Quick guide to Thailand: Visa free travel for South Africans

Crowds of sunbathing visitors enjoy a day trip boat ride to Maya Bay, one of the iconic beaches of Southern Thailand (Photo: iStock)
Crowds of sunbathing visitors enjoy a day trip boat ride to Maya Bay, one of the iconic beaches of Southern Thailand (Photo: iStock)

Thailand - the unofficial playground of Henley-wearing Australian bachelors, one of the few places left on earth where partying the night away and waking up with a face tattoo is entirely plausible, as are South-African-flag-Speedo sightings. The location of many a Tony Jaa movie, Thailand is all this and so much more.

With friendly and fun-loving citizens, a historic and culture-rich society and balmy weather great for aquatic adventure - Thailand offers the traveller an exceptional, smile-filled time in Southeast Asia.

If you’ve watched Leonardo DiCaprio in The Beach then you have but an inkling into what you should expect from this tropical getaway. A veritable paradise of jungle-topped island offset by beautiful azure waters, Thailand is a dream for those seeking out water-based adventure, whether it be diving with whale sharks, getting lit on Ko Phi-Phi or just chilling in the waters of Ko Lipe.

Thailand is the best place to visit if sand between your toes is a must. Here's what you need to know if you go:

Visas: Not required for holders of South African passports for stays of up to 30 days.

Passport validity: Passports need to be valid for at least 6 months after the departure date.

Costs: Not applicable

National Carrier: Thai Airways

Airport Hub: Suvarnabhumi Airport

Useful app to download:  Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport (iOS, Android) app for flight tracking and information.

Flight Route Access:

Ethiopian Airlines, Korean Airlines, China Southern Airlines, Emirates, British Airways, Kenya Airways, Qatar Airways, Cathay Pacific.

Flight time: 11 hours, 41 minutes from Johannesburg to Bangkok.

Currency: Thai Baht

Medical and health:

You should be up to date on routine vaccinations while travelling to any destination. Thailand, like many Asian countries, should be approached with caution when it comes to medical care and disease prevention. Beyond the routine vaccinations, you may want to consider some specifically for travel.

Some vaccines and medication may also be required for problem-free travel. While there are no specific vaccination or medical requirements for entry, for South Africans, into the country it is recommended that you do get inoculated against some relatively common medical problems.

Common illnesses experienced by travellers in Thailand include respiratory infections and diarrhoea which are, fortunately, preventable and easily treatable.

Get vaccinated for hepatitis A as food and water standards are questionable, particularly if you’ve got a taste for exotic street-foods. Another potential medical pitfall to avoid is typhoid which you can get through the consumption of contaminated food or water so get vaccinated particularly if you’re planning to go off the beaten track.

Don't skimp on travel and medical insurance either as it is always good to be prepared for any eventuality.

Religion: The overwhelming majority of Thai citizens subscribe to Theravada Buddhism.

Travel Adapter: Yes - The power sockets are of type A and C. The standard voltage is 220 V and the frequency is 50 Hz.

Country code: +66

Time Zone: ICT (UTC+7) Thailand is 5-hours ahead of South Africa.

Emergencies: General emergencies - 191, Medical - 1554,  Fire -199, Tourist police - 1155

Public Transport:

Known to be home to some of the world’s most chaotic road transportation, Thailand sure does make flying around everywhere seem very appealing. That being said, the trains in Thailand are punctual, fairly frequent and relatively comfortable. Taking a trip on one of these trains is a great, albeit slow, way to see the country without the manic frenzy that is road-based travel in the country. 

If you’re a bold adventurer who is looking for the authentic experience of travelling as a local, a great way to ease into the chaos is to hit the roads and hop onto a bus. With a prolific and reliable bus network, every city and town is linked together by the bus network. They’re really fast and usually air-conditioned - just don’t watch the driver do his thing lest you end up fearing for your life.

For an even more to-the-ground experience, jump into one of Thailand’s many tuk-tuks or rickshaws. One thing Thailand does not lack for is a variety of transport options on their roads. Remember to negotiate and settle on a price before you enter a tuk-tuk or rickshaw.

If you’re looking to get driven around in relative comfort of a cab then consider downloading the local equivalent of Uber called ‘GrabCar’. You can download the app here (Android, iOS).

Useful App to download: Eatigo (iOS, Android) for getting great discounts on delicious local food daily.


The climate in Thailand is largely influenced by a set of distinct monsoons. The north-east monsoon, which starts in October and runs through February, brings with it cold, dry air which brings a chill to bear over most of the country.

In the south of Thailand, this north-east monsoon brings milder temperatures and increased rainfall. The southwest monsoon winds, which run from May through October, brings with it warm moist air emanating from the Indian Ocean.

This period is marked by rainfall over the majority of the country and warm, balmy weather. Monsoon season, however, lasts from July to November in the north and central areas. Expect humid and wet weather!    

Best time to go:

The peak season in Thailand is from November to March as the landscapes are incredibly lush and the temperatures are comfortable following the monsoon season. Not unexpectedly, prices go up for almost everything from hotel and resort prices to flights. Book well ahead as you may be surprised to find out just how in-demand Thailand is.

With balmy weather and relaxed coastal/resort vibes to enjoy, this is a great time to enjoy everything that Thailand has on offer. The monsoon season, running from July through to November, would have also passed so it won’t be as humid and wet making this period an excellent time to explore Thailand.

Language: The official language is Thai but other languages commonly spoken include Isan, Kam Mueang and Pak Tai. 

Useful phrases to know:

With millions of tourists visiting its shores every year, you’ll rarely find yourself battling with communication in Thailand - at least not in the main tourist centres that is. Your biggest issue, you’ll find, is being able to decipher the written script but even that’s no major issue. With all that being said, it is always good to learn a few key phrases to make your stay run smoothly. Download an audio language app - Duolingo makes learning a new language easy and fun.

Useful app to download: Google Translate makes deciphering text and translating language simple (Android, iOS).

  • S¯w?s¯di txn chêa (good day/morning)
  • S¯w?s¯di txn yen (good evening)
  • Hellow (hello)
  • La k`xn (goodbye)
  • Ch?¯`x k¯hxng c¯h?n kh?¯x… (My name is…)

  • Chi` (Yes)

  • M?` (No)

  • Ni` rakha thèa h¯?r`? (How much is this?)

  • K¯hx k¯hxbkhu? (Thank you)

  • S¯wy (Beautiful)

  • Xr`xy (Delicious)

  • C¯h?n m?` di (My Thai is bad)

  • Khu? phud p?has¯'a x?ngkvs¯' d?^ h¯?m? (Do you speak english?)

  • Khu? phra ch`wy! (Oh my goodness!)

  • K¯hxthos¯' na thi` xyu`….? (Excuse me, where is ...?)

  • Ch?yo! (Cheers!)

Practical Tips:

  • Thais are generally easy-going and friendly towards foreigners. Keeping several basics in mind will help ensure you don’t have any unpleasant interactions.
  • Thais have deep respect and highly revere their Monarch. As such it is highly offensive, and illegal to disrespect the royal family in any way.
  • Instead of a handshake, you can expect the wai. With hands pressed together like prayer hands at chest height and a slight bow, the wai is a greeting that visitors should expect to reciprocate - but only to persons of equal status.
  • Be modest when visiting religious sites and temples - shoulders, torsos, thighs and elbows should be covered out of respect and shoes should be removed before entering.
  • Women are encouraged to have as little contact with monks as possible.
  • Your feet are the literal and metaphorical bottom of your body so watch where you point them. Sit with them tucked behind you when facing the image of Buddha and never direct them at anybody.
  • While you may feel comfortable by the smiling locals, don't forget to be modest in disposition and appearance. At the beach, this means no nudity and covering up to and from the beach.
  • You can expect to do a lot of walking so comfortable, slip-proof shoes are a good idea.
  • Like many Asian cultures, there is great emphasis on surface harmony as embodied in the concept of ‘face’. Basically, leave all your will to express negative emotion at home. Arguing or anger can be embarrassing and will lose you face in the eyes of Thai people.
  • Use the spoon. Many places will serve food and provide a knife and fork. The fork is used to scoop the food into the spoon which then goes into your mouth. That's the only way to do it if you don’t want to end up looking like a silly foreigner.
  • The fastest way to endear yourself to the Thai people is to smile and to return the smiles of the locals. It isn’t called The Land of Smiles for no reason.

Top attractions in Thailand: 

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