What You Don’t Know About Thailand

Everyone knows the Land of Smiles is filled with sunshine, lady boys, cheap eats and tuk tuks…but there are several things, especially when it comes to what is actually legal or illegal, that may surprise you.  Here’s what you don’t know about Thailand:

The City of Angels

Bangkok is not called Bangkok, in Thai it’s known as Krung Thep (sounds like kroong t-aep, like a mix between a hard /a/ sound in tape and the /e/ sound in pet).  But that’s just the abbreviated version, the city’s full name is กรุงเทพมหานคร อมรรัตนโกสินทร์ มหินทรายุธยามหาดิลก ภพนพรัตน์ ราชธานีบุรีรมย์ อุดมราชนิเวศน์ มหาสถาน อมรพิมาน อวตารสถิต สักกะทัตติยะ วิษณุกรรมประสิทธิ์ or Krung Thep Mahanakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahinthara Ayuthaya Mahadilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udomratchaniwet Mahasathan Amon Piman Awatan Sathit Sakkathattiya Witsanukam Prasit.  Here’s a video to help you practice (they start singing the name about one minute in).


Is illegal.  Yes, Thailand is known for its after-hours entertainment but, technically, it’s still illegal.


To wear or not to wear?  Legally, you must wear a helmet at all times.  That said, it depends on where you are and the time of day as to whether or not you’ll get in trouble for it.  Regardless of the fact that you should always wear a good helmet for safety reasons, it doesn’t seem like many people do here.  You’ll notice many Thais still don’t wear their helmets, especially in the evening or at night time when the police are done with their checks for the day.

Thai National Anthem
Observing the 6 p.m. national anthem at Chiang Mai’s Sunday Walking Street
The Royal Anthem

Along with state occasions, Phleng Sansoen Phra Barami, the royal anthem of Thailand, is played before movies start at the cinema, as well as before live music or theater performances.  When the song is played everyone stands respectfully.

Toothpicks and nose pickers

While most people are careful to cover their mouth with their hand while using a toothpick after eating, they’re just as likely to go digging for gold in public with no sense of embarrassment or impoliteness.

Booze Ban

Some people think the party never stops – and if you know where to look, it doesn’t – but technically it is illegal to sell alcohol between midnight – 11:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.  The rule mainly affects larger chains, like 7-11, and you can usually find smaller, family-owned shops that will continue selling.  There are also several Buddhist holidays and election days where the selling of alcohol is strictly prohibited.

Cats love Leo Beer
Better stock up on beer when you can…

I’m sure you’ve heard feet are considered the dirtiest part of the body and you should never point them toward people or, especially, temples, monks and the Buddha.  But the anti-foot fetish goes much further than that.  Stepping on or over certain things, like money, purses and pillows, will make some people uncomfortable as well as using your feet to open or close a door or drawer.  Even with the best of intentions or awareness, it’s easy to slip up and move or use your feet in a way that is inappropriate or disrespectful.  (For more social and cultural practices you need to be aware of check out 10 Things Not to Do in Thailand.)

Sex changes

Thailand is the place to go for sex change operations (along with many other cosmetic  or augmentation procedures).  The prices are cheaper than in the West and the procedures more common.  Medical tourism in general is very high in Thailand with people coming over for everything, from dental work to face lifts, for a fraction of the cost at home.

Little penis, Thailand
Sex toys

…are illegal to purchase or sell.  Seems like a funny thing to have such strict laws about considering the widespread strip clubs, brothels and sex change operations (and market stalls will still sell them out in the open in certain areas), but it’s true.

Bad words

If you pronounce something wrong in Thai, chances are you said something rude or dirty.  For example, with just a change of tone ‘aunt’ becomes ‘crazy’, ‘drive’ becomes ‘shit’, and ‘pii’, a term of respect used before the name of those older than you becomes,  becomes ‘ghost’ or ‘spirit’.  There are also several words that sounds awfully similar to a slang Thai word for ‘penis’, and once when I was trying to say the flowers in my Thai teacher’s apartment smelled nice, instead of saying ‘good smell’ said ‘balls’, as in testicles.  No wonder I’m afraid to speak Thai.


  • Posted April 18, 2013
    by Angela

    Nice list! I also heard somewhere that ‘ikea’ means ‘fuck’

    • Posted April 18, 2013
      by Alana Morgan

      Ha – yeah it sounds similar, I had never thought of it that way!

  • Posted April 19, 2013
    by Agness

    legally You must wear a helmet? that’s something I’m so surprised with. we never did it, uuuups

    • Posted April 19, 2013
      by Alana Morgan

      Yep! It really only matters police-wise at certain check point areas at certain times though.

  • Posted April 21, 2013
    by Jessica

    There were a lot of 7-11s that literally had to rope the fridges closed after midnight because drunk people (usually foreigners) kept wandering in and trying to buy liquor.

    • Posted April 24, 2013
      by Alana Morgan

      It took me few times of missing the window to figure out what was going on…

  • Posted May 14, 2013
    by Eric

    I was surprised to hear that sex-shops were illegal, because they were everywhere in China, which doesn’t have anything like the seedy reputation of Thailand. In fact, there were brothels everywhere a well, including on either side of the front entrance of the most prominent elementary school in the city where I lived (which was a small city in the middle of the country that didn’t get tourists). At night they all had “pink lights” – hence “pink houses” – so were easy to discern. They even had lady boys. Yet, even in China they look to Thailand as sleazy.

    • Posted May 14, 2013
      by Alana Morgan

      I’ve read different things saying prostitution is more prominent in other SE Asian countries, but for some reason, Thailand has the reputation for it… I still don’t have a clear idea of what’s real, what’s hype, how it all works when it’s all supposedly illegal…

  • Posted September 11, 2013
    by Morgan

    The word slips is hilarious! I would have turned beat red. Props to you for trying to speak thai, though!

  • Posted December 13, 2013
    by Lauren Metzler

    Hahaha I had so many experiences where I tried to speak thai and said something dirty as well! Thai was definitely the hardest language for me to pick up, there being five tones and all! I even made little flash cards and had my friends try to tutor me! even after three years of living there, every time I tried to take a taxi home, I’d end up saying the same thing five times before the taxi driver finally had a clue what I was saying! :P

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