Readers' Submissions

Right Foot



Getting your holiday off on the right foot…

So, you’re on the plane, full of anticipation, and can’t wait to disembark. It may be your first time, or you could be a veteran of several trips already. Your thoughts are full of lazy days in the sun, trekking in the mountains, shopping, the nightlife, whatever.

Stop!!!

Take a good look at what you’re actually wearing. Then consider the impression you are going to make on the people here, starting with the airport staff and customs, to the taxi-drivers waiting outside.

Here are some pointers for you to start off on the right foot, and have the holiday you’re looking for, be it by day or night….

Dress code (at the airport)

One always tries to be comfortable on those long flights, the seats in coach class are cramped, no matter what airline. But when you get into the airport, people are going to judge you by what you wear. You also have to consider that no matter what impressions you or others may have with regard to certain explicit websites concerned with nocturnal shenanigans, the Thais you are going to meet on the streets are largely conservative. So while some of you may have your ‘girlfriends’ meeting you at the airport, and you only have eyes for her, the other ninety-five percent of the people are watching YOU.

It is reasonable to wear decent jeans, a good shirt or tee-shirt, and a reasonable pair of walking shoes. Even backpackers should be comfortable with that. Go to the washroom, wash your face, and if you can brush your teeth. Looking decent should see you through immigration and customs without much of a hassle.

Don’t get the idea that just because Thailand is a tropical country you can dress in what you consider appropriate clothing. Baggy cotton shorts, sleeveless tee-shirts and open-toed thongs are not appropriate coming through the airport. They make you look like beggars and your toes will soon discover how uneven some of the pavements are on the streets. Immigration may be a bit reluctant to let these types in, there are only so many vacant spaces left on the overpass pedestrian bridges.

Don’t overdress either. Unless you’re being met by some company bigwig and you’re going to be whisked off to some important meeting immediately, arriving in this weather in a full suit at two in the morning can attract unwanted attention.

The authorities, I’m sure, appreciate the revenue that tourist dollars bring, but in this day and age, people are a lot more cautious. Do not forget that Bangkok is still a capital city, and as such houses the embassies of most major countries. There have been previous demonstrations outside some of these places, and an attempt to blow it up, too. If you dress decently and don’t look like you’ll cause trouble or run out of money, you should get through the airport quick enough.

If you do have a spot of bother, though, be calm and polite. If you are rude and cause a scene, you could cut your holiday extremely short, or spend it in places you’d rather not see.

Dressing on the street

Again, bear in mind the majority of Thais are fairly conservative when it comes to dress sense. It’s all right to wear shorts, sleeveless tee-shirts and sandals, after all it is the tropics and for all you cold-weather people, it must be quite oppressive. I remember once coming out from winter in Europe straight into the Bangkok heat, wow was that warm! This attire is acceptable for walking around the streets shopping at roadside stalls, at the beach, and the hotel poolside.

But, you will not get into the Grand Palace in that attire. Be warned. Though at some places you can rent long trousers and a shirt to get you in.

There is a limit of acceptance though. If you attract comments like, ‘Mummy, Mummy! Look! That woman’s lungs* are showing through the hole in the side of her tee-shirt’ the locals don’t like it. Though they won’t tell you to your face. It’s worse if you can attract flies. The Thais are used to at least three baths a day, so if you do have to brave the heat do have some consideration for the locals with sensitive noses. *mammaries

Behaviour

First, make sure your attire is appropriate. Good walking shoes are a necessity if you’re going shopping on the streets. Make sure you don’t carry too much money or your credit cards, leave them at the hotel safe. I like this leather pouch I use, I can see it all the time. When you walk around, don’t just look straight, look around. There are gangs of pickpockets around in the tourist areas, and many have been caught unawares. Things like this can ruin a nice holiday.

The roadside vendors love to bargain. It is considered a national sport, and most would be disappointed if you agreed straight out at the price. (Though they’ll still accept the money). If you are not interested in bargaining, the department stores have fixed prices.

If you want to visit the theme parks, or places of interest, the best thing to do is go with a tour agency. They provide transport to and from the venue, and the price of admission. If you go by yourself, you WILL have to address the issue of double-pricing, and that can ruin part of the holiday. Besides, these agencies do get a group discount, so it is probably cheaper in the long run.

If you want to travel upcountry, it is preferable to have a friend along. It is also advisable to take a tour bus. Avoid the local non-air-conditioned buses, even us long-time residents prefer not to use them.

For those of you who do want to go into the bars, there is some etiquette there too (believe it!). Many of us who have lived here a long time can spot a newbie almost immediately. So can the girls. The bar counter is the best place to be. If you see a girl you like, even if you’re surrounded, talk to the mamasan, she can sort things out. If you think you’re overwhelmed, pay for your drink and walk out. There’s always a better-looking one somewhere else. The mamasan also knows these girls, and knows which ones are troublemakers.

Also don’t forget: the girls do what they do for money, but they have the final say. The one you like may not want to go with you, and may either say so, or name a ridiculous price for her services. Take the hint, she’ll probably not give you a particularly good time anyway.

So, you’ve finally got the one you want, and she’s sitting on your lap. If you like her, make your arrangements, settle the transaction (which is all it is). Sitting around groping, and without making any commitments, and your gonads hanging out, is a no-no. Except maybe in Pattaya. So if you’re there, with beer sloshing out your ears and singing off-key at ten in the morning, no-one gives a damn. They won’t give a damn, either, if they have to peel you off the street to remove those tire marks from your tee-shirt.

Manners

Avoid getting into loud arguments, it won’t get you anywhere. If you’re calm and keep your voice down, they won’t run away.

If they can’t solve it, and offer a compromise, either accept it or walk away. Many times food will be ordered, and it may not be correct. If you’re hungry, smile, eat it and chalk it down to another newly discovered dish. Unless you’re religiously challenged.

Holding hands in public with your teeruk is generally frowned upon, though you’ll get away with it at Nana Plaza or the ‘Pong’.

In conclusion:

A holiday here will leave a lasting impression on you. There is a lot more to it than just the nightlife, there is so much left to discover in the rest of the country. The thrill of finding something different. Like the temple way out in the rice fields with thousands of bats living in the roof. It’s a sight to see at twilight. Being surrounded by fireflies. Watching a meteor shower with a friend way out in the boonies. Sunflower fields. Some things we never forget. For those of you who get smitten, do read the other stories….

Stickman's thoughts:

Some very good advice here.