10 things I wish I knew before going to Thailand

Sawasdee!

Did you know that Thai people have four square meals a day? That every Thai male is expected to become a monk for a short period in his life?  And that the world’s biggest Chinatown is located in Bangkok?  These are just some facts that make Thailand an interesting and entertaining destination.

It’s no surprise that Thailand is one of the most visited countries by backpackers and Independent travelers.  Everything from the stunning beaches on Southern Islands and beautiful landscapes on the North, to the rich culture found all throughout the country, lures you into experimenting what this country has to offer.  Oh, and lets not forget the never-ending wild parties.  But as in any other city, there are some facts you would like to know before going there to help you understand things, adhere more easily, or just avoid if possible.  So, here are the things I wish I knew before going to Thailand…

Thai Temple

  • The head is considered the most sacred part of the body and the feet the least. Never touch anyone in the head and never point at anything with your feet. Both acts are considered disrespectful.  Also, try doing everything, including any type of interaction with a local, with your right hand (i.e. paying for your food, handing something, waving, etc.). Using the left hand is considered disrespectful because Thai people use it as the bathroom hand.  Although they tolerate the use of the left hand among tourists.  I’m left handed and I had no problem there.
  • Scammers are all around Bangkok.  In fact, it’s a well developed network that has been around for decades.  Don’t buy any type of jewelry that is “promoted” by anyone on the streets, and don’t believe in the “one week only sale at huge discounts… ending today” selling phrase. That’s their way of putting some pressure on you to convince you into buying jewelry at “exclusive” prices.  These scams are usually done by tuk-tuk drivers and some local aides (and even foreigners) that catch any unsuspecting tourist by offering some sightseeing “advice”. After the “advice” they offer you an all-day special tuk-tuk ride for 10 Baht (which is true), but after some quick sightseeing they take you to some jewelry and “fashion” stores where the driver will earn a commission whether you buy something or not.  The stores might look authentic, but the jewelry is fake.
  • Thailand’s health care system is considered one of the best in the world.  Don’t be afraid to use it, if necessary.

Tuk Tuks

  • Know that tuk-tuk’s will try to overcharge you at first.  Negotiate and settle the price for your ride right before hopping in.
  • It’s good to be up to date on Thailand’s current political status.  Local politics are unstable and the panorama can change at any moment.  It’s always good to have a plan “B” (another Thai province or bordering country). Just in case…

Long-tail Boats

  • Wearing sandals/flip-flops most of the time is very convenient.  You will be taking them off constantly as you visit the temples or sacred places, and as you hop on and off of the long tail boats.
  • The official year in Thailand is 2553 (not 2010). Since several decades, the westerner New Year’s day is also a public holiday in Thailand.  But the popular New Year’s Day for Thai people happens from April 13 to April 15; it is called Songkran. The reference point is Lord Buddha’s birth 543 before Jesus Christ.  Also, if you manage to be there during this time of the year, you will see and participate in the most insane water-fight.  Thais celebrate the New Year by throwing water at EVERYONE!!

Thai Monks

  • Monks are not allowed to beg for money.  If you see a monk begging, then it’s just someone trying to pass as a monk just to get your money.
  • Whenever possible use the Wai – saluting with your hands together and bowing slightly – Thai people appreciate when foreigners show interest in their customs.

Khao San Road

  • Bring earplugs. Thailand is a noisy country, especially Khao San Road in Bangkok.  Even though you will inevitably spend some nights partying, there will be other nights where you will just want to have some peace and a good night sleep.

And just for fun…

  • It’s illegal to own a copy of the Movie The King and I. This movie is banned in Thailand (I wonder why?!)
  • Try spelling this!…  “KrungThepMahaNakhonAmonRattanakosinMahintharaAyutthayaMahadilokPhop NoppharatRatchathaniBuriromUdomRatchaniwetMahasathanAmonPhimanAwatan SathitSakkathattiyaWitsanuKamprasit”  Finished?… That’s the real name of Bangkok.  It’s the longest in the world.  Phew!

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Comments

  1. says

    Hey Norbert,
    Just randomly found this site. You’ve got some good stuff here. I really like your Thailand posts.

    I spent a couple months in Chiang Mai, and I’d like to add a couple of things:

    -During the hot months, take lots of showers to cool off. Prickly heat is a good investment, too.
    -During Songkran, remember that when a Thai person dumps water on you, they’re doing you a favor!
    -Shop around for minibus tickets, but don’t always go for the lowest price.
    -Long trips in a minibus can be painful, tedious, and circuitous. In these situations, it’s good to remember the one phrases that sums it up: mai pen rai!

    • says

      Hey Seth –
      Thanks for stopping by and for adding your points! Those are good to know. Oh yes, those long rides on minibus can be killer. Sometimes it’s good to invest a bit for some comfort.

  2. cathy says

    Thanks for the tips… do you know of any other websites or books that will help first time travelers to Thailand?
    -cathy

    • says

      Hi Cathy! I think you will do fine looking at Lonely Planet’s guides. They are really good and very informative. If not looking for a guide, per se, you can google search for “things to do in Thailand” or something similar. If I’m not mistaken, the site travelfish.org is focused on Southeast Asia and you can find there some info too. Also, seat61.com is a good website to know how to travel by train in the country.

      Hope this helps. Let me know if you need any more help. :)

  3. says

    I’m Thai living in Chiang Mai. I’m researching a market opportunity to export some local goods abroad and randomly found this page.

    -…Using the left hand is considered disrespectful because Thai people use it as the bathroom hand. >>> Not that serious. You can use your left hand doing anything. Frankly, this misunderstood make me smile. The idea that using your left hand is rude is only happen in the old days…long-long time ago…and it happened only in eating! Right now I can surely say that all of Thais think nothing at all if you use your left hand to do anything, even eating.

    -Scammers are all around Bangkok. >>> That’s true. So I can only tell you one thing. Beware.

    – Also for bargaining with Tuk-tuk or any vendors, if you have Thai friends, let them do this things for you. They know what the price should be.

    BTW. Easy for me :)

    >>>“KrungThepMahaNakhonAmonRattanakosinMahintharaAyutthayaMahadilokPhop NoppharatRatchathaniBuriromUdomRatchaniwetMahasathanAmonPhimanAwatan SathitSakkathattiyaWitsanuKamprasit”<<< Spell in Thai กรุงเทพมหานครอมรรัตนโกสิทร์มหินทรายุทธามหาดิลก ภพนพรัตน์ราชธานีบุรีรมย์อุดมราชนิเวศน์มหาสถาน อมรพิมานอวตารสถิต สักกะทัตติยะวิษณุกรรมประสิทธิ์

    You can listen to the above name via this video

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m7St5UhYUCE (A song by famous Thai singers, guitaists: Assanee and Wasan Chotikul)

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