Going to a new country can be very overwhelming, especially when the culture is very different to that of yours. While there are many customs and beliefs in Thailand, most Thai people are used to tourists and are very tolerant when customs aren’t followed and cultural errors are made, providing it is not insulting towards their monarchy or religion. Thailand is marketed as the land of smiles and endless sunshine, it is, however, also the land of cultural beliefs and unintentionally committing a social crime is easily done. To make sure you’re not breaking any cultural rules here are some of the definite don’ts for Thailand.
- Do not ever show disrespect towards the Thai Royal Family. Thai people have a deep, traditional respect for the Royal Family, deliberately failing to show some respect towards the King or the Monarchy in any situation where it is expected, is not only an offense but can also get you in prison.
- Don’t show disrespect to Buddha images, large or small, ruined or not, they are regarded as sacred objects. This means no climbing onto them to take photos or do anything which might indicate a lack of respect. Sacrilegious acts are punishable by imprisonment even when they are committed by foreign visitors.
- Don’t take Buddha images out of the country, this is against the law unless special permission has been granted. However, stores will sell them to you, but won’t necessarily tell you about the regulations. I’ve never seen anyone check this at the border, I read this online and heard from an expat living on one the of the Thai islands that people have paid heavy fees for taking out Buddha, but to be honest I wouldn’t worry too much about it.
- Do not sit on the floor of a Temple with your feet pointing at Buddha, your feet should always be pointing away from him.
How to act around Monks
- Do not cross your legs when you are in the presence of a monk, no matter if you are sitting on the floor or in a chair.
- Do not touch a monk. Monks are forbidden to touch women and often won’t even hand them something directly. While men are allowed to be in contact with monks they must keep a respectful distance. No one should stand over, or be positioned higher than, and there should definitely be no head rubbing!
- Do not use your fork to put food in your mouth, instead, use it to push your food onto your spoon.
- Don’t leave your chopsticks in your bowl after you’ve finished, this symbolizes dead and is very bad luck.
- Do not look around for your knife, all the food is cut up for you so you won’t need one. Don’t worry when ordering a steak or anything else that needs cutting you’ll be getting a knife with your meal.
Alcohol, Drugs & Gambling
- Do NOT get involved with anything or anyone about drugs. Do not take any packages through Thai customs for anybody! Seriously, I know it may sound like I’m over exaggerating but there are some that actually do this stuff! If you are caught carrying drugs, you risk the death penalty or quite some time in prison. So be warned!
- Again with the taking a bag from a stranger, or even from someone you know. Do not ever accept any bag or anything from someone you don’t know very well, as it may contain drugs. And beware of your own compatriots, there are many scams of all kinds run by foreigners and aimed at foreigners. Always check what is in a bag before you agree to take it anywhere! Trafficking or possession of drugs (including “soft” drugs) is in many cases punished very severally and can lead up to years in prison and even death.
- Do not participate in any form of gambling. Gambling is against the law in Thailand and penalties are very severe!
- Do not smoke in the street, or drop litter in the street. You can be fined 2,000 Baht for doing so. But seriously people, I shouldn’t have to tell you not to throw litter on the street, if you still want to enjoy Thailand in 20 years, you gotta respect the country now!
Meeting Thai People
- Do not touch Thai’s heads or ruffle their hair. Thai regard the head as the highest part of the body, literally and figuratively. This also counts for the small kids that try to sell you stuff, I know they look cute and adorable, but even for them, it would be looked down upon.
- Do not point at people or things with your feet. This is considered very rude, as the feet are considered as the most inferior parts of the human body.
- Do not be offended by questions about age, salary or marital status, which are common questions Thai ask each other when they first meet.
When in Public don’t…
- TAKE YOUR CLOTHES OFF, might seem strange but the number of guys that take their shirts off and girls walk around in bikini tops is disgusting. It is very disrespectful to do this, so keep your clothes on unless you are in your own private space, at a pool or a beach.
- Do not sunbathe nude, this is offensive to most Thai people.
- Do not be too affectionate in public. Kissing, cuddling and similar behaviour are frowned upon if in public, especially amongst older Thais.
- Do not shout in public in anyway (to anybody). In Thailand shouting is an annoyance and is entirely frowned upon, whatever the situation. There may be times when you face frustrations, do so quietly and calmly, and to be fair, shouting is probably not going to help the situation or will make them understand you better.
- Do not get involved in prostitution in Thailand, this doesn’t only put your health at serious risk, but also heightens the chance of getting robbed.
- Do not keep your valuables in a hotel safe deposit box. Some safe deposit boxes are the most unsafe places for safekeeping. Entrust your valuables only to respectable hotels.
- Do not accept any offers from strangers to assist you in finding the right places to do your shopping. You don’t know what their intentions are, most will just try to help you and earn some money, others might have different ideas.