Tips about Thailand
Thailand is renowned as a hospitable and tolerant nation. Like any country, Thailand has its own time-honored social customs and traditions. An understanding of these will give you a better appreciation of Thai culture – and help you to avoid misunderstandings or accidentally offending anyone. To get you started, here are our top tips about:
• The monarchy
• Social etiquette
Thailand has been a Kingdom since the birth of the nation in the 13th century and a constitutional monarchy since 1932. Accordingly, the Thais have a deep, traditional reverence for the Royal Family, and visitors should always be careful to show respect for Their Majesties the King, the Queen, and other members of the Royal Family. In a cinema, for example, the King’s Anthem is played and audiences, visitors included, are expected to stand. Should visitors be attending a public event at which a member of the Royal Family is presiding, the best guide as to how to behave is to observe the crowd and do as others do.
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Thailand is a devoutly Buddhist country in which more than 90% of the population professes and practices the faith. Due respect to Buddhism and its symbols, most especially Buddha statues, should be shown as a matter of simple good manners regardless of one’s own religious persuasion. The Thais themselves are respectful of other religions represented in the Kingdom, notably Christianity and Islam, and Thai law has several special sections concerning religious offenses. It is, for instance unlawful to commit any act likely to cause any offence to a religion within Thailand. Similarly, any person causing a disturbance at a religious assembly or gathering is liable to prosecution. For practical purposes, here are a few tips on what to do and what not to do when visiting religious places:
- Remove your shoes when entering a Buddhist chapel where religious images are enshrined. Do likewise when entering a mosque, for which permission should be asked, and don't enter when there is a religious gathering.
- Dress neatly and appropriately. Unsuitable attire includes sleeveless shirts and blouses, short skirts, shorts above the knees and hot pants. At a mosque, women should be well covered with long skirt or trousers, long-sleeved blouse buttoned to the neck, and a headscarf.
- Don’t touch a Buddhist monk if you are a woman. Monks are sworn to celibacy and are forbidden from even the slightest physical contact with a woman. Should a woman wish to give something to a monk, it should first be handed to a man for him to pass on. Alternatively, a monk may spread a piece of cloth in front of him on which a woman may place her gift.
- Don't climb up on a Buddha statue to take a photograph, or do anything that might show lack of respect. Every Buddha image, large or small, ruined or not, is regarded as a sacred object.
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The Thais are very sociable and tolerant towards visitors. At the same time they do have, as all people, accepted social codes of behavior. Although these customs are not as rigid as the conduct regarding the monarchy and religion, an awareness of them by foreigners is always appreciated, even expected in some rural areas where the old ways are more rigidly adhered to than in Bangkok. The following are a few points to keep in mind:
- Greeting: Thais do not shake hands when they greet one another; instead they press the palms of the hands together chest or chin-high and bow the head. The gesture is known as the wai. Generally, a younger person will wai an elder, who then returns the greeting. Also, in strict custom, the wai is held higher by a person greeting someone senior in rank or age. That, however, is a point, and a visitor who observes how Thais greet and tries to make a similar gesture will be appreciated.
- Head and feet: These are considered, respectively, to be figuratively as well as literally the highest and lowest parts of the body. Therefore, don’t touch anyone on the head, even in a friendly gesture. Moreover, as will be seen at social gatherings, younger people will try to keep their heads lower than those of their elders, and should they pass by they will bow their heads as a sign of respect. The same can also apply between people of lower and higher social rank. As for the feet, it is considered extremely rude to point to a person or an object with one's feet. When sitting opposite anyone, the feet should be tucked away.
- Displays of affection: Public displays of affection between men and women are traditionally frowned upon. Today, some Westernized Thai couples may be seen holding hands, mainly among the young in cosmopolitan Bangkok, but that is as far as it goes in polite society.
- Loss of temper: To lose one's temper, especially in public, is regarded as bad manners. Nor does it achieve anything, and one is far more likely to get what one wants by keeping a cool head concealing emotions. The best advice is always to keep a sense of humor, smile and look on the bright side of things.
- Form of address: Don't be offended if you are addressed by your first name. This is simply the normal Thai way, the given name being usually preceded by the universal title 'khun', which means Mr, Mrs, and Miss. As for Thai names, these are often quite long, so all Thais have nicknames. If you find yourself presented with a real tongue-twister of a name don't be afraid to ask politely for the shorter version. Also, don’t be offended if someone who knows little English calls out "Hey, you". This is not meant to be offensive, but rather a straightforward translation of the polite you in Thai. Also, Thais commonly great each other when meeting in the street with "Pai nai?" which means where are you going? Again, this is not impolite, and do they expect a literal response.
- 'Sanuk': This is a Thai word that defies translation, but means to have fun and can refer to everything that is enjoyable and gives a feeling of pleasure. It is widely used and is indicative of a culture that considers it would be a dull world if it was all work and no pleasure.
- 'Mai pen rai': Another characteristic Thai phrase which means never mind, it doesn’t matter. A concept well worth keeping in mind.
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- Visitors are advised to use only authorized transportation services (limousines, public taxis or buses) from Bangkok International Airport into the city and other areas. For full information, there is a Transport Service Counter located in the airport's passenger arrival hall. www.thaihotels.org
- For visitors needing assistance in finding accommodation, the Thai Hotel Association has information and a booking counter in the Arrival Hall. www.thaihotels.org
- Be wary of unauthorized and unsolicited persons offering their services as guides. Use only reliable licensed travel agents for guides or tours. Full information is available from the Association of Thai Travel Agents (ATTA) counters.
- General travel information may be obtained from the TAT counters in the Arrival Hall between 8.00 am 10.00 pm (Tel: 0 2523 8972-3).
- Visitors who are unfamiliar with their way around, or who cannot speak Thai are best advised to use their hotel's taxi service. Also, ask the hotel concierge to write your destination in Thai, as well as your hotel address so that taxi drivers are clear about where you want to go and where you'll be returning to. Alternatively, Bangkok’s Sky train elevated mass transit system, and MRTA Subway offers quick and easy access to major business, shopping and entertainment areas in the city.
- Travelers should observe common-sense precautions regarding their personal safety and that of their belongings. For example, it is unwise to make a public display of money or jewellery.
- Visitors planning to stay in the Kingdom for any length of time, are advised to notify their embassy in case of accident or if their family needs to be contacted. It is advisable to keep a photocopy of your passport in case of loss or theft.
- Penalties for drug-related offences in Thailand are very severe. Never get involved with drugs.
- Visitors requiring assistance relating to safety, unethical practices, or other tourist-related issues may contact the Tourist Police (Tel: 1155).
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There is more to shopping in Thailand than just acquiring a souvenir or two. A huge variety of buys, combined with creative design, quality workmanship and extremely competitive prices, make Thailand arguably the most rewarding shopping destination in Asia.
Whatever your shopping goals; luxury purchases, home decor items, a personal treasure or a truly distinctive gift, they will be fulfilled. And matching the variety of things to buy is the choice of where to shop, from sophisticated plazas and chic emporia to bustling bazaars and street stalls.
Recommended local items include Thai silk and cotton products, gems and Jewellery, antiques, Tailor-made clothing, designer fashions, ready-made sports and leisurewear, handicrafts, silverware, ceramics and woodcarvings.
Shopping is indeed a pleasure in Thailand, but to ensure it is a total joy it is worth keeping in mind some simple points.
- Bargaining: Fixed prices apply in department stores and some shops in Bangkok; otherwise, bargaining is acceptable, even expected. Generally, the price asked for can be reduced by 10%-40%. No hard and fast rules apply, but remember Thais appreciate good manners and a sense of humor and can be put off by loud voices and loss of temper. Patience and a smile are what count.
- Gems and jewellery: Remember there is no such thing as a bargain when buying gems or jewellery. If an offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Choose jewellery stores carefully and do compare prices from shop to shop.
- Woodcarvings: visitors returning to Australia should make sure any woodcarving they purchase is fumigated and certified as such, otherwise the item is liable to confiscation by the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQJS).
- Touts: Avoid touts or unsolicited new-found friends who offer to take you shopping. Stores give commissions to such people and the cost is reflected in the price you pay.
- Receipts: When purchasing gems, jewellery or other luxury items, obtain a receipt and check it is correct before leaving the shop.
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Many species of wildlife are threatened with extinction, their numbers declining at an ever-accelerating rate due to humankind’s insatiable greed to exploit nature to the limit. This sad situation will continue unabated unless every effort is made to check and hopefully reverse the trend. The only place where wild animals belong is in the wild, in their natural habitats, and both animals and the environment need to be protected.
- Do keep the environment clean. Rubbish thrown into the sea or discarded in the forest can be harmful, even deadly to creatures.
- Don’t purchase any souvenirs or other items that are made from animal products, such as turtle shells or ivory.
- Don’t purchase wild animals as pets, nor give support to animal owners who exploit wild creatures.
- Don’t patronize restaurants or businesses that specialize in serving wild animal meat. It is against the law of Thailand to slaughter wildlife for food.
- Do help us to better care for our wildlife and stop illegal activities by reporting any incidents to the National Park, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department on 0 2562 0760. www.dnp.go.th
Source: Tourism Authority of Thailand
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