Thailand is an absolutely beautiful country, and it feels like there are more people flocking to the backpacking trail over there every day. You always hear about the "Land of Smiles" and how kind the people are, and we can say from experience - - it's completely true. The Thais are a special people, with big hearts to match their big smiles. With that being said, traveling abroad can be tricky no matter where you go, as there are always social customs you need to abide by to be well received in your new surroundings. Since you surely don't want to ruffle any feathers or accidentally offend anyone, we've put together our insider's guide of things you definitely should know before traveling to Thailand.
1.Respect the King and Royal Family
The Royal Family, and the King in particular, is absolutely adored by the Thai people. When you arrive, you'll quickly realize that there are photos of the King everywhere -- so be mindful that it's illegal to harm or mock them in any way. The Thai people view their King as a symbol of righteousness and proper adherence to Buddhist principles. Many also view him as a father figure, so much so that he is universally celebrated on their Father's Day. Not surprisingly. it's a huge no-no to say anything negative about the revered monarch, or anyone in the royal family, as it will offend Thais and put them in an uncomfortable position. The National Anthem is played daily at 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. in public places, and on radio and TV broadcasts. During the song you'll notice that all Thais stop what they're doing and stand to attention. Do the same if you want to be well-received by your new Thai friends.
2. Follow the Polite Customs
There are some simple things you can make sure to do (or not do) that will make a huge difference in how you're perceived by the locals. For starters, it will go a long way to learn a couple of Thai phrases, like "please" and "thank you," and to be cognizant of the traditional Thai greeting: the wai. The wai can be performed by placing your hands together in a prayer position and doing a slight bow. It's a simple thing, but it will go a long way in showing your respect for the culture. Also try to remember to take your shoes off before going into temples (wats) and most houses, as it's considered very rude to keep your shoes on if everyone else removes them. Last but not least, the body is viewed hierarchically in Thailand, so make sure not to touch anyone's head, as it is considered the sacred part of the body, and not to point your feel at anyone, as the feet are considered the lowest, dirtiest part of the body.
3. Carry Toilet Paper
You'll definitely be able to find your fair share of western-style toilets in Thailand, but you'll also encounter a ton of Asian squat toilets. If you've never used one before, we definitely get how you may be wary of assuming the crouching position to do your business, but once you get used to it, it's no big deal (just like camping..right?!). Nonetheless, you'll want to carry some toilet paper with you at all times, because you'll very rarely find it in the stalls. Thais opt to use a bidet shower (basically a hand-held version of a bidet, sometimes known as a 'bum gun') instead of toilet paper, so if you aren't ready to jump on that bandwagon, make sure to show up prepared! Oh, and by the way, you can "flush" using the bucket of water and pale next to the toilet.
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4. Take Risks on the Food (Sometimes)
A huge part of the allure of Thailand is the food. I mean, who doesn't love Thai food?! Whether you're a Pad Thai junkie, or can't get enough Panang curry, we get it because we're in the same boat. You'll hear a lot of warnings about food consumption before you go to Thailand. While you should tread a bit lightly at first to let your stomach adjust, don't let the fear of Bangkok Belly take away from your experience! The street food in Thailand is amazing. You can get a big dinner for about one to two dollars at a street stall, and that's where you'll taste the real Thailand (though we like the nice restaurants too!). If the vendors don't speak English, just point to what you want and they'll be more than happy to serve you. That being said, avoid drinking the tap water. It might even be wise to brush your teeth with bottled water to be safe.
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5. Mai Pen Rai
"Mai Pen Rai" is a Thai saying that can loosely be translated to English as "no worries, don't sweat it, it will be okay, no problem"...you get the idea. But mai pen rai is much more than just a saying -- it's a small phrase that encapsulates the Thai philosophy on life, and it's important to know about it to act appropriately in the culture. The Thais aren't just a friendly people, they're also incredibly laid-back. Much of this can be attributed to the devout Buddhist principles of the people, and it can also be attributed to the notion of saving face. It's not socially acceptable for Thais to lose their cool when things go wrong. The vast majority of the time they'll just laugh, say "mai pen rai," and not lose any sleep over it. So why does this matter? Because things can often be slower or less efficient than you may expect in Thailand; thus, it's important to take everything in stride, have a sense of humor, and just live the mai pen rai lifestyle. If you do this, you'll have a true Thai experience, and maybe even learn to take things a little slower.
6. Beware of Scams
No matter how awesome a place is that you're traveling to, it's always necessary to make sure you keep your wits about you to avoid scammers; let's be honest, they're everywhere. Some of the common scams in Thailand are what you would expect: overcharging foreigners or trying to get you to agree to add-ons you may not realize are scams (this one pretty much just applies to drivers). When it comes to tuk-tuks in Thailand, we're all about them, but just make sure to agree on a price with the driver before you get in, to avoid any disagreements at the end about how much the ride cost. Also, once you're in a tuk-tuk or songthaew, drivers may ask you if you want to go on a tour, which will likely consist of them taking you to their friends' store and then collecting commission off your visit, so just stick to your original plans. Some of the other things to keep in mind are universal: Keep your valuables close to avoid pickpockets, and don't get in trouble with the police, as they've been known to profit off fining foreigners.
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7. That Hot Girl Might Be a Ladyboy
There's a huge trans population in Thailand, so you definitely won't be able to travel there without hearing about the "ladyboys." The Thai word for ladyboy is Kathoey, which really just refers to a man who dresses and carries himself with the mannerisms of a woman. Though you'll often hear jokes about ladyboys in Thai culture, they represent a widely accepted and recognized subgroup in Thai society that greatly contribute to the culture. In most cities in Thailand, you'll hear about ladyboy cabaret shows, which we definitely recommend as they can be a lot of fun, and allow you to learn more about the community and culture -- and have a great time while doing it!