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 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
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 head or try to put anything on it, including a hat, unless you want to offend someone. Talking about disrespectful things not to do in Thailand…
Do not point towards people with your feet
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
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 not do 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
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
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 approach 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 but this is a big no-no and one of the most important things not do in Thailand. 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
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
Speaking of things not to do in Thailand that most people don’t know about, you should never try to take pictures or statues of Buddha outside of Thailand. 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.
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
Speaking of things not to do in Thailand, you should never ever lose your temper. 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
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
Per Meistrup CC by SA 4.0
I know that the nightlife in Bangkok or Chiang Mai and the popular Full Moon parties at the islands 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
When shopping at local markets, most Thai vendors will usually always give you a price higher than the actual one, expecting you to bargain but 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
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
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
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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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