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Thailand Travel Tips
Thailand is a wondrous land of exotic beauty, friendly people and noble history. It is a popular destination for tourists because of its stunning sights, welcoming population and inexpensive prices. However, travelers can find unexpected dangers and problems if they go to Thailand unprepared.
The Thai "Wai"
One of the first things you notice about the people of Thailand is a gesture they make. They press their palms together as if to pray, press their fingers to their chin and bow their forehead. This is called the "wai." It is used by the Thai people to say hello and to show respect. It is symbolic of a culture that values respect above all. If you are traveling to Thailand, get used to performing and responding to the wai. It is initiated by a person of inferior social standing to a person of superior social standing.
The proper response is to wai in return or to smile at the person performing the wai to you. It is common for Americans to be confused whether they are the person of superior of inferior social standing. If it is a person in the service industry or a person younger than you, then you are probably superior and can just smile.
If it is someone who you are asking for something from, you should wai first. When in doubt, wai to any person performing the wai to you.
The Thai Smile
It is said that the angrier a Thai person gets, the bigger their smile gets. It is considered improper to exhibit public displays of anger in Thailand. Thai people will often smile when they are insulted or offended. This can be very confusing for Americans who are used to letting their anger show. Use restraint and respect in all things you do in Thailand. If someone smiles at you or performs the wai, smile back.
If you are receiving poor service and want a serviceperson to know that you are unsatisfied, pause a moment, look them in the eye, and give them a broad smile.
As strange as this may sound, it will send the message that you are upset. This will get you more results than if you yell at them. It shows that you have restraint and respect the Thai ways.
The Language of Thailand
The official language of Thailand is Thai. It is an increadibly difficult language for native English speakers to pronounce. Fortunately, many Thai people speak English. This is especially true in tourist areas. You should not have trouble getting around or being understood in Thailand if you speak English.
Documents to Enter Thailand
You must have a valid passport to enter Thailand. American passport holders do not need a visa for stays up to 30 days. If you want to stay longer, you must apply for a visa at the Immigration Division of the Police Department.
The Money of Thailand
The currency of Thailand is the baht. You can exchange dollars for baht just about everywhere. Banks usually offer the best exchange rates but shop around for the best deals. Major credit cards and ATM cards also work in Thailand. These are often more convenient and offer better rates of exchange. The US dollar has long had an advantageous exchange rate with the Thai baht. This makes Thailand a bargain travel destination for Americans.
High and Low Parts of the Body
In Thailand, different parts of a person's body has different meanings. Since the top of the head is the highest part of the body, it is considered the most noble.
Since the bottoms of the feet are the lowest parts of the body, they are consider lowly. Never touch the head of a Thai person. This is even true of children. Never point the bottom of your feet at someone.
This is considered a great insult. Do not point at objects or in a direction with your foot. Never touch a person with your foot. Never put your feet on a table. Always remove your shoes when entering a Thai home.
Religion of Thailand
Thailand is a devoutly Buddhist nation. 95 percent of the population is Buddhist and they take their religion very seriously. You will find that taxi drivers will take their hands off the steering wheel and wai as they drive past a temple. Never, never, never say anything disparaging about the Buddhist religion while in Thailand. Not only is it extremely bad manners, it is against the law.
Sacrilegious acts can land you in jail. Images of Buddha are sacred so do not touch them, throw things at them, spit on them or show them the bottom of your feet. Use common sense here. Don't do to their holy objects what you would not want done to yours.
The King of Thailand
Everything stated above about Buddhism goes double for the King of Thailand. The people love their royal family, especially their king. Never, never, never say anything bad about Thai royalty. Do not even question the morality of having a king. The people of Thailand like having a king, so it is not your place as a visitor in their country to question that. It is virtually impossible to anger a Thai person, but insulting their king will do it.
Treatment of the Opposite Sex In Thailand
As a Buddhist nation, Thailand is very conservative with its interactions between men and women. Avoid all public displays of affection. Men should never touch a Thai woman without her specifically giving him permission. This includes grabbing a woman's arm, putting a hand on a woman's back or even shaking her hand. Female travelers should dress conservatively. This can sometimes be difficult in such a hot and humid place.
If you are going to wear shorts, make sure that they are down to your knees. Avoid bare shoulders and stomachs. Both men and women must dress conservatively at Buddhist temples. Shorts are not allowed. Women should never touch a Buddhist monk for any reason. They are not even allowed to hand Buddhist monks anything. Items must be put down or passed through the hands of a man.
Public nudity is strictly prohibited, even on seemingly private beaches. Pornography is illegal. Don't bring any with you. If you have a tattoo of a naked person on your body, cover it up during your entire stay in Thailand.
Sex In Thailand
All the things you heard about the sex trade in Thailand is true. Despite a devoutly Buddhist culture, the sex trade is tolerated as long as it stays in a particular area of town.
If you go to that area, you can get pretty much whatever you want for a price. Many things that are illegal in the United States are not illegal in Thailand. Strongly consider the consequences before you do this.
AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases are rampant in Thai brothels. Tourists are often drugged and robbed while there.
Most of the women involved in the sex trade are there against their will. By paying for sex, you are supporting their oppression. Be wary of strip joints that claim there is no cover charge. It is a common scam in Thailand to get you inside then present you with the bill of a woman who strikes up a conversation with you. If you don't pay, there are several Thai thugs standing by the door waiting to pound you into submission.
Drugs In Thailand
Despite what you may have heard, recreational drugs are illegal in Thailand. This includes marijuana, cocaine, heroin, opium and non prescription pills. Penalties for violating Thai drug laws are severe and you have no special rights as an American. Being caught with even a small amount of illegal drugs can get you thrown in a Thai jail for years. Thai prisons are notoriously horrendous and there is nothing the American Embassy can or will do to help you. Do not do drugs in Thailand!
Eating In Thailand
Thai food is delicious and cheap. You can usually eat safely at a street stall if you use some common sense. Make sure the vendor and the equipment looks clean. Only eat at stalls that are busy and frequented by locals.
Ask for your food to be cooked fresh. Do not eat something that has been sitting around for a while. Thai food is always accompanied by fish sauce. It is an acquired taste. Many Thai dished use peanuts. If you are allergic to them, you may want to avoid Thailand altogether. You will not be able to avoid peanuts in Thailand. Tipping is only common in nice restaurants. 10 percent of the check is plenty.
Never accept food or drinks from strangers on the street. Drugging tourists to rob them is a common practice in Thailand. Even taxi drivers to it to tourists in their cabs.
Shopping In Thailand
Always be skeptical of items for sale in Thailand. There are many counterfeit items, especially at street stalls. When buying jewelry, demand a certificate of authenticity and always keep your receipts. Feel free to bargain for the best deal. Only high end stores have fixed prices in Thailand.
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