Your experience of culture shock in Thailand


Living in a foreign country implies to discover its culture, to learn and master the cultural codes.

How did you deal with that? Share with us your culture shock stories where you experienced a funny or awkward moment in Thailand.

What is your advice regarding the don'ts and what would you recommend to avoid any mistake?

Thank you in advance for sharing your stories,


I think that it is important to learn the language of your host country. This has caused me numerous funny and awkward moments. Unfortunately for many folk like me Thai is a tonal language where several words might sound the same to the "tone deaf" foreigner, but each version has a different tonal value. For example rice, hill and him/her all use a similar sounding word. While try asking for some "new wood" as both words seem to be the same and can mean NO as well!

Culturally Thais are very polite and it's quite easy to put your foot in it or in the case when you enter a building actually putting your "foot on it," since besides removing your shoes you should not stand on the door step(particularly in temples). Dress is important and scantily clad males or females can easily offend, Thais are very shy and sensitive.

One funny story to finish. I was out cycling with a Thai friend and needed to go to the loo. We were out in the country and I saw a banana grove. So I nipped inside to complete my ablutions. Later my Thai friend told me Thai ghost  story that relates to Pee Tanee a female Thai ghost who is said to hang out in banana plantations. I laughed and said I hadn't seen any ghosts. My friend was quite distraught, it took a lot of apologizing on my part to square things!
Moral of story....Thais are very superstitious and easily offended if they think you are laughing at their beliefs. Best advice is to go with the flow and keep your thoughts to yourself.

Kind of drifting off topic, but it seems there are two types of expats that live in Thailand, those that seek to fully integrate, and those that choose to retain a lot of Western lifestyle aspects and selectively join in with other local culture elements.  The first group will often say you need to become fluent in Thai to appreciate the local culture, and the second typically live in conditions where that is not necessary and not as easy to do, due to being exposed to a lot of native language use.  Culture shock would relate to a range of different things depending on the general context and level of integration (or conversely, separation).

On to the story part.  When I was only here for couple of months I ordained as a Thai monk.  It's not exactly normal for foreigners to do that but definitely not unheard of.  I'd been interested in Buddhism for a long time, and studied it for 20 years in different contexts, so for me it was great to have an opportunity to see if from the inside of a conventional religion.  It's normal for Thais to become "temporary monks," and since the lifestyle if new to them too it's not all that different for a foreigner, just that much extra adjustment, along with language difficulties, a change in diet, etc.

It was easier for me, relatively speaking, because a lot of monks in my "kuti" (housing area) spoke English.  Once a monk that didn't speak English took me to see his sick father outside of Bangkok, really just to see something new.  On the ride I realized he and the taxi driver didn't speak English, and no one else was likely to, so I was on my own with limited Thai.  In a way it was a good experience just to get over the shock, and not being understood much for a few hours wasn't going to be so bad.

The story should include a faux pas too, right.  We walked past a small stand selling fruit and talked to them, although monks don't shop at all due to the restriction about not having money (long story to that part, related to them owning cell phones).  Knowing few words to use I asked if the fruit was sweet or not (wan), mostly because I could say it.  The girl just walked away, not to return.  I only later learned how I said it could have two meanings, also related to asking if she was sweet or not.  I was so shocked by all of it then I barely noticed anything unusual had transpired. 

I don't think they made much of any of the rest of what I said to anyone but they seemed to enjoy the experience of having a visit from a foreign monk, and it was nice for me to do that little bit to help comfort a man who was essentially dying.  And the countryside was beautiful.

Expat living in tourist areas will not feel the same shock as the one living in rural area. If Thailand is the country of your wife or husband, you will find your mark even if you have basic notion of Thai. kid will catch langage very quick.

In daily life for me it is thinking and reformat my brain about safety, even basic think like crossing a pedestrian path as car will not stop, driving a car with hundred of motorbike also request more concentration, where I use to live before was a city of roundabout ( milton keynes ), and here where I live it is U-Turn, which are very dangerous, mainly when truck with trailer block nearly all the both lanes.

Regarding food no change as my wife always cook Thai abroad, regarding fruit, as I come from a carribean island we have similar weather, similar fruits and vegetable.

The other point is about religion very important for Thai to go to temple, to do donation, a more spiritual life I not use to before.

Another thing is about patriotism, we not used to be like this in french countries, and in school, my daughter learn when she was not even 6 years old to sing the national anthem, as every morning they raise the flag up on a pole. She still don't know the french and british one !!

As a kid she is no more interested by all the well known fast food you can find every where, she used to go a lot there in Europe, but here she adapts and prefers eat in food market and enjoy local food.

Other things shocking is again about safety but regarding workers building house, on their bamboo ladder, or bamboo scaffolding, without any protections, also on the other side the quality of house, earth protection for electricity ( many are eletrocuted every year ), as well as sometimes some bad smell because of septic tanks..

After also shocking can be the way of living, mainly on loan to get all the gadgets, not manage the finance for many, spending more than they earn, also there is a big gap between poor and rich, or even middle class, always wonder how people can live on 300 baht a day !!

Anothing things worry me was about emergency service in case of accident, sometimes can be too late for them to get there, langage can be a problem to deal in this case also if you are alone.

Also water quality, even we don't drink it, but still use for shower and brush teeth, was  worried me to the point I have to put to big filter with the water tank and pump ( not for drinking, just for shower  :D was scared for my daughter to get rashes or other skins problem ), in Europe you don't have to think about all of this.

Even I use to live in hot country since I was born, but here the sun is still burning very late in afternoon,, making the house like an oven if not well insulated in the roof, peak of temperature can be very late, even some time the fresh air is burning when enter in an house, or a fan become useless when too hot, or you have to run air-cond hours before to feel a change in temperature, better to stay in cold shower,,,,, I understood now why Thai people does  not need hot water... an I also understood why they need an outside kitchen to cook as the house is already too hot to add more degrees...

I have been living in Chiang Mai for a few years now but I guess the two things that stick to mind are the volume level at which people speak - raising your voice is seen as impolite and a sign of anger; and secondly, the constant sight of Chinese tourists wandering in the middle of the road like stray dogs, causing accidents as people try to avoid them.

your experience of culture shock related to Chinese tourists walking in the streets?  or that's an example of them experiencing culture shock?

Never show anger, just never.  Always smile and make a joke of unpleasant occurrences.  If the tuk tuk driver asks thousands for a trip, tell him he is a good capitalist, with a smile, and likely he will go find you a cheap ride.

When i move here to retiree  i know what i wanted, and who i am.

I never have my mind set on be a Thai person, be like a Thai person, After all, I am Danish man.
I accept i have to learn new stuff and adapt to my new life here.
But i knew from the start, That Thai in my life, Have to learn about me, and my ways all so.
It is not a "one way street".

All the Thai stuff is so easy to get into, Thai are here to help one understand things, teaching you, and they never get angry if one (well talk about me here) do it wrong, They understand i am not Thai.
So many thing are easy to see if open eye.
Come to a friend home, see shoes outside, every normal thinking person then know to take of there shoes and so on.

Good for me i found a great wife that understand i am like that, her family all so, and all her and mine friends understand it.

I told my wife about who i am when we first meet, i told her family when i first meet them, And all of our friends.
And told them all, take it or leave it, That the way it is.

And i never have any problems here in Thailand, I never have problem with my wife family, friends, my own Thai friends and so on.
Like i can read and see other foreigners have, So for me, It have work out great.

I don´t like Tourist place and the people there, I love to live among Thai, And i enjoy the "simple live" here.

I never found the the language have be a problem for me here. Even so i speak "basic" Thai today.
I all ways found what i was after, sometime i got more, All i every need, was my good hearth, my good and open mind, a kind smile, and to be volunteers to new experience even so, i might not go as i have plan before i get there.

I really love this country and Thai people.

Thanks for advice.

I would have culture shock to go back to the delusional reality TV show that is the country I was born in.

Don't forget to bring toilet paper when traveling in rural areas.

If you gotta go bad enough you will find that you CAN use a squat toilet after all.

Yes good for "Somkid" about delusion reality TV show his home country!
Reading all the comments I have been tempted some time to post mine: the culture shock is when I get back to France, I don't understand the people after 40 years living there, whereas in Thailand everything is peace and harmony and no problem with Thai culture, I like it very much and love all those Thai people who have been so kind to me!

"If you want the comforts, service, and experience of home ... then stay home. Travel is about opening yourself up to new experiences. You will encounter different ways of living, of eating, of serving. Advice? "Go with the flow and don't get your undies bunched up. It's part of the travel experience."

In another post on a different site someone was asking if they had all the same things he was used to in another country here in Thailand, related to considering a move.  The list included food items, a gym, vitamin supplements, online movies download, use of Amazon, medical services--it just kept going.  At some point you think why move then, just to try and replace every single aspect of your life in an identical way.

But after that thought it occurred to me that in my opinion the people doing well as expats doesn't relate as much to adapting to changes in those things as it does to being a foreigner in general, to being an outsider.  Sure, there are people that couldn't cope with any number of the changes, but at some point it's about something else instead, about either liking being an outsider or not being able to handle that. 

I'm saying that the shock wears off, for most, and then really adapting is about something else, tied to general ways that people relate to others.  It's conceivable someone could get attached to the idea of trying new things, always pushing into new environments, going more and more local, or routinely seeing different places, but usually the new equilibrium is about the opposite, things becoming normal.

Agree, the pictures of Pattaya and Phuket don't show the true story about most Thais. I've married a Thai woman, not girl, haha, and have known her and her family for around a year. I've found them very friendly and no they don't leech off me. They are also quite happy to forget your mistakes, if you are genuine. I find plenty of smiling and good humour works a treat.

I recently spent 8 weeks with my wife's family in Rural South Thailand. Whilst it was very frustrating for me and probably them also, the fact some of my farang family came to visit seemed to make a big impression. They all tried to make an effort and I think if you show patience and not get stupid they do appreciate you. Also more and more of the younger Thais want to learn English which I think makes me even more welcome. They are finally beginning to see speaking English as an asset for their younger people in getting better jobs etc.

This is sort of the opposite of this topic, yet oddly still directly related, but it's interesting to consider how a Thai would react to immersion in Western culture.  A first take might be that although the specific changes would differ the process would still be exactly the same, with parallel adjustments to go through.  Thinking deeper, it might seem like it would relate more to the person than which way the changes are easier to adjust to.

I saw my wife go through it, so I've been through this.  We met when we both lived in Hawaii, not when living here.  That's sort of cheating because 3/4ths of the people in Hawaii are not white, many of foreign origin, with as many Japanese as white people, so it's not exactly adapting to Western culture.  When we visited back to the mainland to see my family my wife experienced the real culture shock, even though she'd been to the mainland for a number of times already, and had spent a few months there already, not just for short visits.  But all of this must sound familiar related to expats here, right, that vacationing a dozen times spending a half-year in total here is nothing at all like living here.

She didn't like it.  The details of which parts bothered her most aren't important, it was more the experience of living in an unfamiliar context, with different rules, different surroundings, foods, all the aspects of a new environment with new interactions.  Of course it helped she was already fluent in English, but it's not really about that either.

For me living here (switching back to culture shock going West to East) you get to the next level of shock and adjustment when you work.  I'd expect that wouldn't be so difficult if being stationed here by a Western company, working with other foreigners, or in a teaching environment where the same was the case.  It can be hard to adapt to different foods, activities, personal interactions, etc., but working brings in a whole new scale of how one needs to be on the same page.  That type of adjustment wouldn't summarize as well as the stories about someone eating something spicy, or learning to use a squat toilet, language problems, and all the rest.

If you are a foreigner or your age is older or your position is senior then you are expected to pay for the bill when dining.

Thais have this common attitude by asking age so as to address elder (pee) or younger (Nong). The elder is expected to look after younger though they are adults.

It's common for thai staff to borrow money from company or their manager. Don't be surprise by the middle of every month, they will borrow money. Repeat - Every Month.

Don't be surprised Thais asked each other, how much you get for salary?

You find many Thais on loan and you can read in newspapers too. There's always loan mentioned.

Many Thais own iPhone and iPad even for those on low salary because they take loan.

Every year around end April and May; many Thais go to pawnshop because they need money to pay kids school fees; books and uniform. They will sell their gold jewelry etc to pawn shop.

Don't be surprise they sell guitar or Tv or some electrical appliance,

I was shocked when I first came to know as it's not the lifestyle in my country and most western countries.

@Rejoice writ:

If you are a foreigner or your age is older or your position is senior then you are expected to pay for the bill when dining.

For me and nearly 5 years here in Thailand, This is not correct.

I never be expected to pay the bill, Thai all ways pay for them self, Or offer to pay for them self.
Many time Thai pay for me, As i am a guest in Thailand, And Thai see them self as my host.
Therefor a few times i offer to pay for Thai i know have pay for me before.

Even when my Thai wife and i go out with her family, We all was split the bill, And i am never expected to pay much.
If bill is 3.500 - 4.000 baht, They ask me to pay 500 - 1.000 baht.

I can tell you what many Thai have told me, They don´t like it, if a foreigner all ways pay the bill when going out.
They fell like the foreigner think they can´t pay for them self, can´t pay for the foreigner.
Never never pay the bills without asking first.

My wife family have some business around Thailand, And they Never loan out money to employees, Never !!!!
Employees are not family or close friends.

Yes i have experienced this, but not to a worrying extent.  Ddepends which part of the world you come from. I m from northern England so it's quite common for younger people to borrow off older people, or indeed sell things when in need. Mmainly because in general salaries are so low as in Thailand and the pressure on people to give their children the best is always there. Same thing for me but in a different setting.

Never done that wrote:

@Rejoice writ:

If you are a foreigner or your age is older or your position is senior then you are expected to pay for the bill when dining.

For me and nearly 5 years here in Thailand, This is not correct.

I never be expected to pay the bill, Thai
all ways pay for them self, Or offer to
pay for them self.

Many time Thai pay for me, As i am a
guest in Thailand, And Thai see them
self as my host.

Therefor a few times i offer to pay for
Thai i know have pay for me before.

Even when my Thai wife and i go out
with her family, We all was split the bill,
And i am never expected to pay much.

If bill is 3.500 - 4.000 baht, They ask me
to pay 500 - 1.000 baht.

I can tell you what many Thai have told
me, They don´t like it, if a foreigner all
ways pay the bill when going out.

They fell like the foreigner think they can
´t pay for them self, can´t pay for the

Never never pay the bills without asking

My wife family have some business
around Thailand, And they Never loan
out money to employees, Never !!!!

Employees are not family or close

Hi Never Done That

You come from a country - meat balls;
Georg Jensen; B & O

From your message; your wides family
are doing business all over Thailand
which means they are rich. Thus
splitting the bill is a normal.

When I dine with Thai senior
management like Vice President or
Senior Vice President or Directors etc,
they refuse me to pay because they can

Previously a Senior Vice President of a major bank will meet up almost every Saturday with me and our group of friends. We have fine dining then to Jester; Peninsula Hotel for drinks; dance and nice music from an Afro American singer. We all split the bill.

Now if I go with junior staff or salary
below 15,000 baht is a different story.

Your family staff may not borrow money
from them, but I am Very Sure they
borrow among themselves or their

This is in the Thai blood. Few weeks back, newspapers articles on civil
servants taking education loan didn't pay
their loan after graduation. Now the
Goverment took away their assets like
house, car, land etc

About 3 weeks ago; newspaper publish
many policemen are unable to furnish
their loans.

In 1997; Asian Financial Crisis hit Thailand and the Thais called it Tom
Yam Kung. Many banks goes bust as
well as companies and individuals
because all borrow more than they earn.

Till now, not many have learned and still borrow. I don't wish to go into details on
companies names as they give loans to

Go to any head hunters company and
ask does thai staff borrow money?

You are seeing based on your small
circle of people.

Thailand has 68 million people and last
week, report shows every 2 hours - 1
thai commit suicide and loan is 1 of the

I am Asian and travelled in Far Ear countries on business. I can speak 6
Asian languages and know their
lifestyle; religion; habits etc

I can follow exactly on their style even
just by looking at food, I can tell which
country or ethic group.

My message on culture shock about borrowing and free meals is on majority
and not just few people around me.

Bankers here told me, previously they know how to lend but don't know how to
collect. Many banks are closed or sold
to foreigners.

I can go into very detail but that will take
pages of space here.

I'm very happy for you as your circle of locals are very good.

It's same as every country has good and bad.

You have less rich people compare to
middle class and poor.

You have less management staff
compare to workers.

Join some of the major Chamber of Commerce, attend their business luncheon.

While sitting at the table, you sure hear all kinds of thai staff problems. Sharing of problem solving and even looking for good staff.

To solve thai staff problem is hire a good HR Director that had experience handling 250 staff upwards. Be prepared to pay 250K salary per month.

You can join some of the foreign social clubs and during their meetings; lunches; dinners; outings etc, you get stories too.

I'm sure you don't know ASEAN night which is a dinner and dance held once twice yearly. Previously it was every year.

Many Thais don't know because it's not made public. Representing Thais will be from Thai Foreign Ministry.

10 countries nationalities gather together and lots of exchange of various subjects plus get to know each other.

Do compare apple for apple please. A
survey is based on majority and not
specific group.

When I look at numbers; surveys and statistics; I look deep and wide rather than specific group and think it's everything. Its the same as looking at a company's balance sheet after the auditor signed it.

Where are the assets and liabilities etc

Otherwise one takes the wrong information or numbers and assume it's everything.

Be polite. No culture shock.


My Thai family is NOT rich.

Many weeks every year they only eat rice as there is no money for vegetables and meat.
They buy secondhand cloth 75% of the time.
Use all the money on schools, education for my wife niece´s and nephew´s.
Because they invest in the future of the Niece´s and nephew´s.

Do the own a lot around Thailand, sure, but because you own a lot don´t make one rich, Special in Thailand.
Let me give you one example:

They own a huge plantation up north worth XX million baht for the land alone.
But because many years ago, Some family up in that area lost the own land and house.
That family move in the big house on the plantation, run the place, look after they people working on the plantation, Use the money that the plantation generate every year to support the family up there.
This is the Thai style of help family out.

When one put the numbers of the plantation value together, land, house, machines, crops and so on.
You end at a huge XX million Baht. (I know the real worth, but not going to type it here)
Some is going to think if you own that much you much be rich !!!!!
But every year, when everything add up, That family up there take care of them self, pay for every thing.
There is not much money left.
Last year, The leftover money for my Wife parent was nearly 5.000 baht.
So that place worth XX million Baht, but it Real life only give 5.000 baht a year.
That don´t make anyone rich.

They have business the is good and provide money, some business that lose a little, some the even out.
If the family have a great year or 2, they use that money to buy more land and so on.
Again, if all you money is in property and business, You not really rich in every day life, are you ?

And Thai never sell if they can keep it or buy more, Even so they get a offer 3-5 X the price they pay some years before.
They chose to live poorly in everyday live, and keep on to every thing the own, I do think it is a Thai thing.
As in my country, One might sell some of it, to make live easy.

About pay the bill.
We have many good friends that make 6.000 - 10.000 baht a month, and it is the same, all ways offers to pay for them self, sometime for me, and never expect my to pay every time.

We just being invite to a trip up north bye my wife best girlfriend, her friend and her family don´t have much.
But they offer to pay for the mini van they going to rent, pay for the gas, for all the food on the trip.
They have some family up there that have a house, where we going to sleep on the floor when we go there.
It is in area of a big temple they all want to go and see and help, and donate a few baht to help rebuild / modify it.
I ask what do i pay ?
They say, if you (me) donate 500-1.000 baht to the temple,That all they ask for.

About Thai loan a lot of money, I can read the news all so, and sure many do.

In Denmark people loan money all the time, loan for smartphone, laptop and so on.
We have something call smart loan, fast loan, where you get the money now, BUT pay a huge amount of interest rate per month, Even Danish people that all have a good education, Don´t really get it.
Many People today, Don´t want to save up first and buy later, I do think it is problem it the whole world, not only in Thailand.

I am learning our friends about it, As Thai don´t think to much about it.
Buy a phone for 7.000 baht.
Or buy it for 1.000 baht per month for 10 month.
Many Thai only see the 1.000 baht as okay amount to pay per month.

But when i show them on paper the result that the end up paying 10.000 baht Vs 7.000 baht, and therefor the 3.000 baht additional for paying over 10 month period.

They do see and understand it, But i do think, if someone only tell Thai it is "stupid" to buy over 10 month.
They might fell the lose "face" and get ashamed.
But if one sit down with them, Show them on paper, let the Thai person use the calculator them self.
So they fell the part of it, They understand it in the end.