Avoid insulting the King, monks, and your stomach with a few things to know before your visit to Thailand.
What do you need to know beyond the fact that Thailand is a MUST and you are so lucky to be planning a visit? Well, not much, really. Still, we’ve still pulled together a few tips to help you prep for cultural differences and make the most of your visit.
Don’t Buy Anything With Buddha on It
While it isn’t likely that you’ll be arrested for buying a keychain featuring the image of the Buddha, you will notice signs throughout various cities that warn against disrespecting this Thai leader. Merchants who print his image on anything—from t-shirts to handbags and magnets—must source these goods from other countries, since Thailand bans the practice. If you want to be mindful of the rules of the region, it is recommended to avoid funding this form of sales. Also, don’t get a tattoo of the Buddha; it is considered sacrilegious and is not a good look.
Cover up, Ladies
If you’re a female traveler, there are a few precautions you should take to avoid causing offense for, well, being a woman. Rather than worry that you are setting the Feminist movement back a century, just remind yourself (or the women you are traveling with) that you are simply showing respect for a country and culture you are visiting. On that note, you may be asked to cover your shoulders or knees as a sign of respect at sacred sites. There are also certain beliefs in the Buddhist culture that prohibit women from entering specific temples entirely, as menstrual cycles are considered unholy. Also, female travelers should avoid touching or sitting next to monks.
Don’t Be a Royal Pain
Remember what grandma used to say? If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all. Well, it turns out Grandma would have avoided getting arrested in Thailand where any insult against the king or monarchy is an insult against the national religion and patrimony and an illegal offense punishable by jail time. Yes! If you don’t have something nice to say about the king or his relatives, just don’t say anything at all. And while you’re being nice, know that you should rise for the Royal anthem when played.
Use Your Right Hand and Watch Your Feet
When possible do not give or receive anything with your left hand; use your right hand and support it lightly at the elbow with your left hand to show greater respect. Okay, so no one will actually call you out/arrest you for using your left; it’s just not the right (sorry) thing to do. As for your feet, you should always remove your shoes when you enter a home. Do not step over a seated person’s legs. Don’t point your feet at anyone; keep them on the floor, and take care not to show the soles of your feet (as the lowest part of the body, they are seen by Buddhists as the least holy).
Elephant Encounters Are a No-No
You may have visions of riding an elephant through the jungle but a debate is raging in Thailand, and internationally, as to the ethics of such animal interactions so you may want to reconsider that selfie. Tourism perpetuates the captivity of elephants but it also helps fund their care so you see the dilemma. Check your conscience and consider the welfare of these gentle giants before signing up for any kind of animal interaction. If you want to see an elephant in real life, it may be best to visit or volunteer with an organization that is working to rehabilitate these elephants, like the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai. There are also a growing number of sanctuaries where you can observe rescued elephants; ask questions to ensure an ethical experience.
Haggle (But Don’t Be a Jerk)
You will likely spend a pretty penny sorting through handmade treasures to bring a little bit of Thailand home with you but know that the price is often negotiable and Thais respect a good bargainer. Begin by allowing the vendor to make the first offer, and then ask if there is a better price available. Your counter offer should be for about 20 percent less. From there, you have room to negotiate. If the vendor won’t compromise, walking away might do the trick . It is important to note, however, that most vendors make their income from selling these products, so while you shouldn’t be short-changed yourself, you also don’t want to insult them with a ridiculously low wager. Take a minute to consider that it may just come down to a few dollars for you, but those few dollars go a lot further in Thailand. Also, please don’t bargain unless you plan to buy.
Don’t Drink From the Tap; Do Eat on the Street
Though you might watch a local sip, your digestive system likely isn’t adjusted to the enzymes present in Thai aqua. Drink only bottled water, and use bottled or boiled water to brush your teeth. That said, do not let any fallacies about “Bangkok Belly” turn you off eating street food. Bangkok’s street food scene is filled with exciting and creative food vendors and you will be sorely missing out if you are too cautious to experience the delicious flavors and dishes on offer. Know that there is such a high turnover of food that you are often safer with street food than with restaurant-cooked food as the produce is so fresh. Also, choose hot dishes if you are worried about alien-to-your-gut bacteria.
Thais don’t like anything done in twos, a number associated with death. Hence, you should buy three mangoes, not two and stairways have odd numbers of stairs.
Thais aim to live with a “cool heart” or jai yen—free from emotional extremes. Since being in a hurry shows an obvious lack of calm, they don’t rush and aren’t always punctual. Try to leave space in your itinerary for this relaxed attitude, since something will invariably happen to slow your progress. And as a gift to yourself from Thailand, take this relaxed attitude and philosophy home with you!