Everything you need to know before you visit Thailand
To make the most of your trip to Thailand, Vagabond gives you the essential information to understand the country and to avoid missing out on your stay.
A beloved royalty
Thailand is a constitutional monarchy since 1932. And despite the many coups (more than ten), one thing remains constant: Thais love their King. The death of King Rama IX (Bhumibol Adulyadej) in 2016 after nearly 70 years of rule has shaken the entire Kingdom, whose year-long national mourning pale against the sadness of an entire people. His eldest son Maha Vajiralongkorn, the new king Rama X (pictured right), took over and was crowned on May 3, 2019. The royal family remains ubiquitous in Thailand with portraits of the late Rama IX, Queen Mother , of the current King but also of the princesses present everywhere. Every day at 8 am and 6 pm, the royal anthem is played in public places and the usually compact and hectic crowd of the capital pauses for a few moments. It is the same before the beginning of a film in the cinema, where the spectators have to get up during the royal anthem and as a sign of respect for the Thai royalty. Any criticism of the royal family is prohibited and punishable by law. The crime of lèse-majesté is indeed punishable by 20 years in prison. Foreigners are not spared by this law even if often years in prison are negotiated by the diplomatic game in expulsion from the country.
Our tip: embrace Thai royalty and avoid political conversation.
The middle way
The majority of the Thai population is Buddhist (except in the Muslim extreme south). There is a good chance that you will visit one and certainly several Buddhist temples in Thailand.
It is therefore important to respect a few rules:
- do not keep your shoes and discover your head when you enter a temple
- dress decently, have shoulders covered (if not a stole) and have a low covering to the knee. Some temples put clothes (including cloth pants) at the disposal of tourists who do not have the proper attire.
- respect the monks and nuns and do not take pictures without their knowledge and consent.
- Women should not touch, graze or sit beside the monks.
- Do not touch the statues of Buddha.
- Always use the right hand to receive something from a monk, never the left hand.
- Do not forget to leave a small donation especially if you test the fortune sticks. You will certainly see small wooden cups filled with numbered sticks. Shake them with a vow until one of the sticks falls to the ground. Then get the little paper with the number that fell and discover your good fortune (temples most frequented by tourists have papers in Thai and English). If fortune is not good, get rid of the paper.
In general, other rules of life inspired by Buddhism are part of Thai daily life, moreover it is a duty for every pious Thai to become during a given period monk or nun:
- not to be tattooed Buddhist representations.
- The representations of Buddha are religious objects and not objects of decoration.
- Do not put your feet above someone's head. It may sound incongruous, but if you put your feet high when you sit, this can happen and it is very disrespectful and insulting to the Thais who regard the feet as the lowest (spiritually speaking) part of the body. When sitting, avoid pointing your feet at anyone.
- Respect the elderly, pregnant women and children and leave them your place in transport.
- avoid the big marks of affection in public but also the great demonstrations of anger or a too extravagant behavior, if nobody will make you comments necessarily, it will disturb the Thais of a modest and calm naturalness. (see the part on Mai pen rai)
Our advice: in the countryside and at the beginning of temples, do not hesitate to participate in the morning ritual (very early in the morning) and offer food to the monks in exchange for blessings.
A Buddha for each day of the week
Every day of the week has its Buddha and according to the day of your birth you can pray to the Buddha of that day.
Monday: Pang Ham Yati, the pacifying Buddha.
Tuesday: Pang Sai Yat, the Buddha who performs nirvana
Wednesday morning: Pang Umbat, the Buddha who receives
Wednesday evening: Phra Lae Lai, the Buddha for blessed beings
Thursday: Pang Samti, the Buddha in meditation
Friday: Pang Ram Pueng, the Buddha in contemplation
Saturday: Pang Nak Prok, the Buddha protected by King Naga
Sunday: Pang Thawai Net, the Buddha in contemplation for 1 week.
Spices that delight the palate
Thai food is famous all over the world and you will enjoy it on the spot. Whether for high-end restaurants, chains in the Bangkok mall (Central World and Siam Discovery and Paragon have the best), or in the street, Thailand will dazzle your taste buds. Do not be afraid of spices, however, because Thai cuisine is sweet, sour, salty and spicy. In the restaurant you will often see the possibility of having the same type of dish but with a different protein is chicken (gai), pork (soft), beef (neua) or shrimp (gung). Among the must-try dishes, try a Thai pad (fried noodles), Khao Pat (sauteed rice), Khao Man Gai (steamed chicken served with rice cooked in chicken broth), Pat Kaprao (rice and meat served with a spicy basil sauce), Pat See you (large fried noodles), Som tam (spicy papaya salad), Tom Kha (lemon coconut milk soup), Gai Pad Med Ma Muang (cashew chicken) Tom Yam (lemongrass soup), Panang (red curry) or Kaeng khiao wan (green curry).
As for desserts, there are few in Thailand but we note the wonderful: Khao Niao my muang (glutinous rice and mango). Glaciers and cafes offer a wide selection of Western desserts.
Our advice: Do not hesitate to ask that the food be "may pet" (not spicy) or "pet nit noy" (a little spicy), if you can not bear those flavors that will tickle your lips, for lack of burn your stomach.
The kings of shopping
One of the favorite sports of Thais is undoubtedly: shopping. It is also difficult to walk in Thailand without spending time in one of its many shopping malls. Bangkok has dozens and the main area of the city Siam, is actually a succession of shopping malls and shopping streets. And when you know that in Bangkok it is coldest 18 degrees (and still a few days in the year) then we understand why Thais like to spend so much time away from the heat in air-conditioned places. Thailand is a real marketplace where you can find crafts like high tech with very good prices. Rather than focusing on counterfeiting, find Thai designers who are among the most prolific in Asia.
The Thai markets are also among the most alive in Asia and we advise you including Jatjujak or Chatuchak (the weekend market) in Bangkok which is the largest open market in Asia. You can find everything and do good business despite the number of tourists who come there every weekend. The Talat Rod Fai (the train market) is also worth visiting, with its many small stalls selling good quality thrift stores. Beyond the shopping you can enjoy very good street food. You can also explore the floating markets outside of Bangkok, a tourist hotspot. They are on every street corner, the 7/11, mini-mini markets open 24/7 are so practical that you will have a hard time getting by. You have everything you need to eat, snack, cosmetics, good coffee and you can even pay your bills. If other franchises exist (Family Mart or Lawson for example) one of the most recognizable sounds of Thailand is this one:
Our advice: do yourself a favor and do not forget to negotiate prices! In Thailand, it is customary to ask for a discount in markets or small shops where prices are not displayed. You can negotiate in English even if it helps to speak a few words of Thai ("tao rai?": How much does it cost in Thai). It's also easier to have good prices when you buy multiple copies of an object or buy several things in the same shop.
Mai pen rai
The attitude and way of being of Thais can be summed up in an expression: "May pen rai" (it does not matter). Thais do not like to take the lead and bother with the hassle. It is not for nothing that we call the former Kingdom of Siam: the land of smiles! It is better to forget his reflexes of roars made in France and try to relax a little and not to dramatize everything as we often like to do. It is very rare to see Thais get angry, at least in public. Be careful though: if the casual attitude of Thais is often very friendly, it can sometimes be disconcerting and frustrating when the sense of urgency that gnaws at you is not shared at all by your interlocutor.
Our advice: kindness and a smile will be your best assets to get what you want in Thailand.
Gay / trans culture in Thailand
Thailand may seem at first glance one of the most sexually free countries in Asia. It's both true and false. The Kingdom of Smile is indeed one of the countries where we see the most transsexual nicknamed LadyBoy or Kathoey in Thai. Many shows exist in Bangkok, Pattaya (certainly the most famous Miss Tiphany), Chiang Mai or even in the southern islands. If this minority is visible, their lives are no less difficult. Many Thai transsexuals face real problems finding a job and are restricted to odd jobs and often to prostitution or at best to the world of entertainment. They are mostly relegated to comedy roles in popular movies and television shows.
As for the LGBT community, its rights are not recognized in Thailand where gay marriage is not yet relevant. Bangkok and the big cities allow a little more freedom and gay nightlife is very active especially in the Silom district in Bangkok. However, many Thai homosexuals and lesbians prefer to keep their sexual orientation hidden from their family and the world of work. The country is however gay-friendly especially for foreign tourists.
Taxis of all colors
You will see them everywhere in Thailand and all colors. Taxis are numerous and you just have to hail them in the street to be able to walk quickly and cheap. If the small panel ว่าง (waang) is lit then it means that it is free. The color of the taxi just means that it belongs to this or that company, it does not change the price of the race. Be careful, however, to see if the "meter" is on the way to pay the distance and not pay the head of the customer. If a taxi gives you a price before getting in or refusing to put the meter, wait for the next one.
Uber does not exist in Thailand but you can find its equivalent with Grab and Line Man applications.
Tuk-Tuk or not Tuk-Tuk?
When we think of the means of transport in Thailand, we often think of tuk-tuk. Except in the countryside, on the islands and in some neighborhoods with very narrow streets, the tuk-tuk is not really used. We advise you to avoid them on trips in town or you will pay very expensive your trip.
Time difference: + 5h in summer, + 6h in winter.
Visas: You can stay 30 days free as a tourist but you must have a passport with imperatively 6 months of validity from the date of entry into Thailand. A visa is required for more than 30 days, you can inquire by clicking here.
Electricity: 220 volts.
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