What are the things that strike us as "strange" or "different" when we first visit Thailand? What should we think about them? These questions and a few more are hopefully answered (more or less in random order) on these pages!
Some issues on these pages may also have been mentioned on other pages of this site. Not everybody reads all the pages, so this should be accepted by the visitor!
Please realize that these pages will never be complete! We will do our best to add new items to them regularly, however.
In Thailand you will often see a different type of grass, where you would expect grass, as for instance in parks or gardens. This grass is called "Malaysian grass". You can see it on the picture above. It is very handy, because it hardly requires any maintenance. Especially mowing is hardly ever necessary. I have never been able to find seeds for this type of grass, to take home, however.
One of my Thailand experiences is about Thai TV. You should know a bit more about it. I will simply make some statements, that will make clear what to pay attention to:
- Thai TV is overfilled with commercials.
- Do not expect any sex, or even anything coming near to sex on Thai TV. Whatever name Thailand may have as far as the "nightlife" is concerned, this certainly is not something supported by most Thais. And all TV stations bring what (they think) the majority wants to see, which is definitely not sex!
- Do expect only Thai-made and sometimes, mainly in the morning, Chinese-made programs. All programs that are not originally Thai will have been dubbed in Thai. So if you want to watch TV that you can understand, you should look for a hotel with a satellite TV system.
- Most TV programs in the evenings are Thai soaps.
- In weekends you will often see Thai boxing (Muay Thai) on TV. This sport is extremely popular. Before the match starts, the boxers will make a kind of ritual "dance" in order to honor their trainer. During the match there will be typical music.
- Do watch -if you have a chance to do so- one of the programs with Thai popular songs. Whether you like them or not, they are typical for the country.
If you go to the movies, be prepared that most of the theaters show Thai-dubbed versions. Only in Bangkok and some other big cities you can sometimes expect original versions in some theaters, next to the Thai-dubbed versions. Movie theaters are modern, at least in Bangkok and other cities. Expect the latest technology with Dolby® Surround Sound, 3D and more. You may also expect the latest movies.
Before the movie starts the Royal Anthem of His Majesty the King will be played. Do stand up and pay respect in the way to His Majesty! You bring yourself in trouble if you don't. (Also see the item about Royalty on the former page).
This is something you will have to get accustomed to. Thais wanting to attract your attention, like market vendors, taxi drivers etc., will address you with "Hey, You!", simply "You!" or "Mister!". Some way or another they seem no to be able to learn a more correct way of addressing you. The meaning of these expressions is no other than "Excuse me, sir".
With taxi drivers it seems a kind of instinct to say to every foreigner "Taxi, mister?" It has happened more than once to me that a taxi- or tuk-tuk driver spoke these legendary words to me just after I came out of a taxi! Normally you should not react to these words.
If you need a taxi, stop one on the street and do not use one that is standing along the road. Those standing still will try to negotiate about the price, the ones driving will simply use their meter. Why? Don't ask me! That is one of the secrets of Thailand I have not yet been able to explain.
Every Thai (male or female) has a "nickname". Normally he or she will only be addressed by that name by friends, colleagues or relatives. The nickname will have some meaning, but often it is hard to trace. Sometimes it is ironic, sometimes based on some distant fact or behavior.
Some common nicknames are "Noy" (meaning "small") for people who are small (or in some cases when they are fat), "Daeng" (meaning "red") for no clear reason, but maybe because their skin was reddish when they were born) and so on.
People in Thailand, Thais as well as foreigners, are normally addressed by their first name, not by their family name. And as far as Thais are concerned, their real first name is sometimes replaced by their nickname (if known by the other person). And before the name the polite form "Khun", meaning something like Mr or Ms, is used. However, when a Thai person is addressed by his or her nickname, the polite "Khun" is omitted. It looks complicated, but you soon get acquainted to it!
In practice this means that a foreigner who is called John Brown, will be addressed as "Khun John", and that the former Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, Will normally be referred to as "Khun Thaksin", despite the low status he now has according to many Thais.
This is a bit tricky observation, because I believe it is typically Thai, whereas my (Thai) wife says it is quite normal and everybody does it.
For me this is at the same time an extra reason to call it typically Thai and a reason to hesitate about it.
Here it is: When in Thailand in a shop, on the market or -of course also- in a home a plastic bag has to be closed, they take a rubber band and wrap it several times (maybe up to ten times!) around the bag to be closed. As soon as this has been done, I am not able to open it any more without breaking the rubber band. But the strange thing is that every Thai can re-open it in no time without harming the rubber band at all! Every time I see this opening or closing "show" (that now also is performed regularly at my own home) I consider it a small miracle! And -as said- I do believe that it is typically Thai.
Yes, No, Here, There
Thais are very consequent is using their language and this can be very confusing. I will give two examples:
Yes and no.
A Thai will give the exact answer to what you ask, contrary what you might expect! If you ask "It is nice weather, don't you think so?" he will answer "yes" if he does not think so. That is what you asked, after all!! So, if he thinks the weather is nice, he will answer "no"! You did ask him if he does not think so, and he will answer that question! Be prepared! I had quite some misunderstandings with my (Thai) wife when I did not yet know this, and she did not yet know my customs!
Here and there.
This is another tricky one! When my wife did not yet live with me, but was still living in Thailand, we talked quite a lot on the phone. And she would ask me (for instance) "How is the weather here?" My first reaction was "I don't know, probably warm, but you should know!", but that is not what she expected. A Thai will place himself (herself) in your position, so if the question is how your weather is, the question will be put as how the weather is here, that is where you are. If the question is how the weather is in Thailand, he or she will say "There the weather is hot", which means on his (her) side of the World, ("there" for you!) it is hot.
This can be very confusing too, but after all, the Thai way of saying it is more consequent than the way you are accustomed to!
Thai people are terribly curious. I know that people everywhere have a healthy portion of curiosity, but in Thailand it really is much more. It will not work against you, however. Just be prepared.
To mention an example: My wife and I were waiting once at a bus stop. My wife was still living in Thailand and she just had bought a new ventilator for her room. So we were standing at the bus stop with quite a large box.
What happened then seems unique for Thailand. People around us began to speculate what was in the box. My wife translated the "show" for me. "It is a ventilator", one man said. "No, the box is too big for that", another said. "I believe it is a HiFi-set", a third interested party said. And so the guessing went on and on. It seemed as if we were the only interesting thing around.
At last the bus came. "It definitely is a ventilator", the first man said again. "But not an ordinary one, a padlom naam (one that contains water)", he added. Because that is exactly what it was, I nodded to him. While we entered the bus, I just saw a 100 Baht note change owner... And this revealed another curiosity of the Thais: They love betting and lotteries!
If you have ever traveled with public transport in Thailand, in particular in Bangkok buses and express boats, you know them. The boxes in which the ticket sellers keep their tickets and change. There is not much special about the boxes themselves, but there certainly is something special about the way they use them. In my opinion it takes months of training to handle them like experienced employees do.
They continually click with them when they walk around in the vehicle, probably to draw your attention to the fact that they are here and that you have to buy a ticket from them. And when you have paid for your ticket, they click several times in a very cunning way (impossible for you or me to follow) and they hand you the ticket with a pattern of cuts in it that seems to make no sense to us, but certainly does make sense to them. maybe every ticket seller uses its own pattern. Who knows!
This picture is a tribute to all the "artists" that perform their show hundreds of times a day. They only receive a very modest salary for their fantastic show. Praise to these artists! May this act never be replaced by some expensive, but artistically worthless, electronic device, like at the Bangkok Skytrain. (Please also note the way the ticket sellers keep their bank notes. This is a small piece of Art too.)