Rules of behavior in Thailand: how not to get imprisoned

Every country has some of specific rules of behavior – Thailand is not an exception. In many cases Thais prefer to turn a blind eye, if it concerns guest’s behavior. But every tourist is a representative of his/her own country, though s/he’s on vacation. Don’t you want you country to be represented in better way?


All things about what one shouldn’t do in Thailand I have divided in 3 chapters:

Law violations

Dear friends, ignorance of the law is not an excuse. And to most of us (even to severe Russians) the prison in home country will seem much more civilized than Thai prison. That’s why one should do his best to avoid breaking Thai law.

1. Drugs

No, no and one more time NO. Neither to consume, nor to transport. Avoid even discussing drugs. Thailand had huge problems with drug traffic, that’s why Thais have very strict laws. Never take anyone’s luggage, no matter how tearfully one begs you to do it. Only your own luggage should be registered on your name, when you board the plane. More than 30 years have passed since “Bangkok Hilton” was filmed, but unfortunately its plot is still up-to-date.

2. The King and monarchy

Thai king is almost holy person for Thai people. So the king and monarchy should be treated with high respect. Avoid any words or actions that can be regarded as an offence against the dignity of sovereign. It means that you should treat careful:

  • King’s images (you will see numerous portraits of the king in any settlement),
  • Money (Thai banknotes are decorated with the image of Their Majesties),
  • Newspapers (as they can include articles about the king and his pictures),
  • Any monuments (never try to climb on them, as it may appear that this is a statue of one of Thai kings).

It is highly recommended to avoid discussing the king as well as politics with Thais. It’s their own business and we are just guests. Also avoid discussing Thai king (with your nationals) in public places. Lèse-majesté is watching you.

3. Blasphemy

Treat all sanctuaries and statues with respect – blasphemy is a law violation. Avoid touching monuments and climbing on them in order to make a picture, a monument can appear to be sacred or to be a statue of a member of Thai Royal family – up to 15 years of imprisonment.

4. Smoking

In Thailand smoking is prohibited on the most of beaches (the list includes all beaches in popular destinations and it will definitely become longer). It goes about huge environmental damage that cigarette butts bring: they are poisoning sea creatures.

a) E-cigarettes

Leave e-cigarettes at home – they have been forbidden in Thailand since 2017, due to high popularity among young people that have never been smoked before.

5. Sex

Prostitution in Thailand is illegal. So one uses sex services only at one’s own risk.

Sexual offenses (including insult to dignity, harassment, and photo / video filming) are punishable by 4-20 years in prison. Sex in public is a law violation also.

6. Topless

Girls should never appear topless in public, even on a beach. In Thailand it’s violation of the law. Of course you may be lucky, if no one notices you or no one reports about you, but is it worth relying on the luck?

Topless sunbathing
I guess this tourist doesn’t know that topless sunbathing is illegal in Thailand. But it doesn’t mean that she won’t be arrested

Information from the embassy

I want to share with you the information that my embassy has published on their website. This information will stay true for any citizen of any country:

According to Thai law one should settle the case with the injured party (if there’s any) in pretrial order (without bringing the case to police and drawing up official protocol). Otherwise (with the permission of the court) the police can imprison you for up to 84 days while the investigation is held.

If there is no injured party, or it is impossible to settle the problem in pretrial order, one should inform the embassy about the place and the reason for detention, reporting:

  • One’s personal data (name, surname, date & place of birth, address of residence in one’s home country);
  • Date of arrival to Thailand and date of departure back home;
  • One’s number of telephone that one uses in Thailand;
  • Information about the host tour company (if you are not traveling on your own);
  • Information/telephone numbers of your relatives (friends) that embassy can contact, if needed.

Holey umbrella

Rules of behavior in Thailand (good manners)

– Thais are extremely sensitive about “saving face”, so never do something that will spoil Thai’s reputation. It can even become a reason for a murder, though Thais are Buddhists and quite nice.

– Screaming while arguing is not acceptable. Furthermore: loud quarrels don’t work with Thais. If you are angry with an employee and you’ve decided to yell at him/her to speed up the process (get smth s/he doesn’t want to offer), you’ll get a vice versa result – it will seem that you have vanished away. The more you shout, the more you become invisible. Only calm dialogue will work in Thailand. So keep to the rule – no aggression and no rudeness.

– Pointing at someone with one’s feet is a rude thing. It can happen unintentionally, when you cross your legs while sitting. Yes, you will see some Thais in public transport that sit with their feet turned to passengers – but don’t forget to notice their low social status.

– Thais are sensitive about bad smells. So stinky person will gain less respect, no matter who it is. In order to smell good, Thais take shower more frequently. And you will notice that they have less smokers comparing to other countries.

– Very small mini skirts & shorts, extreme low neckline definitely won’t underline your dignity. In Thailand this is the way Thai prostitutes dress up (undress?) in order to attract more customers.

– Thais avoid touching one’s head, as a head is a kind of sacred part of body. You may notice that prior making a hair cut (even when a client is from abroad), a hairdresser always respectfully makes wai. So avoid touching Thai heads: in many countries it is acceptable to pat child’s head – don’t ever do this to local children!

– In public transport Thais offer their seats not only to older people, but to monks also.

– Kisses and hugs (and other gestures of sexual behavior) in public are not accepted in Thailand. One should leave all these tender things until one arrives to one’s room.

Inscription carved on a tree
Good chance to meet Thai police

How to visit Thai temple

First of all I would advise you to imagine, how you would dress up, when you intent to visit a temple of your religion (religion of your friends or relatives). How would you behave there? This simple empathic exercise will remove any questions like: “I’ve seen a grandma in mini-skirt and in a top with extremely low neckline, why did no one tell her anything?”

At first, we are guests in Thailand, so let’s behave respectfully as a guest should do. Secondly, if one was allowed, it doesn’t mean that you’ll be allowed too. This is what one should know visiting Thai temple:

– You knees and shoulders should be covered with clothes (all body parts between them, including every piece of breast also). If you can’t stop wearing shorts – bring a big piece of cloth (a towel, a pareo etc), that you can tie on your waist and cover your legs this way.

– Take off any headdress prior to entering a temple (while walking on temple’s territory one should rather have it on in order to avoid sunstroke).

– Take off shoes before entering a temple. In temples that are popular among tourists it’s quite hard to find your shoes later, so if you want to save time, I would recommend having a cloth bag with you in order to hide your shoes there and bring them with you.

– If you want to stay in a temple for a longer time (to see all details of decoration etc), then sit down like Buddhists do (on their knees, with face to the altar) and continue exploring.

– Avoid stepping on the threshold of temple – always step over it.

– Avoid sitting with your feet at Buddha’s image. Thais usually sit on their knees, so their feet face the entrance to the temple and not the altar.

– Keep silence, especially in a temple. While one shouldn’t be too loud on temple’s ground also.

– Don’t take pictures of monks and praying people. Actually any taking picture of a person without his/her permission is a violation of human rights. Try to ask. Most of monks won’t be against taking pictures. But if they allow:

– Avoid touching monks. It should be only their initiative. While women should have no contact with monks at all, even when they need to give something to a monk (one should do it via a man or via putting the item to the ground).

– If you are not certain about the possibility of taking pictures, contact temple’s staff.

– You are not obliged to make any donations (except the entrance fee, if it’s not free) – neither buy incense sticks and flowers for ritual, nor donate for restoration. Everything is based on your free will, but of course it is welcomed.

– Don’t touch statues and monuments on temple’s ground, pay some respect – as this is holy ground and you don’t want to be accused of blasphemy.

– Temple’s territory is not a place for kisses and hugs, do your best to avoid it (choose other scenery if you are in need of a sweet selfie).

Wat Sutthawat
Wat Suttawat in Pattaya

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