Thailand Culture Shock: What to Expect (And How to Avoid It)

“Culture Shock! Thailand” is the book we should have read on our first visit to Thailand.

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 was the manual we were missing that trip.

Thailand culture shock

Picking up where the Lonely Planet intro leaves off, the book covers the whos, the hows, the whats and the whys of Thailand culture shock 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).

Culture Shock! Thailand is available in a 2012 paperback edition (with many secondhand copies available). As it’s a cultural guide, rather than a destination guide, it remains current today. While Koh Samui is very much a resort island used to foreigners’ indiscretion, we really consider this book vital pre-Thailand reading.

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.

More Thailand culture questions?

Thailand Culture Shock: What to Expect (And How to Avoid It)

What does ‘sanuk’ mean in Thailand?

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 Thai culture…

Dive into the most enjoyable cultural anthropology with any of these excellent Thai cultural troves…

Mai Pen Rai Means Never Mind (cover A) + cover B

Thailand – Culture Smart! + Dos & Don’ts in Thailand

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!


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