New country, new customs – so many ways you can embarrass yourself and others. So what are the most obvious do’s and don’ts in Thailand?
Thais are very used to foreigners – especially so on Koh Samui. While they’re a forgiving lot, you’ll do yourself (and your country’s good name) a big favour to learn basic Thai cultural ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’.
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The top 10 do’s and don’ts in Thailand
I’ve memorised a few fantastic tips from Kenny Yee’s book, Do’s and Dont’s in Thailand. Commit the following to memory and you’ll feel more comfortable and confident in Thailand. And? World peace will prosper.
1. DO dress properly
Make sure to dress properly when visiting Thai temples and royal palaces – shoulders and knees covered for both sexes. The more formal your clothes, the better.
2. DO take off your shoes
Feet are considered dirty in Thailand; in many places shoes are left outside and feet stay on the floor. Yee’s book teaches you why (and when) to take off your shoes if you enter homes and some shops. Quick tip – it’s common to leave your shoes outside your hotel room as well.
3. DO respect the monarchy
Thailand’s beloved monarchy is a particularly vital chapter of Yee’s book, with lots of interesting background detail. If you’re going to do anything right in Thailand – make sure it’s this one.
4. DO keep your patience
Slow service? Things not going to plan? Keep your patience and stay calm, no matter what – Thailand is the land of happy, go lucky.
5. DO … your homework
The Do’s and Dont’s in Thailand book is a fantastic intro to Thai culture, and you’ll arrive more informed than 95% of other tourists to Thailand. If coming with children, teach them in advance about taking off their shoes and watching where they put their feet in public. You’ll even learn how, when and why to wai.
6. DON’T point
Gesture to something, if necessary, with all four fingers extended and the thumb flat against the palm. Again, this is another difficult one – pointing is second nature to many Westerners.
7. DON’T put your feet up
Thai etiquette means not putting your feet up on anything not meant for feet (like a coffee table or a chair). Feet = dirty. Keep yours on the floor. (What if you’re sitting on the floor? Tuck them beneath you or beside you, away from those nearby).
Also be aware that pointing to anything, or pushing things around with your feet is really, really rude in Thailand. This is perhaps the hardest “DON’T” for Westerners because we’re in the habit of using our feet much more than we realise. Even if you know not to, it’s still hard to catch yourself. If it sounds confusing – the book makes it very clear.
8. DON’T forget the mosquito repellent
My own addition – but for this to be a comprehensive list about perfect Thailand preparation … it needs to include mosquito repellent (Incognito brand – pictured – is my mega favourite). Find out why you need it, and how to win.
9. DON’T expose yourself
Well, obviously you’re not a flasher – but this includes not sunbathing topless in Thailand (soooo not ok), or wearing revealing clothing. See what to wear in Thailand for a better idea of local dress code, as well as tips for what to wear on the beach. Note that breastfeeding falls in the “not in public” category.
10. DON’T touch anyone’s head
In Thailand, don’t touch anyone’s head – not even children. It’s the most important part of the body.
*Bonus* DONT invalidate your travel insurance
A final “don’t” if you’re an animal-lover headed to Thailand: Don’t visit any animal attraction, or participate in any animal activities before you’ve done your research about (A) what you’re supporting, ethically-speaking and (B) whether such activities invalidate your travel insurance.
Dangerous animals vs. your travel insurance: You’ll have every opportunity to endorse all kinds of animal abuse in Thailand; activities like riding an elephant, cuddling a tiger (terrible idea?!) or watching monkey tricks are widely available. You can maybe sense where I stand on the subject – so ‘know before you
go don’t go’.
- Travel insurance for Thailand: Before you get near an animal in Thailand – even a cute beach dog – make sure you have travel insurance.
- What is and isn’t covered: Policies vary – make sure you read the fine print (search for ‘safari tours’ and/or ‘dangerous animals’) and know where you stand. If in doubt, get in touch with your provider to be absolutely sure what constitutes ‘handling’ or ‘working with’.
Many policies will not cover any of the many ways such animals can harm, chew, drown or properly maul you. And yet: I can think of a dozen places in Thailand where you can pay to feed and fraternise with all of them.
No surprise: few insurance companies are going to cover you for handling, let alone taking selfies with, a tiger. Friendly reminder: Tigers kill people. Just want to cuddle a cub? Two super cute tiger cubs recently killed their keeper in an Indian zoo.
Thailand do’s and don’ts are easy, right?
They will be soon, with a quick read of Yee’s book – and a little practice. Give yourself huge kudos for doing this research – you’ll soon see that many tourists to Thailand haven’t bothered.
For a tremendously comprehensive primer to the do’s and don’ts of Thai culture, I really recommend downloading a Kindle copy of Kenny Yee’s Do’s and Don’ts in Thailand (or grabbing a used paperback on Amazon – there always seem to be a few available). Enjoy!