17 Things you should avoid doing when visiting Thailand

Despite receiving bad reputation once in a while for debauchery at full moon parties, prostitution, and scam artists that constantly target tourists, Thailand’s tourism is still booming and the country is always part of the top 10 most visited countries in the world. The main reason for this is, of course, what Thailand has to offer as a tourist destination and its warm and welcoming people. However, just like every other country, there are certain things you should not to do in Thailand. It’s a country with a very unique culture and norms that you’re probably not familiar with unless you previously visited Thailand. And if you didn’t, keep reading and you’ll learn how to avoid trouble and save yourself from embarrassing situations while traveling in Thailand.

Do not touch anyone’s head

buddhists and monk

As innocent as it might sound, this is one of the most offensive things you can do to a local. In Thailand, people consider the head to be the cleanest and holiest part of one’s body. You shouldn’t touch anyone’s or try to put anything on it, including a hat, unless you want to offend someone. Talking about disrespectful things you should avoid…

Do not point towards people with your feet

monks sitting

Try to remember that while in Thailand, you should not use your feet for anything else but walking. Pointing at people with your hands is rude too but pointing at someone with your feet (even when you do it subconsciously) can be taken as an offense. Also, never point your feet towards temples, monks, and images of Buddha or the Royal family, even when you’re sitting down. Talking about the Royal Family…

Don’t disrespect the king

bangkok grand palace

Despite the lash of criticism the Royal Family received in the last decade from people concerned about freedom rights, the King remains the most respected person in Thailand and disrespecting him is one of the things you should not do when in Thailand. Not only are there rigorous laws against insulting the Royal Family but you also might offend regular people by doing this. That’s why it’s best not to criticize the Royal Family when accompanied by locals. You can even go to jail for this. Additionally, you should never disrespect pictures of the Royal Family nor step on any coins or money because the King’s portrait is engraved on them.

Do not keep your shoes on

Thai people always take their shoes off when visiting someone’s home and when visiting most temples. This is even applicable to some restaurants! As a rule of thumb, if you see shoes outside or people inside who are barefoot, take your shoes off even if your host insists that you shouldn’t.

Do not shake hands

thai greeting things not to do in thailand

Shaking hands isn’t a part of Thai tradition. Thai people greet people by placing their palms together similar like we do when we pray. Usually, it’s younger people that greet older people or people with a lower social status that greet people with higher social status. However, young people also greet their friends this way and this gesture also appears in business culture as well. If a younger person greets you, you don’t have to greet them back but you can. However, if someone with lower social status like a shop clerk greets you, you shouldn’t greet back. A smile will be enough.

Do not visit places with captured wild animals

elephant sanctuary thailand

In a lot of places around Thailand, you’ll find “sanctuaries” with illegally procured wild animals. These animals are captured from the wild and held in captivity with a sole purpose; to allow their owners to profit on tourists that visit these sanctuaries and take pictures with the animal. In some of these “sanctuaries”, people even remove the teeth and claws so that tourists can approached the animals and take pictures with them. Keep in mind that when visiting these places, you’re just as guilty as the owners.

Don’t buy anything from kids on the street

Sure, this seems innocent and you’d feel like doing a good deed. However, that’s not the case. By buying stuff from these kid street vendors, you’re only encouraging child labor and trafficking. These kids likely have someone above them who takes all of their earnings. Additionally, you can never bee too careful as some of these kids are master pickpockets.

Don’t Whistle at Night

things not to do in thailand whistling

Again, this is another thing that might seem harmless to you but will bother a lot of people. You probably don’t know this but there’s a Thai superstition according to which, whistling at night can summon evil spirits. People can get anxious when hearing this sound at night and this is one thing you need to be aware of before visiting Thailand. You can whistle in the morning or throughout the day but never do it at night.

Don’t buy pictures or statues of Buddha

buddha statues shop

Sure, pictures and statues of Buddha make great souvenirs or gifts for your loved ones but what most tourists don’t know about them is that it’s actually illegal to take them out of the country. If you want to do this, you need to obtain a special permit. If the airport security sees this and you don’t have a permit, you might have to pay a hefty fine.

Don’t PDA

things not to do in thailand

With all the ladyboy and prostitute stories, you might think Thailand is a very liberal country but that’s not quite true. Thai people don’t display affection in public and you shouldn’t do that either. French kissing in public is considered extremely rude and most Thai people don’t even hold hands in public.

Don’t lose it

thailand floods

Thais are known as calm people who generally don’t lose their temper. They even have a philosophy that they call jai yen (meaning cool heart). Most of the avoid confrontations and see raising one’s voice as something very rude. Keep this in mind when in Thailand and always try to keep your cool no matter how frustrating your situation seems.

Don’t trust tuk-tuk drivers

tuk tuk thailand

Some tuk-tuk drivers will try to straight up rob you with a ridiculous fare for a short ride. Others will tell you that the place you’re heading to is closed and take you to a bunch of tourist traps. Even worse, some tuk-tuk drivers will offer to give you a cheap ride but they will only take you to several expensive shops where you might be harassed, pressured to buy something or even drugged and robbed (and the driver will get an affiliate commission for it). Instead, use apps like Grab and you’ll know that you’re always paying a realistic price.

Don’t do drugs

full moon party

I know that the nightlife in Bangkok and Full Moon parties sound tempting but you should avoid drugs for multiple reasons. And I’m not saying this just because drugs are bad; that’s common sense. A lot of tourists have been taken advantage of while drugged by local scammers, oftentimes losing all of their belongings. Additionally, a lot of the “local drug dealers” are undercover cops or work with cops to scam tourists. The scam usually unwinds like this; a guy approaches you on the street and tries to sell you some drugs. You agree, make the purchase and are intercepted by a police officer on the next corner. In Thailand, if you get caught with a small quantity of illegal substances, you can end up in jail and the cop will be asking for a colossal bribe to let you go.

Don’t bargain too low

thailand floating market

Even though most Thai vendors will usually always give you a price higher than the actual one, you should never bargain too low. Bargaining is a part of Thai culture and most vendors will expect you to bargain (that’s why they always start with a higher price) but never bargain too low because some people might get offended. As a rule of thumb, if you’re not ready to pay at least half of the initial price, don’t bargain at all.

Don’t swim in the Southern Andaman in the low season

thailand waves

In average, around 50 people drown every year on Phuket’s west coast, Krabi, Khao Lak, and Trang when the monsoon season brings big waves to this part of Thailand. A lot of the beaches don’t have proper lifeguard patrols because it’s the offseason and tourists aren’t properly informed about the dangers of swimming in this part of Thailand during the monsoon season. So, avoid swimming in these parts of Thailand between the months of May and November and see what’s the best time to visit Thailand before you plan your trip.

Don’t sit during the royal tribute in the movies

If you go to the cinema to see a movie, you’ll notice there’s a short tribute before the beginning of every film where the King is on the screen. When you see this, you should stand up even if there isn’t anyone else in the movie hall. If you don’t, you’re being disrespectful towards the King. And we all know what happens to people who disrespect the king.

Don’t collect coral or shells to take home

corals and shells thailand beach

Finally, to round up this list of things not to do in Thailand, I have to mention coral reefs and shells. I know it can be a nice souvenir but in most parts of Thailand, they’re protected and should not be taken away from their natural inhabitant and you can actually get fined for this.

Helpful resources for visiting Thailand

For cheap flights to Thailand, use this coupon to save up to 20% on all Qatar Airways flights to Thailand.

Looking for great accommodation deals in Thailand? Use my Booking discount coupon that gets you 15% off on all properties in Thailand. Alternatively, if you’re searching for some luxury, use this special offer to save on all Radisson hotels in Thailand.

Get 15% off on all car rentals in Thailand with this special offer by AutoEurope.

To save money on trains and buses across Thailand, get some great deals on Bookaway.

Finally, if you need travel insurance for your trip to Thailand, World Nomads has some of the best offers on the market.

Did you ever visit Thailand? Do you have a list of things not do in Thailand? Let us know in the comments.

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20 thoughts on “17 Things you should avoid doing when visiting Thailand”

  1. Really useful to know these things before visiting the place! I am planning a trip to Thailand this year. The fact that you shouldn’t greet a store clerk back is really surprising considering how in other parts of the world, it would commonly be considered good manners. I have heard about the scams and what a nuisance they can be though.

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    • Glad to hear that you found the post useful. There are a lot of etiquettes that are polite everywhere else but are not in Thailand.

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  2. Thailand has been on my bucket list for a while and I’ve read a lot of posts about what to see and do. It’s nice to read something that gives practical advice like this so that visitors can avoid common mistakes. I have pinned this for future reference!

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  3. There were some good tips here that I wish I had known before we visited. Certainly did not know that I should not touch someone’s head to that we should not whistle at night. I learned the one about pointing your feet and no shoes when we visited a temple. We did take a tub tuk. But we knew what to watch for before we got in. And politely declined the shopping trip. Some great tips for people visiting for the first time.

    Reply
  4. Thailand is one of the place that I plan to visit but I did not know a lot of these. This is really helpful and very informative. I have heard about not disrespecting the King but I did not know that there’s a tribute in the cinemas and that you should stand up. It’s the first time I hear about not buying from kids on the streets as well. Thank you for this very informative post

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  5. Wow! That’s quite an impressive, unusual list of things to keep in mind when visiting Thailand. Leaving the shoes outside, saying hello with putting the hands together is all pretty similar to India! I didn’t know buying a simple Buddha statue would need a special permit! That’s something not to be forgotten. Its somewhat similar in Srilanka too I guess with the emotions with the image of Buddha – I read of people having troubles when they wore clothes with Buddha print on it, in the airport itself!

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    • Thanks, Bhushavali. Indeed India and Thailand do share some similar traditions. And yes, exporting and item in the shape of Buddha is not allowed as it is pretty sacred for them.

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  6. Brilliant post. It is so important to know the customs of the place when you visit so as to not offend the people there. I knew most of them except for the Buddha statue one. Now that I think of it, I did not see any Buddhas on sale! Interestingly, in India and Nepal, they are considered as an auspicious buy and gift.

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    • Thanks, Ami. As much as I agree that India & Nepal share some similarities with Thailand, for them, Buddha in any shape and form is incredibly sacred.

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  7. What a great post! I haven’t been to Thailand yet, but I’ll be saving this for when I do go. I really appreciate that you mentioned not visiting places that have wild animals in captivity and not purchasing things/giving money to children on the street. Both things seem so “innocent” yet are terrible behind the scenes. Also, not being able to bring back a Buddha statue or picture is very interesting and not something I would have thought of. I’ll def be passing that information on to anybody I know travelling to Thailand!

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    • I am so thrilled Erica. Yes, many tourists that travel to Thailand for the first aren’t aware of it and subconsciously do these things and as travelers, we should be fully aware of these things before traveling anywhere.

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  8. I just came back from Thailand and what you wrote was true! I notice that there was no proper lifeguard on the beach in Phuket, so definitely not a good idea to swim in a monsoon season. I didn’t know that it’s illegal to take Buddha statues out of the country. Thanks for these tips!

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  9. Thailand is a place where everyone love to visit, but sometime travelers face problem while they don’t know the rules. In your blog you have nicely described do’s and dont’s. I agree with not visiting places with captured animals, we do not need animals to entertain us. Full moon party is surely one of its kind parties but it is important to not get involved in drug scenes. You have surely shared few very important things to note before visiting Thailand. I live here since 5 years and I can totally agree with you on these.

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    • Thanks, Shreya. AS someone who has spent a handful amount of time in Thailand, I am glad that you agree with the points I have shared.

      Reply
  10. Thank you for this. Mostly what are written here, I don’t have any idea that they are disrespectful for them. Now we get to know what we shouldn’t be doing when going to Thailand.

    Reply

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