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Nine Things You Should 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.

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.

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).

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Visit Thailand with Asia Highlights

We provide tailor-made tours to Thailand. Tours typically start and end in Bangkok, and last approximately 13 days; visiting Bangkok, Khao Yai National Park, Chiang Rai, Chiang Mai, and Phuket.

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