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.
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:
- DO: Visit the Islands
- DON’T: Disrespect Anything To Do With Buddha
- DO: Be Careful Near the Roads
- DON’T: Forget the Dress Codes for Temples
- DO: Research Hotels Before Choosing Where to Stay
- DON’T: Be Surprised If You Decide You Want to Stay
- Final Thoughts
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!
As if that weren’t enough, Thailand is also one of the cheapest destinations to visit!
So, with an open mind and an awareness of these do’s and don’ts in Thailand, you’re sure to have an incredible experience.
1. DO: Visit the Islands
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. There are plenty of things to do in Bangkok and Chiang Mai, 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:
- 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 during this half-day jungle hike with hotel pick up.
- You might choose to stay in one of the high-end seaside resorts 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.
- Book a scuba diving and snorkeling day tour.
- Take a day trip to the Phi Phi and Khai Islands.
- 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.
- Visit an ethical elephant sanctuary.
- Take a day-long trekking tour to a secret Buddha garden.
- Do an off-road jungle buggy safari.
- 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.
- Book a private snorkeling and sunset longboat tour.
2. Don’t: Disrespect Anything To Do With Buddha
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.
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:
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 another 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.
Some of my favorite hotels in Thailand include the Millennium Hilton Bangkok the Kantary Hotel Ayutthaya, the Shangri-La Hotel Chiang Mai, the Mora Boutique Hotel (Chiang Rai), and the Ecoloft Hotel in Phuket
6. DON’T: Forget To Ask If You Should Take Your Shoes Off
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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