Thailand is one of Australia's most popular neighbour's for holidays. The top three would be new Zealand for skiing, Bali for a quick beach visit, and Thailand for everything else.
Thailand versus Bali
Bali is a 5 hour flight from Sydney, 3 from Perth, while the beaches of Phuket in Thailand are 9 hours flying time from Sydney. Bali is a clear winner when you want a weekend away but many of the beaches are dirty and you have to pay top dollar for accommodation at a clean beach. Thailand is too far away for a weekend holiday and is the best choice when you have at least a week.
You can do all the Bali tourist things in two days. Thailand tourist activities take at least six days plus a couple of days travel time between Bangkok,
The Thai money is Baht and is closer to an Australian cent than a dollar. get used to talking big amounts.
The Australian dollar purchased 31.5 Baht at the Bangkok airport in November 2012. The money changers at Sydney airport give only 28 Baht per dollar and charge a $4 fee on top of their exchange rate profit.
On return trip to Sydney I had 670 Baht left and not enough time to exchange it at Bangkok, the Sydney exchange cost 35.979 Baht per dollar plus a fee, giving me only $14.60 instead of the $22.30 I would get at Bangkok.
Thailand charges a 7% sales tax called VAT. Cafe's, local shops, and tourist oriented places do not add the Vat on the amount you pay, they just pay the tax out of what they charge.
Expensive restaurants and hotels add the tax on the end of the bill which means you can end up paying more than you think you will pay based on the menu prices. They easiest thing is to mentally add on 10%, a 200 Baht item will cost 220 Baht, then the bill will be slightly lower.
Expensive restaurants may also add on a 10% service charge before they add on the tax. Read the fine print at the bottom of the menu.
Singha, pronounced Sing-ah, is the nicest Thai beer, a light tasting larger but not light enough to be a pilsener, and is 5% alcohol, about average compared to an Australian beer. The biggest competitor is Chang with a slightly stronger flavour and alcohol at 6%. Both are sold in 500 ml bottles.
Singha at a nice restaurant: 120 Baht plus 8.4 Baht for Vat (7%) makes the total 128.4 Baht or AU$4.08.
Chang at a nice restaurant: 100 Baht plus 7 Baht for Vat (7%) makes the total 107 Baht or AU$3.40.
Chang in a local shop: 70 Baht plus 5 Baht for Vat (7%) makes the total 75 Baht or AU$2.38.
A latte at Cafe' de Siam was 50 Baht or AU$1.59. They used an espresso machine and milk but it still tasted like instant coffee with chemical whitener. If they used cow milk, they used a heavily processed version or a powdered milk. I switched to black espresso because in most places the espresso tasted worse when made with whatever milk substitute they used. My first decent latte was back in Australia.
You will be offered a chemical whitener instead of milk in most places. The Nestlé Coffee-Mate powder is the most common. If they sell Coke, they serve Nestlé products. What is in Coffee-Mate? Mostly sugar and fat. The sugar may be glucose which is the worst sugar and is used because it can be made cheap from almost any waste product in the food manufacturing business. The fat is the worst type of fat, hydrogenated vegetable oil complete with trans-fat, but in some countries it is legally allowed to be labelled trans-fat free because some countries have weak laws. Sodium caseinate is the whitener and is produced from milk, making Coffee-Mate a dairy product that is allowed to be labelled, in some countries, as dairy free, although Nestlé only label it as lactose free in some countries. you also get a dose of dipotassium phosphate, sodium aluminum silicate a chemical that causes fibrosis and pneumoconiosis in people mining and processing the chemical, artificial flavour, and a bunch of other stuff. I switched to black coffee because coffee tastes worse when you add Coffee-Mate.
Wine is in limited supply in Thailand. Australian wine in Thailand is severely limited everywhere. You get only a few examples and they are not good examples. American wine is more common and, dollar for dollar, American wine is not as good so be prepared to spend a lot to get anything worth drinking. Avoid the South African and South American wines. French champagne is available everywhere and many places have at least one cheap French champagne in their list but be warned, after the first sip you would not touch it again for anything, not even to wash out a kitty litter tray.
Yes, you have to visit a temple. There are millions of temples with little variation. The biggest variation is along the banks of the main river in Bangkok. Next you look for one of the ancient temples built by the Indian monks bringing Buddism to Thailand. After that you could sample the temples along the borders of Cambodia and Laos.
There are dress rules to follow. Shoes off. Cover your legs and shoulders. Some temples are in monasteries and have additional rules. Do not touch the monks.
Worth a visit. Allow three days on the ground to tick off the tourist things. The Maesa Elephant Nursery, www.maesaelephantcamp.com, and ,a href="/tiger_kingdom">Tiger Kingdom are worth visiting. Both are in the Mae Rim area north of Chiang Mai. Tiger Kingdom has the best restaurant in the area so be there at lunch time.
All the tourist spots charge 200 Baht per person entrance fee. Patting a tiger is another 470 Baht. The optional photographer is 299 Baht and lets a couple appear in the same photograph instead of photographing each other separately. Including lunch, allow 2200 Baht for a couple at Tiger Kingdom.
Many of the tours advertise
all entrance fees and lunch included. Lunch is unlikely to be the fine food at Tiger Kingdom. The tours we looked at do not include elephant rides or cuddling tigers.
One place to avoid is the Mae Rim Monkey School. There is only one type of monkey and they look like they are tied up all day. It is a poorly run circus. Too sad to be funny.
Duty free shopping
I looked at a range of items in the duty free stores at Bangkok airport, Chiang Mai airport, and Sydney airport. Chiang Mai duty free prices were higher than the retail prices in Chiang Mai. The Bangkok prices were slightly lower than Chiang Mai but higher than Sydney. The Sydney duty free prices, on the return trip, are lower than retail but not lower than the sale price of an item at a retail shop or online.
The duty free shop in the return part of Sydney airport has some items on sale and those prices were very good. Your duty free alcohol limit is 2.2 litres per person, which is 2 * 1.125 ml bottles. Johnnie Walker red was on sale at AU$49 for 2 * 2.125 litres, equivalent to $15.59 for a 700 ml bottle retailing at $33.90 in a decent shop or $39.95 at other shops.
Australian wine at the Bangkok airport duty free shop was the same as the duty free price in the departure section of Sydney airport, was slightly cheaper than the retail price of the same wine at the Liquorland shops around Australia but all of them are more expensive than the standard price at Dan Murphy's. You are allowed to bring in one bottle of wine. If you have a favourite and want to take it with you, buy it as part of 6 bottles at Dan Murphy's and forget duty free.