The internet is overflowing with articles about Thailand, one of the hottest destinations in the world for traveling, working, and teaching English abroad. Millions of foreigners flock to the country every year for the infamous beach parties, tropical island get-a-ways, elephant rides, and Bangkok nightlife. Just last year, Bangkok was rated the most visited city, and over 26.5 million people visited the country overall. For anyone looking to check out what all the hype is about, there is a myriad of blogs, journal articles, and travel sites to help you plan your itinerary. You can even check out a few other articles on this website for places not to miss and tips on extending your stay by working or volunteering.
Thailand is a country known for its laid-back mentality and sabai sabai (comfortable) way of life. Embracing this attitude will really add to your trip abroad and help you ease into the Thai lifestyle. But for all the mai bpen rai’s (no problem) you’ll hear, keeping a few things in mind will help you maneuver a few tricky social faux-pas, stay safe, not embarrass yourself, and experience Thailand as fully as possible.
DON’T spend all your time in Bangkok and Koh Phangan
One of the most beautiful things about traveling abroad in Thailand is the accessibility of transportation, but I have known so many people who stick to the big hitters and miss out on the wonderful little places off the beaten path. If you have more than a few days to explore this country, get on that train and get around! Go north! Go east! Check out homestays in small villages and get involved!
Koh Phangan is home to the notorious full moon parties, where thousands of visitors get crazy on the beach and dance until the sun comes up. My personal opinion is, avoid at all costs, but many people think it is, if anything, an experience that is worth witnessing. I won’t try too hard to dissuade you here (even though the environmental repercussions are huge and the amount of arrests and horror stories are innumerable), but I will urge you to consider some of the other islands and beaches in Thailand. Koh Phi Phi and Phuket are other big hitters that are stressing under the weight of over-tourism, but there are fantastic places just a boat ride away from both of these destinations.
DON’T point the bottom of your feet at people
…or touch children on the head, or wear tank tops to a Wat, or get into an argument at the grocery store. Thailand is a proud country, and their rules of etiquette are taken seriously. Do your research, or you might gain a reputation of being a rude and vulgar tourist.
When you visit a Wat (temple) in Thailand, one of the first things you’ll notice are the dress code signs. This is strictly enforced. You will not be able to enter a temple if your shorts are too short. Keep this in mind before you leave the hotel or your outing could be ruined. But also note that there are no Thai people walking down the street shirtless or in their bikini. Displaying anger is considered rude and immature, and even in awkward or stressful situations, Thai people will try to laugh or smile instead of raise their voices. If you get into a shouting match over the price of a tuk-tuk, you will only embarrass yourself.
DON’T buy or sell illegal drugs from strangers
This one is serious. Like, locked-away-abroad serious. You’ll probably hear countless stories of all the cheap drugs for sale at the full moon party or from some guy at the hostel in Koh Phi Phi, and the truth is, you can find just about any drug you’re looking for. Please, don’t do it. The sentence for selling illegal drugs is years in prison sans trial. Even if you are caught with a small amount of marijuana, you’ll likely have to pay up every cent you have. It happens more often than you think.
DON’T drive your motorcycle drunk
This one should be pretty self-explanatory. Drunk driving is generally unacceptable all over the world. But the foreign-laws-don’t-apply-to-me mentality can sometimes come into effect. Driving in Thailand can be terrifying sober. Rules are different, and sometimes it seems like they are mostly ignored anyways. Your best bet is to be as diligent as possible if you choose to drive at all.
In a similar strain, a trip to Thailand can quickly become a Chang-soaked party every night, which is sometimes a blast. But there’s a lot to the country outside the booze cruises and all-night bars, so don’t forget to stay sober every once in awhile. Clearly intoxicated people are more likely to be targeted for scams and there’s a good chance you will get ripped off if you’re out on the streets wasted.
DON’T get your picture taken with the street animals
The cute monkey chained up on the street, maybe with a hopelessly adorable hat on, might seem like the perfect photo opportunity. Other tourists might crowd around the little guy, waiting their turn to pay 50 baht to snap a quick picture. Don’t jump in line. These animals are not volunteers. Animal abduction and mistreatment in Thailand is a major problem, and it’s fueled by ignorant tourists who continue to pay the offenders. Don’t be one of them.
Elephant mistreatment is another very common offense in Thailand, and millions of visitors pay for elephant treks and tours every year. Many of these elephants are poorly mistreated. There are a few great conservation centers that are open to visitors, and even though you may not get to ride on their backs through the jungle, you’ll be more comfortable knowing that you didn’t contribute to a corrupt agency.
Diligence, respect, and awareness are great tools when traveling abroad in any country, and with these tips and other great articles out there on the web, anyone can deepen their love for Thailand while simultaneously enriching their experience in the country.