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Indelible International - Get to Know Thailand

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Get to Know Thailand
   December31, 11

Jordan Steinfeld, Thailand

Do American students need a visa? How much does it cost? How do you get one?

If you are a U.S. citizen tourist staying for fewer than 30 days, you do not require a visa, but your passport must be valid for at least six months beyond the date of your entry into Thailand. You may be asked to show an onward/return ticket. If you enter Thailand by air without a visa, you are allowed to stay in Thailand for 30 days per visit. If you enter Thailand by land without a visa, you are allowed to stay in Thailand for 15 days per visit. In either case, if you have entered Thailand without a visa, you cannot remain in Thailand for more than 90 days during any six-month period, counting from the date of first entry. After 90 days, you must apply for a new visa at a Thai embassy outside of the country. You must pay a Passenger Service Charge in Thai baht when you depart from any of Thailand's international airports. This charge is now included in airline ticket prices at Bangkok's main airport, Suvarnabhumi International Airport.  When you enter the country, Thai Immigration stamps your passport with the date your authorized stay will expire. If you remain in Thailand beyond this date without getting an official extension, you will be assessed an immediate cash fine of 500 Baht per day, up to a maximum of 20,000 Baht, when departing Thailand. If you are found by police to be out of legal status prior to departure (during a Thai Immigration "sweep" through a guesthouse, for example), you will be jailed, fined, deported at your own expense, and you may be barred from re-entering Thailand. Private "visa extension services," even those advertising in major periodicals or located close to Immigration offices or police stations, are illegal. A number of U.S. citizens are arrested at border crossings each year with counterfeit visas and entry stamps they have obtained through these illegal services.  To obtain your visa contact the Thai embassy nearest you for information and the requirements.

What languages are spoken in Thailand?

Thai, English, ethnic and regional dialects.

What is the currency? Exchange rate with the US dollar?

Thai Baht, currently exchanging at $1 USD = 30.7897 Baht

What is the voltage? Are plug converters needed?

220-240 v: Plug A and C.

Is the Internet widely accessible?

No, widespread access is limited to major cities but is currently undergoing development as internet usage is increasing rapidly throughout Thailand.

What is the best way to access money while in Thailand?

Credit Cards (VISA and MasterCard widely accepted) and ATMs but fees can get expensive tripadvisor, and expatforum users complain of $5 fees with each transaction as common, less expensive option being traveler’s checks as they are typically subject to a 33 Baht onetime fee upon exchange.

What are the most common means of transportation?

Public transportation is easily available in major cities. It’s common to commute via the bus, and metro system in cities but to access rural areas you may need to rent a vehicle or go with a guide/group.


Health & Safety


What are the CDC's health recommendations for travel to Thailand?

Routine vaccinations up to date (MMR, DPT, and poliovirus vaccine, etc); Hepatitis A; Hepatitis B; Typhoid, Japanese encephalitis, and Rabies (for long term travelers and expatriates and those with high risk occupations). For more detailed information, head here.

What medical facilities are available?

Medical treatment is generally adequate in Thailand’s urban areas. In Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and Pattaya, good facilities exist for routine, long-term, and emergency health care. Basic medical care is available in rural areas, but English-speaking providers are rare.

What (if any) medications and drugs are illegal?

No full list of illegal prescription medication found but – CDC advises having enough of your prescription to last your trip, keep them in their original prescription bottles and always in your carryon luggage (follow the TSA security guidelines if the medications are liquid). If your medication is not allowed in the country (or countries) you will be going to the CDC recommends that you ask your health-care provider to write a letter on office stationary stating that the medication has been prescribed for you.

Many pharmacies in Thailand do not require a prescription. There is increasing concern about counterfeit medications in South East Asia that have entered the wholesale distribution network. If you must buy medication locally, we recommend that buy it from an international chain pharmacy. If you have a chronic medical problem you should ensure you bring enough of your maintenance medicine (up to a 30-day supply) and not rely on purchasing your medication from the local economy. 

What are the penalties for breaking drug and alcohol laws?

Penalties for possessing, using, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Thailand are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences under harsh conditions and often heavy fines as well. Thailand has a death penalty for serious drug offenses and has executed convicted traffickers. The U.S. Embassy frequently does not learn of the arrest of U.S. citizens for minor drug offenses, particularly in southern Thailand, until several days after the incident. If you are arrested for a minor drug offense, you may be jailed for several weeks while lab testing is done on the drugs seized with you. Pre-trial jail conditions may be more severe than prison conditions. Thai police occasionally raid discos, bars, or nightclubs looking for underage patrons and drug users. During the raids, they typically check the IDs of all customers in the establishment and then make each person provide a urine sample to be checked for narcotics. Foreigners are not excused from these checks, and anyone whose urine tests positive for drugs is arrested and charged. 

What (if any) are the health risks associated with sexual activity in this country? 

HIV/AIDs (incidence at roughly 1.3% of population); STDs/STI’s a large concern, as government education of the 1990s may not be remembered by current youth/young adults and the CDC points to this as to the reasons those 18-25 account for 75% of those infected with STIs in the country.

What are some Thai food staples?

Historically, Thai food has drawn its main influences from India and China. In addition, Thailand's close proximity to Vietnam, Burma and Cambodia has had a major impact on the evolution of modern Thai cuisine. Modern Thai food, however, has somehow managed to retain its identity while incorporating the best of what neighboring cuisines have to offer. Some favorites are: Phat tai (Pronounced "pat tai") which consists of fried noodles with bean sprouts, peanuts, and lime juice, and is generally not spicy. Khao phat. Fried rice, generally not spicy. Khao naa pet. Rice with roasted duck. Find this non-spicy dish in special duck shops, which have the roasted ducks on display in the front window. Kuoi tiaw. Chinese noodles either served as a soup (kuoi tiaw naam) or dry (kuoi tiaw hang). It is sold from street vendors and at restaurants. Raat naa taleh. Wide noodles (raat naa) with a selection of shrimp, squid, and other seafood in a light gravy. It is not spicy. Tom khaa gai. Chicken soup with coconut milk and lemon grass.  Kaeng khiaw waan. "Green" curry with beef and tiny eggplants. Gai phat met ma-muang. Chicken, stir-fried with vegetables and cashews. Cha yen. Thai iced tea made with a unique combination of black tea, ice, and condensed milk. It is often served in a plastic bag with a straw for you to carry away.

What are the telephone codes?

Country Code: 66

Emergency Code: 191 (Police); 199 (Fire Department)

Major Cities:

Bangkok = 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29

Phuket: 76

Where are the consulates located? 

Consular Section, U.S. Embassy Bangkok
95 Wireless Road, Bangkok 10330, Thailand
E-mail: visasbkk@state.gov 
Visit the home page here

Are there any current travel advisories that will affect travel in this country or region?

Not currently. For up to the moment information, head here.

What types of crime incidents are common?

Although the crime threat in Bangkok and other Thai cities remains lower than that in many U.S. cities, crimes of opportunity such as pick pocketing, purse-snatching, and burglary are not unusual. You should be especially wary when walking in crowded markets, tourist sites, and bus or train stations. Many U.S. citizens have reported having passports, wallets, and other valuables stolen in Bangkok's Chatuchak Weekend Market, usually by thieves who cut into purses or bags with a razor and remove items surreptitiously. Police at the Market usually refuse to issue police reports for foreign victims of theft, requiring them instead to travel several miles to the central Tourist Police office. Violent crimes against foreigners are relatively rare. However, there has been a recent upsurge in violent crime against tourists, including the murder of several independent travelers, on the southern islands of Phuket and Koh Samui. If you are traveling alone, you should exercise caution and stay in the vicinity of other travelers, especially in the beach areas of these islands.

Has there been any terrorist activity in Thailand?

While Iraq is ranked as the country most at risk from terrorist attacks for the second year running, ranked 11th last year Thailand has now dropped two places in the ranking and into the extreme risk category. Terrorism incidents in Thailand's restive Muslim south - such as the October 2009 bomb attacks in Sungai Kolok - largely account for the country's rating.  The Terrorism Risk Index (TRI) has been developed by Maplecroft for companies to assess terrorism risks to their international assets. The index measures not only the risks of an attack, but also the chances of mass casualties occurring.

What types of emergency services are provided by the US consular officers?

Consular officers will help make appointments, passport assistance, notary, adoption, voting, and assistance in dealing with crime. The consular website also states that it will loan you money in an emergency situation but information on the circumstances needed is case specific. The 24 hr emergency number is : 02-205-4000; this takes you to the switchboard where you should then ask for the “duty officer”.


Culture & Lifestyle Basics


What are the major religions practiced in Thailand?

Buddhist 94.6%, Muslim 4.6%, Christian 0.7%, other 0.1% (2000 census)

What are the major holidays?

06 April: Chakri Day

Varying Dates: Songkran (Traditional Thai New Year 3 day celebration)

01 May: International Labor Day

02 May: Royal Plouging Ceremony

05 May: Coronation Day

18 May: Visakha Bucha

15 July: Buddhis Lent

12 August: Queen’s Birthday

23 October: Chulalongkorn Day

10 November: Loy Kratong

05 December: King’s Birthday

10 December: Constitution Day

31 December: New Years Eve

1 January: New Years Day

07 February: Makha Bucha

Varying Date: Chinese New Year


Do you tip? How much? Where?

No, there is no mandatory tipping policy or social practice. Leaving change or rounding to the nearest Baht when paying cash is acceptable rather than awaiting minimal change.

How does the Thai academic system differ from that in the United States?

Universities run on American like semester schedules but more importance placed on memorization and students do not necessarily question professors or authority.  DoingBusinessThailand and Thai-farong both point to the respect and shyness ingrained in Thai culture working against university students as they are often too shy to question professors.

What are the average seasonal temperatures in this Thailand?

Thailand can best be described as tropical and humid for the majority of the country during most of the year. The area of Thailand north of Bangkok has a climate determined by three seasons whilst the southern peninsular region of Thailand has only two. In northern Thailand the seasons are clearly defined. Between November and May the weather is mostly dry, however this is broken up into the periods November to February and March to May. The later of these two periods has the higher relative temperatures as although the northeast monsoon does not directly affect the northern area of Thailand, it does cause cooling breezes from November to February. The other northern season is from May to November and is dominated by the southwest monsoon, during which time rainfall in the north is at its heaviest. The southern region of Thailand really has only two seasons -- the wet and the dry. These seasons do not run at the same time on both the east and west side of the peninsular. On the west coast the southwest monsoon brings rain and often heavy storms from April through to October, whilst on the east coast the most rain falls between September and December.

What type of clothing is appropriate given Thailand’s climate?

It depends on the season. It is best to stay covered, jeans, and jacket/light sweater/long sleeved shirts during wet months.  Shorts and western summer wear acceptable and common during dry season.

What type of clothing is appropriate given Thai culture?

Thais in general dress nice whenever they are going out. A tee shirt is fine, although most Thais would wear a plain one without words or designs on it during the day. Flip flops are always acceptable, though. This is because Thais remove their shoes before entering homes, and some public places. To tell whether or not you should remove your shoes, just look for shoes outside of the building.  Interns: If working downtown or in any government building slacks/skirts and conservative tops are best bet.

What is the cost of living in Thailand, relative to the United States?

Food and clothing costs are low in general with tourist-orientated areas the biggest expenses.  Meals cost roughly $1-$2 bringing average monthly meal budgets to a suggested $150-$200.




Describe the political system in Thailand.

Thailand is a constitutional monarchy. Thailand adopted its current constitution following an August 19, 2007, referendum. Multi-party elections held on December 23, 2007, resulted in the People's Power Party (PPP) winning a plurality of the seats in the lower house of Parliament and the formation of a coalition government. In December 2008, a revised coalition led by the previous opposition party, the Democrat Party, came to power. The next Parliamentary election is expected in 2011.

Who is Thailand’s current leader?

Prime Minister Abhist Wechachiwa, also spelled Abhist Vejjajiva (since 17 December 2008);

Deputy Prime Minister SANAN Kachornprasat, also spelled Sanan Kachornparsart (since 7 February 2008);

Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thueaksuban, also spelled SUTHEP Thaugsuban (since 22 December 2008);

Deputy Prime Minister Trairong Suwannakhiri (since 18 January 2010)

Has there been any political unrest recently that might affect studying in Thailand?

Although seldom discussed internationally, more than 4,000 people have been killed and thousands more injured in Thailand’s southernmost border provinces since a decades-long separatist insurgency reignited in 2004. The violence has almost exclusively been centered on the provinces of Yala, Pattani, Narathiwat and, to a lesser extent, Songkhla. There is concern that if the unrest continues it could transform into an ethno-nationalised centered insurgency, attracting Islamic extremists and having international reverberations.  Since 2006 and the ousting of the elected government of Thaksin Shinawatra, Thailand has also been beset by national political instability, culminating in the violent governmental repression of protestors in early 2010. On Saturday April 10, 2010 violence erupted between soldiers and anti-government protesters in Bangkok, leaving 24 dead and over 800 injured. The protests gave a vivid indication of the deep political and social divides that exist in the country. There are widely held fears that the potential for further violence is increasing the longer a political resolution cannot be found.

Describe the political relationship between the US and Thailand.

Long history of alliance and political relations since 1833, at the start of this relationship the countries signed a Treaty of Amity and Commerce setting up a perpetual peace.  The US and Thailand also have a bilateral security agreement.


Thais hold the King and the royal family in the highest regard, it is a serious criminal offense to make critical or defamatory comments about them. This particular crime, called "lese majeste," is punishable by a prison sentence of three to fifteen years. 




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