One of the main reasons people travel is to explore other cultures and establish how other countries and cultures do things. It is then quite remarkable then to see people wandering around the kingdom imposing their cultural approach on the situations and events they encounter. Often these leads to confusion, worse, it sometimes leads to ugly scenes that are entirely avoidable with a modicum on insight on how things are done in Thailand. What follows then is a list of Dos and Don’ts for when you are in the kingdom:
The monarchy is revered by all Thais and people will simply will not tolerate any lack respect towards any members of the royal family – past or present. If you come from a culture like that in the United Kingdom, where royals are often in the news and are sometimes subject to criticism, be especially careful. Criticism of the king and royal family is not just frowned upon in Thailand; it is against the law – a punishable offence that is taken very seriously. As an example to underscore the importance of this issue, in 2002 two journalists from the Far Eastern Economic Review published a short article about the relationship between, Thaksin Shinawatra, the country’s prime minister, and King Bumibol Adulyadej. As a result of the article, the journalists were threatened with expulsion for contravening Thailand’s tough lèse majesté laws.
Thailand’s national religion is Buddhism (although there are significant numbers of Muslims and a minority group of Christians) and it is very important to be respectful as far as the religion is concerned. Always dress ‘politely’ when entering a temple or religious shrine. As you are on holiday in a hot country, your perspective of polite dress might be coloured by the situation you are in. However, shorts, bikinis, tops that show your bare arms, skirts that show your legs, open-toed sandals and generally dirty or unkempt attire is considered inappropriate. In some of the larger temples like Wat Prakeaw guards will actually forbid you from entering if you are dressed inappropriately, and you may have to hire sarongs and strips of material to cover yourself up before being permitted to enter. At the smaller temples you are own your own – do the right thing!
Buddha images are sacred, whatever size or condition. Never climb on a Buddha image, and be very careful about taking photos – some images are so sacred photographs are forbidden. Abide by this rule or you may even be asked to leave. If you can’t cross your legs, don’t sit on the floor in front of temple’s Buddha image – in doing so you will point your feet at the Buddha which is an act of sacrilege (see Feet below). The 2004 film ‘Hollywood Buddha’ caused an uproar in Thailand and other Buddhist countries in the region when advertising posters for the film showed a central character sitting on the head of a Buddha image. Their reaction was most un-Thai like. Be warned.
Buddhist monks are not allowed to touch or be touched by a woman or accept anything a woman might offer. If a woman wants to give something to a monk it must first be given to a man, or put on a piece of cloth. The monk will then drag the cloth to him before picking the item up. Likewise a monk will not shake a man’s hand – that type of contact is forbidden. Monks travel on public transport and require the same respect there as they would receive at the temple. If a bus or train, etc. is crowded and a monk is likely to come into contact with people, do not hesitate to give the monk your seat. Often special seats are allocated for monks only – don’t sit in them!
Do not wear shoes inside a temple where Buddha images are kept. Take your shoes off before entering someone’s home.
Thais do not shake hands; they ‘wai’ – a gesture made by placing your hands together in front of your face a bowing a little. Generally, you should not wai to a child and a younger person should wai an older person first. However, these rules are possibly a little more flexible as far as a foreigner is concerned, the Thais you wai will generally very much appreciate you delving into the local custom and practice.
Whereas in the west a friendly pat on the head, especially the head of someone a bit younger than you, will be regarded as a friendly and supportive gesture, in Thailand any gesture towards the head will cause Thais to recoil and will be greeted with shock and possibly annoyance. Thais regard the head as the highest part of the body – the temple of the body as it were. As such touching someone’s head is entirely unacceptable.
Whereas the head is the highest point of the body, the feet are the lowest. Do not point at things with your feet, and do not point the palms of your feet at anyone (see Buddha Images above).
Shouting and Shows of Annoyance
In Thailand shouting and shows of annoyance are entirely frowned upon, whatever the situation. There may be times when you face frustrations, do so quietly a calmly. Shouting and showing annoyance are signs of lack of discipline and in doing either you are in fact showing yourself up. This might lead to the Thai you are talking to trying to help you ‘save face’ by smiling and possibly even laughing to defuse the situation. For westerners in particular, there could probably not be a less appropriate reaction and often it serves to exasperate a situation. The results are often explosive. Rather than deal with the subtle intricacies of this aspect of culture, simply do not get angry – things will work themselves out much better if you can avoid it.
Thailand takes drugs very seriously and is trying to eradicate unlawful drugs entirely. Don’t either partake or trade in illegal substances. Clubs and places of entertainment are sometimes raided and people made to put forward urine samples. If you test positive, penalties will be harsh. Trading in drugs will lead to the death penalty or likely decades in prison.
Kissing, cuddling and similar behaviour are frowned upon if in public – especially amongst older Thais. Younger Thais are unlikely to be as shocked, but to avoid their possible discomfort, avoid the behaviour.
Thais are generally shy people and few are likely to walk up to you and engage in conversation. If this happens, and the conversation moves towards the purchase of gems, gold, jewellery or other such items, beware. Every year people get caught up in purchases of items at entirely inflated prices that have little or no value because they are told they can sell these items at a profit in their home countries. Remember you are here on holiday – not here to make a fast buck. If something seems too good to be true – it is.
Smoking in the street is illegal – you can be fined 2,000 Baht.
Dropping litter in the street is illegal – the same fine applies.
Do not engage in purchase of wild animals whether protected or not. Aside from the moral issues, punishments are very harsh.
Wherever you travel in the world, it is important to get the timing right. Not knowing about a country’s seasons and possible weather conditions can turn your holiday into a nightmare. Likewise, gathering some basic details about what to expect will help you make the right decisions about where and when to go.
As far as Thailand is concerned, the best time of year for a visit is between November and February. Generally, the weather is cooler during this period and there is certainly less rain than at other times in the year. However, Thailand is a big country with a diverse landscape. There is somewhere to visit whatever time of the year you visit the kingdom.
Thailand’s seasons are reasonably uniform through the country, but there are some regional differences. What follows is a summary of the seasons as they impact the kingdom’s various regions:
Central Thailand and the East
In central Thailand and the eastern provinces, the really hot summer weather starts around March and goes on to around November. During this time extreme temperatures can go up to the 45 degrees centigrade mark. The winter months are November to February. There may really be only a few days of genuinely cold weather during these months, but the period leading up to the New Year are a welcome respite from the heat throughout the rest of the year. Aside from these days, visitors from Europe still may feel the temperatures as being a bit warm during Thailand’s winter, although not uncomfortably so. The rainy season kicks in around the end of May and goes on until October. The rain is frequent and sometimes fierce. Usually though rainstorms go on for around 30 minutes or so, and after a storm the weather is significantly cooler.
Northern Thailand and the Northeast
Northern Thailand and the Northeast have the same basic seasons as those in the central and eastern regions. The winters are though significantly cooler. Mountainous regions can get particularly cold, on some occasions down to 0 degrees centigrade. In these parts of Thailand’s winter starts in November and goes on to January. Without doubt these are the best months for a visit to the North and Northeast – flowers are in bloom, it is dry and cool, and in the mountains mists and fogs often form making what is already wonderful scenery exquisite.
Southern Thailand’s seasons are less distinct and really there are only two proper seasons – summer and the rainy season. The Gulf of Thailand lies to the east of the Thai peninsula while the Andaman Sea lies to the west. Visiting areas west of the peninsula (Phuket, Phang Nga, Krabi) is best done between November and April to avoid the monsoons that occur during other months – monsoons obviously make visiting islands by boat difficult and sometimes dangerous. Clearly they are best to be avoided. Areas east of the peninsula (Koh Samui, Hat Yai) are best visited between May and October. If you are planning to visit both sides of the coast during your stay in Thailand, March to April would be the best months.
Thai Government’s Meteorological Department
The Thai government’s Meteorological Department provides an English language website (http://www.tmd.go.th) with key information about Thailand’s weather, including forecasts and summaries. Of particular interest is information on climate and surface temperature – very much worth knowing.
Thailand has world-class hospitals and clinics. State-of-the-art technology and high caliber (often western-trained) doctors mean that if you need any form of treatment while you are in the kingdom, you are in safe hands.
Sport Thailand is a land of sport – just take a look at the number of Manchester United, Liverpool and Real Madrid football shirts around the place and you will see what I mean!
There are lots of places visitors can see and take part in mainstream sports like football, badminton, and tennis, and of course golf is a major reason why a lot of people visit Thailand. Equally important to visitors are opportunities for less mainstream activities. With over 3,000 kilometres of coastline it is a natural destination for people (whether novice or professional) to go diving and snorkelling. Also on offer are a range of water sports – jet skiing, surfing, surfboarding and kiteboarding to name a few. The worldwide popularity of Thai Boxing (Muay Thai) and other martial arts means Thailand has become a place of pilgrimage for martial artists from around the globe. Again, whether you are just into watching a fight, a complete novice who wants to try a martial art or a hardened fighter with lots of experience, Thailand will have something to offer you. Of course there are a number of sport activities available which are not really sports at all. Paintball is just a bit of fun really, and there are a number of places around the kingdom to try it out. Thailand is also a great place to give extreme sports like Bungee Jumping a first try. Whether you are an armchair sportsman or someone who likes to get in the thick of things, Thailand has a lot of opportunities for you to enjoy yourself.
As a tourist, you are not required to pay Value Added Tax (VAT) on items more than 5,000 Baht that you intend to take out of Thailand. For most people the amount returned is very welcome and a pleasant surprise, so it is well worth making the effort to collect the paperwork you need for a refund. It is not that difficult to do either.
Stores participating in the refund scheme display a sign stating: “VAT Refund for Tourists”. If you make a purchase from these stores, ask for a VAT Refund Form (P.P 10) and keep the original tax invoice(s) a store gives you.
That is really all you need to do. If you take that paperwork to the ‘Customs Inspection for VAT Refund’ desk at Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Hay Yai, Phuket or U-Tapao International Airports, you will be granted a tax refund. Bear in mind that the tax refund process is the final stage of your journey in Thailand – you will have gone through passport control on your return leg before you arrive at the appropriate counter. You can only make claims on the day you leave the country.
If your claim is for less than 30,000 Baht, you can receive a payment as a cheque or Bank Draft, or the amount can be paid into a credit card account. If your claim is for over 30,000 Baht, you can only receive payment by Bank Draft or payment into a credit card account.
For more information on VAT refund, visit the Revenue Department of Thailand’s website: http://www.rd.go.th/vrt/howwill.html
Looking for the best time to go to Thailand? Wherever you travel in the world, it is important to get the timing right. As far as Thailand is concerned, there are no absolute extremes. If you can avoid the rainy season (July to October), it would probably be best, but if you can’t, the rain isn’t permanent – it comes in bursts and cools things down after it has gone!
The weather in Thailand is reasonable most times of year, although it certainly gets hot during the summer! November through February are the coolest times of year and there is certainly less rain then than at other times in the year. However, Thailand is a big country with a diverse landscape. There is somewhere to visit whatever time of the year you visit the kingdom.
Thailand’s seasons are reasonably uniform through the country, but there are some regional differences. Basically Thailand has three seasons: summer, rainy and winter. The southern part of Thailand however does not have a winter. What follows is a summary of the seasons as they impact the kingdom’s various regions:
Visas to Thailand:
Regulations covering the issuance of Thai visas are found in Immigration Act B.E. 2522 (1979) section 5, 12 (1), 34 (15). Essentially, although every visitor to Thailand requires a valid passport, whether you need a visa to enter Thailand is dependent on the period of time you are expecting to stay in the kingdom and your nationality.
Visitors from a number of countries must obtain their visas before entering Thailand. Other visitors will be issued with a visa on arrival at an international airport, a border crossing, or an immigration checkpoint. A limited number of countries have agreements with Thailand that enable their citizens to enter Thailand without a visa. Visas are issued either by consulates and embassies outside Thailand, or the Immigration Bureau of the Royal Thai Police within Thailand.
Most visitors are able to stay in Thailand for up to 30 days without the need of a visa. This includes the citizens of the following countries:
- Australia : Commonwealth of Australia
- Austria : Republic of Austria
- Belgium : Kingdom of Belgium
- Brazil : Federative Republic of Brazil (visit of not exceeding 90 days permitted)
- Bahrain : State of Bahrain
- Brunei Darussalam : Negara Brunei Darussalam
- Denmark : Kingdom of Denmark
- Finland : Republic of Finland
- France : French Republic
- Germany : Federal Republic of Germany
- Greece : Hellenic Republic
- Hong Kong : Hong Kong Special Administrative Region
- Iceland : Republic of Iceland
- Indonesia : Republic of Indonesia
- Ireland : Republic of Ireland
- Israel : State of Israel
- Italy : Republic of Italy
- Korea : Republic of Korea (visit of not exceeding 90 days permitted)
- Kuwait : State of Kuwait
- Luxembourg : Grand Duchy of Luxembourg
- Monaco : Principality of Monaco
- Netherlands : Kingdom of the Netherlands
- New Zealand
- Norway : Kingdom of Norway
- Oman : Sultanate of Oman
- Peru : Republic of Peru (visit of not exceeding 90 days permitted)
- Philippines : Republic of the Philippines
- Portugal : Republic of Portugal
- Qatar : State of Qatar
- Singapore : Republic of Singapore
- Spain : Kingdom of Spain
- South Africa : Republic of South Africa
- Sweden : Kingdom of Sweden
- Switzerland : Swiss Confederation
- Turkey : Republic of Turkey
- United Arab Emirates
- United Kingdom : United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
- United States of America
- Vietnam : Socialist Republic of Vietnam
If you want to stay longer for a longer period you can obtain a two-month tourist visa from the Thai consulate or embassy in your country. However, if you are in Thailand and wish to extend your stay this can be done by obtaining a one-month extension from an immigration office (cost: 1,900 Baht).
Visits longer than 60 days:
People wishing to stay in Thailand longer than two months require a ‘Non-Immigrant Visa’ – this is not a tourist visa and a person must meet certain requirements before being granted one (e.g. having family members in Thailand, etc.). A ‘Non-Immigrant Visa’ is issued for three months and can be extended to one year under certain circumstances.
For full details contact your country’s Thai Embassy. A detailed description of visa requirements is provided by Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. More concise details are provided by the Thai Embassy in Washington DC.
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