Ten things you'll love about Thailand
1) The weather: Depressed by the long, dark winters in your home country? Stuck indoors due to endless days of grey drizzle? Thailand's endless blue skies and warm days can offer a much needed tonic to even the most sun-starved SAD sufferer. It is definitely hot and sunny in Thailand. Bangkok, somewhat suprisingly, boasts the highest average temperature of any city in the world.
In April the temperature in Bangkok can reach over 40C but has dropped as low as 10C. A particularly pleasant time to visit Bangkok is November to December. The temperature being in the more comfortable mid 20s. The hottest time of the year in Thailand in general is April - around the time of the Songkhran water festival. In Thailand the climate tends to vary with altitude - Chiang Mai and other Northern cities experiencing more comfortable temperatures. Thailand does of course have a wet season with rains causing widespread disruption.Thailand can be thought of as having three seasons: hot, rainy and cool. The hot season runs from March to May. The rainy season runs from June to October and the cool season runs from November to February.Generally for sun-starved farangs the sunny climate in Thailand is a very big attraction. It's fantastic to be able to snorkel in warm, clear seas at a time of year when back in a place like UK people are fogbound and shivering.
2) The food: Thai food is world famous - and with good reason. There is a good range of different foods available in Thailand and invariably it's of high quality and delicious. Once you've tasted food in Thailand you will very likely get addicted. Even Thai food in restaurants back in "farangland" will just not be the same after tasting the real thing.
As well as a huge variety of dishes available there are an equally huge number of venues of different types. International style dining is available in most hotels and there are chain style restaurants for most food tastes. Anna's cafe can offer a pleasant dining experience in a restaurant environment that will be more familiar to Westerners. There are several around town. Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Western, Italian are just some of the menus available in Bangkok. Even smaller cities will have a huge selection of restaurants.
My favourite places to dine are the small street side restaurants. They usually just have plastic tables and chairs, some Christmas tree style lighting and ice cold beers. Menus vary but include noodles, soups, rice and seafood dishes. They are also extremely reasonable. A decent meal for two costing in the range 100 to 200 baht depending on extras. There are also low cost eating facilities in places like TOPS supermarket in Central Plaza. You can select your dishes from the selection available and seating is provided. Not the most intimate dining experience but you notice that everyone sitting near you (you will often be the only farang) looks amazingly happy (See Thailand photos for a snapshot).So, eating in Thailand is a great pleasure. Try different dishes, experiment, but watch out for the really spicy dishes!
3) Islands and beaches: Thailand has many famous islands with stunning beaches. There are whole books devoted to Thailand's wonderful islands and beaches. A lot has been written and said about this aspect of Thailand. Post-tsunami things have been a little more circumspect than in the past. However, there's no doubt that Thailand has some of the best beaches in SE Asia if not the world. Scuba diving is also excellent and well-catered for, mostly through PADI centres. Snorkelling trips are widely available and typically organised through the hotel or a local agent. You can of course just get your flippers and mask on and start swimming. The organised trips are often worth it as you will be able to access remote reefs and islands where there is a wider variety of marine life. Many other water activities are also available - kayaking, jet ski and of course banana boat! Thailand is a very big draw if you are a lover of water sports. There is also the rather pleasant nature of beach life - even if you can only make it out to the islands on the weekend. There is something extremely satisfying about sitting at a small beachside restaurant sipping ice cold Singha beer and shooting the breeze with good friends. Some of my favourite beaches are Kata beach (Phuket), Ao Prao Resort (Samet), Klong Dao Beach (Lanta) - so many happy memories.
4) The people: There is much that can be said about Thai people, their positive attitude to life and their friendly nature. On the whole most Thai people are extremely tolerant and welcoming to foreigners. Thais tend to be very laid back and easy-going, unless offended, at which point they can become stubborn and in extreme cases verbally or physically violent. Even more has been written on the subject of Thai women and their many charms. For the majority of Western men moving to (or visiting) Thailand, enjoying the company of Thai ladies is a major incentive. Thai women tend to be charming, beautiful, slim and feminine - traits that many Western men complain are in short supply in their home countries. Problems can arise with Thai women - usually this comes about because the Western guy has not taken time to understand Thai culture and the Thai way of thinking. This does often lead to unfortunate situations. Mostly these can be avoided - being better informed does help and there is certainly no shortage of advice on this website and on the Internet in general.I have found Thai people to be helpful and pleasant in my travels in Thailand. There's no doubt that Thai people are on the whole very pleasant to interact with.
5) The cost of living: Compared to the West Thailand has a very low cost of living. For example a fantastic condo with swimming pool, 24 hour security, broadband internet and all amenities can be had in a nice area for typically £300 to £500 per month. However, all budgets are catered for in Bangkok and much cheaper (and much more expensive) facilities are available.One useful tip is, if you can, to get a Thai contact to check out apartments for you prior to your arrival. They can also negotiate much more effectively. On one occasion I was able to get a friend to negotiate a great monthly rate for a top-floor serviced apartment that was HALF the rate quoted on the Internet - a saving of around £500 per month. There are many bargains to be had and no shortage of accommodation in Bangkok. As mentioned earlier food is also very cheap and generally a wide range of products are much cheaper in Thailand than in Western countries. The UK in particular seems to be the ripoff capital of Europe. I usually buy my running shoes and sports clothes when visiting Thailand or Malaysia as prices are often as little as 30% of what I'd pay for the same thing in the UK. Other clothes such as T-shirts, jeans, sandals, shoes, wet suits and so on can all be had at a fraction of what you'd pay in UK.
6) The nightlife: Thailand's famous, and some would say infamous, nightlife acts as an giant magnet to men (and women) from all over the world. Sadly Thailand has developed a unenviable reputation internationally as the prostitute capital of the world (or at best SE Asia). The most famous red light areas catering to Westerners include Patpong, Soi Cowboy and Nana Entertainment Plaza (NEP) in Bangkok. There is also naughty nightlife to be had in Pattaya, and on the island of Phuket, centered around Patong beach in Phuket town. Unfortunately (or fortunately if your tastes are so inclined), brothels exist all over Thailand, but the vast majority cater to Thai men. Official estimates of sex workers in Thailand put the figure at around 70,000 including 30,000 under 18. Further "official unofficial" (from the police) statistics put the more likely number of sex workers in Thailand at over 200,000. There are also many young ladies who fall into a "grey" area - incidents of college students and office workers freelancing for extra cash on the side are commonplace.Naughty nightlife aside - Thailand, and especially Bangkok has a very lively nightlife. Nothing seems ever to close in the "City of Angels". Whereas in UK most establishments on the High Street will be close by 5.30pm many outlets in Bangkok don't even open until that time! There are many pubs, clubs, discos, indoor and outdoor restaurants, cinemas, bowling centres, and shopping malls all open until late. Bangkok is certainly one place where you will never be bored of an evening and the same goes for many of the outlying provinces and islands.
7) The pace of life: With our hectic lifestyles in the West we often dream of leaving the rat-race and downsizing into a slower pace of life. Thailand is an ideal location in which to achieve that aim. With the combination of low cost of living and excellent facilities, life can be good in Thailand, some would say better than the West, on very much less money. Whether your inclination is to the metropolis of Bangkok or the quieter outlying provinces, the pace of life and laid back attitude of the Thais can be a refreshing change from the hurly-burly of Western life. Sure, Thailand is no panacea, but there's no doubt that there are many Westerners living a quietly-contented, low-stress life in Land Of Smiles.
8) The culture: There is so much to see in Thailand. There is a feeling sometimes that once you've seen one temple in Thailand you've seen them all. Personally I never tire of learning more about Thai history, the Thai people, their religion and beliefs. I never get bored of visiting the wonderful temples and historic sites. Thai culture is fascinating and there are many cultural avenues to pursue in Thailand - Thai dancing, arts and crafts, martial arts, festivals and special customs are endlessly varied and interesting. From Songkhran to Loy Kratong, from Thai silk to Muay Thai, from Ayutthaya to Wat Arun, there is so much to explore and learn about.
9) The facilities: Generally I've found facilities to be of better quality (and cheaper) in Thailand than in the West. Golf courses, cinemas, swimming pools, beach facilities, hotels, restuarants, serviced apartments, and shops are generally very good and provide excellent service. Medical facilites are also very good, clean and with efficient Doctors (but you do pay).
Getting around Bangkok and travelling in general is also rather easy. There is always a motorbike taxi on hand for short trips, or aircon taxi. I've also travelled in tuk-tuks, songthaew, skytrain, aircon buses. In many ways getting around in Thailand on public transport is far easier than in the West, where you really do need your own car to conveniently get around.
10) The shopping: Bangkok is pretty famous for its shopping. The big shopping malls include Central Plaza, Mahboonkrong (MBK) and the new Siam Paragon, but there are many shopping malls in Bangkok and many more under construction. Shopping facilities are plentiful outside of Bangkok too, with most towns having a variety of stores and shopping facilities. One of the big advantages of shopping facilites in Thailand over the West is that they are usually open until quite late (by Western standards). Central Plaza on Rama 3 for example closes around 10pm. Many small shops are also open 24 hours. Seven-Eleven stores are widespread.I'm no great lover of shopping to be honest, but I've had many enjoyable shopping trips in Thailand. Whereas in UK it often feels like an ordeal, in Thailand, and especially in some of my favourite malls like MBK and Central it becomes a pleasurable activity that I look forward to. The shopping malls also make great places at which to people watch. I often sit in Starbucks in Central or a coffee shop MBK armed with an iced-tea and my Bangkok Post and just watch the world go by.SummaryThailand is something special, it is a magical place that is much more than the sum of its parts. It is a heady mix of all the above ten items and much, much more. Whether you plan to visit for a holiday, work or retirement Thailand has something special to offer you.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tony Bedford is a writer, traveller and business person. Located in the UK, Tony escapes the harsh Winters to travel in Thailand and Malaysia, where he can be found anywhere there is good diving. His website can be found at http://www.dreamofsiam.com