Be Aware and Know What You're Doing
As a visitor to our northern city, we want you to have an enjoyable visit which is memorable for all the right reasons. So here are a few "pointers" which will help you stay healthy, earn respect from the Thai community and keep you on the pleasant side of the law.
Road Accidents: Avoid them by remembering that the rules of the road are, perhaps, different from those at home. Generally speaking, take great care crossing a road traffic may NOT give way at a pedestrian crossing and, quite often, motorcycles appear from directions you never expect. If riding a motorcycle, always wear a crash helmet if not for the sake of your head then for the sake of your wallet you risk an on the spot fine if stopped by police. If driving a car, be conscious of pedestrians and motorcyclists (particularly at night). If you hit one, it will probably be blamed on you even if it was the other party fault!
Dress Code: You are in a tropical country so daytime wear of shorts, Tshirt, etc. is quite okay. However, it earns you points if you look clean and tidy. Thai people (even the poorest) take pride in personal cleanliness and appearance (look at school kids and college students) so the "unkempt" style of some visitors is not appreciated. Long trousers (dress or skirt for ladies) with a neat shirt/blouse are a must if you wish to enter a Buddhist temple and smart dress is similarly suggested if you need to visit the Immigration Office or other government department. Dressing neatly shows you are respecting Thai customs and traditions.
Drugs: A very big NO, NO! It doesn't matter if you've heard or read otherwise; you are the one who will suffer if caught meddling with prohibited narcotics. Whether it be "waccybaccy", opium, heroin or yaba (amphetamines), Thai authorities will take a very dim view of your involvement and the risk of deportment may be the least of your punishment problems.
General Health: Being in a tropical climate means you will perspire profusely so drink plenty of water (at least 2 liters a day). Bottled drinking water is sold in most small shops and restaurants. Keep yourself cool(er), and clean, by showering frequently; aside from not being "pongy", you will feel refreshed and reduce the risk of skin infections from prickly heat, etc. Protect yourself from the sun by wearing suitable clothes (hat, longsleeved shirt, etc.) and applying sunbloc lotions to exposed areas of skin. An insect repellent cream/spray is useful to keep the nasties at bay, especially at nighttime, as are covering clothes. Avoid over indulgence in spicy foods, and fruits, to which your tummy is not accustomed. No matter how delicious that plate of "Som Tam" salad or luscious papaya take it easy. Enjoy all the taste experiences in moderation. Should you become ill, for whatever reason, see a doctor quickly. Chiangmai has topclass health care facilities and most doctors speak excellent English. E.g. Nation Doctor Clinic.
Monarchy and Religion: Thais hold their Monarch in great reverence so it is appropriate for the visitor to also be respectful. H. M. King Bhumibol's image is on bank notes and coins so it is not in order to set a barglass on top of a bank note (maybe to stop a breeze blowing it away) or to stomp your foot on top of a rolling coin. Also, if visiting a cinema/concert, the 'Authena for the King will be played (not the National Anthem) prior to the film/performance. You should join with the Thais, by standing, as they pay homage to their Monarch. Please note, "Lese Majeste" is a crime in Thailand.
The Buddhist Religion and Monks are, likewise, held in great respect by Thais. As a visitor, never enter a Temple inappropriately dressed and remove your shoes if you wish to enter the Wiharn (Main Hall). Do not climb, lean against or relax against any Buddha or Holy image. Ladies (i.e. females) must not touch, or have eye contact with, a Monk. Neither should she sit beside a Monk; an example, a girl should never seat herself beside a Monk on a bus or songtaew no matter how crowded!
Getting on Friendly Terms: Many visitors will readily make friends with Thais they meet perhaps tour guides, hotel staff, restaurant waiters, shop employees, etc. because Thais, generally, are friendly people and enjoy meeting "farangs". However, a percentage of visitors will be seeking friendship and hospitality at either the "girlie" or "boy" bars so let's speak plainly about this. Although it is a "paying proposition" for some girls and boys to entertain visitors, it should be seen as only a "business" opportunity. You pay for what you get which rarely includes affection (even if it's claimed otherwise) and each party should treat the other with mutual respect. Safe sex is a MUST as no one wants to take away more than what they paid for!
Overall Behavior: No visitor wants to deliberately commit a social "faux pas" and offend the locals so Never touch the head of a Thai as this is the highest part of the body and, therefore, to be treated with reverence. Likewise, never point your finger or feet (the lowest bodypart) at a Thai as this is regarded as extreme rudeness. Also, remember to remove your shoes when entering a Thai house (and some business establishments) and do not rest your feet on any chair, table, desk or other item of furniture. A greeting of "Sawadee krap" (or Ka) is always welcome but it is usually best not to initiate a "Wai". If a Thai "wais" you, then it is suitable to reciprocate but NEVER "wai" a child even if the child has offered you this lovely gesture. NEVER lose your temper, rant, rave or shout at a Thai as it will prove counterproductive. Such unseemly behavior will cause embarrassment and "loss of face" to a Thai. No matter what the frustration may be, the visitor will be better rewarded for patience, reasoning and a smile. Also, don't become upset by the "two tier" pricing you may come across (entrance to National Parks are an example). Think of it as you paying a fair price while the Thais receive a discount in their own country. Just like Senior Citizens and Students probably receive discounts in your home country.
Finally, if you have a problem or simply need advice, the Tourist Police are at your service. They are an understanding group of people who are well accustomed to "farang" ways and they all have a good command of English. So please be visitor wise and visitor safe and do enjoy Chiangmai and Northern Thailand.
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