Thailand Travel Advice: 10 Things to Avoid Doing in Thailand
This page provides travel advice on ten things that one should not do in Thailand and why one should not do them.
Thailand is generally a laid back country where people don't get uptight about small things going wrong and daily inconveniences; this is one of the things that make it an attractive country to live in or to visit.
I have highlighted some of the best things about Thailand in other lenses, 10 Memorable Things to see/do in Bangkok and Where to Watch Birds in Thailand, however, there are a number of things which are foolish to do and will either impare your enjoyment of the country or will leave a negative influence upon it when you leave: in this lens I will attempt to give you some advice that will help you avoid those things; this advice is based on living in the Kingdom for over 15 years. Some of these things to avoid doing are cultural differences, some of these are just common sense and some of these are specific to certain scams that, unfortunately, prevail in Thailand.
Who Has Been To Thailand? - Let Us Know If You Have Ever Visited
1. Do Not Get Involved With Illegal Drugs Under Any Circumstances
Thailand has a mandatory death sentences for drug smuggling and whilst this is almost always commuted to life imprisonment for foreigners, the death penalty may be the better option from what I hear of Thai prisons.
Getting involved with drugs is the number one thing that you should not do in Thailand.
"I am not a Drug Smuggler, just a Recreational User"
The Thai police won't see it like that if they catch you either at the border or within the country with any type of drug, "soft" or "hard". If you are caught with a large amount of any drug, the police will assume you are a dealer and you are in for at least 10 years of hell, locked in a cell with 30-40 other people, in blistering heat with one toilet and guards who have never heard the term "human rights". You don't want to experience that so don't touch drugs.
Even if the police were to catch you with a small amount of any drug, there would be big trouble. Most likely you would be locked up without charge and extorted out of a large amount of money in order to avoid jail. And don't expect the police to be nice to you, there is no police complaints commission so they are not answerable for their actions, in fact there have been thousands of extrajudicial killings of people allegedly involved in drugs - the police don't even need proof to shoot you dead on the street, if they have received a tip off about you buying, selling or carrying drugs they may just open fire.
Full Moon Party
I know what you are thinking - a bit of weed or some amphetamines at the full moon party can't hurt. Well, chances are that you won't end up in prison but you could easily get arrested and taken for all your money. That is not to mention that by getting involved with the dealers you are getting involved with some seriously bad people. Violence towards foreigners is very rare in Thailand but it is becoming disproportionately common on Ko Pha Ngan and Ko Samui: Murder and violence at Koh Phangan full moon party. That's the sort of thing that can happen when you get involved with drug dealers.
Have you ever been to Thailand?
Don't Get Involved With Drugs And End Up In Prison Like These People
This is a list of web pages that provide information on specific cases of people in prison in Thailand on drug charges.
The life of a Thai inmate convicted of drug offences in Thailand.
The cautionary tale of Radek Hanykovics.
Newspaper article on a British man receiving the death sentence in Thailand for drug smuggling.
British teenager sentenced to 99 years in a Thai prison for drug smuggling.
News article about the case of Julian Gilbey.
Some Interesting Books About Thai Prisons
In case you haven't quite got the message yet, don't get involved with drugs in Thailand, you don't want to end up in a Thai prison. To find out how awful life is for a foreign inmate in one of these prrisons, try any, or all, of these books.
2. Don't Have Your Photograph Taken With Illegally Procured Wildlife
If there is one thing guaranteed to make my blood boil it is when I see foolish tourists posing for photographs with wild animals such as gibbons, monkeys, snakes, birds or other such unfortunate creatures that have been taken into captivity for this specific purpose.
Please don't end up in photos with abused wildlife like this rescued gibbon.
In a number of tourist locations such as Pattaya, Phuket, Ko Samui, Ao Nang and occasioanlly even in Bangkok wild animals, occasionally dressed in nappies to make them look even more cute (pathetic?), are offered to tourists for a hug and to have a photo taken, for which they pay the animal's "owner".
What are They Thinking?
What on earth are these people thinking? Do they think that there is some cutsie creature farm where these animals are selectively bred for a life of posing?
Orphaned, Abducted, Tormented & Drugged
This subtitle gives readers a clear picture of what life has been like for these animals. All of them have been taken from the wild. Birds are usually taken from the nest and gibbons are obtained by shooting the adults and collecting the falling babies.
Many of the animals offered for photo opportunities are potentially very dangerous; an adult gibbon is very strong and could do real damage. To make sure tourists are not harmed, these animals are heavily drugged and also often have their teeth and claws removed.
On top of all this, when they are not being hawked around the streets, these animals are poorly treated by their owners, usually kept in totally inappropriate accommodation and fed substandard food; ultimately they die young through neglect and incorrect care.
If you don't wish to contribute to wildlife crime, trade in endangered species and cruelty to animals then do not pose for photos with these animals. If their owners cannot make money from this trade it will stop.
A Word of Warning
If you see such activities do not intervene yourself, these people are violent criminals and will not take kindly to interferance. Equally, do not ask any nearby police to intervene, they are usually taking part of the proceeds in order to turn a blind eye, and they are also likely to cause you trouble. If you are able to, take a secret photo with your mobile phone and send it to an appropriate campaign group and write a letter of disgust to your local Thai ambassador.
Here is a list of adresses for Thai Embassies around the world.
Contact Wildlife Conservation Society about wildlife crime in Thailand.
Please remember, these animals are protected under CITES and by having your photo taken with them you are taking part in the international trade in endangered species, which, not surprisingly, is a criminal activity.
Help Wildlife Rather Than Contribute To Its Persecution
For those that want to do more than simply not contributing to wildlife crime and animal cruelty, adopting a wild animal to help pay for its conservation is a good way to easily help in wildlife conservation programs.
On the page I have linked to above you can find a large number of links to charities that offer animal adoptions in order to finance a wide range of wildlife conservation projects such as habitat protection, educational programs, rescue centers, scientific study and political lobbying.
Cuddly Animal Toys - Now THESE Animals Are Made For Holding
Gibbons, Slow Loris and Snakes are often offered to tourists for photos in Thailand. It is ridiculous to indulge in this practice; please consider these cuddly alternatives and leave the real animals to live in the wild.
Remember, cuddle soft toys not real animals.
3. Don't Feed Street Elephants, You Are Not Helping Them
Unscrupulous elephant owners in Thailand are constantly bring their beasts into Bangkok and other cities and using them as tools for begging. Whilst they tend to hang around tourist areas such as Sukhumvit Road, Silom Road and Khao San Road, they can be found all over Bangkok, wandering around with their owners waiting for foolish people to buy a bag of food to give to the elephant.
Many of these elephants have been obtained by shooting adult female elephants in the wild and kidnapping their young.
Please do not join the legion of foolish people who help perpetuate this life of torment for elephants in Thailand. Really, are the busy, polluted streets of Bangkok any place for a beautiful creature like an elephant? Just one look at the picture here should tell you that it is not. Each year a number of street elephants are mortally wounded in collisions with cars; if tourists were not financing the elephants' stay in Bangkok then their owners would take them somewhere else.
Once again, please do not feed the elephants on Bangkok's streets, you are contributing to their misery, not helping them.
In recent times the Bangkok Metropolitan Authority seems to have managed to stop elephants coming into central Bangkok, but you will still come across this problem in surrounding areas and in the past this decision has been reversed; it only takes a change of Governor for this problem to spiral out of control again.
If you really want to help elephants in Thailand please don't feed them in the streets. Instead think about volunteering for the Elephant Nature Foundation, they are a respected organization which helps elephants properly.
Bangkok Street Elephant Video Clips
These video clips show elephants in the streets of the Thai capital. You can see how inappropriate a place it is for them. I know they look cute and tourists want to see elephants but feeding these begging elephants really only contributes to their suffering and just imagine the carnage if one of these animals went berserk! Go and see elephants in Thailand somewhere reputable.
Elephants bathing in a river near Chiang Mai, Thailand
This photograph shows domesticated elephants being taken care of properly in a forest sanctuary in northern Thailand where they are given tasks to do which keep them fit and mentally active as well as receive proper medical care and nourishment.
Here are some links to elephant organizations.
ChangThai.com - Thai Elephant Conservation Center, Lampang
Elephant Nature Foundation.com - Elephant conservation.
Elephant Nature Park - Elephant rescue and rehabilitation center in Northern Thailand.
Thailand Elephant.org - Thai Elephant Conservation Center, under Royal patronage.
Elephant Stay - Elephants at the Royal Kraal, Ayuthaya.
4. Don't Point Your Feet At People Or Use Your Feet To Point With
Showing the soles of your feet to a Thai is just about the most offensive gesture one could make and if you were to do it in an argument, violence would almost certainly result.
Luckily, Thai people are used to "silly foreigners" not understanding their culture very well and any accidental "foot incident" such as crossing ones legs while reading and showing the sole of your feet will be dismissed as a faux pas by an ignorant and vulgar foreigner. Most of us do not want to be thought of in such a way so it is good to think of local customs and to be careful what we do with our feet in Thailand.
What is the Problem with Feet?
Thai Buddhist culture considers the feet the most unclean part of the body and therefore pointing them at people is undesirable. Actually this extends to using the feet to point at things, push things around or to support things. Whilst Thais usually will forgive foreigners any transgression like this, it remains that they will feel uncomfortable and do their best to get out of your company as quickly as possible.
There are other things, such as touching the head, which should be avoided, but in my experience it is the feet which causes most offense and my wife has really exploded at me a couple of times when I have stepped over her whilst she was lying on the floor!
Learn More About The Cultural Nuances
5. Don't Let Tuk-tuk Drivers Take You To A Dodgy Gem Shop
This is a widespread and long-running scam whereby a tuk-tuk driver (or other passer-by) tells potential customers that their intended destination is closed because of renovations or some such similar bogus excuse and offers to take the unsuspecting tourists to an alternative tourist destination that happens to be open, via a gem shop.
When in the gem shop the victims are harassed, possibly drugged, into thinking that they can buy cut prices jewels and sell them at home for a vast profit and finally are cheated out of a lot of money in exchange for costume jewellery.
I have never experienced this myself so maybe the perpetrators of this crime are very good at their trick, but I just wonder why people who have no experience in the gem trade would suddenly think that they could be international jewellery traders.
The MO of these scammers is described here;
"She cautioned us against going to the Grand Palace area and instead recommended us to go to Lucky Buddha which she said was open only once a year. She then said that we should go to Yindee Export which is having sales for the last day. She called up a Tuk-Tuk to bring us to the hotel for check in before bringing us to Lucky Buddha and Yindee Export. At that time, I did not know that Yindee is selling jewellery and we duly obliged feeling lucky to come across a friendly person. "
The full story is described here: Bangkok gem scam.
Don't be stupid enough to jump into this remarkable career change when on holiday in Bangkok.
Here is a variant of this scam, from Chiang Mai: Gem Scam.
How to Avoid the Gem Scam
1. If a tuk-tuk driver offers to take you somewhere for less than 30-40 baht, it is too good to be true.
2. Don't talk to random people who strike up conversation in tourist areas such as Wat Pra Kaew, Siam Square, Wat Po etc.
3. Don't believe people if they say that your intended destination is closed.
4. Don't get into tuk-tuks or taxis with people you only just met.
5. If you do end up at a gem shop, just walk out, don't get engaged in conversation and definitely don't drink anything.
For up-to-date information on all types of scams that are in operation check out this specialist website devoted to the subject: Bangkokscams.com
6. Don't Get Angry, It Will Always Make The Situation Worse
Quite often situations can get very frustrating for foreigners not used to the Thai way. Often service is not how one expects it from home, rules are applied infrequently and inconsistently, the system can be VERY slow and the heat can make your temper short.
However, DON'T GET ANGRY.
There are some situations that can only be resolved by a show of anger, but not in Thailand. The satisfaction you will receive from a Thai will be indirectly proportional to your anger levels.
If you become red-faced and angry you will be seen as a coarse and vulgar person who cannot control themselves and you will be treated with disdain. At its worst, a show of anger may be replied with extreme violence or arrest.
As difficult as it may be, whatever the situation, please just take a moment to relax and try again with a smile and polite words, this will get you much further than getting angry.
- Australian Woman Jailed for Theft of Beer Mat
This story about an Australian woman highlights what a mistake it is to get angry in Thailand. Whilst it may seem harsh (it is), if she had smiled, apologised politely and offered to pay for the item the police would almost certainly have let her go.
Anger Management - Calm down, just calm down!
7. Don't Go To An Upstairs Bar In Patpong Road - This Can Be Trouble
Patpong Road is possibly the most famous of Bangkok's naughty nightlife locations, if not in the whole of Thailand. Patpong road is quite strange in that amongst the gogo bars and other girly bars there are banks, pharmacies, restaurants and a tourist night market along the street.
Generally, this makes Patpong road a safe place to be and many of the bars are used to groups of tourists coming in to have a quick look along with those, of course, who are interested in doing some serious shopping!
But Don't Go In The Upstairs Bars
However, the upstairs bars are to be avoided at all costs. A large number of touts walk along Patpong with "menus" that detail items in the "free sex show" that they provide. These items are quite unbelievable and it is tempting to go in just to witness these extraordinary feats just once. BE WARNED, nothing is free and there are gangs of thugs to make sure it remains that way.
If you were so foolish as to find yourself in an upstairs bar you would witness a disgusting and brief show, you would be charged 300-400 baht per bottle of beer and there would be all sorts of surcharges added to the bill to make it reach thousands of baht within about 10 minutes of entering. You would also be harrased for expensive drinks by ugly and aggressive girls and would have heavy thugs looming over you in order to make sure you didn't argue about the price.
Three Things Not To Do In A Gogo Bar
1. Take photos - For obvious reasons both staff and customers do not appreciate this.
2. Dance on the bar - You will look like an utter fool and regret it; I am talking from experience here.
3. Leave your mobile phone behind - Probably the most frequent item of lost property in these bars.
Once Again: Don't Go To Upstairs Bars In Patpong Road
Just to reiterate, no matter what you are told, this IS a scam. Here is the introduction to one person's experience;
"After getting hassles from touts, wife lost interest in bars and insisted on going back. We decided to have dinner in Patpong area. After dinner, a tout approached us. He showed us a menu, Shigha 60 Baht, Coke 50 Baht etc, no cover charge. I thought its good deal. I asked him where it is. He pointed us to a bar on ground floor. We followed him, when we reached bar, he changed his mind and took us to another bar (second floor). I think it's called "Wild Cat". Some girls were dancing lazily on stage."
Please read the full account (careful it contains sexual reference) on the excellent Bangkok Scams website.
Patpong Night Market - Now This Is Perfectly Safe
Whilst going into the upstairs bars is a foolish idea, shopping in the night market is a perfectly safe option that everyone can enjoy.
Below are some photos I took in Patpong night market, just select the thumbnails to see larger images.
8. Don't Negotiate A Fare With A Taxi Driver
ALL taxis in Bangkok are required to have a meter. Any taxi without a meter is an unlicensed taxi and the safety of the vehicle or the driver cannot be trusted. In other words only get into taxis with meters and only if the driver turns on the meter.
As hinted at above, many taxi drivers that do have meters will try to negotiate fares rather than put the meter on. Hmmmmm, why are they doing this? Are Thai taxi drivers the most saintly in the world and enjoy sacrificing their fares to give tourists a more cost-friendly ride?
Or are they trying to rip you off?
A negotiated fare will never be cheaper than the real fare, so there is only one person going to benefit, and that is the taxi driver.
BEWARE, because there are an ever-increasing number of taxi drivers who specialise in the negotiated fare and will simply not take customers using the meter. These drivers are often found around Sukhumvit Road, Soi Asoke and Silom Road. As a rule, these drivers hang around in the street waiting for unaware tourists who they can trick into paying negotiated fares.
If you are approached by one of these drivers, simply ignore them and walk past.
To find a taxi driver who will use the meter, simply walk to a busy road where taxis are passing and flag down a taxi that has its light on. Tell the driver where you want to go and if he says yes, ask for the meter; he should say that it is okay.
A passing taxi driver is much more likely to put the meter on than one who is hanging around targeting uninformed tourists who don't know what is what.
If the taxi driver that you have flagged down begins to negotiate a fare, do not say another word to him. Politely close the door and walk a little down the road to flag down the next taxi.
NEVER get involved in fare negotiations; if the driver wants to, simply walk away without saying anything
Apart from the fact that drivers who try to negotiate fares are attempting to rip off their customers, it is also possible that will be dishonest in other ways, perhaps attempting a theft or taking you to another type of scammer.
Transport options around the capital city.
My account of being caught in one of the worst traffic jams I have ever experienced.
A guide to using the Skytrain system; the quickest and easiest way to get around Bangkok.
Bangkok Taxi Fare Scam
Have you been the victim of an expensive negotiated fare in Bangkok?
9. Don't Expect To Be Treated With Respect If You Are Dressed Untidily
Thai people have a great amount of respect for those that look respectfully dressed; this means wearing clean and pressed clothes, wearing clean shoes and having tidy hair. Whatever others may think of this it remains that this is what Thais like to see.
This sign at immigration on the Malaysain border says a lot about the way Thais view untidy people. You really can save a lot of time and anguish by dressing in a tidy fashion at the appropriate time in Thailand.
Particularly if dealing with officialdom wearing shorts, scruffy clothes or having unkempt hair can mean being dealt with slowly, disrespectfully and shabbily. In fact one would be really foolish to deal with immigration, police or any other formal situation whilst dressed over-casually as you will be looked down on and treated with disdain.
Like it or not, this is a fact in Thailand and by playing by their rules you will be treated respectfully and properly and whatever you are trying to do will progress far more smoothly than if you present yourself in an "uncouth" fashion.
It really doesn't take much to look tidy when travelling in Thailand. Dressing in scruffy shorts, billowing trousers, dirty sandals and Bob Marley bedecked t-shirts will see you treated like scum if dealing with officials such as police or immigration, and you will receive poor service elsewhere.
A simple clean pair of trousers or jeans, a pressed, plain t-shirt or shirt and clean shoes will mean that your experience of dealing with Thais will be a whole lot nicer.
10. Don't Commit Lese Majeste Or Anything That Could Be Interpreted As Such
Lese Majeste is the crime of defaming the monarchy.
This really is a touchy subject and one I don't want to elaborate on here; it is sufficient to say that this is a subject taken very seriously in Thailand and the topics concerned should be avoided; foreigners have been jailed for what would seem insignificant remarks in other countries - don't be tempted to be a loudmouth with principals on this subject.
The Wikiepdia entry here Monarchy is worth a thourough read to elaborate on this topic.
Before getting on your high horse about freedom of speech in Thailand, think about how freedom of expression, speech or information are stifled in your own country; if you do a little research you will be surprised. A good place to start is the press freedom index - see where your country is on that.
Which Do You Think Is The Worst Thing To Do In Thailand?
What is the number 1 thing to avoid doing?
Now for some nice stuff about Thailand
Thailand is a great country to visit or to live in. The relaxed pace of life and low cost of living make it both a pleasant place to be and a cheap one too. Here I will highlight just 5 things that make the Kingdom a great place.
5 Great Things About Thailand
What Is Being Said About The Kingdom Of Thailand On The Internet
My Thailand Travel Picture Collection - "A Picture Of Thailand"
On this page I present a collection of travel photographs that I have taken on my frequent trips around Thailand. Here I have tried to select photographs that illustrate a wide variety of scenery, temples, cultural scenes and various other things of interest that together create an overall picture of Thailand that will give potential visitors an idea of what to expect.
As well as photos of some things that Thailand is well-known for, I have included a number of photos that should give readers a few surprises.
You can also read about a photography tour of Thailand here: Thailand Photography Tour of the North & Central Regions.
Things Not To Do In Thailand - A Summary And A Response
I will summarize this article by replying to a comment that was posted on this page. The comment is reproduced first (with link removed), followed by my answer.
"please advise people that this is your personal opinion and not fact we have been told the complete opposite to what you have written here in some places you have good advise but overall this is not all fact, advise people if they want to know 10 things not to do in Thailand to go to ************ website and read all the facts."
Indeed this is my opinion. It is based on living in Thailand since 1996 and travelling to every province of the country and living with a Thai family for the last 5 years and being able to speak, read and write Thai. This is not the opinion of a backpacker who has spent a few months doing the things prescribed in Lonely Planet. At the same time I do not claim to know everything about Thailand. I am a foreigner in the Kingdom and always will be.
You have been told the complete opposite? Really? I suggest that you have been given very bad information or have not read this page properly and/or have commented with the sole aim of leaving your link here. Doing the opposite?
1. You have been told that doing drugs in Thailand is okay? That you will not end up with the death sentence or a 15 year stay in a Thai prison? Well, you could put it to the test and let us know.
2. You have been told that you should have your photos taken with wild animals? If you are okay supporting the illegal trade in endangered species and abuse of formerly wild animals then I suppose you should.
3. You have been told that you should feed street elephants? The Bangkok Metropolitan Authority does not agree with that - Bangkok Governor vows to remove street elephants.
4. People have said that you should point your feet at Thais? If you want to disrespect Thai people then yes, go ahead.
5. You have heard that you should let tuk tuk drivers take you to gem shops? Okay, just try not to let them take you to these ones known to take part in the gem scam - Bangkok Scams Stores
6. You have been told that you should get angry? I think these people are mistaking being firm with getting angry. Often you need to be firm but polite with Thai people. Getting angry will get you nowhere that you want to go.
7. People are saying that you should go to the upstairs bars in Patpong Road? Well, you should if you want to see ugly sex acts for 2 minutes and be charged $20 for a small bottle of beer. Treat yourself!
8. People ARE saying that you should negotiate taxi fares. I have read this advice myself. It is bad advice. I take taxis in Bangkok on an almost daily basis and the fares people are quoting that have been negotiated are always around 1.5 to 2 times the metered fares.
9. Have you been told that you should dress untidily? These people are probably basing their experience on backpacker hangouts where this sort of thing is normal. Dressing untidily certainly is not the worst thing you can do on this list, but dressing tidily most certainly will be to your advantage in terms of the service you receive, particularly in places like banks or government departments (such as immigration).
10. You have been told that you should commit lese majeste????? This is terrible advice. This guy got 20 years for forwarding a text message - Uncle SMS. I repeat, don't commit lese majeste.
Bangkok Dangerous - A Hollywood Take On Thailand's Capital City
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Birdwatching in Thailand - My Favourite Birds
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Thailand Travel Advice: Lopburi, A Town of Temples and Monkeys
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Thailand Guidebooks - Help For Travelers To Thailand
Here are two of the premier guidebooks for travelers to Thailand. Both of these books (Lonely Planet and Rough Guide) have their strengths and weaknesses. It is up to you to decide which to go for.
Portrait of Thailand by Rob Emmons - A Beautiful Collection Of Photos
If you have any comments on ten things one should not do in Thailand, this is the place for them.