Thailand is a stunningly beautiful and affordable country filled with amazingly kind people. Having said that, there are some things you should know before traveling there. I’m American so their traditions are quite different than what I’m used to, read on to find out more.
You Can’t Disrespect the King
All over Thailand you will see random shrines, paintings, and statues of the Thai King. The royal family is highly respected in the country. It’s illegal to disrespect the King or royal family in any way, including throwing money on the ground or stepping on coins. The King’s face is on their money, so be careful if you happen to drop your baht on the ground.
Thai People Drive Crazy
Tuck-tuck drivers and all Thai drivers regularly drive insanely, cutting around traffic and making lanes that don’t exist. They cut it VERY close to pedestrians and the craziest part is – nobody seems to get any road rage It’s simply accepted that you pass slow drivers and everyone is extremely calm about it.
Getting Your Restaurant Check Takes Forever
In America, we’re used to a server bringing our check at the end of our meal in order to get us out of there to fill that seat. That doesn’t happen in Thailand. We found that the easiest way to get the check is to pull out your wallet to show them you’re done eating. They will then come over with your check. Otherwise, you could be waiting for hours.
Laundry is Cheap & Easy To Do
Don’t bring a lot of clothes when it’s very cheap and easy to do laundry in Thailand!
Sunscreen is VERY Expensive
Custom Clothing Is Cheap!
If you’ve ever wanted to copy an old garment or get custom clothing made, Thailand is the place to do it. Many men get suits made and ladies even get wedding dresses hand-designed for them. Just make sure you have enough cash and a few days for alterations. A custom men’s suit generally costs $100-$200 USD.
Yellow Curry Is Rare
I was looking forward to having yellow curry in Thailand only to discover that it’s not a thing there. I saw it at one restaurant but it was called “American curry”. My suggestion is to try the Tom Kha Gai, a delicious coconut milk soup with chicken.
Need Advil? You Need A Prescription
On our trip I ran out of headache medicine and was surprised to learn that you actually need a prescription for ALL medicine. The good part is that you can easily get a prescription by going up to the counter at any pharmacy.
Thai Bar Girls & Lady Boys
Female Thai prostitutes is well-known and do exist. On the flip side you’ll find lady boys, or transgender people who dress or have physically transitioned to female. You’ll find the lady boys on the Thai streets trying to entice you to come to their cabaret show or take a picture with them (for a price). Be aware that these lady boys are generally very done up and can make very convincing women.
“Happy Ending” Massages Are Common
On the note above, you’ll also find lots of massage parlors that advertise “very nice girls” or even list happy endings on the massage menu. Even as a male/female couple traveling together, Dallas had girls trying to get him in for a massage despite my presence.
Taking Off Your Shoes
Many establishments in Thailand will have a bunch of shoes scattered around the entrance. Since you’ll probably be wearing sandals, go ahead and take your shoes off before entering as a sign of respect.
Trash Cans Are Rare
Sadly Thailand is quite loose with their rules regarding pollution and you can see this through the lack of trash cans anywhere in public. We saw zero recycling trash cans and only a few public trash cans, even in the most touristy areas. Be prepared to hang onto your trash for a while!
Thai People Burn Their Trash
We were alarmed when we saw small fires along the road but later realized that many Thai people just burn their household trash.
Many Drinks Come In Bags
You ordered your coconut shake from that street stand and you’re handed a plastic cup in a plastic bag with a sling for easy carrying. Unfortunately, this is very common in Thailand and leads to a lot of plastic waste. If you can, ask for it without a sling to help cut down on this waste.
Animals Are Treated Differently
As a Westerner, we think of our dogs and cats as members of the family. This is not the case in Thailand and they have a lot of stray animals who are either permanently homeless or have been abused. If you visit the island of Koh Lanta you’ll see that Lanta Animal Welfare has been helping with animal overpopulation but most other Thai cities have no animal control systems.
Also, PLEASE do not ride elephants in Thailand. These animals are beaten and abused their entire lives.
There Are No Safety Standards
You know those “caution, hot coffee” type of signs and warning labels you’re used to seeing? Yea, that’s not a thing in Thailand. You’ll see families of 4 riding scooters with toddlers in the foot area, cliffs with giant drop-offs with no signs or ropes, and roads with no sidewalks where hundreds of people are inches away from being hit by cars at any given time.
You Can’t Buy Booze All The Time
We were surprised when we got to Koh Lanta and weren’t allowed to buy beer at 7/11 because it was the middle of the day. In some areas you’re restricted to certain hours, so make sure you get your Chang fix at the right time.
Kids Fight For Real In Muay Thai
Muay Thai Boxing is a Thai tradition for young boys. Many Americans grow up playing soccer and it’s considered totally normal. Muay Thai is quite violent by American standards and you’ll be shocked when you go to a match and find out that kids as young as 7 years old are getting knocked unconscious and all the Thai people are totally okay with it because it’s very normal. Their “EMTs” are usually just a folding chair and a dude with an icepack and smelling salts.
Scams Are Common
There are many scams targeted towards tourists so be aware and know how much things should cost before you buy them or arrange a tour. Here’s a great list of common tourist scams for reference.
Tourists Pay Double for Transportation
Taking a taxi or tuck-tuck? Chances are the first price your driver quotes you will be at least double what it should be. Don’t be afraid to negotiate, and make sure you ask the price BEFORE you take the ride. Prices are posted near some taxi stands but not always.
Smoking Is Common & Acceptable
Smoking in North America is generally frowned upon, with specific smoking sections for those who want to partake in it. Tourists (Mostly Russians) and Thai people alike will be smoking everywhere you go – so bring that inhaler!
Drug Laws Are Strict
Many people think of Thailand as being an affordable and lawless destination thanks to movies like the Hangover. Drugs are strictly forbidden in Thailand including marijuana. If you want to seek them out anyway you can generally find a “Mushroom Bar” or reggae bar that offer them but do it at your own risk. It seems that the local police have some kind of deal with these bars to look the other way as long as you stay at that bar.
Toilet Paper Can’t Be Flushed
Westerners are used to being able to use and flush toilet paper. That is not the case in most Thai places, especially on the smaller islands. Their plumbing is not made to take toilet paper and most places have a sign asking you to please throw your toilet paper in the trash instead of flushing. In some places, you can get away with flushing very small amounts of TP, but it’s probably not worth it in case you’re the one who floods the restaurant with sewage.
Now You’re Ready to Go!
Now that you’ve gotten the low-down on weird things you will encounter in Thailand, you’re ready to go! For any questions or comments, drop us a line below.