A few random and probably useless observations about Thailand

1) A standard practice in Thailand is ‘touting’. Individuals wait in front of public transit systems (train stations, bus stations, airports) and try _very_ hard to get you to go to their hotel, tourist attraction, and whatnot. Practice your sales resistance – do not get angry with these people, but in general, you’re better off not listening to their advice. There are some exceptions.. After a while, you get to rather like being greeted by so many smiling people. Of course, back in the U.S. I was greeted by the smiling faces of the TSA, who genuinely are nice, but it’s not the same somehow.

2) I suggest not renting a car in Bangkok. Just use the taxi or tuk-tuk system – there’s always a taxi waiting a block or less from every hotel (yes, really) and as long as you agree on the fare before you get in, it will be cheaper than renting a car – even if you take ten trips a day. And finding a parking space in Bangkok is, basically, impossible. And Bangkok traffic makes the worst of the USA look positively spartan.

3) In general, smile. Thais have a thing about smiling, and a genuine smile will get you a long way. This may be what I miss most about the country.

4) Bargain, but not too hard.

5) In general, lodging will not include hot water unless you specifically search for it. This takes some getting used to. However, even if you search out the establishments that have hot water, you’ll still pay less than $10 a night for a decent hotel room. $20ish if you want air conditioning. (Yes, AC doubles the cost of the room. Tells you something about what power might cost.)

6) The power system is 50hz, 220V, but uses american style plugs. It IS referenced to ground. Be careful. 😉 Also, don’t plug anything into it that isn’t autosensing, voltage-wise, because it seems to vary from about 180 to about 250V, depending on what time of day it is and what mood the power company is in. NEVER plug a fixed-voltage switching power supply like the one in most desktop computers into it.

7) Getting around: The trains are pretty creaky, and run on what is jokingly referred to as ‘Thai time’. This means they usually are about 20 minutes late. A first class ticket from one end of the country to the other is about $35, though. Planes run on time and seem to be well maintained. A plane ticket across the country is about $75, although there’s a extra $10 charge at the airport that is not included in the cost of the ticket. Trains should be booked two weeks in advance for the best seats. Yes. Really. Lonely planet says so, believe them. 😉

8) Diving: Is beautiful. LOTS of biodiversity! I reccomend for diving the Surit Thani area going straight to Ko Tao, as the dives there are MUCH cheaper and better and don’t involve several hours on a boat. They’re about $10 a dive, vs. about $50 a dive from the more touristy Ko Samui. We didn’t find any substandard diving gear in Thailand, although some of it was newer and some older. Most of the dives are to 40-60ft, with about 80 ft vis and in 90 degree water. Not a lot of coral, but more fish than you can imagine, and a very wide variety of fish and other marine life.

9) Money: Don’t use your credit card unless you have to – some black hats have been rumored to steal CC #s and do funny things with them. There are ATMs on Cirrus and Pulse networks just about everywhere, so bring your ATM card instead. Travelers checks can be changed at almost any bank. In general, money is no problem – they make it easy for you to get it. 😉

10) Odd side note: It’s worth finding out what the ‘scam of the week is’ (cheap gems, free tuk-tuk rides, stolen bags from bicycle baskets, or whatever) so you can avoid it.

11) Transit: In general, you’re better off renting a motorcycle than a car. It’s easier to park and much, much cheaper. The bikes they rent tourists have a semiautomatic transmission and could be driven by a six year old. (in fact, they were, regularly ;-)). Better yet to walk, a lot of the time.

We had a lot of fun. Diving, sitting on beaches, visiting temples, visiting ruins.. all you could ask for. Maybe more later if I get time, although I have way too much work to do as usual.

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