ANNOYANCES AND DIFFICULTIES
I'm certain of one thing, the norms of behaviour will be significantly different in Thailand than in your home country, this will inevitably give rise to some level of annoyances and difficulties. The following aims to point you in the right direction to avoiding and dealing with problems if they arise.
In the unlikely event that you find yourself in real difficulties I've included advice on the "If Things Go Wrong" page but please be aware that much of the advice given there required a little preparation, so don't leave reading that until the last minute.
The Fuss Thais Make Over Foreign Children
Lorna getting a manicure and hair beads on Kho Samet.
There is always something to annoy us and of course Thailand has its fare share. If you are travelling with children there is perhaps one big annoyance: Thais, don’t ask me why, will constantly make an unholy fuss over your children, especially if they have blond or red hair.
A Cultural Note
It is offensive in Thai culture to touch someone’s head, Thais believe our soul resides within our heads. It’s even impolite to raise your hand above someone’s head.
This will not stop Thais touching your children’s heads, they will stroke or pull their hair, pinch them, tickle them and make all manner of noises.
For all sorts of reasons, not least wanting our children to understand from he outset that they have a right to privacy in their own bodies my wife and I find this behaviour in Thais offensive. We have never allowed Thais we do not know to bother our children in this way.
Here’s the rule: Thais would not dream of touching the child of another Thai whom they did not know, if they did they would be told in no uncertain terms not to do so.
The rebuke is Harm Jap! Don’t touch. I am not adverse to slapping hands that are grabbing our children and I have been known to pinch the cheek of a woman who woke our daughter with such a pinch.
That said not all the attention your children will receive is unwanted, you’ll be stopped for endless photos and be asked countless times where are you from. Most is curiosity but if it goes too far just let them know you’re not happy.
Remember, it’s their country but it’s your child.
Thailand has no more touts than anywhere else and a lot less than many places but that doesn’t stop them from annoying or worse still fleecing you.
What is a problem is the mixture of Tout and Cultural misunderstanding. You will very soon get accustomed to Thais smiling and being very friendly, and at the same time you will be dropping your guard. Touts know this and they play foreign tourists for every penny they can get.
Touts make their money by conning you into buying goods or services that you don’t need. Low level touting might for instance involve taking you to a shop or hotel and introduce you, only to take a kick back on the purchase. There are however bigger dangers than paying an extra 10% for something that you would have bought anyway.
In their most dangerous scams, Touts con people into parting with very large amounts of money, most commonly on buying jewellery but also by dragging tourists into rigged card games or a number of other scams.
Now before you say ‘ I would never get caught by that’, I gave this very advice to the manager of my bank when she went on a holiday in Thailand. I talked her through the scams and I warned her in particular of the jewellery scam. She went home from Thailand with a very expensive jewel encrusted ring that she was scammed into buying. Believe me, these people know all the tricks.
The rules of avoiding touts are simple.
If you want a guide, get a guide from your hotel or choose a guide at the temple/ tourist spot at the guide kiosk. Don’t let the guide choose you and choose a guide who is conspicuously wearing his ID badge. Avoid guides who try to pick you up outside of the main gateway to a tourist spot, they are nearly always touts.
Never let a Thai you don’t know, including your tour guide or taxi driver take you into an establishment where you are going to spend money, they will be collecting a percentage.
If you didn’t wake up in the morning having dreamed of buying jewellery then it’s a safe bet you don’t want to buy any. Don’t fall for trips to jewellery factories or shops and if you do get trapped just tell them you don’t have any money.
If you find yourself in a situation where you are being pressured just say NO or that you are going to think about it until tomorrow. Be assured that that ‘special deal’ is always going to be around the next time you ask.
My top Tip: Leave your credit cards in the hotel safe, if you haven’t got a means of payment with you, you cannot pay.
If the seller offers to come with you to your hotel to get your cards, you are being scammed. Get to your hotel and get the hotel security to get rid of the tout.
Be aware, the official Thai Tourist Board Tourist Guides, that’s right those nice people with the badges, part of their training to get that badge includes how to introduce you to businesses selling goods and services.
And please remember this exact piece of advice. If you feel you are being pressured to buy something, if you are being introduced to anything that you did not want to buy before you met the person introducing you, you are very likely being scammed, walk away from it. If necessary be rude and accept that the person who is being ‘oh so pleasant’ is trying to thieve from you.
Be very weary of people approaching you to carry out surveys, they will almost certainly be leading you up to a scam, perhaps not them personally but they will be collecting the information others need to scam you, such as name and hotel details.
I recently got caught out while visiting the Grand Palace, I got past the people telling me the palace was closed, I chose my own guide and I had a good tour of the grounds, but my guide insisted on taking me past the palace gates, I was enjoying the conversation and thus fell right into the trap away from the palace he wanted to renegotiate the deal.
Finally, if a deal sounds too good to be true then it usually is.
Littering and ‘Fines’
The Thai police are enforcing anti litter laws, all well and good and I agree people throwing litter is not acceptable. The problem is they only enforce the laws on foreigners; I myself have witnessed a Thai police officer follow a foreign friend of mine smoking a cigarette waiting for him to discard the butt, my friend spotted the cop and discarded the cigarette end in the litter bin the look of disappointment on the officer’s face was plain to see Disappointment that he did not collect the Bht2000 littering fine!
Regardless - Littering is an easy way to throw your holiday spending money away.
Thai Public Toilets
The good news is that they are better than they were ten years ago.
The bad news is that they are ‘squatters’ that is they don’t have a seat as do European toilets.
Personally I think squatters are more hygienic for public toilets but small children may struggle a little. There is often a charge to enter the toilets, around Bht2~5 and there is seldom any toilet paper.
In most cases the toilets are flushed from a container of water with a ladle and used tissue is deposited in a bucket, this to avoid blockages.
Before we complain too much about Thai toilets there are two observations to be made; you’ll notice there’s no graffiti and Thai toilets tend to be in the designated toilet building, not in the stairwell of the underground car park! This suggests to me that while our toilets are better at home, Thais beat us hands down on public behaviour.
The toilets in your hotel room and restaurants will be to an international standard; if you are staying in budget accommodation expect to be disappointed and you’ll probably be pleasantly surprised.
You get used to them, honest you will! Thailand has large numbers of open drains and subsequently quite a few smelly corners. However, personal hygiene in Thailand is almost part of the religion and is one of the defining characters of South East Asians, they are spotlessly clean and expect you to be too!
This can be a problem especially if for any reason you are feeling a sensitive about your appearance. Expect to be asked all manner of personal questions and hear all manner of personal comments. For example: “How old are you?”, “Are you pregnant?”, “Oh I thought you where because you have a big stomach”, “Have you got any children?, Why not?”.
I’m afraid it’s not something you can avoid and is for the most part plain curiosity. Whenever it gets too much for me I answer with an outrageous lie and derive some satisfaction from the knowledge that my assailant has believed everything I said.
Ladies, expect to be called ‘Sir’.
Thai Hi-Fi Systems, TVs and Public Address Systems are not fitted with any kind of volume control, they simply have an on switch. ‘On’ is full on. The result is that as quiet and unassuming as most Thais are, they become demons of noise pollution whenever they get control of any kind of sound producing electronics.
You’ll also find when you return home and put on that video show of your travels in the land of smiles that all your video footage will be accompanied by the sound of a motor bike engine buzzing away in the background!
EMBARRASSMENTS AND CULTURAL STUFF
I have included this section simply because by observation I think it needs covering.
As I have said earlier, Thailand attracts a lot of people who come just for the sex tourism and you are going to bump into them. This may or may not bother you, but my guess is it bothers any child over 10 years old and particularly adolescents.
If you are travelling to Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phuket or Pattaya you are bound to see old men with young girls. It’s also true that many of the best restaurants will be frequented by these people. You’ll see gays, cross dressers, lady men, lesbians the whole spectrum. We ignore them and, after a while, don’t really see them but I have noticed that our visitors have sometimes remarked on what was going on at the next table in a restaurant; something my wife and I had been oblivious to.
I would say though that I have never seen anything truly offensive in a public area in Thailand, so don’t worry too much and pay more attention to your children than those sad creatures who travel all that way for what they can’t get at home.
I do have one word of caution about assumptions. A colleague of mine was assailed by two American ladies at a hotel pool, they were, in loud voices accusing him of the heinous crime of ‘being at the pool with small native children’, indeed that might well have been a heinous crime excepting that his wife is Filipino, the children his adopted family. He was saved all manner of problems simply because the staff knew him, his children and his wife.
The word on sex tourism in Thailand: It is a hall of mirrors and not one that it is necessary to enter or even look into.
A Note to Dad
You are not a sexy man!
Embarrassment goes both ways.
Part of the reason for choosing a holiday in Thailand is, or ought to be, to see a different culture so you will not be surprised to learn that there are a host of things that you should not do in order to avoid causing offence or embarrassment.
The absolute top item is do not do anything or say anything that could cause offence to the most revered of all Thailand’s institutions The Royal Family and in particular the King. My list of does and don’ts follows:
Tips for Not Giving Offence
Do not say anything about the royal family (not a good thing, not a bad thing) you will be misunderstood and you could be in a lot of trouble
Do stand in the public areas when the national anthem is played, especially in cinemas
Do not put money in your back pocket (Sitting on the face of the king)
Never throw money or toss money to someone
Be aware topless or nude bathing is offensive to Thais, if you walk off the beach or away from the poolside, cover up
Do not sit in a restaurant or go shopping in your bathing costume
Do not ever touch a Thai on the head, they believe their heads to be sacred
Do wear long trousers or long skirts, long sleeves and enclosed shoes (not sandals) when visiting temples
Do remove your shoes when entering rooms and especially temples
Do not ever raise your voice, shout or swear at a Thai, no matter how angry you are.- Showing your anger will get you nowhere. More of this in the section ‘Dealing with problems’
Do not touch a member of the opposite sex, this is especially important for men to follow. Thais stand closer to each other when talking, there is more eye contact and a lot more smiling. Do not misunderstand, this is the way Thais communicate, it is not because they find you attractive
Women should not speak to or sit next to monks
There are some particular issued relating to dealing with Thais in situations where you are complaining and how to avoid confrontation with Thais, I have covered that under the page “If Things Go Wrong”, since it is when things go wrong that you are most likely to need the advice.