Cultural Differences And Traveller’s Tips – Thailand

One of my readers asked me about cultural differences in Thailand, from the perspective of a westerner staying in Thailand for an extended period. My reader who is I’m guessing a teenager, is going to be staying in Thailand for a year on an exchange program.


This is our conversation :

Reader: You live in Thailand? Can you please tell me what it is like there! I have to go for my exchange year in August until June 2015 but I have no clue what it’s like

Don Charisma: Well you are in for a treat, it’s warm, the food is great, the people are generally pretty happy … it’s quite green place plenty of trees and green areas … I was a little worried about various things before I came here, but I think most of it, I was just wrong about … did I cover everything ?

Reader: Haha almost. Two more questions. How are younger people treated in stores and is there anything I shouldn’t do for the year I’m there? I’m talking things that could offend quite highly. Travelers tips so to speak

Don Charisma: LOL, yes it’s hard to know what others might want to know, so thanks for saying …

You will often find that outsiders get charged higher prices for things, in anything apart from shopping malls. So be prepared for this. It’s impossible to stop it happening, the best advice I can give you is be polite, learn some pleasantries in Thai and use them. The Thai’s will like you a lot more if you smile, and try to speak a little of their language. Sawadeecarb means essentially “hello”, Cop-Khun-Carb means thankyou. For males, females have to say it differently – Sawadeecar for “Hello” and Cop-Khun-car for thankyou.

Also you will rarely be able to return something if you don’t want it, it breaks or any other reason. ALWAYS THINK CAREFULLY before you put money into someone else’s had. Once you’ve given it, well good luck trying to get a refund !

I always carry small bills. I make a point of buying small things in 7-11 and keep on stocking up with change, do this in “respectable” places. It’s best to carry exact money for anything that your paying for. So my wallet will have lots of 20 baht and 100 baht notes, a few 500 baht and even fewer 1000 baht. I always save the 10 baht coins to use on the bus. When you arrive, start changing money into smaller sizes at your first opportunity. Why ? Well people can be tricky, give wrong change, not want to give you change if you pay large note and then hard to argue with them. If you give them the correct money, then harder for them to try and trick you.

You’ll get away with a lot in Thailand by smiling …

As for things that might offend well that’s a long topic, suggest some research into cultural differences and respect the Thai culture. There are many trashy people, but there are also a lot of good people who try to live with virtue.

So be careful not to show anger in public, make sure you have a very good reason if you are. And then try to keep smiling, try to be patient and assertive. Getting angry with people could land you in mess.

They are very very protective of the royal family. So I’d suggest don’t do or say anything disrespectful towards the royal family.

Again there are very many good and lovely Thai people. But there are also crooks, swindlers and thieves. Theses people exist in every country I’ve been to, so not just advice about Thailand. So be aware of what people’s motives are, if it’s a small amount of money, then sometimes it makes sense to just pay it and get out of the situation. Usually if I feel uncomfortable in the situation, then it means that there’s something crooked or manipulative going on. I just do my best to get out of that situation as soon as possible, and mark it down as a learning, so I can avoid in future …

My preference is to dress humbly, t-shirt and shorts (or jeans), often not new. I often carry a small backpack which is used and worn. Try to make yourself blend in, but not over the top with flowery shirts and “traditional” Thai dress. Just look like an ordinary, not very affluent westerner. Within that don’t be scruffy, still take care of your appearance, but the point is to look not that wealthy even if you are.

The Thais are odd about public affection, so be cautious about body language and touching Thais in public. Also the head is the most sacred part of a Thais body, so again use caution touching Thais heads.

Ok, so that’s all I can think of, there’s plenty more, have a hunt around on Google for cultural differences 🙂

Warm regards

Don Charisma

It’s not a definitive, complete guide to cultural differences or living in Thailand, but I few things I thought my reader might find useful. And now I share with you too 🙂

The above photo is the Thai king. As mentioned above, the royal family are held pretty much sacred – so DO NOT disrespect the royal family, you can be arrested, fined and/or jailed I think for doing so.

Respect local laws and cultural differences and Thailand is an enjoyable fun place to visit.

Obviously do your own research and due diligence elsewhere. Also note there are some political troubles currently in Bangkok, so worth informing yourself prior to travelling. Don’t take my word for it !

Warm regards

Don Charisma

45 thoughts on “Cultural Differences And Traveller’s Tips – Thailand

  1. What an informative article, and I bet many people will find this post useful, whether traveling in Thailand or other places. Your emphasis on being respectful and observing local customs is a great idea. I bet your young friend makes good use of your hints. That he would ask is a measure of his respect for you and for the place he intends to visit.

    1. Thanks hun, I said to someone else, I wish that someone had told me all this before travelling … I probably have gleaned a little along the way from other decent people … I hope that my young friend will have a safe and pleasant stay … certainly I’ve left plenty to learn !

  2. I just got back from Bhutan and the bit you mentioned about the royal family is so true for Bhutan too. In India, that level of love or dedication/loyalty to any leader is invariably condescended upon as sycophancy. In Bhutan though it didn’t seem like that at all. Cultural connotations are so fascinating. Thanks for this blog!

    1. For sure, from an outside perspective it can seem as sycophancy, but need to respect local traditions and culture … you are welcome 🙂

      I’ve never been in Bhutan, so don’t know what that’s like …

    1. Thanks, and you are welcome hun … I’ve always felt it worth learning a little of other cultures, a little bit of language, it helps with rapport and relationships 🙂

  3. Wonderful and useful tips! I wish I read these before I travelled to Thailand a few years ago. However, I think sometimes you can’t be too well prepared, and usually the fun part is discovering things as you’re in a new place, whether travelling there or living there for a while! Thanks for sharing! 🙂

  4. The head thing … that so much so. I’d never heard that before, and patted the head of a friend in public. She, though Thai, is a long-term friend that I met while she was living in the US, so she understood and had nothing wrong with it. The twenty or so Thais surrounding us, however, freaked the heck out!

    Never did THAT again.

    1. I rescued this from spam queue, so sorry for late reply 🙂

      And yes very much, best pay attention, but I also found most thais quite flexible if one makes a mistake, so there is give and take 🙂

      1. Wasn’t so much dirty as absolute shock and a bit horrified. I think they thought my friend would be enraged over it, but she lived close to 10 years in the US, so … not so much. 😀

    1. Thanks Phil, you should if you get the chance … had a chance to look into the instagram thing, and I can only upload photos from my mobile devices, so wouldn’t really work for me, as I edit eveything on my PC … I do listen to what people say to me !

  5. I’ve been here in Thailand for 15 years now and I think that’s pretty well said Don 🙂 I would say Thailand is a very easy-going country in most parts. Just go with the flow kind of lifestyle ya know? 😉

  6. I would say that Thailand is a very easy country to stay in for a while. I’m sure that there are issues and problems and as a long-term expat you get to see some of the rougher sides and get first-hand experience with some of the challenges, but it’s pretty smooth sailing.

    Leave a whitie somewhere on the African countryside and you got yourself an insane culture shock experience when everyday life kicks in. Thailand, not so much.

    I will never forget the despair I felt in certain parts of India. I honestly just wanted to sit down in the middle of the road and howl: “I wanna go hoooooooome!” Not for me, in other words. But I never, ever felt that way in Thailand.

    1. Yes, I don’t get homesick that often in Thailand, there have been some unenjoyable moments, but the happiness the rest of the time entirely makes up for it 🙂

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