Having a great time and finding things to do is quite easy in this part of the world. To have a perfect trip, though, you also need to also know what NOT to do in Thailand and be prepared.
Being one of the hottest tourist spots in the world, the Kingdom of Smiles has plenty of hidden rocks that can severely impact your vacation there.
There’s also a risk of participating in animal cruelty or offending the locals without even realizing it. That would suck, right?
Searching around the net, you’d find a lot of weird advice never to do things you’d never do anyways. I mean, don’t touch people on the head (why would you touch a stranger’s head), don’t point things with your food (again, why would you) or don’t argue with the police (something NOT to do anywhere).
Before my first visit there, I was reading the same stuff that didn’t help at all. So here I’m now, giving you the no-bullshit-guide of someone who learned the hard way what NOT to do in Thailand.
1. Animal Shows
Animal shows are something not to do, not only in Thailand but anywhere in the world. Having animals do tricks just to for the joy of humans is a despicable old style of entertainment that is (thankfully) slowly dying away in the modern world.
Sadly in Asia, such shows are still quite popular (although way less than a decade ago). People are getting more and more aware that even though it may sound cool to watch elephants play football, this is something horrible for the enslaved animal.
Don’t support such venues; instead, look for animal sanctuaries that care about their inhabitants and also try to spread awareness of the issue.
Pattaya’s Nong Nooch Garden – Elephant shows (including chained baby elephants) and a drugged tiger to take a photo with. Total disregard of the well beings of the animals, a place to definitely avoid.
The Tiger Kingdom – A few years ago, the tiger petting zoos were among the most famous attractions in the country. Later the government found out that the Tiger Temple monks were drugging their tigers and harvesting their body parts for China’s black market.
The Tiger Temple is long closed, but the other tiger project got some of the bad rep too. A lot of people who (mostly) have never been there would dump on the place for its drugged tigers. After a little bit of digging, though, I’m not so sure that’s true.
Here’s the experience of a western volunteer that gives more details about the Tiger Kingdom and may help you decide if it’s worth a visit.
Safe to visit:
Elephant Nature Park (ENP) is the first elephant sanctuary in Thailand. Its mission is to free elephants from the horrible tourist shows and give them a safe place to just live their life. You can visit the park and take part in one of its many programs for ethical interaction with animals.
You can check my ENP experience here.
2. Don’t Ride the Elephants
I could’ve included this one in the animal shows, but it’s such a big problem that I believe it deserves its own spot.
Riding an elephant is something you should never ever do in Thailand or any other country that offers it. Elephants are among the smartest animals on earth, and they are not riding animals. To get trained to lift people and put them on their backs, they go through years of torture — not only that, but all that weight on their back inevitable damages their spines.
Don’t take part in mistreating these gorgeous giants. Meet them in ethical places like Elephant Nature Park and make sure you spread awareness of this problem after. A lot of people have no idea how bad this activity is and think riding an elephant is something harmless. It’s not.
Here’s a little bit more on the subject
3. Reconsider the Motorbikes
I bet you didn’t expect this one. I mean, you’ve probably seen countless tourists do that, how come it’s something NOT to do in Thailand?
Most likely, you’re not an experienced motorcycle/scooter driver, and chances are high you’d end up in a traffic accident. The Thai roads are not the best in the world; the traffic is complete and utter chaos and the tourists…well…a huge part of them have no idea how to navigate a bike. Add those things together, and you can see why Thailand is among the top 5 in the world for deaths on the road.
If you’re confident in your skills, another reason to avoid the motorbikes are the usual scams. Leaving your passport as a guarantee for the bike is a big no-no. Once you’re back, you may be accused of inflicting damage on it, and you won’t get it back until you pay.
Aaand, if that’s not enough, I have one more reason to persuade you not to rent a bike in Thailand.
Unless you have an International Driver’s Permit, driving any kind of motorbike in Thailand is illegal. Almost nobody has such a permit, and the local police know that so expect to be pulled aside from time to time to pay a fine. Oh yes, one more thing – since you’re driving illegally, if you suffer an incident, your travel insurance won’t cover it.
I’m sure a lot of you won’t care about the things above and would rent a bike anyways. If so, make sure you:
- Always wear your helmet
- Never leave your passport at the renting shop
- Don’t drive in Bangkok or the other big cities
4. Be Careful With “Kind Strangers”
You’re looking for the entrance to the Golden Mount Temple when a kind stranger with surprisingly good English stops you. He explains there’s a Buddist celebration right now, and you should come back in two hours. Not to worry, though, he knows a few other temples nearby you can kill time in.
So you go on the street, and a tuk-tuk finds you right away. The stranger explains where you need to go, and you’re on your way.
It turns out there’s a national holiday today, and the government, would pay for your tuk-tuk. Aren’t you lucky! The guy needs to take a voucher to be compensated for the ride, so he takes you to…a suit shop. Until you comprehend what’s going on, pushy sellers circled around you, offering different types of clothing.
Yes, this is a real story and a popular scam in Thailand. It’s harmless but quite annoying and wastes tons of time.
Trusting a kind stranger with good English – something NOT to do in Thailand.
See Also: The Ultimate Thailand Itinerary
5. Don’t Leave Your Passport in the Hotel
That is something you’d never think about until it happens to you. Just like in most countries in the world, police can randomly ask you to identify yourself. And if you’ve left your passport in the hotel – well you’re gonna get a fine.
6. Be Careful not to Disrespect Buddha, the King or the Flag
Thai people are very kind, humble, and caring. They are also very easy to offend. The easiest way to do this is to show ignorance about their religion or their King. Every Thai people I’ve seen loves the King, so be very attentive to everything that bears his face and make sure every time you mention him, it’s respectfully.
The other thing Thai’s are very touchy about is religion. 95% of the population are extremely devoted Buddhists, and there are plenty of ways to offend them. Taking a photo where your head is above Buddha’s – bad. Buying anything with Budha’s face – very bad. Getting Buddha’s face as a tattoo – extremely bad.
Another thing to have in mind – don’t use the Thai flag for anything other than a flag. I mean, you’ve seen bags, umbrellas, or even bathing suits with the US or the UK flag, right? Well, this is considered extremely offensive in Thailand. Their flag colors represent King, religion, and Nation. Using it as a bathing suit is something offensive to all they hold dear and may even get you in jail.
7. Chose Your Clothes Wisely When Visiting Temples
Temples are holy places, and as such, you can’t go there wearing just about anything. Your shoulders and knees should always be covered, and flip flops are not allowed. If you’re a guy, you may get away with shorts, but for the girls, the safest bet is a long skirt. No tank-tops, no revealing sport attires, and no t-shirts with inappropriate designs (like Buddha smoking a pipe, for example).
8. Don’t Wear Shoes Inside
Getting inside houses or temples with your shoes on – definitely something NOT to do in Thailand. The Thai people consider the feet to be something extremely filthy.
Getting inside with shoes, making their homes and holly places dirtier, is a guaranteed way to get scolded by a monk or an angry housewife.
9. Don’t Hop in Transport Before Negotiating the Price
Jumping straight into the first taxi in front of your hotel is a guaranteed way to pay a double fee. The other blogs recommend always to ask the taxi driver to use its meter (that’s the Thai law). The problem with this is you may spend a lot of time till you find yourself a car. Moreover, they can simply go through a longer route and inflate the charge.
What’re you going to do? Make a scandal? That can end in two ways, you pay what you already owe and get stranded in the middle of nowhere, or you call the police, and they take the side of the driver.
What I do is way simpler. I either use Grab (This is Uber in Thailand) or negotiate the price before I get in the tuk-tuk/taxi. If it’s the latter, I use Grab again to check out how much should I aim for.
Also, no need to even try to get a fair price from the taxi’s/tuk-tuk’s parked in front of hotels or tourist attractions. The best ones are the ones you catch on the road.
10. Don’t Skip Street Food
One of the biggest mistakes you can do is disregard the street food and eat only in your hotel or restaurants. Seriously, the street food in Thailand is probably the best in the world.
Pad Thai, meat on a stick, pancakes, Mango Sticky Rice, fresh fruit, and plenty of other peculiar foods are waiting for you pretty much everywhere.
Avoiding the street food – definitely something NOT to do in Thailand.
11. Stay Away From the Tap Water
Due to an old plumbing system and the yearly monsoon seasons, the tap water in Thailand is so bad even the locals don’t drink it. Stick to bottled water or get yourself a refillable bottle.
What about the ice?
The ice is usually safe. There are big ice companies around the major cities, and they use purified water for their ice. All the businesses use them since it’s cheaper and way more convenient.
If you want to be 100% sure you’re getting some good ice, look at its form. If the ice-cubes are shaped like tubes with holes in the center, you have safe ice.
12. Learn to Differentiate the Massage Shops
I remember the first time I was looking for a Thai massage; I was so nervous I was gonna end up in one of the “happy massages” instead. Getting in the wrong massage parlor is a common mistake and something you should try NOT do in Thailand (unless that’s what you’re looking for).
So how to find a regular massage parlor?
There are a few ways. You can ask your hotel for recommendations, just make sure they understand you are looking for a regular Thai massage.
You can always go on the internet and search for the best ones in the area.
And if you get a massage urge while roaming the streets, your best bet is to search for a place that also offers a foot massage. Usually, they have a huge window where you can see the people getting their feet rubbed. If there’s plenty of customers, and they’re local – you have a legit place (good quality one too).
Needless to say, massage parlors with skinny-dressed girls in front of them are the ones to avoid (unless that’s the reason you’re in Thailand).
13. Avoid Eating or Drinking in Public Transport
This one is not a big deal, but it’s something you should try to avoid in Thailand. Having a coffee or other smelly beverage/food is something you’re gonna get frowned upon by the locals.
As per my local friend, foods that have no smell or can’t make a big mess (if dropped on the ground) are okay. Honestly, I tend to stay away from consuming anything inside the BTS train or the MRT.
14. Don’t Treat the Durian as Your Average Fruit
Do you know what a durian is? It’s called the King of fruits, and it’s quite infamous around Thailand (and the other countries in the region).
Why is that?
Because of its smell. The curious thing about the durian smell is that it smells different to people. For me, it’s this soft-tropical scent, while for some of my friends, it was more like rotten onions. One even described it as a gas leakage.
And it’s a smell that’s incredibly hard to remove. If you eat it in a closed space, the scent may last for weeks. Imagine if you’re one of the rotten onion guys. That would suck so much! So, it’s a basic rule to never eat durian in a closed space or inside a vehicle.
See Also: The Ultimate Thailand Itinerary
15. Explore the Morning Markets
Thailand is a sweltering country all year round. That’s why the streets are busiest in the morning and the evening. And while the night markets (that are awesome) are quite popular among tourists, most travelers don’t even know about the morning markets.
Open between 6:00 and 9:00 AM, skipping the morning markets is something you should definitely NOT do in Thailand.
Also called Fresh Markets, they are not only the best place to have a tasty breakfast but also to observe authentic Thai life. And since they are more popular among locals than tourists – the prices are way better.
16. Don’t Flush Toilet Paper
The last thing NOT to do in Thailand – don’t flush the toilet paper. No, really, I know this may come as a shock for plenty of you, but the tubes of Thailand’s sewage system are smaller than the western ones and flushing the toilet paper would eventually lead to a clogged toilet.
Having a clogged toilet in Thailand is not something you want, especially if you had a spicy Pad Thai for dinner.
That’s all from me, now you know what NOT to do in Thailand.
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Thursday 17th of March 2022
Definitely follow the advice about the friendly English speaker. They told me the big golden Buddha was closed for a once in a year celebration and that they could show me other places. I was taken on a tuk-tuk adventure to a suit shop, a handicraft store, and other places I didn't want to visit. But luckily I was just wasting time that day so not in a big rush. Turns out the tuk-tuk driver had a family emergency to attend to (real, or not, I don't know), but he told me I didn't have to pay and left me at the marble temple. I ended up just walking around, talking with some nice high school boys who showed me the way to the station, and found some good food in who knows where I was....I love Thailand. And then...when I got back to the golden Buddha temple....turns out it WAS open...and IS open every day!! Just get off the water taxi and walk straight....don't turn right, cause they know you're lost and easy prey. Enjoy Thailand.