Thailand is known as the “land of smiles” and while that’s definitely true, there are a number of things that can turn that smile into a frown. Although they’re much too nice and polite to say something, as a guest, you still want to aware of the major don’ts in Thai culture:
#1 Don’t Be Rude to Girls on the Streets
Yes, we know — but can’t a girl just stand on a sidewalk without being judged? Many tourists have exaggerated assumptions about Thailand, with Bangkok in particular. Don’t be that tourist.
#2 Don’t Buy Stuff from Kids
You may think you’re storing up in the karmic bank, but in actuality you’re encouraging child labour and trafficking. They are just children and cute ones and that… so do your best to turn them away politely without getting too close — unfortunately due to circumstance, some of them are trained pickpockets.
#3 Don’t Take Pictures with Wild Animals
When you’re walking around the streets of Pattaya or Patong, you’ll probably come across animals like iguanas on display, or even the Tiger Kingdom in Chiang Mai which after being exposed, is certainly no sanctuary for the tigers. In most cases, these animals are drugged so they wont pose a physical threat. Saying no to cute faces again, end the traffic by not supporting these businesses.
#4 Don’t Forget your Footwork
The feet are considered the lowest and dirtiest part of the body. So there are two major things you shouldn’t do:
1. Place your feet up on tables or chairs, using them to kick a door shut and even to pick something up.
2. Point your toes at something either, especially not towards the direction of Buddha images or monks.
#5 Don’t Touch a Thai Person’s Head
Unless you’re a family member (and not a cousin twice removed etc), or with a child, you should not be patting someone’s head. If the feet are the lowest part of the body then the head is the highest and most holy, so touching one’s head is very demeaning and can make them feel uncomfortable.
#6 Don’t Whistle at Night
Harmless to you, but to many of them today, especially the older crowd, whistling at night is still not acceptable. It’s a Thai superstition that whistling at night calls on evil spirits. Many people become uneasy around this noise at night, and to some of us, whistling is a habit we need to be more aware of when in Thailand. But do whistle and chip away with the birds in the morning.
#7 Don’t Take Pictures of Buddha Out of Thailand
What’s surprising about this is that pictures of Buddha are sold at so many shops, and owners don’t tell you about the regulations of taking them home with you. But it is illegal to take any pictures of Buddha out of Thailand unless you have permission to. While we’re on the topic, never stand on a statue of Buddha to get close enough for a picture — you’re placing your feet near Buddha’s head and you now know that what means.
#8 Don’t Indulge in PDA
You’re in Thailand, not Rome, so you shouldn’t openly play tongue tonsil with your partner in public. Way back then, Thai people wouldn’t even hold hands or hug in public. These days you’ll see more young couples out and about, but notice how they try not to flaunt their love?
#9 Don’t Hug a Monk
So you’re spiritual and you just want to share in the love for all the Eckhart Tolle you’ve been reading. You may not have heard, but monks are forbidden to touch women. If a monk needs to hand something to a lady, he’ll usually place the item down for her to pick up. Both genders however should never stand over a monk.
#10 Don’t Disrespect the Thai Royal Family
Despite how you feel about the politics back home, the people in Thailand love their king and the royal family. They are highly regarded in society and throughout the country you’ll see pictures commemorating them. So much as kicking away a Thai coin is rude, but you definitely should not diss royalty here.