Home Thailand Travel Guide20 Things You Should Know Before Visiting Thailand

20 Things You Must Know Before Visiting Thailand

As you plan your dream vacation to the tropical paradise Thailand, there are a few things you should keep in mind so as to avoid unnecessary embarrassment or trouble during your travels.

This article is designed to help you better understand Thailand and Thai culture so you can have as pleasurable a time as possible when there.

Quick Facts

  • 01. Thailand is a Constitutional Monarchy and Criticism of the Crown is Not Tolerated
  • 02. Thailand is a Buddhist Country
  • 03. Follow the Polite Customs
  • 04. Cover up Your Elbows and Knees When Visiting Temples
  • 05. Thailand is Hot - When is the Hottest?
  • 06. Eat with Your Spoon not Your Fork
  • 07. Beware of Scams
  • 08. Avoid Animal Tourism
  • 09. Carry Toilet Paper
  • 10. Make Sure You Get the Correct Vaccinations
  • 11. Hospital Treatment Can Be Very Expensive
  • 12. Lookout for Places Where You Should Take Off Your Shoes
  • 13. You Cannot Transfer Money Outside of Thailand
  • 14. Grab Is the Same as Uber
  • 16. Thailand Has Modern 4G and High-Speed Internet Access Everywhere
  • 17. By Law, You Are Required to Carry Your Passport at All Times
  • 18. There Is a 500 Baht Per Day Fine for Overstaying Your Visa
  • 19. If You Stay at a Friend’s House You Need to Tell the Immigration Authority
  • 20. Prostitution in Thailand Is Illegal

1. Thailand is a Constitutional Monarchy and Criticism of the Crown is Not Tolerated

The first king of a unified Thailand was the founder of the Kingdom of Sukhothai, King Sri Indraditya, in 1238. Over the centuries, however, this concept of kingship has drastically changed. 

In June 1932, a group of foreign-educated students and military men, called "the promoters", carried out a non-violent revolution, seized power, and demanded that the then King Prajadhipok grant the people of Siam (old name for Thailand) a constitution. The king agreed and in December 1932 the people were granted a constitution, ending 150 years of absolute rule by the Chakri dynasty. 

This move to make Thailand a constitutional monarchy has relegated the role of the king to that of a symbolic head of state. A prime minister and the national assembly have exercised the king’s powers since then.

That being said, the Royal Family enjoys an overwhelming share of public support to this very day. 

As such, no one dares to make fun of the Thai king or talks about getting rid of him or the monarchy. Thailand has had strict lèse-majesté laws (laws making it illegal to defame, insult, or threaten the king, queen, heir-apparent, or regent) on its books since 1908 when Thailand was still an absolute monarchy. Nothing changed when the monarchy went constitutional in 1932.

The constitution of the country clearly states that “the king occupies a position of worship and shall not be violated." It forbids any person from exposing the King "to any sort of accusation or action."

No one has yet done any serious jail time for lèse-majesté. Several foreigners have been arrested or convicted in the past but have always been pardoned by the former King Bhumibol Adulyadej. King Bhumibol has notably stated in the past that he is open to criticism if his actions demand so, and based on these pardons, it appears that the King is sincere when he says he can tolerate criticism. 

The extremely popular King Bhumibol Adulyadej, conferred with the title Bhumibol the Great and known popularly as Rama IX, sadly passed away on October 13, 2016. 

King Bhumibol was succeeded by his only son Vajiralongkorn. At age 64, King Vajiralongkorn became the oldest Thai monarch to ascend the throne when he took over from his father. As the tenth monarch of the Chakri Dynasty, he is also known as Rama X.

2. Thailand is a Buddhist Country

Thailand's main religion is Theravada Buddhism, which is practiced by about 93% of the country's population. Theravada Buddhism is a form of Buddhism that tends to be very conservative when it comes to matters of doctrine and monastic discipline.

Buddhism is believed to have come to present-day Thailand around 250 BCE, in the time of Indian Emperor Ashoka. Since then, Buddhism has played a significant role in Thai culture and society.

Thai Buddhism is known for its emphasis on short-term ordination for every Thai man, and its close connection with the Thai state and Thai culture.

Other religions in Thailand include Islam (practiced by 5% of the country's population), Christianity (1% of the population), and Hinduism and Sikhism (roughly 0.5% of the country's population).

3. Follow the Polite Customs

There are a few things you can keep in mind to do (or not do) that will go a long way in influencing how locals perceive you. 

Locals appreciate learning basic Thai phrases like “hello” and “thank you,” and being aware of the traditional Thai greeting, the wai, is seen as a sign of your respect for the culture. The wai can be performed by placing your hands together in a prayer position while doing a slight bow.

It's also important to note that the national anthem is played daily at 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. in public places, and on the radio. Most Thai people stop whatever they're doing and stand in attention. While it's not necessary for foreigners to do the same, it shows your respect for local customs if you do.

Lastly, the body is viewed hierarchically in Thailand, so make sure you don't touch anyone's head, as the head is considered the most sacred part of the body. Don't point your feet at anyone either, as the feet are considered the lowest, dirtiest part of the human body.

4. Cover up Your Elbows and Knees When Visiting Temples

It's important to remember to adhere to local cultural etiquette when in Thailand. Do cover up your elbows and knees when visiting temples, wats, monasteries, palaces etc. 

Also, try to remember to take your shoes off before stepping into temples and wats. It's considered very rude to keep your shoes on if everyone else has removed them. 

You never know when you'll stumble across a beautiful temple or wat, so do always carry a light jacket or something else as a cover-up.

5. Thailand is Hot - When is the Hottest?

Most of Thailand experiences a typically tropical climate consisting of two seasons: dry and wet. The southern part of the country, however, which includes the Thai Peninsula, experiences a monsoon season much like other Southeast Asian countries.

The summer period is from March to June. At this time temperatures in Bangkok average around 34°C (or 93°F), but can even reach temperatures of 40°C (or 104°F) with humidity levels of 75%.

It is warm in Thailand all year round. The average annual temperature is 31°C (87°F). December is the coldest month of the year, and temperatures average at 26°C (79°F) at that time.

6. Eat with Your Spoon not Your Fork

The fork is used primarily to push food onto your spoon and put the spoon in your mouth.

Although it's not absolutely wrong to eat your food right off the fork, this isn't something Thai people usually do — especially if the setting is somewhat formal. For Thai people, this shows an obvious lack of table manners and is at the same level as putting a knife in your mouth for Westerners. 

Most Thai would hold food down with their fork, use the side of their spoon to cut the food into a bite-size, scoop the bite-sized chunk onto their spoon, and then eat off the spoon. Learn 12 interesting facts about Thai food.

7. Beware of Scams

Most scams in Thailand consist of what you might have already expected: overcharging foreigners.

When it comes to tuk-tuks in Thailand, do ride them, but just be sure to agree on a price with the driver before getting in. This will save you some unnecessary haggling later on. 

Also, once you're in, it's common for tuk-tuk drivers to ask you if you want to go on a tour. These "tours" usually consist of them taking you to places they receive commissions from, so just stick to your original plan, and politely tell them you're not interested. Read more about the 11 worst scams in Thailand and how to avoid them.

8. Avoid Animal Tourism

Many travelers have elephant trekking, visiting tiger temples, and photo ops with monkeys on the list of activities they wish to do while in Thailand.

While we don't suggest crossing these activities out entirely, we do suggest you double-check to make sure they're ethical. Most travelers are unaware of how in many places these animals are mistreated and neglected.

Do not ride elephants and do look for service providers that engage in ethical ways of interacting with the animals.We suggest to only visit and contribute money to those elephant sanctuaries who treat them well. Learn  3 truly ethical elephant sanctuaries in Chiang Mai.

9. Carry Toilet Paper

While one can definitely find western-style toilets in Thailand, most are Asian squat toilets. While these two restrooms differ in toilet style, they're similar in that neither will have toilet paper; toilet paper is a rarity in most Thai restrooms.

While many restrooms have bum guns (hoses used in place of toilet paper), many bathrooms will offer visitors nothing in replacement of toilet paper, so do come prepared.

10. Make Sure You Get the Correct Vaccinations

Make sure you visit your local doctor before visiting Thailand. You will need to make sure all your regular jabs, such as tetanus, are up to date or some insurance companies will not have you medically covered according to their terms and conditions.

There is, in fact, a huge number of injections you are going to need to check for if you have not been to a doctor for a long time. Here is the list: hepatitis A, hepatitis B, shingles, cholera, Japanese meningitis, rabies, polio, rubella (MMR), typhoid, yellow fever, encephalitis, pneumonia, and influenza.

You may already have had many of these vaccinations as they are given to you by your doctor as standard practice but others, such as hepatitis A, are generally quite important and only given to people if they plan to visit Thailand. This is because hepatitis A can be picked up from food or water.

11. Hospital Treatment Can Be Very Expensive

Many people who have not visited Thailand can still have the misconception that Thailand’s hospitals are outdated. On the contrary, Thailand has some of the world’s most highly recognized hospitals with state-of-the-art medical equipment to boot.

It is fair to say that medical tourism in Thailand is currently booming as an ever-increasing number of people are visiting Thailand specifically for particular hospitals that offer more advanced medical services than those in their home country, or cheaper services of equal quality.

Now the reason this is being brought to your attention is that if anything does happen to you while you are in Thailand, as a foreigner you are going to be taken to one of the well-known private hospitals where you could end up with a hefty bill.

As an example, someone whose appendix has burst and needs emergency surgery will find themselves with a 200,000 to 300,000 baht bill — that’s US$6,500 to 10,000. Therefore, do not travel in Thailand without medical insurance. Read more about health and safety in Thailand.

12. Lookout for Places Where You Should Take Off Your Shoes

As Thailand is a Buddhist country, the feet are considered lowly and wearing shoes in a temple is a big no-no. That and the fact that feet are also quite dirty. Therefore, Thais rarely wear shoes inside their houses, if at all. The same applies even if they stay in a hotel room — Thais have a habit of taking off their shoes even though it is not their home.

In another circumstance, you may be innocently walking into a shop or an Internet café and fail to spot the ‘take off your shoes’ sign or the shoes that are neatly left outside the front of the shop.

Before you enter any store or someone’s hotel room or home, make sure you look to see if the people inside are wearing shoes. Another dead giveaway is a pile of shoes outside. Unfortunately, not all places will put up a ‘no shoes’ sign, or the sign will be written in Thai.

13. You Cannot Transfer Money Outside of Thailand

This comes as a surprise to some people but if you want to transfer money to another country while you are in Thailand, you have no choice but to forget it. The only way you can do this is if you have a work permit or a friend working in Thailand who can send the money in his/her name. That means Western Union or MoneyGram are out of the question if you are on a tourist visa or have a visa exemption stamp.

Make sure that if you have left children at home to look after the house that you have left them access to emergency cash. Alternatively, try to make sure you speak with your bank before leaving for Thailand and ask them to make sure you can use your Internet banking from abroad. Read more about Banking in Thailand.

14. Grab Is the Same as Uber

Thailand has its own version of Uber. In fact, Uber did operate in Thailand for a short while but then Grab ended up buying them out. You will need to get a Thai SIM card in order to use the service and will also need to make sure you have Internet access.

Grab is incredibly useful and very safe. It is actually good money for a Thai to moonlight as a Grab taxi driver and, as such, you can literally get a private taxi from any town or city in the country. In more rural areas, you may struggle to get a taxi ride with Grab late at night but it is not a problem at all in major cities.

You can book short or long-distance rides, hire a taxi by the hour, book a Grab taxi in advance, get a motorbike taxi, or even have food delivered.

15. You Need to Show Your Passport to Buy a SIM Card

If you want to get a Thai tourist SIM card, then the new law states that you must provide your passport in order to purchase one. You will also only be allowed a prepaid SIM card when you have a tourist visa. Read more about Thai tourist SIM cards here.

16. Thailand Has Modern 4G and High-Speed Internet Access Everywhere

If you thought that you were visiting a country where the cellular signal, 3G, 4G, or Internet speeds are substandard, then think again. Thailand’s communication infrastructure is better than countries such as the United Kingdom. You will be able to use your SIM card from your home but be careful if you do because you could end up running up an astronomical bill when using your data connection.

You may even be surprised by the fact that you are on a remote island in the middle of nowhere and miraculously you still have a full signal!

17. By Law, You Are Required to Carry Your Passport at All Times

Although Thailand can seem like an unruly place with its crazy roads and carefree attitude to shocking goings-on, such as the activities that occur in the country’s infamous red-light districts, there are actually quite a few rules and regulations for tourists to abide by.

One of those laws requires you to carry your passport around with you at all times. This law is not heavily enforced but if you do not have at least a photo of your passport and visa on your phone, or you do not have a photocopy handy, then you could be fined or, worse still, escorted to your hotel to pick up your passport.

18. There Is a 500 Baht Per Day Fine for Overstaying Your Visa

Overstaying your visa is something the Thai immigration authority frowns upon. A couple of days is not usually a big deal and you will pay a 500 baht fine. However, any more than this – or repeated overstay stamps – could spell trouble. Some people have been blacklisted for a certain number of years or, in some extreme cases, refused entry back into the country.

19. If You Stay at a Friend’s House You Need to Tell the Immigration Authority

A new law that has just come into force is based on the TM30 form. It has actually caused quite an outrage among expats living in Thailand. If you stay in a hotel, then the hotel will need your passport to check you in and take responsibility for the TM30 form.

However, if you stay at a friend’s house, then the owner of the house must report your visit to the local immigration authority. Failing to do so results in an 800 baht fine per person. Some people refuse to fill in the form and, generally, they do not get caught. However, it is certainly worth mentioning the TM30 rule in this guide just so that you are aware of it.

20. Prostitution in Thailand Is Illegal

This may come as a surprise but prostitution is actually illegal in Thailand. With so many red-light districts, go-go dancing bars, massage parlors, and nightclubs with freelance call girls, it is easy to think that prostitution is legal. Although it is something that is tolerated rather than a law that is enforced, the fact remains that prostitution is against Thai law.

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