After living in Bangkok for over a year I have learned many things about the Thai People that I wanted to share with other foreigners living or vacationing here should know. The first thing you have to accept is that eastern culture is different. The people in the east are less emotional and more polite and while they know westerners are different, they often are uncomfortable when we stray from their norms. The things I found to be important are listed below in order of importance:

Be Polite – Thai people hold being polite above all else. Their very language has politeness built into it. If you follow what is considered “common courtesy” you will be fine.

Thai King – The Thai People Love their King, King Rama IX. Never show any type of disrespect to him or the Royal family. The Thai people have a deep traditional reverence for the Royal Family, and the visitor should also show respect for the King and the Queen, and the Royal Children. When attending a public events where a member of the Royal Family is present, the best guide on how to behave is to watch the crowd and do as it does.

Safety – Stealth crimes, such as pick pocketing, are the most common problem so it’s worth keeping a close eye on your belongings at all times and being aware of the people around you. Unprovoked violence against tourists are very rare, but it pays to exercise common sense.

National Religion – Buddhism is Thailand’s national Religion with nearly 95% of Thailand’s population being Buddhist. All Buddha images are considered sacred and there are laws against removing these images for anything other that personal worship.

Buddhist Monks – Buddhist Monks are recognized quickly by their shaved heads, bear feet and bright orange robes. It is forbidden for women to touch Buddhist Monks, this includes a woman handing something to a Monk, The items should be first given to a man, who hands the item to the monk. Also, western men should never attempt to shake hands with a monk.

Buddhist Temple – Wearing shoes around a temple is acceptable but they should be removed when entering their church (the area where the Buddha image is kept).

Be Quiet – Loud people are considered impolite. Speak softly and do not laugh loudly. Of course there are the common places such as bars, celebrations and parks that being loud is appropriate and expected.

Greetings – Greetings in Thailand can be quite formal in appearance to the western eye. The basic gesture is to put hands together, fingers up, with a slight bow of the head. The words “saw dee (krup)” (or “kaw” for women) are spoken during fm bow. It is more complicated for Thai people, with three levels based on age and position but westerners attempting this greeting are not expected to understand. (levels: 1. Monk, thumbs touching forehead durin bow; 2. Same age or older, thumbs touching lips; and 3. Younger person, thumbs touching chin.)

Food – Food in Thailand is customarily HOT, spicy HOT. Most westerners can not handle the amount of chili spice that Thai people enjoy. For the westerner visiting foreigner, the best tip i can give them is how to ask to make the food less spicy. There are two phrases to be used based on you preference: 1) “mai ped” – not spicy and 2) “ped nit noi” – a little bit spicy. The food is awesome in Thailand and this tip should help you enjoy it even more. In the near future I will be publishing a description of my favorite foods. Stay tuned.

Street Food – There is an old Thai saying “a little bit of dirt makes the food a little bit more delicious (rough translation). For westerners, buying food on the street can impact your health with the possible contraction of various gastro digestive problems. While most street food vendors are clean, this only by local standards. I live by “rule of thumb” which has served well living in Bangkok. This rule is simple but you need to stick to it. It is “only eat from the street what is cooked in front of you”. This ensures that the food is fully cooked one more time before you eat it. Unfortunately, this eliminates a lot of food served on the street but better safe than sorry for week.

Body Odor – Thai people almost never smell badly and they find it offensive if others do.

Crowds – if you go to areas in Thailand during Thai holidays and celebrations, be prepared to encounter many people. To Western experience the volume of these areas can be incredible. Be prepared to be pushed and shoved and be aware that they mean no harm. There sence of personal space is quite different than westerners.

Watch where you walk – The sidewalks in Bangkok are uneven and full of obstacles, pay attention. Oh, also, the streets have many stray dogs; the dogs are not aggressive but do leave landmines on the sidewalks.

Taxi Drivers – Most taxi drivers are fine. Generally, it is always better to use the metered taxis. Tuktuks are always more expensive and with Bangkok traffic you could be breathing in a lot of smog on the way. If you are going a significant distance negotiate… Also, the Taxis marked “We love farang, we speak English”, well most of them do not. They do have a radio that has a person that knows a little English.

Movie Theater – After the advertising and right before the movie a tribute to the Thai King Comes on and everyone stands in respect.

Driving in Thailand – If you are a brave one and decide that you want drive yourself around Thailand, don’t be too worried, it really isn’t that bad. There are just several things to understand. Drivers use the left side instead of the right, like in the US, and the roads tend to be narrower than in the US. So driving next to a bus or a truck can be a little intimidating.

Toilets – Eastern toilets can be quite intimidating to the western traveler as well. Be aware that eastern toilets are little more than holes in the ground surrounded by ceramic and involve water, not paper, for cleaning. To be honest, I still have not gotten used this type of facility to its full extent. Also, there are often women in the men’s room, stationed there for cleaning. It can be quite unnerving when you first experience this but they are not there for any more than cleaning.

Following these tips will allow you to have better understanding of the Thai people and more fun in your stay in Bangkok, allowing the locals to be more comfortable with you and give you a better understanding of how things function in Thailand.