I visited Thailand in early December 2015. It was a solo trip so I wanted to make sure I researched the culture, government, politics, religious practices, travel alerts and everything else before visiting. Thailand is a beautiful country rich in history, culture and nature and I had an amazing time there. But even having done all my research before visiting, there were still some things that surprised me during my stay. And I could have benefited from learning about these things in advance. I’m writing this post because someone out there is about to visit Thailand and could use these tips in advance as well. Thank me later … seriously.
Tip 1. Learn Hello and Thank You. If you learn no other Thai words, learn how to say Hi! and Thank you! The locals will appreciate you so much more. And remember there is a feminine and a masculine version of all words/phrases in the Thai language. To say Hi/Hello is Sa-wa-dee-Ka (female), or Sa-wa-dee-Krab (male); Thank You in Thai is Khob-Khun-Ka (female) and Khob-Khun-Krab (male). It is custom to place the palm of your hands together in a praying form and bow your head when saying these as well. This is called a “wai.” As a tourist, I only did this when someone else did it to me. In general practice it’s fine to just nod.
Tip 2. Don’t Discuss the King. The Kingdom of Thailand is just that … a kingdom. It is not wise to discuss the King in public, and especially not in a negative light. Your trip may be interrupted by the Royal Thai Police if caught. His Majesty King Bhumipol Adulyadej of Thailand is seen everyday all over the country as there are huge portraits of him everywhere in an attempt to remind the people who’s in charge just in case they forget. I mean not only are these street portraits in the capital of Bangkok, but even in the very rural and remote part of the country. This came off pretty eerie to me, but hey I’m just a tourist. Anyway, interesting fact, King Bhumipol Adulyadej was born in the U.S. Yep, he was born on December 5, 1927 at Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He was crowned King of Thailand in 1950.
Tip 3. BYOT, Bring Your Own Tissue. One of the top “must-do” things in Thailand is to visit one of the floating markets. These markets are located outside of Bangkok in more local communities. If you must go to the restroom, which you likely will (the markets are at least an hour away and you will be there for some hours) be prepared to pay 5 baht (about 13 cents in the U.S.). And no, toilet tissue is not included. So prayerfully you only have to do number one and hopefully someone told you to bring your own tissue. My new friends from Germany were the real MVPs for me on this day. Oh, and did I mention don’t throw the tissue in the toilet. No no no, put it in the trash. Not a desired subject but someone had to say it!
Tip 4. Hailing a Taxi? Hands Down. When hailing taxis in Thailand it is common to keep your hand horizontal, fingers facing down and wiggle your fingers a bit. Holding your hand with fingers up is considered rude. And you don’t want to be a rude tourist, do you?
Tip 5. Shoes Off, Please. Approximately 93 percent of the people in Thailand are Buddhist. As such, Buddhist temples are ev-ery-where. It’s almost like churches in black neighborhoods, one on very corner. And this is no understatement. With that said there are many notable temples worth visiting
around the country of Thailand. Some more notable than others, but be warned your shoes must come off when going inside these temples. And I get it. Shoes are unclean. Heck, I take my shoes off when entering my house so I’m use to it. But this is different. Placing your shoes next to a pile of nearly a hundred other shoes and hoping no one else has the same shoes as you. Walking around barefoot on concrete with a bunch of other questionable toes next to you. Ugh! I should have brought socks. Maybe it’s just me.
Tip 6.Temple Etiquette. Ladies, if you are planning to visit a temple remember to dress conservatively if you want to actually go inside. Dresses should be past your knees in length, no shorts are allowed and sleeves should cover your shoulders. The same goes for men. Long trousers and sleeves are a must. It is also prohibited in many temples to take photos. In some cases you can take a photo from the view outside of the temple, but generally no photos are allowed within the temple. It is seen as disrespect. Last when you are in the temple, never sit with your feet facing Buddha. Either cross your less or sit with your knees on the ground and your feet tucked behind you.
Tip 7. Street Food Galore. It may sound odd, but I found that street food is even better than some of the restaurant food in Thailand. And there is an abundance of them for good reason. Demand. The price is relatively cheap and the food is gooood! Not all street food is created equal though. Window shop the street food vendors before you purchase. My favorite dish in Thailand is the mango and sticky rice. It’s bae. I found a street vendor outside my hotel in Chiangmai that sold this dish and I made it my obligation to visit her each night I was there. Just don’t ask yourself where they wash their hands? Or how they prepare the food? If you’re lucky, the vendor will have sanitary gloves.
Tip 8. Be Prepared to Haggle. They expect it! It’s a way of life. Especially the tuk tuks and vendors at local markets and especially if you are buying multiple items. All other places, such as shopping malls, and indoor restaurants will have set prices though.
Tip 9. To Tip, or Not to Tip. Tipping is nice but not customary or mandated in Thailand. It’s still appreciated. A standard tip of 20 baht is about the going rate for hotel staff and taxis. At restaurants, whatever loose change you have is totally acceptable for tips.
Tip 10. Monks First. Thailand monks receive special treatment. Perhaps this is true in others places as well I’m not sure. But in Thailand, monks have their own special line in the airport, they have a special “monk boarding” on the plane that is either before or after first class, monks have special boarding on the train and they generally don’t have to wait like the rest of us. They are seen as dignitaries or celebrities in some aspects.
I had the pleasure of getting to know some young monks and was surprised at how relatable they were. So when you’re about to ask yourself, “did that monk just cut in line? The real question is, “did you think you were about to board the plan before that monk?”
This blog post is #3 in a series of 4 on Thailand. View my others posts by clicking the link below: