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The Land of Smiles

Well, 60 million odd smiles to be a bit more precise. Thailand is a tropical country, the size of France, tucked in between Burma, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Malaysia, about 6000 miles away from London. For more tourist info try the Russ Guide. or Bangkok University guide

Bangkok, the capital, has 6 million smiles, a horrendous amount of traffic, temperatures that can soar into the 50s celsius every April when the motor show is presented at at the BITEC  ... from where the photo on the left was taken.

Also in April is the Thai New Year festival of Songkran, where a  gentle water festival has now turned into a wild "bucket of water throwing" orgy ... which is not that unreasonable in the temperatures ... and not compared to the huge quantity of rain which will soon fall. But even in the worst of the rainy season (September & October) Thailand has more average hours of sunshine per day than England in midsummer.

But if you are thinking of a holiday, the 35 degrees of the "cold season" (November to January)  is the best ... as well as the best months to get out of this country.

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The Land of the Free

Looks like a schoolgirl? Well that's what she is ... dressed up for an end-of-term concert. Note the combination of rose and imitation machine gun!

Thailand, formerly Siam, is a monarchy which both encyclopedias and the locals recognize as run by the army ... and still has conscription (mandatory entry into the armed forces) so that in theory all children will finish up in uniform by the age of 20. However there is a lottery system to gain exemption, around which the dreaded word "corruption"  is bound to raise its head.

The country has never, in its 2500 year history, been colonized by European powers despite the British, French, Dutch & Portuguese having pretty much carved up the rest of the region. This probably explains why the army is considered so essential to the future freedom of the country, especially if you look at the neighbours. Try the Sala Guide for a brief history.

The Royal Family is revered by most of the population ... just as well as failure to do so can land you in jail for 3-15 years, and Thai jails are no joke. In all fairness King Bhumibol, (or Rama IX)  who has been on the throne since 1946, has been a force for stability and is regarded as an educated, thoughtful and compassionate man who has worked hard for his country.

The Land of Golf

Behind me is Laem Chabang Country Club, Pattaya, a Jack Niklaus designed course which is one of the most expensive in the region at about 25 pounds per round, including a mandatory buggy. However Century Golf at Ban Chang was designed by Nick Faldo and is, by UK standards, a superb course costing a fiver on Mondays. However, Century does not have a posh clubhouse, Laemchabang does.
The following apply to every Thai golf course I have ever played on, north or south, cheap or expensive:

Mandatory Caddies, generally young girls who carry the bag, read the putts, repair divots 
and the course in general, keep you in order, and can be a lot of fun. A tip of at least 100 baht (60 b = 1) is expected.

On-Course Bars,
normally every 3 holes, at which you can, of course, simply sit down and have a lemonade, or something stronger if the round's not too good.
Sprinkled Fairways,
and greens and tees, of course.
Clubhouses, with bars, (often excellent) restaurants, lockers, showers (with free or cheap towels),   pro-shops & clubs for hire
Superb Maintenance, Landscaping & Drainage
Superb Weather

The above prices are enabled by membership of the Pattaya Sporting Club, a charitable organization for which the membership card can get you a whole bunch of useful discounts on rooms, car hire etc ... and about a third off at nearly all of the local golf courses. Membership costs about 600 baht [60b=1] a season or 2500 baht for 6 years.They run a monthly Stableford competition with good prizes, no entrance fee, and a whole lot of fun. Also you can try the International Pattaya Golf Club or

For the most part I play out of a bar called the Sugar Shack, Soi Pattaya 2, where you can roll up pretty much any day, share a bus (for 100 bahts each) with a bunch of expats & holidaymakers and play most of the courses in a 20 mile radius. The "society" is run by Brian Ellis, without any formal membership or entrance fees. There are many similar societies including the Bunker Boys, Cafe Kronberg, Lewinskis and others.

As regards the weather the locals will tell you that, even in the rainy season, the rain is local and if you drive 10 miles in the other direction you'll probably miss it ... and with Pattaya having 20 odd courses in the area, they claim to have never cancelled a game in a lot of years, just the location. Bangkok is, of course, even easier, in the North where there are less courses you might lose a few days a year. Click for a map and details of the Pattaya courses

The Land of Sunshine Sorry, your browser doesn't support Java(tm).
Thailand has 3 seasons:

The Cold Season:    November - February : 25-35 celsius
The Hot Season:     March - June: 35-45 celsius
The Rainy Season:  July - October: 30-35 celsius: 80 inches of rain

Note that "soggy" England has a mere 25-30 inches of rain per annum but, even so, Thailand has more average daily hours of sunshine in their rainy season than England in the whole summer.

The statistics clearly show that the monsoon rain is fierce when it falls. My sons will tell of how they had to go to school in a rowing boat and I once played golf with a Bangkok DJ who had a photo of a windsurfer on the Sukhumvit Road (Bangkok), normally 8 downtown lanes of buses, lorries, taxies and cars. You will note that this never makes world headlines and the Thais just seem to get on with it when it happens.

This climate does, of course, result in tropical flora and fauna including pineapples, coconuts, elephants, tigers, snakes, scorpions and monkeys. But the one to be wary of is the mosquito, of which there is an infinite number which strike in the evening and night. A few cans of "Off", at a quid a throw, are a worthwhile investment. Also, be good to lizards, which eat mosquitoes for dinner.

For your first time November is the best time to go to Thailand and March is the best month to get out ... which is pretty much what I do ... give or take a month either side.

Check out the BBC weather page to see the present Asian or Bangkok weather  ...

The Land of Tuk Tuks

The  Daihatsu 3-wheeler, open air, 2 stroke taxicab which is claimed to originate in Bangkok ... and  Delhi ... and Nairobi ... and probably a dozen other cities. Unlike the more numerous air-conditioned taxis the fare must be "negotiated" with the driver and will vary considerably depending on whether you are Thai or Farang (a round-eyed european foreigner).

Tuk Tuks are named phonetically and are useful in Bangkok's traffic for their abiility or daring to go where no other vehicle would follow  ... except for Thai motor cycle taxis but you don't use those unless in a suicidal mood.

However there are many other transportation modes and the Thailand Transportation Guide lists them all (and gives timetables for some).

Bangkok Airways is an excellent internal carrier which will fly you all over the far east (at 25 for 500 miles) in a 72 seater turboprop ATR72. I personally think their service is excellent. Click here for airborne photos or the icon on the right for a very nice painting of one of their aircraft.

I also love the railway which, I think,  is old fashioned, cheap and lovely. The State Railway website can be a bit erratic but shows the fares to "important destinations" (Chiang Mai, 500 odd miles is 10 for 1st class and 2 for 2nd class). For booking try Express Travel Try some pictures of the fantastic Hua Lum Pong, Bangkok railway station.

And - just a stab at Don Muang International airport which, with the railways, doesn't seem too good at keeping websites going ... so here's Thai International Airways' effort. 

The Land of Visas

If you arrive in Thailand from an approved list of Countries with an airticket to depart within a month you need no visa before you go.

A tourist visa, obtainable from a Thai Embassy or Consulate, will entitle you to stay for 2 months.

A non-immigrant visa, obtainable before travelling, will entitle you to stay for 3 months, if you are on business or have Thai family.

A 1 year multiple entry non-immigrant visa will entitle you to enter Thailand any number of times within the year BUT, you will not be entitled to remain for more than 3 months per visit. A 1 month extension can be obtained from an immigration police office. After that you need to leave the country and re-enter to get another 3 month ticket. These are known as "visa runs" and in Pattaya there are many travel-agents who run almost daily trips to Cambodia for the many expatriates needing this service ... cost, about 45. Yes. you can leave the country and return an hour later and that's OK ...

A "retirement-visa" can be obtained which entitles you to stay for a year without hassle ... providing you have about 15000 in a Thai bank or a letter from your embassy confirming income to be over a specified amount (which seems to change from time to time).

Severe overstay can land you in jail (not recommended) or liable to 200 bahts (60b= 1) per day fine and a lot of unpleasantness on departure.

You will never get Thai citizenship even if married to a Thai person ... as I have been for a long time.

I have to say that, in my opinion, the "visa police" of ALL countries are more efficient at collecting money than they are at preventing rubbish entering ... the events of September 11th 2001 demonstrated that.

For more pictures click "Flavours of Thailand" below
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Thailand website by Tim James