Travel Advice and FAQ: Thailand
Thailand is a hugely popular tourist destination, and has something for almost everyone. The major draws are obviously the amazing scenery across the whole country, clear blue water, powder beaches, and seemingly endless islands. There are many other things though, including an alluring history and civilisation, masses of culture, and a surprisingly friendly population. Obviously the low cost of living, lively nightlife, and great food will also have its fans.
The vast majority of Thailand is land locked to the north, but the peninsular to the south that links with Malaysia is where the real diving opportunities lie. On the west side of this peninsula lays Phuket, 'the Jewel of the Andaman'. Only an island by a matter of a few hundred yards, serendipity has placed Phuket within reaching distance of some of the finest diving in Asia.
For up to date tourist information see the Official Site for Tourism in Thailand.
Phuket is the largest Thai island. At approximately 49 km. in length and 21 km. in width, the island nestles in the tropical zone off the west coast of mainland Thailand, approximately 860 km. south of Thailand's capital Bangkok. In this prime spot, Phuket has something for everybody! Rocky limestone cliffs, lush green hills blanketed in tropical rainforest, powdery-white beaches and serene, tranquil turquoise bays. Fine dining, quality shopping, exclusive villa resorts to budget guesthouses, endless activities... All of this and of course access to some of the world's top diving destinations means visitors keep returning year after year!
Run by the Thai government, Tourism Authority of Thailand - Phuket Guide is a highly recommended web site that will offer you accurate and up to date information on how to reach Phuket and what you can do once you get here. You can also download a useful 'Phuket brochure'.
Frequently Asked Questions
- How do I get to Thailand and Phuket?
- Do I need a visa to enter Thailand?
- Do I need to arrange a hotel in Phuket?
- What is the electricity supply in Thailand?
- What is the currency in Thailand and how do I pay?
- Where can I eat and how is the food?
- What will the weather be like during my visit?
- What are the air and water temperatures in Thailand and will I need a wetsuit?
- What should I wear?
- What about health precautions?
- What is the religious stance in Thailand?
- Are there any rules of etiquette I should know about?
- What time zone does Thailand lie in?
- Is there a postal service?
- Can I make international calls and access the internet?
- Is there anything to buy on Phuket and are there bargains to be had?
- How much crime is there in Thailand and how useful are the police?
If you are interested in our Burma Trip, check out our Burma Tourist Information and FAQ.
Your questions about Thailand are answered but want to know more about diving from MV Philkade? See our MV Philkade FAQ.
Flying to Thailand and Phuket
Please note that we can help you with your flight bookings, please call, or contact Aquamarine Divers by mail.
There are two airports in Bangkok, with all international flights arriving to the new international airport of Suvarnabhumi (airport code BKK). Most major airlines fly direct to at least Bangkok, and often to Phuket. Thai Airways International (THAI) is the national airline and is regarded as one of the best airlines in the world, with another great carrier being Singapore Airlines who have multiple flights to Bangkok and Phuket daily.
Phuket also has an international airport, with at least five flights a day (this varies from high-season to low-season) arriving from Bangkok year-round. Phuket also welcomes planes from Hong Kong, Japan, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, and even Europe to its airport.
If you have a connecting flight to Phuket then it can leave form Suvarnabhumi or from the old international airport of Don Mueang (airport code DMK, which is now purely domestic). Please check your tickets, transfer times, and lay-over times between flights as passage between the two airports can be time consuming.
Thailand has a number of discount and budget domestic airlines which can be good as long as you don't want to change your travel plans. You can save 50% or more using these carriers if you book early but keep in mind that they usually limit your luggage weight to 15kg or 33lbs. For many divers this is simply not enough and by the time you pay the over weight fees, you may not end up saving any money.
To check flights with the main carriers into and out of Phuket check the following links:
Note: It is strongly advised that you arrive in Phuket at least one day prior to boat departure in order to avoid potential problems and to allow you time to acclimatise before heading out on the trip. Also remember the '24 hours after diving' rule when booking your return flights.
All travellers to Thailand must have a passport that is valid for at least six months from the date of entry into the Kingdom. Although nationals of most countries in Southeast Asia, Europe, America, and Oceania are granted visa on arrival for up to 30 days, some are only granted 15 days, and others must have visa before arrival. See the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for an up to date list of what is required. If in doubt please contact the Thai embassy in your country for more information, see here for a list of Thai Embassies around the world.
IMPORTANT FOR BURMA CUSTOMERS: If you require a visa to enter Thailand, please make sure you obtain a multiple entry visa as you will need for your initial entry to Thailand as well as your re-entry to Thailand on returning from Burma. See Burma Travel Advice for more details on Burma visas and entry procedures.
Accommodation upon Arrival in Phuket
It is highly recommended that you arrive at least one day prior to your cruise. Aquamarine Divers can arrange accommodation for you based on your needs, for our recommended hotels check out MV Philkade recommended hotels. If you require a longer stay either before or after your trip we can, of course, arrange this also.
In Thailand 220Volt/50Hz is standard with sockets mixed between 2 and/or 3 pin flat and/or round pins. To avoid confusion or disappointment we suggest guests bring at least one travel adapter. You can check the socket system visually at this World Wide Electricity Guide.
The common currency of Thailand is the Thai Baht (THB). Visa and Mastercard are commonly accepted in most stores (though American Express is less so) and cash machines are widely available in tourist areas. Currency exchange is also widely available, though we suggest using banks (where you will get a fair exchange rate and often pay no commission) rather than hotels or others who generally provide poorer rates. You will sometimes find that US Dollars, Euros, and the GB Pound are accepted in larger hotels. For current exchange rates click here.
Eating out and Thai Food
No matter what your gastronomical tastes there is something for everyone in Phuket with world wide fast food outlets, street carts, fine international restaurants, and wonderful traditional Royal Thai Cuisine all available. With all the major resorts and Phuket City offering a wide choice you can eat somewhere new every night!
There is a wide variety of Thai food, and contrary to popular belief it is not all very hot. There are many curries available and they can be spicy, though a simple request for "not too spicy" will make it more than bearable to the western palate. Also beware of 'Thai Spicy Salad' as this is not salad in the traditional western sense and can be hot enough to make your brain leak through your ears (though papaya salad is delicious once you are accustomed to the heat!). Northern curries tend to be milder, with 'Massaman' being a particular favourite.
Sea food is very popular in Phuket, for obvious reasons, and is very reasonably priced in western terms. Most sea food is generally fresh and cooked beautifully, though take the sensible precaution and beware of shell fish if you have lots of travelling to do the day after.
Thailand's tropical climate is influenced by the southwest and northeast monsoons. There are three basic seasons: Dry (November through Feb), Hot (March through May) and Rainy (June through October). Day trip diving is possible all year round, though the liveaboard season is restricted to the 'dry' and 'hot' seasons; often referred to as high season. Below is an example of a typical high season's weather in the Phuket area.
|November||Fair weather, end of SW monsoon, pleasant temperatures.|
|December||Sunny, not much wind, occasional rainfall, generally calm seas.|
|January||Sunny, a little windy, clear water, pleasant temperatures.|
|February||Same as January, but getting warmer.|
|March and April||End of NE monsoon, hot, humid, calm seas, plankton.|
|May||Hot, humid, start of SW monsoon, plankton, occasional squalls at night.|
Please note, the above table is not a forecast! For up to date weather in Phuket see Yahoo weather.
Air and Water Temperatures
Air temperature: 23°C - 35°C (73°F - 95°F), always warm and can be very hot and humid, nights sometimes a little cooler.
Water temperature in the Andaman Sea averages around 27°C to 30°C (80°F - 86°F), very pleasant although sometimes thermo clines occur. A 3mm short wetsuit is normally enough, though with 4 dives per day you may want to think about a full length suit particularly if you are succeptable to the cold. Please contact the office a week or so prior to the trip for current water temperatures if you are concerned.
Clothing and Dress Codes
In all tourist resorts shorts and t-shirts are acceptable attire. This is also appropriate at night, though 'smart casual' is preferred in the better eating establishments. Jackets and ties are not required anywhere. Ladies are expected to dress appropriately when visiting temples, for example, cover your shoulders and wear dresses or trousers below the knee at the very least. Aside from this, light natural fibers are advised as they are comfortable and allow the air to circulate, man made fibres can cause you to sweat in this humid climate and can cause heat rash or worse.
Health services are excellent in Thailand with modern, well equipped hospitals in all major towns. Although Thailand is officially a malarial area, most of the country (including Phuket) is Malaria free, though Dengue Fever is not unknown. We recommend you check the status of your vaccinations and seek your doctor's advice on inoculations and medication. Normal sensible precautions with food should keep you out of trouble, and be sure to drink lots of bottled drinking water to prevent dehydration (especially if your best laid plans have still left you with a bout of diarrhoea). DO NOT drink tap water in Thailand! Also, be sure to wash regularly and wear light, loose clothing made from natural fibres as heat rash and fungal infections for visitors are not unusual in this humidity.
Nearly all Thais are Buddhist (somewhere approaching 90%) with a small percentage (some 5%) being Muslim, though the south has a higher proportion of Muslims. The remainder of the country is made up of various religions with Christianity, Hinduism, and Confucianism making up most of the 5 or 6% left. There is a great tolerance between religions symbolised by the fact that the King is the Protector of All Faiths
King Bhumibol Adulyadej is the head of the constitutional monarchy in Thailand and is, along with the whole royal family, held in the highest esteem. The family has the love and respect of the entire nation and showing disrespect can get you into trouble. Joking about the Royal Family is simply not done!!
Do not point your feet at people, especially monks or representations of Buddha, as this seen as highly disrespectful, as is touching adults on the top of their heads.
If you are in a situation that leads you to be in contact with the police for ANY reason, you must remain calm and respectful at all times. Raising your voice, displaying anger, making demands will get you nowhere, in fact will probably make matters worse no matter whether the problem is your fault or not. Good humour and patience will get you a long way in any situation.
Local time is GMT+7 hours throughout the year. Thailand has no daylight savings time and sunrise and sunset are pretty regular year round with sunrise between 6:00am and 6:45am and sunset between 6:00pm and 6:45pm.
The Thai postal service is mostly reliable, especially if posting abroad, though speed does not seem to be a priority. Post offices in Thailand are open from 9:00am until 3:30pm. Important items can be sent by Express Mail Service (EMS) from most post offices which is both faster and more reliable (with a proportionally higher cost). Both DHL and UPS have offices on Phuket if you want to be sure of their international standards.
Telephone and Internet Services
International dialling is available from almost all major hotels (and many smaller ones), as well as many offices offering travel and/or internet services. To make an international call, dial 001 plus Country Code plus Area Code plus Phone Number. Services tend to be very reliable. Internet is also widely available with everyone from hotels to coffee shops offering computers with internet service and WIFI. The speed of internet is still not up to western standards but internet calls via Skype are mostly clear and consistent as long as you don't try to involve a webcam.
Shopping and Bargaining
There is a massive amount of shopping available in Phuket. Regular purchases such as clothing, perfumes, shoes, sunglasses, souvenirs, computer gaming hardware and software are all available. Beware when buying (especially anything designer or software) that you are buying the real thing when paying 'real' prices. Tailors are also very very popular in Phuket, and rightly so. Within 24-48 hours you can have a bespoke dress, shirt, coat, or three piece suit made in the material of your choice at an incredibly low price!
There are also, genuine, traditional Thai wares available outside of the resorts, especially in Phuket City. These include wood carvings, teak ware, porcelain, paintings, and Buddha imagery. Thai silk products are very popular too with outlets such as the legendary Jim Thompson now available on Phuket. If you want something traditionally 'Phuket', look out for pearls, tin, and pewter ware, all of which are widely available outside the resorts.
Jewellery is also very popular on Phuket with gold, diamonds, and coloured gems particularly prevalant. Be aware when buying since authentic gems should come with a certificate that states the value of the object and a statement of its value, if this is not present and you are not in the business yourself be very careful.
Contrary to popular belief most establishments will not engage in bargaining, or 'haggling', for goods, and prices are set. This is especially true in such places as pharmacies, bars, supermarkets, department stores, public transport, and restaurants. Elsewhere, in places like jewellery stores and with street vendors, bargaining is almost part of the game. Simple rules include keeping the bargaining friendly and remembering exactly how much you are haggling over (is 30 Baht really so important to you?). Getting angry or drawing the haggling on for too long over small amounts will be met with irritation. The best way to see if you are getting value for money is to be prepared to walk away. If you are not followed then the vendor really isn't willing to drop his price any further...have a think and go back later to buy.
Crime and the Police
Known as the land of smiles Thailand is a very safe place to travel around, as demonstrated by the high volume of young backpackers flocking here every year. The police keep a very high profile, with dedicated Tourist Police in all tourist areas designated to looking after the rights of foreign visitors.
As in almost all countries, pick-pocketing happens in crowded areas such as bus and rail stations, tourist spots, and busy gatherings (festivals and bars) so watching your valuables in these areas would be wise. It is not unknown for things to go missing form hotel rooms, but by the same token it IS very unusual. By enlarge, Thai staff are very polite and honest. By taking sensible precautions you should have no problems while in Thailand.
It is also worth noting here that drugs are very much to be avoided in Thailand. The government has a very vocal and well known harsh system for dealing with people it considers to be involved in this business (including their infamous 'shoot now ask later' system from several years ago), and penalties are very strong.
If you are involved in any kind of incident then the police must be informed (ideally tourist police if they can be contacted). As stated in 'Simple Etiquette', when dealing with the police remain calm and polite in order to get the best help and co-operation.