What To Do and Not To Do in Thailand

Thailand is a popular travel destination for its beautiful beaches, delicious street food, and cultural experiences. It’s also a fairly cheap destination to travel to, with cheaper hotels and lower overall living costs.

Understanding what to do and not to do in this beautiful country can make your visit much more enjoyable. There are a few customs you need to be aware of in order not to offend the locals.

Over the years of travelling to different parts of Thailand, I’ve seen so many tourists acting badly, being disrespectful to Thai people and their culture, and I can only hope this is from a lack of education.

Here’s a comprehensive guide covering the essentials, including the local laws and etiquette, to help ensure your trip is memorable for all the right reasons.

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Why Do People Go to Thailand?

Thailand attracts millions of visitors each year due to its breathtaking natural settings in places such as Phuket, Krabi, Koh Samui, and Koh Lanta. It’s fascinating history in areas such as Bangkok, Pattaya, and Ayutthaya, and of course the very welcoming locals.

Whether you want to explore ancient temples, enjoy the sandy beaches and warm waters, or pig out on the incredible street food, there’s something for everyone.

Is Thailand Worth Visiting?

Thailand is absolutely worth travelling to. With its rich Thai culture, fantastic landscapes (from sandy beaches to lush green mountains), and friendly locals, Thailand offers an unforgettable experience for all types of travellers.

Bean bags on Bohput beach in Koh Samui

What to Do and Not to Do in Thailand

Understanding local customs and what’s considered disrespectful is key to a respectful visit. Here are some dos and don’ts:

Don’ts in Thailand:

Disrespect the Royal Family:

The royal family in Thailand is held in high esteem; Thai people love their King and the royal family. Criticism or being disrespectful towards them is illegal and should be taken very seriously. So seriously, you could end up in jail for up to 15 years!

Overstay Your Visa:

If you’re planning to stay longer than the duration allowed by a standard visa (typically 60 days), consider applying for an extension for an additional 30 days. Staying beyond 90 days without the proper visa or paperwork, can lead to fines or legal issues.

Touch People’s Heads:

In Thai culture, the head is considered the most sacred part of the body. Touching someone’s head can be considered offensive, so please avoid touching anyone’s head. If you do this by accident, please make sure to apologise as soon as possible.

Point Your Feet:

I would imagine that anyone using their feet to point in any country would be considered rude so please don’t do this in Thailand. Pointing your feet at people or objects (especially Buddha statues) is seen as disrespectful. Keep your feet flat on the ground, where they belong.

Disrespect Buddha Statues:

Using Buddha images for tattoos, decorations, or clothing is considered highly disrespectful in Thailand. Even if you are not religious, please show respect for religious symbols. According to the Customs Act of 1926, you are not allowed to export any Buddha image, artifact, objects or antique from Thailand.

Ignore Dress Codes:

When visiting temples or Thai homes, please make sure that you are dressed modestly. This means that you need to cover your shoulders and knees to show respect for the place you are visiting. It’s also general practice in Thailand to wear clothes when you are out in public (with the exception of the beach). Walking around or entering restaurants half naked is disrespectful, no matter what country you are from (or travelling in).

Temples in Ayutthaya outside Bangkok

Ride a scooter in the rain

I personally wouldn’t recommend hiring or riding a scooter in Thailand, it’s rather dangerous. It’s especially dangerous when it rains, as the roads become slick and you end up having scooters slide all over the place.

Walk around late at night or early hours of the morning

You don’t know who is around or if there are drunk people looking for a fight. The biggest problem are the wild dog packs that roam the streets. They can become aggressive and attack, which would result in a trip to the hospital and a high chance of having to undergo rabies and tetanus shots – ouch!. This reddit thread has some great tips on how to handle stray dogs (and a few laughs).

Get angry or aggressive

The Thai people are known as people who enjoy peace and happiness this, to a degree, stems from their belief in Buddha. Tourists should avoid being aggressive or angry, especially in public, and it’s best to avoid any form of conflict. If you have an issue with someone or something, be respectful in how you handle it and stay calm. A smile never hurts (even if you’re pissed off).

Showing respect to Monks in Thailand

Dos in Thailand:

Visit Elephant Sanctuaries:

Choose ethical sanctuaries that treat elephants with care and respect. Don’t get involved in elephant riding or places that use elephants for entertainment. By visiting an ethical elephant sanctuary, you’re able to not only help support these sanctuaries, but you’ll also be able to see happy and well-cared-for after elephants.

Stay Hydrated with Bottled Water:

Avoid tap water to avoid health issues, as the water in Thailand is not safe to drink. While tap water in some areas may be clean, it’s safer to stick with drinking bottled water only. Most locals drink bottled or purified water as well.

Use Public Transport:

Thailand’s public transport system is efficient and a great way to explore. Most areas in Thailand offer very cheap buses, tuk tuks or motorbikes to get around. Bangkok’s skytrain is really easy to use and a great way to get from one side of the city to the other fairly quickly. You can also take a ride of water buses/water taxis.

Barter at the markets

Bartering is a super fun experience when you’re in Thailand. Make sure to be respectful with it. Keep in mind that if you’re bartering over 50 baht, it’s $1 USD, so try not to go over the top when 50 baht can mean more to the local than it does to your pride.

Lady serving chocolate bananas in Phuket Market

Realise you’re on Island time

This is more likely in island destinations (hence the name “island time”); things don’t happen in a rush. Over the years, while in Phuket, I’ve seen a lot of tourists get their cranky pants on because something is taking too long. Just sit back and enjoy the laid back, relaxed atmosphere of island time. You’re on holiday after all!

Enjoy Thai Hospitality:

Thai people are very well known for their friendliness; it is, after all, known as the “Land of Smiles“. Accepting their hospitality can really take your Thailand experience to another level.

Learn about the culture

Why travel half way around the world and not learn about or experience the Thai culture. To do this, you can visit nearby temples, take a cultural tour, enjoy a Thai cooking class, check out a Thai dancing performance, or watch a Muay Thai fight.

If you’re a bit more extroverted, you could always strike up a conversation with a local and get to know more about them and how they live their lives. I’ve always felt like these interactions are ones I remember fondly years later.

Have Travel insurance

Please get travel insurance, not only in Thailand but whenever you travel. Most insurance companies are reasonably priced at $30-$140 per trip. This is well worth the cost if you get sick or hurt.

I’ve seen so many new articles about tourists (or their families) who are setting up go funds me because someone has been hurt and they need to get them home. Don’t cause your family and friends major amounts of stress for the sake of a $100 travel insurance policy.

Views from the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok

Final Thoughts:

By following these guidelines and respecting local customs and laws, your visit to Thailand can be both enjoyable and respectful. Take the opportunity to fully embrace the opportunity to learn and immerse yourself in the beauty of Thai culture.

Author

  • Samantha King

    Sam, a seasoned traveler across four continents and 49 countries, is a leading authority in travel planning. Her website, Travelling King, offers tailored itineraries and expert guides for seamless trips. Sam's expertise in luxury travel, fast travel, and destination guides keeps her at the forefront of the travel community.

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