Thai Smiles – A Guide To What NOT To Do in Thailand

Thailand is a land of respect and “non-confrontational culture” where losing your cool is frowned upon and everything revolves around keeping a smile on your face.  This is a list of what NOT to do in Thailand!  Follow it if if you want to keep those Thai Smiles on the local’s faces.  Mistakes happen, but trying goes a long way in keeping the locals on your side!

What NOT To Do in Thailand – A Guide to Thai Smiles

1 – Disrespect The Royal Family:

A Guide to Thai Smiles - What NOT To Do in Thailand

The Thai Monarchy is all-powerful in Thailand.  As a foreigner, you shouldn’t voice any opinions about the King unless they are very positive.  You should always give the Royal family your utmost respect.  This includes not staring at posters of the King, standing up in the theater when the pre-movie film about the King is played, and standing still at 8am and 6pm when the national anthem is played over every speaker in Thaialnd.

2 – Get Upset:

Getting visibly angry or annoyed is considered bad form in Thailand.  Keeping that Thai smile on your face is the best way to get the most out of a bad situation.  Thai culture is based on respect and it goes both ways.  It isn’t always easy, especially when you come from a place like the United States where you get upset with people every day.  Test it out the next time you are about to lose your cool; a little respect goes a long way.

3 – Leave Your Shoes On:

what not to do in thailand

Going into someone’s house or business usually requires you to take off your shoes.  Thai people (and most Asian countries) think that shoes are super gross.  If you see shoes at the front door, leave yours there too.  It’s handy to wear sandals everywhere, making the removal process a lot easier.

4 – Ride the Elephants:

thai smiles - don't ride elephants

Elephants belong in nature, not cooped up as vehicles for your enjoyment.  Most of the elephants that are ridden were taken from their mothers as babies, broken of their animal spirit and destined to miserable lives in cages.  DO NOT RIDE elephants, EVER.  Also, many of the elephant “sanctuaries” are just zoos where the animals are treated very poorly for the enjoyment of uneducated tourists.  There are several places in Thailand that have more ethical sanctuaries, however these are a small majority and in general you must question the reason that any elephant is not in the wild.

5 – Eat Shark Fin:

no shark fin soup - thai smiles

Many places in Bangkok, especially Chinatown, serve shark fin.  When the sharks are caught, their fins are cut off and the rest of the fish is thrown back into the sea.  This is a very wasteful and unethical practice.  Sharks are one of the most important parts of the ocean ecosystem and when their population declines it reeks havoc on all aspects of sea life.  World fish populations are in drastic decline throughout the world, reduced by more than 50% since 1970.  Keeping the top predators alive and thriving is the best way to support healthy marine environments.

6 – Touch the Monks:

what not to do in bangkok thai smiles dont touch monks

Monks should be treated with the utmost respect.  Never should you touch a monk, and always give them space in a crowded situation.  Most transportation systems have special seats for monks so they can avoid contact with others.  This is especially important for women.  A woman touching a monk can bring the monk great shame and hurt his standing among the other monks.  Women should also never hand anything directly to a monk, but instaed hand it to a man first who then hands it to the monk.  Your best bet is to giv them as much space as you can to avoid awkward situations.

7 – Dress Inappropriately in the Temple:

A Guide to Thai Smiles - What NOT To Do in Thailand

Temples throughout Thailand and Asia in general are places of modesty and should be treated with respect.  Men and women should wear pants below the knees, while women should always cover their shoulders and chest.  Ignoring these rules is extremely disrespectful and puts a bad face on tourists.  Also, the images of the Buddha should never be used in appropriate ways.  The Buddha should never be displayed in a bar, or put on your body in the form of a tattoo.  If you have a Buddha tattoo and it is visible when entering Thailand, Thai customs agents can deny your entry into the country and permanently ban you from entering the Kingdom.

8 – Display Affection in Public:

no kissing in thailand - thai smiles - what not to do in thailand

Thai people are very modest in public and couples should avoid displaying affection on the streets.  Holding hands is frowned upon, while kissing with tongue in public is illegal.  Keep your hands to yourself and save the smooching for your hotel room.

9 – Shake Hands:

thai smiles from mcdonalds

Shaking hands is a very western thing.  Asians are very clean people and dislike spreading germs through touch.  Opt instead for the classic Thai wai.  Many Thai people will wai you and this should generally be returned.  Do this by placing your hands like a prayer at your chest and bowing your head until your nose touches your finger tips.  Don’t wai people of lower social status than you, as this is embarrassing to everyone around you.  This includes waiters, service people, and anyone who is obviously younger than you.   Don’t forget those Thai smiles with your wai!!!

10 – Point at People:

Pointing at things or especially people should is considered extremely rude in Thailand.  This is especially true when pointing with your feet. Use your head to direct attention in a certain direction.

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There are more things that could have been added to this list.  For instance, it’s bad luck to whistle at night, don’t dress sloppy, and don’t push too hard for the best deal.  The most important thing is to always keep those Thai smiles on your face and things will work out just fine!

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