Read This Tips Before Traveling to Thailand
This travel guide from vogue.com about Read This Tips Before Traveling to Thailand.
image by Photo: Alamy
With its powdery white-sand beaches, piquant cuisine, stunning cultural sites, and wealth of upscale accommodations, Thailand is no longer the travel purview of backpackers alone. Luxury seekers, too, have descended on this tropical nirvana, where the number of annual visitors tripled between 2000 and 2015, according to the Ministry of Tourism and Sports. But in a country where everything from the traffic patterns to the tableware feels jarringly foreign to Westerners, those who care about respecting local customs (and sidestepping egregious faux pas) may feel a bit intimidated.
To make matters murkier, the locals will likely smile beatifically whether you’re fitting in seamlessly or making gaffes galore: “You may have heard that Thailand is the Land of Smiles. It is definitely true,” says Paphaon Suwannathamma, an executive at Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai, a five-star resort set within a working rice farm. “Thai people keep smiling no matter if the situation is good or bad.”
While you may not be able to trust the usual social cues, translating your usually courteous persona to the other side of the world isn’t difficult; you need only follow a few key principles. Here, five rules for comporting yourself in paradise.
Approach temples with respect
With their ornate details and ribbons of incense smoke, Thailand’s dreamy, magnificent temples are often high on tourists’ to-do lists. But despite all the ink they get in guidebooks, it’s important to remember that the spaces are not attractions. “They’re places where one engages in spiritual practice,” Suwannathamma says. If you remain quiet and respect those who are there to pray or meditate, you’re already strides ahead of the stereotypical Western tourist.
Beyond that, there are customs outsiders are expected to observe, too. Don a skirt or pants that cover the knees and a shirt with sleeves. Shoes that are easy to slip off are also advisable, because temples (and other public spaces) often ask visitors to remove them just outside.
Upon entering, press your palms together and bow, Suwannathamma advises. “This is done as a symbol of the surrender of oneself and the desire to benefit all beings.” Calmly take a seat in front of the Buddha’s image or shrine, pointing your toes to the side; never point your finger or your feet toward the Buddha. And keep a safe distance from any monks you see (inside a temple or even out on the street), as they cannot touch women, even accidentally.
Mind the monarchy
In October, King Bhumibol Adulyadej died after a 70-year reign, triggering a year of nationwide mourning. “Almost all Thai people continue to wear black or other somber-colored clothes,” Suwannathamma notes. This doesn’t apply to tourists, but you’ll find you stand out less in subtle neutrals than in Spring’s waggish florals and dizzying neons. Offering your opinion or asking probing questions about locals’ views on the monarchy is always ill-advised, but especially amidst this yearlong show of reverence. “The topic is very sensitive,” Suwannathamma says. “And in short, tourists should always be respectful of the late king and the royal family.”
Keep your hands to yourself
“Some years ago, there was no touching between the sexes in public,” Suwannathamma says. “Times have changed somewhat, and it is now fairly common to see couples holding hands in public in the most modern urban areas.” That said, kissing and cuddling in public (including in dark restaurants, on park benches, and on public transportation, places where Americans might not think much of assuming a nuzzly head-on-shoulder pose) is unwise in Thai culture.
Trust your innkeepers
Whether you’re staying in an offbeat treetop Airbnb or at a five-diamond resort, your hosts will be happy to help you. “Here in Chiang Mai, the Lanna culture is very unique,” Suwannathamma notes. “We offer our Western guests help regarding Thai culture and etiquette.” For example, Four Seasons’s concierge desk shares the best times to visit a temple based on its schedule of associated activities. A good hotel will also help you settle on a fair fee for a tuk-tuk ride or suggest a reliable car service. (Uber and the similar service GrabCar are also available in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and Phuket, she notes.)
Go with the (literal) flow
In Thailand, “Sometimes things happen slower than guests are used to, and we recommend that they try to adapt to the slower pace of life,” Suwannathamma says. “Raising your voice and getting angry will get you nowhere.” Case in point: If you visit during Thailand’s legendary Songkran, aka Water Festival, happening April 13–15 every year, you may find yourself suddenly soaked by water-gun-toting merrymakers. Water-splashing is founded in a tradition of washing away bad luck and, believe it or not, showing respect, and it’s not uncommon for tourists to find themselves in the middle of fun-spirited water fights. “Above all, never resist or show anger against anyone celebrating the festival,” Suwannathamma says, “as this will be seen as an affront to Thai culture.” Simply make like the locals and take it all in with a smile—which, incidentally, is excellent advice for travel of all kinds.