“Culture Shock! Thailand” is the book we should have read on our first visit. As we admitted to ourselves while writing The Koh Samui Guide – we were horrible first-time tourists to Thailand. We definitely packed the wrong things and committed the wrong ratio of cultural do’s and don’ts. Robert Cooper’s authoritative Culture Shock! Thailand (UK version) was the manual we were missing that trip.
Picking up where the Lonely Planet intro leaves off, Culture Shock! Thailand covers the whos, the hows, the whats and the whys of Thailand in a very readable manner. You can easily skim it in one sitting, emerging much the wiser. The book’s most important topic is face (and how to save it). While Koh Samui is very much a resort island used to farang (foreign) indiscretion, we really recommend this book as vital reading (amongst a handful of other great books about Thailand).
Update! Culture Shock! Thailand (and its UK version) is available in a 2012 paperback edition (with many secondhand copies available), though as it’s a cultural guide, rather than a destination guide, it remains current today.
A sprinkling of Thai culture facts you’ll learn within:
#1. Temple life: “…[W]at (temple) grounds…provide a place of peaceful recreation, and [function] as a community social centre as much a religious centre”.
#2. Monks: “[Monks are] the most respected people in society [and] have taken a vow of poverty”.
#3. Your shoes and hat: Hats must be hung up, whereas shoes must stay on the floor.
Whether you’re a first- or second-time visitor to Thailand, this book means you’ll easily get a lot more out of day-to-day observation while you’re in Thailand. Read it before your trip (or in-flight) and enjoy the smugness that follows when you get it right.
Thailand culture shock: FAQs
What does ‘sanuk’ mean in Thailand?
What does sanuk mean?
Allow us to answer this in anecdotal form… Across Koh Samui’s popular beaches, food and snack vendors often patrol the shore with all sorts of yummy things: fresh corn on the cob, ice cream, meat sticks…. Here we salute the man who truly knows his target audience. (Parents – this is what you’re up against).
As a tourist family – a mum, dad and small toddler – played in the waves at Choeng Mon Beach together, Ice Cream Man walked right up to the toddler and began his transaction – totally ignoring the parents. No wasted time with “would you like an ice cream?” The parents would have said no. Instead?
We all agree that he wants it.
We all know he’s going to get it.
So let’s get on with it.
An endearing and very Thai ploy – great “sanuk” – a word to describe anything fun or funny. In this case – boring made funny, routine business turned cheeky and the entire spectacle worth a laugh. Can’t say no to that.
Learn more about sanuk’s meaning in Thailand
Dive into the most enjoyable cultural anthropology with any of these excellent Thai cultural troves…
If you’re ever not going to judge a book by its cover(s), let it be Carol Hollinger’s Mai Pen Rai Means Never Mind. It offers – we think – the best insight into Thai culture from a Western eye. It’s fantastic – interesting, funny and very readable. Used paperback copies are all over Amazon – definitely pick one up for yourself to learn about sanuk, and a whole lot more. Enjoy!
Photo credit to Michael Bentley (with changes) via Flickr Creative Commons