Thailand is a wonderfully laid-back travel destination and, with their mai pen rai ('don't worry about it') attitude, Thai people tend to be very forgiving of the 'strange' foreign behaviour they often witness when young, partying backpackers descend on their country. But wherever in the world you travel, there are always going to be some faux pas that are best avoided, and chilled-out Thailand is no exception.
With your guide book purchased, your rucksack packed, and your flights to Bangkok fast-approaching, we have seven tips to help you on your way when you arrive in the Land of Smiles:
1. Don't get angry or show aggression. Anger won't get you anywhere in Thailand, it will simply embarrass your hosts. Things often happen S-L-O-W-L-Y: travel services may not happen on schedule, or quite according to plan. It's less stressful for everyone if you can just go with the flow. If you become angry, Thai people may respond with a grin – purely out of embarrassment – which only serves to wind most travellers up even more! The calmer you remain, the more likely you are to receive a good service.
2. Don't show the soles of your feet to a Thai person. This is regarded as vulgar and highly offensive because Thailand's predominantly Buddhist culture regards the feet as the most unclean part of the body. As a foreigner you will generally be forgiven for an accidental sole-showing incident, but it's still best to avoid if possible.
3. Take off your shoes when you step indoors. Whether you’re entering a temple or someone’s home, always take off your shoes. This also applies in some old-fashioned places of business, but not in most modern shops.
4. Do not insult members of the Thai Royal family. Thais are extremely loyal to their Monarchy, and King Bhumibol Adulyade and other members of his family are highly revered. There is a strict law against insulting the Royals, or defacing a royal statue or image, and anyone found guilty of a breach could face a long time in prison.
5. Dress respectably if you want to be treated with respect. Avoid walking around semi-naked – it may be hot and humid, but most Thai people are fairly reserved in their dress, with most women even wearing clothes to go swimming in the sea. You will generally be given more respect if you are clean and dressed respectably, and while the ban on topless sunbathing is rarely enforced by law, many locals – even in touristy southern Thailand – find it very embarrassing and inappropriate.
6. Avoid very expressive public shows of affection. Thai people may hold hands in public, but they don't go in for very amorous displays of affection. If you kiss or cuddle in public you are likely to make Thai people feel uncomfortable.
7. If you are invited to share a meal with Thai people, expect to share. Don't order yourself a meal and expect to keep eat it all yourself, as this is regarded as unsociable. Instead, Thai meals are taken communally, with several dishes ordered to share as a group.