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Gap Year In Thailand
Pristine beaches, amazing food and wonderful sights make this a country not to be missed for the Gap year traveller!
Why visit Thailand during a gap year?
Alex Garland’s 1996 novel ‘The Beach’ and Danny Boyle’s eponymous film of 2000 certainly sparked an interest in Thailand.
Hopefully for the thought of an idyllic, isolated beach rather than the less than idyllic community humanity can create out of a potential paradise.
Thailand’s tourist industry developed in the nineteen sixties with the increase in airline passenger numbers and as a ‘rest and recreation’ centre for US troops fighting in Vietnam.
From there the industry has grown to attract in 2010 fourteen million tourists per year with an average stay of 9.2 days.
One of the attractions of Thailand is the variety of options available to the visitor. This is a large country, slightly bigger than Spain, slightly smaller than France, offering beach, culture and adventure holidays.
Phuket is probably the most well known and, therefore most developed ‘beach’ area, aided by having its own airport on the north of the island. Other areas in the south such as Ko Samui and Krabi offer similar experiences.
Bangkok is, according to Euromonitor International’s list of “Top City Destinations” ranked third behind London and Paris.
It is the capital of the country whose history can be traced back to Buddhist state of Sukhothai founded in 1238.
The north of Thailand is mountainous and offers opportunities for adventure based trips to see and experience the terrain, visit the villages of different hill tribes and, maybe see an elephant farm.
What to see and do on your Thailand Gap year
Bangkok, is known as the ‘Venice of the East’ due to its position on the Chao Phraya River and the network of surrounding canals [Khlongs].
This is a large city with over ten million inhabitants so the river, the underground system and the ubiquitous tuk-tuks are important parts of the transport infrastructure.
The canals themselves are not now, in the main, transport arteries, but are interesting for the dwellings built along them.
There are many ways of getting about, however, it would be fair to say that getting around tends to take longer than you think.
The city is a fascinating mix of the old and the new. The Grand Palace was the ruling family’s home. They have now decamped to the Chitralada Palace leaving the Grand Palace as one of the main tourist destinations.
It is a fine example of Thai architecture and gives an insight in to the life of the Royal Family and Thai culture.
Thailand is a predominately Buddhist country, and Bangkok has numerous examples of temples dedicated to the Enlightened One.
Possibly the best site is Wat Pho (this is a shortened version of the actual 52 letter designation!) which contains a forty six metre reclining Buddha and, amongst other things, the opportunity to get, for a modest fee, a relaxing Thai massage.
The Queen Saovabha Memorial Institute houses a snake farm where you see venom being extracted to produce anti-venom and, if you are up for it there are snake handling demonstrations. You might want to have the Thai massage, above, afterwards.
Songkran is the Thai New Year Festival, which falls in April this year. One of the traditions for Songkran is throwing water over people including visitors.
So, the advice is to put items like mobile phones in a plastic bag before venturing out if your visit coincides with the celebrations.
In contrast to the energy of Bangkok the north of Thailand is an area of quiet natural beauty.
The area can be explored from several locations; the most popular seem to be Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai; the latter being promoted as the ‘quieter neighbour’ of the former.
From here jungle trekking to experience the terrain, fauna and flora and visit the hill tribes is popular. Thai society contains a number of hill tribes.
In the north these are mainly peoples who have migrated over the centuries from China and Tibet. These include the Akha, Lahu and Yao peoples whose cultures are worth exploring in an increasingly homogeneous world.
If you are interested in this check out www.hilltribe.org website for more information.
Visiting elephant farms is also popular, some are no doubt better than others, but they do remain controversial (see below).
The south of Thailand is mainly known for its tourist beaches. These have developed apace since Garland’s book, so you are unlikely to find that idyllic isolated beach.
Krabi has the film location for ‘The Beach’ in the Phi-Phi islands and is a little less developed than Phuket. The limestone formations provide some fascinating rock formations and caves, and back from the coast lie two National Parks where you could explore the local ecosystem when the beach gets too hot.
There are opportunities in most resorts for scuba diving and in the interior there are tour operators offering hot air ballooning, river rafting, ecotourism treks and so forth. As with all these things you need to check that any company has the correct bonding if there are cancellations or thing go wrong.
By its name you could describe Thai Boxing as a national sport. It is very popular and competitions are held throughout the country.
In Bangkok two major venues are the Lumpini and the Ratchadamneon Stadia. There are even short courses in the sport if you fancy a go, but check the small print of your travel insurance under hazardous sports!
Thai food is great [at least I think so] – Thailand also has a wine industry, despite apparently having the world’s highest level of tax on grape production.
The wine is supposed to complement the spicy Thai cuisine so, if you fancy a glass or two of Chenin Blanc with your Kaeng Phet – cheers!
Before you go
The weather in Thailand is in general hot! The Thailand Tourism website divides the year in to three seasons; November to February – dry and cool, March to June – hot, and July to October – rainy. Rainy meaning monsoon! Obviously these seasons overlap.
The Thai currency is the Baht, which is divided in to one hundred Satang. Major credit cards are accepted in most areas, but not necessarily throughout the country.
Rules over visa requirements have varied over time. Currently a visa is not required for a maximum thirty day stay as a tourist. You should consult the website www.mfa.go.th for up to date information or, failing that, the Thai Embassy.
Thailand has its share of internal troubles and external threats.
Currently the Foreign and Commonwealth Office advises against travel to certain areas of the country. The advice is, as for travelling abroad to many countries, to consult their website when planning your trip.
You should carry your passport with you at all times.
When using tuk-tuks it is important to be clear on where you want to go and to agree the price before you set off.
Thailand is a hot country and many visitors like to wear the minimum of clothing. However there is a dress code in place when visiting certain sites, for example the Royal Palace.
You should, when planning your itinerary check this out; the www.tourismthailand.org.uk website offers some advice.
Many visitors like a visit an elephant camp. You should be aware that not all of them ‘engage in elephant friendly practices’. This quotation is from the Thailand Tourism website.
For more advice on a gap year in Asia, please see: