Thailand is a wondrous kingdom, featuring Buddhist temples, exotic wildlife, and spectacular islands. Along with a fascinating history and a unique culture that includes delectable Thai food and massage, Thailand features a modern capital city, and friendly people who epitomize Thailand’s “land of smiles” reputation.
Thailand is a country with abundant natural resources, including a wide variety of flora and fauna, and distinct ecological zones. There are over 100 Thailand national parks, including more than 20 marine parks, and each park features unique attractions, outstanding facilities, and opportunities to see animals in Thailand. Those interested in trekking, mountain biking, photography, birding, camping, scuba diving, or getting up close to exotic animals in Thailand have many options to choose from. A visit to a Thailand beach or one of the many Thailand islands is an opportunity for visitors to relax, experience exotic marine life, or even learn to scuba dive. However, across Thailand, whether at a beach, island, or Thailand National Park visitors will discover unique flora and fauna and distinct ecological zones, from the temperate forests of the northern mountains and the plains of central Thailand to the savannahs of the northeast and the mangrove forests of the southern coasts. Animals in Thailand include not only elephants and monkeys but also bears and whale sharks, the world’s largest fish.
Visiting a Thailand beach or island is the preferred holiday for hundreds of thousands of visitors to Thailand every year. Thailand is blessed with natural beauty and its islands are amongst the most scenic and beautiful in the world. Likewise, each Thai beach, such as Karon Beach in Phuket, Chaweng Beach on Koh Samui, or picturesque Maya Bay on Koh Phi Phi, is simply stunning, and many feature powdery sand, crystal clear water, and postcard-perfect scenery.
Each Thai beach and island has its own character and identity and therefore draws a specific type of visitor. Each coastal area contains a slice of heaven suitable for a different style of traveler: The west coast of Thailand, along the Andaman Sea, features beaches that appeals to every type of traveler, including the activity-filled resort island of Phuket; the popular backpacker beaches of Koh Phi Phi, Koh Lanta, and Krabi; the family friendly, laid back, and pristine coast of Khao Lak (the launching point for trips to the spectacular Similan Islands); and the remote, undeveloped islands of the far south.
Along the Gulf coast, the resort island of Koh Samui lies nearby the natural splendor of Koh Phangan and the scuba diving paradise of Koh Tao. Closer to Bangkok are the popular resort town of Hua Hin, a favorite among Thais, and its quieter neighbor Cha Am. Finally, to the east of Thailand, the northern Gulf features Bangkok weekend getaway Koh Samet, and the up-and-coming resort island of Koh Chang, which has both upscale resorts and budget beach bungalows.
Certain Thai beaches and islands, like Koh Tarutao National Park, offer limited accommodation and facilities and draw more adventurous travelers who are looking for a more ‘back to basics’ holiday experience. Others, such as Kamala Beach in Phuket, offer world class facilities (accommodation, restaurants, nightlife, etc) to entice visitors with bigger budgets who require creature comforts. It is important to note that this diversity exists not only between the islands, but between different beaches as well. Whereas one Thai beach might offer raucous entertainment, another a few kilometers away on the same island might only draw those looking for a quiet holiday.
Phuket, Thailand’s largest island, is a perfect example of this contrast. Phuket is certainly the most developed Thai island, having been the first Thai beach resort destination. Located on the Andaman coast, Phuket contains numerous beaches, including the activity filled Patong beach, with its exciting nightlife, and the more family friendly Karon and Kata beaches. Across the island are luxurious five-star resorts and a wealth of Thai spas that serve to pamper visitors on any budget. In addition to a lush, tropical interior that features a variety of exotic wildlife, Phuket is an ideal location for day trips to nearby islands, such as Koh Phi Phi, a favorite destination for scuba divers, and Phang Nga bay, where visitors can snorkel, kayak, and visit iconic James Bond Island (Koh Tapu). Phuket is easily accessible via its international airport that connects domestically with Bangkok, Koh Samui, and Chiang Mai.
Koh Samui is the prime island attraction in the Gulf of Thailand. The most popular beach, Chaweng, features accommodation from five-star luxury resorts to affordable beach bungalows, and dining includes fine dining on international cuisine and casual beachside seafood barbeques. Samui is both family friendly and budget oriented with a host of activities, some of Thailand’s finest spas, and is conveniently located nearby some of Thailand’s finest diving off neighboring Koh Tao. Samui International Airport connects domestically to Bangkok, Krabi, Phuket, and Chiang Mai.
Krabi is a province on the mainland Andaman coast, near Phuket. In addition to popular beachside resort areas, such as Railey Beach, Krabi includes a number of spectacular islands, such as the Phi Phi Islands and Koh Lanta, off of which some of Thailand’s most popular scuba diving sites are found.
Generally speaking, foreigners visiting Thailand for business, investment, study, medical treatment, or employment are required to apply for a Thai visa from a Royal Thai Embassy or Consulate-General. Foreigners must possess valid passports or similar documents and comply with the regulations contained in the Immigration Act B.E.2522 (1979) and its related provisions. Be aware that Thai visa requirements change from time to time and a Thai embassy can provide you with the most up to date Thailand visa information.
If you are planning a short holiday in Thailand you may not require a Thailand visa if you are citizen of one of the approximately 40 nations that qualify for a Thai visa waiver or Thai visa exemption. With evidence of onward/return travel, citizens of New Zealand, Australia, Canada, the USA, and most European nations may enter Thailand for up to 30 days without a Thai visa. These Thailand visa waivers are issued upon arrival in Thailand. Those entering Thailand by land may not receive a 30 day exemption however; the Thai visa waiver was reduced to 15 days for those entering by land after January 1, 2009.
If your citizenship does not qualify you for a Thailand visa waiver or if you are planning to stay in Thailand for longer than 15/30 days, you must apply for a Thai visa at an embassy or consulate outside of the Kingdom. Thai tourist visas are valid for 30 or 60 days, though visitors who plan to travel from Thailand to a neighboring country and then back to Thailand can apply for several consecutive 30 or 60 day Thai visas. At most, three Thai visas can be issued at one time, granting visitors either 30 or 60 days for each entry into Thailand (maximum 3x60 days, requiring visitors to leave within 60 days before beginning the next 60 day visa).
The penalty for overstaying your visa is typically 500B per day, with a 20,000B limit. Fines can be paid upon departure at the airport. If you've only overstayed one day, you may not have to pay any fine or you may have to pay 1,000 baht, depending on the current regulations. Children less than 14 years old who are traveling with a parent or guardian are not required to pay any fines for overstays.
You can avoid paying any overstay fines by visiting a Thai immigration office and requesting a Thai visa extension. The Bangkok immigration office near Sathorn Rd is the most popular (02-287-3101; Soi Suan Phlu, 9am-12pm/13:00-16.30 Mon-Fri, 9am-12pm Sat) and the Chiang Mai immigration office will also provide Thai visa extensions (05-320-1755-6; Th Mahidon; 8.30am-16.30pm Mon-Fri). The usual fee for a Thai visa extension is around 2000 Baht. Because the immigration offices can be very busy, getting a Thai visa extension may not be practical unless you believe you will overstay your Thai visa by more than 3 or 4 days. The length of the visa extension depends on the length of your prior Thai visa; typically 7 days extension for a 30 day visa waiver and up to 30 days extension for a 60 day visa.
Other Thai visas, such as non-immigrant, retirement, and student visas should be inquired about at your nearest embassy or consulate, or the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs at www.mfa.go.th.