ATM Networks-- Most major banks throughout the country have automated teller machines. In general, you can get cash with your debit card at any Bangkok Bank, Thai Farmers Bank, Siam Commercial Bank, or Bank of Ayudhya -- provided your card is hooked into the MasterCard/Cirrus or Visa/PLUS network.
Business Hours-- Government offices (including branch post offices) are open Monday to Friday 8:30am to 4:30pm, with a lunch break between noon and 1pm. Businesses are generally open 8am to 5pm. Shops often stay open from 8am until 7pm or later, 7 days a week. Department stores are generally open 10am to 7pm.
Drugstores-- Throughout the country, there are excellent drugstores stocked with many brand-name medications and toiletries, plus less expensive local brands. Pharmacists often speak some English, and a surprising number of drugs that require a prescription elsewhere can be dispensed at their discretion.
Electricity-- All outlets -- except in some luxury hotels -- are 220 volts AC (50 cycles). Outlets have two flat-pronged or round-pronged holes, so you may need an adapter. If you use a 110-volt hair dryer, electric shaver, or battery charger for a computer, bring a transformer and adapter.
American Express-- There is no specific agent that handles American Express services in Thailand anymore, but they have an American Express office at 388 Pahonyothin Rd. in Bangkok. You can reach the office at tel. 02273-5296 during business hours (Mon-Fri 8:30am-4:30pm) or call their customer service hot line (tel. 02273-5544) with any problems or questions.
Embassies & Consulates-- While most countries have consular representation in Bangkok, the United States, Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom also have consulates in Chiang Mai. Most embassies have 24-hour emergency services. If you are seriously injured or ill, do not hesitate to call your embassy for assistance.
Emergencies-- The emergency number you should use is tel. 1699 or tel. 1155 for the Tourist Police. Don't expect many English speakers at normal police posts outside the major tourist areas. Ambulances must be summoned from hospitals rather than through a central service.
Etiquette & Customs-- Practicing cultural sensitivity is very important in Thailand. Pay close attention to what Thai people do, especially in temples and at the table, and you'll be fine.
Appropriate Attire: Thai people dresses quite modestly. Longer shorts and even sleeveless tops are permissible for foreigners of both sexes. You'll see Thai men wandering about without shirts, and while many foreign visitors take this as a cue to strip down and beat the heat, it is not acceptable anywhere but the beach -- foreigners, strangely, are held to a different set of expectations.
Gestures: The traditional Thai greeting is called the wai. To perform this, place your hands together at chest or chin level as if you are praying, bow your head to your hands, and bow your upper body slightly. The wai is also used to say thank you and goodbye. It is good to return the greeting if you're given it, but when entering hotels and restaurants, where everyone is strictly business, visitors are not expected to return the gesture. In a business setting, a handshake is more appropriate.
From traditions as old as the Buddha in Thailand, the head is considered the most sacred part of the body, and the feet are the lowliest; therefore, do not casually touch another person's head or even nonchalantly tousle the hair of a child, and don't sit with your legs crossed or otherwise point your feet at someone and particularly not toward Buddhist images. If you are seated on the floor, men may sit with the legs crossed, but women should tuck them to one side. In crowded places, on buses and trains for example, it is common to make room (even when you think there is none) for others to pass rather than inviting them to go over and thus expose the bottoms of their feet toward you. As in most cultures, pointing with the finger is also considered rude; Thais use a palms-up hand gesture when signifying direction or indicating a person or thing. Beckoning is done with what looks to Westerners like a wave goodbye.
Women should never try to shake hands with or even hand something directly to a monk, and it is common that bus or train seating arrangements change when a monk gets on-board so that monks are separate from women.
Avoiding Offense: Funny, but the best way to avoid offending anyone in Thailand is not to show your offense and express anger, a "face-losing" proposition for you and very embarrassing for the Thai people around you. Most Thai people are Buddhist, and a person showing violence or ill temper is regarded with surprise and disapproval. A gentle approach will take you farther, and patient persistence, and a smile will achieve more, especially when haggling, than an argument. It is important to haggle, of course, but just one or two go-rounds are usually enough, and "no" means no. If you have a disagreement of any kind, keep your cool.
It's also important to remember the concept of "Thai Time" and that appointments are loosely kept and offense at someone's tardiness is met with confusion. If you make an appointment with someone who doesn't deal with many other international visitors, be ready to wait (or come late yourself).
A common greeting in Thailand is to ask, "Have you eaten yet?" (Kin kao laew reu yang?) telling of the importance, not unlike many cultures, of offering and accepting hospitality whenever possible. Western visitors are often asked to join impromptu feasts.
Be sensitive, particularly in Buddhist temples, Muslim mosques and among hilltribe people in the far north, and ask before taking photographs. Hilltribe spirit gates in particular should not be photographed at all.
Internet Access-- You'll find Internet cafes everywhere in Thailand.
Language-- Central (often called Bangkok) Thai is the official language. English is spoken in the major cities at most hotels, restaurants, and shops, and is the second language of the professional class, as well as the international business language.
Lost & Found-- Be sure to tell all of your credit card companies the minute you discover your wallet has been lost or stolen and file a report at the nearest police precinct. Your credit card company or insurer may require a police report number or record of the loss. Most credit card companies have an emergency toll-free number to call if your card is lost or stolen; they may be able to wire you a cash advance immediately or deliver an emergency credit card in a day or two. Visa's U.S. emergency number is tel. 800/847-2911 or 410/581-9994. American Express cardholders and traveler's check holders should call tel. 800/221-7282. MasterCard holders should call tel. 800/307-7309 or 636/722-7111. For other credit cards, call the toll-free number directory at tel. 800/555-1212.
To report a lost or stolen credit card in Thailand, call these service lines: American Express (tel. 02273-5544); Diners Club (tel. 02238-3660); MasterCard (tel. 02260-8572); and Visa (tel. 02256-7326).
If you need emergency cash over the weekend when all banks are closed, you can have money wired to you via Western Union (tel. 800/325-6000; www.westernunion.com).
Identity theft or fraud are potential complications of losing your wallet, especially if you've lost your driver's license along with your cash and credit cards. Notify the major credit-reporting bureaus immediately; placing a fraud alert on your records may protect you against liability for criminal activity. The three major U.S. credit-reporting agencies are Equifax (tel. 800/766-0008; www.equifax.com), Experian (tel. 888/397-3742; www.experian.com), and TransUnion (tel. 800/680-7289; www.transunion.com). Finally, if you've lost all forms of photo ID call your airline and explain the situation; they might allow you to board the plane if you have a copy of your passport or birth certificate and a copy of the police report you've filed.
Mail-- You can use poste restante as an address anywhere in the country. For those unfamiliar with this service, it is comparable to General Delivery in the United States, whereby you can receive mail addressed to you, care of Poste Restante, GPO, Name of City, and the mail is held for you at the post office or GPO until you pick it up. You need either a valid passport or ID card, must sign a receipt, and pay 1B (2¢) per letter received. Hours of operation are the same as the post office. Airmail postcards to the United States cost 12B to 15B (30¢-35¢), depending on the size of the card; first-class letters cost 19B (45¢) per 5 grams (rates to Europe are about the same). Airmail delivery usually takes 7 days.
Air parcel post costs 606B ($14) per kilogram. Surface or sea parcel post costs 215B ($4.90) for 1 kilogram (3 or 4 months for delivery). International Express Mail (EMS) costs 440B ($10) from 1 to 250 grams, with delivery guaranteed within 4 days. See individual chapters for local post offices and their hours.
Shipping by air freight is expensive. Two major international delivery services have their main dispatching offices in Bangkok, though they deliver throughout the country; these are DHL Thailand, Grand Amarin Tower Building, Phetchaburi Road (tel. 02207-0600), and Federal Express, at Rama IV Road (tel. 02367-3222). UPS Parcel Delivery Service, with a main branch in Bangkok at 16/1 Soi 44/1 Sukhumvit Road (tel. 02712-3300), also has branches elsewhere in Thailand. Many businesses will also package and mail merchandise for a reasonable price.
Maps-- The TAT gives out regional and city maps at their information offices, and there are a number of good privately produced maps, usually free, available at most hotels and many businesses.
Newspapers & Magazines-- The major domestic English-language dailies are the Bangkok Post and The Nation, distributed in the morning in the capital and later in the day around the country. They cost 20B (45¢). Both the Asian Wall Street Journal and International Herald Tribune are available Monday to Friday on their day of publication in Bangkok (in the provinces a day or two later). Time, Newsweek, the Economist, Asiaweek, and the Far Eastern Economic Review are sold at newsstands in the international hotels, as well as in bookstores in all the major cities.
Passports-- For Residents of the United States: Whether you're applying in person or by mail, you can download passport applications from the U.S. State Department website at http://travel.state.gov. For general information, call the National Passport Agency (tel. 202/647-0518). To find your regional passport office, either check the U.S. State Department website or call the National Passport Information Center (tel. 900/225-5674); the fee is 55¢ per minute for automated information and $1.50 per minute for operator-assisted calls.
For Residents of Canada: Passport applications are available at travel agencies throughout Canada or from the central Passport Office, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Ottawa, ON K1A 0G3 (tel. 800/567-6868; www.ppt.gc.ca).
For Residents of the United Kingdom: To pickup an application for a standard 10-year passport (5-year passport for children under 16), visit your nearest passport office, major post office, or travel agency or contact the United Kingdom Passport Service at tel. 0870/521-0410 or search its website at www.ukpa.gov.uk.
For Residents of Ireland: You can apply for a 10-year passport at the Passport Office, Setanta Centre, Molesworth Street, Dublin 2 (tel. 01/671-1633; www.irlgov.ie/iveagh). Those under age 18 and over 65 must apply for a €12 3-year passport. You can also apply at 1A South Mall, Cork (tel. 021/272-525) or at most main post offices.
For Residents of Australia: You can pickup an application from your local post office or any branch of Passports Australia, but you must schedule an interview at the passport office to present your application materials. Call the Australian Passport Information Service at tel. 131-232, or visit the government website at www.passports.gov.au.
For Residents of New Zealand: You can pickup a passport application at any New Zealand Passports Office or download it from their website. Contact the Passports Office at tel. 0800/225-050 in New Zealand or 04/474-8100, or log on to www.passports.govt.nz.
Police-- The Tourist Police (tel. 1699 or 1155), with offices in every city, speak English (and other foreign languages) and are open 24 hours. You should call them in an emergency rather than the regular police because there is no guarantee that the regular police operator will speak English.
Restrooms-- The better restaurants and hotels will have Western toilets. Shops and budget hotels will have an Asian toilet, aka "squatty potty," a hole in the ground with foot pads on either side. Near the toilet is a water bucket or sink with a small ladle. The water is for flushing and cleaning the toilet. Don't count on these places having toilet paper. Some shopping malls have dispensers outside the restroom -- 2B (5¢) for some paper. Dispose of it in the wastebasket provided, as it will clog up rudimentary sewage systems.
Safety-- Anonymous violent crime in Thailand is rare; however petty crime such as purse snatching or pickpocketing is common. Overland travelers should take care on overnight buses and trains for small-time thieves. In remote parts of the country and near the Burmese and Lao borders, local bandits or rebel groups have been known to rob travelers.
Beware of credit card scams; carry a minimum of cards, don't allow them out of your sight, and keep all receipts. Never leave your cards with others for safekeeping (such as during a trek). If you don't want to carry them, put them in a hotel safe. Don't carry unnecessary valuables, and keep those you do carry in your hotel's safe. Pay particular attention to your things, especially purses and wallets, on public transportation.
A special warning: Be wary of strangers who offer to guide you (particularly in Bangkok), take you to any shop (especially jewelry shops), or buy you food or drink. This is most likely to occur near a tourist sight. Be warned that this kind of forward behavior is simply not normal for the average Thai. There are rare exceptions, but most likely these new "friends" will try to swindle you in some way. This often takes the form of trying to persuade you to buy "high quality" jewelry or gems (usually worthless) at "bargain" prices. Also, beware of anyone inviting you to his or her home, then offering to show you a famous Thai card game or engage you in any sort of gambling. You will lose. If you are approached about such schemes, call the Tourist Police immediately (see above for more information).
Smoking-- Thailand has just recently imposed a ban on smoking in restaurants and it looks like it is going to stick. Quite surprising really. If the restaurant is attached to a bar though, there are both smoking and non-smoking sections.
Taxes & Service Charges-- Hotels charge a 7% government value-added tax (VAT) and typically add a 10% service charge; hotel restaurants add 8.25% government tax. Smaller hotels quote the price inclusive of these charges.
Telephones-- Major hotels in Thailand feature convenient international direct-dial (IDD), long-distance service, and in-house fax transmission. Hotels charge a surcharge on local and long-distance calls, which can add up to 50% in some cases. Credit card or collect calls are a much better value, but most hotels also add a hefty service charge for them to your bill.
Most major post offices have special offices or booths for overseas calls, as well as fax and telex service, usually open 7am to 11pm. There are Overseas Telegraph and Telephone offices (also called OCO or Overseas Call Office) open 24 hours throughout the country for long-distance international calls and telex and fax service. In addition, several guesthouses and travel agents in tourist areas offer long-distance calling on their private line or using very affordable net-to-phone connections of varying quality. Local calls can be made from any red or blue public pay telephone. Calls cost 1B (5¢) for 3 minutes, with additional 1B (5¢) coins needed after hearing multiple beeps on the line. Blue public phones are for long-distance calls within Thailand. Card phones can be found in most airports, in many public buildings, and in larger shopping centers. Cards can be purchased in several denominations at Telephone Organization of Thailand (TOT) offices or in any convenience store. Yellow TOT cards are sold in denominations of 300B and 500B ($7.30 and $12) and are specific for domestic or international phones that are clearly marked as such. Also Hatari PhoneNet offers prepaid cards where you access an account via a toll-free number (the best deal going). All phone cards are available at convenience stores everywhere.
To call Thailand: If you're calling Thailand from the United States:
1. Dial the international access code: 011
2. Dial the country code 66
3. And dial the number. So the whole number you'd dial for Bangkok would be 011-66-2-000-0000.
Important note: When making domestic calls to Thailand, be sure to omit the "0" that appears before all phone numbers in this guide (thus you will only dial 8 digits after the "66" country code).
To make international calls: To make international calls from Thailand, first dial 00 and then the country code (U.S. or Canada 1, U.K. 44, Ireland 353, Australia 61, New Zealand 64). Next you dial the area code and number. For example, if you wanted to call the British Embassy in Washington, D.C., you would dial 00-1-202-588-7800.
For directory assistance: Dial tel. 1133.
Tipping-- If no service charge is added to your check in a fine dining establishment, a 10% to 15% tip is appropriate. In local shops, a small tip of 10B (25¢) or so is common. Airport or hotel porters expect tips, but just 20B to 50B (50¢ to $1.25) is acceptable. Feel free to reward good service wherever you find it. Tipping taxi drivers is not expected but accepted. Carry small bills, as many cab drivers either don't have change or won't admit having any in the hope of getting a tip.
Useful Phone Numbers-- U.S. Dept. of State Travel Advisory tel. 202/647-5225 (manned 24 hr.); U.S. Passport Agency tel. 202/647-0518; U.S. Centers for Disease Control International Traveler's Hotline: tel. 404/332-4559.
Water-- Don't drink the tap water, even in the major hotels. Most hotels provide bottled water in or near the minibar or in the bathroom; use it for brushing your teeth as well as drinking. Most restaurants serve bottled or boiled water and ice made from boiled water, but always ask to be sure.