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THAILAND | Sunday, 1 March 2009 | Views [9688] | Comments [2]

When Western Tourists travel to other cultures for their inexpensive summer holiday, is their consuming passion for the sun, beach and cheap alcohol blinding them to their constant cultural beepers and bloops? In other words, are we


Clueless or  Plainly Arrogant?


When tourists walk still dripping from swimming in the ocean directly into the beach side restaurant, are they being clueless or honestly disrespectful to Thai culture?


When happy and laughing tourists travel on a moped around town in their bikinis’ and walk into shops with their shoes on (while there is an obvious pile of shoes around the door), are they just plain ignorant of the local customs, or are they suffering from culture supremacy? (I’m going to do exactly the same here as I do back home because our way is right and your way is wrong and backward.)


Travel guides to Thailand (including The Lonely Planet) recommend respecting the Thai culture when visiting the beaches by not swimming topless or naked, and by covering up when off the beach.  Covering up means covering the shoulders with a t-shirt (or equivalent) and wearing shorts or skirts that cover the knees.  Displayed on the local map of Koh Lanta, is a request that guests do not bath topless, even if they see other people doing ‘it’.


Since we’ve been in the beach area of Thailand for only four days, and I’ve seen topless bathing, and bikini clad motorbike riders, and dripping customers in restaurants, I started to think that maybe I was being a bit of a sensitive prude.  I thought, well, if they are, why can’t I? 


I decided to test the advice I’d heard, by asking a local. I questioned a tour operator on Koh Lanta, an island south of Krabi central, what the locals thought of tourist’s behaviour. He began by politely offering understanding of tourists’ different cultural background, and added, but ‘they don’t respect us’. 


This man had grown up with tourists coming to his island. He was about 25 years old. He was a tour operator. You’d think, if any one was going to be open minded and used to the tourist’s ways, it would be him. However, the fact remains. ‘They don’t respect us’.


I was a little stunned. Do tourists realise that while they are flirting lightly with the local staff on their ‘bungalow resort’, sipping cold drinks, that the locals maintain their Thai smile while conscious that ‘the dripping, half naked tourist, does not respect us.’


So my question is, are we ignorant, or arrogant? Are we plainly unaware of the social niceties of Thailand, or do we just not care because we’re on holiday and we’re going to get an all over strapless tan even if it shocks every last one of them?


Krabi Province is a mixture of Buddhist and predominantly Muslim peoples. They are modest and friendly people with a high cultural etiquette.


Nobody is suggesting that we learn the intricacies and nuances of every gesture.  Just learn a little about Thai culture and people by listening to their advice about your behaviour while you are a guest in their country.


Thai Basics


  • Thailand is a modest country.
  • On the beach, do not bath topless or naked. Avoid the g-string.
  • At all other times, wear t-shirts to cover the shoulders and shorts or skirts to cover the knees.
  • Do not prop your feet up on a chair or worst, table, especially at a restaurant.
  • A restaurant is any place that serves food and drinks at a table. Even if its on the sand and twenty steps from the ocean.

Thanks to Nok from Klong Jaark Bay Bungalow's for posing for the photo.

Tags: culture, t a j



It's good and responsible to respect local customs when traveling. This is not for their benefits, but for the image of one's own country.

local guides, local wisdom

  jean Mar 9, 2009 12:08 AM


Hi Jean,
Thanks for commenting. There are many benefits for respecting the local culture for both sides I think.

  allwelcome Mar 9, 2009 2:18 AM

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