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The "TOURISM DOCTOR" Advises

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WHEN YOU READ any of the many guide books on Thailand, you find that most of them only partially cover the subject of health and well-being while travelling in the country. We believe that there is more to this subject than you realize, so we have an obligation to give you some advice about protocol, health and the law. Hopefully it will help you to enjoy your travels in Northern Thailand.

When you arrive in Chiangmai, it helps to know a bit about transportation within the city. At the airport, train station, or bus station, you will probably be met by the representatives of various guest houses and hotels. If you have a specific place in mind and you don't see the specific signboard, you can always call the place to have someone pick you up from the train station, airport or bus arcade depot.

The common vehicles of public transportation are more varied than public buses. The terms 'Dtoog dtoog' and 'sarmlor' are open-air three wheel vehicles. and 'zeelor' and 'songthaew' describe vehicles with four wheels. Whenever you get in a 'dtoog dtoog', 'zeelor', or 'samlor', you should make sure that they take you where you want to go. Often the drivers work on commission, and may you that the place you want to go to is dirty, closed or full if they don't have a previous agreement with the place you have in mind. Always negotiate the price before you get in a dtoog dtoog or samlor. A zeelor ride should cost 5 Baht on a regular route, more if you hire it out to go somewhere out of the way.

Meeting and making friends with different people is an exciting part of travel anywhere. In Northern Thailand it helps to know a bit of the language and something about the protocol. To say "hello" say "Sawasdee Krup" for men and "Sawasdee Kha" for women.

The Thais put a lot of emphasis on manners, so it's a good idea to learn to say "Thank you". In Thai, it's "Kob Khun", followed by "Krup" or "Kha" for women. The "wai" made by placing your palms together in front of the upper chest is the traditional Thai gesture of greeting or respect, and the gesture is always appreciated.

The Thai people have several customs that are important to remember to avoid giving offence. Never touch the head, because it is the most sacred part of the body. The feet are the lowliest part, so don't point them at others or rest them above ground level.

Respect for the King and religious customs is another important part of Thai protocol. They have great respect for the royal family, the flag and anything with an image of the King, including the money. When you visit a Buddhist temple you should always remove your shoes before entering any buildings. Men should wear long pants and women should wear knee-length or longer skirts. Women are not allowed to touch monks or prolonged eye contact with them. Do not sit on the walls surrounding the jedee, which contains the temple's sacred relics of the Buddha.

Whatever happens, though, don't display your anger because the Thais will think you uncultured and ranting will get you nowhere. Smile and think "no problem".

Thailand is a country of gourmands. Eating out is one the nation's favorite activities, and knowing a bit of table manners will help you appear more civilized. Waiters and waitresses in Thailand are trained to take your entire order. When they take the they will often ask "one", which is their way of asking whether they got it correctly or not. The entire meal is customarily served at the same time, but the empty dishes are removed one by one. When the meal is finished, ask for the bill by saying "check bin".

Chiangmai and the north have plenty of entertainment available. It runs the gamut from restaurants, to nightclubs and discos or video bars. Trekking, rafting, and elephant rides are all available to those who want these outdoor activities.

Thai people are often as interested in meeting you as you might be in meeting them, but one should exercise discretion and sometimes a bit of caution; especially in matters of the heart. In romantic situations, Westerners and Thais both occasionally get hurt. The best advice is to think with your head AND your heart. Enjoy yourself, but be very adult about any given situation.

Many visitors to Chiangmai enjoy taking trips outside the city. We recommend these trips highly, but don't forget to bring a few extras in case of emergency. Flashlights and extra batteries as well as film and camera batteries are recommended, as is matches or a lighter. Jackets may be needed for the cold evenings and don't forget a first aid kit and the ever-important toilet paper for emergencies.

Keeping healthy on holiday is essential. If you feel ill, it's probably a good idea to see a doctor in one of Chiangmai's clinics or hospitals. If you are worried that you may have come down with malaria, Chiangmai has an excellent malaria clinic. There you can get a 30 minute test. For more information call the Regional Center at 222275. Whatever you do, don't take chances with your health while travelling away from home.

While Chiangmai is a great place to visit, crime is never on holiday when you are. Theft seems to be the most common tourist-targeted crime, and this includes credit cards and passports. How about carrying half your cash in a body money belt? If you must leave your passport or credit cards anywhere for safekeeping, we recommend using a safety deposit box in one of the local banks. When you go trekking, the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) suggests that a photocopy of your passport is acceptable identification to carry on the trek.

Every visitor should be well informed about Thailand's laws on illegal drug. Drugs that are illegal in your home country are just as illegal in Thailand. There are no "recreational" drugs in Thailand. The list of banned substances includes marijuana and hashish, as well as opium, heroin and cocaine. Unfortunately, some people come to north Thailand with the impression that the use of some drugs is OK. This is a misguided and very wrong impression. Naivete is not an excuse in court. There is extreme danger in buying or using drugs in Northern Thailand and we hope all visitors will keep this in mind. The laws are very strict and the punishment is not pleasant.

The advice given on this page is by no means comprehensive, but it presents many of the fundamental cautions that will help you get the most out of your trip to this beautiful country. If you would like more detailed medical or health information, please speak with a doctor or other trained professionals. For legal or travel safety information, contact the Chiangmai Tourist Police on Lumpoon Road.


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