Reason : The weather
Depressed by the long, dark winters in your home country? Stuck indoors due to endless days of grey drizzle? Thailand's blue skies and warm days can offer a much needed tonic to even the most sun-starved S.A.D. sufferer.
It is definitely hot and sunny in Thailand. Bangkok, somewhat surprisingly, boasts the highest average temperature of any capital city in the world. In April the temperature in Bangkok can reach over C but at other times of the year can drop as low as C.
Thailand can be thought of as having three seasons: hot, rainy and cool. The hot season runs from March to May. The rainy season runs from June to October and the cool season runs from November to February.
A particularly pleasant time to visit Bangkok is November to December. The temperature being in the more comfortable mid- s. The hottest time of the year in Thailand in general is April, around the time of the Songkhran water festival. However, the climate tends to vary with altitude -- Chiang Mai and other Northern cities experience more comfortable temperatures, due to their higher altitude.
Generally for sun-starved Westerners the sunny climate in Thailand is a big attraction. It's fantastic to be able to snorkel in warm, clear seas at a time of year when, back in a place like UK, people are fogbound and shivering.
Reason : The food
Thai food is, justifiably, world famous. There is a wide variety of different foods available in Thailand and generally it's of high quality and delicious. Once you've tasted food in Thailand you will very likely get addicted. Even Thai food in restaurants back in the West will just not be the same after having tasted the real thing.
As well as a huge variety of dishes available there are an equally huge number of venues of different types. In Bangkok, international style dining is available in most hotels and there are chain-style restaurants for most food tastes. Thai, Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Western, Italian are just some of the menus available.
Even smaller cities will have a huge selection of restaurants.The small street-side restaurants that are everywhere are great places to dine, offering cheap, fresh and tasty food. Thai people take their food very seriously, so if you see Thai people eating happily in a restaurant it's a good bet. The menus vary, but include noodles, soups, rice, chicken and seafood dishes. Soak up the atmosphere and enjoy the wonderful smell of cooking is something you won't forget in a hurry.
In Bangkok, there are also low-cost eating facilities in places like TOPS supermarket in Central Plaza. You can choose your dishes from the selection available and seating is provided. Not the most intimate dining experience, but you notice that everyone sitting near you (you will often be the only Westerner) looks amazingly happy!
Eating in Thailand is a great pleasure. Try different dishes, experiment, but watch out for the really spicy dishes!
Reason : Islands and beaches
Thailand has many famous islands with stunning beaches. There are whole books devoted to Thailand's wonderful islands and beaches. A lot has been written and said about this aspect of Thailand.
Post-tsunami (2004) things have been a little more circumspect. However, there's no doubt that Thailand has some of the best beaches in SE Asia, if not the world.
Scuba diving is also excellent and well-catered for, mostly through PADI centres. Snorkelling trips are widely available and typically organised through the hotel or a local agent. You can of course just get your flippers and mask on and start swimming. The organised trips are often worth it as you will be able to access remote reefs and islands where there is a wider variety of marine life.
Many other water activities are also available - kayak, jet ski and of course banana boat! Thailand is a very big draw if you are a lover of water sports.
There is also the rather pleasant nature of beach life - even if you can only make it out to the islands on the weekend. There is something extremely satisfying about sitting at a small beach-side restaurant in the cooler evening, sipping ice cold Singha beer and shooting the breeze with good friends. Some of my favourite beaches are Kata Beach (Phuket), Ao Prao Resort (Samet), Klong Dao Beach (Lanta).
Kata Beach is very typical of the better beaches in Thailand. The sand is soft and white; the sea, blue and clear. The beach is a distinctive crescent moon shape with little Pu island not far offshore. Pu saved Kata from major devastation in the Boxing Day Tsunami (2004) - it split the wave into two directions, lessening its force and minimising damage to the Kata Beach Resort.
The beaches and islands of Thailand are world-class. Whether your inclination is towards active water-sports, or simply beach-combing and lounging in the sun, Thailand has a lot to offer.
Reason : The people
There is much that can be said about the Thai people, their happy, positive attitude to life and their friendly nature. On the whole, most Thai people are extremely tolerant and welcoming to foreigners. Thais tend to be very laid back and easy-going, unless offended, at which point they can become stubborn and in extreme cases verbally or physically violent. It is best to avoid confrontation in Thailand; just keep smiling, be calm and everything will be OK! There is nothing more embarrassing than the sight of a Westerner who "loses it", while the Thais remain calm and quiet.
Much has been written on the subject of Thai women and their many charms. For the majority of Western men moving to (or visiting) Thailand, enjoying the company of Thai ladies is a major incentive. Thai women tend to be charming, beautiful, slim and feminine.
Problems can arise with Thai women; usually this comes about because the Western guy has not taken time to understand Thai culture and the Thai way of thinking. This does often lead to unfortunate situations. Mostly these can be avoided. Being better informed does help and there is certainly no shortage of advice on the Web.
To have good relationships with Thai people it's important to understand their beliefs, aspirations and way of life. Thai people can find Westerners very puzzling, but the reverse is also true. Getting to know Thais can teach you a lot about yourself.
Generally, the Thai people you are likely to meet will be very helpful and pleasant.
Reason : The cost of living
Compared to the West, Thailand has a very low cost of living. For example a fantastic condo with swimming pool, hour security, broadband Internet and all amenities can be had in a nice area for rent of around £ per month. However, all budgets are catered for in Bangkok. You can pay a lot more or much less than this.
One useful tip is, if you can, get a Thai contact to check out apartments for you prior to your arrival. They can also negotiate much more effectively. There are many bargains to be had and no shortage of accommodation in Bangkok. There is a two-tier system of pricing in Thailand - as soon as a foreigner appears the price automatically goes up! It's always worth trying to negotiate though.
As mentioned earlier food is also very cheap and generally a wide range of products are much cheaper in Thailand than in Western countries. The UK in particular seems to be the rip-off capital of Europe. I usually buy my running shoes and sports clothes when visiting Thailand or Malaysia as prices are often as little as % of what I'd pay for the same thing in the UK. Other clothes such as T-shirts, jeans, sandals, shoes, wet suits and so on can all be had at a fraction of what you'd pay in Thailand. Be careful of fake goods though; these are widespread in places like Bangkok.
For Americans, the decline in the Dollar has meant that Thailand is not quite the cheap and cheerful paradise it once was, and the flight can be very expensive from the USA. However, the Pound and the Euro, while they have declined a little against the ever-strengthening Baht, have not hot quite so badly. Flights are still very reasonable, especially if you can avoid the school holidays.
The glory days of the + Baht Pound are probably over for good, as Thailand's economy slowly develops. At time of writing you are likely to get around Baht or so for your Pound. However, even at those rates Thailand is still relatively cheap, and with some care many bargains can still be obtained, especially outside of Bangkok.
Reason : The night-life
Sadly, Thailand has developed a unenviable reputation internationally due to its infamous "naughty night-life" scene.
The most famous red-light areas catering to Westerners include Patpong, Soi Cowboy and Nana Entertainment Plaza (NEP) in Bangkok. There are also naughty night-life centres in Pattaya, and on the island of Phuket, around Patong beach in Phuket town. It is not so well known that there is also a considerably larger sex industry catering to the needs of Thais.
The naughty night-life industry in Thailand has seen something of a recession in recent years. Increasing pressure from the government has resulted in "no show" enforcement, early closing, police raids, and on-the-spot drug testing of both workers and customers. Increasing prices and exchange fluctuations also haven't helped. This is all to the good in my opinion as, quite frankly, Thailand has more than enough to offer without this degrading industry. Hopefully, as this seedier side of Thailand declines, people will become more aware of the real Thailand.
The good news is that Thailand, and especially Bangkok, does have a very varied and lively "non-naughty" night-life. There are great discos, jazz clubs, cinemas, bowling alleys, restaurants, pubs, hotel bars, sports bars and shopping centres.
One of the best things is nothing seems ever to close in the "City of Angels". Even shopping centres are open until at least pm. This is a huge contrast to the UK, where most High Streets are closed up by pm.
Bangkok is certainly one place where you will never be bored in the evening and the same goes for many of the outlying provinces and islands.
Reason : The pace of life
With our increasingly hectic lifestyles in the West we often dream of leaving the rat-race and downsizing into a slower pace of life. Thailand is an ideal destination for down-shifting.
With the combination of low cost of living and excellent facilities, life can be good in Thailand, some would say better than the West, on very much less money.
Whether you are just thinking of moving to the slow lane, taking early retirement, or just having a complete change of scene, Thailand has much to offer.
These days in the West people are becoming disillusioned with the pursuit of material possessions, there is a greater sense of urgency to find a better quality of life - before we are too old to enjoy it.
To quote Henry David Thoreau: "This spending of the best part of one's life earning money in order to enjoy a questionable liberty during the least valuable part of it reminds me of the Englishman who went to India to make a fortune first, in order that he might return to England and live the life of a poet. He should have gone up (to his) garret at once."
Whether your inclination is to the metropolis of Bangkok or the quieter outlying provinces or islands, the pace of life and laid back attitude of the Thais can be a refreshing change from the stress of life in the West.
Sure, Thailand is no panacea, but there's no doubt that there are many Westerners living a quietly-contented, low-stress life in the Land Of Smiles.
Reason : The culture
There is so much to see in Thailand. There is always something more to learn about Thai history, the Thai people, their religion and beliefs. There are many wonderful temples and historic sites.
Thai culture is fascinating and there are numerous cultural avenues to pursue in Thailand - Thai dancing, arts and crafts, martial arts, festivals and special customs are varied and interesting. From Songkhran to Loy Kratong, from Thai silk to Muay Thai, from Ayutthaya to Wat Arun, there is much to explore and learn about.
There are a huge number of cultural activities that can be accessed from Bangkok. There are interesting locations further afield, such as the bridge over the river Kwai and the Northern towns of Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, where the more adventurous can take trips to see the Hill Tribes.
Reason : The facilities
Generally, leisure facilities are on a par or better Thailand than in the West. In particular, golf courses, cinemas, swimming pools, beach facilities, hotels, restaurants, serviced apartments, and shops are mostly excellent.
Medical facilities are also clean and efficient. There are a number of very well equipped hospitals in Bangkok, but also in outlying towns such as Pattaya. These primarily cater to rich Thais and Westerners.
Getting around is also rather easy. There is always a taxi of some description on hand for short trips. You can also take a tuk-tuk, songthaew, sky train, motor bike taxi, water bus, or air-con bus. You can also walk - but that's not recommended in April when Bangkok is C plus! Bangkok even has its own underground train these days! In many ways getting around in Thailand on public transport is far easier than in the West, where you really do need your own car to conveniently get around.
Bangkok does occasionally get grid-locked, especially during rush hour, but that is a fact of life in most cities these days. Just avoid taking a taxi during rush hour; get a motorbike taxi instead.
Reason - The shopping
Bangkok is well known for its shopping. The big shopping malls include Central Plaza, Mahboonkrong also know as MBK and the new Siam Paragon, but there are many other shopping malls in Bangkok and more under construction.
Shopping facilities are plentiful outside of Bangkok too, with most towns having a variety of stores and shopping facilities. Tesco also have a number of outlets in Bangkok now under the brand name of "Tesco Lotus". Wandering through an Aladdin's Cave like MBK or sitting in a little coffee shop watching the world go by can be a pleasant way to spend a few hours.
Thailand is a special country, it is a magical place that is much more than the sum of its parts. It is a heady mix of all the above ten items and much, much more. Whether you plan to visit for a holiday, work or retirement Thailand will always have something very special to offer you.
Johnny Farang has been visiting, living in, and writing about Thailand since 2003. He hopes to retire there one day and is working towards that end. Johnny is founder of the site http://www.dreamofsiam.com which he has been running since 2004.
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