From Halal Food & Travel
The Kingdom of Thailand (Thai: ราชอาณาจักรไทย) is a monarchy in Southeast Asia with coasts on the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand.
Thailand is the heart of the Southeast Asian mainland, bordering Myanmar in the west, Laos in the north, Cambodia in the east, and Malaysia in the south. As Thailand has comparably good infrastructure with Bangkok being an intercontinental flight hub, the country is the gateway to the region for most foreign visitors.
With great food, a tropical climate, fascinating culture and superb beaches, Thailand is the most visited country in Southeast Asia. It is called the "Land of Smiles".
An Introduction to the regions of Thailand
Thailand can be divided into five geographic and cultural regions:
|Northern Thailand |
Chiang Mai, hill tribes, and the Golden Triangle.
The great northeast region. Get off the beaten track and discover backcountry Thailand, mouthwatering food, and some magnificent Khmer ruins.
|Central Thailand |
Bangkok, lowlands and historic Thailand.
|Eastern Thailand |
Beaches and islands within easy reach of Bangkok, like Pattaya, Ko Samet and Ko Chang.
|Southern Thailand |
Lush rainforest and hundreds of kilometers of coastline and beguiling islands in both the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand, plus Phuket, Krabi, Ko Samui, Ko Tao and many more of Thailand's famous beach spots.
Other Muslim friendly Cities in Thailand
- Bangkok (Thai: กรุงเทพมหานคร) — Thailand's bustling, frenetic capital, known among the Thai as Krung Thep
- Ayutthaya (Thai: พระนครศรีอยุธยา) — a historical city, UNESCO World Heritage Site and old capital of Siam (full name is Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya)
- Chiang Mai (Thai: เชียงใหม่) — de facto capital of Northern Thailand and the heart of Lanna culture
- Chiang Rai (Thai: เมืองเชียงราย) — gateway to the Golden Triangle, ethnic minorities and mountain treks
- Kanchanaburi (Thai: กาญจนบุรี) — home of the Bridge over the River Kwai and numerous World War II museums
- Nakhon Ratchasima (Thai: นครราชสีมา) — largest city of the Isaan region, also known as Khorat.
- Pattaya (Thai: พัทยา) — one of the main tourist destinations, known for its wild nightlife
- Sukhothai (Thai: สุโขทัย) — Thailand's first capital, still with amazing ruins
- Surat Thani (Thai: สุราษฎร์ธานี) — home of the Srivijaya Empire, gateway to the Samui archipelago
Other Muslim Friendly Destinations in Thailand
- Khao Sok National Park (Thai: เขาสก) — one of the most beautiful wildlife reserves in Thailand
- Khao Yai National Park (Thai: เขาใหญ่) — take a night time Jeep safari spotting deer or visit the spectacular waterfalls
- Ko Chang (Thai: เกาะช้าง) — once a quiet island, now undergoing major tourism development
- Ko Lipe (Thai: เกาะหลีเป๊ะ) — small island in the middle of Tarutao National Park, with great reefs and beaches
- Ko Pha Ngan (Thai: เกาะพะงัน) — site of the famous Full Moon Party with miles of quiet coastline
- Ko Samet (Thai: เกาะเสม็ด) — the nearest island beach escape from Bangkok
- Ko Samui (Thai: เกาะสมุย) — comfortable, nature, and entertainment hippie mecca gone upmarket
- Krabi Province (Thai: กระบี่) — beach and water sports mecca in the south, includes Ao Nang, Rai Leh, Ko Phi Phi, and Ko Lanta
- Phuket (Thai: ภูเก็ต) — the original Thai paradise island, now very developed but with some still beautiful beaches
Thailand Halal Travel Guide
Thailand is the country in Southeast Asia most visited by tourists, and for good reason. You can find almost anything here: thick jungle as green as can be, crystal blue waters that feel more like a warm bath than a swim in the ocean, and food that can curl your nose hairs while tap dancing across your taste buds. Exotic, yet safe; cheap, yet equipped with every modern amenity you need, there is something for every interest and every price bracket, from beach front backpacker bungalows to some of the best luxury hotels in the world. And despite the heavy flow of tourism, Thailand retains its quintessential identity, with a culture and history all its own and a carefree people famed for their smiles and their fun-seeking sanuk lifestyle. Many travellers come to Thailand and extend their stay well beyond their original plans and others never find a reason to leave. Whatever your cup of tea is, they know how to make it in Thailand.
Thailand Halal Travel Video
Thailand is largely tropical. It's hot and humid all year around with temperatures in the 28-35°C range (82-95°F), a degree of relief provided only in the mountains in the far north of Thailand. There are, however, three seasons:
- Cool: From Nov to the end of Feb, it doesn't rain much and temperatures are at their lowest, although you will barely notice the difference in the south and will only need to pack a sweater if hiking in the northern mountains, where temperatures can fall as low as 5°C. This is the most popular time to visit and, especially around Christmas and New Year's or at Chinese New Year a few weeks later, finding flights and accommodation can be expensive and difficult.
- Hot: From March - Jun, Thailand swelters in temperatures as high as 40°C (104°F) and heat indices in the 50-60°C range (122-140°F). Pleasant enough when sitting on the beach with a drink in hand, but not the best time of year to go temple-tramping in Bangkok.
- Rainy: From July - Oct, although it only really gets underway in Sep, tropical monsoons hit most of the country. This doesn't mean it rains non-stop, but when it does it pours and flooding is not uncommon.
There are local variations to these general patterns. In particular, the southeast coast of Thailand (including Ko Samui) has the rains reversed, with the peak season being May-Oct and the rainy off-season in November - Feb.
The People of Thailand
Thailand's people are largely ethnically Thai, although there are significant minorities of Chinese and assimilated Thai-Chinese throughout the country, Malays in the south near the Malaysian border, Isaan near the Lao border, and hill tribes such as the Karen and the Hmong in the north of the country. Bangkok has a noticeable minority of ethnic Indians. The overwhelmingly dominant religion (95%) is Theravada Buddhism, although Confucianism, Islam, Christianity and animist faiths also jostle for position.
In addition to the Gregorian calendar, Thailand also uses the Thai solar calendar, the Thai version of the Buddhist calendar, which is 543 years ahead of the common era calendar. Thus, Thai year 2565 corresponds to the Western year 2022. Thai dates in English are often written as B.E., short for "Buddhist Era".
Some Thai holidays are based on the Thai lunar calendar, so their dates change every year.
Public Holidays in Thailand
Thailand has many holidays, mostly related to Buddhism and the monarchy. Nobody celebrates all of them, except for banks, which seem to be closed a lot.
- Chinese New Year - ตรุษจีน | The Chinese New Year for 2019 is on 5 February and marks the start of the Year of the Pig. It is also known as the Spring Festival or the Lunar New Year and celebrations can last for about 15 days. Chinese Thais, who are numerous in Bangkok, celebrate by cleaning their houses and offering food to their ancestors. This is mainly a time of abundant feasting. Visit Bangkok's Chinatown or Yaowarat to fully embrace the festivity.
- Makha Bucha - มาฆบูชา | Falls on the full moon of the third lunar month, which usually falls in February or March, and commemorates the spontaneous gathering of 1,250 people before the Buddha, which led to their ordination and subsequent enlightenment. At temples in Bangkok and throughout Thailand, Buddhists carry candles and walk around the main shrine three times in a clockwise direction.
- Songkran - สงกรานต์ | Undoubtedly the most fun holiday, is the celebration of the Thai New Year, sometime in April (officially 13-15 Apr, but the date varies in some locations). What started off as polite ritual to wash away the sins of the prior year has evolved into the world's largest water fight, which lasts for three full days. Water pistols and Super Soakers are advised and are on sale everywhere. The best places to participate are Chiang Mai, the Khao San Road area in Bangkok, and holiday resorts like Pattaya, Ko Samui and Phuket. You will get very wet, this is not a spectator sport. The water-throwing has been getting more and more unpleasant as people have started splashing iced water onto each other. It is advisable to wear dark clothing, as light colours may become transparent when wet.
- Loy Krathong - ลอยกระทง | Falls on the first full moon day in the twelfth month of the lunar calendar, usually in November, when people head to rivers, lakes and even hotel swimming pools to float flower and candle-laden banana leaves (or, these days, Styrofoam) floats called krathong (กระทง). The krathong is meant as an offering to thank the river goddess who gives life to the people. Thais also believe that this is a good time to float away your bad luck and many will place a few strands of hair or finger nail clippings in the krathong. According to tradition, if you make a wish when you set down your krathong and it floats out of sight before the candle burns out, your wish will come true. Some provinces have their own version of Loy Krathong, such as Sukhothai where a spectacular show takes place. To the north, Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai have their own unique tradition of launching kom or hot-air lanterns. This sight can be breath-taking as the sky is suddenly filled with lights, rivalling the full moon.
- King's Birthday - Father's Day | 28 July, the King's birthday is the country's National Day and also celebrated as Father's Day, when Thais pay respect to and show their love for his majesty the king. Buildings and homes are decorated with the King's flag (yellow with his insignia in the middle) and his portrait. Government buildings, as well as commercial buildings, are decorated with lights. In Old Bangkok (Rattanakosin) in particular, around the royal palace, you will see lavish light displays on trees, buildings, and the roads. The Queen's Birthday (12 Aug) is Mother's Day.
Travel as a Muslim to Thailand
Ordinary passport holders of many Western and Asian countries, including most ASEAN countries, Australia, Canada, most European Union countries, Hong Kong, Japan and the United States do not need a visa if their purpose of visit is tourism. Visitors receive 30-day permits (except for citizens of Korea, Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Peru who get 90 days, but effective 31 Dec 2016, an exemption is granted only twice per calendar year when not arriving by air. Muslims of Myanmar may enter without a visa for 14 days only if they enter by air; entry through any other mode of transport requires a valid visa. Thai immigration requires visitors' passports to have a minimum of 6 months validity and at least one completely blank visa page remaining. Visa-on-arrival is available at certain entry points for passport holders of 21 other nations (Andorra, Bhutan, Bulgaria, China, Cyprus, Ethiopia, Fiji, India, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Maldives, Malta, Mauritius, Papua New Guinea, Romania, San Marino, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan).
Those with passports from countries not widely known, including European city-states, or that have problems with document forgery, should obtain a visa in advance from the nearest Thai embassy. This is true even if visa on arrival is permitted. There are reports of tourists being detained using valid passports not commonly presented in Thailand. In addition, ask for a business card from the person or embassy which granted the visa, so they may be contacted on arrival, if necessary. Anyone whose nationality does not have its own embassy in Bangkok, should find out which third country represents your interests there, along with local contact information.
Those arriving via air from most African and South American countries are required to show yellow fever certificates and receive a stamp on their entry forms from the onsite health centre prior to clearing immigration.
Proof of onward travel, long happily ignored by Thai immigration, has been known to be strictly applied in some instances. Airlines, that have to pay for your return flight if immigration doesn't let you in, are more rigorous about checking for it. A print-out of an e-ticket on a budget airline is sufficient to convince the enforcers, but those planning on continuing by land may have to get a little creative. Buying a fully refundable ticket and getting it refunded once in Thailand is also an option. Land crossings, on the other hand, are a very straightforward process and no proof of onward journey required (unless the border officials decide otherwise).
Overstaying in Thailand is risky. If you make it to Immigration and are fewer than 10 days over, you'll probably be allowed out with a fine of 500 Baht per day. However, if for any reason you're caught overstaying by the police you'll be carted off to the notoriously unpleasant illegal immigrant holding pens and may be blacklisted from Thailand entirely. For most people it's not worth the risk: get a legal extension or do a visa run to the nearest border instead. Now that the number of visa exemptions at land borders is limited it is even more attractive to visit an immigration office to extend your visa or visa exemption with 30 days.
The main international airports in Thailand are at Bangkok (IATA Code: BKK) and Phuket (IATA Code: HKT), which are well-served by intercontinental flights. Practically every airline that flies to Asia also flies into Bangkok, meaning that there is plenty of competition to keep ticket prices down. Be aware, Bangkok as two major airports: Suvarnabhumi Airport (IATA Code: BKK) which serves most larger carriers and is the main airport and the smaller Don Mueang International Airport (IATA Code: DMK) which primarily serves low-cost carriers both internationally and domestically.
International airports are also located at Hat Yai, Krabi, Ko Samui and Chiang Mai, though these are largely restricted to flights from other Southeast Asian countries. Kuala Lumpur and Singapore make excellent places to catch flights into these smaller Thai cities, meaning you can skip the ever-present touts and queues at Bangkok.
The national carrier is the well-regarded Thai Airways, with Bangkok Airways filling in some gaps in the region. Bangkok Airways offers free Internet access while you wait for boarding to start at your gate. Thai Airways subsidiary Thai Smile (low cost carrier) has also started international operations from India. In addition, Malaysian discount carrier AirAsia has also set up a subsidiary in Thailand, and is often the cheapest option for flights into Thailand.
Chartered flights from and to Thailand from international destinations are operated by Hi Flying group. They fly to Bangkok, Phuket, Ko Samui and Udon Thani.
For a full at-a-glance list of all Thai-based carriers, see the Thai airlines section (below).
Thailand's sole international train service links to Butterworth (near Penang) and Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, continuing all the way to Singapore. Tickets are affordable even in first class sleepers, but it can be a slow ride. What is a 2-hour flight to Singapore will take you close to 48 hours by rail, as you have to switch trains twice. The luxury option is to take the Eastern & Oriental Express, a refurbished super-luxury train that runs from Singapore to Bangkok once per week, with gourmet dining, personal butler service, and every other colonial perk you can think of. However, at around USD1,000 one-way just from Bangkok to Butterworth, it is approximately 30 times more expensive than an ordinary first-class sleeper!
While you can't get to Laos or Cambodia by train, you can get very close, with rail terminals just across the border at Nong Khai (across the river from Vientiane) and Aranyaprathet (for Poipet, on the road to Siem Reap). A link across the Mekong to Laos opened in March 2009, but service to Cambodia remains on the drawing board.
There are no rail services to Myanmar, but the Thai part of the infamous Burma Death Railway is still operating near Kanchanaburi.
It is possible now to travel by ferries in high season (November - May) from Phuket and island hop your way down the coast all the way to Indonesia.
This can now be done without ever touching the mainland,
Phuket (Thailand) to Penang (Malaysia), islands en route:
- Ko Phi Phi
- Ko Lanta
- Ko Ngai
- Ko Mook
- Ko Bulon
- Ko Lipe— Ko Lipe being the hub on the border between Thailand and Malaysia having a Thai immigration office.
- Langkawi- Malaysian immigration here.
The Thai portion can be done in a day.
Ferries cross from Satun in southern Thailand to the Malaysian island of Langkawi, while over in Narathiwat Province, a vehicular ferry shuttles between Tak Bai and Pengkalan Kubur, near Kota Bharu in Malaysia's Kelantan state.
There are also occasional cruises from Malaysia and Singapore to Phuket and Bangkok, the main operator beingStar Cruises, but no scheduled services.
While Thailand is justifiably famous for its hospitality industry, the Bangkok area is infamous for its road congestion during daytime hours, though at night, traffic levels abate considerably. Smaller cities like Chiang Mai and Buriram or even Phuket are also quite busy at peak hours, but nothing like Bangkok. Domestic flights can get delayed sometimes but price and time wise, a very good option, while driving yourself on highways can be very expensive (car rental and insurance from 1500 Baht/day, plus fuel costs and tolls) and complicated due to signage and constant road works all over the country, besides Thailand having one of the highest rates of road fatalities in the world. Never the less, railways and the government bus companies provide very safe and comfortable links between many cities and towns, the only draw backs are the long travel times and lack of sufficient nice facilities and generous stopage times along the way for restaurants or to go to toilets, in-bus facilities although relatively comfortable, allow only the bare basics in terms of personal relief. In this respect, it may be a good idea to travel distances in excess of 350 km by air, as the bus trip will take about 7 hr compared to 1 hr and ticket prices cost around double (about 450 Baht compared to 900 Baht). Trains 2nd class sleeper cabins cost about same or more than flights but are even slower than buses. A trip from Bangkok to Chiang Mai by train can take more than a day and cost more than the 1.5-hr flight (about 1200 Baht compared with 1000 Baht to fly). When in smaller cities or towns, you can hire a step-in 125/150cc bike at a reasonable price (about 1000 Baht/week with helmets included, and you need proper bike driving permit) to get around and explore nearby areas. Normally if you stay in reputable places, be it low cost or expensive, the people running the establishment can arrange this on your behalf since they have valuable local knowledge and contacts, never the less, always do a web search to get an idea of what to expect.
Thailand is a large country, and if sitting in a bus for 11 hours is not your idea of a fun time, you may well want to consider domestic flights. Never terribly expensive to begin with (at least by GCC standards), the deregulation of the industry has brought in a crop of new operators: with a little research, it's possible to fly pretty much anywhere in the country for less than 2,000 Baht. On highly competitive routes like Bangkok to Phuket it is possible to fly for less than a bus ticket if you book in advance. Various taxes and (often hefty) surcharges are invariably added to advertised prices. Don't forget to bring the credit card you used to book the ticket.
The airlines have moved away from routing all flights via Bangkok and offer non-stop connections between popular destinations like Chiang Mai and Phuket, Chiang Mai and Hat Yai, Phuket and Ko Samui and Phuket and Siem Reap. The budget airlines are also selling 'flights' that are actually packages combining flights with ferry and bus transfers to extend their reach to destinations without usable airports. Few airlines limit themselves to domestic operations; you are likely to find that some budget airline offers better connections to Myanmar or China. The numerous airlines and changing routes make flight price comparison websites useful as long as you buy tickets directly from the airline; you are not going to get Thai budget airline tickets cheaper through a third party.
Pan-ASEAN low-cost carrier AirAsia has great coverage of international and domestic routes in Thailand and offers steeply discounted tickets if booked well in advance; however, prices rise steadily as planes fill up. It's often the cheapest option, sometimes even cheaper than bus or train, if booked at least a week or two in advance. They fly their A320s from Bangkok to a number of places domestically, and to Cambodia, China, Macau, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Vietnam and Indonesia. Their website displays "all-inclusive" prices during booking (which, however, still do not include optional surcharges such as baggage fees). On-line booking is straightforward and can be done even using the mobile phone, but must be done at least 24 hours in advance; ticket sales at the check-in desk close one hour before the departure time.
Bangkok Airways promotes itself as "Asia's Boutique Airline", and has a monopoly on flights to its own airports at Ko Samui (now shared with Thai Airways), Sukhothai, and Trat. Quite an expensive and "posh" option; however, their Discovery Airpass with fixed per segment rates can be good value, especially if used to fly to Siem Reap, (Cambodia) or Luang Prabang, (Laos). The Discovery Airpass can only be purchased abroad.
Kan Airlines uses Chiang Mai as its hub and specializes in routes poorly served by its bigger competitors. For example, it is the only airline flying to Hua Hin.
Nok Air took to the skies in 2004 sporting lurid paint schemes with a bird's beak painted on the nose. Owned mostly by Thai Airways, they compete with Air Asia on price and, with a fairly comprehensive domestic network, are a pretty good choice overall. They ran into some serious turbulence in 2008, cutting their flights by two-thirds, but now seem to have recovered.
Orient Thai, previously One-Two-Go, is easily the dodgiest of Thailand's main carriers, flying a ragtag bunch of ancient planes with a poor safety record, including a crash in Phuket in 2007 that killed 90 people. The fleet has been grounded on and off, but as of late-2010 they're flying again. Unlike most LCCs, their ticket prices don't change much, meaning they're often the cheapest option for last-minute flights. If you're taller than about 1.80 m, get an exit row seat unless you want to ride the whole flight with your knees resting against the seat in front.
Thai Airways International is the most reliable, frequent, and comfortable Thai airline, but usually more expensive than the alternatives (look for their promotions). Travel agents often sell only Thai Airways (and Bangkok Airways) tickets; you can also book on-line. Thai Airways is a member of Star Alliance; all domestic flights, except some promotional fares, give at least 500 Star Alliance miles, which may (partially) compensate the price difference.
Thai Lion Air is a budget airline started in 2013 as an offshoot of the Indonesian Lion Air. It still runs aggressive price promotions on most popular routes but you may have to fly very late or very early with inconvenient airport transfers.
Thai VietJet Air operates flights on behalf of the Vietnamese VietJet Air using Suvarnabhumi as its hub.
State Railway of Thailand (SRT) has a 4,000-km network covering most of the country, from Chiang Mai in the north all the way to (and beyond) the Malaysian border in the south. Compared to buses, most trains are relatively slow and prone to delays, but safer. You can pick up fruits, snacks and cooked food from vendors at most stations.
Point-to-point fares depend on the type (speed) of the train and the class of the carriage. There are three classes of service:
- First class (chan neung) 2-berth sleeping compartments with individually regulated air conditioning are available on some trains, but prices are sometimes matched by budget airfares.
- Second class (chan song) is a good compromise, costing about the same as 1st class buses and with a comparable level of comfort. Some 2nd class trains are air-con, others aren't; air-con costs a little more. Second class sleeper berths are comfortable and good value, with the narrower upper bunks costing a little less than the wider lower bunks. Food and WCs are basic. 2nd class Express Railcar trains have reclining seats and refreshments are included in the fare; unlike all other Thai passenger trains, they can match buses for speed, but cannot carry bicycles.
- Third class (chan saam) is the cheapest way to travel in Thailand, with virtually nominal fares, and can be great fun. Sometimes packed with tuk-tuk drivers heading home with a sack of rice and a bottle of affordable whisky for company, as a farang (foreigner) you're guaranteed to be the centre of attention - quite enjoyable in small doses, but 10 hours of this might be a bit much. Some 3rd class trains have wooden seats, others are upholstered; some services can be pre-booked, others cannot; refreshments are available from hawkers who roam the aisles.
Tickets may be purchased from 60 days in advance to two hours before departure.
You can ship your motorbike on the same train on which you travel. All trains do not have baggage cars, so check with the ticket office. Shipping costs for motorbikes are roughly equivalent to the price of a first-class ticket on the same train.
Thailand's roads are head and shoulders above its neighbors Myanmar, Laos or Cambodia and in the last few years, being the subject of major improvements but driving habits are still quite dangerous. Drunk driving, speeding and reckless passing are common and bus and taxi drivers (especially for private companies) work inhuman shifts and often take drugs to keep themselves awake, with predictable and tragic results. Lately, road blocks and strict policing are being implemented quite often in an attempt to address the situation but it may still take same time for the results to start bearing fruit. There are an estimated 24,000 fatalities on Thai roads annually. It's common for motorbikes — even police! — to drive close to the curb on the wrong side of the road. Death tolls sky-rocket around major holidays, especially Songkran, when bystanders often throw water on passing cars and bikes. Many drivers forget to switch on headlights at night, multiplying risks, and it is wise to avoid or minimize overnight travel by road.
Unlike in its neighbours (except Malaysia), traffic moves on the left side of the road in Thailand and Thai cars are generally right-hand drive. Most official road directional signs are written in both Thai and English.
Renting a car to explore on your own is not a very cost-effective way of getting off the beaten track, unless you are with a 4-person group, and will avoid the constant hassle of haggling with local taxi/tuk-tuk drivers. Most major roads are marked in both Thai and English and traffic culture is not as bad as some might lead you to believe. Keep a sharp lookout in both mirrors from passing traffic including 18-wheelers and scooters. If you travel with one companion and have a motor bike license, it's worth it exploring the possibilities of using small automatic gearbox 125/150cc step-on bikes to do shorter local excursions and use other mass means of transport for longer travel distances between cities and towns. It's quite safe to use these bikes and it allows one to appreciate the landscapes, if you stick to moderate speeds and keep to the left hand side of the road, like the local bikers do.
Traffic on major highways moves at 100-120 km/h, while smaller highways are generally 80 km/h. Gas stations are common and most Thai are more than willing to give directions in spite of any language barriers.
Drive very defensively at first and watch what the locals do. Of course, it helps if you are accustomed to driving on the left side of the road, which in itself could be enough to distract some Western drivers.
If you're traveling by public conveyance-bus, train, airplane-you may be shocked at the difference in cost between long distance and local travel. A 119 km journey between Khon Kaen and Udon Thani in a minivan costs 84 Baht, or 0.71 Baht per kilometre. Traveling the three kilometers from the bus station to a hotel will cost 60-100 Baht, or 20-33 Baht per kilometre (Nov 2019).
Muslim Friendly Car Rentals in Thailand
Renting a car usually costs between 1,200-1,500 Baht if you want to go for an economical one like a Toyota Vios. Most international companies can be found in Thailand. Also check guides to particular cities for reputable local car rental companies, which are often a little cheaper. You can choose among international companies such as Budget, Avis or you can choose to book with local company like eHalal car rentals. Check the documentation and make sure that everything is done according to rules. Perform required checks and notify the car company about any damage before using the vehicle.
Muslim Friendly Van Rentals in Thailand
Minivan services are ubiquitous, although under the radar as minivans typically are anonymous grey Toyota vans with no company markings. They serve shorter routes, such as Krabi to Phuket, about 180 km or Bangkok to Hua Hin, about 200 km. The purported advantage of taking a minibus is speed, as they move quickly once they get going. Disadvantages are that they are expensive compared with standard bus travel, they can be uncomfortable as they are usually crammed full, and they offer little room for luggage. Take minivans from bus stations. Do not take minivans that offer to pick you up at your hotel. They will pick you up, but then you will spend the next hour driving to other hotels to pick up more passengers. You will then be driven to an aggregator where all the collected passengers will disembark to wait for the minivan to their respective destinations. Then you will likely be driven to a bus station to change to a third and final minivan. Better just to sleep in, then go to bus station to book your (cheaper) minivan ticket, thus saving 2 hours of pointless discomfort.
The name tuk-tuk is used to describe a wide variety of small/lightweight vehicles. The vast majority have three wheels; some are entirely purpose-built (e.g., the ubiquitous Bangkok tuk-tuk), others are partially based on motorcycle components (primarily engines, steering, front suspension, fuel tank, drivers seat). A relatively recent development is the four wheeled tuk-tuk (basically a microvan-songthaew) as found in Phuket.
You will often find yourself at the mercy of the tuk-tuk driver when it comes to pricing as you will likely have no clue as to the acceptable raa kaa Thai ("Thai price") and will probably have to cough up a raa kaa farang ("farang price"). Even if you do know the Thai price, the driver may just not bother to accept it on principle. If you pay with a larger denomination bill, it is also probable that the driver will whine that he has no change. If this happens, try to break the note in a nearby shop.
Metered taxis are ubiquitous in Bangkok and starting to become more popular in Chiang Mai, but rare elsewhere in the country. When available, they are an excellent means of transport - insist on the meter. Beware of taxis which idle around touristy areas and wait for people. They are looking for a tourist who will take their taxi without using a meter. Instead, try to flag down a taxi moving down the street, or use a taxi stand where the locals are queueing. Always insist on the meter, and use another taxi if the driver refuses to turn it on. Most drivers do not speak English, so be sure to have your hotel staff write the names of your destinations in Thai to show the driver.
Driving your own car in Thailand is not for the faint-hearted, and many rental companies can supply drivers at a very reasonable price. Prices without insurance for a self-driven car start from around 800 Baht/day for small cars, and from as little as 600 Baht/day for open-topped Jeeps. Cars with insurance start at just under 1,000 Baht/day, and come down to around 5,600 Baht/week or 18,000 Baht/month.
Driving is (usually, but not always!) on the left hand side of the road. Fuel at large petrol stations is 37-45 Baht/litre. Small kerbside vendors who pump by hand from drums and/or pour from bottles charge a few Baht more.
Cars can be rented without difficulty in many locations. It's worth paying a little more than the absolute minimum to use one of the international franchises (e.g. Avis, Budget, and Hertz) to minimize the risk of hassles, and to ensure that any included insurance is actually worth something.
More reputable agencies require that valid licences be produced. Foreign Muslims who do not have a Thai driving licence must carry a valid International Driving Permit. Even if you manage to rent a car without an IDP, not having one will invalidate the insurance and count against you in the event of an accident.
A common rental scam involves the owner taking a deposit, and then later refusing to refund it in full on the basis that the customer is responsible for previous damage; the Tourist Police (dial 1155) may be able to help. Another common scam involves the owner having someone follow the rented vehicle and later "steal" it, using a set of spare keys. Always report thefts: a "stolen" vehicle may mysteriously turn up as soon as the police become involved.
One of the Thais' many names for themselves is jao naam, the Water Lords, and from the river expresses of Bangkok to the fishing trawlers of Phuket, boats remain an indispensable way of getting around many parts of the country.
Perhaps the most identifiably Thai boat is the longtail boat (reua hang yao), a long, narrow wooden boat with the propeller at the end of a long "tail" stretching from the boat. This makes them supremely manoeuvrable even in shallow waters, but they're a little underpowered for longer trips and you'll get wet if it's even a little choppy. Longtails usually act as taxis that can be chartered, although prices vary widely. Figure on 300-400 Baht for a few hours' rental, or up to 1,500 Baht for a full day. In some locations like Krabi, longtails run along set routes and charge fixed prices per passenger.
Modern, air-conditioned speedboat services, sometimes ferries (departure every 30 min) also run from the Surat Thani to popular islands like Ko Samui and Ko Pha Ngan. Truly long-distance services (e.g., Bangkok to any other major city) have, however, effectively ceased to exist as buses, planes, and even trains are faster. Safety measures are rudimentary and ferries and speedboats do sink occasionally, so avoid overloaded ships in poor weather, and scope out the nearest life jackets when on board. As of November 2022, ferry service is available between Hua Hin and Pattaya, a 2.5-hour journey for 1,250 Thai Baht on a catamaran with a maximum capacity of 340.
What to see in Thailand
A Thai temple is known as a "wat". Usually a temple does not consist of one building, but is a collection of buildings, shrines and monuments enclosed by a wall. There are thousands of temples in Thailand, and nearly every town or village has at least one. The word "wat" (วัด) literally means school, and the temple has been the only place where formal education took place for centuries. A typical Buddhist wat consists of the following structures:
- Ubosot — Also written as Bot. The holiest prayer building, usually only open to the monks on special occasions. It is architecturally similar to the viharn, but is usually more heavily decorated and it has eight cornerstones to ward off evil. It is also known as the "ordination hall" as it is where the monks take their vows. If opened to the public, some abbots have the Ubosot of their Wat closed to women. An Ubosot is not always present in a Wat.
- Wihan — Also written as Viharn or Vihara. Usually the busiest building in a wat, it is where the temple's main Buddha image is and where people come to make offerings. It is open for everyone. A Wat can have more than one Wihan.
- Chedi or stupa — A tall bell-shaped structure that generally houses relics of the Buddha.
- Prang — A finger-like spire of Khmer and Ayutthayan origin that serves the same religious purpose as a chedi.
- Mondop — An open, square building with four arches and a pyramidal roof. It is often used to worship religious texts or objects.
- Sala — An open-sided pavilion that is used for relaxation and as a meeting place (and often used as a shelter for rain).
- Chofa — Mostly bird-like decorations on the end of temple roofs. They are meant to represent the Garuda, a mythical creature that is half bird and half man. Other shapes include a Naga head and an Elphant head.
Historical and cultural attractions
Bangkok is at the start of many visitors' itineraries, and while a modern city, it has a rich cultural heritage. Most visitors at least take in the Grand Palace, a collection of highly decorated buildings and monuments. It is home to Wat Phra Kaew, the most sacred Buddhist temple in Thailand that houses the Emerald Buddha. Other cultural attractions include Wat Pho, Wat Arun and Jim Thompson's House, but these are just a fraction of possible sights you could visit.
The former capitals of Siam, Ayutthaya and Sukhothai, make excellent stops for those interested in Thai history. The latter could be combined with a visit to Si Satchanalai and Kamphaeng Phet, all of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Khmer architecture is mostly found in Isaan, with the historical remains of Phimai and Phanom Rung being the most significant.
In the northern provinces live unique hill-tribe peoples, often visited as part of a trekking. The six major hill tribes in Thailand are the Akha, Lahu, Karen, Hmong, Mien and Lisu, each with a distinct language and culture. Chiang Mai makes a good base for arranging these treks, and has some cultural sights of its own, such as Wat Doi Suthep.
Kanchanaburi has a lot of sights related to World War II. The Bridge over the River Kwai, popularised by the film of the same name, is the most famous one, but the museums in its vicinity are a lot more moving. "The Dead Railway" (tang rod fai sai morana) is the railway constructed by captive allied soldiers during World War II. This railway has a nice view all along its route.
Beaches and islands
Thailand's beaches and islands attract millions of visitors each year from all over the globe. Hua Hin is Thailand's oldest beach resort, made famous by King Rama VII in the 1920s as an ideal getaway from Bangkok. Things have considerably changed since then. Pattaya, Phuket, and Ko Samui only came to prominence in the 1970s, and these are now by far the most developed beach resorts.
Krabi Province has some beautiful spots, including Ao Nang, Rai Leh and the long golden beaches of Ko Lanta. Ko Phi Phi, renowned as a true island paradise, has been undergoing massive development since the release of the film The Beach in 2000. Ko Pha Ngan offers the best of both worlds, with both well-developed beaches and empty ones a short ride away. It is also where the infamous "Full Moon Party" takes place.
Ko Chang is a bit like Ko Samui used to be. It has a backpacker vibe, but is fairly laid-back and there is accommodation in all price ranges. If you're looking for unspoiled beaches, Ko Kut is very thinly populated, but also difficult to explore. Ko Samet is the closest island beach to Bangkok, but its northern beaches are quite developed and hotels are pretty much sold out on weekends and public holidays.
While not as beautiful as Malaysia or Indonesia, Thailand does have its fair share of tropical forest. Khao Yai National Park, the first national park of Thailand, is the closest to Bangkok. Wild tigers and elephants are increasingly rare, but you can't miss the macaques, gibbons, deer, and species of birds. The stretch of jungle at Khao Sok National Park is probably even more impressive, and you can spend the night in the middle of the jungle.
Waterfalls can be found all over Thailand. The Heo Suwat Waterfall in Khao Yai National Park and the 7-tiered Erawan Falls in Kanchanaburi are among the most visited, but the Thee Lor Sue Waterfall in Umphang and the 11-tiered Pa La-u Falls in Kaeng Krachan National Park are equally exciting. Finally, the gravity-defying limestone formations of the Phang Nga Bay shouldn't be missed by anyone who stays in the region.
Halal Tours and Excursions in Thailand
- Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai in 3 days — three-day tour through parts of Northern Thailand that are largely undiscovered by tourists
- Mae Hong Son Loop — A journey through mountainous Mae Hong Son Province
- Northern Thailand Loop Tour — Explore the heart of rural northern Thailand
- One day in Bangkok — if you have just one day to spare and want to catch a feel for the city
- Rattanakosin Tour — a quick tour along Bangkok's famed historic district
- Samoeng Loop — a 100 km loop popular with bicyclists and motorcyclists through the mountains starting and ending in Chiang Mai
- Yaowarat and Phahurat Tour — a full-day walking tour through this multicultural district
What to do in Thailand
Golf arrived in Thailand during the reign of King Rama V one hundred years ago. It was first played by nobles and other high society elites, but since then, things have certainly changed. Over the past decade or so, the popularity of golf in Thailand has escalated; it is now popular with Thais and visiting tourists and expatriates.
Catering to the needs of an average of 400,000 foreign golfers coming to Thailand annually, golf in Thailand has turned into a huge local industry with new courses constantly being churned out. Golf alone annually brings 8 billion Baht into the local economy. Thailand offers over two hundred courses with high standards. Internationally renowned courses can be found in tourist-spots like Bangkok, Pattaya, and Phuket.
There is an abundance of reasons why golf in Thailand has become so popular. First, if you compare the cost to most golfing countries in the world, membership and course fees are exceptionally low. The general low cost of travel in Thailand itself makes the country ideal for cost-efficiency minded tourists. Also, many of the golf courses in Thailand have been designed by top names in the game such as Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo and Greg Norman.
- Thailand Golf Courses Association | 6 Moo 3, Viphavadi-Rangsit Rd, Bangkok, Phone +66 2 6625234
Thailand's a big enough country, the size of Spain, that you can find a place to practice almost any outdoor sport. Ko Tao is becoming one of Asia's great scuba diving centres, with Ang Thong National Marine Park near Ko Samui and the Similan Islands off Khao Lak also drawing crowds. One of the newest hot spots for diving is Ko Lipe, a small island that is relatively unspoiled with great reefs and stunning beaches. Snorkelling can be done at pretty much every beach, but the coral reefs of the Similan Islands stand out as particularly worthwhile.
While Thailand does not match surf paradises like Bali, surfing does have its place. The waves are generally small, good for longboarding and those wanting to learn to surf. Khao Lak and Phuket's west coast beaches are among the better ones, but the best waves are to be found at the relatively unknown Ko Kradan on the west coast of Trang Province. Other surf-spots include Rayong and Ko Samui, but the waves of the Gulf Coast are less reliable.
Phang Nga Bay's gravity-defying limestone formations are usually seen with boat tours, but if you go sea-canoeing, you can get into areas unexplored by the tourist masses. The limestone cliffs of Rai Leh are among the best in the world for rock-climbing.
Traditional Thai massage has a history of more than 2,500 years. Practitioners of Thai massage operate on the belief that many invisible lines of energy run through the body. The masseur uses his or her hands, elbows, feet, heels and knees to exert pressure on these lines, releasing blockages that may exist, allowing a free flow of energy through the body. Many Thais believe that these massages are beneficial both for treating diseases and aiding general well-being. You're supposed to feel both relaxed and energised after a session.
Although spas weren't introduced here until the early 1990s, Thailand has quickly become one of the highest ranking spa destinations in the world. Besides traditional Thai massage, there is a phenomenal variety of international treatments, including aromatherapy, Swedish massage and many others. There is usually an option for every budget, varying from extravagant wellness centres in luxury hotels to the ubiquitous little massage shops found on many street corners.
Muslim Friendly Shopping in Thailand
The currency of Thailand is the Baht, denoted by the symbol "฿" (ISO code: THB), written in Thai as บาท or บ. Wikivoyage uses "Baht" in its articles. It is divided into 100 satang (สตางค์). There are six coins and six notes:
- 25 and 50 satang (cent, copper colour) coins - nearly worthless and only readily accepted (and handed out) by buses, supermarkets and 7-Elevens
- 1, 2 (in 2 versions: silver and gold), 5 (silver colour) and 10 Baht (silver/gold) coins
- 20 (green), 50 (blue), 100 (red), 500 (purple) and 1,000 (grey-brown) Baht notes
The most useful bills tend to be 20s and 100s, as many small shops and stalls don't carry much change. Taxi drivers also like to pull the "no change" trick; if caught, hop into the nearest convenience store and make a small purchase. Beware of 1,000 Baht notes, as counterfeits are not uncommon: feel the embossing, look for the watermark and tilt to see colour-changing ink to make sure the note is real.
They are everywhere, and international withdrawals are not a problem, besides the fee. When using a debit card, an ATM will typically provide a much better exchange rate than a money exchange counter, and this is especially the case if you have a card that does not charge a transaction fee for overseas withdrawals (becoming common in countries such as Australia). ATMs are available at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi airport (BKK) after collecting your bag and clearing customs, and while it is advisable to arrive with a small amount of Baht if possible, you may obtain cash from an ATM after landing as well. There's a 220 Baht surcharge (up from 150 when it was introduced in 2009-10, then 200 Baht) for using foreign cards in most ATMs, you'll be notified about this fee in any ATM which charges it, so you always have an option to cancel. AEON, which used not to charge any fee until 2013, still charges 150 Baht though - but it's ATMs are few and far between even in Bangkok, and none at the islands besides Ko Samui and Phuket. Most ATMs (including AEON) have a limit of 20 notes, that is 20,000 Baht; Bangkok Bank typically dispenses 25 notes at once, and a few other banks including Citibank (but only in Bangkok), Krungsri, TMB and CIMB may dispense 30 notes - which makes them even slightly better than AEON, but only in case you do need 30,000 Baht ($900) at once.
More important thing to watch for is that some ATMs (Krungsri, SCB and a few others are known for that) will offer you to exchange your money to Baht for you, charging your card in USD or even your local currency. What you will get if you agree is a very lousy rate (-5% if not more from the mid-market level), so always refuse and choose to be charged in Thai Baht only, not USD or your own currency.
Very remote areas (including smaller islands) do not have banks or ATMs, so cash or US dollars are essential.
|Note: Thai banks do not buy Indian rupee (INR) banknotes after the 2016 demonetisation; only a few private money changers accept them.|
If you wish to avoid high ATM fees by bringing in funds as cash, bring US dollars, they can often be exchanged at competitive rates. Btw. buying US dollars in India is likely to be a good choice if you come from there.
One notable money exchanger is SuperRich, with dozens of branches in Bangkok including at Silom, Ratchadamri, Khao San Road and Chatuchak. No fees are charged and the exchange rate, especially for USD, is typically comparable to the Visa/Mastercard's (even before you consider ATM and your local bank fees), with a very small (down to less than 10 satang in the main office) buy/sell spread. They exchange many other currencies, both Western and major regional ones, and the rates are very good too. Their success caused a host of competitors to emerge, some of these closely imitating SuperRich, including in the major cities outside of Bangkok. Their rates are generally good too.
The banks also do offer reasonable rates, though normally not as good as the exchangers mentioned before. In Suvarnabhumi airport, however, all the banks have notoriously bad rates, making you to lose up to 1,5 Baht (4-5%) per USD if you exchange there. But there are several money exchangers (including SuperRich) at the basement floor on the way to the Airport Rail Link station, just to the left from the machines selling ARL tokens. Their rates are not much different from those in the city offices.
Many hotels and guesthouses will change money for guests, but hefty commissions and poor rates may apply. US dollars in small bills (US$1, 5, and 20) are invaluable for onward travel to neighbouring countries other than Malaysia, but are only useful in Thailand for exceptional purchases (e.g., paying visa fees for Cambodia).
Cash advance at the bank counter
Another way to avoid the ATM fee (especially handy for those on extended stays) is to withdraw money via the bank counter, the phrase universally understood in Thai banks is "cash advance". Beware though that most of the card issuers (i.e. your home bank) do charge significantly more for this operation than for ATM withdrawal, even including some cards that are free to withdraw in ATMs - research thoroughly in advance and choose the right card, or you may end up paying to your own bank even more than 220 Baht you would have paid to the Thai bank in an ATM! Note also that not every bank, and not even every branch of the same bank offers this service to the foreigners - the best option is a bigger branch of a major bank, and Bangkok Bank seems to be the most reliable in offering this service, including some of their "Exchange" booths. You'll need your passport to withdraw the money over the counter, and, of course, the bank's operating hours apply (many, but by no way all, branches are also closed on weekends and public holidays).
Cards are widely accepted in the tourist industry such as in restaurants, shopping malls and shops catering to tourists. Fraud is regrettably common though, so use them sparingly and tell your bank in advance, so your card doesn't get locked down because you are using it. Some businesses add a surcharge (usually 2-3%) if you're paying by credit card; in this case, it can turn out cheaper to pay them in cash.
Tax refund - VAT
Foreign visitors (with a few exceptions) have the benefit to receive a 7% VAT refund on luxury goods purchased from shops that participate in the 'VAT Refund for Tourists' scheme. When you see a 'VAT Refund for Tourists' sign, you can receive a 7% refund of the VAT levied on goods at the shop. However, certain conditions apply, and you won't be able to claim your refund until you depart Thailand from an international airport.
The goods must be purchased from participating shops that display a "VAT Refund For Tourists" sign. You may not claim VAT refund for services or goods that you use or "consume" while in Thailand; such as hotel or restaurant expenses. On any one day, the goods purchased from any one individual participating shop must be at least 2,000 Baht including VAT. When you purchase the goods, ask the sales assistant to complete a VAT refund form, known as the P.P.10, and attach the original tax/sales invoices to that form. Each P.P.10 must show a value of 2,000 Baht or more. You will need to show your passport to the sales assistant when you purchase the goods, to allow her to fill in the above mentioned form. When you exit the country, the goods must be inspected prior to check in and your completed P.P. 10's stamped. Since you must give away the original receipts it is a good idea to take photos or make copies in case you need to prove the value of your purchases to customs officers when going home.
Tipping is not common in Thailand and the Thais themselves don't do it. Thais do round up (or down) the taxi fare to get it to an amount that is easier to pay for (such as from 59 or 61 to 60 Baht). Sometimes they also leave the change in restaurants, but even this is a rare occurrence.
You don't have to feel odd if you don't tip at all, as that's what the locals do, but the presence of many foreign visitors have changed some expectations. Tipping is now common in many high-end hotels and tourist restaurants. Don't go overboard when tipping — never give more than 50 Baht. In some tourist places, especially along Khao San Road, there are even restaurants hinting for a tip. This is not common (and even rude) in Thai culture, so you can easily ignore it.
Do not tip when a customer service charge is applied, as this is supposed to be the tip, applied only in luxury restaurants and hotels.
What is the living cost in Thailand
Thailand is not as affordable as it used to be, with Bangkok being named the second most expensive city in SE Asia behind Singapore. However, budget travellers who are careful with what they spend will still find that 1,000 Baht will get a backpacker a dorm bed or affordable room, three square meals a day and leave enough for transport, sightseeing, and even partying. Doubling that budget will let you stay in decent hotels, and if you're willing to fork out 5,000 Baht per day or more you can live like a king. Bangkok requires a more generous budget than upcountry destinations, but also offers by far the most competitive prices for shoppers who shop around. The most popular tourism islands such as Phuket and Ko Samui tend to have higher prices in general. It is common for tourists to be charged several times the actual price in tourist areas of other places as well. If you want to have an idea what the real Thai prices are, consider visiting malls like Big C, Tesco, or Carrefour where locals and expats routinely shop. Those are available in major cities (in Bangkok, there are dozens of them) and on larger islands such as Phuket or Ko Samui. Tax hikes have made alcohol clearly more expensive than in some neighbouring countries.
Muslim Friendly Shopping in Thailand
Thailand is a shopper's paradise and many visitors to Bangkok in particular end up spending much of their time in the countless markets and malls. Particularly good buys are clothing, both affordable locally produced street wear and fancy Thai silk, and all sorts of handicrafts. Electronics and computer gear are also widely available, but prices are slightly higher than in Singapore, Hong Kong, Philippines, and Kuala Lumpur. A good strategy for shopping, is to first go around doing window shopping for a couple of days, don't commit yourself to purchase anything until you have seen enough to be able to make sensible judgements. The last thing you want is to impulsively buy something today and two days later see the same or similar item selling at a much reduced price elsewhere. Most shopping centers in Bangkok have sales often, but even better is to go a bit out the big city into a place like Future Park for example. At the Monday Chit minibus rank next to the public park ask for "Future Park" minibus. Go early, the trip costs 35Baht, takes about half an hour and you get a chance to mix with the real Thais going about their daily lives. Once at Future Park shopping complex, its vast multilevel shopping areas go on and on (opens at 10:00, closes at 21:00) and it caters for everyone and everything, affordable and upmarket, from motor vehicles and home appliances, to clothing and furniture, Thai therapy and restaurants. You can spend the day hunting for special deals and shopping with many sales on offer with prices catering for local customers, department stores like Robinson are extensive and a bargain hunters paradise. If you get hungry or thirsty, there's plenty of varied restaurants on offer and also a large supermarket within, with a help yourself fresh salads and other foods bar selling food by weight. The main Zpell entrance facing the elevated freeway is by the minibus rank and once inside there's an information island desk with English speaking staff at hand, while you can always download a translator app to help you just in case. On returning to central Bangkok, go back to the main minibus rank and ask for the "Mo Chit" vehicle, alternatively, return by taxi cab to central Bangkok (100-120 Baht), the better option, if you find yourself carrying lots of shopping.
A Thai speciality is the night markets found in almost every town, the largest and best-known of which are in Bangkok and the Night Bazaar in Chiang Mai. Here a variety of vendors from designers to handicraft sellers have stalls selling goods which cannot normally be found in malls and day markets. Most night markets also have large open air food courts attached.
You can also find marvellously tacky modern clothing accessories. Witness pink sandals with clear plastic platform heels filled with fake flowers. Night markets along the main roads and Bangkok's Mahboonkrong (MBK) Mall, near the Siam Skytrain stop, are particularly good sources. Not to be left out is what is often touted as the world's biggest weekend bazaar - The Chatuchak Weekend Market or known to locals simply as "JJ" Market. Chatuchak sells a myriad of products ranging from clothes to antiques, covers over 35 acres (1.1 km²) and is growing by the day!
Haggling is the norm and often market and road-side vendors will try to charge you as much as they think you can afford to pay. It's not uncommon to buy something, walk outside, and find somebody who bought the same item for half or one third what you paid (or even less). Try to figure out the item's rough value first. Adjacent stalls, government-run fixed price shops and even hotel gift shops are a good starting point. You'll find that prices drop drastically when the seller realizes you have some idea of what it costs.
Muslim Friendly Food & Restaurants in Thailand
The food alone is really reason enough for a trip to Thailand. Curries, fruit shakes, stir fries, fresh fish made a zillion ways - and that's just the beginning. Food in Thailand can be as affordable and easy as 25 Baht pad Thai (ผัดไทย, Thai fried noodles) cooked at a street stall or as expensive and complicated as a USD 170 ten-course meal by a royal chef served in one of Bangkok's luxury hotels.
Since most backpackers will be sticking closer to the first than the second, one of the great things about Thailand is that food from stalls and tiny sidewalk restaurants is usually quite safe. Unlike some Asian countries, Muslim travellers should worry more about overeating or too much curry spice than about unclean kitchens and bad food. In fact, street restaurants, where you can see what you'll get and everything is cooked on the spot can be a safe option.
Thai food is most commonly eaten with fork and spoon. Hold the spoon in your right hand and use it to eat, and reserve the fork for piling food onto your spoon. Chopsticks are only employed for noodle soups and East Asian-style dishes. Eat sticky rice with your right hand.
Thai food is meant for sharing. Everybody gets their own plate of rice and tiny soup bowl, but all the other dishes are laid out in the centre of the table and you're free to eat what you wish. Though some people believe that taking the last piece from a shared plate is considered slightly unlucky, and you may hear people make wishes for others to compensate for their own misfortune. A popular wish is that "may my girlfriend/boyfriend be good-looking!"
Food is also generally brought out a dish at a time as it is prepared. It is not expected of diners to wait until all meals are brought out before they start eating as is polite in Western culture. Instead they should tuck into the nearest dish as it arrives.
Thai Halal Cuisine
Thai cuisine is characterized by balance and strong flavours, especially lime juice, lemon grass and fresh coriander, the combination of which gives Thai food its distinctive taste. In addition, Thai food has a deserved reputation for being spicy, with hot little torpedo-shaped chillies called phrik khii nuu (พริกขี้หนู, lit. "mouse shit chillies") making their way into many a dish. Thais are well aware that these can be more than Westerners can handle and will often ask if you like it hot (เผ็ด phet). Answer "yes" at your own risk! Another condiment that features prominently in Thai cuisine is fish sauce (น้ำปลา naam plaa), a pungent and very salty sauce that is used to flavour a wide variety of dishes.
Thai cuisine can be divided into at least four distinct regional styles: Southern Thai cuisine, Central Thai cuisine, Northern Thai cuisine and Isaan cuisine from the northeast of Thailand.
Vegetarians won't have too many problems surviving in Thailand, with one significant exception: fish sauce (น้ำปลา naam plaa) is to Thai cuisine what soy sauce is to Chinese food, and keeping it out of soups, curries and stir-fries will be a challenge.
That said, Thailand is a Buddhist country and vegetarianism is a fairly well-understood concept, especially among Chinese Thais (many of whom eat only vegetarian food during several festivals). Tofu is a traditional Thai ingredient and they aren't afraid to mix it up in some non-traditional dishes such as omelettes (with or without eggs), submarine sandwiches, and burritos. Since Thai dishes are usually made to order, it's easy to ask for anything on the menu to be made without meat or fish. Bangkok features several fantastic veggie and vegan restaurants, but outside of big cities make sure to check that your idea of "veggie" matches the chef's.
Some key phrases for vegetarians:
- phom kin je (m) / di-chan kin je (f) ผม(ดิฉัน)กินเจ "I eat only vegetarian food"
- karunaa mai sai naam plaa กรุณาไม่ใส่น้ำปลา "Please don't use fish sauce"
Muslim Friendly Hotels in Thailand
For a full list of all hotels in Thailand, please visit https://hotels.ehalal.io
Thailand has accommodation in every price bracket. Always take a look at the room (or better still several rooms, sometimes owners offer not the best/cheaper rooms first) before agreeing a price. In smaller establishments also do ask for the agreed price in writing to avoid problems during check out.
The best prices (30-50% off rack rates) for accommodation can be found during Thailand's low season, which is during May-Aug, which not surprisingly also coincides with the region's monsoon season. The peak season is during Dec-Feb.
The prices listed are average for the country, and vary depending on the region and season. Smaller provincial towns will not have fancy hotels or resorts, while on popular island beaches it may be hard to find something cheaper than 300-400 Baht even during the low season.
Homestays are common in rural areas. Typically, what this means is that you will be staying at your host's home, or on the host's property in something less than a commercial lodging. Usually, meals are included.
Thai hotels start around 200 Baht and go up to around 800 Baht. The upper-end of this range will be air-conditioned, the lower end will not. The primary difference is that with a hotel room, your bathroom should be private, bed linen, and towels will be provided, and there may be a hot shower. The guests are mostly Thais. TVs are available except at the lower end; Internet access, though, is less likely to be present than in guesthouses; and is even less likely to be free or in-room.
Tourist hotels are generally around 1,000 Baht and offer the basics for a beach vacation: swimming pool, room service, and colour TV.
Boutique hotels, 2,000 Baht and up, have mushroomed during the past few years, they provide a limited number of rooms (10 or fewer) and more personalized service. While these can be excellent, quality varies widely, so research is essential.
Business and luxury hotels, 4,000 Baht and up, offer every modern amenity you can think of and are largely indistinguishable from hotels anywhere else in the world. Some, notably Bangkok's The Oriental, The Sukhothai and The Peninsula are among the world's best hotels with Halal food on request. The most luxurious resorts also fall in this price category, with some of the very best and most private adding a few zeros to the price.
Medical Issues in Thailand
Being a tropical country, Thailand has its fair share of exotic tropical diseases. Malaria is generally not a problem in any of the major tourist destinations, but is endemic in rural areas along the borders with Cambodia (including Ko Chang in Trat Province), Laos, and Myanmar. As is the case throughout Southeast Asia, dengue fever can be encountered just about anywhere, including the most modern cities. The only prevention is avoiding mosquito bites. Wear long pants and long sleeves at dusk in mosquito areas and use repellent (available at any corner shop or pharmacy).
Food hygiene levels in Thailand are reasonably high, and it's generally safe to eat at street markets and to drink any water offered to you in restaurants. Using common sense — e.g., avoiding the vendor who leaves raw meat sitting in the sun with flies buzzing around — and following the precautions listed in our article on travellers' diarrhea is still advisable.
Tap water is usually not drinkable in Thailand outside of Bangkok. In many places in Bangkok however, particularly in new buildings, drinking tap water is perfectly safe. However, if you don't want to chance it, buying a bottle of water is the obvious solution. Bottled water (น้ำเปล่า naam plao) is affordable and ubiquitous at 5-20 Baht a bottle depending on its size and brand, and drinking water served in restaurants is always at least boiled (น้ำต้ม naam tom). Ice (น้ำแข็ง naam khaeng) in Thailand usually comes packaged straight from the factory and is safe; there is only reason to worry if you are served hand-cut ice. You can buy a large package of ice in most 7-Elevens for 7+ Baht, too.
Mainly in residential areas, machines selling water into your own bottle (1 Baht/L, or 50 satang (0.5 Baht/L) if paid more than 5 Baht) are often available, located in some (Thai mostly) hotels, local shops, or just on the street near one. This is a clean (the water is cleaned and UV-treated on the spot) and extremely affordable option, also, this way you'll avoid making unnecessary plastic waste from empty bottles.
The sun is harsher than at higher latitudes. A couple of hours in the sun with unprotected skin will result in redness and a painful night even on a cloudy day.
There's a pharmacy on every block in Thailand and most are happy to sell you anything you want without a prescription.
Public hospitals in Bangkok are usually of an acceptable standard and have English-speaking doctors available, though they tend to be understaffed and overcrowded and consequently, waiting times are long. However, the quality of healthcare and availability of English-speaking medical staff can fall sharply once you leave Bangkok and head into the smaller cities and rural areas. The top private hospitals, on the other hand, are among the best in the world, and while vastly more expensive than public hospitals, are still very much affordable by GCC standards.
Most major cities in Thailand have at least one private hospital that is used by Western expatriates, and while they are more expensive than public hospitals, they provide a higher standard of care with English-speaking doctors and nurses, and are still reasonably priced by GCC standards. Bumrungrad International Hospital in Bangkok is a world-renowned hospital for various surgical procedures that attracts medical tourists from far and wide, while the Bangkok Hospital group is Thailand's largest private healthcare group, and operates hospitals in many of Thailand's major cities.
Local Customs in Thailand
Thais generally follow Western naming conventions of a given name followed by a family name. However, unlike in most GCC countries, Thais almost never address each other using their last names, and first names are generally used even in the most formal situations. As such, the current prime minister of Thailand, Prayut Chan-o-cha would be addressed as Mr Prayut, and not Mr Chan-o-cha as Westerners would expect.
Thais are a polite people and, while remarkably tolerant of foreigners gallivanting on their beaches and with their women, you'll find that you will get more respect if you in turn treat them and their customs with respect.
The traditional greeting known as the wai, where you press your hands together as is in prayer and bow slightly, is derived from the Hindu cultural influence from India, and still widely practised. Among Thais, there are strict rules of hierarchy that dictate how and when the wai should be given. In brief, subordinates salute superiors first. You should not wai service people or street vendors. The higher your hands go, the more respectful you are. You will also often see Thais doing a wai as they walk past temples and spirit houses. As a foreign visitor, you are not expected to know how to wai, nor to reciprocate when wai'd to; while you're unlikely to cause offense if you do, you may well look slightly strange. If somebody makes a wai to you, a slight bow alone is more than sufficient for ordinary occasions, and for business, most Thais will shake hands with foreigners instead of waiing anyway.
Monks are an integral part of Buddhism in Thailand, and Thai men are generally expected to spend a certain amount of time living as a monk at least once in their lifetime.
Buddhist monks are meant to avoid sexual temptations, and in particular they do not touch women or take things from women's hands. Women should make every effort to make way for monks on the street and give them room so they do not have to make contact with you. Women should avoid offering anything to a monk with their hands. Objects or donations should be placed in front of a monk so he can pick it up, or place it on a special cloth he carries with him. Monks will sometimes be aided by a layman who will accept things from women merit-makers on their behalf.
Theravada Buddhist monks are also supposed to avoid material temptations and as such, are not allowed to touch money, so offering money to a monk is considered to be a sign of disrespect in most Theravada Buddhist cultures. Therefore, should you wish to donate to a monk, you should only offer food, and put your monetary donation in the appropriate donation box at the temple. Those monks that accept money are almost always fakes.
A sizeable Muslim minority (about 5%) is also present, mainly concentrated in the southern provinces, but also with a significant community in Bangkok. Most Thai Muslims are ethnic Malays, though there are also substantial numbers of Muslims who are ethnically Thai, or descended from Indonesian, Cambodian Cham or South Asian immigrants.
- The head is considered the most exalted part of the body, feet the lowliest. Never touch or pat a Thai on the head, including children. If you accidentally touch or bump someone's head, apologize immediately or you'll be perceived as very rude. Similarly, do not touch people with your feet, or even point with them. If someone is sitting with outstretched feet, avoid stepping over them, as this is very rude and could even spark a confrontation. Squeeze around them or ask them to move. Even if the person is sleeping, it is best to go around, as others are likely to notice.
- Thais are conservative compared to Westerners. Public displays of affection are rarely seen, even handholding by married couples, and are generally considered to be distasteful, though due to the dependence of the Thai economy on tourism, Thais grudgingly tolerate such displays by foreigners. Don't make out in public. You'll embarrass yourself and inflame Thai sensibilities.
- It is considered impolite and disrespectful to visibly sniff food before eating it, particularly when eating in someone's home (this is true even if the sniffing is done in appreciation).
- Do not audibly blow your nose in public, especially not at the dinner table, but it is perfectly acceptable to pick your nose at any time or place.
- In Thailand, expression of negative emotion such as anger or sadness is almost never overt, and it is possible to enjoy a vacation in Thailand without ever seeming to see an argument or an unhappy person. Thai people smile often compared to Western people. A smile does not necessarily express happiness. When Thai people smile in a conversation they give the signal that they are civilized and intend to behave with civility, even or expecially in a case of conflict. Do not interpret a smile as a sign of weakness. "Saving face" is a very important aspect of Thai culture and they will try to avoid embarrassment and confrontation.
- In public places (such as large markets) the national anthem is played over loudspeakers at 08:00 and 18:00. When this is played, everyone will stop what they are doing and stand still for the duration. You should do the same. The royal anthem (not national anthem) is played in cinemas before the film, and everyone must stand. It lasts about a minute, then everyone will continue where they left off. In MRT and SkyTrain stations in Bangkok, the escalators will also lurch to a halt to prevent a large human pile-up.
- When giving and receiving business cards, always use your right hand with the left hand supporting the right elbow. As the left hand is traditionally reserved for dirty things, handling business cards with the left hand is considered to be very rude.
- As a reaction against smokers littering beaches with cigarette butts, there is a complete smoking ban in effect since 1 February 2018 on 24 popular beaches around the country. If caught smoking at one of these beaches, you might be fined up to 100,000 Baht and/or be sentenced to up to one year in jail.
If you're sticking to major cities and tourist areas, don't worry too much about under-packing; you can get hold of any essentials such as swimming costumes and umbrellas Some sources say there is no point in bringing a raincoat during the warm rainy season because it is so hot and sticky your raincoat will be uncomfortable.
You will only need a couple of changes of clothes since you can get washing done anywhere cheaply. Sandals for when your hiking shoes are too hot can be bought cheaply in Thailand, although large sizes for women are harder to come by. If female and anything above a size 2 (US), size 6 (UK & IRL), size 36 (rest of EU), busty, or tall, it is often difficult to find clothes that will fit you in any of the Thai shops. If you are male and have a waist more than 38" you will have trouble finding pants. You will largely be limited to backpacker gear (the omnipresent fisherman pants and "Same Same" t-shirts) or Western imports in Bangkok malls, for the same prices as back home or more. While laundry is cheap, it is useful to bring a few changes of clothes, as you may sweat your way through several outfits a day in the Thai weather.
Take enough padlocks for every double zipper to stop wandering hands and lock up your belongings, even in your hotel room. Lock zippers through the lower holes, not the upper ones on the pull tabs. Take earplugs for when you're stuck in a noisy room or want to sleep on the bus.
If you have prescription glasses, it is a good idea to bring a spare pair of glasses or contact lenses plus a copy of your prescription.
Into the toiletries bag throw sun screen and insect repellent. Mosquito coils are also a good idea. A small pocket size torch or flashlight will come in handy when the electricity goes out or for investigating caves. Passport photos come in handy for visas.
If you plan to travel long distances by motorbike, purchase a good quality helmet, which you can do in Thailand. Last but not least, pack your stuff in plastic bags to stop them from getting wet, especially when travelling in the rainy season or on boats.
Aside from the above, the following are recommended:
- Prescriptions for any prescription medications being brought through customs
- Travel insurance
- Blood donor/type card
- Details of your next of kin
- A second photo ID other than your passport
- Credit card plus a backup card for a separate account
Explore more Halal Friendly Destinations from Thailand
Thailand borders on Malaysia, Burma, Cambodia, and Laos. Vietnam is beyond Cambodia and Laos, and southern China, Singapore and Indonesia are also in the overall region. Budget airlines offer flights from Bangkok to destinations as far as in Japan and Australia.
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