Thailand is the perfect holiday destination due to its picturesque beaches and friendly locals. There is plenty to do from full moon parties and sunbathing to canoeing to hiking up waterfalls, there is something for everyone to enjoy! You will hear a lot about “what to do in Thailand”, “must see’s and must-do activities” but what you don’t hear about very often is what NOT to do.
I first came to Thailand in 2015, since then I have returned multiple times until eventually I fell in love, got married and now I live here permanently. Now I have lived in Thailand for a while I’ve started to learn more about the countries culture and believes, it’s wildlife and landscapes. Before I came to Thailand for the first time I was clueless about my actions and how some things I might have been doing could have been seen as offensive or harmful to others.
Now, I don’t want to be a Debbie downer and only inform you of things you shouldn’t do, for each “don’t” point I talk about I will add a “do” point. Everyone who comes to Thailand should enjoy themselves and have fun, but I always encourage people to be cautious and caring travelers. Take a second to think about the country you are visiting and what consequences your actions as a visitor may have. So here are my top 10 things NOT to do in Thailand:
Don’t show to much skin
Bikini’s and bum shorts are made for the beach, let them stay there! I understand that Thailand is hot and humid and you don’t want to be covered head to toe but the amount of people I see walking around shirtless or in tiny crop tops, tiny shorts is unbelievable. If you are at the beach or swimming pool, yes of cause you can show some skin. Go for it, but when your walking around towns and villages, going in and out of shops please remember to cover up.
The Buddhist Temples have a strict dress code. Your knees, shoulders, and stomach must be covered at all times when in the temple. These rules don’t apply once you leave the temple but I feel people should be more respectful in the way they dress in Thailand. Most Thai people are very conservative and strict Buddhists, they don’t like to show a lot of skin themselves and it can come off as offensive if tourists do.
Don’t wear your shoes inside
In the Buddhist religion, the feet are the lowest and dirtiest point of your body. Many Thai swear words often refer to the feet. There are a few different rules to remember about your feet while in Thailand. The first one being, to take off your shoes before entering a temple, shop or building. Most Thai homes or buildings will want you to leave your shoes outside. You can normally tell if they do because there will already be some shoes outside the door or a shoe rack. Don’t worry, your shoes will be fine outside the building, this is common and polite practice within Thailand.
The next foot rule is to not put your feet up on a chair/ seat. As I mentioned before your feet are seen as the dirtiest part of your body. Putting them up on a chair or up high is very offensive and can get you in a lot of trouble. Keep the sole of your feet towards the ground at all times and never point at stuff with your feet. Use your hands.
Don’t touch Thai people’s heads
So you’ve just learned that the feet are considered to be the lowest and dirtiest part of the body. Well, your head is considered to be the highest and most important part of the body. Do not touch anyone on the head (unless you know them) as it is considered to be very rude. This also stands for statues or statues of Buddha. Avoid the head! I’m not 100% sure as to why you would feel the need to touch a strangers head, but if you are feeling compelled to touch a strange maybe go with a good old fashioned handshake!
Don’t go to any “tiger temples”
This point always comes up when talking about Thailand. You may have heard of the Tiger Temple in Kanchanaburi. This place gave the impression to be a loving temple ran by monks, these monks looked after tigers that customers would interact with and pose for pictures. This was all a front for the monks illegal black market activates. This included selling deceased baby tigers, tiger skin and bones.It was also believed that they would drug and beat the tigers, although no concrete proof was brought forward of this. They introduced a volunteer program and the volunteers thought they were helping the tigers, instead, they were helping to hide the foul play from the monks. This place was shut down, but many places throughout Thailand have been accused of beating and drugging their tigers.
Now, not every place in Thailand drugs or beat their tigers. I’ve worked in a safari park within Thailand and seen first hand that you can train the cats to walk and play without abuse. These cats are still used and exploited for the tourism industry but it is really any different than going to a petting farm back in England?
This topic always stirs up controversy, so I won’t go into it too much. All I’m going to say is before you go anywhere with animals in Thailand, do your RESEARCH! Google some past reviews about the place from visitors, search for tagged pictures on social media and see if you can find any articles online about the place. Do your research but don’t believe everything you read online. It can be difficult to figure out if a place is good or bad before you visit but try your best to make an informed decision. If you do end up in a place that mistreats their animals, don’t feel bad. We all learn from our mistakes and maybe you can help inform others of what you have seen.
Don’t overstay your visa
This is a very big DON’T. Most counties are allowed 30 days free entry into Thailand, once your 30 days are up to you either need to leave the kingdom, apply for a 60-day tourist visa outside the country or get a 30-day extension.If you do overstay you will be charged 500 Baht for every day you overstay in the kingdom. If you have overstayed for a certain amount of time in Thailand it can lead to you being banned from the country. A minimum time ban is one year, going all the way up to 10 years. If you surrender yourself your ban will be less time, but if you end up getting arrested and prosecuted then you could receive the max ban.
If you overstay your name will be flagged and will come up every time you enter the country, it could also lead to you being banned from entering some other counties. To sum up, don’t overstay. It is not worth the hassle. If you want to stay in Thailand for a few months at a time get your 60-day tourist visa, then a 30-day extension you can do a border run. This gives you 4 months in Thailand without having to fly out.
Don’t use a taxi without a meter
During your time in Thailand, you will most likely come across some people who will try to scam you. One common way this happens when you use a taxi. You will get in the taxi and the driver will say that the meter is broken and will tell you how much it is to your destination. They might also have a printed list of destinations and prices, these tend to be almost 3x the price of what the meter would charge. They do this because most tourist on holiday just want to get to their destination, don’t speak Thai and don’t realize they are being scammed. The way to deal with this is to straightaway say you want the meter on. If they decline or make excuses say you will find a different taxi and start to get out. Most of the time they will stop you and say the meter is magically working again. If not, get out and find another taxi or agree on a price before driving.
Don’t disrespect the Royal family
Thai people love their king, he is very respected all over Thailand. Many homes in Thailand have a shrine dedicated to him and the royal family in their home. Being rude or insulting to the royal family, not only is very disrespectful and offensive but also illegal and could land you in big trouble! This also applies for when handing Thai money. As they hold the image of the king, it is very disrespectful to place Thai money on the floor. It’s offensive to place anything that holds the image or likelihood of the king or royal family on the floor or to be pointed at with feet. So, don’t leave your bag in the direction your feet point at. This also goes for the image of the Buddha.
Don’t drive recklessly on a motorbike
One of the most popular forms of transportation in Thailand is the motorbike and moped. To rent one as a tourist all you need your passport and a deposit. You don’t need any drivers license or even experience riding. This causes many tourists to crash and injure themselves, some even result in death.I’m not going to say don’t ride a bike in Thailand, what I will say is do be careful. Get the person you’re renting from you teach you how to drive. Stay on quiet roads while your learning to control the bike and ALWAYS wear your helmet. Not only for your safety but because you can get stopped by the police and fined if you don’t wear your helmet. The price of the fine will differ to each office, normally it’s around 200 Baht but sometimes if you think you are unaware they will try to fine you up to 1,000 Baht.
Learn your laws and rights, if you are stopped don’t pay too much but wear your helmet and you won’t have any issues. Be aware of everything around you, there aren’t really any rules of the road in Thailand and people will drive wherever they want. Be safe, drive slowly and if you really don’t feel comfortable riding, take the bus or a taxi. Don’t risk your life.
Do not Ride an Elephant
OK, this is a long one! This is probably the main “don’t” you’ll hear when you tell people you’re going to Thailand. Elephants in Thailand and all over Asia for centuries have been used as a form of transportation and entertainment. Many people still ride elephants due to lack of education on the subject. You’ll hear many people tell you why you shouldn’t ride them but they will prove little to none reasoning behind it other than it’s bad or people will say “oh, but people ride horses, how are elephants any different”. To completely understand why you shouldn’t ride an elephant, you need to understand the process an elephant goes through to make it “ride-able”.It starts off with taking a newborn baby off its mother. If the mother is a wild elephant, she will most likely be shot and killed, then the baby removed for training and hand-rearing. If the mother is a captive elephant, the baby will be removed from the mothers care shortly after-birth and kept in a confined space. Elephant crushing or Phajaan is a harmful and painful method of training elephants that have been around for centuries.
Any elephant used in the tourism industry, be it bathing or riding would have gone through the phajaan training. It involves the young elephant being abused and beaten with bull hooks and bamboo sticks with nails attached. They are starved and left alone to crush their spirits, making them submit to their Mahout (elephant carer). Most mahouts do not own their elephants, they work for someone else and are told/taught how to train the elephants into submission.
Many of the trekking camps you will find around Thailand offer tourist the opportunity to ride on the back of an elephant. They will put a heavy metal chair (howdah) on the back of the elephant and attach it with chains or ropes. The spine of an elephant is not build to withstand this much weight and often leads to serious health issues. The chair also rubs on their skin causing painful blisters which often leads to infections, as well as foot infection from trekking all day.
Some places have banned the chairs (yay!) but still offer you to ride bareback on the elephant, meaning without a chair. I did this the first time I came to Thailand before I did any research into elephants in Thailand. Although, not the worst as the heavyweight of the chair is removed. The elephants would have still gone through the breaking process and will be being forced to walk and carry you. If a wild elephant wanted to carry people around it would, there would be no need for crushing or bull hooks. Elephants are incredibly smart animals, they have huge memory and similar to humans they can feel pain, sadness, and happiness. They have a separate part of the brain, similar to a dolphin that means they are capable of emotions other animals can’t feel.
OK, so this was a very long “don’t” point but I think it’s a very important one to talk about. If you do want to visit elephants in Thailand but you want to visit a reputable place then here are some things to look out for. Don’t go anywhere that chains up their elephants, don’t go anywhere that offers you to ride the elephant. A lot of people think that bathing with the elephants is OK, I personally don’t. Elephants are incredibly good swimmers, a mahout would have hardly any control over the elephant in the water. Anything could trigger the elephant to become angry or upset, and there is no way you could out-swim an elephant.
I visited a place in Kanchanaburi that lets you swim with elephants and although the experience as a whole was good, about 30 people were swimming with 5 elephants, shouting, splashing and having worked with elephants before I could tell the elephants were getting very irritated and so were the mahouts. The people wouldn’t listen to how they should act and this could lead to a dangerous situation.
If you are looking to visit a good, reputable place to see elephants, check out Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai or Phuket Elephant Sanctuary. Both of these places allow the elephants to be free-roaming, no bathing. Only feeding and observing elephants natural behavior. There are some other elephant sanctuaries taking notice of how people want the elephants to be treated and are taking action to retire their elephants from trekking, bathing and trying to change the way people view their sanctuaries. These places should defiantly be supported, hopefully, this will lead to a better future for the Elephants of Thailand. Please do your research before you visit anywhere in Thailand and think about your actions before you do something. Enjoy your holiday and time travelling around this beautiful country but remember to be cautious and caring.
Don’t get hung up on the Do’s and Don’t!
Of cause when you go to any new country you should always try to follow traditions and respect the culture. Do a bit of research into the place you are going to, see what’s acceptable and what isn’t but most importantly enjoy yourself. Throw yourself into a new culture, learn new things, see new sights and make memories that will last you a lifetime.