So you are going to Thailand?
Never been there before?
Here is a quick guide, that hopefully minimize the damage with cultural faux pas and so on.
- The bottom of the feet are considered the dirtiest part of the body and insulting if pointed at another person. It would be like sitting and giving someone the finger. Yeah, you will probably get away with it, but they will think of you as a complete ass and give you the highest price possible.
- Never ever say anything bad about the King. He is treated as a semi-god and it is agaist the law to say anything disrespectfull against anyone of the royal family. Yeah, I know, it’s kinda vaige, and that’s the problem. The penalty can be inprisonment, but in the case of forgieners, they usually are recieved with The Kings Pardon, which is a get out of jail free card. But the whole process of the thai court system is not something I would want to experience.
- Never touch a monk directly. If you want to give them a gift, put it in their collection pot or use a table as middle ground.
- Never touch anyone on top of the head.
- The Wai; Putting the hands together and nodding, together with a smile and lots of “khrap pom, khrap kun khrap” If you are a man, and “kah, kah, khrap kun mak khrap nah” if you are a woman. You will get you through difficult problems with a smile rather than getting loud and upset.
- The first few times you go somewhere, take a taxi, use the meter, that way you know what price is possible when haggling. Try also to learn how to say the name of the neighbourhood in Thai. A taxi can allays take you to the right neighbourhood, but not find your street. But getting another taxi in the correct neighbourhood will be not problem. I get a thai person to write down the address in Thai so that I can show the taxi drivers. Hotels have their own cards. Use them!
- Know that prices will be 25% to 50% higher than usual in the normal tourist areas. Rather in the districts where things are found. In the end It can be cheaper to buy thing in the tourist areas unless you are going to buy a lot.
- It will allays be easier to haggle if you are willing to buy more than one item. So if one shirt costs 100 Baht, you could get 5 for 400 Baht without any problem.
- Don’t think that things are allowed in Thailand if they are not allowed at home. Drugs and things can cause serious jail time. (Unless you meet a corrupt policeman you can bribe, but it might just not work.) But it is illegal no not wear a helmet on a motorbike, or not use a seatbelt in a car. If you have been to Thailand you will know that only the drivers of the motorbike taxis use helmets and half the taxis dont have working clasps for the seatbelt. You will get away with it, but technically the police can give you a fine for it. The same for littering, which in a city that lacks waste bins can be a bit tricky.
Think about it this way, if it is illegal in your country, it probably is here too. They are usually just a bit more relaxed about it.
But it is easy to think that Thailand is like the wild west, you can do whatever you want. They allow it most of the time because you are the source of their income, you are a guest in their country. Respect the country.
Just on a side note. A few years ago, my friend and I where in Bangkok, having a cigarette while walking, and going into the subway there is a no smoking sign. Being used to non existing waste bins, we did not even look for an ashtray. And there where cigarette butts all over the ground. We did the same and walked about 3 meters before a policeman stopped us.
He told us that we were guilty of littering. He had a laminated sign in english. And the fine was 2,000 Baht per person. But, we could come to an arrangement that he gave us both a fine of 500 Baht per person, if he could keep 1,000 Baht for himself. Our Thai friend got very upset at this and said that it was only because we where foreigners.
In any case, if you get into any kind of trouble or problems call the Thai Tourist Police at 1155, and if you are in real trouble ask to call you embassy from the jail. You have a right to have somebody from the embassy present during questioning and such.