Most commercial concerns in Bangkok operate on a five-day week basis. Government offices are generally open between 08.30 and 16.30 with a noon to 13.00 lunch break, Monday through Friday, except on public holidays. Private businesses maintain much the same hours, usually 08.00 or 08.30 to 17.00 or 17.30. Many stores open 12 hours a day, seven days a week.
Government and politics
The politics of Thailand takes place in a framework of a constitutional monarchy, whereby the prime minister is the head of government and a hereditary monarch is head of state. The judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislative branches. The current constitution was promulgated in 2007. King Bhumibol, who has been on the throne since 1946 and is the world's longest reigning monarch, commands enormous popular respect and moral authority.
Thailand has a long history of ancient massage therapies, healing techniques and the use of traditional herbal medicines, and in recent years this has combined with the rise of ultra-modern private hospitals and clinics, and the country has become a worldwide leader in medical tourism.
Bangkok private hospitals are amongst the best equipped you will find anywhere, and the Thai medical profession is probably one of the most advanced in the region. Many doctors undertake specialist training abroad, particularly the United States and Europe and are at least equally as well qualified as physicians in the west.
The hospitals and clinics offer everything from cardiac surgery to organ transplants to cosmetic surgery to sex reassignment operations, all at a price much lower than the US or Europe. Thai medicine also features a higher, more personalised level of nursing care than westerners are accustomed to receiving in hospitals at home, which has been an important factor in the growth of the medical industry.
Thailand is also a premier spa destination. Most of the main hotels in Bangkok and the main tourist destinations will have a spa operating on the premises, offering traditional massage services, aromatherapy, and beauty salon services. There are also a large number of independent spas offering similar therapies and treatments.
According to the last census, taken in 2000, 95 percent of Thais are Buddhists of the Theravada tradition. Muslims are the second largest religious group in Thailand at 4.6 percent. Thailand's southernmost provinces of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat have dominant Muslim populations, and there are substantial Muslim communities in other parts of the south. Christians, mainly Catholics, represent 0.75 percent of the population. Small but influential communities of Sikhs and Hindus live in the country's cities, and are heavily engaged in retail commerce. There is also a small Jewish community in Thailand, dating back to the 17th century.
Thailand is one of the great shopping centres of Asia, whether you are looking for brand-name goods in air-conditioned shopping malls, antiques, curios, objets d'art and fine handicrafts in specialist outlets, or a bargain in the street markets.
In Bangkok, the area between Siam Square and Ratchadamri is the epicentre for mall shopping, with enormous malls such as Siam Centre, Siam Square, Siam Paragon, MBK and CentralWorld Plaza all within walking distance of each other, and with countless small stores and boutiques surrounding them. All the way along Ploenchit Road there can be found malls and stores, and when Ploenchit changes its name and becomes Sukhumvit Road there can be found a lot more, including The Emporium, a destination shopping mall with premier brand-name shops along with a huge variety of consumer goods and a large department store, located at Soi 24. Silom Road is another major shopping area, with the two biggest names, Central Department Store and Robinson's, also represented elsewhere in the city.
For markets and street markets, it would be very hard to beat Bangkok. A major attraction on weekends is the huge Chatuchak Weekend Market, located in northern Bangkok but easily accessible by Skytrain and Metro. There are a reputed 20,000 stalls selling what appears to be literally everything. Go early in the morning to avoid the heat and the crowds. Patpong Night Market is a place you can really test your bargaining skills and pick up Thai tourist products as well as clothes and bags.
Outside of Bangkok, shopping malls and department stores selling international brand-name goods and quality consumer products can be found in all the main tourism centres. Chiang Mai is the nation’s great centre for handicrafts, antiques and curios, with the Night Market and surrounding area being the centre of action.
Tipping is not traditionally part of the Thai culture, but the rise of the tourism industry has inevitably meant that in certain circumstances tips are, if not anticipated, at least appreciated.
All public taxis are metered, and both Thais and visitors round off the fare upwards as a tip. High-end tourist oriented restaurants may include a 10 percent service charge in the bill, in which case a tip is not expected, although many people leave change or a small amount. For restaurants without a service charge, a 10 percent tip is sufficient. No tips are given at the cheaper restaurants or roadside stalls.
Hotels have a service charge so it is not necessary to tip, although many guests feel happier if they give a small amount to the bellboy who has been handling their heavy luggage to or from their room.
The absence of a tip culture does mean that the giver is rewarded with a warm smile of appreciation, as the tip is regarded as being a gesture of genuine thanks.
Tourist information is available at the Tourism Authority of Thailand head office in Bangkok, local offices in 22 major cities, the TAT information counter at Bangkok International Suvarnabhumi Airport and at every airport where there is a TAT local office. Amongst the information provided are maps, brochures and guides to tours, shopping, dining and accommodation. All TAT information offices are open seven days a week from 08.30 to 16.30 hrs. The TAT website is at http://www.tourismthailand.org
Using Mobile Phone
Thailand has a very well developed mobile telecommunications infrastructure and visitors will be able to use their own cellphones if they have a roaming service agreement with their own network provider. Anyone planning on staying for any length of time will probably find that buying a SIM card once they are in Thailand is a cheaper option. A SIM card can be bought on a pay as you go basis for about 1,000 Thai baht (US$30). Calls are cheap to make and free to receive. The only thing to consider is whether your own mobile phone is locked. Many phone providers deliberately lock their phones to make it impossible to use on rival networks. This can be overcome for a small price at any phone shop in Thailand. Mobile phone retailers are very easy to find, even in smaller towns.
If you want to keep your own phone open for incoming calls, mobiles can be rented easily enough. A possibly better option is to buy one, as they can be found anywhere at prices starting from less than US$50. You then have that cell phone to use not only in Thailand but in any country in the world you might travel to.
Electricity in Thailand is 220 volts, 50 Hertz. If any of the devices you are carrying are non-compliant, you will need a voltage converter.
Electrical sockets accept either flat-blade or round-pin plugs. All hotels will provide a converter.