We write a lot of articles offering advice on what to see and do in Bangkok, but from personal experience, we think it’s important for first time visitors to know what NOT to do in Bangkok too.
Thailand’s culture is incredibly rich with many social expectations and common courtesies that may differ from your home country. On the other hand, there are some common pitfalls that it’s easy to fall into if you are caught unaware.
Take a few moments to brush up on what to avoid while you’re out and about in Bangkok – it will make your interactions with the locals that much better and ensure you don’t end up red-faced and confused because of a silly faux pas or shake down.
Don't… get a taxi that's already parked
Around tourist hotspots you will sometimes see a long row of clean, parked taxis beckoning you into their air-conditioned comfort, but anyone who has spent any time in Bangkok will know to avoid them and walk out into the street to flag down a moving taxi. Why? Because a parked taxi usually signifies a corrupt driver who is waiting to exploit a hapless, sweaty and confused tourist, charging them double or triple the going rate.
Don’t forget to stand up during the Kings Anthem at the movies
Showing respect to the monarchy in Thailand will win you many smiles of approval; not doing so can get you in deep water. Deference can be done in everyday conversation and in other, more specific ways:
- At the beginning of a movie in all cinemas in Thailand, the King’s Anthem is played and everyone will stand as a mark of respect. Not to do so is offensive and will draw stern looks from your neighbours who definitely won’t share the armrest with you…or worse.
- At 08:00 and 18:00 in all public places such as train stations and markets, the Thailand National Anthem is played and you should stop walking and stand silently. Upon the final beat of the drum, everyone immediately continues on with their day.
Don't… sit next to a monk (if you're female)
Monks must adhere to many rules from the Buddhist monastic code, including never to touch a female, so if you are of the fairer sex it is a good idea to move at least a metre away from any monk on public transport and give them room to walk if out and about.
Don't… buy rounds in a nightclub, buy a bottle!
This is not a faux pas, but will certainly save you money: when in a club for a night out, do as the Thais do and buy a whole bottle to share instead of single drinks. Not only will it work out much better value (often with several free mixers), the waiting staff will treat you much better.
Don't… carry your passport around
A practical tip that could save you from a desperate dash to the police station, embassy and back again, don’t carry your passport with you around Bangkok. A photocopy of your passport is enough.
Don't… wear shorts or a skirt to the temple
Buddhism is the dominant religion in Thailand, and many of the most magnificent temples are located in the Old City district of Bangkok. Spending a day visiting the temples is high on many people’s itinerary, but make sure you dress conservatively, with a T-shirt covering your shoulders and a pair of shorts or a skirt down to below the knees. As an addition to this, no matter how hot it is don’t walk around topless in the streets ever.
Don’t… touch someone on the head
In Thai Buddhist tradition, the head is the highest part of our body and the place closest to the heavens. To touch a stranger on the head, even in a light-hearted way, is offensive to many Thai people and definitely not advised.
Don't… step on Thai money
You accidently drop some money and the wind starts to blow it away. In your own country you might step on it to save your cash, but in Thailand DON’T DO IT. Just as the head is revered as the highest part of the human body, the feet are seen as the lowest, most impure part of our bodies and touching an image of the king with your dirty feet would make many Thai people visibly distressed.
Don’t …forget a pack of tissues
In your hotel or while shopping in a fancy mall going to the toilet is a natural, hygienic experience to compare to any other developed nation. But if you intend to go exploring around markets and eat in local restaurants, a pack of tissues might save you from the conundrum of staring at a bucket and a tap while crouching with your underpants around your ankles and looking in vain for the toilet paper.
Don't... worry about the water (or the ice)
One of the classic issues for travellers coming to Southeast Asia, can you trust the water? In Bangkok, the water is not harmful so you don’t have to worry about brushing your teeth with it or filling the kettle for a cup of coffee (although we wouldn’t advise drinking a full glass of it straight from the tap). The same goes for the ice, which is made in sterilised factories and delivered on a daily basis.