Thailand

monks

Buddhist monks are meant to avoid the temptation of women, 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.

While some monks do accept money, most of them do not and offering money to a monk is sometimes considered a sign of disrespect in Theravada Buddhist cultures. Therefore, should you wish to donate to a monk, you should only offer food and put your donation in the appropriate donation box at the temple.

The number one cause of death for visitors to Thailand is motorbike accidents, especially on the often narrow, mountainous and twisty roads of Phuket and Samui. Drive defensively, wear a helmet, don't drink and avoid travel at night.

internet

Internet cafés are widespread and most are inexpensive - prices as low as 15 baht/hour are commonplace, and speed of connection is generally reasonable but many cafes close at midnight. Higher prices prevail in major package-tourist destinations 60 baht/hour is typical, 120 baht/hour is not unusual. Islands with multiple Internet cafés include Ko Phi Phi Don, Ko Lanta Yai, Ko Samui, Ko Pha Ngan, Ko Tao, Ko Chang Trat, Ko Samet Rayong, Ko Si Chang Chonburi, and of course Phuket.

Outside the most competitive tourist areas, free WIFI internet is not as common as neighbouring countries in many budget hotels and guesthouses "mansions" and they usually charge small fee for internet by LAN or Wi-Fi even if you bring your own laptop. While WIFI is commonly available in certain cafes and restaurants, it's commonly provided by telecoms who charge fees using them, and it usually requires a telecom account to finish the registration process.

Keyloggers are all too often installed on the computers in cheap cafes, so be on your guard if using online banking, stock broking or even PayPal. Using cut and paste to enter part of your password may defeat some of them. Or typing part of the user name and password inside the text input field for password or username then clicking outside of it someplace in the browser window and typing some characters and then clicking back into the text input field and continuing to type the other part and doing this several times. Otherwise take your own laptop to the Internet cafe.

If you suddenly and unexpectedly find yourself typing in Thai or any other alien script you've probably accidentally hit whatever key-combination the computer you're using has been configured to use for switching between languages often Ctrl+spacebar. To change back, use the "Text Services and Input Languages" option a quick-access menu is usually available via a "TH" icon visible on the taskbar - simply switch it to "EN".

other

The head is considered the holiest part of the body, and the foot the dirtiest part. 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. Take care when you sit in a temple to cross your legs under you "mermaid-style" so your feet do not point at any person or statue. Do not pose alongside a Buddhist statue for a photo and certainly don't clamber on them. It's OK to take photos of a statue, but everyone should be facing it. 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. Also, as doorway thresholds are considered a sanctuary for spirits, it's important not to step on a raised threshold, but rather to step over it. Keep this in mind especially when visiting temples.

Physical affection is rarely if ever shown in public — even married Thai men and women do not touch in public. However, it is not uncommon for same sex close friends to hold hands as an expression of affection. You may see a Thai woman expressing affection physically in public with a foreign man, but often this means that the Thai woman is a prostitute.

In Thailand, expression of negative emotions 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 constantly, and to outsiders this is seen as happiness or friendliness. In reality, smiling is a very subtle way to communicate, and to those who live in Thailand, a smile can indicate any emotion — from fear, to anger, to sadness, to joy, etc. "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 8 A.M. and 6 P.M. When this is played, everybody stops what they are doing and stands still, and you should do the same. The Royal 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.

cope

Bring an open mind and a sense of humour. Don't come with too many preconceived ideas about what Thailand is like, as media and friends’ experiences have a habit of distorting reality.

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 you've forgotten. Essentials are a swimming costume, a day pack, an umbrella in rainy season and some warm clothes if traveling in October to December, as some areas get cool. 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 as 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, 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 — although even this precaution won't help much if you encounter a razor-blade artist.

Take snorkeling gear or buy it on arrival if you plan to spend a lot of your time in the water. Alternatively put up a notice looking for gear from someone who is leaving. A tent for camping if you are a national park buff is a good idea, as is a compass. You might like to bring compact binoculars too if wildlife is your thing. A good map of Thailand is also handy.

Take earplugs for when you're stuck in a noisy room or want to sleep on the bus. Take a mirror for shaving, as often budget places won’t have any. String is very handy for hanging up washing. Cigarette papers can be difficult to find, except in tourist centres. Climbing shoes for rock climbing are useful as Thailand has some of the best cliffs in South-East Asia.

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. Bring a book you're prepared to swap. A personal music player is great as a huge range of cheap music is available everywhere.

Into the toiletries bag throw sun screen and insect repellent. Mosquito coils are also a good idea. A small pocket size torch / 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

the wai

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, inferiors 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.

talk

The official language of Thailand is Thai. Like Mandarin and Vietnamese, Thai is a tonal language think about the difference in your voice when saying "yes." versus "yes?" - that's tonal which can make it tricky for speakers of non-tonal languages to learn quickly, but despite this, everyone will appreciate any attempt you do make so pick up a phrasebook and give it a go. Thai is a language with many dialects, though the Bangkok dialect, also known as Central Thai, is used as the standard and is taught in all schools. Language schools can be found in all larger Thai cities, including Bangkok and Phuket.

In the Muslim-dominated south, dialects of Malay that are largely incomprehensible to speakers of standard Malay/Indonesian are spoken. Various dialects of Chinese are spoken by the ethnic Chinese community, with Teochew being the dominant dialect in Bangkok's Chinatown, and Cantonese speakers also forming a sizeable minority among the Chinese community. Down south in Hat Yai, Hokkien is also widely understood due to the large number of tourists from Penang. The eastern Isaan dialects are closely related to Lao and there are dozens of small language groups in the tribal areas of the north, some so remote that Thai speakers are few and far between.

Public signage is generally bilingual, written in both Thai and English. There is also some prevalance of Japanese and Chinese signs. Where there is English, it will usually be fairly phonetic - for example "Sawatdee" meaning hello is pronounced just as it reads: sa-wat-dee. There is no universal agreement on how to transcribe Thai letters that don't have an English equivalent, so Khao San Road for example is also commonly spelled Kao Sarn, Kao Sahn, Khao San, Koh Saan, Khaosan, and many other variations. Maps with names in both Thai and English make it easier for locals to try and help you.

Most Thai youths learn English in school, so many young people have a basic grasp of English, though few are fluent. Most "front desk" people in the travel industry speak at least enough English to communicate, and many are relatively fluent; some also speak one or more other languages popular with their clientele, such as Chinese, Japanese, German, etc.

Many Thais have trouble pronouncing the consonant clusters of the English language. Common confusion comes from the fact that Thais often pronounce "twenty" as "TEH-wen-ty", making it sound like they're saying "seventy". Therefore it is a good idea to make use of the calculators that street vendors may offer you to avoid confusion about prices offered when buying goods.

contact

Connectivity in Thailand is generally quite good.

the royal family

It's illegal lèse-majesté to show disrespect to royalty, a crime which carries up to 15 years imprisonment. Do not make any negative remarks, or any remarks which might be perceived as disrespectful about the King or any members of the Royal Family. Since the King is on the country's currency, don't burn, tear, or mutilate it - especially in the presence of other Thais. If you drop a coin or bill, do not step on it to stop it - this is very rude, since you are stomping on the picture of the King's head that is printed on the coin. Also, anything related to the stories and movies The King and I and Anna and the King is illegal to possess in Thailand. Almost all Thais, even ones in other countries, feel very strongly when it comes to any version of this story. They feel that it makes a mockery of their age-old monarchy and is entirely inaccurate. In 2007, a Swiss man was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment for spraying graffiti on the King's portrait, although he later expressed remorse and was pardoned by His Majesty personally quote: "It troubles Me when such harsh sentences are passed." and deported.

telephone

To place an international call, you can buy a prepaid card available for 300 baht at many convenience stores and guesthouses to use with one of the bright yellow Lenso payphones. You should rarely have trouble finding either of these unless you're way out in the countryside. The international access code is 001.

For mobile phone users, Thailand has three GSM mobile service providers - AIS (http://www.ais.co.th/eng), DTAC (http://www.dtac.co.th) and Truemove (http://www.truemove.co.th)) - which may be useful if you have or can afford! a mobile phone that will work on either one or both of the GSM 900 or 1800 frequency bands consult your phone's technical specifications. If you have one, you can buy a prepaid SIM card for any of the Thai carriers in any convenience store for as little as 50-200 baht and charge it up as you go. The Bangkok airport is a good place to buy a SIM card, since the people working at the counters there speak relatively good English.

Most phones sold by major carriers are "locked" to the carrier. That means that the phone won't work with a SIM card on another network, unless you get it unlocked. Unlocking a phone involves entering a special code into the phone. The procedure for entering this code depends on the specific phone. Most carriers will give you the unlock code, and instructions on how to unlock it, if you have been a subscriber in good standing bills paid for a certain period about 3 months, but depends on the carrier. Contact your carrier's customer service department, and tell them you plan to use your phone overseas. They will usually give you the unlock code. Once unlocked, you can use any SIM card in the phone. Alternatively, the wizards at Bangkok's MBK shopping mall can unlock most phones for less than 500 baht. If you need to buy a mobile phone, you can pick those up at MBK as well, as a huge selection of cheap secondhand mobiles can be found on the 4th floor.

International rates from a Thai carriers are surprisingly good - DTAC, for example, charges 10 baht/minute to call America. Moreover, you can reduce rates even further - from 1,5 times and up to 5-6x for some countries like Russia - by predialing 009 or 008 instead of + before the international country code. For instance, 009 1xxxxxx-xxxx for America will give you 5 baht/minute rate, at the expense of slight voice quality decrease which is often unnoticeable, though.

TrueMove offers very good international call rates from 1 baht per minute to destinations including the USA, Canada, Australia, UK, France and Germany with its Inter SIM promotion (http://www.truemove.com/e...). You may find the SIM cards handed out for free at some airports, branded as an AOT SIM and including 5 minutes of free calls back home. Note that you should also use prefixes 006 for better quailty, 00600 for cheaper rate, however, for some countries, the rate is same for both promotions to get those cheap rates, but this, as well as rates for selected countries, is clearly listed on SIM card packages.

Coverage is very good throughout the country, all cities and tourist destinations including resort islands are well covered, and even in the countryside it's more likely you'll get the network signal than not, especially with AIS or DTAC SIM. However, if you plan extended stays in remote non-tourist areas, AIS their prepaid service name is '1-2-call' is a better choice, at the expense of more pricey local calls than DTAC. But the difference, once very significant, becomes less and less with time, both in call rates and coverage. TrueMove coverage is considered the worst, with phones occasionally losing signal even in towns. Nevertheless, if you plan to stay only in major cities/islands, and/or don't need you phone available all the time when outside of those - True SIM is OK too. As a benefit - now they have 3G 850 MHz only - not all, especially older, handsets do support this band coverage in Bangkok center, airport and some other areas, Chiang Mai entire city, as of June 2010, Phuket and Pattaya.

If you plan to visit Thailand at least once a year but not for too long time, consider buying the SIM with minimal validity restrictions usually one year from the last top up, even if it was 10 baht. By doing this, you can re-use this SIM on the next trips, thus avoiding hassle of buying new one every time, keeping your Thai number the same, as well as saving a bit. For example, DTAC offers Simple SIM (http://www.happy.co.th/in...) plan for that, and before 7-elevens sold this one by default, but now they seem to offer cheaper but with limited validity Happy SIM instead. Just ask for the former one. Local calls will be a bit more pricey international are not affected, but usually this is not of much concern for a short time visitor. AIS One-Two-Call (http://www.ais.co.th/12ca...) has similar but more expensive offer too, as well as True (http://www.truemove.com/e...). If you already got Thai SIM and want to switch plan, it is also possible for free or with small charge - consult respective operator's website for details.

For short term visitors, international roaming onto Thailand's GSM networks is possible, subject to agreements between operators. There is also some CDMA service in Bangkok and some other cities which allows expensive roaming for customers of some North American CDMA networks.

Thailand SIM cards (http://www.thailandSIM.com) - Pre-paid Thailand nationwide SIM cards for use with your mobile phone.

Thai Prepaid Card (http://thaiprepaidcard.com) - Online top up credit for Thai pre-paid SIM cards.

GSM World - Thailand (http://www.gsmworld.com/r...) - list of networks, coverage maps, and frequency bands

CAT Telecom 009 IP Telephony service rates (http://www.cattelecom.com...) - see how much you'll save on international calls if using 009 instead of +

dress

Personal appearance is very important in Thailand as a measure of respect to other people, you will find that dressing appropriately means that you are shown more respect in return. This translates in many ways, even sometimes lowering initial offering prices at markets. While some allowance is made for the differing customs of foreigners, Thais respond more positively to well-dressed Westerners.

Traditionally, Thais are modest and conservative dressers. At a minimum your clothes should be neat, clean, and free from holes or tears. Except at the beach or at sacred sites normal western dress is acceptable for both men and women, except that you should avoid clothing showing a lot of skin. Pants are preferable to shorts, blouses should have capped sleeves, and if tank tops are worn, the straps should be thick i.e., not spaghetti straps. Thai men generally wear pants, and most Thais view an adult man wearing shorts as fairly ridiculous; shorts are primarily worn by laborers and schoolchildren. Men's shorts should be knee length or more, if worn at all.

Taking off one's shoes at temples and private homes is mandatory etiquette, and this may even be requested at some shops. Wear shoes that slip on and off easily. Flip-flops, hiking sandals, and clog-type shoes are usually a good pragmatic choice for traveling in Thailand; only in the most top-end establishments are shoes required.

It is best to play it safe with wats and other sacred sites in Thailand; your dress should be unambiguously modest and cover your entire torso and most of your limbs. For men, ankle-length pants are mandatory; on top, t-shirts are acceptable, though a button-front or polo shirt would be best. Many recommend that women wear only full length dresses and skirts; you should make sure that your clothing covers at least your shoulders and your knees and some places may require that you wear ankle-length pants or skirts and long sleeved tops. Shorts and sleeveless shirts are highly inappropriate, as are short skirts. The rules are even more strict for foreign visitors, so even if you see a local in shorts it's not OK for everyone.

Topless sunbathing is common by western women at many touristy beaches. At beaches which are primarily Thai visitors however, this is not advised.

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 South-East 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 Thai 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 — eg. 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.

HIV/AIDS Estimated adult (15-49 HIV prevalence is 1.3% in 2007) and other sexually transmitted diseases are common, especially among sex workers. Condoms are sold in all convenience stores, supermarkets, pharmacies, etc. Avoid injection drug use.

There's a pharmacy on every block in Thailand and most are happy to sell you anything you want without a prescription. However, this is technically illegal, and police have been known to occasionally bust tourists for possessing medicines without a prescription — even innocuous stuff like asthma meds.

respect

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.

wildlife

Thailand has a few dangerous animals. The most common menace is stray dogs which frequent even the streets of Bangkok. The vast majority of which are passive and harmless, but a few of which may carry rabies, so steer clear of them and do not, by any means, feed or pet them. If they try to attack you, don't run as this will encourage them to chase you as if you were prey. Instead, try to walk away slowly.

Monkeys may be cute and friendly, but in any area where unaware tourists have corrupted them, they expect to get food from humans. They can be very sneaky thieves, and they can bite. As with dogs, you won't want to get bitten, whether or not they have rabies. Most urban areas do not have "stray" monkeys, but Lopburi is famous for them.

Poisonous cobras can be found throughout Thailand, hiding in tall brush or along streams. You're unlikely to ever see one, as they shy away from humans, but they may bite if surprised or provoked. The Siamese crocodile, on the other hand, is nearly extinct and found only in a few remote national parks. Monitor lizards are common in jungles, but despite their scary reptilian appearance they're harmless.

Box Jellyfish have killed ocean swimmers, tourists and locals alike, many survive. All jellyfish stings are extremely painful. Immediate treatment is for cardiac arrest CPR. 30 seconds of vinegar will keep tentacles from continuing to sting. Vinegar prevents making the contact worse when you wipe the tentacles off with a cloth. At the hospital they might give you antivenom and painkillers. The word is getting out and some resorts have nets around the swimming areas. If you swim in the ocean between India and Australia you should get more information about them. [ (http://thaiboxjellyfish.b...)][ (http://en.wikipedia.org/w...)][ (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/n...)]

fights

Do not get into fights with Thais. Foreigners will eventually be outnumbered 15 to 1 even against Thai people not initially involved and weapons metals, sharp objects, beer bottles, martial arts are usually involved. Trying to break up someone else's fight is as bad of an idea, and your intention to help may get you hurt.

passport

Make a photocopy of your passport and the page with your visa stamp. Always keep your passport or the photocopy with you the law requires that you carry your actual passport at all times, but in practice a photocopy will usually suffice. Many night clubs insist on a passport and ONLY a passport as proof of age. It is not required that you leave your passport with a hotel when you check in.

robbery on overnight buses

Thailand is quite safe for tourists. However, there have been some reports about people getting drugged and robbed while traveling on overnight buses. To avoid this, steer away from cheapish and non-government buses, make sure you have all your money stored safely in a money belt or another hard-to-reach place and always check your money balance before getting off. Warning your travel companions about this danger is also advised. In case this happens, firmly refuse to get off the bus, tell the rest of the people about the situation and immediately call the police. It may not be possible to stay on the bus, as your refusal may prompt the staff to unload your hold luggage onto the street and then continue to drive the bus without your luggage, forcing you to disembark or lose it.

civil conflict

In 2004, long-simmering resentment in the southern-most Muslim-majority provinces burst into violence in Narathiwat, Pattani and Yala provinces. All are off the beaten tourist trail, although the eastern rail line from Hat Yai to Sungai Kolok gateway to Malaysia's east coast passes through the area and has been disrupted several times by attacks.

Hat Yai Thailand's largest city after Bangkok and its Nonthaburi suburbs in Songkhla has also been hit by a series of related bombings; however, the main cross-border rail line connecting Hat Yai and Butterworth on the west coast has not been affected, and none of the islands or the west coast beaches have been targeted.

In September 2006, three foreigners were killed in bombings in Hat Yai. Some rebel groups have threatened foreigners, but while targets have included hotels, karaoke lounges and shopping malls, Westerners have not been singled out for attacks.

political unrest

Long-simmering tension between pro- and anti-government groups came to head in 2008, with the anti-government People's Alliance for Democracy PAD first blockading several airports in the South for a few days in summer and in November taking over both of Bangkok's airports for a week, causing immense disruption to tourism and the Thai economy. However, while several protesters were killed or injured in scuffles, by and large the protests were peaceful and no tourists were harmed.

Following the resignation of the prime minister in December 2008, things have gone back to normal for the time being, but the situation remains unstable. Keep an eye on the news and try to keep your plans flexible. Avoid demonstrations and other political gatherings.

Do not under any circumstances say anything negative about the Thai royal family. This will usually land you in prison and your embassy will have little power in getting you out.

Bad news again in May 2010 when Red Shirt demonstrators occupied a large area of Bangkok, which was not dispersed for 2 months. This resulted in much violence, arson, etc., and some deaths. This problem is still simmering and although it poses no real threat to tourists it should always be borne in mind that things could easily flare up again.

scams

Thailand has more than its fair share of scams, but most are easily avoided with some common sense.

More a nuisance than a danger, a common scam by touts, taxi drivers and tuk-tuk drivers in Thailand is to wait by important monuments and temples and waylay Western travellers, telling them that the site is closed for a "Buddhist holiday", "repairs" or a similar reason. The 'helpful' driver will then offer to take the traveller to another site, such as a market or store. Travellers who accept these offers will often end up at out-of-the-way markets with outrageous prices - and no way to get back to the center of town where they came from. Always check at the front gate of the site you're visiting to make sure it's really closed.

Some Tuk-tuk drivers might demand much higher price than agreed, or they might take you to a sex show, pretending they didn't understand the address they get commissions from sex shows. For the same reason, avoid drivers who propose their services without being asked, especially near major tourist attractions.

Don't buy any sightseeing tours at the airport. If you do, they will phone several times to your hotel to remind you about the tour. During the tour, you will be shortly taken to a small temple, without a guide, and then one shop after another they get commissions. They might refuse to take you back home until you see all the shops. On your way back, they pressure you to buy more tours.

Easily identified with practice, it is not uncommon in tourist areas to be approached by a clean cut, well dressed man who often will be toting a cellphone. These scammers will start up polite conversation, showing interest in the unsuspecting tourist's background, family, or itinerary. Inevitably, the conversation will drift to the meat of the scam. This may be something as innocuous as over-priced tickets to a kantok meal and show, or as serious as a gambling scam or particularly in Bangkok the infamous gem scam. Once identified, the wary traveller should have no trouble picking out these scammers from a crowd. The tell-tale well pressed slacks and button down shirt, freshly cut hair of a conservative style, and late-model cellphone comprise their uniform. Milling around tourist areas without any clear purpose for doing so, the careful traveller should have no difficulty detecting and avoiding these scammers.

Many visitors will encounter young Thai ladies armed with a clipboard and a smile enquiring as to their nationality, often with an aside along the lines of "please help me to earn 30 baht". The suggestion is that the visitor completes a tourism questionnaire which includes supplying their hotel name and room number with the incentive that they just might win a prize - the reality is that everyone gets a call to say that they are a "winner"; however, the prize can only be collected by attending an arduous time-share presentation. Note that the lady with the clipboard doesn't get her 30 baht if you don't attend the presentation; also that only English-speaking nationalities are targeted.

A more recent serious scam involves being accused of shoplifting in the duty free shops in the Bangkok airport. This may involve accidentally straying across ill defined boundaries between shops with merchandise in hand, or being given a "free gift". Always get a receipt. Those accused are threatened with long prison sentences, then given the opportunity to pay $10,000 or more as "bail" to make the problem disappear and to be allowed to leave Thailand. If you end up in this pickle, contact your embassy and use their lawyer or translator, not the "helpful" guy hanging around.

security

Carrying your own padlock is a good idea, as budget rooms sometimes use them instead of or as well as normal door locks; carry a spare key someplace safe, like your money belt, otherwise considerable expense as well as inconvenience may result should you lose the original. Also consider some type of cable to lock your bag to something too big to fit through the door or window.

prostitution

Thailand's age of consent is 15 but a higher minimum age of 18 applies in the case of prostitutes. Thai penalties for sex with minors are harsh, and even if your partner is over the age of consent in Thailand, tourists who have sex with minors may be prosecuted by their home country. As far as ascertaining the age of your partner goes, all adult Thais must carry an identity card, which will state that they were born in 2535 or earlier if they were over the age of 18 on January 1, 2010 in the Thai calendar, AD 2010 is the year 2553.

Some prostitutes are "freelancers", but most are employed by bars or similar businesses and if hiring a prostitute from a bar or similar business, you will have to pay a fee for the establishment called a "bar fine". This entitles you to take them out of their place of employment; it does not pay for any bedroom gymnastics.

Bar girls, gogo girls and freelancers are all professionals, who are far more likely to be interested in money you can give them than in any continuing relationship for its own sake. Cases of visitors falling desperately in love and then being milked out of all they are worth abound. Thailand has a high rate of STD infection, including HIV/AIDS, both among the general population and among prostitutes. Condoms can be bought easily in Thailand in all convenience shops and pharmacies but may not be as safe as Western ones.

Technically, some aspects of prostitution in Thailand are illegal e.g., soliciting, pimping, but enforcement is liberal and brothels are commonplace. It's not illegal to pay for sex due to the "Special Services" exemption in Thai law or to pay a "bar fine".