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Planning to backpack Thailand? It’s important to be aware of culture in Thailand and how visitors can show respect to locals and their customs and traditions. For the last three years I have been trying to understand the strange, alien behaviour that can be part of culture in Thailand! Some aspects are amusing, others infuriating but I’m always learning more!
DISCLAIMER: sweeping generalisations and talking about Thai people like everyone is the same is clearly not ok. These are some things I’ve found to be true…and wish visiting tourists would take note!
- Don’t point the soles of your feet at people. Especially Buddha! To respect local culture, if in a temple, sit mermaid style or cross-legged. Particularly do NOT stretch your legs out in a tuktuk and point your shoes at the driver (my personal peev!). Moving things with your feet is also frowned upon.
- Don’t wear shoes into someone’s house. This also applies to certain shops where the owners live in or above it. If you see flipflops outside a small convenience store on an island then do the same.
- Cover your shoulders and knees when you are in a temple. This applies to both men and women #equality
- Ask at least 3 people for directions. Thai people don’t like to lose face and admit they don’t know something, so will tell you the WRONG directions to not cause themselves embarrassment. Yes, unhelpful. Yes, annoying. But kind of endearing as well? Just me?
- Thais HATE rain. It is not uncommon to see adults with paper bags on top of their heads in rainy season and no-one is laughing at them. (except me…and I’m already soaked!)
- The Thai Walk: If you walk fast people will think you are mad. Also I really feel that people know I’m behind them and start walking in a zigzag so I can’t overtake. ( yes I’m paranoid…and often late ha!) Slow down and walk at ‘market shopping pace’.
- Generally confronting people, shouting, losing your temper will only reflect badly on you (as in most cultures I assume!). Try to be patient, explain the situation and KEEP CALM (jai yen as the Thais say).
- Bangkok Traffic – plan your day around rush hour traffic! Generally 6-9am and 4-8pm.
- Visiting zoos/tiger temples/elephant riding camps – BIG no no and you are just funding animal abuse. Read reasons why
- Bitching about the difference between ‘Thai price’ and ‘foreign prices’. If you know one of these people then please enlighten them. The average local Thai salary is 300 baht a day. I personally think it is fantastic that so many tourists in Thailand are Thai and it is because of these low prices that people can afford to travel in their own country.
- Haggle with a smile. Shopping in Thailand is a pleasure and I find it frustrating to see tourists getting angry in markets. I used to dread haggling when I first arrived in South East Asia and now I’m in my element at JJ market, even haggling in Thai! Keep things light, smile and never go less than half the offered price. See more on JJ market shopping. Read more about Bangkok markets and more
- Haggling TOO MUCH. You will offend people and ultimately think about what the item is worth and what you are happy to pay. This is a developing country and people need to make a living.
- Treating Thailand like it is your own country. I see this over and over again. Tourists with no respect for local culture, customs, traditions and religions.
- Taking Bangkok taxis who refuse to use the meter. Don’t do it. It is illegal. Just laugh at their inflated price and take another one. My record is 10 taxis before ONE of them would take me home. Perseverance is key! 😉 More on Travel in Thailand here
- Taking taxis in Phuket. Very over-inflated prices and I’ve heard rumours about who pockets the money and it’s not the taxi drivers. Try and take minivans or songtaews (trucks).
- Smiling – Thailand’s nickname is indeed the Land of Smiles. However, I found it VERY useful once I realised that people don’t always smile because they are happy but also because they are embarrassed, uncomfortable or confused!
- Criticising the Monarchy or, for that matter, the government at the moment can get you on very dangerous ground. I’m talking jail time.
- Tipping – a little for you and a lot for them. If in doubt go for 20 -50 baht for taxis/restaurants.
Any cultural quirks or differences you’ve picked up on in Thailand?
15 thoughts on “Thailand: Be aware of Culture”
Great overview! I have been to Thailand twice in the last two years and I just really really love this country. I didn’t know that part about not pointing soles of your feet at people, I hope I didn’t do that by accident. I always got mad if people were talking about wanting to go elephant riding or visit a tiger temple. I went to the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary and it was a great experience to just feed and clean the elephants 🙂
aw glad you feel the Thai love too! Great about the elephant sanctuary! 🙂
These are great things to know about Thailand before visiting!! Wish I had read this before going 🙂
I had to lol-ed on the walking slow part, because it’s so true!! It’s like everyone’s taking their own sweet time on the road. But Thailand is definitely one of the quirky countries I’ve been, everyone’s always smiling! 🙂
I haven’t been to Thailand yet but I would be grateful to know all this information before going! Thank you for sharing your insights, it makes me more excited to experience thai culture for myself 🙂
I am SO happy you wrote this post! I’m always so nervous thinking I’m accidentally disrespecting a culture ESPECIALLY when it’s a culture that I know so little about like Thai culture. I’m heading there hopefully in the next couple years so I loved this!
Good list for new travelers to Thailand!
Haven’t been to Thailand yet but this is some helpful information!
Thank you for shedding light on animal abuse and saying a big no to tiger temples and elephant riding!
Great tips. This one is the same as in Japan: Ask at least 3 people for directions. Thai people don’t like to lose face and admit they don’t know something.
Thanks! Yeah I tend to ask multiple people for directions everywhere I go now just to be on the safe side haha!
Very true I think! I had no idea about the feet thing before I visited Thailand and I felt so bad when I found out and I had been sitting the wrong way!
yeah I think Thai people are generally really understanding about foreigners who make mistakes like this! But better to know beforehand! 🙂