The currency used in Thailand is the Baht (B) and it is divided into 100 satang. Notes come in denominations of 10, 20, 50, 100, 500 and 1,000B. There are also plans to phase out the 10B note and also to introduce a 10,000B note. The coins used in the country are 25 and 50 satang and 1, 5, and 10B.
The country’s official national language is Thai but English is widely understood, particularly in Bangkok. It is also spoken in most hotels and restaurants and in most major tourist destinations.
Thailand has a tropical climate which means that it is hot all year round. Summer takes place from March to May with average temperatures reaching 34ºC but with highs of up to 40ºC. The rainy or monsoon season lasts from June to September with the northeast receiving the least rain and the south becoming completely flooded during the summer months. During both periods it can also become unbearably humid as warm masses flow towards the north from the Indian Ocean. The best time to visit the country is during the cool season which lasts from October to February. During these months it is not quite as humid and average temperatures are between 18ºC to 32ºC making it somewhat more bearable for those of you who are not accustomed to hot weather.
Thailand is seven hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time and fourteen hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time.
Shops in Thailand are generally open between 8.00am and 5.00pm from Monday to Friday but many of the larger stores are open until around 7.00pm and also open on Saturdays. Office hours are between 8.30am and 4.30pm with many closing for lunch between 12.00pm and 1.00pm and banks are usually open between 8.30am and 3.30pm from Monday to Friday. Many of the smaller branches also close for lunch.
The electrical current in Thailand is 220V, 50Hz.
There is a value added tax (VAT) imposed on the sale of goods, the provision of services and the import of goods in to Thailand. While it was reduced from 10% to 7% in April 1999, it is due to be raised back to 10% from April 1st, 2001. Hotels charge a 10% service charge as well as VAT and most restaurants add 8.25% to their bill.
But, the good news for tourists is that since June 1st, 1999, all goods purchased which bear a label stating ‘VAT Refund for Tourists’ can receive VAT refunds before they leave Thailand. In order to do this you need to obtain an application form when making your purchase and present it at the tax refund counter in the departure halls of any of the following airports – Bangkok, Chiangmai, Phuket and Hat Yai. Refunds are immediate.
Citizens of most countries can stay in Thailand for a period of up to thirty days without a visa (ninety days for residents of Sweden, Denmark, New Zealand and South Korea). While you are supposed to have a return ticket, this is rarely checked so all you need is a valid passport. For stays of over thirty days you can avail of a tourist visa which is valid for sixty days and costs about US$15. For stays which extend this period you will need to visit any immigration office in Thailand and whether or not you are granted a further visa is entirely at the discretion of the Thai immigration authorities. If you are in any doubt as to whether or not you are a national of a country which requires a visa or have any other queries you should contact the Thai Embassy in your home country well in advance of travelling to Thailand.
Tourist offices in Thailand are run by the Tourist Authority of Thailand (TAT) and there is an office at the international airport in Bangkok and another in the city centre. As well as this, there are numerous branches scattered throughout the country in the major towns and cities. These offices will provide you with information on any query which you may have and always have at least one person who can speak English.
The best place to exchange cash in Thailand is in any of the country’s banks which offer the best rates. In some of the larger towns and cities, as well as the more popular tourist destinations, you can also exchange foreign cash or traveller’s cheques in foreign exchange kiosks which are usually open from 8.00am until 8.00pm whereas most banks close at 3.30pm. These kiosks also offer competitive rates but the charge can be a little more expensive.
All major credit cards are accepted in the bigger hotels, restaurants and shops but in smaller businesses or the more remote areas you may have difficulty using this facility. You can also use bankcards which are members of the bigger international networks such as Plus or Cirrus in the larger towns and cities where the ATM states that they are acceptable.
The international code for Thailand is 66 so if you are calling from abroad you need to dial your international calling code followed by 66, the local area code without the first 0 and the local number. The same instructions apply when you are making an international call from within the country replacing 66 with the destination country’s area code. You should also not that the outgoing code for Thailand is 001.
Some of the major area codes within the country include Bangkok: 02, Chian Mai: 053, Pattaya: 038, Phuket: 076, Koh Samui: 077 and Hat Yai: 074. When making international calls you need to dial 13 from Bangkok and 183 from all other places in order to speak to an English-speaking operator.
Tipping in Thailand is not necessary, particularly in restaurants where a service charge is already included. If you feel that the service which you received merits a further tip, then between 3 and 5% is sufficient. If there is no service charge included on your bill, then a tip of between 10 and 15% is acceptable. You don’t need to tip taxi drivers either but many people tell them to keep any small change. You should also carry small notes with you for the fare as very often they don’t carry change. It is worth noting, however, that at no time is tipping compulsory in Thailand. It is entirely at your own discretion.
It is worth noting what the public holidays are before you travel to a country as the majority of businesses, banks and shops usually shut for the day. In Thailand they take place on January 1st, February 19th, April 6th and 13th to 16th, May 1st, 5th, 7th and 16th, July 5th and 16th, August 13th, October 23rd and December 5th, 10th and 31st. It is a good idea to check the particular region too as certain towns and areas also shut down during special events.