All tourists must possess passports valid for at least six months longer than their intended stay in Thailand and with at least one empty visa page. If their stay will not exceed 30 days, citizens of Canada and the U.S. do not need to obtain a visa ahead of time; instead, they receive a 30-day entry permit stamp on arrival if they arrive by air; arrivals by land border crossing are granted 15-day entry only.
Thai tourist visas can be arranged at any Thai embassy or consulate for a processing fee of US$40 per entry. They allow 60-day stays in the Kingdom regardless of entry point. Proof of onward passage is officially required, but customs officers rarely check. The visa, which must be used within 90 days of issue, may be extended twice for 30 days each at 1,900 baht per extension.
Visitors from countries qualifying for visas on arrival can apply for a visa for a period not exceeding 15 days for a fee of 1,000 baht. People from these countries can only apply for an visa extension under special circumstances such as illness.
“Visa runs,” or day trips into a neighboring country for the purpose of obtaining a new visa upon arrival, are common. Popular runs include Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar and Malaysia. Some countries charge a small fee—Myanmar, for example, charges 500 baht. Check the amount before you leave.
Cambodia & Vietnam:
Citizens of Canada and the U.S. need passports and visas. Visas can be obtained on arrival at the international airports in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap or at some border crossings from Thailand. A visa costs US$20. A passport-size photograph is also required. A yellow-fever certificate is required if you’re arriving from an infected area. A departure tax of US$25 must be paid in cash at the airport when leaving the country. Reconfirm travel document requirements with your carrier before departure.
Passports and visas are necessary for citizens of Canada and the U.S. Passports must have at least a year left before expiration. Visas must be obtained prior to arrival. They are available from any Vietnamese Embassy, whether in the U.S. or in the capitals of neighboring Cambodia, Laos or China. You will need three passport-size photos to complete your application.
When leaving, expect to pay a departure tax at the airport and make sure you still have the departure form that was given to you when you arrived in the country. Reconfirm travel document requirements with your travel agent before departure.
A passport and visa are required for citizens of Canada and the U.S. A departure tax is now included in the cost of airline tickets.
Although there are only a few places in China that are forbidden to tourists, do not attempt to visit an off-limits city without permission. If you have any questions, ask the local Public Security Bureau. Probably the most popular area that requires a permit is Tibet (obtainable through many travel agencies).
Reconfirm travel document requirements with your carrier before departure.
Do’s & Don’ts
Don’t lose your patience or show any form of anger. Talking too loudly is regarded as impolite behavior.
Do carry some form of identification with a photo. Foreigners are required to carry their passports at all times. This is rarely enforced, but it is the law. If you are uncomfortable doing this, carry a photocopy of your passport.
Don’t step on a Thai banknote. It’s illegal because the notes bear the image of the king of Thailand.
Do dress conservatively in temples. Short trousers or skirts and shirts that expose the shoulders are not acceptable. Always remove your shoes when entering the inner area of a temple.
Don’t climb on Buddha sculptures to take photographs.
Do show respect for the Thai royal family. Thai people have deep respect for the monarch, and disrespect for the royal family is a criminal offense taken very seriously.
Don’t get involved with drugs. Penalties for drug offenses are severe in Thailand.
Do remove your shoes before entering houses, temples and some shops.
Do learn a few basic Thai phrases; they’re easy to pronounce and a simple way to return some of the warmth you’ll encounter in the land of smiles (sa-wat-dee means “hello,” kob khun means “thank you,” mai-pen-rai means “no, thanks,” and lar-karn means “goodbye”).
CAMBODIA & VIETNAM
Don’t be surprised if the streets of Phnom Penh flood during the rainy season. The city’s drainage system hasn’t improved much since the colonial era.
Do observe the “No Touch” signs at Angkor Wat. Many tourists ignore them, and some of the temples are starting to feel the stress of too many human hands.
Don’t be shocked by the number of amputees in Cambodia: Land mines have taken a terrible toll on Cambodians, who have one of the highest per capita rates of amputation in the world.
Don’t touch people on the head or point to anything with your feet.
Don’t hug or kiss in public. Such open expression of affection is frowned upon.
Do try to take in a cultural show. It is an opportunity to experience the grace and beauty of traditional Khmer music and dance.
Do request permission to photograph the hill tribes in their colorful dress—they’re almost always willing, if asked.
Don’t forget to bargain when you are shopping in the market. It is part of local culture and can be an enjoyable experience.
Don’t export antiques without government approval.
Do think twice before giving money to or buying goods from children on the street or at major tourist sites. It keeps children on the streets and places them at risk. Rather than giving money to individuals, consider donating to organizations—such as ConCert, the Angkor Hospital for Children or ChildSafe Network—which are working to improve the lives of those in need.
Do consider providing support to local businesses and organizations such as Mekong Quilts, which offers a sustainable livelihood to artisans in the remote villages of Cambodia.
Don’t cross your fingers for good luck—the gesture is considered obscene by Vietnamese. And don’t point your finger at people or beckon them with the palm facing upward.
Do remove your shoes before entering Buddhist pagodas, most private homes and even businesses. If there’s a pile of shoes outside the door, add yours to it. Be sure not to let the soles of your feet face any sacred monument, such as a statue of Buddha.
Don’t argue loudly or shout. A show of bad temper is a sign of poor emotional control and is a sure loss of face in the eyes of Vietnamese people.
Do receive objects and even change with both hands if that is the way it is offered. It is respectful to do so.
Don’t bow from the waist as Chinese, Japanese and Koreans do. Close a conversation or transaction with a sharp bow of the head only. Shake hands only if your partner initiates the gesture.
Don’t touch people of the opposite sex, but if you find yourself in friendly conversation with a Vietnamese friend, expect to be gently touched on the forearm or shoulder as a sign of trust.
Do dress neatly and modestly. Pants should be below the knee for both men and women. Shirts should have sleeves, especially if you’re visiting a religious site.
Don’t forget your sense of humor. Most Vietnamese enjoy a joke and often engage in a form of good-natured ribbing that may seem aggressive to new arrivals. Feel free to respond in kind. Where spoken language fails, a smile and pantomime that includes amusing body language will win you many friends.
Do be yourself. Most Vietnamese are as eager to learn about your culture as you are to visit theirs.
Do dress for the occasion. Hong Kong is a relatively formal city and, despite its almost year-round heat, top restaurants and clubs ask customers to dress smart casual, meaning no sleeveless shirts, shorts or open-toed shoes for men, and no flip-flops or sandals for women.
Don’t forget your umbrella. Except for the winter, when Hong Kong is generally dry, south China weather is highly changeable and can get very wet, very fast.
Do get outside of the city center. There is so much more to Hong Kong than concrete high-rises, although short-term visitors could be forgiven for thinking otherwise. Take a trip to the New Territories, go for a hike through any of Hong Kong’s green areas or hop a ferry to one of the outlying islands. You will have a completely different view of Hong Kong if you do. An Octopus stored-value card is a boon for using public transport.
Don’t forget to bargain everywhere except at department stores and restaurants. Sellers expect it, and their first price is never their best price. If they claim it is, walk away—you can do better elsewhere.
Do leave plenty of space in the luggage you take in with you; it will soon be filled with shopping buys. Otherwise, just buy more luggage.
Don’t worry about carrying traveler’s checks or wads of cash. ATMs are plentiful around the main business areas and even near most beaches and on the islands.
Do look both ways before you cross the street. Unlike neighboring China, Hong Kongers drive on the left, like their former colonial stewards, the British. Make sure you look and then look again, just to be safe. And watch out for trams crossing Central.
Don’t spit or drop litter; both carry fixed penalty fines of HK$1,500, and there is a fine of HK$5,000 for those caught spitting on the MTR.
Do take the Hong Kong Airport Express upon arrival into Hong Kong. Determine if your hotel is on the Kowloon side or Hong Kong Island, then hop off accordingly. All information is in English, the scenic ride costs less than one-third the price of a taxi, and the views are terrific.