Do you know what a bum gun is, or have you ever used a squatty potty? Are you prepared for the possible chance of getting food poisoning while in Thailand?
We all know that Thailand has humid and hot weather year-round and some incredibly spicy food, but did you know that you can be fined for throwing your chewing gum on the street?
There are many bizarre things about Thailand that many travelers don't know before they get there. It's better to be prepared for the quirks of this unique country before arrival, in order to be a knowledgeable and respectful traveler in Thailand.
With that being said, here's a list of things you should know if you're traveling to the Land of Smiles.
1. Transportation in Thailand
According to The Straits Times, Thailand has some of the world's most congested roads, and Bangkok is the 12th most traffic-congested city in the world. This can make getting around a bit tricky.
Though Thailand and specifically Bangkok's traffic are one of the things that make the country unique, it can be a hassle for tourists trying to figure out how to get around.
Thais know that their transportation system isn't the easiest, and they will take advantage of naive tourists whenever they get the chance. Though Thailand is considered the Land of Smiles, it could also be dubbed the Land of Dubious Taxi and Tuk-Tuk Drivers."Tuk-tuk drivers in Thailand are notorious for taking you to places where they will get a kick-back rather than to your destination," says Michael Taylor of AccidentalTravelWriter.com.
Jan Robinson of Budget Travel Talk elaborates. "Gosh, we fell for the well known Bangkok scam outside the Palace where a lovely, nicely-dressed man approaches to say it is not open because of some religious festival that morning, but offers to negotiate a sweet deal with a tuk-tuk driver to take us to another temple and bring us back when the Palace is open. Then they divert to their gold shop where pressure is applied to buy."
Though I do suggest taking a tuk-tuk ride at least once during a trip to Thailand, keep in mind this is without a doubt the most expensive form of transportation, namely because it is also a tourist attraction.
Tuk-tuk drivers in Bangkok will normally give you a flat rate of 300 THB, equivalent to about $10 USD. When they do this, be sure to haggle! Though it might feel uncomfortable at first, haggling for tuk-tuks is incredibly common in Thailand. Never accept the first offered price from a tuk-tuk driver.
Taxis are a more affordable alternative to tuk-tuks, just be sure to ask the driver if he uses a meter. You can do this by simply saying, "Chái meter mai?" If he shakes his head 'yes,' you're good to go!
My personal favorite form of transportation whilst living in Thailand was motorbike taxis. Similar to Uber and Lyft in the U.S., Grab is a transportation app widely used throughout Thailand that offers a motorbike taxi service, the cheapest way to get around Thailand. You will have to have data to use this app, though.
2. Weather in Thailand
Since many people travel to Thailand specifically for its pristine beaches and year-round tropical weather, it should be no surprise that Thailand is hot. And I mean hot. Always.
Though travelers are usually aware of Thailand's tropical humid weather, they are sometimes still surprised that the temperature never really seems to change, even at night.
Thailand's coolest month is December, and average lows are still around 75°F. Thailand's hottest month of April has average highs around 95°F.
Make sure before leaving for Thailand that you pack your clothes accordingly. Though it is always hot in Thailand, remember that you must still be appropriately dressed when entering temples. You should bring at least one pair of long pants and/or a long skirt and one item that covers your shoulders.
3. Bum Guns & the Squatty Potty
Ah, my absolute favorite part about Thailand: the bum gun!
The bum gun is a hand-held triggered nozzle that sprays water and is used in place of toilet paper when going to the bathroom. And yes, it is actually called a bum gun throughout most of Southeast Asia.
Many tourists are turned-off by the bum gun, but my advice is to learn to love it. Not only is using a bum gun incredibly refreshing, but it's environmentally conscious as well! Using bum guns reduces toilet paper usage and helps save trees. That can't be bad, right?
Coinciding with the bum gun is another one of Thailand's bathroom standards -- the squatty potty. Many restrooms throughout Thailand will have squatty potties in place of regular toilets, and this is sometimes unavoidable.
If you have any physical ailments and are worried about using a squatty potty, ask someone at your accommodation if a given tourist attraction offers regular toilets, and if there will be any nearby restaurants or hotels that will let you use their restrooms.
Insider Tip: Toilet paper can be scarce in Thailand. In order to avoid this nuisance altogether, I suggest always carrying a small amount with you in a purse or backpack.
4. Food in Thailand
Before traveling to Thailand, you should be aware that Thai cuisine is incredibly spicy and, at first glance, appears to always involve meat. Luckily, there are a few simple tricks and phrases you can familiarize yourself with beforehand if you don't prefer spicy food, or are vegetarian or vegan.
If you don't like spicy food, all you have to say after ordering a given dish is "mai ped," literally translating to "no spicy." Sound easy? That's because it is!
When first arriving in Thailand, it may seem like everything they eat has meat included. But Thai culture is rooted in the Buddhist religion, and many Buddhist monks are vegetarian. So, there must be ways to ask for vegetarian food, right? The answer is, 'yes.'
If you are vegan, simply say "jey" at the end of ordering a meal. 'Jey' is a food of Chinese origin that roughly translates as 'vegan.'
If you are vegetarian (you eat dairy and eggs), you can say "mang-sa-wee-rat."
Insider Tip: It should also be noted that getting food poisoning is, unfortunately, quite common in Thailand. I hate to even mention it, for I don't want to deter any travelers from going, but this occurrence is true for a lot of Southeast Asian countries.
5. Cultural Etiquette in Thailand
Thailand is a country that has several unusual cultural norms and etiquettes that many travelers are unaware of before arriving in Thailand. It's important to be aware of these in order to avoid embarrassing yourself or offending Thai people. Some important cultural etiquettes to be aware of in Thailand are:
- Don't touch a Thai person's head.
- Don't speak badly about the King or the monarchy.
- Don't show the bottoms of your feet.
- Don't step on currency.
- Always 'Wai' a Thai person.
Curious as to how these cultural etiquettes came about in Thailand? Check out A Guide To Cultural Etiquette In Thailand.
6. Monkeys in Thailand
With monkeys roaming free throughout much of Thailand, many people visit just to gaze upon these unique creatures in their natural habitat. Some of the best places to monkey watch in Thailand are Thai Monkey Forest in Phana, Monkey Beach in Ko Phi Phi, Khao Yai National Park and Erawan National Park.
If you've ever seen the movie Jumanji, you're probably familiar with the scene where the monkeys are going, well, ape you-know-what. If you thought the depiction of these aggressive monkeys was an exaggeration, it's not.
Monkeys in Thailand and all over Southeast Asia are notorious for stealing and being aggressive. They will actually approach you and climb up your entire body and attempt to snatch things out of your hand. To put it simply, they have no shame.
The last thing you want to do if this happens to you is panic. Many of these parks will have "monkey police" whose specific job is to return stolen items to tourists.
In order to avoid getting your items stolen by ruthless monkeys, make sure you're not wearing any sort of loose accessories such as hats or sunglasses, for these seem to be a favorite amongst the wild jungle creatures.
Make sure you are also holding on tightly to your belongings, especially your backpacks, purses and phones. Leave your passports at accommodations, for monkeys tend to steal these as well. It's almost as if they know what your most valuable items are.
7. Strange (but serious) Laws in Thailand
Thailand has a handful of strange laws that result in hefty fines or even jail time. Here is a list of some of Thailand's strange (but serious) laws:
- The most serious of laws in Thailand that will result in an extended jail sentence is lèse-majesté. Lèse-majesté in Thailand makes it illegal to insult the monarchy, especially the King. Thailand's lèse-majesté law is among the strictest in the world, and in 2017, the Thai government sentenced a man to 35 years in prison for a Facebook post that insulted the monarchy.
- It's a punishable offense to throw used chewing gum on the road, a law that will result in a fine of around $500 USD. What happens if you don't have the cash on the spot? You'll be thrown in jail. A strange law, yes, but one that is taken seriously in Thailand.
- It is illegal in Thailand to both leave the house without underwear and drive without a shirt. Though you probably won't be driving in Thailand and the "no going commando" law isn't usually enforced (how would they even know?), it's important to still be aware of these laws before visiting Thailand.
8. Haggling in Thailand
If you're uncomfortable with haggling, expect to get ripped-off in Thailand. Haggling in Thailand is almost like an art form, and it is done practically everywhere.
Anytime you are shopping at a market or on the street, put your haggling skills to the test! Vendors will always give you ridiculous prices at first because many tourists either don't know they can haggle, or they're uncomfortable with the situation entirely. Don't worry! Haggling is common in Thailand and most people do it. You should especially try to haggle if you are making larger purchases.
In Thailand, you can haggle for pretty much anything, especially transportation (unless using a metered taxi), souvenirs and clothes. The only thing you don't haggle for in Thailand is food.
There you have it. We hope we gave you a healthy dose of need-to-know before you head to Thailand. Happy trails!