Before visiting Thailand last year I knew nothing about the country except that it was a popular travel destination. I landed with no expectations and explored as much as I could in only 5 days. Although it was a short vacation, it was enough for me to notice a lot of differences between “The Land of Smiles” and “The Land of the Free.”
From economic to cultural differences, in this post I’ll share 12 things you can expect when you visit Thailand (more specifically Bangkok).
1. The Weather
(Monsoon season in Bangkok)
The first thing you’ll notice when you step foot outside of the airport is Thailand is HOT. Not only that, but it’s humid. It’s sunshine 90% of the time and the other 10% it’s randomly pouring rain during monsoon season which is July through October. Bring sunscreen, shorts, light t-shirts, flippy floppies, a hat, and an umbrella if you plan to visit during those months.
Thai locals don’t wear sunglasses much at least not in Bangkok. I asked someone and apparently it’s a cultural thing. If you want to blend in ditch those sunnies.
I’m used to cars stopping when you cross the streets. It’s the polite thing to do and a great way not to commit murder. Here, that’s definitely not the case. Cars, motorbikes, buses, and tuk tuk’s all zip by and the name of the game is to cross the street without getting hit. I’ve had a few close calls, but the trick is to wait for a local or a foreigner who seems more pro at this human Frogger thing to go first and then follow them. If you see them speeding up mid-way you better speed up too!
Stay alert on sidewalks. Sometimes motorbikes will drive right on it and through the crowd. If you catch one of these guys and take a picture of their license plate and report it apparently you get rewarded.
3. Thai People
Image credit: Trevor
Thai people are some of the happiest, go lucky humans I have ever met. They are one of the reasons that convinced me to start a new life here. It’s such a joy to see genuine happiness and smiles. It’s infectious and I knew I wanted to be surrounded by this. Aside from that, they’re also very laid back, humble, and welcoming. I’ve never got a sense of danger when I’m around Thai people.
The “easy going” and “enjoy the simple things in life” philosophy of the Thai people is known as “sa bai, sa bai.” You’ll also hear the phrase, “mai pen rai,” which roughly means “it’s all good” or “don’t sweat it.”
(Purple sweet potato ice cream anyone?)
FOOD. Wow I don’t even know where to begin. If you love food then COME HERE. The food is delicious and cheap and there is such a huge variety that it will satisfy all sorts of taste buds. Even the pickiest eaters will find something they’ll like. You have street food from the mom and pop stands, you have the mall food courts, and you have the luxurious, Michelin Star restaurants. Thailand is a paradise for foodies. Period.
Follow for food pics:
5. The Thai Bidet
I’ll tell you a story. Before I went to Japan back in 2015, I actually never knew what a “bidet” was. I’m use to the wipe and flush method you know what I mean? I landed in Tokyo, got to the hotel, and sat on a toilet with a million buttons. Not sure what anything means, so I just pushed one and all of a sudden felt an unforgettable, liquidy sensation. “Water is shooting at my butt” I thought. “What else have I been missing all my life?”
Anyway, the bidets in Japan were built into the toilets. The ones in Thailand, well, they’re a separate mini shower head hanging on the wall. When I first saw it I didn’t know what it was for or what I was supposed to do with it since there’s also toilet paper. But apparently, the septic systems here aren’t made to handle loads of paper effectively so this is the elegant workaround.
How to use a Thai bidet:
- Take a poo or two.
- Grab the shower head aka Thai Bidet.
- Aim well and squeeze the handle GENTLY.
- Let it flow~ Let it flow~
- Grab a few squares of toilet paper (pretend you’re in prison and use sparingly).
- Dab a few times.
- Toss paper into the bin next to the toilet.
6. The Wai
Image credit: Chris
The wai is how Thai people greet and show gratitude to one another. It’s the equivalent of waving your hands and saying, “hello” or doing the slight head lift and saying, “what’s up.” To do the wai you put your hands together like you’re praying and do a slight bow. The higher the hands are to the face and the lower the bow, the more respect you’re showing. You can use it while saying, “sawadee-krap” for guys or if you’re a girl say, “sawadee-ka.”
Generally as foreigners we wouldn’t wai someone younger than us or children unless they wai first.
7. Head and Feet
In the Thai culture the head is the holiest part of your body, whereas the feet is the least holy. This is a very big deal to their culture so if you don’t want to cause any trouble or be rude then don’t touch people on their heads, don’t put your feet on furniture when you sit down, don’t point with your feet or walk over someone, and when you go into people’s homes and the temples take off your shoes.
8. The Royal Family
Thailand is a monarchy. They have a king and their respect for the royal family is very apparent. You’ll see pictures of the royal family all over the country. I read and watched a few documentaries about the previous king and all I have to say is that he was an impressive human being. Incredibly smart and humane.
If you want to win a chance to see what a Thai prison looks like for 15 years, try saying a few bad things about the royal family like this guy did.
Follow the golden advice:
If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.
9. The National Anthem
At 8am and 6pm the Thai National Anthem is played throughout the country. During this time everyone literally stops in their tracks and stands still for a few minutes. It’s the most unique experiences ever. It feels like time suddenly paused. What should you do? Like the locals of course! Just stand there and wait it out. Then move when they move.
Head to Lumphini Park just before 6pm to see people stopping all sorts of activities mid-way. It’s quite a spectacle.
10. Straws in Bottles
(I combined two straws for this giant bottle because CULTURE. That’s why.)
I thought this amusing. When you order a bottled drink such as water or soda, you will get a straw. Every single time. From what I heard it’s because the bottles are resued after cleaning at the factory. The other thing is it seems more polite to sip from the straw and not chug from the bottle.
11. Skin Whitening
The porcelain, white skin look is very popular in Thailand and other Asian countries. They have no desire to have tan skin. In fact, they’ll do anything to prevent getting tans. Things like using beauty products with snail secretion as the active ingredient and getting medical procedures where they inject stuff into their blood cells. In case you didn’t know, I’m not a beauty guru. So I’ll just leave this whole topic alone. =)
12. Cost of Living
Image credit: Peter
One of the other big appeal of Thailand (besides the wonderful people) is the cost of living. It’s really affordable here. Street food costs about $1-$3, taxi to most places in the city is $3-$6, a giant bottle of water is $0.42 cents, and rent is much more affordable than the states. Maybe $600-700 for a condo in the middle of downtown with all sorts of amenities like rooftop pools, gyms, a beautiful view and more.
If you want a detailed example you can head over to this site.
For reference, as of now 100 baht is equal to about $3.