10 Do’s and Don’t While Traveling in Thailand

A trip to Thailand, or anywhere in Southeast Asia, is a special experience. However, there are social mores and customs that can embarrass you and them. Here is a guide to 10 Do’s and Don’t for your next trip to Thailand.

1 Do not raise your voice. Thais are very sensitive to confrontation and to voice levels. They speak softly, and disagreements are settled amicably in low tones. If something has gone wrong, complain in a normal tone and speak slowly. In the United States and Europe, we raise our voices often and easily get upset. Try to control that inclination while visiting Thailand. Loud complaints will embarrass everyone, and you won’t get the results you want.

2 If you need help, seek out teenagers wearing nice school uniforms. They tend to speak the most English, and are happy to help you. Even a group of six or eight in the subway (a sight that would frighten me in New York), is fine to approach in Bangkok. Politeness toward adults is still required here. Do not ask police for help. They don’t understand English, and will likely just cause more trouble for you. There is a number for tourist emergencies, 1155, which is like our 911, but it’s intended for serious emergencies only (not for directions).

3 Do not hesitate to get health care. Thailand has some of the best hospitals in the world, including Bumrungrad, Samitivej and BNH. If you feel ill or have suspicions of an ailment setting in, do not wait to go back home for health care. You’ll get premium service, especially in Bangkok, Phuket and the other larger cities. The specialized care will make you envious when you go back to the outdated care in the U.S., but at least enjoy it while you’re in Thailand. Even schedule some elective care while you’re there.

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4 Do take a phrase book with Thai script. An “I speak English” sign on the door of a taxi doesn’t always mean that’s true. In many cases they are stuck randomly on taxi doors, and have no real bearing on that day’s driver. Do not complain when the taxi drivers don’t understand English. It is their country, and they have no obligation to learn the most confusing language in the world (English). Just do your best to get where you’re going, and don’t get frustrated. Choose a phrase book with Thai writing, as no Thai can read a “transliteration” that was fabricated for westerners.

5 Do not try to recreate your American or Euro experience in Asia. Many tourists only go to tourist clubs, eat pizza, and only meet other tourists. I’ve met many of these. Essentially they’re just having an American vacation in a tropical setting. They’re missing the whole point. If you want to eat at Pizza Hut, then it’s cheaper to vacation in the US.

6 Try the street food. You won’t get sick, unless it’s from all the traveling. Most street good, i.e. food sold at the quaint stands on the streets, is grilled and sauteed to the hilt. No germs could survive that kind of open-fire grilling. It’s delicious to most people, so at least try it. Try the fresh guava and other fruits that are not available in the west. I’ve lived in Thailand for five years, and never once got sick. This might just be luck, but odds favor that its really due to safe food. No one’s luck is that good; certainly not mine.

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7 Do smile. Europeans and Americans smile less than anyone. We frown when we’re tired or confused. This can be interpreted as anger in the Land of Smiles. Thais smile a lot, and greet each other warmly. You might be confused about directions, and you don’t even realize you’re frowning. Try to be aware of it, and cast a warm smile more often while in Thailand. If you approach someone for help or directions while frowning, they might be afraid of you. Smile openly with your map in hand, and you’ll get plenty of help.

8. Respect their religious statues. Do not let your kids climb all over a spirit house or a Buddha statue. You wouldn’t want visitors coming into your neighborhood and treating your religion like a carnival ride. I’ve seen tourists do this, and like many parents, they simply will not control their kids. It’s a mystery to me. Please set a better example.

9 Use the Sky-train, subway and boats. Do not rely solely on taxis. Bangkok has a plethora of transportation modes, and most are easy to use. While the bus system will be too complex for a tourist, you can easily use the sky-train and subway. There is also a system of boats that cross the city.

10 Explore more. Try to step at least one foot outside the tourist areas. Do not go back home having only seen the tourist sites. Most of what Thailand is, lies beyond the packaged sites. Visit a suburb and see the beautiful temples that are not for tourists. See the serene life of a local community, and get some real pictures to take back home.

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Be Patient. Sitting in traffic is a commonality in congested Bangkok. Misunderstandings with language are also commonplace. Be patient, and you’ll enjoy the trip more.