10 things you should not do whilst in Thailand

Thai Flag - 10 things not to do whilst in ThailandHere’s a little list I’ve compiled of things you should not do whilst in Thailand – please feel free to send in your comments or additions at the bottom!

1. Do not raise your voice or get angry with locals

It makes me incredibly uncomfortable to see foreigners (‘Farangs’) come to Thailand, and start ranting and raving aggressively at the locals. Thai people generally do not shout at each other or show anger – everything is done with a smile, however annoyed they are.

Reasons for this foreign aggression usually include: the fact that foreigners often expect all Thai people to be fluent in English, combined with the fact that things in Thailand do not happen at the same pace or with the same efficiency (or level of stress?) that they do in the West. If you’re easily wound up by people not understanding your machine-gun garbled English, and expect things to happen as and when you click your fingers, I’d suggest you headed somewhere else on holiday. (Be warned, beneath the smiley Thai demeanor lies a raging monster waiting to explode – and should you push them far enough, you will not know what hit you.)

2. Do not ride a motorbike without a helmet and/or whilst drunk

This is known colloquially as a “schoolboy error”. You’d be amazed at the amount of beer-swilling westerners who head to places like Koh Phangan, drink 10 pints of lager, smoke a few joints and, having not ridden a motorbike before, suddenly decide that they can navigate the twisty island roads at 3am with 2 passengers . You see them all the time, legs, arms and shoulders covered in festering scabs, and those are the lucky ones. Just because Thai people ride without helmets (after 20 years of motor-biking experience), and regularly spill their brains across the roads, it doesn’t mean you should.

3. Do not only eat western food

Honestly, if you order Steak Au Poivre in Thailand, it’s just not going to taste like back home. Try some of the local food, from the local restaurants – and that doesn’t mean the local Irish backpacking establishment. For you own good, I’d recommend eating in some of the local street restaurants. The food is generally cheaper (about $1 a meal or less), and more often than not, it is considerably fresher and tastier than the salmonella-riddled chicken in your backpacker guesthouse. Why? These people have cooked the same few dishes for years and years – they are specialists, and if the Thai people eat there, it is because the food is very, very tasty.

4. Do not expect things to happen “as they do at home”

They simply don’t. For example, ‘Thai time’ is a special time-telling system that operates along the lines of "I say 10 O’clock and I mean somewhere between 09.30 and 11.30 probably.". If this is going to bother you, either bring something to entertain you whilst you are waiting around, or, go to London/New York on holiday.

5. Do not get overly amorous in public

Thai people do not show affection in public in the same way that westerners are accustomed to doing. The most you’ll ever see them do is hold hands. If you like to fondle and kiss your partner in public (with or without tongues), bear in mind that the Thai people around you will probably feel quite uncomfortable.

6. Do not walk around semi-naked “because it’s bloody hot here”

It amazes me the amount of Western men I see walking around the Old City in Chiang Mai, with their tops off. Look around and ask yourself why Thai people don’t do this. The answer is not “because they are used to the heat”. By way of an illustration, Thai people wear their clothes whilst ‘swimming’ in the sea – however hot the weather is. This is for two main reasons: firstly, so their skin remains as light in tone as possible, and secondly, because they find nakedness a little bit embarrassing. That also means girls, sadly the boobs should stay covered.

7. Do not expect people to follow the same driving rules they do “at home”

I have taken my driving test in Thailand, and during the multiple-choice theory test, the computer spat out a series of unintelligible (and actually incorrect) answers. Pointing this out to the examiner resulted in "Ha! Ha! Computers in Bangkok wrong!" followed by some loud guffawing. Generally, people in Thailand do not drive in the ordered way we have come to expect in our home countries. Driving rules, if they exist, are there to be broken. Thai drivers also cannot drive backwards, which makes for interesting head-to-head stand-offs down narrow roads. I suggest you quickly adapt your usual driving style, and expect everyone to do the unexpected at all times. It’s your only chance!!

8. Do not speak negatively about the King

Thai people respect their King almost as if he were a god. If you intend to visit Thailand it would be a good idea if you learnt to do the same – even if only temporarily. That means not laughing out loud during the national anthem, or defacing posters of the king like this Swiss man did. At best you’ll be severely disliked, at worst you may be in for a public lynching.

9. Do not only visit Phuket/Koh Samui/Pattaya/Koh Phangan

It is a shame to visit such a beautifully diverse country and only spend your time hanging out with other Westerners in a backpacker ‘zone’ like Hadrin in Koh Phangan. Be adventurous, head off the beaten track – you won’t be disappointed, unless you’re secretly xenophobic that is.

10. Do not have unprotected sex with a stranger

It may be stating the obvious but you’d be surprised how many stories you hear of holiday makers coming out to Thailand and having unprotected sex. Generally speaking, ‘bar girls’ (as they are perhaps derogatorily known) are the only women in Thailand that would actually consider being ‘picked up’ by a drunken Farang (foreigner) for a one night stand – and whether you like it or not, they have probably done it ‘quite a few times’ before. There is a very high rate of HIV/AIDS in Thailand – be sensible. 😉

So there we have it – the 10 things you should avoid doing in Thailand. If you have any additions please feel free to add them below as a comment…

23 thoughts on “10 things you should <em>not</em> do whilst in Thailand”

  1. Very sensitive. I would add:

    11. Do not bargain over 20 baht, i.e. 30 UK pence. You can prepare lunch for a family of four for that amount.

  2. Interesting read, mate … I myself am guilty of about seven of the ten … after my visit in ’99.

    What a Philistine!

  3. Similar to point 6, Do not dress like a total hippy when you can afford to dress as well as the locals expect you to… does that make sense? I went to a Thai doctor in Chiang Mai in a ragged old T-Shirt, and the guy was dressed immaculately. God knows what he thought of me. I chucked the holey t-shirt out after that.

  4. 12. Never happened to me but i have heard of it happening. If you do decide to pick up a bar girl make sure she is a girl. Best way to avoid this is to not pick up a bar girl or at least look for an Adam’s apple.

  5. That is a wonderful list, it is well thought out and points out the really key points that people should know. This should be a mandatory read for foreigners traveling here.

  6. I’ll admit to breaking #2/the motorbike one, in my case driving around the ring road at Chaing Mai on a borrowed scooter after a few pints very early on Christmas morning. I didn’t crash but I did wake up the next day thinking what a bloody stupid thing to have done.

    Also, drink bottled water, obvious I know, but always worth remembering.

  7. Many of these are not so strict, but i strongly recommend about speaking something about the King or religion. They’re very sensitive things to Thai people. Thailand is awesome, I always miss Thailand so much while i’m living in USA. It’s very good experience going to thailand. Wish all of you will enjoy life in thailand!!

  8. Great List Compilations:

    Three more add-ons that is insulting to the locals and should never be done by civilized farangs…

    Using your left hand for contacting/touching food or the locals: Pointing/displaying the soles of the feet at a person or Budda; Worse is to tap/pat a person on their head.

    Too err is human; to do all three of the above simultaneously is unpardonable. : )

  9. In the last two years I have spent 6 months in Thailand. I have witnessed many times western tourists screaming at Thai people. It sucks; I agree. However, any notion that Thai people are a bunch of angelic little Asians that have to suffer the monstrous western tourist horde is absurd. In six combined months I have been victim of more blatant racism and aggression over in Thailand than I ever have in my 33 years of life. It’s not just that Thais are racist, but that they are so uniformly and openly racist. Here the west you have many racists and generally society officially views them as social deviants. But over there racism is like a national institution. It’s a actual, true-to-life accepted social more. Little toddlers are taught to recognize and single out white people as being alien. Countless times I witnessed parents hatefully spitting out the word “Ferang” to their little children in reference to me for the obvious purpose of poisoning their little minds against westerners. I have had entire public buses of Thai people all laughing at me and mocking me in Thai. I am not fluent in Thai but I know enough to know when “westerner” and “pig” are combined in the same sentence followed by raucous, mocking laughter and stares it’s not a nice thing. I’m talking about an ENTIRE bus full of people, not just a couple of random jerks. Now, is this just pure racism? Is racism ever totally pure racism? I believe it is a blend of racism and financial envy. What do individuals or groups do when they envy you? They constantly seek to put you down and make you appear to be stupid. Everything you say and do is idiotic. Contempt is the mask that envy wears. I find that to be universally true, but in Thailand it’s like everybody is on the same page. You walk into a guesthouse or a local restaurant filled with Thai staff and immediately the game begins. Anyway, guess who’s had their fill of Thailand? I’ll never go back. Cambodia, however, is a totally different story. Khmer’s have their share of turds, it’s true, but generally speaking I have never met such truly nice people. Considering what Khmer people have been through, and their economic standing compared to Thais, you would expect them to be the haters. As for the Thais who are decent, I apologize for my criticism in advance, however YOU are truly a minority in your country. You should chew out your fellow countrymen when you seeing them behaving in the way I’ve described. God knows they wouldn’t give me the time of day if I did it.

  10. Hi Jeremy,

    Thanks for your comments…I think every country has its racist element, and many times I was also subjected to staring and pointing, accompanied by generally giggly comments about “Farang”, but I usually took this more as an observational “He’s different” behaviour on the part of the Thais, rather than in an aggressive unfriendly way.

    I am sure some of the comments were probably less than polite, but if any Thais went into provincial England they would certainly encounter an uneducated element who would probably point, stare and call them “Chinkies” or some other derogatory term…

  11. I was looking at Jeremy’s statement and just wonder if he was in the same country I was. I have been in many countries and I feel most comfortable around Thais. I hate being surrounded by people looking to get some kind of handout from me (Philippines and Mexico come to mind) and I don’t run into that in Thailand. When I lived there I found that most of them ignored me unless I had a direct contact with someone. Is that because they’re racist? Maybe, but I’m perfectly happy with that. I can’t stand phony friendliness. I have found the Thais to be very polite and easy-going; that’s enough for me. They don’t have to like me, but as long as I’m shown the same respect that I go through the trouble of giving out, I’m happy. But, I have had great times drinking Mekong with the in-laws and spent time a lot of time in establishments where no other farangs could be seen. What little ridicule I have run into, I laugh it off because I like to laugh at myself as well. I have run into way more open racism in Japan, as well as black and Hispanic neighborhoods in the US. I think it helps that I’m very mellow and humble (and Buddhist)though. I realize how lucky I am to be born in a wealthy country. I know I’m not better than them but luckier. I think if one tries to lose himself into the Thai culture, especially following rule 3 (yum), Thais will tend to show more respect. Bottom line, the Thais I relate to are a very beautiful people. Also I find the violence in this political crisis very heartbreaking and hope more peaceful minds will prevail.

  12. I’m Thai. Regarding racism, I would like to say that perhaps Jeremy was very unlucky because I think usually Thai people are not racist. Farang just simply means foreigners. And one thing to however not with a mocking intention.(Mocking is considered very rude in Thailand)I discover this myself as I am now living in Europe and sometimes I laugh at something that all my friends wonder why is it funny. So forgive us for that:)

  13. I realize Jeremy posted two years ago, but having just read this article I have to wonder how many things he did on this “do not” list.

  14. oh my gosh! in thailand now everything you guys are saying is true! (the negative things) and im not white im their complection! rude, arrogant, even the police will mock and laugh at you! it’s definitely financial jealousy in my opinion. They’re gossipers, bad hearted and thick as shite! Amazing islands with amazing limestone cliffs amazing sand and amazing water got an amazing tan had some not so amazing food but i refuse to assist their economy with my money by coming back! keep cutting the cue at 7/11 to us tourists and we shall see if you have any 7/11’s in the future! country is pretty and cheap shame about the people!!!!!!!!!! 🙂

  15. I’m heading to Thailand this October, and am truly looking forward to going. After reading these comments, I have to say… The attitude of the people who say they’ve had a positive experience in Thailand is very different from the attitude of the people who say they found the locals to be rude, arrogant, etc. Perhaps you were treated rudely because you’re the kind of person to call others “jealous” and “bad hearted.” As an American, I worry when I travel about being seen as an Ugly American because so many Westerners are pushy and entitled, and so I do everything I can to be polite and respectful wherever I go. Much like visiting someone’s house or meeting their family. Maybe try that and give the people another shot.

  16. Hi Amanda,

    Thanks for your comment – I agree… Some people I think can’t comprehend or cope with the basic cultural differences between their own cultures and Asian cultures. This seems to even spark an intense paranoia in some people (not naming any names)! There are good and bad elements in Thailand as with all cultures, but I certainly found the positive to far outweigh the negative.

  17. I am an American, so the one word that attracts my attention here is “whilst.”
    I reviewed my copies of works by H.H. Munro and P.G. Wodehouse, and I see “while” used,
    but never “whilst.” So, my question is, what
    is going on with “whilst”? Wouldn’t it be better to use words that are common to all English-speakers? Can anyone enlighten me about this?

  18. The foot is the lowest part of the body – physically and to the Thai symbolically. The head is the highest part – again physically and to the Thai symbolically. The king is seen as a demi-god. A picture of his head is on all coins. Therefore if you see a coin rolling on the ground do not ever step on it. Never done it myself and it’s simply a reflex for westerners but in Thailand a BIG no no.

  19. two weeks travelling to north and south to koh pha ngan, never had an issue except some very strung out taxi drivers, mind you, i dress very conservatively, move with caution and speak very calmly, deeply and with low volume.

    I have a friendly demeanor, i do not wear any jewellery and i do not throw cash around like a psychopath.

    Respect their moral code and you will be fine, they’ll have no issue putting you in your place if you misbehave. Don’t bother testing their patience, if the issue is with money, set about negotiating prices before any services or goods money are exchanged, common sense.

    don’t be a mug, don’t act like one///

    I’m aussie and I loved thailand, doubt i’ll go back sadly. whilst i never felt the rough end of racism personally, I did feel completely ignored which was fine because i’m a fairly solitary in my day to day operandi,

    at times when noramlly in my own country there calls for some feedback in the street, might just be a head nod at the very least a smile or even eye contact… it was rare… like I was invisible, perhaps that was the rough end, or it’s a thai thing i do not know.

  20. I am just ending a two month stay in Thailand. I was born in the southern United States and now live in NYC. Being raised in the southern United States I have seen my share of racism and bigotry, so I can honestly say that my experience in Thailand was very similar. I was so polite and kind to the local people, but was continually mocked and mistreated. I would ask a Thai person a question, and they would repeat my question back too me while making a nasty face and laughing with there friends. I would be in 7/11 and while the Thai people would respect other Thais and wait in line, they would skip in front of me as if I wasn’t even there. I had my Mother with me on the trip, and we had two taxi drivers stop and pee on the side of the road. I was shocked at how often the locals would attempt to overcharge me. I also had money stolen at my hotel. My Mother got some bad news over the phone and was crying, and the Thai people around us started mocking her and calling her a baby. It is also ridiculous that foreign people and Thais are charged different rates at museums and at train stations. If this was done in the United States it would be all over the news. It is blatant racism and absurd. I will say that I met some amazing people, but they were few and far between. The country is beautiful, but I will ever return to this awful place.

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