Thailand is one of the most fascinating, friendly and enjoyable countries in Asia and one in which gap year travellers are sure to experience the time of their lives. Some will be inclined towards the picture-perfect - and lesser known - beach havens of Mu Ko Similan or Ao Phang Nga National Parks, while others may prefer the hustle, bustle and sheer vitality of the capital Bangkok. Throw in the jungle trekking, abundant wildlife and a whole lot of sunshine and there are many reasons to love travelling in Thailand.
Those on a career break to the country will also benefit from the relatively cheap cost of travel, accommodation, entertainment and food. And the cuisine of Thailand stands up as a fantastic reason to visit the country in itself. Thai food offers a mix of punchy and distinctive blends of herbs and spices, spanning the full flavour gamut of sweet, sour, bitter, salty and spicy - sometime very spicy. Just like the country itself in fact!
Speaking of Thai cuisine, many travellers to the country partake in a cookery course to learn how to make some of the most popular dishes such as gaeng massaman (curry with peanuts and potatoes) or tom yam goong (hot and sour soup with prawns).
There are plenty of gap year opportunities in the education section with many English teaching placements all over the country. Teaching placements usually consist of 10 to 20 hours of school time, giving you enough spare time to explore the “Land of Smiles”. There are also many community-based projects in Thailand that welcome volunteers. Despite the tourist dollars rolling into the country, poverty is still an issue for many people in Thailand. As is the exploitation of child labour.
Finally, if conservation projects are more your cup of tea, how about volunteering at an elephant sanctuary in Mae Chaem District in the far north of the country? There are also opportunities to volunteer on marine conservation projects to help preserve the paradisiacal environments to be found around much of Thailand’s extensive coastline.
When travelling around Thailand you have a number of options. There are now efficient and cheap internal flights available between the main towns, cities and tourist hubs. The bus network is extensive and though the standard of vehicles used can vary, there are some relatively luxurious options available for very reasonable prices.
The train system in Thailand is not extensive and it can be a little on the slow side, but there are some very scenic roots. A day trip from Bangkok to the ancient Thai capital of Ayutthaya, with its many beautiful temples and ruins, is a popular option by train.
It is worth noting that Thailand has had its fair share of political upheaval in recent decades with street protests sometimes spilling over into pockets of violence, although rarely if ever involving tourists. Always heed the latest Foreign and Commonwealth Office advice prior to booking your trip.
Also check with your local travel clinic as you might well require vaccinations and/or anti-malarial medication depending on the areas of Thailand you are set to visit.
Also note that there have been regular reports of scams and confidence tricksters operating in Bangkok and other towns and cities, mainly around the most popular tourist destinations. If you have your wits about you and don’t agree to buy gems at a knockdown rate, and generally take sensible precautions, you should easily avoid such annoyances.