From idyllic beaches with turquoise seas and white sands, to bustling cities sporting exotic markets, and a vibrant, colourful nightlife, it is easy to see why Thailand has become one of the most popular tourist destinations for the adventurous and young at heart.
A turbulent, bloody history spanning several millennia has left Thailand scattered with ruins, forgotten temples and deserted cities, revealing a rich tableau of past eras that contrasts sharply with the more modern aspects of the nation’s contemporary face.
As Thailand’s tourist industry has boomed, helped to some extent by Hollywood’s influence (the country has been the setting for movies like The Man with the Golden Gun, The Bridge over River Kwai, and Alex Garland’s The Beach), numerous large and luxurious resorts have been developed. Yet, for those with a smaller budget, many cheap, comfortable but more basic accommodation options are still readily available on the islands and beaches.
The size and geographical diversity of Thailand provides for a variety of activities: snorkelling, diving and a host of watersports are very popular around the islands, while inland enthusiasts can trek into the mountains or cycle along the flat river areas of the northeast. Bustling, crowded cities like Bangkok display the wilder urban side of Thailand, ensuring the country has something to offer everyone who visits.
220 volts, 50Hz. Both flat and round two-pin plugs are used.
Thai is the official language, although English is widely spoken in tourist areas.
As a health precaution, travellers should take medical advice at least three weeks before travelling to Thailand. There is no malaria risk in major tourist resorts or in the cities of Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Pattaya, Ko Samui, and Ko Phangan. But in rural, forested areas that border Burma (Myanmar), Cambodia, and Laos, preventions against malaria are recommended and immunisation against hepatitis A and typhoid fever is also advised. Yellow fever vaccination certificates are required for travellers from infected areas.
There has been an increase in reported cases of dengue fever, particularly in the south, and vaccination against Japanese encephalitis is also recommended. Outbreaks of leptospirosis occur during the rainy season and after flooding. There have been outbreaks of waterborne diseases in the Provinces of Khon Kaen, Lop Buri, Phitsanulok and Prachin Buri. Outbreaks of cholera have also been reported. You should drink or use only boiled or bottled water and avoid ice in drinks. If you suffer from diarrhoea during your visit you should seek immediate medical attention. HIV/AIDS is prevalent in the major cities and resorts. Medical facilities are good in major cities, but good medical insurance is vital – without insurance, or cash/credit card, travellers will not be treated. Bangkok has excellent international hospitals.
Note: Thailand has reported cases of Zika virus infections. The UK foreign office classifies the risk of transmission as moderate. Pregnant women are advised to postpone Thailand travel plans. Visitors should be sure to use mosquito repellant and be aware that the virus can be transmitted sexually; appropriate precautions should be taken.
Tipping is not expected, but is becoming more common in places frequented by tourists. Tipping 10 to 15 percent on a restaurant bill is usual, but ultimately this is left up to the customer to decide based on service performance. Sometimes a 10 percent service charge is added to the bill at hotels and restaurants, but this is not common. All help with carrying bags, tour guides etc. welcome small tips. Taxi drivers are not generally tipped.
Although the political situation in Thailand is currently more stable than before, there have been major political demonstrations in Bangkok in recent months accompanied by outbreaks of violence. Tourists have not been targeted during the protests, but travellers are advised to avoid all political gatherings and marches and to stay well-informed about the situation in the country. Travellers should check out the official travel alerts for Thailand before visiting, and should be careful to abide by any curfews or other rules imposed by the Thai government.
There is a threat from terrorism throughout South East Asia and travellers should be particularly vigilant in public places, including tourist resorts. Avoid the border areas and don’t camp in undesignated areas in national parks. The security situation in the southern provinces near the Malaysian border is unstable and travel to Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat and Songkhla is to be avoided.
Visitors to major cities are advised to secure their passports and credit cards and not carry too much money or jewellery. In Bangkok visitors should be aware of scams, often involving gems recommended by kind strangers. In tourist areas, particularly at the Full Moon Party on Ko Phan Ngan, be careful about accepting drinks from strangers as there have been reports of drinks being drugged. Incidents of sexual assault do occur and female travellers should be cautious.
The monsoon season in September and October (November to March on Koh Samui) brings about flooding in the north, northeast and central regions, causing mudslides and flash floods; visitors planning to trek in the jungle during this time should check conditions with licensed tour guides before leaving.
Public displays of affection are frowned upon. Dress is informal, although beachwear should be confined to the beach. Drugs are illegal and travellers should know that possession of even small quantities can lead to imprisonment, and that drug traffickers risk the death penalty. Avoid touching others hair or head (rubbing a child’s hair, for example), as this is a disrespectful gesture. Taking off one’s shoes when entering a home is customary, although most shops and restaurants do not always expect tourists to remove their footwear. Do not put your feet on table or chairs, as lifting a foot toward someone, especially the underside of the foot is considered a disrespectful gesture. Although haggling is common when buying items, especially at markets, Thais are generally very calm and soft spoken people. Arguing loudly or raising one’s voice when haggling is deemed disrespectful in Thai culture.
Business culture in Thailand is considerably more relaxed than other Asian countries within the region. However, Thailand shares its neighbours’ work ethic and value systems, as well as emphasis on hierarchy and building relationships. Senior managers must be consulted on all matters and decisions. Appearance and age are important in Thai business culture as they illustrate social standing and status. Older individuals are generally afforded a great deal of regard in Thailand. Building relationships is central to business culture in Thailand. It is ill regarded for a businessman to start negotiating before being properly acquainted with his business associates.
The concept of ‘face’ and saving face is important in Thailand; so if you make a mistake, don’t expect it to be pointed out to you. Also, if a business associate makes a mistake, it is impolite to draw attention to it or correct them. In 2010, Thailand was the fastest growing economy in SouthEast Asia. Despite this, Thais value family time and time to actually live life. Placing family in front of business priorities is the norm.
English is the language of business in Thailand, but translators are often needed. Business hours are from 8am to 5pm or 9am to 6pm with an hour for lunch. Dress styles tend to be quite formal, but due to the humid climate, heavy suits are rare. However, meetings with senior management tend to be slightly more formal and jackets are usually worn. Men generally wear shirts, slacks and a tie while women wear below-the-knee skirts and blouses. Pants-suits for women are quite rare.
Shaking hands is not a popular form of greeting and the wai (putting cupped hands in front of oneself and bowing slightly) is more acceptable. The higher the hands compared to the face when bowing, the more respect is meant by the wai. It is customary to wai first to those older than oneself. When addressing others, Thais use first names rather than surnames preceded by Kuhn for both men and women. As with many Asian nations, giving gifts to business associates is generally a good idea. When receiving gifts, don’t open them in front of the giver. Wait to be introduced to others, as it is an indication of rank. Often the hierarchical structures favour the elders in a group and respect must be given accordingly.
The international country dialling code for Thailand is +66. The outgoing code is 001, followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 00144 for the United Kingdom). City/area codes are in use. To dial a mobile in Thailand a 6, 8 or 9 must precede the city code. International direct dial facilities are available throughout most of the country. Mobile phone networks cover most towns, cities, and holiday resorts. Internet cafés are available in the main towns and resorts, and wifi is relatively easily available.
Travellers to Thailand do not have to pay duty on 200 cigarettes, 250g tobacco or equivalent amount of cigars or 1 litre of alcohol. Goods to the value of THB 20,000 per person for holders of tourist visas are allowed. Family allowances are double the individual allowances. Prohibited items include firearms and ammunition, fireworks, and drugs. Trafficking in drugs carries the maximum penalty. Restrictions apply to meat imported from countries affected by BSE or mad cow and foot-and-mouth diseases. Antiques or objects of art and religious articles may not be exported without a license.
The climate in Thailand experiences high temperatures and humidity levels throughout the year. The hottest months in Thailand are between March and May, and monsoon season runs from June to October. In September and October much of the country suffers from flooding, particularly in the north, northeastern and central regions. The cool season is the best time to visit Thailand, running from November to February. Temperatures are fairly consistent throughout the year, especially in southern regions, ranging between 74°F (23°C) and 86°F (30°C).
ENTRY REQUIREMENTS FOR SOUTH AFRICANS
South African passports must be valid for six months beyond date of arrival. No visa is required for touristic stays of up to 30 days.
Travellers entering Thailand are required to prove they have sufficient funds to cover the length of their stay, and are recommended to hold documentation for return/onward travel. As of February 2017, if visitors are using the 30 day visa exemption, they can only enter Thailand through a land border twice per calendar year. To cross more frequently, travellers must obtain a visa in advance of travelling. It is highly recommended that passports are valid for six months beyond travel.
The unit of currency is the Baht (THB), which is divided into 100 satang. Currency can be exchanged at the airport, banks, hotels, and bureaux de change. Banks are open Monday to Friday. ATMs are available in most cities and tourist resorts, but there is a surcharge for each withdrawal. Most major credit cards are accepted at hotels and larger businesses.