, I got down to the beach road before one of Thailand's ever present Tuk-Tuk's (a sort of electric rickshaw with the bicycle replaced by a driver hunched over in an open cab while you sit on a narrow seat behind) pulled over to the side of the road, honking furiously for my attention.
Unfortunately, it was the one time that I really could have used a ride, but I didn't know where the ATM was and so wouldn't have been able to direct the driver. It's hard enough to get a Taxi driver to go where you want at the best of times, especially when they don't speak the language and just want to take you to a Go-Go bar where they are on commission! Yeah, I toyed with the idea of trying to explain that I wanted to go to the nearest ATM cash point that would accept my CIRRUS card, but I think his head probably would've exploded. He leaned out of the Tuk-Tuk, showed me a not very subtle photo of a beautiful girl inserting a banana into an orifice not originally designed for that purpose, and offered to take me for a massage. But since the beautiful lady in question was obviously Cindy Crawford courtesy of Photoshop, I had reason to doubt the authenticity of the photo - so I politely declined, and hurried on into the rain! I did eventually find an ATM machine, and took out some cash for the days to come. To be honest, with the weather turning the way it has today, I think it's about the perfect time to be moving on to Phuket... (1)SCUBA stands for Self Contained, Underwater Breathing Apparatus for any you who have been dying to know for years! (2)A BOB is a sort of underwater jet-pack which you guide about while safely concealed inside a plastic bubble - you may have seen them in underwater movies such as The Deep and Titanic You can read my complete travel journals at www.offexploring.com/globalwanderer
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Gay/Lesbian Travelers in Thailand 
Thailand is probably the friendliest country in the world as far as gays, lesbians and transgendered individuals are concerned. Largely thanks to a Buddhist worldview, the prevalent attitude towards sex and sexuality in Thailand is generally positive and free of shame, guilt and other negative connotations often associated with sex in the west. As such, distinctions between straight and gay are not a big deal the way they are in most western countries. Many Thais engage in sex with both men and women without worrying about how this might define them or how they could label themselves. Cross-dressing is an open, publicly widespread phenomenon in Thailand, and males who cross-dress are referred to as “katoeys” or “ladyboys”.
Last edited Aug 30, 07 3:30 PM. Contributors:
Bangkok, Central Thailand, Thailand
Bangkok is the best place for cheap shopping of all kinds. They are renowned for their authentic-looking rip-off designer goods, and clothing is amazingly cheap. Best markets/places to go include: Chat Tu Chak (although it is really hot and crowded can become overwhelming), Sum Lum Night Bazaar is good for a night out, MBK (Mahboonkrong) Center sells great bags and clothes (and is wonderfully air-conditioned), but by far the best place for shopping (and just to check out the scene) is Patpong. It is certainly the Thai experience. I kinda hate Bangkok, as it is a falling down mess, but the shopping and food are unbeatable. I suggest being adventurous buying from the street sellers... they really make the best food although it looks dodgy. Great places to visit are: The Royal Palace, Wat Arun, Wat Pho, and taking an hour or so train to the abandoned city of Ayutthaya (although I suggest seeing Ayutthaya before ever going to Cambodia for Angkor Wat). After Angkor Wat, Ayutthaya is quite disappointing.
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Ko Lanta, Andaman Coast, Thailand
Hotel: Relax Bay.
Geiles Hotel, echt
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Kanchanaburi, Central Thailand, Thailand
Wear bug repelent!!! (Normally they don't bug* me but here they were EVERYWHERE!) Also, the famous Bridge over the river Kwai is walking distance from most accomodations along the river, so don't get scammed into paying $20 for a boat to it unless you want to see all the extras the boat trip includes- (there are far more impressive versions of most extras accross Thailand.)
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Phuket, Andaman Coast, Thailand
When you come out of the airport you may need a shuttle but/taxi. Be careful as sometimes the stop at a jewellry store/tour/hotel booking centre….they will try to sell you tours and stuff to make a commission. Simply tell them you want to go straight to the hotel and that all your tours are booked. We had a major hassle, but I remembered to tell them to just take us to the hotel. We stayed in Patong. Please note that this is a party town! There is a strip with all bars and clubs and it gets rowdy everynight. So don’t stay in a place located near the main strips (Bangka Road) if you want peace and quiet. The beach was nice, but the water was very rough (at the beginning of July). Not much swimming- just avoiding waves. Still some beach activities like parasailing and jet skiing.
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Pattaya, Eastern Thailand, Thailand
Pattaya was a disappointment for me. I'm an asian girl and i was traveling alone in Pattaya. Does this alone necessarily mean i'm looking for someone??? Pattaya's swarmed with dodgy old blokes and putas. I really disliked the atmosphere there and ended up staying in the hotel's swimming pool for 4 days! Pattaya is an oversized red light district. Unless your interest is in prostitution, go somewhere else!
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Disabled Travelers in Thailand 
Unfortunately, an awareness of the needs of disabled travelers has not fully developed in Thailand. Few special facilities are available, even in the higher end hotels. And while entrance ramps and elevator lifts are available at virtually all mid-range to high-end facilities, they are not necessarily designed for wheelchairs. This being said, there are a small handful of resorts that have gone to the length to make themselves wheelchair-friendly and capable of meeting the needs of all disabled travelers. There are also some tour operators that specialize in designing and guiding tours for disabled travelers. Here are a few:
  • Thaifocus
  • Adventure Holiday
  • Baan Khun Daeng
Last edited Aug 30, 07 3:32 PM. Contributors:
Working in Thailand 
Visitors can often find work in Thailand, most commonly teaching English through small private schools. However, to legally work in Thailand, foreigners must first obtain a non-immigrant visa, and then an official work visa.
 
Application for the non-immigrant visa involves providing a letter stating that they have been offered employment, that the company offering the employment would like to apply for an official work visa, and that the company can attest to the visitor’s respect of Thai laws and customs. It is recommended that visitors apply for the non-immigrant visa prior to entering Thailand though a Thai consulate.
 
To apply for the work permit, visitors will need their non-immigrant visa, a copy of the picture page/identification page of their passport, a copy of the passport page with their current entrance stamp, a copy of their entry card (provided by customs officials upon entering the country), a copy of their degree or resume or transcript (sometimes it is required that it be certified by the visitor’s country's embassy), a doctor's certificate stating they are in good health (this can be arranged quickly in Thailand for less than 100 baht and usually does not required any actual exam), 2 color photos of the visitor (4 by 5 centimeter s - the photo size used by most photo shops in Thailand for Visas), and the money required to pay for the visa. Finally, the Thai employer will have to submit tax and legal documents concerning their business and their employees. Be aware that work visas can be very expensive when compared to the average wages earned in the country: the 3,800 Baht (95 USD) for a one-year permit equates to roughly one full month’s wages. As conditions change frequently, check with your local Thai consulates to be sure these practices are still current.
Last edited Aug 30, 07 3:33 PM. Contributors: