5 Things I Wish I Knew Before Going to Thailand

Before heading off to Thailand, here are five tips from nomads who have made their own mistakes so you don't do the same.


Boats on the shore of Koh Phi Phi Island, Thailand Photo © Unsplash/Frankie Spontelli

1. Watch Out For Dodgy Deals

Thailand is a popular destination, so it's important to keep your wits about you, as there are many people who will try to take advantage of unassuming travelers.

Clem Robin from i-to-i says, "From Tuk Tuk drivers who offer you city tours at an amazingly low price (or more like a ride to their friend's shop), to retailers switching a high-quality product for a cheap version at point of purchase, the best option if you're ever in a situation where you're not comfortable is to simply leave."

Here are some of the most common scams to be aware of while traveling through Thailand.

2. You Know More Thai Than You Think

The Thai language has adopted many words and phrases from English, and some phrases from other languages, too. They call those words tap sap. So, if you learn tap sap, you'll know a lot of Thai words that an English speaker already knows (they're similar to English, but with odd pronunciations).

Here are some examples: guest house, hotel, computer, taxi, disco, clinic, same – or as they say, same same. Many useful Thai words are repeats or couplets, similar to the 'same same'.

If you're getting a massage that's too deep, you can say "bow bow" which means go easier, or 'softly softly.' The Thai word for often is boi boi, which sounds like boy boy.

Ko Phi Phi Don, Thailand at sunset. Photo credit: Unsplash/Johnny Clow

3. Beware of the Buckets

Lined up in neat rows, filled with shiny bottles of Thai whiskey, vodka, gin and M150 (the Thai equivalent of Red Bull), these buckets sit innocently gleaming at street stalls waiting for travelers to buy them.

Nikki Scott from southeastasiabackpacker.com says, "Backpackers be warned! The bucket is the deadliest of all concoctions in Southeast Asia, and a drink that is not to be taken lightly – particularly at a full moon party. After just one, or heaven forbid two of these notorious buckets, chances are you won't remember what happened during the course of the evening, never mind your name or where you come from."

If you insist on buying a bucket, bring a few reusable straws and share one bucket between friends. Take it easy, that's all we're saying.

4. Look Before You Leap

Throughout Thailand, the skill level of drivers – both locals and travelers – is pretty bad. Pedestrians are often ignored, and the number one rule of the road seems to be the largest vehicle wins.

According to the World Heatlh Organization, Thailand has the second-highest road traffic fatality rate in the world, with an annual estimate of more than 24,000 deaths – that's about 66 every day.

John Williams from Siam Divers says, "Thai people, though lovely and generous, are not very disciplined (but it's part of their charm). Watch what people around you are doing and mimic their movements and actions. Use pedestrian crossings whenever possible, but do not assume that they are pedestrian safe. Use overpasses where they exist."

Tuk Tuk on the busy streets of Bangkok. Photo credit: Unsplash/Wanaporn Yangsiri

5. Stand Your Ground

If you feel like you are unfairly treated by authorities (or people who masquerade as authorities), it's okay to make a big fuss.

Many travelers in Thailand are fed the idea that Thai people never complain or make a fuss in public. For the most part that's true, but even locals have a saturation point – beyond which they go ballistic.

Also, know that anything can be bargained for in Thailand. Even in the heat of an extortionist's shakedown, a bargain can be struck. But, don't push too hard to save a few dollars – have some respect for the person who is selling the item and pay a reasonable price.

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  • lindsay said



  • Marina from MadeInMoments.com said

    Good to know! We're adding these tips to our notes for Thailand. We're planning on going from Feb-March. Wish us luck! :)


  • Robert West said

    Also be aware of some expat establishments. There are many expats that will scam you faster than a Thai will. This is because you may trust an expat that speaks your language and fell safe like you do in your own country. There are some really bad expats living in Thailand so beware of them too. Use your common sense.


  • Chris Mulhearn said

    I have witnessed thai police selling drugs to bungalow owners who then sell on to tourists. At which point the police get tippped off from bungalow owner and tourist finds themselves behind bars. I saw this one many occasions worst was a German family (Parents and three kids) arrived on Koh panghan and within an hour of checking in were arrested after purchasing a joint from bungalow. The police are some of the most corrupt of the Thais you will find.


  • Zeeshan Shah said

    Thailand is exotic ! Generally a friendly culture.


  • John Bowen said

    Yes, beware the expatriates, they are generally working in a place like Thailand because they can't conform to the rules of their own country and find it easier in a place like SE Asia to behave in a manner they prefer without the same regulations or chance of getting court


  • Vanessa said

    1) Most things are generally fake.
    2) Cabbies and rickshaw drivers trying to cheat you at every turn.


  • Gary said

    Check the currency you intend to exchange very closely for imperfections before you leave your home country. Currency exchanges will not accept worn, torn, or even bills with any writing on them. I was amazed that $160 USD was rejected for exchange due to seemingly insignificant details.


  • Stefan said

    This is stupid. Learn people to behave themself and be respectfull to them, their King, dance and way of living as it is very important to Thai. Don't step over people to pass your way along!


  • Hillary said

    Just got back from Thailand where I was traveling alone. I must say - I felt so safe there! More so than in Europe! People went out of their way to help me and they treated me like I was part of their family. A wonderful place full of wonderful people.

    Yes, it's true that tourist prices are different from local prices but can you blame them? I ate meals for like 20 cents - they were so good that I wanted to pay more.


  • Michelle said

    A few things in here are totally wrong. The tuk tuk thing in #1 is not them cheating you. The government tuk tuks offer a reduced fare with the understanding that you will then visit a local shop at the end of your touring around for the day. Talk to your tuk tuk driver and ask how long you need to stay in the shop so they get the rest of their fare from the government. (Usually it is 5-10 minutes, and you are not obligated to buy anything.) In number #4 you suggest the Thais are bad drivers which is also wrong. It is true that the biggest vehicle has the right of way but there are rarely accidents. Be safe, and pay attention to your surroundings. Vehicles can drive on the sidewalks, especially motorcycles/scooters when the drivers don't have helmets. You are right about the buckets... also watch out for the 5 baht shots.


  • Carla said

    Buckets and traffic are the two negative I experiences I had while visiting Thailand. Drunk and passed out and got hit by a moped. I woke up in a hospital with no insurance. I had to make my own way home. Never again.


  • Paul said

    The buckets are a bigger problem than you mention. There's nothing wrong with the branded rum in the photo but sometimes they switch it to contain industrial enthanol instead. A number of people have died from this.


  • Eric said

    @Michelle: If you are careful and keep your witts about you when wandering around a city or town, then yes, it's unlikely you'd be involved in an accident. But by no means could the average Thai driver be considered a good driver. For a start, it's possible to buy your license without qualifying for it. Second, Thailand has the highest annual road death toll of any country in SE Asia, and for the whole of Asia it is second only to China which has a much bigger population and covers a much bigger area. Third, on the highways outside the cities, there's a much higher risk of being in an accident. Blatant speeding, poor driving skills, drunk driving, and long-distance bus drivers (and truck drivers) falling asleep at the wheel, stray animals wandering onto the road causing accidents, etc (and in Thailand a stray animal can be anything from a lizard to an elephant). The roads are the biggest danger you will face in Thailand by far, because there's just so many ways you can get killed on them, and there's loads of video evidence on YouTube to prove it.

    @Paul: That is extremely rare. People just should be vigilant when buying. But as the author suggested, it's better not to buy these at all.

    @Phil Sylvester: As for sharing with straws, hepatitis isn't going to be much fun, and ordinary alcoholic beverages diluted with M150 probably aren't going to be strong enough to kill it.

    The main danger from bucket drinks is that they make it hard to keep track of how much you've had, they encourage over-indulging, and people that pass out from drinking too much are likely to get robbed (and sometimes much worse). Robbers and rapists who prey on bucket victims more often than not turn out to be other foreigners. Thailand is more fun when you're aware of your surroundings anyway. You can get drunk at home. No need to travel all the way to Thailand for this experience!


  • B said

    A Thai here.

    Make me laugh with pathetic when I read "..."If you feel like you are unfairly treated by authorities (or people who masquerade as authorities), it's okay to make a big fuss..."

    There are TONS of ways to express your disagree with soimething, yet you do the least appreciate by Thai. No wonder you Westerners always act like this. No respect for the locals. Worst is that you think you are always right and won't listen to us. You think you can do whatever you want.

    Samples? Sure.




    https://youtu.be/BDGA9In3rww (https://youtu.be/yG8gkAjYxWo)



    Typical Westerners.


  • Anonymous said

    I remember picking up a long stem rose that fell in the street and putting it back around a yellow ribbon on a tree. A shop lady gave me a very big smile for doing that. I tried not to show the bottom of my feet, but I accidentally did so, and my bus driver pointed it out to me. I believe in the old saying "when in Rome do as the Roman's". We humans sometimes do stupid things that we learn to regret.. When a local in another country behaves badly I try to remember that my countrymen also do bad things sometimes.


  • john said

    I've been Living in Thailand almost 5 months. And I have found that a lot of the people who work in the bars or other establishments are liars thieves and cheats! be weary when you go to convenience stores like 7-Eleven or Family Mart because they will try to ring up items twice. This is not always the case but just be weary of it


  • MM said

    I found another nice website: www.huahinplaces.com it has many places around Prachuap area and many articles about Hua Hin and Cha Am. Check it out.


  • DMT said

    Quite a negative slant on some of these tips? I have lived in Thailand for 15 years and have a Thai wife. I have never had any problems with Thai people...a few with foreigners, but nothing serious. A few more tips would be:
    Wear deodorant...it's very hot!
    Learn to wai...very respectful.
    Stay calm...always.
    Smile...even if you don't feel like it.
    Be respectful.
    Don't get drunk in public places.
    Drive slowly.
    Oh...and B above...just in case you ever read this...we are not all the same :)


  • Licky said

    I was lucky enough to live in Phuket for 10 months. Be respectful and you’ll generally get the same back.


  • A frequent Thai Visitor said

    Married for 16 years to a Thai lady and thus a frequent visitor to Thailand I am lucky that when out and about in Thailand I am usually accompanied by my wife or my Thai in-laws so generally avoid all the scams etc: However the opinion of B (A Thai here) above is pretty typical of most Thai people. Farangs (Westerners) are only popular in Thailand when they are spending money and behind your back they are giving you the bird. That said...a lot of Farangs behave appallingly because they haven't bothered to learn local customs. The only foreigners the Thais really like are the Japanese. Very close ties between these two countries and most Thai Medics are trained there. You will get along with most Thais if you are calm, polite and respectful as you should be as a guest in any country.


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