Thailand is an absolutely beautiful country, and it looks like more and more people are going to the hiking trail every day. You always hear about the “land of smiles” and the kindness of people, and we can say from experience – that’s completely true. Thais are special people, with big hearts to match their big smiles. That being said, travelling abroad can be difficult, no matter where you go, because there are always social habits that you must respect to be welcomed in your new environment. Since you probably don’t want to ruffle feathers or accidentally offend someone, we’ve put together our guide of things you should absolutely know before travelling to Thailand.
Respect the king and the royal family
The royal family, and the king in particular, is absolutely adored by the Thai people. When you arrive, you will quickly realize that there are pictures of the King everywhere – so be aware that it is illegal to hurt or mock them in any way. The Thai people see their king as a symbol of justice and adherence to Buddhist principles. Many also consider him a father figure, so much so that he is universally celebrated on their father’s day. Not surprisingly. It is a huge no-no to say anything negative about the revered monarch, or anyone in the royal family, because he will offend the Thais and put them in an uncomfortable position. The national anthem is played daily at 8:00 am and 6:00 pm in public places and on radio and television. During the song, you will notice that all Thais stop what they are doing and stay focused. Do the same if you want to be well received by your new Thai friends.
Follow polite customs
There are simple things you can make sure you do (or not do) that will make a huge difference in the way you are perceived by locals. For beginners, it will go a long way to learn a few sentences in Thai, such as “please” and “thank you”, and to be aware of the traditional Thai greeting: the wai. The wai can be accomplished by placing your hands together in a prayerful position and making a slight bow. It’s a simple thing, but it will go a long way in showing your respect for culture. Also try to remember to remove your shoes before entering temples (wats) and most houses, as it is very rude to keep your shoes if everyone takes them off. Finally, the body is considered hierarchically in Thailand, so make sure you do not touch someone’s head, because it is considered the sacred part of the body, and do not touch anyone, because the feet are considered the lowest and the dirtiest part of the body.
Carry toilet paper
You will certainly be able to find your fair share of Western-style toilets in Thailand, but you will also meet a ton of Asian squat toilets. If you’ve never used it before, we fully understand how you can find yourself in a crouched position to do your business, but once you get used to it, it doesn’t matter (like camping… just!). However, you will still need toilet paper, as it is rarely found in the stalls. Thai people choose to use a bidet shower (essentially a handheld version of a bidet, sometimes known as a “bum gun”) instead of toilet paper, so if you are not ready to jump on this moving train, make sure you appear prepared! Oh, and by the way, you can “rinse” using the bucket of water and pale next to the toilet.
Take risks on food (sometimes)
A large part of Thailand’s appeal is food. I mean, who doesn’t like Thai food?! Whether you are a Pad Thai junkie, or you can’t get enough Panang curry, we get it because we’re in the same boat. You will hear many warnings about food consumption before going to Thailand. While you should walk a little bit at first to let your stomach adapt, don’t let the fear of Bangkok Belly take your experience away! The street food in Thailand is incredible. You can get a big dinner for about one to two dollars at a street stall, and that’s where you’ll taste the real Thailand (although we like good restaurants too!). If the salespeople do not speak English, just point to what you want and they will be more than happy to serve you. That being said; avoid drinking tap water. It may even be wise to brush your teeth with bottled water to be safe.
May Pen Rai
“Mai Pen Rai” is a Thai saying that can be freely translated into English as “No worries, don’t worry, it will be fine, no problem”… you have the idea. But Mai Pen Rai is much more than a simple saying – it is a short sentence that summarizes Thai philosophy about life, and it is important to know about it to act appropriately in the culture. Thais are not only friendly people, they are incredibly relaxed. Much of this can be attributed to the pious Buddhist principles of the people, and it can also be attributed to the notion of saving the face. It is not socially acceptable for Thais to lose their composure when things go wrong. The vast majority of the time, they will just laugh, say “may pen rai”, and not lose sleep over it. So why is this important? Because things can often be slower or less effective than you would expect in Thailand, so it is important to keep pace, have a sense of humour and live Mai Pen Rai’s lifestyle. If you do this, you will have a real Thai experience, and maybe even learn to take things a little slower.
Beware of scams
No matter where you travel, it is always necessary to make sure that you keep your mind to avoid crooks; let’s be honest, they are everywhere. Some of the common scams in Thailand are what you expect: overloading foreigners or trying to get you to accept additions you can’t make are scams (this one practically only applies to drivers). As for tuk-tuks in Thailand, we are all about them, but make sure you agree on a price with the driver before you enter, to avoid any disagreement at the end about the cost of the trip. Also, once you are in a tuk-tuk or songthaew, drivers may ask you if you want to take a ride, which probably consists of taking you to their friends’ store and then collecting the commission for your visit, so just stick to your original plans. Some of the other things to keep in mind are universal: Keep your valuables close to avoiding pickpockets, and don’t get in trouble with the police, as they have been known to take advantage of strangers.
A hot girl could be a Ladyboy
There is a huge Trans-population in Thailand, so you will certainly not be able to travel there without hearing about the “ladyboys”. The Thai word for ladyboy is Kathoey, which really refers to a man who dresses and behaves in a woman’s way. Although you often hear jokes about ladyboys in Thai culture, they represent a widely accepted and recognized subgroup in Thai society that contributes greatly to the culture. In most cities in Thailand, you will hear about ladyboy cabaret shows, which we highly recommend because they can be very fun, and allow you to learn more about the community and culture – and have a good time while doing it!