What Not To Do in Thailand

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Apart from the obvious illegal activities that you shouldn’t do when in Thailand, there are some seemingly innocuous Western practices or gestures that will not endear you to the locals. Thai people are generally polite, reserved and very forgiving of loud, brash farangs (foreigners), but you’ll get far more out of your holiday by following our top tips on What Not to do in Thailand.

Keep Your Shirt On!

You might be on holiday, it’s steaming hot and you want to let it all hang out, but apart from ladyboys and bar girls, the dress code is modest.

Bangkok is a fully-functioning, modern, 21st century capital city – beachwear and semi-naked torsos will look as out-of-place here as it would on the streets of London. Sure, there’s the Khao San Road for the backpacker and hippy vibe, and while shorts and T-shirts are fine, if you smarten yourself up a bit – wear deck shoes instead of trainers, or a short-sleeved shirt in place of a T-shirt – you may well find you get much better service.

Of course, the dress code depends on where you are.  Partying in Pattaya? Anything goes. A trip to the temple? Cover up.

Don’t Forget Temple Etiquette

Still on clothing, think about your attire in the context of home. Most people wouldn’t go to their local place of worship in scanty clothing, so why would they in Thailand? You don’t have to go ‘suited and booted’, but for men, wear tops that cover shoulders – no vests, and definitely no bare chests – and women should wear clothing that covers shoulders and is below the knee – for both sexes, the longer the skirt or trouser length, the better. A light shawl or scarf can be thrown around the shoulders to cover up, and is perfectly acceptable.

Be very respectful of monks, lowering your head when walking past, and do not walk in front of people who are bowing.

Shoes – leave them outside.

Wear the shoe on the other foot

Donning outdoor shoes indoors is acceptable to many of us at home, but the Thais are very conscious about cleanliness – and in Thailand it is definitely not appreciated. You will notice that piles of shoes are a common sight outside many establishments in Thailand – schools, offices, shops and homes. If you’re unsure about whether to remove shoes or not, just pop your head around the door and ask – the gesture will be greatly appreciated.

Put your feet up

… metaphorically-speaking, yes … but not on chairs, tables, or anything else not meant for feet. In the Buddhist religion, feet are considered dirty, and should be kept firmly on the floor – unless you’re lying on the beach or beside the pool. The soles of your feet should not be pointing toward anyone, and particularly images of the Royal family or Buddha. This means if you are sitting on the floor that you should kneel with your feet tucked under you, out of sight.

Heads Up

In contrast to feet, the Buddhist religion deems heads to be sacred. Touching someone else’s head, or even passing something over their head is disrespectful. This also includes children – so resist the urge to pat cute kids on the head, or ruffle their hair.

A Sore Point

Pointing with your hand, especially one finger, is also considered disrespectful and rude. If you are referring to someone, do so by raising your chin in their direction. If you want to beckon someone to come over, wave your hand with the palm down and fingers straight.

Kiss Goodbye

The Thai’s are modest and reserved people. Although younger Thai couples may be seen holding hands, public displays of affection are generally considered to be embarrassing, with kissing deemed completely inappropriate. Keep touchy-feely stuff for private.

Pay Respect 

Thais are very proud of their culture, and are very reverential and loving of the King. Any disrespectful attitude toward the monarchy, or images of the monarchy, is is not only frowned upon in Thailand, but could land you in some serious trouble.

Likewise, Buddhism is the major religion in Thailand and Buddha’s image is sacred – be respectful, and particularly in temples, do not touch any statues.

Thailand, like any other country in the world, has its own unique customs, traditions and culture. Make an effort to observe some of these customs and you will have a rewarding experience. If in doubt about what not to do in Thailand, just smile – it’s what the Thais do!

(Image by: Mattes)


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