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THAILAND

Thailand officially the Kingdom of Thailand is a country at the center of the Indochinese peninsula in Mainland Southeast Asia. It is bordered to the north by Myanmar and Laos, to the east by Laos and Cambodia, to the south by the Gulf of Thailand and Malaysia, and to the west by the Andaman Sea and the southern extremity of Myanmar. Its maritime boundaries include Vietnam in the Gulf of Thailand to the southeast, and Indonesia and India on the Andaman Sea to the southwest.

HISTORY & CULTURE

There is evidence of human habitation in Thailand that has been dated at 40,000 years before the present, with stone artifacts dated to this period at Tham Lod Rockshelter in Mae Hong Son. Similar to other regions in Southeast Asia, Thailand was heavily influenced by the culture and religions of India, starting with the Kingdom of Funan around the 1st century CE to the Khmer Empire. Thailand in its earliest days was under the rule of the Khmer Empire, which had strong Hindu roots, and the influence among Thais remains even today.

Following the decline and fall of the Khmer empire in the 13th–15th century, the Buddhist Tai kingdoms of Sukhothai, Lanna, and Lan Xang (now Lao) were on the rise. However, a century later, the power of Sukhothai was overshadowed by the new Kingdom of Ayutthaya, established in the mid-14th-century in the lower Chao Phraya River or Menam area.
Ayutthaya's expansion centered along the Menam while in the northern valleys the Lanna Kingdom and other small Tai city-states ruled the area. In 1431, the Khmer abandoned Angkor after Ayutthaya forces invaded the city. Thailand retained a tradition of trade with its neighboring states, from China to India, Persia, and Arab lands. Ayutthaya became one of the most vibrant trading centers in Asia. European traders arrived in the 16th century, beginning with the Portuguese, followed by the French, Dutch, and English. The Burmese–Siamese War (1765–1767) left Ayutthaya burned and sacked by King Hsinbyushin. A quarter to a third of the population of some areas of Thailand and Burma were slaves in the 17th through the 19th centuries.

Despite European pressure, Thailand is the only Southeast Asian nation to never have been colonized. This has been ascribed to the long succession of able rulers in the past four centuries who exploited the rivalry and tension between French Indochina and the British Empire. As a result, the country remained a buffer state between parts of Southeast Asia that were colonized by the two colonial powers, Great Britain and France. Western influence nevertheless led to many reforms in the 19th century and major concessions, most notably the loss of a large territory on the east side of the Mekong to the French and the step-by-step absorption by Britain of the Shan and Karen people areas and the Malay Peninsula.

Since the political reform of the absolute monarchy in 1932, Thailand has had 19 constitutions and charters up to 2014. Throughout this time, the form of government has ranged from military dictatorship to electoral democracy, but all governments have acknowledged a hereditary monarch as the head of state. Since 2014 the ruling junta led by Prayuth Chan-o-cha promised to hold new elections but wants to enact a new constitution before the elections are held. An initial draft constitution was rejected by government officials in 2015. The new draft constitution would grant the constitutional court final authority in times of crisis, a power previously held by the King. The draft would also allow a person other than a member of parliament to be the prime minister, which would open the prime minister post to a military official. However, there remain deep disagreements regarding how much power should rest with the democratically elected government. The situation is not resolved.

Its monarchy was headed by King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who has reigned since 1946 as Rama IX, as he is the ninth monarch of the Chakri Dynasty. He passed away sadly on 13 October 2016 at the age of 88. He was dearly beloved by his country and will be missed. He was also the world's longest-serving head of state and the country's longest-reigning monarch. His son Maha Vajiralongkorn is now King Vajiralongkorn (or Rama X).

It is the 20th-most-populous country in the world, with around 66 million people. The capital and largest city is Bangkok, which is Thailand's political, commercial, industrial, and cultural hub. About 75–95% of the population is ethnically Tai. The country's official language is Thai and the primary religion is Theravada Buddhism, which is practiced by around 95% of the population.

TYPES OF DIVING

There are a great many dive sites in Thailand due to many small islands offering diverse conditions. These conditions vary due to the seasonal weather with marine reserves of Similan and Surin islands closed from May to the middle of October. However, due to the location, there is diving on the Southeast, in the Gulf of Thailand. What this means is that there are great areas for beginners, areas which are accessible only by liveaboards like pinnacles located further out to sea, areas with beach access to house reefs, and wrecks. So from the Open Water Diver to the most experienced, there is something for everyone.

WHAT TO SEE DIVING

On the inside of Phuket Island you find the islands of Phi Phi Island and on the outside, you find the Similan and Surin Islands. All are located in the Anderman Sea. Due to the weather, the marine reserves are closed from May to the middle of October. During this closed time, you can dive on the other side of Thailand, in the Gulf of Thailand. Islands in this area are Koh Samui and Koh Tao.

Andaman Sea
This area is renowned for soft corals, majestic manta rays. Two of the top dive sites are Hin Daeng (Red Rock) and Hin Mouang (Purple Rock). These world-class dive sites deserve to be in every divers' top 10 as they are feeding grounds for Pelagic Fish. Hin Mouang features large underwater pinnacles heading southwest. You'll be entranced by huge shoals of fish, beautiful anemone carpets, soft corals, and gorgonians. Look out for the unusual bryozoan - clumps of white, straw-like things at around 8 meters. Sharks, tuna, enormous barracuda often visit and the deepest drop-off in Thailand is here. These sites are reached by liveaboard.

Similan Islands, Surin Islands
An archipelago of nine uninhabited islands, the Similans are around 90 km northwest of Phuket. There is quite a difference between the west and east sides of the islands. The east coasts are sheltered and have gently sloping reefs, coral gardens and large shoals of fish. The west coasts are hit by storms between May and September and underwater you see archways and swim-throughs. The currents bring nutrients for gorgonians, beautiful soft corals, and feather stars. All of the nine islands of the Similans have many dive sites. From October to April is the best time for the Andaman Sea. Giant Manta Rays arrive at the Similans in March and April. Come May though, heavy rainfall hits the West coast and continues until September. 

Gulf of Thailand – Koh Tao, Koh Samui
The best time is from March to October due to the weather. In the wet season, it can be quite mucky. Very nice diving in Koh Tao, with soft corals, pelagic fish and diverse conditions at the outer pinnacles. Perhaps the most famous being Chumphon Pinnacle. Huge schools of jacks are known to visit and from February to April and Whalesharks have also been spotted.

DIVE CONDITIONS

The weather seasons play a big part in the diving conditions. Visibility varies 's but outside of the wet season in each area is very good with clear water. The level of diving varies's as well with liveaboards offered for the Similan Islands and on the other side around Phi Phi Island having shallow resort style diving possible. The diving from Liveaboards is normally with a guide but can be done in buddy groups so experience is the key. Normally around the islands, if the weather is bad they can hide on the opposite side. With such variety good diving is found around Thailand at any time of the year, just follow the seasons.

WEATHER

Thailand is best described as tropical and humid for the majority of the country for most of the year. North of Bangkok can be split into three seasons and the southern peninsular area into two seasons. Northern Thailand is clearly defined between November and May as mostly dry. However inside this from November to February and March to May have higher temperatures. From May to November, the weather is dominated by the southwest monsoon and rainfall will be at its heaviest. The southern region of Thailand has only two seasons and the diving schedule reflects this as well. However, the seasons run differently on each coast. The west coast (Phuket – Andaman Sea) has rain and often heavy storms from April to October, while the east coast (Koh Samui, Ko Tao) has the most rain between September and December. Tropical cyclones, which can hit Thailand from May to November, but more often from August to October. In general, Thailand is not hit as hard as other countries of Southeast Asia, such as the Philippines or Vietnam.

WATER TEMPERATURE

Thailand has very clear waters and an average sea temperature of 29oC.              

AIR TEMPERATURE

Countrywide, temperatures normally range from an average annual high of 38 °C (100.4 °F) to a low of 19 °C (66.2 °F). During the dry season, the temperature rises dramatically in the second half of March, spiking to well over 40 °C (104 °F) in some areas by mid-April when the sun passes its zenith. Bangkok has an average annual temperature of 28° C (82° F ); monthly mean temperatures range from a low of around 25° C (77° F ) in December to a high of around 30° C (86° F ) in May.

RAIN FALL

Throughout the year, 1,450 mm (57 in) of rainfall; the rainiest months are September and October, at the end of the monsoon season, with 345 mm and 240 mm (13.5 and 9.5 in) of rain respectively. Along the west coast, on the Andaman Sea (see Similan Islands, Phuket, Krabi, Phi Phi Islands, Koh Lanta, Koh Lipe), summer is very rainy, since the monsoon hits the coast directly from the sea, while there's little rain from December to March. 

HOW TO GET THERE

All major airlines fly into Bangkok from around the world, as the first point of entry. The national carrier is Thai Airways. Internal flights to destinations such as Phuket all leave from Bangkok.

VISA CONDITIONS

Your passport should be valid for a minimum period of 6 months from the date of entry into Thailand. Entry to Thailand is normally refused if you have a passport which is damaged or has pages missing. If you’re a dual national you must make sure that when you depart Thailand you have a valid passport of the nationality used to enter, otherwise, you may have difficulty in leaving.

British (all Commonwealth) passport holders arriving by air or land can enter Thailand for 30 days without a visa - this is known as a visa exemption.

If you plan to stay in Thailand for longer than 30 days, or you intend to work, you must get a visa before you travel. If you have entered Thailand on a visa, it’s possible to apply for an extension of stay but you must do this before your permission to stay expires.

LOCAL KNOWLEDGE

Transport

From Bangkok airport make sure you take an affiliated taxi from the official taxi rank outside. Fix the price before leaving and ask if tolls are included or if you the traveler will pay when you reach the toll booth. There have been instances of inflated taxi rides which then leads to local police becoming involved. It should cost around 120 baht to the city with an airport tax of 50 baht & 70 baht for tolls.

If traveling by Tuk Tuk haggling and price negotiation is always done, reduce the price by 5-15baht first and go from there. There are motorcycle taxis as well but in the major city's like Bangkok can be dangerous. Most road traffic accidents in Thailand involve motorcycles, but accidents involving other vehicles including cars, coaches and mini-buses also occur.

Traveling inside Thailand                                                              

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advise against all but essential travel to the provinces of Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat and Songkhla on the Thai-Malaysia border. There is a high threat from terrorism. There have been recent incidents in Bangkok, including a bomb explosion on 17 August 2015 which resulted in numerous casualties including the death of a British national. You should follow the advice of the local authorities, monitor local media reports and remain vigilant.

On 22 May 2014 the military took control of the government. Martial law was in place across Thailand until 1 April 2015 when it was lifted from all areas except the southern provinces of Pattani, Yala, and Narathiwat, the Sadao district of Songkhla province and some border areas. However, Article 44 of the interim constitution gives General Prayuth Chan-o-cha, head of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), wide powers to continue to take action to enforce law and order, and restrictions remain on freedom of assembly and expression. A number of media outlets have been taken off the air and some internet sites remain blocked. It’s illegal to criticise the coup and you should be wary of making political statements in public. You should monitor local news and social media for developments.

Penalties for possession, distribution or manufacture of drugs are severe and can include the death penalty.

Health

Cases of locally transmitted Zika virus have been confirmed. You should follow the advice of the National Travel Health Network and Centre and discuss your travel plans with your healthcare provider, particularly if you’re pregnant or planning to become pregnant.

Insurance

Take out comprehensive travel and medical insurance before you travel.

GALLERY