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Your basic how to get along in Thailand guide. A more complete guide is Thailand a Traveler's Survival Guide, Lonely Planet books. Use this page at your own risk. Although effort is made to make this page usefull and accurate, no guarantee is implied or given.

Things actions and people in Thailand are often classified as sanuuk or not sanuuk(enjoyable or not). A great deal of effort is spent on making things sanuuk. People do not go the market or on an errand without a phüen or companion. To go alone is not sanuuk. Appearing mad frequently will get you classified as "not fun". In the U.S. the question, "Would you rather chase the cows or fix the fence?" is about efficiency. In Thailand the questions answer will often be evaluated for sanuuk. Which is more fun? It is important however to realize that making money is sometimes, "fun".

  • The smile.

If you have a problem in Thailand and want a solution, smile. Frowning is frowned upon, so to speak. Similarly, the tenser a situation gets the more important it is to lower your voice and show you are in control. The combination of a quiet voice and smile will almost always get what you want or need. Loud frowns never do in Thailand. If you get loud you will get ignored. Thailand is the "Land of Smiles". If you smile because you are mad, they will be able to read it. If you forget to smile when you get mad, don't try to change the system, just start to smile. It is a great skill to have.

  • King and country

Thai’s treat their king and country seriously. The king especially. It is best to stay away from talking about the King. It is a very bad idea to ridicule or criticize him or his family in any way. His picture appears on money, it should not be treated disrespectfully. If it is blowing away on the street don't step on it.

  • Bargaining

This is changing somewhat. There are more marked prices than everbefore, but: Unless there is a marked price, prices are negotiable. In my experience not bargaining is the best way to insure poor treatment as well. It's as if pleasant bargaining shows you are a good human, just a non speaker of Thai. Bargain with cab drivers unless there is a meter. If cabs in the city you are in all have meters, use them. If there is bargaining and you want the meter, the word for meter is "meter". If you feel guilty about the low fares, tip. Not everything is cheap in Thailand. Meat is expensive. So is technology. Film is expensive ( guess you can tell how long ago this document was started). Gasoline and energy are expensive. Definitely bring videotapes or slide film if you need them. It is probably better to get memory cards and other media in the US if you buy from inexpensive sources, but they can be found cheap in Thailand. Labor and vegetables are cheap. So are most forms of transportation.

  • Taxi

Ask for a price from all cab drivers before you get in unless they have a meter. Write it on paper if you have to, just make sure you both know the fare and agree to it. Tolls are not included in fares. Even if someone gives you an outrageous price, smile and make a reasonable offer. If the fare from Wat Pho to Mah Boong Krong should be 100 Baht and the driver says 250 Baht, Just tell them 100 Baht smiling. Usually they won't give you a counter offer that is much better. I assume this is a face saving thing. Just smile and ask a different cab. Often the second cab will see the first leaving and offer a better fare unless the second cab sees a frown or loud conversation, something not Sanuk, not fun. Don't leave anything in a cab, be careful about this. However, do not assume that all cab drivers are dishonest. Generally I have found taxi cab drivers to be very helpful. I have not had such good experiences with TukTuks?,,,

  • Tuk Tuks, Tuk Tuks (Sounds like took took but with a very short vowel length) are 3 wheeled cabs. They are only reasonable for short distances. The drivers of these noisy contraptions tend to be poorer and to me seem less honest than cab drivers. Have exact change. Don't let a restaurant hail one for you, although getting one hailed at a fancy hotel is probably worth while.
  • Getting around.

If at all possible get your hotels name and address on a business card and get someone to teach you how to say the hotel name. This can be of great help late at night. Make sure buses and other forms of transportation actually go where you want to. Often several bus routes travel the same stretch of road. Just because you got off a bus going one way does not mean that the bus going the other way gets you to where you started.

If you get a chance take a local bus or a song taew (pickup with two rows of seats). If you value your skin, try to stay off motorcycles. The Blue bus from Korat to Dankwean is very colorful.

In Bangkok do as much as you can on the river express boats and elevated rapid transit system. Avoid cabs especially during rush hour.

  • `Baht (this needs editing)

There are about thirty three Baht to a Dollar 2017. A baht is worth about three cents . nine Baht to a quarter. 100 Baht note is $3.30 . A $500 Baht note is about $15.10. A Satang is 1/100 of a Baht. A salung I think is 25 Satang. 1 salung is 2 bits of a baht.

  • Ahaan (food)

Eat what is fresh cooked. Do not eat grilled chicken you see for sale on the street. It usually has been around a while. This seems especially true in Bus terminals, but I am sure there are delicious exceptions. Thai food in Thailand is in general safer than foreign food in Thailand. Be ware of any source of protein served on the street but don't starve. Avoid places that sell curry kept in steam trays unless they are doing a brisque (sp) business. If you have a question about a protein source, go vegetarian or eat eggs .

  • Restaurants

I prefer inexpensive limited menu restaurants, fried rice and noodle places. Often the food is incredible, the people are excited to have you eat there. The food tends to be lower in calories and healthier than high end rich food. Choose restaurants that are busy, not empty.

Restaurants are mostly not used to everyone ordering for themselves in Thailand. They are used to having one person order a variety of foods for the table. Inexpensive restaurants serve individual plates. Thai restaurants are generally not used to "no salt", "no sugar" or other dietary restrictions. When they do understand they are generally very understanding. If you have dietary restrictions get a Thai to write down your restrictions for you. Be specific. Severe food allergies brought on by small quantities of certain foods are likely to be a problem in Thailand if the food is ubiquitous such as sea-food.

As more Thais develop high blood pressure and cholesterol problems restrictive diets are becoming more common place and more understood. Avoidance of all salt is difficult. Pure vegetarian food can be equally difficult unless you find the vegan restaurants. มังสวิรัติ is formal for vegetarian.Print it out if you need it. เจ is short enough that you could learn to write it. Start with the circles and get them on the right side of what they connect to.

  • Nam’

On the road walking around drink bottled water or soda. If you can handle milk the UHT cartons of milk can be very good. Thai Danish Dairy milk is excellent quality as is Foremost and several other brands. Avoid bottled milk sold on the street. Many hotels have drinking water. You can fill up there or buy bottled on the road. Hotels have self-interest in not having loads of sick guests; you should be able to trust water they call good for drinking. It is very important to drink enough water. People will offer you water. I believe it is better to drink when offered than to assume that it's bad and get dehydrated. Beer may be better than nothing, but alcohol will dehydrate you. Sodas are often served in plastic bags with straws. (less common now) This is because bottles still carry a deposit in Thailand. It uses less plastic than disposables. Do not drink from the tap, but in some places it might be safe. In the end I don't know of anyone getting sick where it was attributed to the water in Thailand, but I am sure it happens. I often use the water boiling pots in rooms to prep water the night before and refill my bottles.

Some restaurants serve colored water, historically colored by boiling with tea or herbs, sometimes pandus leaf. This coloring is to mark the water as boiled and safe for drinking. Usually the amount of tea used is negligible.

Often hotels will have hot water pots in your room. You can boil a pot full every night to drink the next day, but bottled water is available almost everywhere. You can easily purchase 4 quarts for less than 1$ per day. It should be seen as a cost of living in Thailand. When water is available drink.

The quick advice. Drink water. But drink good water.

  • Beer. Whiskey.

Beer has gotten cheaper in the last three decades in Thailand. Whiskey with water and ice is a common drink. People nurse drinks. It is often better to say yes and drink only a sip if you don't want a drink. Getting drunk in a foreign country where you are obviously an outsider and are unfamiliar with the customs is a bad idea. Recreation drugs are a big mistake; think "dirty prison cell with a bunch of inmates that don't speak your language and mosquitos". Be smart.

  • Illness

If you get sick, let your fellow travelers know even if late at night. If you think you might be coming down with food poisoning drink some water right away. When you do get sick the water will help your body get rid of the bad food. Get some rehydration drink from a pharmacy or ask someone to do it for you(ask your doctor first). It will not cure your food poisoning but will help keep your electrolytes in balance and make you feel better quickly. Lomotil, or Imodium may be great for being on a bus but I don’t think they will speed your recovery especially from bacterial troubles. If you do get sick and want to talk to someone you can know and trust it is good to have the phone number of your doctor back home. Usually if you tell a doctors receptionist that you are calling from Thailand they will put the doctor right on. Big regional hospitals are good and cheap. For example, in 2019 I had an abscess removed surgically (outpatient) at the big expensive hospital in Korat, and got two antibiotics for $55 US. It was walk-in and fast. Getting the wound cleaned was only a few dollars each day.

  • Medicine

Bring your prescription drugs with you and any over the counter drugs you think you might need. Also bring a list of the generic names for the drugs. Acetaminophen (sp) the generic can be looked up, Tylenol might be hard to find. Very new drugs are hard to get in Thailand, as are very expensive ones. Many others can be had cheaply over the counter with no prescriptions. Most pharmacists speak some English. All seem to read it. They have been very helpful. Have the phone number of your personal physician in the US. There is a great pharmacy connected to Chulalongkorn University across from Mah Boon Krong near Siam Square in Bangkok (its on Phaholyothin Road). There is almost always someone there who speaks good English.

  • Yung

Use mosquito repellant and bring your own with you. It generally eats some plastics so wrap it in polyethylene bags in case it leaks. Small bottles of concentrate are easiest to carry. It may not be necessary in December as it is usually dry. But if you need it, you need it. Mosquitos are carriers of Dengue Fever, and malaria. They are especially a problem during the rainy season, but the best protection from these diseases seems to be to avoid being bitten. There are new repellants without DEET. They have had mixed reports. The worst mosquitos for disease bite near dawn and dusk.

  • Snakes

Avoid messing around in the brush or other places where snakes might exist. Keep your hands out of holes in the ground, don't just climb into abandoned kilns without looking first. If you get bit, get a description of the snake if possible and write it down. Seek immediate medical assistance. Snakes in Thailand are exceedingly dangerous.

  • Safety

Thailand is generally very safe. It is unlikely that anything violent will happen. Violent crime is rare. Its my opinion that walking down the street in New York is about as hazardous as anything gets in Thailand, but, you should be careful at night in secluded places.

  • Theft

Theft is frequent in Thailand, but not violent theft. Things are stolen quietly. Do not flaunt your money. Don't keep large amounts of cash in a visible part of a wallet. Transfer money as you need it from a cache to your wallet. Keeping a bit of money in a secluded spot on your person in case of theft is a good idea. If you are bringing a fancy camera, try to have a less fancy case. Maybe a piece of duct tape on the camera will make it a less inviting target. Do not leave your credit cards in a hotel safe. If you can avoid it don't bring anything that needs that kind of safekeeping. Safe as Thailand is, do not accept food from strangers on public transporation.

  • Care of Feet

During the cool season care of feet is not as much an issue as during the hot. The ground in Thailand is dirty and feet should be kept clean and dry. I would avoid walking on the earth barefoot. It is a good idea to make sure your feet stay dry and that you air your shoes overnight in as dry a place as you can. Cuts and scrapes on the feet should be kept meticulously clean as they get infected easily. Any infection of the foot or deep wound to the foot should be examined by a doctor quickly.

  • Thai Language.

A portion of my dictionary of Thai pottery vocabulary is located here: More important than the dictionary is the pronunciation guide. Some parts of Thai transliteration are not very intuitive. Ph is pronounced as P, Th as T, T is pronounced like the middle t in tortilla, that is more like an explosive d. Getting an idea of how to pronounce place names will help you learn Thai pronunciation. The most important part of a Thai word is the vowel and initial consonant. The final consonant is barely voiced. Getting dipthongs and vowel sounds accurate is key to being understood.

It is very possible to get around Thailand without speaking Thai, but even a smattering of Thai words will make you look like you are trying and people will think you are more sanuuk. A survival Thai guide for those interested is located at: | A great site for Language Materials Another place is

  • Drugs:

Don't do illegal drugs in Thailand, don't transport them, get away from them. Thai jail does not sound like fun. I strongly suggest that visitors to Thailand no make themselves into high profile drug cases.

  • Respect.

Buddha. Do not sit on images of the Buddha or on stands designed for images to be placed on. Avoid pointing at images, or people for that matter. If you have to point use an open hand rather than a finger. It is a good idea to read up on Buddhist philosophy before going to Thailand. It explains much of what you will see. If you are looking for a video to show children try "Little Buddha". It is enjoyable and does a good job of introducing Buddhism.

Some temples require sleeved shirts long pants or long skirts and no backless shoes. Wat Phra Keow in Bangkok requires modest dress, shoes, and covered legs, no sleeveless shirts. During my last visit they lent skirts, and loose pants to visitors. It eats a lot of time to pick these up and return them. It is easier to come prepared.

Heads. Don't touch people's heads. Heads are sort of opposites of feet (see below).

Feet. Don't sit with your feet crossed in temples. This will point the sole of your foot at someone. Its similar to giving someone the finger. The sole is the lowest part of the body and not very clean. In temples you can kneel with your feet pointing back, or if this is not comfortable on your bottom but with your feet to the side and pointing back.

Mouth. Don't pick your teeth in public. You can use a toothpick but it is more polite to hold your other hand in front of your mouth while you do this.

Nose. Nose picking is not as big a problem in Thai culture as in the U.S. So, if you are going to pick your teeth, pick your nose instead. Go ahead and use your middle finger they don't have the middle finger thing, but keep your feet on the floor while you do it.

  • Museum Prices.

Entrance fees are higher for foreigners than for Thais. If we can afford a plane ticket we can drop a few bucks to help maintain the Grand Palace and Phimai. A Thai rice farmer should be able to see these national treasures. This used to bother me before I got a clue. I am embarrassed by my former attitude.

I am told that really short sleeves or shorts on women will impact how people treat you even outside temples. Judging from how people in Thailand deal with me when I appear "poorly dressed" I can only assume that this is true. I try to "step up my game" a little with how I dress in Thailand.

Hotel Sheets. Hotel sheets only get changed when the guest changes or if the stay is very long. The same is true of towels if they are provided. Large modern "Western" hotels may follow western norms.

Clay. Outside of Chiang Mai expect the clay to be sticky and sandy. Using the Western center and open routine expect the rims to crack unless great care is taken keeping the rim compressed. Be careful not to get loose clothing stuck in the belts that run power wheels. If a factory owner does not want pictures taken please respect it. Most glaze recipes are secret.

Gifts. If you bring gifts for people be careful. Giving a gift to a poor person can make them feel obligated to return a gift. I have received gifts costing a full days wages from people who could not afford them. A hat from your school, something local, is good. On the other side of this, visiting former teachers seems to require a gift. There is a great respect for educators.

The Wai. In the West men shake hands when they meet, women often do. In Thailand Thai's will often want to shake hands with you. This relieves the need to bring ones hands together in the "Wai" greeting. Between equals this is accomplished by placing your palms together with your fingers pointing up and bringing your hands to below your nose. Much like in the military your relative status (rank) indicates how you wai and who wais first. In Thailand this status is a conglomeration of age, economic, political, and type of job. Being a foreigner gives an assumption of wealth, but as foreigners we do not fit into the ranking well. Thais will in general not wai Westerners( might be changing somewhat). This is not a sign of disrespect, its just we don't fit well into the system. This seems to be changing, but it may just be that now that I speak more Thai I fit the system better. Friends often leave this off. The same thing is true of people in small villages. Smiling is more important in Thailand than the "wai".

The Wai seems not to fit the North American system of equal treatment, but in fact we do not treat all equally. People with money get called 'sir' far more often than the garbage collector. Our parent's friends are Mr. and Mrs. where our age peers are often not. We are just not as systematic about it. Chill.

  • Troubles

Whose problem is it? If someone is stepping on your toe you can take numerous courses of action:

  1. Say in a loud voice, " Hey Dude get your foot off mine".
  2. Ignore your pain.
  3. Wince and try to ignore your pain
  4. Pull your foot out from under the other's foot.
  5. Pull your foot out and quietly tell the "Dude" that he mistakenly hurt your foot. Smile while you are doing it.

No society uses only one of these methods. The first might or might not get the job done, but if it does, it may produce lasting effects. Maybe "Dude" won't step on your toe again. It does however make ripples in the atmosphere of "getting along". The second does not produce any temporary or lasting relief. The weight of it is solely on your foot. The third, showing your pain is decidedly not Thai, It shows you are not able to "Mai Pen Rai" or mobilize your "It does not matter" attitude. Pulling your foot out may not produce lasting results, but does temporarily eliminate the problem. Keeping your feet out of range of "Dude" after pulling it out from under him seems to be the Thai way. In the end it is no better than number 1, It just stresses different relative values. Getting obviously mad about someone treading on you is not good unless you get mad in a quiet way with a smile on your face.

  • The News

Reading English language newspapers to get a sense of what is happening in Thailand is difficult. The western papers produce short pieces that make too many cultural assumptions leading to incorrect conclusions. The Thai papers like the Western counterparts are often biased and without a good sense of the context you can develop wrong impressions. It is even more important to find both sides of an issue if you want to understand what is happening in different culture.

  • Spect! Circum and Re .

Thailand is an amazing country with amazing people. It is worthy of respect. Cultures, like people come as wholes. You may not like something, or think that something needs reform or change, but despite everything progress in Thailand is palpable and amazing. Violence is low. People will generally treat you with a smile and comply with any modest demand made in a polite way. If you are in trouble, in general, people will help. Until you really understand something try not to pass judgement. Sure there are things that need changing. What is this different then anywhere else? Have fun, smile, learn, eat, buy, and most important meet people and make friends.


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Page last modified on October 24, 2022, at 10:36 AM