There were some things I was expecting from being a tourist in a country where I am blatantly an outsider. I expected a lot more staring or general attention for being a tall, white, female in Asia than I’ve gotten which is great! And I was also expecting there to be more indoor refuge from the heat (literally everything is outside) which is less great but manageable. Here are some expectation-setting tips for if and when you are preparing for a trip to Thailand.
1) Cash monies. As in have some. Or a lot. Depending on how long you’re staying. But ATMs charge you a flat charge of 220 baht which is about the cost of a meal or $5. It might not feel like a lot when you’re buying a meal but it feels a lot like extortion when you’re withdrawing money. And everywhere is cash only. I think I used my credit card once in 2 weeks in Thailand. And the places that do take it, charge a 3% fee to use it (which honestly might be less than the 220 baht cash fee but the more you know!). It’s hard to know how much cash you will need but things in Thailand are cheap. If you’re thinking just food, my hotel included breakfast so was spending maximum $20 a day on lunch, dinner, water, ice cream and beer. And elephant pants.
2) Embrace the power of massage. I think it’s fairly well known that Thailand and massaging go together like peas and carrots (if you’re scratching your head at this reference, we can’t be friends). At first, I was like “naaaah, I don’t need to have a massage every day, I have one like annually for my birthday back home, one is pleeeenty”. When they cost $10, one is not plenty. In fact, daily is pretty friggin’ awesome. When on Koh Samui, we headed for a chain endearingly called My Friends where everything is orange and yellow and you’re lined up next to each other on curtained beds while some solid 60’s hits play in the background. Great massage, not the most relaxing atmosphere but still managed to pass out. In Chiang Mai, I went based on Google ratings but there are so many massage places, you’ll find them everywhere and seem to all be good. I highly recommend Time to Massage which has more of a western spa feel with instrumental music and you undress behind a curtain but I also had an amaaaazing foot, neck and shoulder massage at Relax & Enjoy where I also fell asleep. These cost between 220-400 baht.
3) Tipping. Not a city in China, or in Thailand for that matter (so far as I know). I’m honestly not sure what the ettiquette is officially on this. I did tip sometimes to my massage friends and did about 10% and they never seemed annoyed or disappointed in the amount. But I also didn’t tip on eating out and was equally not met with scorn so hard to say. Since things are so cheap and tourism is down due to Coronavirus, any extra I’m sure would be appreciated. But I’d also heard that too much tipping is also considered rude so stuck with 10-15%.
4) Haggle. My Malaysian friend told me that you should always negotiate price in markets and they will single you out for being not Asian. I believe tourists will be singled out everywhere but is mostly just the price you pay for being a tourist. It’s good business sense on their part! And I am terrible at negotiation. Mostly because I feel like I have something to lose, they have something I want. But in the markets, if you’re going for a souvenir, most likely there’s another stall with exactly the same thing so they would lose your business if they say no to your price. So I just kept in mind the maximum price I would pay for something and then if it was over that, suggest a number. And sometimes, all you have to do is look hesitant and they just throw out 10% off. Like I would’ve paid 100% but 90% is cool too.
5) Toilets. They have them! And they’re even western style. But they often don’t have toilet paper and when they do, I’ve seen a lot of signs indicating you are not meant to flush it. Forces of habits won out but keep an eye out, my guess is this has something to do with their sewer systems. Other fun fact, if you can’t find the flusher and there’s a bucket of water with a ladle in it next to the toilet…it’s a gravity flusher so pour some water in when you’re done to ‘flush’. Also, the featured photo for this post is the ‘Golden Throne’ which is in fact the lovely (and complete with TP) toilet facilities at the White Temple in Chiang Rai.
What are some things that have surprised you when traveling abroad? Any horror stories of etiquette gone terribly awry??