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On the net you can find countless articles with “Things to do in Thailand”. Today we turn the tables and explain what you should avoid or not do in Thailand. Because especially in this country you can easily commit a blunder.

Thailand: 12 no-gos you should avoid

Of course, as a Thailand newbie, you can not know everything right away. After all, you come from a completely different world and Southeast Asia may be uncharted territory for you. Most things are usually avoided with common sense. But there is one or the other point that you as a newbie just can not know yet.


1. Elephant riding and other animal attractions

For many visitors to Asia it is one of the attractions par excellence: to ride on the back of an elephant. But did you know that many of these animals are likely to be tormented and humiliated for years to do that? Apart from that, it is not healthy for the elephant. Admittedly, we did that on our very first trip to Thailand in 2012. Completely naive and unaware. Today we definitely advise against it all.

In a nutshell: just skip it and do not support such a thing! Incidentally, this also applies to other animal attractions such as tiger or monkey shows.

Elephant riding on Koh Samui

If you want to visit elephants, then do it in camps where the animals are treated well and lovingly. Tips can be found at Expert Vagabond.

2. Taking drugs

Drugs are generally not good and especially in countries like Thailand the penalties are considerably higher than in Western countries. In some cases, this can even go as far as imprisonment and in extreme cases up to the death penalty.

Nonetheless, you will still be offered drugs in many tourist resorts. Especially in popular party locations such as Phuket, Koh Samui or Koh Phangan it happens more often. You should not buy from dubious street vendors under any circumstances. It may happen that they work with the police, you get caught and have to pay very high amounts of money. Everything already happened.

Just stay with your beer or SangSom and enjoy the time! Let’s move on to the next point…

3. Driving carelessly or drunk

When scooter driving in Southeast Asia, there are many things to consider. In addition to traffic and bad roads, drunk driving is probably one of the most common causes of accidents.

If you do not feel safe on the scooter and are not sure about it, then just leave it. For a lot of people learning by doing also applies to a certain extent. However, an island like Koh Samui, for example, where there is a lot of traffic in some places, is clearly the wrong choice for it. And if you really want to ride scooters, please be careful and do not overestimate yourself. Especially with the speed!

You’ll find more information soon in English in our article on scooter driving in Thailand.

It is also self-evident that you should not drive drunk. Too often we see tourists being drunk, getting on the scooter and driving self-confidently at a minimum speed of 70 km/h. This can quickly end up very bad.

4. Not respecting the religion

The main religion in Thailand is Buddhism. Of course you can visit every beautiful temple in the country and shoot many photos. However, there are certain behaviors in the temples, which are unfortunately not always respected.

This includes e.g. wrong clothing (see below), poses with or even on Buddha statues or being loud in the temple and disturbing worshipers. The Thais are very relaxed and tolerant of tourists, but there are certainly limits.

More about Buddhism in Southeast Asia and how to behave is summarized in our article “Religions in Southeast Asia – Dos and Don’ts (Part 1: Buddhism)” (available soon in English).

Wat Chalong Temple in Phuket
Wat Chalong in Phuket

5. Polluting/destroying nature

Unfortunately, in the countries of Southeast Asia many locals do not pay any attention to the environment. Plastic waste is a big problem. Of course, as a tourist, it should be obvious that you will not leave your trash or cigarette butts anywhere. Avoid using plastic as often as possible and take plastic bags or straws from convenience stores like 7-Eleven only when it’s really needed.

For snorkeling trips you should not touch corals and definitely not step on them. Luckily, you can see that very rarely among Western tourists, unlike Asian visitors.

Snorkeler near Koh Chang, Thailand

6. Getting scammed

Bangkok is often the first destination for Thailand newbies. The city is the gateway to Southeast Asia for many travelers and backpackers.

But there are many scammers who go on a “prey hunt” every day. The classic scam is probably the Tuk Tuk driver, who drives you seemingly cheap to the popular sights. But the Bangkok newcomer does not know that he stops at tailors, jewelry retailers or travel agencies, which give commissions to the driver. So it’s not really a rip-off, because you do not have to buy something from the tailors etc., but it can be very annoying in any case. If you can not live with it and still want to use the Tuk Tuk, then there are still reputable and organized tours that you can book in advance.

Although Tuk Tuk driving is a great adventure, Bangkok has plenty of other means of transport. Here you can find more information.

Tuk Tuks in Bangkok, Thailand
Tuk Tuks in Bangkok

For more detailed information on common scams in Bangkok, see here.

7. Being loud in the public or complaining

Among Thais, it is important to always keep your face in public. Yelling or complaining loudly on the open road is not welcomed. It is even worse when a “Farang” (western tourist) embarrasses, mobs or exposes a Thai to the public and thus possibly the Thai person loses his or her face.

If there are conflicts, just stay calm and friendly. A smile helps more than a bad face in this country. Do not yell at anyone or argue loudly. You can get problems very fast. More importantly, you should never mess with (possibly drunk) Thais, e.g. at a party. Avoid any conflict if possible.

By the way: Do not talk about the King or the Royal Family in public, at least in no way negative. The Thai people adore their kings, especially King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who passed away in 2016 and has done much for his country.

8. Dressing inappropriately

You live the backpacker lifestyle, are free and wild, enjoy the Southeast Asia vibe. But let’s be honest: with the typical “Same Same But Different” neon tank tops, you’ll be outraged everywhere as an inexperienced tourist. On islands it may be ok, but especially in cities like Bangkok, where no local or expat would ever walk around this way, you should not “dress up” too much. It’s just not hip any more and a normal T-shirt, as you would wear it at home in summer, is a good option.

Nothing against tank tops and short swim shorts, but there are places in Thailand where they’re just inappropriate. As well as bikinis or generally too sexy clothes. These would be mainly temples but also e.g. in bank branches or government buildings you definitely should not appear half-naked.

Sign with dress code in a temple in Isan

Keeping shoes or flip-flops on entering homes or certain buildings is also a common faux pas you should avoid. In case of doubt, just look if shoes are already lying around in front of the entrance. If so, then do it too! When entering houses or apartments of Thais, it is always the case!

By the way, I can give you the following tip on clothing: You should bring a thin jacket or a sweatshirt. In Thailand, the air conditioners in buildings or vehicles are sometimes extremely strong and you can quickly catch a cold. Maybe our packing list will help you a little bit.

9. Isolating yourself, not being open to something new

Sure, you’re in a foreign country and everything is new to you. Since it is obvious that you are looking for like-minded first, e.g. other backpackers in the hostel. Best case is, they are from the same country. That’s not wrong at all, BUT…

You should not distance yourself from the locals and be too dismissive. Not everyone wants to sell you something or rip you off. Mostly you can have a lot of fun with the locals and learn or experience much that would otherwise remain hidden as a tourist. A few words Thai also open many doors.

Tobi and I often observe that backpackers only stay with each other. Many travelers are only in contact with locals when they order food or drinks. We have always sought contact with locals since the very first visit to Thailand and always had a lot of fun. Meanwhile, we have many Thai friends here.

Be open to other things too, especially the food. Try everything and if you do not like something, try something different next time. You can eat pizza or burger every day at home! In addition, Thai food is much more than just fried rice with chicken!

10. Being to stingy

You have € 700 or more left for a flight to Thailand, but you are more stingy on your journey than at home. Why?

Of course, it is also important to save money while traveling, especially on a round-the-world trip or a long-term journey. But there are limits and trying to bargain food is definitely something that transcends them. Also in the market you should not necessarily be aggressive to negotiate, especially if it’s only 10 baht (€ 0.25). That’s all happened before and to be honest: it’s just embarrassing!

Haggling is not at all wrong in Thailand and you should always try it (except for food of course). But do not exaggerate it and see haggling just as fun. However, if someone tries to rip you off obviously, then this is not fun anymore. However, do not be aggressive and just go if this is the case (see also point 7).

11. Greeting people the wrong way

As you may know, the “Wai” is the common greeting in Thailand. Usually it is only for Thais. Almost every tourist who tries to imitate the Wai on his first visit does it wrong.

The Wai has a system and the position of your hands always depends on who you are greeting. There are traditionally the “normal” Wai for even-aged, the “middle” Wai for older and authority persons as well as the “high” Wai for monks, Buddhas etc. In addition to the traditional Wai, there is often the modern one, where the hands are just held before the chest. In Thailand today both Wais are used in everyday life.

You see, it can be get a bit complicated. When in doubt, before you do anything wrong, as a tourist, simply a friendly nod is enough. It’s even better than bowing over to a taxi driver or hotel staff and making you more embarrassed. By the way, when greeting you say “Sawatdee Khrap / Khaa” and not “Kob Khun Khrap/Khaa” – we often noticed that Thailand newcomers like to confuse things. Even for thanking I have already heard a “Sawatdee Khrap/Khaa” a couple of times.

12. Finally: don’t compare too much

You are not in a western country – always remember that. In Southeast Asia, it can happen that the bus or train arrives half an hour later. Or it is full and dirty. Or you do not sit comfortably and have little legroom. And and and.

Songthaew in Khon Kaen (Isan)
It can also be uncomfortable: a shared taxi in Khon Kaen (Isan)

Simply put your spoiled habits off completely and enjoy the imperfection. At least try to accept it and do not complain about every little thing that does not run perfectly like perhaps in your country. Just learn to overlook small mistakes in every way. If you can not do that, Thailand is probably not the destination for you.

What else do you think about this topic? Do you have questions about a specific point? Please let us know in the comments and we will answer your question.

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Marcel

Hi, I'm Marcel! Blogger, author, web & graphic designer and digital nomad. I love traveling in Southeast Asia and exploring wonderful beaches and trying delicious food. My home base is Koh Phangan, Thailand. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.