Thailand has always been a popular destination and often the starting point for exploration of the rest of Southeast Asia, China and furtherpoints East. Thailand is
served by a total of over 80 international airlines landing mainly in Bangkok, but also an increasing number of international flights arrive in Phuket, Chiang Mai and Hat Yai. Domestic airports have also grown in number and all have connecting flights to Bangkok and at least one other destination.
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Thailand borders Myanmar to the north and west, Laos to the north, Cambodia to the east and Malaysia to the south; all of these countries have various land and water access points where the visitor may enter or leave Thailand. The train is also a convenient mode of transport, with connections from ChiangMai in the north to Bangkok and then south across the border to Malaysia and on to Singapore.
Thailand has four international airports, one each in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phuket and Hat Yai, but Bangkok's Don Muang Airport is the country's major gateway. It is connected by daily flights to Europe, North America, Asia and Australasia aboard the world's major airlines. (Suvarnabhumi Airport, world largest airport, is scheduled to open by the end of 2006.)
International flights, mostly from Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Hong Kong, land on a less regular basis at Phuket and Hat Yai in southern Thailand, and Chiang Mai in northern Thailand. Charter flights from Europe and the Far East now arrive more frequently in Bangkok, Phuket, Chiang Mai, Hat Yai and at U-Tapao for Pattaya.
- Bangkok Don Muang Airport
- Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport
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The only train access to Thailand is from Malaysia, but there are no through routes by ordinary trains, although connections are possible from both the east and west coasts of Malaysia. On the west coast visitors must get off the Kereta Api Tanah Melayu (KTM) train (Malaysian Railway) at the border of Padang Besar and transfer to a train operated by the State Railway of Thailand which then goes on towards Hat Yai, terminating in Bangkok. The travelling time from Hat Yai to Bangkok is about 16 hours. It is not recommended that travellers try to get same-day express train connections from the KIM to the State Railway of Thailand. An overnight stay in Butterworth is advised.
From the east coast travellers may take a bus or share-taxi from Kota Bharu to the border town of Rantau Panjang (about 20 minutes): A short walk across the border, conduct immigration formalities and then take a tuk-tuk to the train station in Sungai Kolok where trains will continue onto Hat Yai for connections onto Bangkok. There is one direct through train - the Eastern & Oriental Express (www.orient-expresstrains.com/ eando/train) that runs from Singapore to Bangkok. An exotically comfortable, luxurious way to travel, it takes 41 hours to complete the journey, including a two-hour stopover in Butterworth with a tour of Penang; and visit to the River Kwai with a boat excursion along the river. Fares start at US$1,200 for a standard double compartment. Frequency of the trains depends on the time of year - between two and five per month.
- Bangkok Train Station (Hua Lum Phong)
There are three road crossings on the Thai-Malaysian border in Songkhla, Yala and Narathiwat. A modern highway system from these points carries travellers onto other regions. The governments of Thailand, Laos, China and Myanmar have agreed to the construction of a four-nation ring road through all four countries, this should be complete by 2005.
Several border crossings between Thailand and Myanmar are open to daytrippers or for short excursions in the vicinity. Further to the south, in Thailand's Mae Chan District, it is possible to cross the border almost everywhere, with a local and reliable guide.
A legal border crossing between Cambodia and Thailand is at Aranyaprathet, opposite the Cambodian townof Poi Pet. The border is open from 8 am to 6 pm daily. Visitors have to take a taxi or motorbike a further four kilometres from the crossing to reach Aranya Prathet itself, where they can catch buses and trains onward to Bangkok and other points in northeastern Thailand.
The link between Thailand and Laos is by a 1,174-metre-long Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge across the Mekong River near Nong Khai, opened in 1994. The bridge spans a section of the river between Ban Chommani (Thailand) and Tha Na Leng (Laos).
Travel by sea is possible from Malaysia and ferry crossings from China, Laos and Cambodia are also available. From Malaysia it is possible to take a longtail boat between Satun (right down in the southwest corner of Thailand) and Kuala Perlis; boats cross quite regularly.
There is also a ferry service from Langawi to Satun and Phuket, although timetables and frequency may depend upon the season. There is a small car and passenger ferry between Kota Bharu and Ban Taba on the east coast of Thailand.
Thailand can also be reached from Laos by crossing the Mekong River by ferry, although only at certain permitted border points: Nakhon Phanom (opposite Tha Khaek), Chiang Khong (opposite Huai Xai) and Mukdahan (opposite Sawannakhet).
In the past few years, many cruise liners have included Thailand as their port of call. En route from Singapore, Hong Kong, Europe and Australia, Thailand has become a popular stopover, either as part of the liners' World Cruise programme or as a Turnaround port.
For berthing facilities, Thailand has two modern deep-sea ports - at Laem Chabang, midway between Bangkok and Pattava; and at the island resort of Phuket. Both can accommodate big liners of over 20,000 tons; while the Bangkok Port at Khlong Toei is best for smaller liners with gross tonnage between 12,000 and 16,000.
Once in Thailand, shore excursions can be easily arranged for cruise passengers through many good tour/ ground operators. One-day programmes in Bangkok include visits to the many temples in Bangkok including the Grand Palace and the adjacent Temple of the Emerald Buddha Image; a tour of the floating market; a shopping spree for quality handicrafts, Thai silk or jewellery at many shopping centres and boutiques.
Cruise passengers can also choose to try their hands at the famous Thai cooking. Half-day cooking classes can be easily arranged at the many leading hotels and resorts in Bangkok, Pattaya and Phuket.
In Phuket, cruise passengers can simply relax on the beach or go sightseeing to a few of the local temples or choose to entertain themselves with the spectacular shows at Phuket FantaSea or at Simon Cabaret in the evening. Phuket is also winning international recognition as a spa centre in Asia. Many cruise passengers just head directly to one of the island's many renowned spas to pamper themselves with either traditional Thai massage or various facial and body treatment programmes.
A round of golf can also be easily arranged at one of the first-class courses dotted along the Bang Na-Trat Road leading to Pattaya or at the famed Blue Canyon Country Club and Banyan Tree Club & Laguna in Phuket. Ecotours such as diving, snorkelling, seacanoeing and windsurfing are just some of the activities on offer at both Pattaya and Phuket.
Cruise Liners Visiting Thailand
The following are some of the world leading luxury cruise liners which have included Thailand as one of their port of calls. Check their websites for more information on routings and packages on offer.
- Cunard, www.cunard.com
- Holland America Lines, www.hollandamerica.com
- Norwegian Cruise Line, www.ncl.com
- Orient Lines, www.orientlines.com
- P&O Princess Cruises, www.princess.com
- Radissson Seven Seas Cruises, www.rssc.com
- Royal Caribbean, www.royalcaribbean.com
- Seabourn Cruises, www.seabourn.com.au
- Silversea Cruises, www.silverseacruises.com
- Star Cruises, www.starcruises.com
- Star Clippers, www.star-clippers.com