Wherever you travel, knowing the dos and don’ts can help a lot, especially when you are visiting a country with a completely different culture from yours. Thailand is a country with a long history of culture and tradition.
Some actions that are a part of your daily life can be considered offensive or even law-breaking in Thailand, and not knowing them can make your trip take an unpleasant turn.
So, here is a list of the essential dos and don’ts in Thailand for anyone keen on making their trip as enjoyable as possible.
14 Essential Dos and Don’ts in Thailand
1. Do Respect Culture and Religion
One of the first things you will see once you arrive at the airport are the posters and LED boards that say ‘Buddha is not a decoration.’ And you will see giant billboards with the same or similar messages of not disrespecting Buddha statues around the city.
This is because most Thai people are Buddhists and are very serious about their religious beliefs.
Also, in Thai culture, respecting the monks and elders is a huge thing. Be careful not to sit in a place that is higher than where the monks are seated. And there are seats on the bus and trains reserved only for monks and older people. Women are also not allowed to touch the monks directly.READ MORE ▸ What Is the Main Religion of Thailand?
2. Don’t Wear Inappropriate Clothes When Visiting Temples
A visit to Thailand won’t be complete without visiting the temples. Temples in Thailand are usually ancient, especially those in Ayutthaya, and considered sacred and holy places by the locals.
You will see signs that say ‘No appropriate clothes allowed’ at the entrance of most temples and that you need to wear clothes that cover your shoulders and knees.
They let people borrow the long clothing pieces to wrap around their shorts at the Grand Palace, where the Temple of the Emerald Buddha exists.
So, if you don’t mind using clothing used by many people before, it won’t be a problem. But if you are uncomfortable with that, don’t forget to dress appropriately on the day with Temple visits on your itinerary, or at least bring a shawl or a scarf you can use to cover up.READ MORE ▸ Can You Wear Red in Thailand?
3. Don’t Point at Things with Your Feet
It may be acceptable in some countries, but it’s considered very rude in Thailand. Pointing at things in general with one finger is considered disrespectful, so it will be regarded as very offensive if you do it with your feet.
Also, don’t put your feet on tables or wash your feet in the sinks, especially in public places; you will get stared at or told off for being rude! Thai people consider the feet the dirtiest part of the body. Worse if your shoes are on.
The reason behind it might be because of the superstition that using your feet to point or placing them above where other people’s heads may exist will bring bad luck.
Also, shoes (by association, feet) directly contact the ground, making them unhygienic.READ MORE ▸ What Are the Hand Gestures in Thailand?
4. Do Remove Your Shoes When Entering Temples or Houses
Shoes are considered dirty, and wearing them inside the places considered holy, such as Temples, Monasteries, etc., or even in front of the monks, is considered disrespectful to the religion.
At the entrances of most temples, there are designated places with cabinets or lockers where you can store your shoes while visiting the temples.
Sometimes, it can be very hot to walk barefoot on the temple grounds and uncomfortable walking on the wet ground after the rain, so be careful to check the weather and consider this when planning your visit to the temples.
Most local people remove their shoes when entering their houses as Thai weather is humid, and shoes will carry a lot of dirt in from outside. If you are visiting a house, don’t forget to remove your shoes before entering. This is a sign of respect for the host.READ MORE ▸ How Many Temples Are There in Thailand?
5. Don’t Talk Bad About the Royal Family
As a country under the reign of monarchy, it is a serious crime in Thailand to publicly criticize or speak ill of the King and the Royal family.
The “lese-majeste law” or the infamous Article 112 of Thailand criminal code stated that defaming, insulting, or threatening the King, the Queen, the Heir-apparent, or the Regent, can result in getting imprisoned for three to fifteen years (1).
Although recently, there have been a lot of protests going on about reforming the country, especially among the youths, there are many instances that people get charged with heavy punishments for mocking or making jokes about the Royal family publicly.READ MORE ▸ Can You Wear Red in Thailand?
6. Do Be Patient
There is a common Thai phrase, “Sabai Sabai Sanuk”. “Sabai” means “relaxed, peaceful,” and “Sanuk” means “Fun.” So, the phrase “Sabai Sabai Sanuk” is used to express “Taking it easy and having fun,” and Thai people like to go with the flow and enjoy.
That’s why you will see a lot of cafés around the cities where people can relax and enjoy their days, as opposed to the “grab and go” kind of culture in other big cities like New York, where people are rushing every day.
When stuck in a heavy traffic jam, taxi drivers will try to make small talk with you or play some songs to pass the time instead of being angry and honking every 2 minutes.
This may also be because Thai people generally prefer avoiding conflicts and confrontations, especially in public.
So, they like to go with the flow and be patient, and expect others to do the same. As a result, service in Thailand can also be a bit slow in comparison. But the friendly smiles and attention given to you can make up for the slow service.
Of course, sometimes it can be frustrating, especially when you are in a hurry to get things done, but most of the time, try to “Sabai Sabai Sanuk” to bring inner peace, just like the locals do.READ MORE ▸ Why Is Thailand Called the Land of Smiles?
7. Don’t Touch the Head of Thai People
In Thai culture, the head of a person is considered the most scared and cleanest part of the body, and it is believed by many that being touched by others will take away their good luck.
That’s why touching or patting another person’s head or ruffling the hair is considered a rude action.
Placing your feet above other people’s heads is also considered rude, especially towards the elders. So if you find yourself sitting on a chair while elders are sitting or sleeping on the floor, it’s better to get off the chair and join them on the floor as a sign of respect.READ MORE ▸ How to Show Respect in Thailand?
8. Do Bargain
Bangkok is a shopping paradise, but there are troubles in this paradise too- the infamous ‘foreign price’ problem.
This might depend on where you shop but in many traditional markets like the famous Chatuchak market, they tend to ask more from the foreigners. The first shop you see when you enter the market usually is the most expensive one, and they might even charge you nearly double the price of other shops.
Therefore, don’t be shy to bargain and compare prices between a few shops before buying something. It will not only save you money but also helps you to get the best quality one in the market.READ MORE ▸ What Is the Best Thing to Buy in Thailand?
9. Don’t Use Your Left Hand to Give Things
Bad news for the lefties! In Thai culture, the left hand is considered the ‘poop hand’ (because, you know, it is used to clean your business after going to the toilet). So, using the left hand to give things to other people in Thailand is a no-no.
When giving something to the elders, or someone with ranks higher than you, touch your left hand to your right forearm as a sign of showing respect. The same goes for when receiving something as well.
Also, don’t throw things to give to someone unless you are friends. If you throw things at someone, it will be seen as thinking low of them, and people will get offended.READ MORE ▸ Is Thailand Clean?
10. Do Explore the Streets
Thailand is known for its temples, big shopping malls, beaches, and nightlife. But consider setting aside some free time to explore the neighborhood alleys for hidden gems.
There are lots of small, cozy, ‘instagrammable’ cafes and delicious restaurants hidden in the ‘Soi’s’ or the alleys of Bangkok. Walking around the streets of Siam, Sukhumvit, and Ari never gets boring. There are lots of cafés and small local shops to immerse yourself in.
So, if you want to spend an easy afternoon with a cup of nice coffee in a trendy café, take a stroll around these areas, and you won’t be disappointed.READ MORE ▸ Where Are the Best Places to Visit Thailand?
11. Don’t Cross the Road Carelessly
While it is fun to walk around the streets and uncover the hidden gems, don’t jaywalk. Traffic accidents occur very often in Thailand, and according to WHO, Thailand is the number one country in the ASEAN region with the highest death rate of 32.7 per 100,000 population (2).
Motorcycles are zooming around everywhere. Cars, especially taxis and the famous Tuk-Tuks, drive quite fast, even in the downtown area. With the notorious traffic jams, it can be an adventure to cross the roads of Bangkok sometimes.
Don’t try to cross the streets from anywhere, even when there are no cars, as motorcycles might appear out of nowhere. Stick to the crosswalks and pedestrian overpasses. For crossing the alleys or the ‘Soi’s,’ make sure to check both left and right, or just wait until everything is clear.READ MORE ▸ What Side of the Road Do They Drive in Thailand?
12. Do Ask For the Level of Spiciness when Ordering Food
If a Thai person tells you that the food is not spicy, chances are that it can still taste spicy to someone who cannot handle the spice at all.
The famous Tom Yum Kong, Som Tam, and many other Thai cuisines have spices. So if you are someone who cannot handle any kind of spiciness, do ask for a ‘no spicy’ version of the dishes. But if you are looking for an authentic Thai food experience, try to brave the original recipe.READ MORE ▸ What Should You Not Eat in Thailand?
13. Don’t Get Offended if You are Asked About Age and Occupation
Unlike in Western culture, it is considered normal or even friendly to ask someone about their age. This is because in Thai culture, hierarchy is important, and one must pay respect to someone older or in a job position higher than them.
Thai people usually put the suffixes P’ (same pronunciation as the letter P, but with a heavier tone at the end) or Khun in front of the names to address older people or have a higher status as a sign of respect, for both men and women.
If you are younger, then they might use Nong to address you. That’s why they will usually ask your age or occupation to determine how to address you properly and not because they want to be nosy about your personal life.READ MORE ▸ How Is Thai Culture Different From American?
14. And Last but Not Least… Do Smile!
Go on, smile. After all, this is Thailand, the Land of Smiles. Make the most out of your trip to Thailand with these tips, and enjoy yourself!
Like always, if you want to learn more about Thailand, stay with ThaiGuider. You might discover something you never knew about this unique country.READ MORE ▸ What Is the Best Time to Visit Thailand?
1. Siam Legal. Royal Family (Sections 107-112) | Thailand Law Library. Siam Legal. [Online] 2021. https://library.siam-legal.com/thai-law/criminal-code-royal-family-sections-107-112/.
2. Neill Fronde. Thailand Road Accidents Cost 500 Billion Baht Yer year. Thaiger. [Online] April 11, 2021. https://thethaiger.com/hot-news/road-deaths/thailand-road-accidents-cost-500-billion-baht-per-year.