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The Just Student Jobs Country guide for gap year travel in the Far East - Thailand

Where to Go - Far East

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Population: 65.5m

Literacy rate: 92.6%

Life expectancy at birth: 72.83 yrs

Infant mortality rate: 18.23 deaths/1,000 live births

Population growth rate: 0.64%

GDP growth rate: 4.8%

GDP per capita: £3,950

Unemployment: 1.4%

Inflation: 2.2%

Climate: tropical, rainy, warm, cloudy during SW monsoon (May-Sep); dry, cool during NW monsoon (Nov - Mar). Hot and humid in South all year.

Time: GMT + 7.

Electricity: 220 volts AC, 50Hz.

Capital: Bangkok.

Currency: Thai Baht.

Language: Thai, English is widely spoken.

Websites: Tourism Authority of Thailand

Thai embassy

Thailand is synonymous with white sand beaches, shimmering palm trees, mouth watering spices and bargain counterfeit goods. The largest country in South East Asia covering 514,000 sq km, Thailand ranges from serene beaches caressed by the Andaman sea to the polluted buzz of a thousand tuk tuks jostling for tarmac in Bangkok to brightly coloured hill tribe villages in the North. Within this mix there should be something for everyone. As a gap-yearer you will have plenty of company in one of the original backpacker destinations. Moreover, travelling is easy and you need never be far from an internet cafe or a full moon party.

The Thai national psyche draws great pride from the fact Thailand is the only country in South East Asia that has never been colonised. In fact, it is a widely held belief that the word 'thai' is actually derived from 'tai' meaning 'free' in the Thai language although this is not considered correct. The country was established in the mid 14th century as a kingdom and today Thailand has a monarch as head of state whilst being governed on a day to day basis by a constitutional democracy. Originally known as Siam the country became Thailand in 1939. Run today by an economically laissez-faire government foreign investment and a healthy economic infrastructure have pretty much reversed the damage done to the Thai economy by the 1997 financial crisis. Although you are likely to see some begging and prostitution, have difficulty fending off street hawkers and kerb crawling cab drivers seeking a fare most of the locals have jobs they are busy at and are generally used to the flow of the tourism industry.

In terms of topography Thailand has four natural regions. The North is mountainous and experiences cool weather allowing the cultivation of orchids and temperate fruits such as strawberries and peaches. The chilly high Northeast plateau and its subsistence farming hill tribes and the central plain rich with fertile paddy fields, fruit growing areas as well as the East Coast beaches and the hustle and bustle of Bangkok. Lastly, and for many at the crux of the decision to spend time in Thailand, the idyllic picture post card tropical islands, lagoons and coral reefs.

Whether you wish to work with the disadvantaged hill tribes in the North or are heading to a marine conservation project in the Gulf of Thailand Bangkok is most likely your launch point. A day of two spent on the Kho San Road in the central backpacker belt is a must. The bustle of the street markets with full ranges of counterfeit western designer goods and the aromatic food stalls are a great place to snap up some bargains and have some food and the onlooking bars and cafes are perfect for people watching and meeting fellow travellers. The Chao Prayha river runs through the centre of Bangkok and a water taxi will happily take you on a tour of waterside Buddhist temples, the Wat Sai floating markets and will even give you bread to drop over the side to make the water come alive with fish. Transport from Bangkok to other parts of the country is relatively straightforward to obtain and Bangkok is even a good base from which to enter Cambodia - just four hours by bus away from the Aranyaprathet- Poipet border.

The North of Thailand is peppered with around 4000 hill tribes who inhabit the provinces of Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai , their diverse but generally brightly coloured costumes and head dresses the main attraction especially the Akha women who use hammered coins to adorn head dresses. Most of the tribes people wandered over from China and Myanmar hundreds of years earlier. Maintaining their original customs and way of life leaves these subsistence farmers relatively poor so buying hand woven textiles and embroidery is a good way to help their proverbial rattan wallet. Trekking in the mountains you will come across clusters of bamboo huts sitting on stilts and enshrined in wood smoke. Chickens, pigs and the odd goat are likely to greet you!

Heading down the white sand bays and holiday resorts below Bangkok Southern Thailand's Phang Nga Bay (788km below Bangkok) is the beach paradise to aim for to sample a journey through a 'hong' , Thai for cave. The green waters and jutting lime stone cliffs are a wet dream for the beach lover and it is due to these rock formations that 'karsts' tower up from the sea hiding ceiling less lagoons accessible by secret fissures in the outer rock. Not for the claustrophobic the transitional sea cave is dark, deep and full of bats and crabs and you will have to lean back to allow your canoe to pass under the rocky overhangs. Although Ko Tapu, the Phang Nga island jet propelled to fame in the 1974 James Bond movie, Man With A Golden Gun, is located nearby use this as a decoy to absorb the attention of the other tourists whilst you browse through less famous hongs in peace. Snorkelling and diving , lounging in a hammock and wading through lush jungle are other activities to e tackled in the Gulf of Thailand.

No description of Thailand, however brief, shoulld ignore the country's fabulous cuisine. Good tasty Thai food is ubiquitous and your lucky taste buds will salivate for an onslaught of whichever combinations of the typical Thai ingredients - nam pla (fish sauce), kaffir lime leaves, galangal, lemon grass, coconut milk and cilantro. If milkshakes are on the many try one - they are made of coconut milk rather than cow's milk and are delicious.

To conclude a gap year spent in Thailand will give you a wealth of wonderful experiences. Whilst you will not be deviating far from the so called beaten path you will no doubt meet plenty of like minded people and the basics of life in terms of health care and transport are better than other countries of South East Asia. And just remember, never ask for more chillis, trust us, there will be enough.

Entry requirements

Only New Zealanders don’t need visas. No doubt there is a good reason for this. Perhaps roast kiwi is a Thai delicacy? Although it is illegal to work on a tourist visa, many do.


Hepatitis A, Polio, Tetanus, Typhoid, Malaria and Yellow Fever

Tax and Insurance

With a work permit – around 2% tax. Get health insurance.

Gap Year Programmes

Click here to find gap year programmes and placements in Thailand


Map and statistics taken from the CIA World Fact Book.

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