Thailand is one of the most popular travel destinations in Asia with Americans and people around the world. The architecture is fascinating, the food is delicious, and the beaches are gorgeous. Not only that, but the people are very friendly and easygoing. In fact, Thailand is nicknamed "The Land of Smiles" because of the relaxed and welcoming attitude of its people.
Nevertheless, traveling to a foreign country always has potential for culture shock and misunderstanding. Here are some tips for getting along, staying healthy, and making the most of your time on your trip to Thailand.
Try the Food, but Be Careful of the Water
Trying local cuisine is often recommended as one of the best ways to understand a culture. You should definitely try dishes such as pad Thai on your trip. However, you should avoid drinking tap water because it is not safe, and you can get sick as a result. Fortunately, there are dispensers on the street and in hotels that are safe to drink. Pack a reusable water bottle so you can fill it up and stay hydrated.
Even if you're careful about not drinking the tap water, you can also get sick by eating fruits and vegetables that have been washed in it. This is something else to avoid on your trip.
Learn a Few Words of the Language
Whenever you visit a country where English is not the primary language, it is always a good idea to learn a few words of the native tongue. In Thailand, it is common for people to speak English in many of the large cities popular with tourists. However, if you visit more rural or remote areas, you may run into a language barrier. In these cases, a few Thai phrases can come in handy.
Pack Appropriate Clothing
Standards of dress in Thailand are more modest than in the United States. Bare shoulders and short shorts are acceptable on the beach, but you're expected to cover up otherwise. You may not be able to enter museums or cultural sites if you are not dressed appropriately, so be sure to pack clothing that covers your shoulders and reaches down to at least your knees when visiting these locations.
Depending on the activities you plan, you may also need to pack different styles of footwear. If you plan to go hiking, you need a sturdy pair of shoes or boots, but if you plan to visit temples, you're better off with a pair of shoes that you can slip easily on and off, as removing footwear is a custom that is often enforced. You may also need dress shoes if you plan to enjoy the nightlife.
Be Savvy When Shopping
In Thailand, it is customary to haggle with vendors over prices when shopping. This can be uncomfortable for an American accustomed to paying the sticker price. However, if you refuse to haggle, you'll end up paying much more than necessary. Be sure to keep the negotiations friendly, however. While Thai people are generally easygoing, they may react badly to a show of aggression by a foreigner that, from their point of view, causes them to lose face.
You also need to watch out for scammers while visiting Thailand. Unfortunately, some bad actors have learned that they can take advantage of tourists' unfamiliarity with the country and make a lot of money by selling them tickets for nonexistent tours, fake jewelry, etc. Be sure to keep your wits about you and remember that things that sound too good to be true probably are.
Watch Your Body Language
In Thailand, the left hand is typically used for bathroom tasks. Therefore, a gesture made using this hand is considered offensive even if otherwise innocuous. Use your right hand when waving or handling money. It is considered disrespectful to communicate using your feet, e.g., using them to point, or to touch someone's head.
Reading up on customs in Thailand can help you avoid making a cultural faux pas. However, don't underestimate simple courtesy and common sense.