Southeast Asia Natural Adventures

nature travel, wildlife tours, adventure travel and general travel to Thailand, Indonesia and Southeast Asia

 

General Information for Thailand Travel
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LOCAL CUSTOMS

Visitors to Thailand will find the people warm and accepting, if a trifle reserved and formal. As in other parts of Southeast Asia, grace, lack of emotion other than polite friendliness, and agreement are very important when dealing with others. Anger, sarcasm, loudness and impatience are always counter-productive, even if it doesn’t appear so at the time. Even crossed or waving arms are considered rude. If you watch how others treat equals, and follow suit, you will enjoy your time in this beautiful country. You will always be greeted with a wai, where palms are joined together in front of the face with some degree of bowing. This is a sign of respect, traditionally towards one’s social superior; the deeper the bow, the greater the standing of the person being bowed to. Superiors will normally return the hand gesture with a smile, but not bow, or bow less depending on each other’s rank. The lesser ranked person initiates the wai; as a visitor and guest this is rarely you. Although waiters, shopkeepers etc will greet you with a wai, you should not return it – a simple smile will do. Again, watch the interactions between Thais to gauge your own correct reaction.

In common with other regional countries, laughter or humor is often a cover for nervousness or to overcome a bad situation. Often this seems inappropriate to Westerners, but rest assured you are not being mocked or your concern denigrated; this is just a way of covering an awkward situation.

Thais dress modestly, and you should too. Anything provocative or skin-baring, especially low-cut tops on women and exposed shoulders, should be avoided. Shorts, especially short shorts on men or any on women, are not appropriate for wear away from the beach, pool or distinctly international tourist areas, although it is common to see western tourists doing so; in the heat and humidity of Bangkok and other parts of Thailand, it is hard not to do so. Your Thai hosts will not be offended (unless it is done in an important area such as a temple, shrine, Royal area, or government building) so much as associate shorts with poor and low-class people. However, Thais recognize us for what we are – travelers from another country with different ways. If you are visiting a Royal Palace, shrine or temple, then you must abide by the local dress code to both avoid giving offence, and possibly being refused entry. The best garb for both men and women are pants, or long skirts for women, and shirts with long sleeves. Footwear should be leather sandals with closed toes and heels at a minimum, and as you will be continually removing and replacing your shoes, such sandals or slip-ons make sense. Flip-flops are not appropriate. And speaking of footwear, you should remove your shoes whenever entering a Thai house or residence; locals usually do so at good restaurants and even some shops. Again, look around and follow the pack. However, you should also be aware that it is not rare for shoes to be stolen from the racks at temples, so it’s best not to be wearing your $300 special edition Nikes.

Two aspects of Thai life are overwhelmingly sacred – Buddha and the Royal Family. Tourists can and have been jailed for inadvertently desecrating both. Do not climb on, lean against or otherwise demean Buddha images for photos, talk during the National Anthem, make fun of or criticize the King in any way (or the concept of royalty in general), crumple money (it has the King’s image), or any similar activities. Removing Buddha images is illegal.

Personal space is also important to Thais (again, as with others in the region.) Do not touch anyone on the head, even children; not touching at all, including “friendly” gestures such as an arm around the shoulders or the common western habit of a greeting hug. Don’t crowd, and especially don’t lean over someone; this denotes your superior standing and is therefore insulting. You will commonly see Thais lower their head when they pass you, this is sign of respect and you will show the same by doing so if you pass a group or family, or a monk. All of the above goes double when interacting with or near monks, who are always superior. One additional rule for monks: women should not give anything to a monk, or allow contact even just brushing by in a crowd. The opposite of the head are the feet, which are considered lowly and dirty. Do not throw them around, place them on furniture or clothing, or loll about with them stuck out forcing others to look at them or avoid them. Although a Buddhist country, the left hand rule here is the same as in Muslim countries; it is dirty and should be used to touch other people, eat with, or receive things from other people.

DINING

Thai cuisine is rightly one of the world’s finest, and in Thailand superb food can be found in fine restaurants, ordinary cafes and from street hawkers. With very few exceptions all food is safe to eat; Thais are meticulous in the clean preparation of food, and the government has recognized the importance of healthy tourists. Even non-bottled water served in restaurants is safe to drink (but not tap water), other than in some small and remote areas so is the ice, all of which is made in government-certified factories. So let your tastes lead you where they may. As a sign of respect to the importance of rice, you should always eat a spoonful before anything else; if you are dining with others from a common plate take just a couple of spoonsful each time, don’t load up your plate. If you have a host, allow him to serve himself first; he may offer to you to take the first serving. Thais eat with a spoon, in their right hand, and fill it with a fork in their left. As with other most other Asian cuisines, food is already in bite-sized pieces, so a knife is unnecessary. When you are finished, lay your utensils facedown together on the plate which indicates you are finished; just placing them randomly will invite the waiter or indicate to the host to bring more food.


DRIVING

Traffic drives on the left! This is important not only if you are driving, but when you walk across roads. You must look to the RIGHT first – not the left. Never just step off a curb – think first. If you are driving, here are a few tips. To keep yourself correctly oriented when driving, frequently look out and down from the driver’s window – you should see the road’s dividing line. (If the passenger can see it, you’re in trouble!) Concentrate at turns – coming out of a turn, especially from a divided road onto a two-way, is where most accidents happen, and unless you are concentrating you may naturally swing to the wrong side.

While there are traffic rules, such as limits of 60pkh in the city (in a driver’s dreams!) and 80kph in the country, more usually the universal rules of Asia apply – bigger and older and braver (read more stupid) has right of way of smaller, newer and more timid. Everything, from painted lanes to the roadways themselves, are merely suggestions. The most important piece of knowledge is the width of your vehicle, to the millimeter, its stopping length, the same for the other vehicles on the road, and a near-telepathic sense of the intentions of other drivers. Unlike Indonesia and some other places, use of the horn is not an essential art. Demure, high-heeled office girls are just as capable of cutting into your immediate future as a tough-looking man in work clothes, so beware of one and all. Thai drivers, especially the motor scooter drivers, in Bangkok seem more related to birds in a flock or fish on a school for their ability to know what all other members are doing, and flow appropriately with them. Our advice: if you must drive, which can be a good way to see the more rural areas of Thailand, hire your car or scooter outside the main cities, especially Bangkok.

 

SHOPPING

Bargaining is common in Thailand, and you can often reduce costs by up to 40%, but 25% is more common. Remember, this is not a life and death struggle, and the amount under question is usually small, so be pleasant. VAT is included in the price and should not be added later; this is a scam. Adding credit card fees is also against the merchant’s card agreement; ask that any such added charge is removed. See also the Money section for additional information.

SAFETY

Thailand has crime, naturally, but mostly it is robbery and fraud, rather than crimes of violence. But as you’ll see once there, most local people take no particular precautions when out and about. As always, wealth flaunting and inappropriate behavior can lead to trouble, so don’t wear unnecessary jewelry, gold watches etc, and don’t leave valuables lying about. Carefully lock your valuable away in your room, or the hotel safe, with a checked and signed list of the contents. Watch out for pickpockets and razor artists, who slash purse straps to steal them. All these problems are easily overcome with a little forethought, so prepare in advance and have a pleasant and relaxing time.

CALLING HOME

Thailand has a multi-layered phone system. The cheapest and easiest way to call home is to purchase an international phone card before leaving, available through the web or via magazines and other outlets including ATT& T, Sprint etc, and use a public or hotel phone. Check that the hotel doesn’t impose a surcharge, or at least an outlandish surcharge, on such calls. There are also public international phone centers in most cities. Unless you have a special model, and an appropriate international plan, your cell phone won’t work overseas; even with such a plan the calls will be far more expensive, and incoming calls will cost considerably more for the caller than their normal international rate. If you must have a cell phone you can rent one there (or even buy one second-hand), and buy minutes as required. Internet cafes are becoming more widespread, especially in the main tourist areas, so for a few baht you can log on to check and send emails. If you have a proprietary ISP such as AOL or Compuserve you can use their “.com” site to access and send your messages. Setting up a Yahoo account will give you more facilities, such as message storage. But remember, being on vacation means just that – you’ll enjoy your stay more by saying to your friends and family “talk to you when we return.”

MEDICAL MATTERS

No immunizations are required for Thailand, unless you have been to a Yellow Fever country – South America or Africa – in the previous six days, when a Yellow Fever Certificate is required. We highly recommend that your tetanus shot is up to date – though no more prevalent down there than here, tetanus can stop a vacation in its tracks. The Centers for Disease Control has recommendations for Southeast Asia. However, they lump all of the area into one, which does not reflect the reality on the ground; eg they say do not drink non-bottled water, or eat “non-peel” fruit, which is not the case in Thailand. Along with the State Department people who write the Travel Warnings, CDC is a close relative of your mother and your always-worried doting aunt; therefore read what they say appropriately. (Generally, they feel it’s best to stay at home in bed.)

Southeast Asian Natural Adventures is not a medical authority and cannot make recommendations on medical issues; you should seek qualified and knowledgeable assistance on these matters. But as a general rule all travelers should be covered for Hepatitis A, and Hepatitis B can be useful if you may be in contact with blood (eg as a volunteer worker; but don’t forget that a traffic accident could also cause this) or have other fluids exposure. Rabies is present, but no more likely than in the US. Typhoid vaccination is strongly recommended as outbreaks can be sudden, though unlikely, and there are drug-resistant strains. Polio is present, and although most adults have been vaccinated as a child, a single adult shot is also required for permanent protection. Malaria is generally not a problem except along the Burma border; if you include this area in your travel plans, short-term protection such as Malarone(TM) is most suitable (see your doctor regarding individual suitability).

Thailand havs some excellent medical facilities, especially in Bangkok and Chiang Mai; doctors, and hospital staff are well-trained, and medicines are cheaper than in the US. Always choose to go to a private hospital if necessary, rather than a public one, if at all possible. Many US insurance plans do not cover or restrict services overseas, including Medicare and Medicaid – please check with your provider. We highly recommend travel insurance; although excellent care is available locally, associated transport costs, especially from remote areas can be high, and aren’t usually covered by your own insurance. Southeast Asian Natural Adventures can assist you in obtaining travel insurance from a reputable third-party insurer. US-written prescriptions may be able to be filled in Thailand depending on where you are; if not a doctor's visit to copy out your own prescription is easily arranged and inexpensive. The drugs are of high, western standards, and there are several reputable pharmacy chains with English-speaking staff. We recommend taking a copy of your current prescription(s) with you to ensure an exact replacement - make sure the drugs are in their generic names. Please note that some specialized drugs may not be available overseas.

The greatest medical risks in Thailand are diarrhea and sunburn; even in cloudy weather burning is possible; for fair-skinned people skin damage can occur in as little as 20 minutes in summer. Cover up with a hat and sunscreen. Diarrhea is often a function of change as much as infection per se – our bodies are just not used to the different organisms and foods. Take some Imodium or Pepto-Bismol at the first signs, and drink plenty of clean water to avoid dehydration, the most dangerous effect. Take a small medical kit with you for the normal bumps and scrapes.

RANDOM THOUGHTS AND TIPS

If you are using film, not digital, you may want to consider taking a 6x4 card with your name and address on it. Photograph this at the beginning of each roll – that frame is often a problem anyway – and then if your address is lost by the developer, they’ll still have it with the photos.

Don’t wait until you arrive to learn about your new camera – saving $50 at the duty-free store or on a last-minute web bargain isn’t a deal if you lose the memories of a $5000 once-in-a-lifetime trip.

If you’re taking a lot of film, tag the canisters with green dots from an office supply store. When you use the film, peel off the dot. In a hurry you’ll immediately know which rolls to grab (and you can bet there be at least a couple of “hurries.”)

Ziplock bags can be used to enclose tubes that might leak due to pressure changes - this can also apply to ballpoint pens.

If you a birder, and taking a guide, here’s a suggestion to make IDs easier. Go through the book, and work out which birds occur in the area you’ll be visiting, and maybe the altitudes. Use colored dots from the office supply store to mark the plates of the possibilities. We use codes such as blue for lowland only, green for above 1000m only, etc; dots can be overlapped for wider ranges. An “R” for “very rare” can be written on the dot to further refine things. When you have to quickly look at a page of unfamiliar and confusingly similar birds, the possibilities will stand out from the rest. It’s quicker, and more concise than making written notes.

This system also works for general travel guide books, to reference "must-see", "if we can," "avoid at all costs" etc.

 

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