As an American expat who lived in Thailand for almost a year, there were several observations I made during my time overseas. Here is my list:
1)Thai people are generally very kind.
Of course, no matter where you go in the world, you will encounter rude individuals, but overall the Thai people are pretty kind. They smile a lot, are peaceful, go out of their way to help, and take an interest in learning where you are from if you’re a foreigner. They also avoid confrontation. Don’t be surprised if you get invited for a meal by people you just met. They are that kind.
2)They love karaoke.
By simply walking down the street at night, you can hear karaoke echoing out of buildings. A couple times I was even awakened by karaoke. If you can sing Zombie by the Cranberries (an older song that they are oddly obsessed with) then you could probably be famous here.
3)The roads are peacefully chaotic.
I thought driving on the roads in Thailand would be scarier, but the truth is that motorbikes outnumber cars, so the cars that are on the road are usually very aware of the presence of motorbikes; something you don’t see as often back home. I’d probably feel safer riding a bike here than riding one in the states, except in Bangkok, or in places with very narrow or hilly roads.
4)Please take off your shoes.
Yes, it’s cultural to take off your shoes before entering buildings, sometimes restaurants, and in the classroom. To respect the culture, I check to see if others have taken off their shoes and just follow the example, because some areas you can leave them on. I teach in my socks and the students enter the classroom in their socks as well. Yet, it’s become such a habit that I take off my sandals before entering my own place or my friends’ places as well.
5)Food never comes out at the same time.
If you sit down in a restaurant, food is made fresh on the burners, and when your meal is cooked it is brought out immediately. This means that if you come with a group to a restaurant, expect meals to come out at different times when they are ready. So just go ahead and eat or your meal will go cold! No one will be offended.
6)Thai massages are not for the faint at heart.
They are painful, yet so amazing. The masseuse will bend you, dig their elbows into you, crack your back, massage your legs – and it’s seriously great. For about $6 USD for an hour-long massage, it’s tempting to go everyday. But if you can’t handle pain, stick to a regular oil massage for a higher price!
7)If you are a foreigner, you will get stared at.
Maybe not so much in a big city like Bangkok, but in small towns you will get stared at in the grocery store or just about wherever you go. You just stand out and the locals are fascinated with foreigners. It’s not a big deal, just smile and move on.
8)Don’t rush a Thai person.
Service runs slower, the clock runs slower, your kids could show up 15 minutes late to class – things are just more laid back, I guess. Don’t freak out, just embrace it.
9)Imodium could be your best friend.
High chances you will get sick from the food at first if you are from the West. Pretty much everyone I know did. Our stomachs are just not used to it and, as good as Thai food tastes, I highly doubt the cleanliness standard is up to par with what you are accustomed to.
10)Toilet paper and soap seem to be a luxury.
You will not find it in 75% of bathrooms here. Bring your own roll and some hand sanitizer and you’ll be fine.
11)You should “Wai”
It’s a slight bow, with palms pressed together in a prayer-like fashion. It’s a respectful way to say hello, thank you, and goodbye. The Thai love it when you do, too. People won’t be offended if you don’t because you’re a foreigner, but could be offended if you don’t return it. I just do it anyway.
12)Don’t touch a Thai person’s head or point your feet at someone.
The head is considered sacred and should be respected. I totally forgot about this as I was doing a game in one of my classes and I touched the kids’ heads and my teaching assistant said, “Teacher, please don’t touch heads.” OOOPS! Pointing your feet at someone or moving things with your feet is considered rude. It’s hard to remember, but do your best!
13)Street food is amazing.
Self explanatory. But seriously it is.
14)So is Thai tea (Cha Yen) and mango sticky rice.
Thai tea is brewed black tea with condensed milk, sugar, and ice. I tell them not to put sugar in it, though, because they use unhealthy amounts. But it tastes frickin’ amazing! Mango sticky rice is just fresh cut mango on top of sticky rice with sweet coconut milk and condensed milk. My mouth is watering already.
15)You could learn to speak some Thai, but if you accentuate wrongly they won’t understand it.
Yes, the Thai language accentuates certain sounds like “A.” So if you say the exact word without exaggerating certain sounds, they will look at you and have no idea what you just said. This has happened a lot to me.
In bigger cities you should be fine. But in smaller towns, you are better off veering to the conservative side. Covering your shoulders, not showing too much skin.
17)Vegetarians and people who can’t handle spicy foods could have a harder time.
A lot of the meals come with either chicken, pork, or seafood, and a lot of the meal options can be pretty spicy. You could ask for no spice, no meat, but just be prepared that a lot of menu items contain some form of chili or meat. I personally love it!
18)Stray dogs are everywhere.
Literally. They look mangy, yet most are pretty chilled out since they have been living outside most of their lives. Sometimes you get that dog that decides it wants to chase you…I’m a wimp so I run.
19)The political climate fluctuates, but I’m not sure anyone really knows what’s going on.
Last time I checked, there was a military takeover of the country and you may see military personnel walking around in certain areas. You may see a protest if you’re lucky. But the political structure changes frequently and always has. Just stay out of it and you’ll be fine.
20)People eat out pretty much every meal.
Yes, it’s actually cheaper to eat out then it is to cook a meal at home. Buying one thing at the grocery store like muffins could cost you the price of an entire meal or two.
21)Don’t expect Western amenities
Your apartment or house could lack a kitchen, a washing machine, etc. It literally could just be a bed and a bathroom. I lucked out with a fridge, water boiling machine, TV, DVD player, and the necessary A/C!
22)You won’t do your own laundry again.
Yes, it’s cheap to pay for laundry service. It will come back nicely folded and stacked for you to put away for a small fee, and since you most likely won’t have a washing machine anyway, it fares well. I paid a little more than $2 USD to have a bag full of dirty clothes washed and folded. Yay!
23)Western food doesn’t take like Western food.
Sometimes when you need your Western food fix, you may be greatly disappointed. Even simple things like pasta seem to get slaughtered here. If you find a place that can cook a Western meal, that’s great, but you will most likely pay a higher price for it! You will be excited to eat at places you probably wouldn’t eat at home. I ate KFC, McDonald’s, and Dairy Queen. I wouldn’t touch that at home, but when your options are limited and you are craving a Western dish, it’s like finding an oasis in the desert.
24)I feel safe.
Yes, it feels safe here. Peaceful actually. So far I haven’t had any situations where I feared for my safety.
25)Enjoy riding your motorbike
Because it’s fun and you most likely won’t be riding one at home, get a motorbike! You can get around on one for cheap and they go over 120+ mph. $3 to fill up my tank, and I could rent one for the entire month for about 1,000 Thai BAHT, or $30 USD.
26)Life is simple here.
As it should be. So stop being high maintenance and enjoy it!
27)Skin whitening products are a real thing.
Literally everywhere you turn, all the makeups are for Asian skin. White skin is seen as a sign of higher class. So if you need makeup or normal moisturizers that won’t whiten your skin, you may need to travel into Bangkok, unless you have really white skin – then you’re golden!
28)Thai people are generally all thin.
It’s rare to see an overweight Thai person, although it happens. Their foods are generally not fatty and they don’t eat as much dairy or sugar as we do. Tons of rice, though.
29)Buddhism is the #1 religion here.
You will see shrines in restaurants and businesses – people’s lives revolve around it. So be mindful and respectful.
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