11 July 2024

For the first time since the two countries established modern-day diplomatic ties almost 50 years ago, Thai tourists will be allowed visa-free entry to China from March 1.

Excitement is growing among Thais eager to visit Chinese destinations without having to apply for visas anymore, according to media reports in both countries.

Thailand temporarily waived visa requirements for Chinese tourists on September 25 last year, allowing them to stay in the kingdom for 30 days. From March 1, both countries will implement permanent mutual visa exemptions.

Long history of friendship

Records show ties between the two countries date back to the mid-14th century when a Chinese envoy traveled to Ayutthaya to announce the establishment of the Ming dynasty (1368–1644). In October 1371, a representative from the king of Siam – as Thailand was known at the time – was sent to the Middle Kingdom (China) with trained elephants and local products as a tribute to the Chinese emperor, who reciprocated with a gift of 32 bolts of patterned fine silk and 19,000 pieces of porcelain. Tributary trade relations between Siam and China lasted over 480 years.

Chinese tourists are greeted by Thai dancers at the arrivals gate at Suvarnabhumi International Airport in Bangkok on September 25, 2023.//AFP

Bilateral ties soured following World War II, when China came under communist rule and Thailand aligned with the “free world” led by the United States during the Cold War. China and Thailand finally established diplomatic relations on July 1, 1975.

‘Visa-free era’

In his late January visit to Bangkok, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi announced the visa-free era between China and Thailand would start on March 1. The historic move would boost cross-border exchanges between the people of both countries, he added. While in the capital, he signed a mutual visa exemption agreement with Thai Foreign Minister Parnpree Bahiddha-Nukara.

Under the deal, the two countries’ passport holders can enter and stay in China or Thailand visa-free for 30 days, but for no more than 90 days in 180 days.

“There will be a big increase in the number of Chinese tourists visiting Thailand,” Wang said. “We also welcome friends from Thailand to experience the vitality and vibrancy of China and the hospitality of the Chinese people.”

Thais from all walks of life are expressing enthusiasm for the advent of visa-free Chinese travel, China’s news agency Xinhua reported in early February. Narongsak Putthapornmongkol, president of the Thai-Chinese Chamber of Commerce, told Xinhua that he anticipates a “big increase” in Thai tourists visiting China when the agreement takes effect on March 1.

However, there are also concerns that visa-free tourists may face tougher scrutiny by Chinese immigration officials. Some Thais are worried they could be denied entry.

A visitor from France – whose passport holders were granted visa-free entry to China from December 1 – said Chinese immigration officials interrogated him about the purpose of his trip after he showed his multiple-entry visa in January. “Maybe [visa-free entry] would make it easier if they didn’t ask me so many questions. But maybe they’d ask me even more questions,” he told a Hong Kong media outlet.

Advice for Thai tourists

Experts on Chinese travel have offered advice to Thai tourists on how to prepare for visa-free trips to China.

First, your passport must have at least six months left before the expiry date.  Make sure you have proof of a return air ticket and hotel reservation, as well as financial support for your stay in China. Travelers also are advised to buy travel insurance before their trip.

Mobile banking is now widely used in China, and many shops do not accept cash. Experts advise Thai travelers to link their credit cards to Chinese mobile apps Alipay or WeChat for online payments while in China. Credit cards are accepted by malls and large stores, but not by most smaller shops.

Thai tourists are advised mobile roaming to access internet services such as Facebook, Line, Instagram, X (formerly Twitter), Gmail, YouTube, and even Google Maps, which are all blocked in China.

Best time to visit China

Spring and autumn offer the best weather conditions in most parts of the country. Spring lasts from late April to early June, while autumn runs from September to October.

With an area of about 9.6 million square kilometers, China is the world’s third-largest country. This vast territory sprawling across five time zones has plenty to attract visitors – from natural beauty, cultural riches and ancient civilizations to vibrant megacities and diverse culinary identities.

Among its biggest tourist draws are Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Kunming, Hangzhou, Zhangjiajie, Chengdu, Xiamen, Guangzhou, Zhengzhou, and Shenzhen.

By Thai PBS World’s General Desk