“Sawaadee”, that’s hello in Thai and when you visit, expect to hear this a lot. Well, that and “where you go?”
Thailand is renowned for its upbeat friendliness and the Thai people’s humble and welcoming disposition is infectious. If you are fortunate enough to step into a local bar, you will have locals offering you whiskey and telling you how much they love Manchester United. After making 200 new friends, you might wish to use the bathroom where a bathroom attendant who can give back massages for a tip is available (the legitimate kind of massage).
When first stepping foot in Thailand, be prepared to ponder many important questions:
- Why is the word “Porn” everywhere? (Porn means blessing in Thai. Coincidence? I don’t think so.)
- Why are trees covered in colorful cloth? (These are lucky trees considered to bring good luck.)
- Why do Thai people leave food and water outside their homes? (This is an offering to appease nearby ghosts.)
There sure is an endless supply of bizarre things in Thailand, however there are many other aspects of Thailand that you should also expect.
It’s all about respect
Your experience in Thailand will predominately be amazing and to ensure it stays that way, pay particular attention to signs when visiting temples or other sacred locations. There is a dress code, so wearing crocs and a singlet might prevent you from entering.
Noise is something that Thai people really hate. If you observe heavy traffic during rush hour you will notice that not one person dares to beep the horn. Doing so could end up in a scruff with another motorist who suddenly became agitated from the loud noise. Road rage is universal, it seems.
The same goes for shouting. Don’t ever shout in public; if you need help with something, ask politely or, if you are upset, do it in a relaxed stoic manner like Snoop Dogg.
Head and feet
The head is seen in Thai culture as a particularly sacred point of the body so never touch someone’s head (unless for some bizarre reason they ask you to). Feet are the opposite, seen as dirty and unclean. So never point your feet at someone or even touch them when on public transit (as irresistible as it is).
Thailand’s street food is everywhere and probably the best in the world. Did I mention how cheap it is too? In big cities like Bangkok and Pattaya that have recently become polluted by shopping malls, street food vendors have had to move location. It’s really worth eating street food as many vendors have crafted their dishes for years.
Generally in the big cities there are the police and the tourist police. Yes, the Tourist Police are a real thing. They’re mostly volunteers but usually speak English well and can help visitors in many situations. You don’t ever want to get busted by either for anything illegal unless you can fork out a ton of money for a bribe.
Traffic and getting around
If you are in Bangkok, the sky-train is an essential part of getting around otherwise the better and cheaper alternatives are songtaews (look like long vans with an open back door) and buses. Of course you can always get an Uber or a tuk-tuk if you want to be spontaneous. Getting a tuk-tuk in a touristy area is not recommended though as it will cost way too much even though it’s quite enjoyable.
The big taboo and the anthem
The big taboo of Thailand is insulting the royal family, a mentally-ill Thai man went to jail a few years ago for posting an insult about the King’s dog so avoid the topic if you can. Around 6pm, everywhere in Thailand, the national anthem is played. Everyone stands still for 2 minutes like a game of statues. You might worry about offending citizens by not abiding but frankly they won’t mind.
Even though you might see Thai ladies dressed scandalously at night, Thailand is surprisingly a conservative country (maybe more during the day). You won’t really see couples holding hands or French kissing while waiting for the bus. Always attempt to limit PDA and dress to impress when in the public eye.
Wai, wai, wai
The wai is a polite gesture performed by Thai people, usually done as a greeting or to show immense gratitude. It can take the place of a handshake or neighborly wave and is customarily performed when entering or leaving someone’s home. It is essentially a slight bow with palms pressed together as in prayer. As a visitor, you aren’t expected to know the intricacies of how high to hold your hands or how low to bow but just making an effort will be appreciated. But don’t go around doing the wai to everybody you meet. For example, a wai to a child or sales clerk is unnecessary and Thais will find it hilarious.
A trip to Thailand is exciting and exotic, but first-time visitors could use these travel tips. Learning some of the cultural taboos and customs will help make your Thai holiday a memorable experience.