Almost all Thailand guidebooks, and a good number of websites purporting to be the knowledgeable source of info for a visit to the Kingdom, include a list of cultural no-nos, those things you should never, ever, ever do in Thailand. To be fair, the same sources usually also include a ‘do’ list. But no one reads those suggestions; everyone really wants to know what to avoid, no one wants to fuck up and embarrass themselves. Unfortunately, travel writers just steal copy from those who’ve published before them, too lazy to do a bit of work and get the story right. So these lists are often wrong, out dated, or just plain stupid.
If I wanted to be a really nice guy, I’d provide my own list of ‘don’ts’ for your use. But I’m not a nice guy. And that list would be heavily geared toward cultural no-nos involving the commercial sex world. (Though now that I think about it, that would make a good post. Stay tuned.) Instead, I’ll tell ya where everyone else went wrong. Doing so, after all, is something I excel at.
Do Not Do Drugs: Since it is more of a legal issue than cultural, not all lists include a warning against drug use in Thailand, but many do. Personally, I’m in favor of drug use as long as it is for recreational purposes. Except when in Thailand. This one they got right. It just ain’t worth the consequences. If you get busted, at best it will cost you lots of cash. More likely you’ll get to spend a good portion of your life in a Thai prison. And that’s not nearly as much fun as it may sound. Thailand has the ability to whack your senses on its own; leave your drug habit at home.
Do Not Touch Monks: A warning against women touching monks is fairly standard on these lists. This one is also correct. Women, as we all know, are unclean. You shouldn’t be rubbing your cooties off on some poor monk. But this warning never goes quite far enough. Women should never even hand anything to a monk (pass it to a guy to do so, or place it at the monk’s feet). Feminists may have a problem with this cultural practice, but that’s ‘cuz feminists don’t get laid often enough. And are usually dykes. Man up, bitch. It’s a religious custom, not a cultural one, and regardless of your inferior gender you have no right to dictate how a foreign country practices religion – well, okay, you do, but save your outrage for something that matters. Like female circumcision in Guinea.
(And we just lost the lesbian readership.)
Do Not Have Feet: Most lists make a big thing over your feet with a warning to never point your feet at someone. Uh, that’s stupid. Try riding the BTS and not having your feet pointed at someone. This warning is usually quite detailed and gets more confusing as it goes on. The bottom of your feet are considered the dirtiest part of your body (gee, really Einstein?) and you should never show them to someone. So remember when you stretch out on your stomach for a full body massage, contort your legs so your toes instead of your soles point upward. And if the Thai lady giving you a foot massage accidently raises your foot exposing your sole, immediately slam it firmly back on the ground. She’ll be touched that you are showing such sensitivity toward her culture. If you are concerned about the whole foot thing, just follow your mom’s advice: keep your damn feet off the table.
Do Not Diss The King: And speaking about sage advice from yo mama, she probably told you to never discuss religion or politics. The latter is a biggy in Thailand. Dissing the royal family is a definite no-no. Like jail time no-no. But then if you travel to a foreign country and start talking smack about their Grand Poobah or gods, maybe you need a little time out so your brain can grow a few more cells. A few that work. So this one the list makers got right. But frequently get too carried away. I’ve seen several say to not fold or deface baht notes because they carry the King’s picture on them. Come on. It’s money. And Thais love money more than they love the King. Following that logic it’d be a lese majeste offense for trading a 1000 baht note for a blow job. But that won’t upset a Thai unless you try to barter it down to 100 baht,
Do Not Preach: The Thai people take their religion serious. Most are Buddhists. There are a lot of Muslims down south. And unlike in America, Thais do not tend to wear their religion of their sleeves. The no-no lists will proscribe a long list of temple etiquette dos and don’ts, all of which you need not be concerned with. If you are not properly dressed, someone will provide you with covering before you are allowed to enter a temple. Or you will be refused entry. Inside a temple, be respectful. That’s it. Any small transgression will be forgiven. Sometimes it pays to be a stupid farang. What the guidebooks won’t warn you against is trying to share your personal lord and savior Jesus Christ with the locals. Thais have their own religion, thank you. They do not appreciate attempts at converting them to Christianity. If you can not get through the day without proselytizing, go find a Mormon to practice on.
Do Not Give A Thai Head: One question of etiquette that causes confusion is the warning against touching a Thai on his head. To Thais, the head is the most sacred part of the body. This one is a valid warning. To a degree. This warning always ends with an additional caution against rubbing a child’s head. Yet my friend Noom, who loves the little ones, rubs kid’s heads all the time. But then he is Thai. The locals are well aware of the dubious motives regarding children when it comes to old male farang, so it’s probably safest to just leave the kids alone. Period. Unless you are in Pattaya. There it’s okay, just make sure you’ve paid first. As for adults, I don’t know any adult who appreciates a noogie, so that’s not really a Thai thing. On the other hand, it’s impossible to properly skull fuck someone without grabbing their head for the ride, so at least with your bar boy d’ jour, this is more of a situational etiquette concern.
Do Not Go Ballistic: No-no lists always warn against showing anger or raising your voice. And go to great length to explain how gentle and serene Thais are, blah, blah, blah. Pissing people off and getting their face to turn a rainbow of colors is one of my favorite pastimes. Trust me, it is as easy to piss a Thai off as it is an American. Just a lot more dangerous. So Thais do get angry. And will understand when you do too. The important part of this warning is to realize how completely useless you getting upset is. It will not change a thing. You can rant and rave all you want. The Thai involved in your tantrum will just keep smiling and repeating whatever it was that brought out the anger in the first place. Save yourself the heart attack or stroke, consider that it was your karma to be screwed by a local in Thailand – once again – and move on with your day. (Oh, and unless you are a professional like me, do not piss off a Thai. The result is always quite bloody and there has already been too much American blood spilled in foreign lands.)
Do Not Show Affection In Public: It’s surprising how many lists include a warning against men and women kissing, hugging, or groping each other in public. I hate it when they discriminate against breeders like that. But since every one of these entries always specifies man and woman, I guess us gay guys get a pass. Go for it.
Do Not Get Involved In Prostitution: Probably the biggest cultural no-no in Thailand is prostitution. The Thai people you come into contact with will all test you to ensure you are not violating this important part of the country’s moral code. The taxi driver at the airport will offer you a chance to not get involved in prostitution in Thailand. At least one employee at your hotel will offer you a chance to not get involved in prostitution in Thailand. Your hotel’s policy will offer you a chance to not get involved in prostitution in Thailand and charge you 400 if you screw up. Every old Thai guy standing on a corner around Patpong or along Sukhumvit will offer you a chance to not get involved in prostitution in Thailand. Every incredibly beautiful, statuesque woman standing along Sukhumvit will offer you a chance to not get involved in prostitution in Thailand. With him. And every bar you go to will offer you a chance to not get involved in prostitution in Thailand. Hopefully, you will behave like the majority of touri to the Kingdom and not get involved in prostitution many many times during your stay in Thailand.