7 Do’s and Don’ts In Thailand (That Will Save You From Embarrassment!)

Last Updated on September 5, 2020

Traveling to Thailand can be a wonderful adventure, but it comes with some warnings. You should be aware of certain do’s and don’ts in Thailand– knowing them will save you certain embarrassment. Here are 7 travel tips for Thailand, including some cultural customs as well as sightseeing suggestions to make sure have a great time when you visit.

7 Do's and Don'ts In Thailand: a Thai temple
When you visit a Thai temple, it’s important to know the appropriate attire and etiquette.

CONTENTS: In this article, you will learn more about 7 important Do’s and Don’ts in Thailand to ensure a great travel experience, including:

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure for more information. As an affiliate, I earn a small commission every time you make a qualifying purchase through one of my affiliate links (if applicable) at no additional cost to you.

What to Expect in Thailand as a Westerner

Like most countries in the East, you might find Thailand is vastly different from what you are accustomed to as a Westerner. The way of life in Southeast Asia is incomparable to our experiences. Oddly enough, this is one of the reasons it’s such an excellent travel destination: you get to experience a new culture for the very first time! 

With an open mind and aware of these do’s and don’ts in Thailand, it’s sure to be an incredible experience.

1. DO: Visit the Islands

Essentials of traveling to Thailand: Visit the islands
Thailand’s 1,430 islands offer some of the most beautiful beaches in the world.

Thailand has lots of little islands that are well worth visiting while you’re over there.

How many islands are there in Thailand? 1,430!

It’s well worth going to some of these islands, as otherwise you’ll miss out on an important part of this country. Cities like Bangkok or Chiang Mai are excellent, but they’re very busy and full of the hustle and bustle of modern life.

On the islands, you have a more relaxed vibe as well as many things to do. Some islands include animal sanctuaries, others have yoga resorts; there’s something for everyone.

I always think it’s worth looking for island destinations whenever I go traveling. Islands tend to hold all of the best hidden gems…and it’s no different in Thailand!

Some of the most popular ones in Thailand include Phuket, Ko Samui, and Ko Lipe. Here is what you can expect to find:

Phuket

  • You’ll discover many of Thailand’s most popular beaches here, along the western shore and clear waters of the Andaman Sea.
  • Spend time exploring both mountains and rainforests.
  • You might choose to stay in one of the high-end seaside resort like this one.
  • Sign-up to take a tour of the Chalong Bay Rum Distillery or take a Thai Cooking Class.
  • Shopping fans will want to check out the myriad of markets and shops in Phuket City.

Ko Samui

  • This large island known locally as “Samui” is part of the Chumphon Archipelago in the Gulf of Thailand.
  • You’ll find palm-tree lined beaches, coconut groves, mountains, and rainforests on Ko Samui, the second-largest island in Thailand.
  • If you’re looking for a hotspot with a great night-life, consider renting a beachfront hotel room at Chaweng Beach.
  • On a tiny island connected to Ko Samui by a causeway, you’ll find a giant golden Buddha at the Wat Phra Yai temple.

Ko Lipe

  • Ko Lipe is a small island, about 1.3L x 1.5W miles, near Malaysia’s border.
  • It’s one of several small islands with sandy beaches and coral-rich waters on the border of the Tarutao National Marine Park.
  • You’ll find plenty of dive sites, including the 8 Mile Rock pinnacle and the Yong Hua Shipwreck.
  • The Urak Lawoi people are the aboriginal people of Ko Lipe.

2. Don’t: Disrespect Anything To Do With Buddha

Do's and Don'ts In Thailand: Respect the Buddha
Buddhism is a very big part of Thai culture.

As someone from the West, you may not see images of the Buddha that often. So, when you get to Thailand, you might be surprised by all the different images and statues that you see. Around 95% of the country follow Buddhism, so it’s a very big part of Thai culture.

The problem is that Buddha images or statues might look a bit funny to some people. Likewise, you may try to pose for photos by images or statues of Buddha.

Do not take photos or pose with the Buddha!

This is perhaps one of the most important of the do’s and don’ts in Thailand.

In fact, it’s best to keep your distance from anything related to Buddhism to avoid causing offense.

  • Don’t openly mock the Buddha.
  • Definitely don’t make funny poses by statues.
  • Be kind and respectful of the local people and their faith. 

This should go without saying in any country, but especially in Thailand.

Why?

You can actually be put in prison for defiling a Buddha image.

It’s true, even if you’re a foreign visitor, so be sure you’re on your best behavior.

3. DO: Be Careful On and Around The Roads

Generally, Thailand is a very safe country for tourists. However, it has developed a reputation as one of the most dangerous places to drive in the world.

A lot of people get into road accidents in Thailand every single year.

The drivers in Thailand are erratic at best, and you’ll also see lots of motorbikes and scooters weaving through the traffic. Also, the road surfaces are rough, they are often poorly lit and marked, and offer few barriers. And that’s just to name a few of the driving hazards.

So, even though self-driving (car and motorcycle) and fuel are cheap, you may want to avoid driving a car in Thailand, just to be safe. (Tip: Thailand drives on the left.)

Alternatives to Driving in Thailand

Some alternatives to driving in Thailand you might consider for getting around include:

  • Tuk-tuk
  • Subway
  • Taxi
  • Ferry
  • Bus
  • Train
  • Plane

And also, be cautious when you’re walking close to the road as people often get hit as well.

That said, if you’re aware of your surroundings, you shouldn’t face any issues. It’s just something to think about while you’re visiting and considering the do’s and don’ts in Thailand.

4. DON’T: Forget the Dress Code for Temples

You’re probably aware that Thailand is famous for all of its amazing temples, also known as wats. There are over 500 temples in Chiang Mai alone, and as many as 41,000 temples in Thailand. These temples are a massive tourist hotspot!

It’s important for you to understand the customs in Thailand related to these religious temples. Don’t enter one without adhering to the dress codes. You won’t always be refused entry, but you will disgust the locals and receive many angry looks.

It’s actually pretty easy to figure out the dress code in a Thai temple. You’ll see signs near the temples before you go in, all tourist guidebooks will tell you, and you can do your research online as well.

But here’s a quick summary:

What to Wear in a Thai Temple

The general rule is that you need to cover your shoulders and knees at the very least. Most temples prefer your ankles to be covered too.

Appropriate Attire for Women in a Thai Temple

  • A knee-length-or-longer dress/skirt, capris, pants/trousers are preferred; longer shorts may be permissible.
  • A shirt that fully covers your shoulders or cover your shoulders with a shawl.
  • Avoid tight stretch pants, tight athletic wear, and clingy tops that might be considered too revealing.

Appropriate Attire for Men in a Thai Temple:

  • A good quality t-shirt, polo shirt, or button-down collared shirt; or other shirt that covers your shoulders.
  • Jeans, Chino pants, or loose slacks are preferred, long golf or Bermuda shorts may be permissible.

Other Important Etiquette for Thai Temple

It’s also important to note some of these other cultural norms and etiquette when you visit a Thai temple:

  • Turn off your phone and remove headphones.
  • Refrain from smoking, chewing gum, and snacking.
  • Remove your shoes.
  • Remove your sunglasses and hat.
  • Treat the space with due respect (avoid being loud or joking).
  • Stand up in respect when monks enter the room.
  • Greet monks with a wai (a prayer-like gesture and head bow, avoiding eye contact).
  • Do not photograph the monks.
  • Do not touch the Buddha.
  • Avoid pointing at Buddha images.
  • Do not physically put yourself higher than the Buddha.
  • Be respectful of those in worship

5. DO: Research Hotels Before Choosing Where to Stay

As with all tourist hotspots, Thailand has seen significant growth in the hospitality sector. For visitors, this is both good and bad. There are plenty of fantastic hotels around the country, but equally as many poor ones.

Lots of people have looked to capitalize on tourism by opening up awful hostels or hotels for tourists to stay in.

My advice is to do your research before you stay anywhere, particularly if you’re looking for hotels in Chiang Mai or Bangkok. These are the two most popular cities, which means you obviously get a lot of low-quality rentals alongside the good hotels.

As with any travel arrangements, always check multiple online reviews before booking and be sure you stay in a safe part of town.

6. DON’T: Forget To Ask If You Should Take Your Shoes Off

7 Do's and Don'ts In Thailand: Take Your Shoes Off
In Thailand, it’s customary to take your shoes off when entering certain places.

Another one of the do’s and don’ts in Thailand has do do with (not) wearing your shoes. This is one of those things that you wouldn’t know about unless you’ve been to Thailand before. In this part of the world, it’s customary to take your shoes off when entering certain places.

You’ll 100% have to do this in the temples, and also if you’re visiting someone’s home.

It’s important to note that some shops and restaurants may also prefer that you take your shoes off before entering. So, the best thing to do is to ask if you need your shoes off or not.

If you forget to do this simple gesture, you could end up in an awkward confrontation with an unhappy shop owner.

7. DON’T: Be Surprised If You Decide You Might Like to Stay

While you may have planned on visiting Thailand for a short vacation, once you get acclimated, you may find yourself longing to stay.

And you’ll be in good company: More than 150,000 residents in Bangkok are English speaking ex-pats.

It’s with good reason: Thailand’s miles of beaches, rich cultural landscape, delicious Thai food, and affordability make it an excellent choice for empty-nesters. So, don’t be surprised if you’re tempted to make a more permanent move to Thailand.

Final Thoughts on Do’s and Don’ts in Thailand

If Thailand is on your bucket list or you’ve got a flight to Thailand already booked, these tips will ensure that you avoid missing out or making a faux pas. With any luck, they will help you avoid making a fool out of yourself and unintentionally disrespecting Thai culture.

And, knowing these few things will free you to fully immerse yourself in enjoying the amazing experiences of Thailand.

Were you surprised by any of these Do’s and Don’ts in Thailand? If so, which one(s)? Let us know in the comments below.

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Jackie Gately

Jackie Gately is a seasoned travel writer, photographer, and marketing consultant who is passionate about travel. She loves casual-luxury experiences, coastal getaways, cultural attractions, and local, wholesome food and wine pairings. A perfect day ends with her toes in the sand or by chasing the sunset with her camera--ideally both.

10 thoughts on “7 Do’s and Don’ts In Thailand (That Will Save You From Embarrassment!)

  • Avatar
    September 5, 2020 at 6:42 pm
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    I’ve never been to this part of the world but I can’t wait to explore it. These are some really helpful tips that I’ll keep in mind. It’s good to know about the dress codes in the temples!

    Reply
    • Avatar
      September 7, 2020 at 8:51 am
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      Great, Krista. I think by just packing a few extra things for modesty, you’ll be well-prepared!

      Reply
  • Avatar
    September 5, 2020 at 10:30 am
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    Very sensible advice there – in fact in India too this all would make a lot of sense as we are also a country of temples though we have one religion too many here. Its considered scandalous to put pictures of Hindu deities on clothes or any other articles as they are meant to be prayed to. Also covering of the head plus wearing appropriate clothing is the politically correct thing to do in temples.

    Reply
    • Avatar
      September 7, 2020 at 8:53 am
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      Thank you, Shalzmojo! I am glad to learn these tips will be helpful in India, too. I appreciate your insight!

      Reply
  • Avatar
    September 1, 2020 at 2:51 am
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    Very important tips. Thank you so much. I think that many people want not only to take a photo with Buddha, but also to touch him.

    Reply
    • Avatar
      September 1, 2020 at 12:56 pm
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      You are exactly right, Rick. Thank you for adding that important point!

      Reply
  • Avatar
    August 28, 2020 at 11:30 pm
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    Great tips Jackie. Shoes off every time, especially visiting Thai folks but even many expat farang expect it. I have spent 2 years on and off in Thailand over the past decade. Lovely country. So much fascinating change going on over there now, too. Interesting to see what happens moving forward.

    Reply
    • Avatar
      August 29, 2020 at 1:13 pm
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      I am a big fan of “shoes off” at my house, too. 😉 I appreciate that you like these tips, Ryan, especially with your extensive experience in staying in Thailand. Thank you!

      Reply
    • Avatar
      September 5, 2020 at 9:26 am
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      Great tips! I am planning a trip to Thailand next year so these tips are very helpful! Also love the tip about the islands. Now I have spots to add to my itinerary 🙂

      Reply
      • Avatar
        September 5, 2020 at 9:44 am
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        Glad you found this info helpful, Stef. Enjoy your trip!

        Reply

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