Readers' Submissions

Smiling Will Make Your Thailand Holiday

  • Written by John Daysh
  • November 23rd, 2010
  • 5 min read


The first time I arrived for a brief stopover holiday in Thailand I had no idea about Thai people and the culture of the smile. The air hosts and hostesses on Thai Airways sure were friendly and I was impressed by their ever-present glowing smiles. By the time I got to my hotel in Bangkok I was certainly not smiling. In fact, I was in a positively foul mood. I hadn’t slept in 24 hours, my stomach was unsettled, I had a headache, I was dripping sweat and my heavy backpack was cutting deep, painful grooves into my shoulders. I stumbled into the hotel lobby and slumped on the counter. The lovely receptionist gave me a big smile but I didn’t return it. I couldn’t. I just wanted to lie down in an ice-cold room. I told her I had a reservation and handed over my passport. She clicked away at her computer, looked and smiled at me again and told me they had no record of my reservation. This was all I needed. I gave a growl of annoyance, slammed my fist on the counter and demanded to see the manager. She arrived, smiled at me and told me that I did not have a reservation and that they had no vacancies. I stormed back out onto the street muttering away to myself. Thank goodness I didn’t have a couple of kids to drag along as well.

I badly needed a cold drink while I figured out my next move. It was either that or strangle the next smiling person I saw. I collapsed on a bar stool in a nearby pub and ordered a soda with ice. Lots of ice. A friendly Westerner took a seat next to me and gave me a big smile. My hands twitched. I took a deep breath and explained my predicament. He told me that he knew for a fact that the hotel was not full.

“Boy,” he said, “you must have done something to really upset them. Did you try smiling?”

I asked him what I had to smile about right now and he roared with laughter. Then he gave me a piece of advice that changed my life.

This is what he said: “Smile. Smile a lot. Smile through thick and thin. Smiling will MAKE your Thailand holiday. You can achieve just about as much in Thailand with a smile as you can with cold hard cash.”

I was lucky. I learned this lesson on Hour One, Day One of Holiday One in Thailand.

I made over a dozen subsequent trips to Thailand and now I live here. I love this place. I smile every day and people smile at me every day and I am happy. Oh, and I checked the reservation receipt in the bottom of my pack and yes, that’s right; I had the wrong hotel.

Thailand is widely known as the “Land of Smiles” and for good reason too. The smile is a very important and complex form of communication and while you are on holiday in Thailand the sight of smiling Thai people will be a very common one. The Thais are fun people. They love nothing more than having fun or Sanook. They want you to have Sanook too and if they can see that you are smiling and happy then they will open up and enjoy with you. In fact, if you behave in an open, friendly and smiley manner they will move mountains for you. I have experienced this time and time again.

You don’t believe me? I challenge you to give your best smile to a Thai person and I guarantee that an even wider one will be returned. Do it ten, twenty times a day and your stay will be an enjoyable one. You may be tired, you may miss your home-cooked meals and your own bed and you may be struggling with the climate. Keep smiling. Practice on the hotel and restaurant staff, on your drivers and tour guides. Let it become a habit. Then try one out on a street-food vendor and then a stranger on the BTS Skytrain. They won’t let you down. The Thai people genuinely want you to enjoy their country and participate in their culture. They take great pride in this and if they can see that you are happy then it makes them feel good about tourists in their country. Attitudes towards foreigners improve, service improves, your travel experiences become richer and happier and you may even make a few Thai friends. They will always be happy to exchange a few words in English or teach you a few words in Thai. It’s a win-win situation and it always starts with a smile.

Unfortunately there are too many tourists who resort to threats and anger and show their annoyance when things don’t go exactly how they want. The best way to smooth things over is to be flexible, accept that some things are done differently than in the West, and keep that smile on your face. As much as I guarantee that smiling works in Thailand, I also guarantee that expressing annoyance or anger does not. You will get nowhere with Thais with a surly, unsmiling and bullish approach. What may work in the West does not work in the Land of Smiles. Slamming your fist on the counter and demanding to see the manager like I did will close more doors than it will open. When you are hot and tired and want to lie down in an ice-cold room, you really need that hotel room door to open. All I had to do when I was told that the hotel did not have my reservation was smile and ask if they had any rooms available. I didn’t, but I’m glad I didn’t because the advice I got from that friendly Westerner in that Bangkok bar was gold. Pure gold.

Keep smiling : )


Stickman's thoughts:

For sure, miles are a great way to break the ice in Thailand as well as diffuse what could become "a situation".