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Forums > Social Discussion > Thailand - beyond the smiles

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Member Since: 20th Sep 2003
Total posts: 6650
Posted:Coming to Thailand, tourists should inform themselves about country, culture and customs. Failing to do so has potential to lead into difficult situatons, because Thai-culture sometimes is very different to what westerners are able to grasp due to their background.

Having travelled (to some tourist destinations in) Thailand for about 6 years now, I still admire this beautiful country and the people of Thailand - even though there are certain topics which I needed to revise and change my perspective upon.

What strikes me most about the kingdom is, that it has a mix which makes it the perfect tourist destination:

- friendly people
- safety
- high technological standard
- cleanliness
- good medical support
- a mostly intact society
- tolerance
- stunning environment
- moderate prices

In the following I want to point out a few topics, which the ordinary tourist not even comes aware of and might not have the need to. But if one wants to get an idea about his surroundings, when travelling the country, he's advised to at least take acknowledgement of a few facts. Personally I aim this not as to turn tourists away - I will continue visiting myself - but to spread awareness and understanding.

First and foremost: if there is anything that needs to be avoided in Thailand, it's a conflict. In a conflict between two or more persons, at least one is likely to loose his "face" (i.e. reputation and honour). In a conflict between you, as a foreigner and a Thai citizen, it's likely to be YOU who looses. In the best case you will find yourself getting ignored - in the worst case you might suffer the loss of property, health and/ or freedom.

Let's deal with it in alphabetical order:

(Inadequate) Behaviour

Showing affection in public is regarded offensive and displaying nudity is strictly prohibited, may result
in a criminal sentence and imprisonment. Drunk and intoxicated behaviour is also regarded inadequate. The
Thai generally display a great deal of tolerance, but this is misunderstood by the valued tourist and often limits are pushed to an extent, where even a Thai can no longer hold on to himself.

By the time a Thai national "snaps", the foreigner usually finds himself facing many opponents, even armed with (broken) bottles, sticks, knives or (rarely) guns.

The best advice one can follow in case of a conflict is: WALK AWAY - as long as you can walk. You stand NO chance whatsoever, even if you are the greatest martial artist. The count of opponents will swell as long as you are standing on your own two feet - and it is not very likely that the Thai will suffer any consequences.

Criticism/ Complaints:

One should be extremely careful With critical comments about Thailand and the Thai in general, but especially about the King of Thailand. There are a few examples that one can get himself in jail, only because of critical remarks about the King. In the past have been a few incidents reported. One tourist even got arrested upon arrival for voicing dodgy remarks on the airplane. Another tourist got arrested for
vandalizing the Kings image/ pictures - after getting drunk - and sentenced to ten years imprisonment.

I guess you get the idea about how serious the Thai take such kind of offences. If you want to inform yourself about the underlying reasons; the reputation of the royal family in Thailand, do so and you may find yourself in a position where you have at least understanding for the fact that the royal family enjoys semi-godlike status in Thailand.

Criticism about the society, social structure and official measures are regarded inadequate. A "Farang" is a guest in this country and as such not legible to teach Thais a lesson, or dispensing his advice of what they should improve. Especially criticism about the state of affairs in areas like Patthaya, Phuket, Samui or Phangan is not welcomed, especially since the Farang have their fair share in degenerated customs and often behave like masters, just because they take some money to these areas.

Valid complaints may be voiced about unjust regulations which directly affect foreigners against Thai, but - as when complaining about improper service - one has to stay calm, never raising the voice, or show impatience. One should consider well beforehand, if the topic itself is worth the hastle, because it can backfire any given moment - especially with personal criticism in the presence of other Thai - and it's not very likely that complaints or criticism is going to change anything significantly.

Crime (statistics)

To my very own surprise, Thailand is on third place in the world, when it comes to gun related homicides (directly following South Africa and Colombia). This may or may not be linked to it's war on drugs and the insurgency of the southern provinces.

Statistics of homocides per capita

According to an article in a travel guide:

"The [gang] rape and murder of 21-yr old Katherine Horton January 1st 2006 sheds another different light on "peaceful" Thailand. After the incident two local fishermen were quickly arrested, charged and sentenced to
death, with the local government claiming it to be an "isolated event" and the island to be "safe". However, evidence that undermine these claims are there. An 18-yr old British woman came forward to say that on January 21st 2006 - after Horton's murder, the trial of the alleged killers and the arrival of the new police chief - she had been drugged and raped on Ko Samui and the police had refused to investigate the case, accused her of being drunk and sexually available and told her that pressing charges would hurt tourism. A 44-yr old Swedish woman and a 12-yr old Swedish girl also said that they had been raped on Samui in January 2006 and then humiliated by police. The unsolved January 29 drive-by shooting of a Thai coconut seller offered further evidence of a seething undercurrent of violence on the island. According to a report that a group of Thai academics and civil servants submitted to their government in April 2006, all of these crimes reflect deep-
seated turmoil on Ko Samui. In the past 20 years, Samui has transformed from a rural coconut farming and fishing community to a holiday destination that draws more than one million tourists per year. Many of the investors who have benefited from the islands boom are foreign and, while less than 20% of the islanders have gained economically from the burgeoning tourist industry, all island residents have faced a higher cost of living because of tourism. According to the report, this increased polarization of rich and poor on the island has led to "explosive tensions" between locals and foreigners. In this situation, according to "The Guardian",
Samui faces and escalating rate of crimes of both "opportunity and spite".

IMO this tension is very likely to spread to Phangan soon, if it not already has, as the recent murder in the Drop-In bar indicates. Having said this, I would like you to follow the links to inform yourself.

Spiked drinks and (gang) rapes to foreign travellers by Thai locals in Ko Phangan has been rumoring for all the six years that I am travelling there.


It should be common knowledge that the intake of illicit drugs is strictly forbidden within the kingdom.
Possession of even small quantities and especially trafficking of drugs is threatened with harsh penalties.
Investigating into the history of Thailands "war on drugs" 2003 makes me feel uncomfortable publishing this article and therefore I direct the reader to the reports of Human Rights Watch.


"They will be put behind bars or even vanish without a trace. Who cares? They are destroying our country."
Interior Minister Wan Muhamad Nor Matha, referring to drug dealers, January 2003

"In many provinces, there are death squads roaming around killing drug dealers. The rule of law and democracy could disappear overnight."
Somchai Homlaor, secretary-general, Forum Asia, March 2003

Apart from the fact that this became reality in 2003, what scares me personally about it, is the rise in popularity PM Taksin gained from his "war on drugs", where thousands of [alleged] drug dealers got killed.

In my opinion that is not a very positive sign, especially since it is commonly known that (western) drug users go to the southern islands of Thailand to party and there it seems to be just too obvious and easy to obtain all kinds of drugs.

I will leave it up to you to read the reports and get the idea.


It is a myth that Thailand is a poor country. This becomes apparent, if looking at the fact that Thailand is on 21.st place of the world list on GDP - ranging before the Netherlands, Belgium and Sweden. This wealth is not well distributed and there certainly is a lot of poverty, lack of access to educational facilities and healthcare institutions.

GDP Thailand

Hence it is a misconception that the rest of the world has to support Thailand in it's efforts to become a first world nation. It has to undertake own efforts.

For example there is still a lot of damage and suffering from the last Tsunami in the southern regions. When looking at the fact of the insurgency in the South and in connection with Thailand refusing international Aid (because it feared it's Standard and Poors international credit rating to diminish) one might come to a different picture, than the popular belief.

Also I would like to point out the latest report, "Thailand economic report" issued April 2007 by the World Bank Office Bangkok:

Quote: Thailand's overall poverty is low, but it is still significant in poorer regions and rural areas.(...) Total exports topped US $ 130 billion, with exports of agriculture, as well as of labour-intensive and machinery
manufacturers growing robustly.(...) The decline in private investment growth is not only problematic in terms of the current account but also in terms of adding to existing capacity.(...) This low growth last yearwould have been much lower if foreign investment did not rise at a real rateof nearly 18%, as private domestic investment experienced negative growth.(...) Thai investors, in both tradable and non-tradable sectors have remained skittish throughout the recovery period because of structural factors (...) and in part due to investment climate constraints like high regulatory burden, inadequate availability of right skills and a growing deficit of infrastructure.(...)


Along with numerous atrocities of Muslims against Buddhists (and vice versa) I would just mention a recent incident in which a Buddhist woman got shot off her motorbike and later set ablaze, whilst still alife - according to (eye)witnesses who heard her screaming for help and saw her crawling across the road.

Reuters reports

No-one dared to help her in fear of reprisals. During the three year lasting insurgency about 2.000 people got killed so far and there is no end in sigth. The brutality in which these acts are carried out speak a certain language itself. Current efforts of the Buddhist community (which makes over 90% of Thailands population) to declare and anchor Buddhism as the "state religion" - IMO - is not beneficial to settle the conflict.

Another incident in March


Young girls and women hanging out in Bars at nighttime, open for interaction with foreigners. Whoever lives in doubt about whether or not these are "working" or "office-girls", has either not reached a certain maturity, or does not know enough about Thai culture.

The skimming usually continues as long as the bills float, even after the tourist has left the country. It's to be observed in internet cafes, where those girls communicate by eMail or video-conference with their former "boyfriends". To complain about scam is ridiculous, as there are always two who have to find each other.

Usually the girls make up stories about an ill-fallen family member, the death of the families only waterbuffaloe
or all kinds of sob-stories, in which the guy can then feel good about himself by "donating" a few hundred bucks
only - by this "saving" an entire families destiny.

Prostitution is common in Thailand and whidely accepted by the locals. Meaning that the prostitutes are whidely
accepted, but not their foreign couterpart.

It is a myth that a foreigner in company of or even married to a Thai woman would gain (more) respect from Thai people. If a marriege gets divorced, the courts usually rule in exclusive favour of the local (wo)man.


There is a number of scams in Thailand, the most common are gemstones, jewelry, brand-couterfeits and suits.

Why are there tourists who know that about the "Billabong" or "Diesel" clothing is counterfeitet, but dearly believe that the suit is made from genuine Armani or Boss fabric. It seems ridiculous to watch tourists buy gemstones in Thailand, just to resell them in their own country.

If one has even just brief knowledge about "the trade", he knows that jewellers in the West exclusively buy from their relied sources, such as wholesellers or from the mines directly. But NEVER from a walk by ex Thai tourist. The efforts undertaken by the Thai authorities to stop this are little to none.

If you decide to buy that "brand new release" box-office hit DVD - chances are that you will get a "screener", with desolate audio or video quality and whether or not that PC program really works, one should check immediately (i.e. same night) after purchase - still the dealers usually have a strict "no money back" policy. Same applies to watches and certain electronica (copies made in China, labelled as originals). As long as someone has no up-to-date information about prices and products, it is likely to fall into "the bargain trap", because the rates for quality products do not vary THAT much between the West and Thailand anymore.


Thailands religion is predominantly Buddhist. But it contains it's own form of Buddhism - which to criticise
I refuse. Just I would like to point out that it might differ from the original teachings in some points, such as offerings to the spirits and making money by fortune tellers and merchants of all kinds on temple premises - for example by selling caged birds. Thai temples are displaying a great deal of wealth and they do issue (Buddha) amulettes - not for sale, but a "rental fee". These amulettes are considered to bring luck to his bearer, predominantly in terms of wealth and protection against bad fortune.

These relicts are traded on the streets and in the shops of Thailand thereafter and the estimated daily turnover is about 10 million Baht per day in Bangkok alone. Against the (Thai) regulation not to commericalise the image of Buddha.

It is an obligation for Thai to attend the temple at least once in their lifetime, for at least 3 months - as a monk. Which is a very different approach to "monkhood" than the one we share in the West. I have no judgement upon this, but feel obligated to at least point this out.


Whether or not Thais are racists or nationalists is a question many tourists have asked themselves sooner or later. Fact is that racism and nationalism have a different meaning in different countries.

If I would have to suggest, then I would say "yes and no". Certainly Thai are nationalists, this is promoted every day by playing the national anthem at 8 am and 6 pm. Whilst hearing the melody it is considered rude, if not even offensive NOT to stand up or continue walking in the street. Everybody is expected to stand (still) as long as the anthem sounds.

The complaints of the ethnic minorities (malaysian in the South and the Naga people in the North) at least indicate that their rights of self determination, or their interests, culture and religion is getting disregarded in the kingdom.

But for a Thai these terms have different meanings as to a European. Thai nationalism is deeply rooted in their
history, their fights against the Burmese and having been the only country in South East Asia NOT been colonised. King Rama VI even wrote a book about overseas Chinese in Siam, titled: "Chinese, the Jews of the Orient"

Having said this, Thais pride about their nation and race is by far not of the extent as to call them "Nazi" - please do not (by any means) misinterprete my words into this direction.

(My) Conclusion:

When travelling Thailand simply be aware of the facts, apart from the flashy "paradise" advertisements. It still is a stunningly beautiful country with beautiful people and some aspects in society and culture which personally I can deeply admire.

the best smiles are the ones you lead to wink


Location: la-la land
Member Since: 15th Feb 2002
Total posts: 2419
Posted:thanks for the post Tom smile I spent the first ten years of my life in Thailand - I couldn't speak English till I was about 5.. all you have said is completly true.. there is no such thing as paradise - there is always an undercurrent of darkness that visitors just do not see.

I remember the govenment coups that used to happen - so frequently that my parents just ended up raising an eyebrow with utterances of 'oh another one' - most were peaceful, but there was blood-shed at the end of my road once.

My school was an American Baptist mission.. (big up the C.M.I.S!) it was sited next door to a 'drug dealer's house (although this was never proven) - I remember one evening in the summer - I was in bed, just about to drift off to sleep - huge almighty explosion - the only panes on glass in my house were shattered instantly. In the morning it transpired that the school's next door neighbour's house had been blown to smitherines by a rival 'drug dealer' (only here-say obviously) - the kids were colecting body parts that were lain strewn over our long jump pit - Darren Dunham actually got a finger with a rather nice ring still attached.. - that was a more exciting school day for us..

sorry I'm rambling - you post has broght up a lot of memories of my childhood smile

The Thais are a funny people, Land of smiles they call it.. but there is so much darkness hiding in the corners - but I guess that is probably true of most societies..

still rambling.. redface I'll go now.. ubblol

EDITED_BY: NikiStix (1177760969)

I honour you as an aspect of myself..

You are never to old to storm a bouncey castle..


Member Since: 20th Sep 2003
Total posts: 6650
Posted:Oh wow redface I completely forgot to mention the (recent) coup(s) and the Bangkok bombing on New Years 2007... well, I guess no body is perfect... shrug

Thanks for the backpadding smile hug

[edit] *ponders whether this thread is not better situated in "International"*

EDITED_BY: FireTom (1177850262)

the best smiles are the ones you lead to wink


Member Since: 20th Sep 2003
Total posts: 6650
Posted:The latest Talisman hype in Thailand is the "Jatukam-Ramtep" talisman. The ad revenues in major newspapers alone peaked 71 Million Thai Baht (from January to March 2007) [source: Nielsen Media Research Thailand, as published in the BKK Post, May 6th 2007]

71 Million Baht in ad revenue... that is 1.6 million Euro, or 1.09 million pounds, or 2.6 million Australian Dollars. The talisman itself is priced about 100.000 Baht (3.700 AUD, 2.200 E, 1.500 GBP)... umm

Dunno, but I have that feeling this money could help a lot to diminish "Thai poverty"... especially since it is spent for a "Buddhist" relict - a "religious" item. The temple who "issued" the talisman (for 99 Baht initially) is said to have made more than 100 million Baht from this hype.

Amulet sales are the latest and maybe biggest hype in Thailand... the numbers I put out in my IP may be out-of-date by now.

the best smiles are the ones you lead to wink


Member Since: 20th Sep 2003
Total posts: 6650
Posted:yupp pretty much talking to myself here...

now I checked Wikipedia on the GDP issue again and it seems they have changed the rating list... rolleyes

So I checked the CIA ubblol and they do estimate 2006 Thailand to be on 23rd. (still ahead of said countries)

Now to reconfirm I check the Worldbank and they come up with figures of 2005 only, putting Thailand on 35th. - no useful/ actual data to be found... so I check more (IMF, WTO a.s.o.) and it's now both taking too much time and too many varying informations on that "list of countries by GDP for 2006" - but I guess my overall point is that Thailand (as many or most other countries in the world) suffers from the problem that some earn way too much, whilst most earn far to little.

It's up to the Thai to work this problem out - as it's up to all the people in all these other countries... US - so to say...

the best smiles are the ones you lead to wink


Location: Sendai City, Japan
Member Since: 25th Jan 2007
Total posts: 35
Posted:Great post Tom, very informative.

By the way, I think the tourist you mentioned got pardoned (assuming it's the same fella). I bet he had brown trousers for a while.

 Written by: FireTom

Another tourist got arrested for
vandalizing the Kings image/ pictures - after getting drunk - and sentenced to ten years imprisonment.



Member Since: 20th Sep 2003
Total posts: 6650
Posted:thanks for the update AP hug

That is a bit strong huh?

When the US dislikes a country for disregarding intellectual property rights, then beware...

EDITED_BY: FireTom (1178754480)

the best smiles are the ones you lead to wink


Member Since: 20th Sep 2003
Total posts: 6650
Posted:And hearing about this one made me just so angry...

 Written by: AP

In 1979, Thailand was being flooded by refugees from Cambodia who fled as the Vietnamese army drove the Khmer Rouge from power.

On June 8, 1979, the Thai army gathered thousands of desperate Cambodians from all over eastern Thailand and trucked them to the border at Preah Vihear.

They were forced to march down the steep slopes back to their country.

"The path down the mountains became steeper, the jungle thicker," British journalist William Shawcross wrote in describing the scene in his book "The Quality of Mercy."

"Dozens, scores of people fell onto mines. Those with possessions had to abandon them to carry their children down. One group of refugees desperately pooled whatever valuables they had left, filled two buckets with them, and walked back up toward the Thai soldiers, carrying a white flag. The soldiers took the buckets and then shot the refugees."

About 45,000 refugees were compelled to make the risky trek down the slope, Shawcross estimates. There are no definitive figures on casualties, but they are thought to have numbered in the thousands.

I do love the Thai people each and every one, but it's their collective (and almost unconditional) support for it's political system that upsets me times and again.

the best smiles are the ones you lead to wink

Location: lost
Member Since: 29th Jul 2005
Total posts: 1247
Posted:hmn, the political system does suck... where does it not?

but I have also seen thai soldiers risking thier lives in gun fire, trying to save refugees desparately making a break for thailand swimming across the mekong river...

"God *was* my co-pilot, but then we crashed, and I had to eat him..."


Member Since: 20th Sep 2003
Total posts: 6650
Posted:You are right of course, Andrea - politics suck! Anywhere. Very often the political actions do not reflect the people. I just read through Cambodian history and it made my heart cry.

Can't understand why Thailand seems to have provided asylum to Pol Pot - can you imagine and supported the Khmer Rouge (along with the US btw). It makes me sad and angry that hundreds and thousands of ppl suffered and still do, whilst a very few profit from that.

You know I come back to Thailand every year (and this will not cease), so you know that I still love the Thai (individually as all other ppl) - but the system here sucks threefold.

Thanks for pointing at the fact that soldiers grow beyond their uniforms as well.

the best smiles are the ones you lead to wink


Location: Perth
Member Since: 4th Jul 2007
Total posts: 489
Posted:I'm going to Thailand for the first time (actually basically first major time outside Oz) i nDecember so I thank you for your wise words.

Though I do feel a lot safer with someone who's been there many times and lived there for a while.

Though I didn't know about the anthem and public affection thing.

Re: public affection, I guess it depends on where yo're going, but what are we talking about here. Kissing? Holding hands? putting hands in back pockets?


Member Since: 20th Sep 2003
Total posts: 6650
Posted:We're talking about kissing and caressing. Holding hands is definitely okay smile

I'm going to be in India, but certainly there is a whole bunch coming to Thailand in December again, just bump the "Down the rabbithole, digging deeper" thread and PM Bansheecat - she knows lots more (different things) about Thailand than I do, well yes - I say that for a good reason... wink

Other than that ubbcrying you're not coming to India??? confused wink offtopic

the best smiles are the ones you lead to wink


Location: Perth
Member Since: 4th Jul 2007
Total posts: 489
We have 30 days (because holidays for med students are utterly [censored])

So, we could chose between seeing Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos
Travelling from South to North Thailand
Or staying in South Thailand, relaxing for a month.

I chose the backpacking Thailand option.

I definitely want to travel more, I just need the time (and money)


Member Since: 20th Sep 2003
Total posts: 6650
Posted:Definitely check with Andrea then (Bansheecat).

Happy travels ubbrollsmile

the best smiles are the ones you lead to wink

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