Author of the JP Weiscarver Mystery Series
8. Royalty and government
One reader asked if there are any “customs or hang-ups” a visitor should know about in order not to offend Thai people.
For the most part, it’s the usual. Refrain from handing something or touching things with your left hand, though I really think that’s not so big a deal anymore. Don’t be pushy or loud or drunk. Practice some degree of modesty in your apparel when not on the beach.
Attempting to use what you can of the local language is appreciated. Why? I finally figured out it was because they love to correct you, primarily on where you place emphasis and inflection. (I talked about others in Section 2.)
But there is one other thing … a vastly important “hang-up” … where you really don’t want to offend.
First, a little background. Politically, Thailand operates as a constitutional monarchy with a prime minister as head of government and a hereditary monarch as head of state. This has been the case since 1932, when it evolved from the absolute monarchy of Siam and became Thailand.
It has not been an easy road for the country as it has gone through numerous constitutions and moved between military dictatorships and elected representation. Currently, a military junta has been in control since 2014. Promises of elections have been made but nothing scheduled.
However, through all the ups and downs since 1932, the monarch has remained a central figure.
About the time we reserved airline tickets, King Bhumibol Adulyadej died after spending more than 70 years on the throne. He was the world’s longest reigning monarch (a designation now belonging to Queen Elizabeth II) and was deeply loved by the Thai people, even though he spent much of the past 10 years in hospital. His son, Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun, has since ascended to the throne.
The “hang-up” is the existence of lèse majesté law, making it illegal to defame, insult or threaten the king, queen, heir-apparent, or regent. Just what constitutes a crime is apparently open to broad interpretation, and punishment is 3-15 years of imprisonment per count.
I’ve read advice to not destroy or deface money, for example, because it bears an image of the king. While I suspect tourists will likely receive some lenience, such as merely retraction of visas for minor offenses, there are cases of foreigners being convicted and some are now fulfilling sentences in Thai prisons.
Bottom line, simply refrain from commenting on anything about members of the royal family and do not abuse any photos or anything relating to them.
We had no experience with any government official during our stay once we got past the immigration officer at the airport. Maybe I nodded to a police officer or two on the street, but that was it.
However, stories abound about bribery and extortion being part of how poorly paid police make ends meet. I am not about to advise anyone to attempt to solve an issue in such a manner, but be forewarned.
I mentioned earlier (Section 5) about the wild traffic, but I never saw a police officer making a traffic stop. And, yes, I believe that supports my hypothesis that it’s simply the way traffic exists and that it’s functioning well enough, thank you very much.
It may also be worth noting that I did not see any wrecks, either.
There were quite a few police around, particularly in the tourist areas. (Any government wants tourist spots to be safe – and to feel safe – for visitors.) They also have special “tourist police” and they’re supposed to be extra helpful in dealing with tourist issues and are reportedly more likely to speak other languages.