Bluffing in Bangkok: How ‘lying’ is perceived in Thailand

Playing poker in Thailand? Is it right to bluff or tell lies in general conversation? Thai culture can be different from its Western counterparts, so how does it affect the game of poker when playing it in Thailand? And is it even allowed there?

Dispelling Historical Myths

For many years there was an unfair rumour among expats living in Thailand that the locals are deceitful. There was even a terrible phrase: ‘How do you tell when a Thai person is lying? Their lips are moving. Quite frankly, this cut-and-paste phrase exists only to divide people and promote xenophobia. Thai culture actually despises any kind of lie, even white lies. Thoughts otherwise are usually ill-founded and/or misinformed. It is considered rude to lie by most, however, the act of bluffing in poker will more often than not be permitted as most Thai people playing poker will understand that is a key attribute and metric of the game. It would take an extremely sensitive Thai person to hold a grudge against another player because they bluffed on their hand.

Read Between the Lines: Greengjai

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Thai customs and communication work a lot around, ‘reading between the lines’. This happens in all manner of discussions. Whether it’s to embellish or simply make something out differently, it’s a constant within the Thai language. Doing, Greengjai, this on a regular basis in theory would lend itself to Thai people at the poker table, as they are able to gauge what people are saying/doing and assess what they truly mean – coming in really useful when trying to debunk opposition bluffs.

Saving Face in Thailand

One of the most important social aspects in Thailand is about ‘saving face’. Thai people don’t like to look bad in front of other people, especially those whom they care about or have to come into contact with. That means they can’t lie to them. This goes hand-in-hand with the general demeanour of the country having a modest and conservative culture. This makes it somewhat difficult for the population to outwardly express negative feelings or thoughts. However, if you’re playing poker there – the majority of players at the table will understand venting your frustration when you lose a hand, as this culture point does not carry over to the poker table.

Bluffing in Bangkok: How ‘lying’ is perceived in Thailand | News by Thaiger

Never Call Out a Liar in Thailand

In some social settings, the truth prevails and people are grateful for you calling them out. This can be social or more pressing. In Thailand, this almost never works out well for the person throwing out the accusation. There could be some bare-faced lies being exchanged but this could be Greengjai between specific parties or they are saving face with one another. The best way of dealing with it is simply observing and nodding. If you do call out a liar, then you will lose a lot of social status with all parties present. It’s about keeping harmony within the equilibrium. Calling out lies is seen as a deliberate disruption and destruction of said peace and should be avoided at all costs. Some Thai people will be more forgiving to foreigners doing this but it’s still not wise to do so.

Is Poker Even Legal in Thailand?

After all this conjecture, it’s worth pondering can you even play poker on your next trip to Thailand and can the locals even play on the best poker sites? The answer, sadly, is not very clear. Technically, Thai law only allows gambling through horse racing and the lottery. Everything else, including the best poker sites to play on for real money, are outlawed. The law is very old, as it dates back to 1935, leading some to skirt around it. However, the lack of legal status does make it somewhat taboo in the nation. The only places where you can play live poker are the illegal underground games (probably not the best places to visit). You can’t even own playing cards in the country, as that has been outlawed too. Over 50,000 arrests are made every year in Thailand for gambling-related offenses.

Bluffing in Bangkok: How ‘lying’ is perceived in Thailand | News by Thaiger

Online poker is a lot ‘safer’ for those who insist on playing while in Thailand. Offshore casinos can be accessed with enough work and payment systems like Skrill, Neteller, and almost every cryptocurrency will ensure that there’s little to link you to the gambling activity. Just don’t use a Thai credit card, that’s a quick way to get in trouble for sure.

Thailand News

Mitch Connor

Mitch is a Bangkok resident, having relocated from Southern California, via Florida in 2022. He studied journalism before dropping out of college to teach English in South America. After returning to the US, he spent 4 years working for various online publishers before moving to Thailand.

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