A gorgeous country that is a fantastic vacation destination, there are so many things to see and do in Thailand that we hope to make it there someday. For instance, we’d love to make our way to places like The Grand Palace in Bangkok, Sukhothai Old City and Doi Suthep. That said, if you have any interest in traveling there someday, then we highly suggest you keep reading so you can avoid making big cultural mistakes.
Blessed with centuries of traditions and history, getting the chance to understand the differences in the ways the people of Thailand live is one of many reasons people should want to go there. However, if you go in blissfully unaware of their societal norms, there are a lot of figurative landmines that you could step on. That is because there are so many things that are mundane in other regions that are far from it there. Realizing that inspired us to put together this list of 25 things we’re surprisingly not allowed or supposed to do in Thailand.
In order for a "frowned-upon" behavior in Thailand to be considered for inclusion on this list, it first and foremost needs to be something many outsiders would be surprised to learn is not welcome. For the purposes of this list, things don’t have to be against the law, although that can certainly help the chances of something making the cut. We also want to make it clear that we’ve ranked this list based on how surprising outsiders may be to learn how socially unacceptable the behaviors on it are.
24 Point with Your Feet
The first of several entries on this list that relate to the way feet are viewed in Thai culture, that portion of your body is seen as being dirty and disgusting. As such, if you use them to point to something while you are among the locals during a trip to Thailand it will be seen as a pretty big insult. Not exactly something that most of us do on a constant basis, it should be relatively easy to avoid pointing at something with your tootsies. That said, if you do it without thinking you may be on the receiving end of disgust and dirty looks.
An interesting entry on this list, when you litter in many countries, it is not only frowned upon, but it could also result in legal repercussions for you if the wrong person sees it. However, in Thailand, it could land you in a whole heap of trouble, especially if you do so on one of the 24 beaches in which it is expressly banned. In fact, if you throw away your trash on one the aforementioned beaches it could result in a fine in the thousands of dollars and even as much as a year in jail.
22 Prohibited Areas
Without a doubt a socially-allowed activity, having drinks in Thailand is a common occurrence that results in zero issues as long as it is done within certain areas. That said, if you choose to imbibe, you’d better make sure that you stay aware of your location. That is because there are areas in which it is strictly not allowed, including temples or places of worship, pharmacies, schools, gas stations, and more. If you do end up flaunting this law, you’d better be prepared because you could receive a fine into the thousands of dollars or be sentenced to six months.
21 Dress in Ways That Aren’t Conservative
A problem that may befall people that aren’t observant of their surroundings, if you are in Thailand and pay attention to crowds and follow their example in terms of clothes, you will be fine. We say that because you can expose some skin if you find yourself somewhere like a beach or pool. However, if you think that you can dress the same way in other public areas you will quickly find out how wrong you are. In fact, even if you are travelling to a place where being dressed down is acceptable you need to be much more covered up on your trips to and from there.
20 Touch Anyone’s Head
An action that you need to be careful about in many countries, touching the face or head of anyone is likely to be seen as an intimate act so you’d better be sure it is welcome before you do so. That is the case even more so in the case of Thailand; however, as there it will be seen as being very disrespectful on top of the possible invasion of personal space. The only exclusion is that sometimes, older people will pat the heads of the young but that can be frowned upon too, so you’d better steer clear of the whole thing.
19 Stand Above a Monk
An incredibly respected group, monks are seen as exalted people due to how closely they presumably follow the teachings of Buddha. While they are taught to follow a hard-and-fast set of rules, the rest of population in Thailand also have to make sure they act accordingly around monks as we will touch on in a couple of entries on this list. It's good to be aware that if you are interacting with a monk, it is strictly forbidden to stand above them as you are spiritually beneath them.lmao d
18 Pictures of the Buddha Out of the Country
When we were putting together this list we learned about many societal rules and laws that apply in Thailand that we were unaware of but understood the logic of, even if we don’t agree. Then you have this law that, frankly, makes no sense at all to us. A society that cares deeply about pretty much every aspect of Buddhism, because of that, there are oodles of tributes to the Buddha around the country. As such, tourists tend to buy printed pictures of him with the intention of taking them home. What they don’t realize is that taking those photos out of the country is not allowed unless you get special permission from the authorities.
17 Clap, Snap, or Whistle to Get Attention
Another way to unintentionally offend the Thai people, if you are not careful about the method you choose to gain the attention of the locals, you may be getting a lot more than you bargained for. Of course, we fully understand that it can be upsetting to have someone else motion toward you in a way you see as disrespectful, no matter if they are doing so to get your attention or not. However, from what we understand, if you do something like clap, snap, or whistle to make a Thai local gaze your way, they won't appreciate it one bit. It's a serious faux pas.
16 Hold Doors with Your Feet
Another example of the negative way the Thai people view feet, this time around, we are looking at an intended act of kindness that would likely be taken as an insult. Something that we were brought up to do, we can attest that at least half of the time when we hold a door open for someone, we keep it that way with our feet instead of our hands. Fortunately for us, we don’t live in Thailand because if we did that there, things could easily go awry.
15 Get Angry in Public
Something we always try our best not to avoid, getting angry in public is never a good look. Despite that, we are all human and at times, our temper gets the best of us no matter how hard we may try to keep it at bay. At least, in most countries, the majority of people will choose to let the moment pass as long as nobody gets too out of control. In Thailand, things are quite different as there is a lot of pressure on people to keep their cool. As such, if you get notably upset with someone in a public forum, you will likely lose the respect of everyone present and be dismissed outright.
14 Disrespect the Royal Family
A traditional part of many countries, depending on where you live, there may still be a royal family in your country, but their authority could be on the decline. Either way, every country has leadership and in most Western ones, you can feel free to criticize them publicly without worrying too much about any kind of reprisal. When it comes to Thailand’s royal family, you’d better think a long time before opening your mouth if you have something negative to say. That is because they are held in high regard by most people and those that feel otherwise tend to stay quiet because their take would not be welcome.
13 Shake Hands
In most of the Western world, a good firm hand shake is welcome in many different situations. In fact, there are some people that may see it as a proverbial slap in the face if they held out their hand and had it rebuffed. Of course, as you’ve probably guessed by now, the opposite is true in Thailand. That is because the Thai people do not use handshakes as a personal greeting, instead, they opt to bow as their sign of respect. Evidently, this difference is because the Thai people prefer to avoid personal contact with strangers.
12 Do Anything Resembling Work As a Tourist
A country with well-defined immigration rules, it is much easier to gain access to Thailand as a tourist, but if you have other plans about what to do there, it is a mistake. That is because they have chosen to get tough on people illegally working in the country and are now handing out sizeable fines and sentencing people for as much as 5 years. Upon learning this, some may have thought they could get by as long as they are doing work that goes largely untracked. Well, if you are caught doing even inconsequential things like working online or panhandling, they are happy to prosecute.
11 Stand on a Buddha Statue
The final time we are going to touch on the feet thing, we promise, but this time around, we are taking things up a really big notch. After all, the teachings of the Buddha have come to be the guiding principles for many people around the world, including a large percentage of the people living in Thailand. For that reason, if someone dares stand on a statue of Buddha, it is seen as a gigantic insult to not only the founder of Buddhism, but the people who’ve based their lives around his teachings.
10 Public Displays of Affection
Something of a repressed society, the Thai people have the same feelings as any of us do, but in many circumstances, they choose to keep them bottled up. An example of them keeping their feelings at bay, if you are a couple that is in love, you may want to celebrate that fact and exhibit your affection around people, but that will not be received well. That is because the locals there do not believe in PDA at all. In fact, they even refrain from mostly innocent things like hugs or holding hands.
9 Keep Your Shoes On Inside
An entry that appears to fly in the face of several of the other ones that appear here, you are absolutely expected to take your footwear off upon going inside many places. Also a common practice, when you enter people’s homes in other countries, in Thailand having on shoes even inside of temples, shops, and some restaurants is simply unacceptable. Somewhat surprising considering their low view of feet, in a lot of cases, sandals will be provided to you, so at least the bottoms of your tootsies will still be covered up.
8 Step on Thai Currency
Technically illegal in most countries, destroying currency could get you in trouble, plus, it makes no sense from a purely financial point of view. Of course, if you do choose to burn, rip, or otherwise destroy your cash in most places, nothing is going to happen, even if the act is seen by many people. The thing about Thai money that makes it different, however, is that the face of the king is printed on it, so it is seen as disrespecting the royal family. For that reason, even doing something like stepping on Thai money can get you in trouble with the law.
7 Whistle at Night
An entry that might strike you as weird at first blush, in our minds, when we think of whistling, it brings about visions of happily walking along in tune with a little ditty. Sadly, if you are in Thailand late at night and you have a song in your heart that you want to express it, it will not be taken the way you intended by the locals. That is due to the fact that they see whistling at night as an act that calls to evil spirits with the end results being really bad luck.
6 Hard To Detect
Interesting as this should be pretty hard to detect in a lot of situations, if you chose to go out without a layer of underwear under your clothes, it could spell trouble. That’s the case because it is expressly written into Thai law that doing so is an offence. While there aren’t any reported instances of foreigners being arrested for this transgression alone, as of yet, it still seems like it would be incredibly dumb to not follow this law if you go there.
5 Put a Fork to Your Mouth
What we consider the principal purpose of the fork, picking up food with it and putting it in your mouth is second nature to us at this point. Of course, as should be clear by now, people in Thailand have not been brought up to see the utensil in the same light. Instead, while you are there, you should keep in mind that forks are used to push food onto your spoon which is then placed to your lips. That struck us as weird at first, but then we reflected on the fact that using a knife to put food in your mouth would be seen as off here and it could be used in that fashion as well.
4 Have a Copy of the Book Nineteen Eighty-Four
Widely considered a classic novel, George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four takes place in a dystopian future in which a totalitarian government keeps a thumb on every aspect of their citizens' lives. A must read for a lot of people, if tourists in Thailand thought they would use their time to consume that respected novel they better come up with a solid plan B. That is because Nineteen Eighty-Four has come to be seen as a symbol of protest against the Thai power structure. This has led to the military cracking down on the book to such an extent that an in-flight magazine on Philippine Airlines told its readers to not bring the book if they go to Thailand.
3 Be Without Your Passport on You At All times
A really quick way to get yourself into serious hot water, if you are visiting Thailand, you need to be prepared for any request to present your passport to the police. That is because cops are absolutely free to ask you for your papers and if you cannot produce them, you are taking a huge risk. Considering how awful Thai prisons are said to be, we’d definitely want to avoid them at all costs no matter how short our stay may be.
2 Women Can’t Touch a Monk
People that strictly adhere to Buddhist teachings, due to their social importance, there are certain limits to what can be acceptably done in the presence of monks. While some of that makes a lot of sense, as you probably wouldn’t want to do anything too outrageous near a religious figure if you are a believer, for women in Thailand, it goes really far. That is because they are not allowed to even touch a monk at all. In fact, they take this rule so seriously that women will stand on a bus if the only empty see is beside a monk, just in case.
1 Have Too Many Playing Cards
Unless you are the X-Men character Gambit and use kinetically-charged playing cards as your chief weapon, there probably isn’t any danger in you carrying playing cards no matter how many. That makes no difference in Thailand though, as you are not legally allowed to carry more than 120 playing cards at any given time. Illegal under the Playing Cards Act, the reason that law exists and can result in both fines and time is that this type of activity is banned outside of racetracks or the national lottery.