Thailand is a wonderful place, full of new adventures, exotic cultures and a surprise around every corner. You better believe it. Thailand is unique in the region with very little obvious western influence throughout its history and a proud culture that puts the needs of its people first, ahead of appeasing westerners. Most of this is a mystery to be discovered but sometimes you’ll just mess it all up by not knowing the basics. Here’s Thai culture DOs and DON’Ts Lesson One.
Whilst many of these points are ‘old school’ and are not as studiously followed by the younger generation of Thais, the basics still are apparent in all aspects of Thai life.
1. Don’t point with your feet
…or doing just about anything with your feet. Thais consider the feet the most lowly part of the body (physics and gravity support their contention). As the head is revered as the top of the body and closest to heaven, the feet are close to the ground and just ‘dirty’.
So doing anything with your feet, especially pointing with them when seated, is against the grain of Thai culture. It probably goes without saying, you should ‘t put your feet on tables or on chairs when in the company of Thai people or in public.
Tuck your feet away when seated and try not to point you feet in the direction of a Thai person. For example, if you’re sitting cross-legged in the company of Thais you’ll probably be inadvertently pointing your feet at someone.
Whilst we’re on the feet, remove your shoes when going into a Thai person’s home or even some shops and offices. Take the lead of the people before you. If they’re taking off their shoes, do the same. You will see a lot of slip-on shoes and sandals worn around in Thailand, for good reason. You’re always slipping them on and off.
2. Don’t touch people on the head
From the feet we head north to the head, the loftiest and most holy part of the body. Touching someone on the head, if you’re not intimate with that person or unless they’re very young, is going to be taken as an disrespectful or, at least, a cultural faux-pas. Thais take their hair very seriously, washing it often and grooming their ‘do’ endlessly during the day. Pull up at a set of traffic lights and you will often see the true reason Thai’s have large rear-view mirrors on their motorbikes – they will be touching up their hair whilst waiting for the lights to turn green. It’s also cited as a reason for the Thai resistance to wearing motorbike helmets.
3. Don’t flash the flesh
It might be OK to walk around some streets in the world with your top off, bath topless at the beach or get around in the skimpiest of cheeky, skin-revealing outfits. Not so in Thailand. Despite the few notable streets in places like Bangkok, Pattaya and Phuket where you’ll see quite a lot of flesh exposed to tantalise customers, Thais are mostly a conservative bunch and will frown on your showing of extra skin when it’s not required.
Going into many offices around the Kingdom without the proper attire – not covering your shoulders, knee-length skirts, long pants, no shorts, no T-Shirts, etc – will see you pointed politely towards the exit. This rather conservative attitude towards showing too much skin may seem contradictory in some situations, and it is. There’s plenty of Thai flesh openly displayed at Soi Cowboy, Patpong, Wlaking Street in Pattaya and Bangla Road in Phuket… go figure!
Just be guided by what Thais are wearing around you and save the confusion for a discussion between your foreign friends. If in doubt, ask – your hotel reception staff and concierge will provide advice what you should be wearing in any situation.
4. Don’t discuss the Thai Monarchy
Thailand is indeed a Kingdom, a modern constitutional democracy (sometimes) with a King as their head of state. The Thai King, Rama 10, still retains a highly revered place in Thai society despite the monarch having their absolute powers taken away in a bloodless coup back in 1932.
The current King Maha Vajiralongkorn’s father, King Bhumibol Adunyadej, was highly revered during his astonishingly long 70 years on the Thai throne. Through his tireless work for the Thai people, along with effective PR and communication from the Palace (King Bhumibol was an excellent photographer and accomplished musician), he made the position of the monarch much more than just a mere constitutional role.
For these reasons any discussion, at all, about the Thai royal family is strongly discouraged. Be aware of the image of the King on money, numerous signs and images around the country and try and avoid anything that could be misconstrued as offensive towards the royal family. At the very least Thais will be greatly offended. At worst you could end up in jail.
5. Things NOT to do around monks and temples
Most visits to Thailand will include at least one visit to a temple. You will also see monks collecting alms (food offerings) early in the morning as they walk the streets around their temples. Thais have fine-tuned their own version of Buddhism over the centuries with historical and geographic influences fused with aspects of Hinduism and Animism.
Just about all young Thai men will become a monk as a right-of-passage, usually in their early 20s as a symbol of respect for their family. You will never really understand Thailand without understanding a bit about Thai Buddhism – it’s a lot more than just a religion, it’s an intrinsic part of their daily life.
Monks play a special role in Thai society and its best to know what to do when in temples and around monks. These are some general tips but also follow the guidance of the Thais and other people around you if you’re not sure.
• Especially ladies, don’t touch the monk. If you want to hand something to the monk put it on a table or the ground and let them pick it up. Or hand it to a male who will then hand it to the monk. If they stand, you stand, if they sit, you sit.
• Remove your shoes before entering the temple’s most holy areas and try and avoid stepping on the threshold at the top of the steps or at the doorway.
• Walk slowly and keep your chatter to a minimum. Walk around sacred object in a clock-wise direction and back away from any Buddha image and don’t turn your back.
• Don’t point at Buddha images (more about pointing later) and keep your position lower than the Buddha image or statue at all times.
• Remove your hat and sunglasses, turn off your mobile and remove headphones.
• Taking photos will probably be OK but look out for signs that ask you not to and never get a photo taken when your back is facing the Buddha.
• It goes without saying that you should dress appropriately when visiting a temple. Many temples will have sarongs and shawls available for those who are not appropriately attired.
6. PDAs (public displays of affection) are not welcome
Thailand isn’t Italy or Spain where public displays of affection are a part of life. And the streets of Thailand aren’t all like that girlie bar you visited in Pattaya where the girls were wearing short shorts and a flimsy singlet.
When in public in Thailand you will rarely see any displays of affection towards each other in public. Even simply holding hands may be frowned upon by some older Thais, certainly when you head out of the capital and the tourist spots. If you watch Thai soap operas all they ever seem to do is go in and out of relationships, fight, shoot guns and glare at each other – drama, drama, drama. But in real life most Thais prefer a simpler, gentler life without too much overt physical contact. So keep your romantic moments to yourselves – they probably won’t be appreciated on the streets of Thailand.
7. Don’t lose your cool
…or how to lose friends and NOT influence people in Thailand.
Getting angry, even raising your voice, never goes down well in Thailand. You may have been waiting in the immigration queue for two hours, are trying to get your visa extended or trying to wade your way through the ‘labyrinth’ a.k.a. Thai Banking! All these things will test your mettle and patience. But don’t, just don’t, get angry and try and shout your way out of the situation.
It will never, repeat NEVER work in Thailand. Thais really hate conflict and raising your voice or losing your temper will be seen by most Thais as a sign of madness.
The young lady behind the service counter or the poor officer sitting behind the immigration counter will likely smile at you whilst you rant on about your ‘rights’ and that you ‘know somebody’. Once you’re finished they either walk away or completely ignore you and start serving the next person like you never existed.
If you run into Thai police, same applies x 10. If you think getting into any argument with the Thai boys-in-brown is a good idea we can guarantee that you will come off second best every time. In all situations never lose your cool, try and be polite and take a deep breath.
8. Dress up, not down
You’re here for a relaxing holiday but keeping neat and clean, no matter what you’re wearing, will be appreciated by Thais. Whilst your skimpy beach wear will likely be tolerated and your singlets will be OK for wandering around the streets in the tourist areas, a smart pair of shorts and a nice shirt or blouse is going to earn you big points in the eyes of your Thai hosts. Wearing nice shoes is something that is also appreciated. When meeting Thais, even in business situations, don’t be surprised if they check out your shoes with a discreet glance down.
9. Don’t whistle at night and other superstitions
Don’t whistle at night. It’s a Thai superstition that you will call in the ghosts and other bad spirits if you whistle in the evening. Generally, Thais don’t whistle at any time but if you are a happy whistler better to keep it to the shower and not try and impress the locals with your whistling skills whilst in Thailand in the evenings.
Whilst we on superstitions, Don’t cut your hair on Wednesdays, if you eat the last piece of food on the plate when sharing you will get a handsome boyfriend or pretty girlfriend, don’t leave home if you hear a gecko, if your right eye twitches it means something bad is going to happen but if it is the left eye you will have good luck, you will see a ghost if you bend down and look between your legs, your finger will fall off if you point at a rainbow, consult the monk to decide on the best day for your wedding or buying a new car, toot your horn when passing a temple or shrine… we could go on but let’s move onto Number Ten.
10. Don’t take things too seriously
Mai phen rai & sabai sabai
Translated ‘don’t worry/no worries’ and ‘relax, take it easy’. These two phrases sum up a lot of Thai thinking. Put simply, don’t think too much about things in Thailand. Many things will simply not have a reason or purpose and your western logic and thinking simply will not be applicable in many confusing moments in the Land of Smiles. Many expats use the code ’TIT’ when confronted by some of the seemingly absurd things that happen in every day life living in Thailand – ‘This Is Thailand’. And it is.
Enjoy the roller coaster because it’s THEIR country, THEIR culture and THEIR way of life. Expecting things to be like your country will just get you frustrated so enjoy the adventure. For every little annoyance you will be rewarded with many more wonderful moments and a lifetime of memories.
10a. Don’t point with your index finger
We said we’d say something about pointing. Don’t point with your finger. If you want to indicate something and draw attention to it, point with all your fingers together and hand held sideways. Pointing with your index finger is considered rude and only done as a derisive gesture. There are a few other hand gestures to talk about but we’ll leave that for another Top Ten on another day.
Having said that, there is an article called Thais Pointing at Things which celebrates the irony that Thais, indeed, love pointing at things.
As a footnote we should say that, although these ten recommendations about Thai culture are a good guide, there may be local nuances around the country. From north to south, east to west, city to up-country, Thailand has a lot of variations, accents, foods and traditions.
Many of these things in our Top 10 are traditional cultural faux pas and perhaps less commonly frowned upon in modern times but they still prevail with the older generation.
You’ll find that the Thais will tolerate western culture more easily in the tourist areas. Enjoy discovering Amazing Thailand.Keep in contact with The Thaiger by following our Facebook page.
Nearly 300,000 Bangkok school students stay at home today as a measure to reduce air pollution
Nearly 300,000 students from 437 schools around Bangkok are having the day off after the Bangkok governor announced they could stay home and avoid the city’s smog. Ironically, today’s city air pollution has reduced to its lowest level in a week.
The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration suspended classes at 437 public schools for one day and introduced staggered working hours for city public servants from today, “as airborne PM2.5 dust and smoke is forecast to remain excessive”.
Pongsakorn Kwanmuang, a BMA spokesperson, says the measures are part of city hall’s “four-point plan to cope with worsening air pollution in Bangkok”. He says that officials working at district offices will report to work as normal, adding that the staggered working hours will be ended when pollution has eased. How the staggering of work hours would relieve the pollution problem was not outlined by the spokesperson.
“The class closure, affecting over 280,000 students, will reduce the number of cars on Bangkok’s streets and help ease PM2.5 problem.”
City Hall is also distributing 450,000 free face masks to people in Bangkok.Keep in contact with The Thaiger by following our Facebook page.
Thailand is making you fat
“…compare a Big Mac to an average Pad Thai and there’s at least double the kilojoules in the Thai noodle dish.”
I came to Thailand as a fit, healthy 70 kilogram Australian. After six years in Thailand I’m now a reasonably fit, healthy 76 kilogram Australian. Why? Well, Thai food, despite its healthy appearance and fresh origins is also full of fats, sugars and salt. For example, compare a Big Mac to an average Pad Thai and there’s at least double the kilojoules (or calories) in the Thai noodle dish. (There’s plenty of variation in Pad Thai servings but we took an average from three websites reporting on the nutritional value of Thai food). One website went as far as reporting that your average Pad Thai had FOUR times as many calories in it.
(A big Mac has 1075 kilojoules per 100 grams of weight and weighs approx. 200 grams)
Whilst Thai food is generally fresh, cooked quickly, full of nutrition (vegetables, carbohydrates and protein), it’s also full of calories. But the problem goes deeper than this. And it partly answers the question as to why Thais, as a population, are growing taller and fatter than in the past – they’re getting a lot more calories than in the past.
Head to your local convenience store and scan the shelves. Anything fresh is difficult to find. Many foods that would have traditionally come without sugar are now laced with additional sugar – yogurt, fruit juice, bread, and we’re hardly past the front counter yet.
Anecdotally, I would suggest that the ingredients for your average Thai meal have evolved over the past 100 years and now there is a lot more salts, sugars, MSG and saturated fats than a century ago (the MSG argument is something for another time). Of course, all these things make most foods taste better, I won’t deny it.
Thai food is still a great source of all the nutrients you need to get through the day but eating large Thai meals with lost of noodles and white rice is not going to help you return to your 20 year old surfer body. White rice has about as much nutrition as cardboard. Cook it in a sea of saturated fat (fried rice) and you’re on the way to a big calorie intake.
Nutritionists recommend avoiding six types of Thai foods including Pad Thai, yellow, green and red curries, Tom Kha soup (Tom Yum is ok), stir fries and Thai tea (the orange sweet milky concoction).
Well, that’s about every Thai meal I love 🙁
chefjohnhowie.com has a list of Thai food dos and don’ts.
Meanwhile Hayden Rhodes, Phuket nutritionist and well-being consultant, says there are three things to take into account when consuming our beloved Thai food.
1) Most food is fried, many times in cheap nasty rancid vegetable oils. Avoid fried Thai food.
2) Thai food over the years has followed the SAD… standard American & Australian Diet (very SAD) which means consuming more sugar per head per year. Sugar makes you fat. Period. Ask for no sugar to be added to Thai dishes (yes- it’s in everything!)
3) A lot of Thai food is full of chemicals ‘fresh from the farm’; detoxification processes will be hampered – body fat will be stored. Ask your fancy hotel or beach club where their food comes from and 99% will likely be ‘Macro’. Find out who uses organic ingredients and eat there. Yes – this will have a direct impact on your energy, mineral content in your body and your fat line… oops I meant waist line.”
Add to the high calorific content of all our favorite Thai foods is the relatively inexpensive and plentiful alcohol and street food stalls every 50 metres along any road and you’re heading for a fright when you step onto the scales. It’s also a lot easier to jump on the motorbike in Thailand to travel short distances we might have happily walked back in our home country.
So next time you see a friend heading into McDonalds for a Big Mac, rather than fat-shaming them, they might actually be trying to lose weight! (We certainly don’t recommend eating Bic Macs or ‘fast food’ too often though)
Health aficionados and doctors would always recommend a balanced food intake with fresh food at the top of the list along with regular exercise, at any age.
Good advice! So it’s back to the swimming pool and gym, and choosing Tom Yum over Pad Thai.
(per 100 grams of weight)
Keep in contact with The Thaiger by following our Facebook page.
The rise of the e-bicycle in Thailand, a bit of motorised assistance
by Nicole Kash
Cycling tours offer a unique way to explore Thailand. Faster than walking but slower than driving, cycling tours cover plenty of ground while allowing cyclists to immerse themselves in the sights, smells, and culture of Thailand without the boundary of a car window.
Cycling tours can cover up to a heart-pumping 150 kilometre a day. Though exciting for many, some find longer distances daunting, especially newer cyclists or those out of practice. This is where the e-bike has begun filling a unique gap in Thailand’s adventure tourism industry. Thanks to e-bikes, longer distance day tours and challenging multi-day cycling tours are no longer reserved for fitness fanatics.
Popular in the US and Europe, the e-bike has made its way to Thailand is now thriving within the Kingdom’s tourism industry. These motorised bicycles offer the option to assist cyclists with pedaling, which is especially useful for long distances and tough uphill climbs. Even with the help of the motor, cyclists still get plenty of exercise, as the pedal-assist system requires the rider to put some work in.
Unlike a scooter or motorbike, an e-bike does not run without the pedaling effort of the rider. They feature rechargeable batteries and an and off switch, allowing cyclists to challenge themselves as much as they’d like and get a little extra help when needed.
The option of swapping our traditional bikes for e-bikes on cycling tours offer more tourists the opportunity to join in on cycling tours than ever before, growing the number of potential clients for Thai adventure tourism companies while fostering a climate of inclusivity.
Looking to join in on the fun? Here’s a look into a few of the single-day and multi-day bicycle tours with e-bike options offered by Bangkok based SpiceRoads Cycling!
Road Cycling Bangkok to Phuket (10 days)
Starting in bustling Bangkok and ending in along Phuket’s sparkling coastline, this 10-day bicycle tour with e-bike options is the perfect mix of must-see sites and tucked away local spots all on smooth roads. Pedalling toward the scenic south, ride beyond the city lights and explore rural Thailand’s rich culture and welcoming villages while making stops at the east and west coast’s local beach spots along the way.
Rolling hills, golden sunsets, a real taste of local life, and of course serene sea views await you! This trip is fully supported with an air-conditioned van and riders can take a break and cool off while still enjoying the same views as the rest of the group.
Phuket Highlights (½ day)
Take a break from beach life to explore Phuket’s unique and often overlooked old town on this ½ day bicycle tour with e-bike options. We start on the town’s peripheral, exploring Koh Sirey’s community of sea gypsies and on to see and smell the fresh catch of the day as locals bid for the best deals at the fishing port.
Then we head downtown to admire Phuket Old Town’s Sino-Portuguese architecture, Jui Tui Shrine museum, and unique shops by bike. This leisurely 27 kilometre tour ends with a drive to stunning Khao Khad viewpoint for a scenic sea view and bird’s eye view over where we have ridden.
Kanchanaburi Explorer (3 days)
Immerse yourself in Kanchanaburi’s natural beauty and historic sites on this 3 day bicycle tour with e-bike options. Cycle along country roads and through local villages, enjoying mountain views and the thrill off jungle clad and dirt trails along the way.
Then explore off the bike, boarding a local train for a stunning train ride on Death Railway, visiting the historic and dark Hellfire Pass, and taking an optional boat trip to visit a Mon village. A diverse itinerary combining Kanchanburi’s stunning natural sites with stops at historical must-sees on a mix of tarmac and dirt trails assures you will never get bored on this 102 kilometre bicycle tour!
To find out more, and see more tours from the Spice Roads team, click HERE.Keep in contact with The Thaiger by following our Facebook page.
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