After spending months in Thailand, I started to compile a list of things that I thought would help anyone planning a trip to this amazing country. This list will help ease the culture shock and prepare you for what to expect on your first Thai holiday.
So, here are your forty new things to know about Thailand:
1. Same Same But Different.
You’ll hear this phrase everywhere from locals and tourists alike. It’s a running joke for many tourists in Thailand. Learn to love it!
2. Covers of all your favorite songs.
A lot of times you’ll hear covers of songs, not the originals. I have no idea why this is, but most songs I’ve heard out and about in Thailand were slight variations from the originals. They still sound nice, but they’re usually more downtempo and with a mystery singer. It’s “same same, but different.”
3. You take your shoes off everywhere.
Before going into temples, stores, hostels, hotels, and even on sleeper buses, you’ll most likely be taking off your shoes. Think about this before lacing up your sneakers, as sandals make things much easier. Please be courteous to Thai customs and follow suit.
4. Many people are trying to hustle you.
From misleading information, taxi and ‘tuk-tuk’ drivers, to street vendors; people will try to take advantage of tourists. It’s not always extremely obvious, but it happens everywhere.
In Phuket alone:
-Each night there are tons of prostitutes lined up on the street.
-People are promised a ‘free’ ping-pong show with the purchase of a drink, then once inside they’re charged 900+ baht ($30 USD) for a single beer.
-I’ve witnessed countless shot girls approach tourists challenging them to a small game, winner buys the other a shot. Tourists almost always lose because these girls are taught how to win. It’s what they do.
My word of advice: If it seems fishy or too good to be true, it is.
5. There is trash everywhere.
It’s very common in Southeast Asia for people to just throw their trash onto the street. There are some very beautiful areas, but don’t expect postcard worthy pictures everywhere.
6. Do yourself a favor and keep bug spray handy.
If you’re prone to bug bites, the mosquitoes in some areas will eat you alive.
7. KFC is EVERYWHERE.
One of the most surprising things I’ve noticed is that people here love their fried chicken. There are just as many KFC’s around as there are McDonald’s – possibly more! Who knew Thai people loved the colonel so much?
8. If you're staying outside of the city, expect to be surrounded by the sounds of nature.
Birds, frogs, geckos, and bugs are frequently heard when staying in bungalows. I find it relaxing, but it’s not for everyone.
9. You could hear mosques go off multiple times a day.
Though the main religion in Thailand is Buddhism, you can also expect to find people who practice Islam. There are mosques scattered throughout the country, so don’t be surprised if your accommodation is located near one. Multiple times a day you could hear a “call to prayer” coming from the building, sometimes projected from loudspeakers. I’ve personally come to love the sounds of the mosques. It adds to the environment’s setting.
10. Thai bathrooms.
Okay, let’s talk for a minute. Thai bathrooms are very different from Western bathrooms. The pipes here cannot handle toilet paper, so the only things flushed are number 1 and 2. Stalls normally have a Bum Gun which is basically a hose to clean yourself with. If you’re lucky, toilet paper is provided to dry yourself with, but it gets thrown away in the trash bin, not the toilet.
Some restrooms however, do not have flushing toilets. You’ll then find a bucket filled with water and another smaller bucket near the toilet. When you’re done with your business, fill the small bucket with water and pour it into the toilet until your waste is gone.
Yea, it’s different. You’re never promised toilet paper, so I’d recommend keeping wet-wipes or toilet paper handy.
11. The napkins you're given when eating out are very thin and small.
Messy eaters: You’ve been warned.
12. These mobile phone apps will make your life easier:
Grab – Same thing as Uber. Very cheap, convenient, and you don’t have to haggle with taxi drivers. However, because of some discrepancies with taxis, Grabs are not allowed to go everywhere. Being dropped off a little further than your destination is common.
Food Panda – Food delivery service throughout Thailand. Similar to Uber Eats, DoorDash, or Grub Hub.
13. Stray cats and dogs frequently roam the streets.
Some places have more cats while others have more dogs. Many local businesses ‘adopt’ certain strays and make them their own. Most of them are harmless, so if you’re burning with desire to pet or feed them, use your best judgement.
14. Scooters are the fastest mode of transportation, so they're everywhere.
When it comes to motorbikes, it’s every man for themselves. They don’t seem to follow any road rules, swerving in and out of traffic as they please. It’s organized chaos. If you chose to rent one:
BE CAREFUL AND WEAR A HELMET.
It’s extremely dangerous. I’ve seen many tourists bandaged and hurt because of motorbike accidents.
15. You can get ticketed on a motorbike.
Cops can give you a ticket for driving a motorbike without an international / scooter license. Try to avoid driving in highly populated areas.
16. It's customary for hotels and hostels to hold on to your passport during your stay.
Don’t freak out, you’ll get it back once you check out. It’s collateral in case you set the place on fire. And if you’re staying at a party hostel, consider it a favor. One less thing you can lose while you’re drunk!
17. Good luck finding:
– Ranch dressing
– Hair ties
– Bed sheets
18. Don't leave your debit card in an ATM machine.
ATM machines will first give you your cash, then your card. Many people take their cash and leave their card behind. Don’t make this mistake!
19. It's very easy to get from place to place.
You can book taxis, shuttle vans, and ferries at almost all accommodations. There are also tons of places on the street that can book transport for you. Most transfers will normally pick you up at your hotel and drop you at your next one.
20. The pictures you see on restaurant menus are not pictures of the actual dish you are ordering.
Don’t be fooled. They’re more like “stock photos” or visual descriptions. Remember this when ordering! Certain dishes can be prepared many different ways, so things that look good in pictures could end up hit or miss.
21. The "sticker system" is used when transferring people from one place to another.
What the heck does this mean?
You’re leaving one city and bought a ticket for the ferry to take you to your next destination. In the morning of your departure, your shuttle van will arrive at your hotel, your driver will put a small sticker on your shirt with the name of your destination, and you’ll hop in the shuttle. When your shuttle gets to the pier, someone working will push you onto the correct ferry based on what the sticker on your shirt says. For long days with multiple transfers you’ll accumulate a few different stickers.
It seems sketchy to move people with stickers, but it works.
Sometimes you’re dropped off at crusty bus stations and told to wait a bit before changing to another vehicle. Don’t stress if it’s been a while and you’re afraid you’ve missed a transfer. It’s common to wait a bit and for things to run a little late. When you are getting off a ferry, it can also be confusing to find the right shuttle that’s taking you to your accommodation.
It is very common to feel confused the entire day.
Don’t sweat it too much. People always seem to move you in the right direction.
22. The drivers here are crazy.
Very fast, reckless, and always honking their horns.
23. I'd trust locals on scooters before tourists.
They’re fast and a bit reckless, but they are very good on scooters. They’ve grown up doing this. If you can avoid driving yourself and can catch a ride with a local, do it.
24. Don't mention the king.
25. Thai people are extremely friendly.
Even walking around alone at night, I’ve never felt unsafe here.
26. Don't give Thai bar staff any trouble.
Though they are very friendly, don’t think you can start a fight here and get away with it. They’re extremely prideful people and will not take your shit. I’ve witnessed a glass mug shattered on a tourist’s head and multiple staff members jumping one person. You will not win, so don’t be a drunk idiot.
27. Most of the beaches have rocks on the sea floor.
When you’re swimming in the ocean be careful not to cut yourself on the rocks.
28. You're going to get slower food service than you would in the states.
You normally have to flag staff down and ask for things that you need (and always for the check!)
29. You'll be lucky if you find air conditioning.
Many places don’t have air conditioning and use either ceiling fans, electric fans, or nothing at all. I recommend purchasing a small paper fan you can bring everywhere with you. It comes in handy.
30. Thailand is a big party country.
Almost every city or island you visit has a big party scene.
31. Please don't ride the elephants.
Elephants don’t naturally just let people ride them. They are beaten and abused in order to ‘break their spirit’ into submission. There are Elephant Sanctuaries that you can visit instead that still allow you to spend time and have memorable experiences with these creatures. Don’t support Elephant abuse! Don’t ride the elephants.
32. Your shoulders and knees will need to be covered to enter most temples.
Many of the bigger temples will offer cover ups for a small charge.
33. Tuk-tuks are the small "cabs" that will be taking you around the city.
Some of them will try to rip you off by saying “The temple is closed today,” or will offer to take you on a “tour” of local shops that they get paid to take tourists too. Don’t fall for this!
34. Get used to eating without a knife.
Most restaurants will only give you a fork and spoon.
35. It seems like everything is under construction.
I constantly heard banging sounds at almost every hostel I stayed at throughout the country. Bring earplugs!
36. Most restaurants will have Wifi.
They tend to post the login information either on a condiment somewhere on your table or on the walls.
37. Your headphones can't be in your ears when taking off or landing during a flight.
I’m not sure why this is different in Asian countries, but you cannot be listening to music on a plane when taking off or landing.
38. Expect to see a lot of elephant pants.
Owning elephant pants is a staple of having visited Thailand. You’ll see them everywhere and you shouldn’t pay more than 100 baht (around $3 USD) for them.
39. Lady boys are thing.
It’s very common for the ladies in Thailand to not actually be ladies. You’ll probably notice many lady boys throughout your visit.
Tipping in Thailand is not required but appreciated. These are standard practices for tipping:
Restaurants – Leave behind any loose change or 10% of the bill.
Hotels – Leave 20 – 50 baht for anyone carrying your bags or 20 baht under your pillow for housekeeping.
Bartenders – Not required and many will return your change. But if you leave a small amount after your first drink you will get better service.
Street food vendors – No need to tip. They will look at you confused and return your change.
Tuk-Tuk drivers – Always negotiate the price before jumping in a tuk-tuk. There’s no need to tip once you’ve agreed on a price.