Looking for the ultimate holiday destination? If partying all night, soaking in gorgeous vistas, and returning home with a fun story or two (and maybe a dubious tattoo) is your idea of holiday heaven, then the balmy shores of Thailand are calling you! Here’s what every South African should know about visiting Thailand.

Why should I visit Thailand?

There’s more reasons to visit Thailand as South African then just the 24/7 party atmosphere, though that remains a massive drawcard. Thai food is some of the best in the world, fragrant and spiced, so your tastebuds will dance. It’s even one of few places in the world you’re encouraged to try the street food! Super-friendly locals make sure you always have a friend to chat with as you slurp your noodles, too. Once a friend, always a friend! It’s a cosmopolitan area, packed with folks of all nationalities (South Africans will fit right in), tourist and ex-pat alike, so you’ll easily find international chains and English is heavily spoken.

Add to that a chance to bask in the tropical sun on hot and humid beaches. It’s never ‘jacket’ weather here! This is white-beach-and-azure-sea territory, especially if you avoid the more ‘resort’ areas. It’s a tropical jungle paradise that will uplift your heart and prop up flagging spirits. Whether it’s basking on a beach or hiking in the jungle, there’s plenty of nature to enjoy. And if you do feel the need to venture anywhere else, you’re in the middle of almost everywhere. Hong Kong, Bali, Australia, Europe and Singapore are only mere hours away by air.

No matter if it’s temples, beaches and the tourist trail, or living the high life in Bangkok, it’s almost impossible to get bored of this beautiful country. Great bars, amazing food and a bustle of events means there’s always something to do in Bangkok, and plenty of friendly  people to do it with. In a travel world dominated by the dollar it’s relatively cheap, too- a blessing for those of us using Rands as their income! Travel newbie or seasoned vet, Thailand is sure to call you back again and again.

What South Africans need to know about travelling to Thailand

So you’re ready to go! Here’s what you need to know as a South African in Thailand.

The basics:

  • You don’t need a visa to visit if your stay is under 30 days, but you will need a passport valid for at least 6 months after your departure date.
    Expect to spend just under 12 hours on a plane even on direct flights. JHB to Bangkok runs at about 11h 41m.
  • Many major carriers, including BA, Emirates, Qatar, Cathay Pacific, Korean Airlines, Ethiopian Airlines, Kenya Airways and China Southern Airways fly direct to Suvarnabhumi Airport, the main hub. Thai Airways is the national carrier.
  • Get your standard travel vaccines. Asian medical care/disease prevention is not always what Westerners are used to. Respiratory infections and ‘traveller’s diarrhoea’ are easily managed risks. Hepatitis A and typhoid vaccines should be considered in addition to standard care.

Fitting in:

The transport in Thailand is a little chaotic (Joburg commuters will feel right at home). The trains are punctual, run often, and are not a bad choice, although they can be a little slow. It’s perfect to relax with, anyway! The bus network is prolific, and buses are fast and air-conditioned, but the roads are a scary place at times.  Tuk-tuks and rickshaws offer an authentic taxi experience, but be sure to negotiate the price before you start your journey! An Uber-alternative, ‘GrabCar’, exists for those preferring a traditional taxi.

The Thai Monarch is highly revered- don’t disrespect the monarch, and you’ll find the Thai a friendly people, however. Smile a lot! They will appreciate it, especially a returned smile. Skip the handshake and learn to wai if you want to fit in. Clasp ‘prayer hands’ at chest height with a slight bow.

If you’re visiting temples and other religious sites, be respectful. No shorts and tank-tees! Cover shoulders, thighs, elbows and your torso. Remember to remove shoes before entering a shrine, too. Don’t show the soles of your feet to people, as it’s seen as disrespectful. Don’t directly face them to people or images of the Buddha. The Thai are a modest people, so no nudity on beaches, and beach cover-ups are appreciated. They’re used to tourists, but no need to offer unintentional insult.

Public displays of anger (and affection) should also be avoided. The Asian principal of ‘face’ and keeping public respect is at play here, too. If you want to eat like a local, use your fork only to scoop food into your spoon, and eat mainly with the spoon.

Travel necessities:

  • The Thai Bhat is the local currency, and most of the population are Buddhist. Thai is the official language, but Isan, Kam Mueang and Pak Tai are also spoken. English is heavily spoken as a second language in most tourist and city areas.
  • Plugs are of Type A and C so you’ll need a travel adapter. With a standard voltage of 220V, 50 Hz, most South African appliances will manage, however.
  • The dialling code for Thailand is +66. When local, contact general emergencies on 191, medical on 1554, fire on 199 and the ‘tourist police’ at 1155
  • Peak season runs from November to March, as temperatures are comfortable after monsoon season. This is where prices peak too, however. Monsoon season runs July-November and is best avoided. Thailand is an ever-popular destination, so book early for deals.
  • The monsoons shape the climate. Expect hot tropical humidity, especially during the season. The NE monsoon, running October-February, brings a cool, dry chill, however. In the south, this monsoon makes for mild temperatures and extra rainfall. The SW monsoon of May-October brings extra heat and humidity instead.

Most visitors will find Thailand a warm, friendly destination that earns the title ‘Land of Smiles’. With a little reverence paid to local religion, monks and the monarch, you’ll find any number of friends wherever you roam. South Africans will love the fragrant food and warm temperatures, while enjoying some extra humidity as a change from our dry climate. Kinder on our bank accounts then many international destinations (and very cosmopolitan and traveller friendly), it’s hard not to love this star Asian destination for everything it offers South Africans.

1 - @umutkiziltan in Koh Phi Phi Leh

Image: @umutkiziltan in Koh Phi Phi Leh