5 Things You Should NEVER Do in Thailand
When I first landed in Bangkok over 6 years ago, I was given a packet full of information about Thailand (by my TEFL group).
It had basic information like Thai phrases, places to visit, what to expect in the TEFL course, etc.
But one section stuck out to me, and that was the section called “Thai Culture”. It was only a page or two, but it outlined some of the main do’s and don’ts as a foreigner in Thailand.
And let me tell you, some of the things in this section were just completely ridiculous!
But I didn’t know any better at the time, so I tried to follow all these strange customs I read about in my packet.
Now after being in Thailand for so long, I’m going to share some of my thoughts.
Whether you’re just here on holiday or have made Thailand your home, here’s what NOT to do in Thailand.
1. Show Anger/Confront People
In general, Thai people are very non-confrontational. They would rather keep the peace, stay calm, and move on (even if that means not really addressing the real problems).
And that also means that if someone has an issue with you, they’d often rather gossip about it to others than actually bringing up the issue directly to you.
This has its positives and negatives, but I find it definitely helps maintain civility in society. People will generally treat you more politely and calmly even if they are slightly annoyed by something you are doing.
This is in stark contrast to my home country (USA) where people are far more likely to call you out and confront you.
But in Thailand if you come with that attitude and disturb the peace by outwardly yelling, showing anger, or confronting, you will make Thai people uncomfortable.
To be honest, everybody, no matter where they’re from, feels uncomfortable around angry, yelling people.
But it seems the tolerance and acceptance of it is much lower here than in other places.
So whether there is an issue at immigration, a taxi driver trying to milk you for a few extra baht, or any other minor issue with a Thai person, ALWAYS maintain your composure!
But let me be clear: I’m not saying let people take advantage of you.
What I am saying is getting angry and confrontational doesn’t help you in Thailand. It will only make your problem worse.
2. Excessively Complain about Thailand
As a foreigner in a different country, there will always be things that are worse than your home country.
And it’s not wrong to occasionally vent about things and complain to your friends.
But I’ve found Thai people in general are a very proud people. They tend to be quite patriotic and have pride in their country and culture.
And as an American, people often have the stereotype that all Americans are hyper nationalistic. Murrica!
While it’s true for some, I found that Thai people are much more nationalistic than the average American.
I still remember a few years back I went to a park here in Thailand to do some exercise and a young kid of about 8 or 9 came up to me out of the blue and just started chanting:
“Thailand Number 1!
Thailand number 1!
Thailand number 1!”
I just smiled, waited for him to finish his chant and asked the kid a few questions about himself.
He didn’t mean any harm by his chant. He just noticed I wasn’t Thai and came up to me out of curiosity more than anything else.
But the fact that even such a young kid noticed I was an outsider and wanted to tell me Thailand is the best country shows the mindset of many Thais.
Even from an early age, Thai’s learn to be very proud of their nation. You only need to listen to their national anthem to get an idea. Here’s their anthem translated into English:
“Thailand embraces in its bosom all people of Thai blood.
Every inch of Thailand belongs to the Thais.
It has long maintained its sovereignty,
Because the Thais have always been united.
The Thai people are peace-loving,
But they are no cowards at war.
They shall allow no one to rob them of their independence,
Nor shall they suffer tyranny.
All Thais are ready to give up every drop of blood
For the nation’s safety, freedom and progress.”
Every child from kindergarten up until the end of high school must stand silently with their arms at their side while this song plays as a show of respect.
Now I’m not here to debate whether nationalism is good for a country or not. I’m simply laying the context here so you can better understand the thoughts of many Thai people in Thailand.
So with this context, how do you think Thai people feel if a foreigner comes into their country and constantly complains about things they don’t like here? Again, we all have complaints, but you still have to realize that you are in another country.
Just as it would be a grave insult to be invited into someone’s home and then complain about them, it is also bad to be invited into Thailand, but then complain about Thailand and Thai people at every opportunity.
So if you come to Thailand, understand that things are very different here than your home country. Excessive complaining will just make you look disrespectful. If you can just accept that things are different and go with the flow, your life will be much better in Thailand.
3. Use your feet for anything besides walking
This is one of the points that was actually correct in my TEFL packet. In Thai culture, feet are considered a dirty, unclean part of the body. So they should be used for walking, and that’s it!
Don’t prop your feet up on a table, don’t point to something with your feet, and don’t let the bottom of your feet face another person or a religious site.
Also, don’t step on the money!
This is a mistake I made on my first couple days in Thailand. I dropped a coin and it started to roll away. My natural instinct was to step on the coin to keep it from rolling away (in America this wouldn’t be considered rude).
But because all Thai money has the face of the king on it, it is considered very disrespectful to step on money.
My TEFL Instructor happened to be there at the time and quickly warned me not to do that again because it’ll offend people.
It’s a lesson I didn’t forget!
And along with these rules on feet, just like most of Asia, you often need to take off your shoes before entering someone’s home, a temple, or some businesses.
4. Forget Common Sense:
If you read any guide on Thai culture, there’s two things in particular they all seem to bring up, but for me, it’s just common sense.
These things are rude everywhere in the world.
And those things are
- Pointing at people you don’t know well
- And touching adults on their heads.
Again, most of us already know that it’s rude to do the aforementioned, but I keep seeing these pop up on all the sites about Thailand, so I’ll address it here again:
Yes, it is rude to point at people and touch them on their head. But this is not unique to Thailand. It’s also rude where I come from and probably where you come from too.
5. Try to Change Thailand:
This one is for the people that have decided to make Thailand their long term home. And it kind of ties into point 2 about excessive complaining.
Don’t try to change Thailand. This country is beautiful and has so many amazing things going for it. But no country is perfect.
If you think too much about the negatives and how it would be better if only you could change x or y, you’ll go mad.
We as foreigners have practically no say in the politics or society of Thailand. Remember the lyrics from the Thai national anthem:
“Thailand embraces in its bosom all people of Thai blood.
Every inch of Thailand belongs to the Thais.”
So as a non Thai, don’t expect to come to their country and change things.
You simply need to evaluate if you enjoy your life here, and if the positives outweigh the negatives.
For me, the answer is yes! I love my life here and just have to accept that I can’t change Thailand.
Go with the flow as they say.
So there you have it. Those are 5 things NOT to do in Thailand. If you agree or disagree with any of my points, feel free to comment below.
Let’s have a respectful discussion.
And a quick note to any Thai people who may read this. Please know that these are just my experiences as an outsider looking in. I made many generalizations about Thai people and the culture. There are many exceptions to what I’ve written, but these are my overall experiences.
So my previous comment stands for you too. If you feel I have made any unfair points about Thailand, please feel free to leave a comment and we can discuss it.
If you want to learn Thai, ThaiPod101 is a great resource to get you started. They give you a bunch of free resources to level up your Thai language skills in the shortest time possible. If you are interested, please click the link below:
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