If you are reading this, then you may plan on coming to Thailand with the intention of drinking plenty of alcohol on day trips and during night time activities. After all, we are here for a good time not a long time, are we not? It is totally fine to have the time of your life and misbehave a little bit while being abroad. Nonetheless it is still important to be respectful to the countries you are visiting and this is why today we are talking about some of the major do’s and don’ts of Thailand.
Hopefully by the end of this post you know a little more about Thailand and how to avoid some of the biggest faux pas. Though in all honesty, the people of Thailand can be very forgiving when it comes to most of the mistakes made by us farangs (foreigners). Even if you know that you made one, they usually dismiss it with a friendly “Mai Pen Rai”, which means “It’s okay”, “It’s fine”. Learning basic Thai phrases will improve your trip tenfold.
Being aware of the unique cultural traits of Thailand and showing courtesy will never be a bad thing. You can make new friends amongst the locals and your time in Thailand will be much more memorable.
Don’t touch a Thai persons head
Even in our Western society touching or patting someone’s head can already be considered rude, depending on the reason for doing so. In Thai culture this affront has a deeper meaning. The head is revered as the most sacred part of the body. It is their belief that this is where the spirit resides. The same reverence also applies to every inanimate object associated with the head like books for example. Books are known as a source of knowledge and therefore are closely related to the head.
This deep respect even goes so far that you shouldn’t pass an object over someone’s head. So, the next time when you feel the inexplicable urge to touch a Thai person’s head, maybe just go for a high five instead.
Don’t point with your feet
Now, whereas the head is held in the highest regard, the feet on the other hand are seen as the lowest and dirtiest part of the body. With that in mind, you should try not to point with your feet or kick anything. Unless it’s a football of course.
Also, when you are in a restaurant and seated on a cushioned floor, then the proper way to sit down is with your feet tucked to the side or underneath you. While we are at the topic of restaurants and other establishments; it is common to take off your footwear before entering. When you do enter, make sure to not step on the threshold. This is the spot where the guardian spirit is supposed to reside and stepping on it brings bad luck and horrible sex for seven years. We may or may not have made up the last part, but the fact remains, that you shouldn’t step on the threshold.
Spirituality and animistic beliefs have deep roots in the Thai culture. Going in-depth about these topics here would exceed the limitations of a blog post. But as mere travelers we don’t need to understand everything in order to accept something. We all try to be as open-minded as we can, regardless of how superstitious some things may sound to us.
Respect the Royal Family
This is a very important point to keep in mind when you are in Thailand. The Royal Family is highly revered in Thailand and every traveler should not only be aware of this fact, but also of the strict laws concerning the Monarchy. The lese majeste laws, as they are known, state that “whoever defames, insults or threatens the King, Queen, Heir-Apparent or Regent shall be punished with imprisonment of three to fifteen years.”
With that in mind, it should be in our best interest as visitors to refrain from getting into any discussions about the Royal Family or making any comments concerning them. Instead, we’ll just all focus on exploring and appreciating the beautiful country of Thailand.
Buddhism has been playing a vital role in the everyday lives of the Thai people for many centuries. To this day around 95% of the population is following the teachings of the “Awakened One”, more commonly known as the Buddha. As you can imagine with such deep roots, any disrespectful comments about their philosophy won’t get you any brownie points.
There are also other faux pas you should avoid, if you want to gain the goodwill of the locals. For example, you need to dress appropriately when you visit one of the many awe-inspiring temples. The dress code usually calls for long-sleeve shirts and pants. Better make sure to bring some clothes made of a lighter material, otherwise the sweltering heat will be quite uncomfortable.
Once inside the temple the same rules of courtesy and politeness you may know from churches or mosques applies. You know; don’t run around, don’t talk loudly, don’t stand on the threshold, don’t stand on the Buddha – things like that. Basically, don’t act like a kid on a sugar rush.
Due to the influence of Buddhism in most parts of the country, you will obviously encounter many monks as well. They are also held in high regards by the people and you should therefore treat them with the same respect. No matter if you are meeting them in a temple or on the street collecting alms.
We have to admit that the majority of this post has been fairly serious. So, because we at Slumber Party love to have fun, we will end this post with something fun as well! Fortunately for us, the Thais also like to enjoy themselves or to use a Thai word: be sanuk!
The general translation of sanuk is to have fun, to enjoy yourself and to have a good time, but it goes beyond that for the local people. As an American anthropologist once said: “The translation of ‘fun’ doesn’t do sanuk justice.”
Everything the Thais do in their day-to-day lives like working or going to a bar has to be sanuk. In that sense, it is more of a philosophy; an optimistic and unique way of living, that may be one of the reasons why Thailand is called “The Land Of A Thousand Smiles“.
Remember this positive outlook on life when you are in Thailand or anywhere else on this planet for that matter! Your tuk tuk driver charges you more than initially agreed upon? Be sanuk! You drank a little too much and missed your ferry to Koh Phi Phi? Be sanuk! You overstayed your Thailand visa and have to pay 500 Baht per day? Be sanuk! You catch your girlfriend having sex with Ryan Gosling? Be sanuk! You catch your boyfriend having sex with Ryan Gosling? Be sanuk! You get the point.
If you are in doubt follow one simple rule: Be respectful. It is something we mentioned in the beginning and it’s the one constant that can be found in every point on this list. Just see it as a win-win situation for everyone. The people of Thailand are happy to welcome travelers, who act in an admirable manner; and we as backpackers get to deeply know a new country with a different culture. Could there possibly be a better outcome? We believe not.