Malaysia and Thailand, although very close to each geographically, are very different. Over 60% of people in Malaysia identify them as being Muslim and less than 20% as Buddhist, whereas in Thailand more than 90% of the population identify them as being Buddhist and less than 5% as Muslim. Thailand has been identifiable as a nation state for centuries whilst Malaysia in it current form is a 20th Century creation. Thailand is in greater part situated on a single land mass, whilst Malaysia has two parts, one on the mainland of Asia and the other on the island of Borneo. Malaysia and Thailand have very different languages. Malaysia was colonised by the British, whilst only a small part of Thailand has been under European colonial rule and for a short periods of time. The list of differences is virtually endless.
It is very easy to get to Thailand from Malaysia, and many Malaysian and Thai people living the border areas travel between the countries on a daily basis for work and trade. There are eight land borders, 7 of which you can drive across and the other between Tumpat and Tak-Bai involves a short river crossing. The major transport and trade hub in Thailand for travel between Bangkok and Malaysia is Hat Yai. The majority of people travelling overland on public transport between Malaysia and central or northern Thailand will pass through either Hat Yai Railway Station or Hat Yai Bus Station.
Thailand has four regions, each with it own character and places of interest to visit:
- South Thailand: South Thailand is split into 14 provinces. The 3 southern most provinces of Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat are currently dangerous places to visit because of an ongoing conflict between the Thai state and local insurgent. However, the other 11 provinces further north are not dangerous. Surat Thani, Krabi, Phang Nga and Phuket are major tourist destinations with foreign visitors travelling there in their millions each year to enjoy the beaches, forests, lively towns and relaxed atmosphere.
- Central Thailand: Is split into 26 provinces, with Bangkok being the most important and populous of those provinces. Central Bangkok is the economic, cultural and administrative centre of Thailand. Bangkok, Ayutthaya and Hua Hin are the most visited areas within the Central region, although other lesser known locations such as Chanthaburi and Prachuap Khiri Khan town are well worth visiting as well.
- Northern Thailand: The northern region of Thailand has 16 provinces. Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai are the two most popular places to visit in this this part of Thailand. Northern Thailand has its own distinct culture and a rich history. The northern region has no coastal areas but large numbers of tourists come here for the temples, relaxed atmosphere and the mountains. Northern Thailand is also great value for money with food and accommodation costing less than it does in many part of central and southern Thailand.
- Northeastern Thailand: Known more commonly as Isan, the northeastern region of Thailand is region of Thailand least visited by foreigners coming to Thailand on holiday. Split in 20 provinces, and home to about one third of Thailand’s population, Isan is the poorest region of Thailand. People in Isan a distinctive dialect of Thai which is similar to the Laos and there are close cultural and historical links between between Laos and the people of Isan. There are plenty of interesting things to do and see in Isan, particularly near Chiang Khong on the border with Laos, but unfortunately tourism in Isan is distinctly underdeveloped and under promoted.
Travel in Thailand
Thailand has an excellent transport system which is cheap and covers nearly every part of the country. Travel by most forms of public transport, except the regional flight network, is relatively slow compared to more developed countries without advanced technological solution having been able to address public transport issues outside of the capital city, Bangkok, which has a modern metro system as well as a suburban elevated light railway system connecting central points within the city and the main international airport. Thailand’s railway network is functional and carries large number of passengers but slow and under funded. The Thai Government is currently working on improving both the railway network and the road network although issues around funding are a barrier to development, as public transport in Thailand is heavily subsidised to make it affordable to people on lower incomes and unlikely to generate enough income from ticket sales to generate the levels of public sector investment which underpin investment in infrastructure projects in other parts of the world.