An American expat shares what not to do in Bangkok

Orion Ray-Jones rides his bike in Bangkok, which he does not advise tourists to do.
Supplied by Orion Ray-Jones

  • Orion Ray-Jones moved to Bangkok from Brooklyn in 2013.
  • Over the years, Ray-Jones fell in love with Bangkok’s vibrant and welcoming culture.
  • Ray-Jones said tourists should explore more than just Bangkok’s nightlife and red-light district.

Bangkok, the capital of Thailand, is one of the most visited cities in the world.

Bangkok, Thailand.
Marielle Discasota/The Insider

This fabled story is based on a conversation with Orion Ray-Jones, a content strategist who has lived in Bangkok for 10 years. It has been edited for length and clarity.

In 2013, I moved from Brooklyn to Bangkok to work at a branding agency. After finishing that job, my wife and I decided to stay because there were so many people here. Thailand has one of the most popular cultures in the world.

Bangkok was the most visited city in the world from 2016 to 2019, according to Mastercard’s Global Destinations Index, an annual report that ranks and aggregates tourism data from 200 cities. In 2019, more than 22 million tourists stayed at least one night in Bangkok.

Like most tourist destinations, tourist numbers have dropped significantly during COVID-19. According to Statista, Thailand is one of the most affected countries during the pandemic. Arrivals are on the rise again, and there are many reasons for the large number of tourists.

I found Bangkok to be the perfect balance between adventure and comfort. It’s a huge, ever-growing city, so there’s always more to explore, from alleyways with charming little shops to cool people making crazy art or chefs preparing innovative food. There is never a reason to be bored when you live here.

Thai people are friendly and patient with foreigners and tourists. But after living in Bangkok for almost a decade, I’ve seen many tourists make the same mistake when visiting the city.

Here are seven things tourists should avoid while visiting Bangkok.

2. Don’t believe everything about Bangkok in Hollywood movies – the city is not just a red light district.

A Thai woman on Soi Cowboy, the red light district of Bangkok.
Paula Brownstein/Getty Images

Some tourists watch movies such as “The Hangover 2” and “The Beach” before visiting Bangkok and pin their expectations for the city on these movies. I see too many tourists thinking that Bangkok is defined by the red light district and backpacker hostels on Khao San Road.

But these seedy nightlife areas are such a tiny, insignificant part of this vibrant city. From Bangkok’s famous temples to historical museums, in the alleys of Soi Cowboy are exquisite cultural sites that outshine the neon signs.

3. Avoid making negative remarks about the Thai monarchy or Buddhism.

Thailand’s King Vajiralongkorn waves to royalist supporters during the ceremony.

The Thai monarchy and Buddhism have been the cornerstones of Thai culture for many centuries. Most locals find it inappropriate to demean these establishments in any way.

There are also laws against insulting the Thai royal family, a crime that can carry a prison sentence. Buddha is also a revered figure in Thailand, and having his image tattooed, printed on a shirt, or even a statue for home decoration is frowned upon.

Tourists should respect these figures and institutions when visiting Bangkok so as not to offend the locals.

4. Beware of fraud when visiting temples and other tourist attractions.

Tuk-tuk waiting for green light in front of Wat Phra Kaew and Grand Palace.
Elena Aleksandrovna Ermakova/Getty Images

The most famous scam in Bangkok is when locals lie to tourists that the Grand Palace is closed for maintenance or vacation. Tourists are persuaded to travel on extremely cheap tuk-tuks with scammers’ “friends”. The tuk-tuks then take the tourists to suit tailors or jewellers, where the touts and drivers take a commission for selling expensive, shoddy goods.

The easiest way to avoid these scams is to book tours in advance with reputable companies. If you really want to visit an attraction, take the time to research it first, then book your own rideshare transportation to get there.

5. Suspension of public displays of affection in Bangkok.

A couple takes a selfie at Wat Arun in Bangkok.
chain45154/Getty Images

Hugging and kissing in public is not welcome in Bangkok, even with your partner or spouse. Some locals may still consider it inappropriate to hold hands.

In Bangkok, physical intimacy is best done behind closed doors. Show your loved one the Thai way – head to the mall in a matching outfit.

6. Don’t think that pedestrians always have the right of way, be careful when crossing the road.

Scooters and cars waiting at a traffic light on Ratchadamri Road in Bangkok.
Tuomas A. Lehtinen/Getty Images

Thailand has some of the most dangerous roads in the world, with around 23,000 people killed each year in traffic accidents.

In Bangkok, tourists may find that drivers interact with pedestrians differently than in other countries. For example, when a car flashes its headlights at you, it’s not an invitation to pass in front of it. Instead, it’s a warning that the car isn’t planning to slow down, so you should stay away.

If you’re not sure who has the right of way, assume it’s a car or motorcycle speeding toward you and be alert when crossing the road.

7. Don’t talk too loudly or become aggressive.

San Phranthawang, Bangkok.
Marielle Discasota/The Insider

Thai culture is non-confrontational, and you’ll get more respect for having a “calm heart” than for a heated argument. No matter how excited or frustrated you are, stay calm and avoid raising your voice.

Whether you’re negotiating prices with market vendors, questioning charges on a restaurant bill, or upset that someone haggled in your presence, a smile will make your day better. When dealing with locals, make an effort to have a conversation, but avoid loud noises. There’s a reason everyone in Bangkok seems so happy – because people are nice to each other.

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