15 Things You Shouldn’t Do in Thailand

#1 Washing elephants or taking an elephant ride

Taking an elephant ride or washing elephants sounds so much fun, but by doing so, you are unfortunately contributing to animal cruelty. An elephant is a wild and dangerous animal, to get it so tame, a terrible ritual is performed, which is also called ‘The Crush’.

Definitely don’t get caught by so-called ‘elephant sanctuaries’. As long as you are allowed to touch the elephants, you can assume it is not as ethical as it seems. Do you really want to see elephants without participating in animal suffering? Then visit them in the wild or opt for a hands-off sanctuary.

#2 Visiting a ping-pong show

Ping-pong shows are a real thing in Thailand. If you stroll through the red light district, you will be constantly beckoned to visit one of these sex shows. Often these shows consist of performances by older women shooting all sorts of objects from their punani. Think ping-pong balls, candles, cigarettes, and even live animals like fish. These sex shows are mainly aimed at tourists and you will find them mostly in cities like Bangkok, Pattaya, and Phuket. These shows are legal in themselves, but be aware that the women here might be exploited.

These women are often victims of human trafficking and have few other options to earn money. If you visit these kinds of shows as a tourist, you contribute to perpetuating this exploitation.

There is often an additional scam involved. Upon leaving the club, you are then forced to pay a gigantic bill. The drinks you ordered turned out to be a lot more expensive than you expected, you have sat in a place that was not free or an ‘exit fee’ applies.

#3 Believing that the temple you want to visit is closed today or that it is Lucky Buddha Day

Does someone come up to you and tell you that the temple you want to visit today, is closed? Probably because of a special event, a bank holiday or because “today is ‘Lucky Buddha Day'”.

This is a scam and is often reported near The Grand Palace. After visiting a small temple, you are taken to big shops where you can buy all kinds of fake stuff or (overly) expensive souvenirs. Of course, the scammer gets a hefty commission for this, and he also charges a high price for the tuk-tuk ride. If you get angry because you are aware of the scam, he will probably just leave you behind and let you look for a taxi.

But not everyone uses the exact same scam. After we were at the Grand Palace and walking around the neighbourhood, a man spoke to us. He pointed at my iPhone and told me to watch out for thieves. He told me he was a police officer and proved it by pulling out a (amateurish) card from his pocket. After chatting for a few minutes, he told me that today was Lucky Buddha Day and a special temple was open. But only today, tomorrow is too late. We had already heard about the Lucky Buddha scam, so we immediately cut off the conversation.

So be alert! Always check temple opening hours on the official website, usually, temples are all day.


#4 Paying too much for a tuk-tuk

The tuk-tuk is a popular means of transport and also super fun to drive around in.

But tuk-tuk drivers have also been known to charge tourists way too much. So make sure you agree on a price before boarding and don’t forget to negotiate.

No idea what a good guide price is? Download the apps Grab and Bolt and check the price to your destination there. Keep that price, but accept it even if the price is 50 baht (€1.30) higher, after all, you don’t have to wait for your transport. Grab and Bolt, by the way, are the Asian Ubers and thus offer cheap(er) taxi rides.

#5 Taking a photo with a monkey, snake, tiger or other exotic animal

It may seem fun to take a photo with an exotic animal, but these animals are usually exploited, drugged and mistreated. Remember, they are wild animals and this behaviour is anything but natural. It often looks like they enjoy it, but these animals are forced (behind the scenes) to behave this way.

Don’t cooperate with animal cruelty and just let wild animals be wild animals.

Read more about animal-friendly holidays? 👉 You can do so on the World Animal Protection website.

Een gezin op de scooter

#6 Renting a scooter if you don’t have a motorbike licence

It always looks so idyllic. Riding around among the rice fields on your little scooter. And it is not difficult to arrange one. You’re rarely asked for a driving licence, you just have to pay a deposit or hand over your passport. And you’re good to go. But (unfortunately) not without risks.

After all, Thailand does not have scooters as we know them. All scooters start from 100cc and so are actually motorbikes. So you need a motorbike license for that. I

The direct consequence is that if you have an accident, you are not insured. This is because it is compulsory (even in Thailand) by law to have a motorbike licence. In case of an accident, you are not in line with the law and therefore uninsured, no matter how good your travel insurance back home is.

You will unfortunately not be the first and not the last with a GoFundMe page to cover tens of thousands of euros in hospital costs. Thailand is a cheap country, but not in terms of hospital costs.

Furthermore, many tourists have no experience on these bikes and Thailand’s roads can be chaotic and dangerous. Especially after an unexpected rainstorm.

If you do decide to rent a scooter in Thailand, make sure you are familiar with the traffic rules and drive slowly. Always wear a helmet and prefer good shoes to flip-flops. And never, ever hand over your passport. Also, always check the reviews of the rental company and take photos and videos of the bike so that you are not charged for any damage afterwards.

Even better is to get your motorbike licence (first) (don’t forget your international one), rent a car or opt for a chauffeur-driven car. Travelling by public transport is also possible and is also mega fun 😉

#7 Touching someone’s head

The head is considered the most sacred part of the body in Thailand, so touching someone’s head can be considered very disrespectful.

Greeting someone is done through a Wai (hand gesture) or by giving a nod.

#8 Saying something bad about the King

The King of Thailand is highly respected and loved by the people. It is therefore important to respect the king and the royal family and never say anything negative about them.

In Thailand, majesty defamation is a serious crime and can even lead to imprisonment.

You will find pictures of the king on government buildings and other places on the streets. At 8am and 6pm, the national anthem is played on the radio and TV. This sometimes also happens at railway stations and in parks. Then – like the locals – stand still.

The King is also depicted on banknotes. If you accidentally drop money, never step on this with your foot. This is considered very rude (feet are unclean).

Also, do not embarrass the Thai by asking about this subject, they prefer not to talk about it.

#9 Using drugs

In Thailand, drugs are illegal and possession or use can lead to severe penalties, including imprisonment or even death.

For cannabis, however, the story is slightly different. Since September 2020, the use of recreational cannabis in small quantities (up to 10 grams) has become legal in Thailand. However, there are still strict rules on the use, possession, and sale of cannabis. For instance, it is still illegal to use cannabis in public.

Cannabis is sold everywhere, even in the local supermarket. But be aware that you are not allowed to smoke in public, even if it often seems that way.

Certainly, never use other drugs. Magic mushrooms are offered in many places, but these are thus illegal and Thai prisons do not seem the finest.

#10 Dressed sexy to a temple

The Thai are generally pretty modest people. And they dress accordingly. The younger ones do go along more with ‘our fashion’ and you will see them wearing cropped tops. But in general, Thai people do not like to walk around naked.

This does not mean that you have to cover up completely, but do try to be respectful. Riding around on your scooter bare-chested, for example, is really not appreciated by locals.

At temples, however, there are strict dress codes. So dress appropriately when visiting temples or other holy places. Do not wear beachwear or shorts, and cover your shoulders and knees. You are also often asked to take off your shoes, this is not required in the entire complex, but in certain parts.

If you don’t have appropriate clothing, you can often buy it near the temple, or you can borrow a sarong. Anyway, buying a sarong at the beginning of your holiday is a good idea. A sarong is handy for in temples, but also fine for on the beach.

In some places, tourists are treated a little less strict in terms of dress code. Sometimes tourists are allowed to enter a temple wearing shorts. But even if they are not so strict, dress as you should, just out of respect for the culture you are in.

Of course, instead of a sarong, you can buy the oh-so-coveted elephant trousers 😉

#11 Paying full price

Haggling is very common in Thailand, especially in markets and shops where prices are not fixed. If you don’t haggle, you will probably pay too much for the product or service. However, always remain polite while haggling. Also, do not overdo it and allow the seller some profit too.

How do you start haggling?

  1. Greet the seller politely and smile (it is the land of smiles!).
  2. Let the seller quote a price first and then start with a counter-proposal that is about half or slightly less of what the seller is asking.
  3. Stay friendly and keep smiling while negotiating.
  4. If you cannot come to an agreement, you can quietly leave on which you have a chance of him offering his very lowest offer.

You are most likely to get a low price in the morning, as the first buyer would give good fortune for the rest of the day.

#12 Ignore street food

You see street vendors everywhere in Thailand and they often offer delicious food and drinks. Many tourists think the food here is unsafe, but it is generally not. In fact, street food is often more hygienic than eating in a restaurant!

However, it is important to be careful about what you eat or drink. Do not eat raw or uncooked food and avoid stalls that do not look hygienic. Only drink water from sealed bottles and make sure ice cubes are not made from tap water.

#13 Forgetting to arrange your visa

Going to Thailand for more than 30 days? Make sure you arrange your visa on time and do so before you leave.

If you want to stay in Thailand for a shorter period, you won’t need a visa. Upon arrival in Thailand, you will get a stamp in your passport that allows you to stay in the country for 30 days.

For stays longer than 30 days, you will need a visa. Apply for this on time, as it can take several weeks to obtain a visa.

If you plan to stay in Thailand for longer than your visa allows, it is important to extend your visa on time or travel out and return with a new visa (border run).

#14 Vaping in public

In Thailand, it is illegal to import, sell, possess, or use e-cigarettes and vape devices. The Thai government sees e-cigarettes and vape devices as a threat to public health and therefore wants to completely ban their use.

This means that even having a vape or e-cigarette can get you into trouble, such as high fines or jail sentences. It is therefore not advisable to carry or use vapes in Thailand.

#15 Pointing your feet at Buddha

In Thailand, it is highly inappropriate to point your feet towards Buddha, or to rest them on a temple wall. This is seen as a sign of disrespect to Buddha and his followers.

When visiting a temple, make sure you take off your shoes before entering and point your feet backwards and not towards Buddha.

Hopefully these tips have helped you get a better idea of what you’re better off not doing in Thailand. It is a beautiful country and it is incredibly appreciated by locals if you are mindful of their customs and habits. Enjoy your trip!


Do you have any other tips? Or seen a mistake? Let us know in the comments!