- Never purchase items from endangered species. These include sea turtle shells and eggs, along with wild animal skins and ivory. As well as threatening the species, this is also illegal and you could end up with hefty fines or worse.
- Bangkok's Chatuchak Weekend Market is the biggest in Thailand. It's a great experience - but avoid the animal stalls.Exotic species such as iguanas, alligators and monkeys are for sale here, but even the kittens and puppies are kept in horrendous conditions, in small, hot cages without food and water to prevent them from making a mess.
- You may see animal parks advertising the chance to cuddle a tiger cub– never support these. Cubs will have been bred illegally, kept in poor conditions and are most likely being reared to the point when they can be slaughtered for their bones, which are valued in traditional medicine. Any responsible, captive breeding programme will never invite humans to come into contact with wildlife, as habituated big cats can never be released.
- If snorkelling or diving, be sure to travel with a responsible operator. Never touch or step on coral, and report any operator who drops anchor on live coral.
- Though numbers have fallen in recent years, endangered hawksbill and green turtles still nest on several of Thailand’s beaches– including Koh Tao, meaning “Turtle Island”. Don’t disturb any known turtle nesting sites, and if you go on a night tour to see these creatures, be sure you are in a small group and avoid flash photography, which disorientates them. If you are lucky enough to see a turtle while diving, never chase or touch it.
- Dress modestly when visiting religious sites. Thailand’s tourist hotspots may be a mass of local and foreign flesh – but outside of these regions, communities are still largely conservative with Buddhist and Muslim values, so please dress and act respectfully.
- Never touch anyone’s head – it is the highest point of the body and must be respected. And never show the soles of your feet. These are the symbolic “lowest” point of the body, and this is an extremely offensive gesture.
- “Thai women” may have a certain connotation amongst travellers, but outside of the sleazier resorts, most are very conservativeand it’s culturally inappropriate to touch a Thai woman.
- Much of Thailand is still very poor, and even high-end hotels have been criticised for paying staff unfeasibly low salaries – which don’t cover the costs of living in the expensive tourist towns which they work in. Shopping at local stalls, eating in local restaurants, tipping guides, hotel and restaurant staff will have a huge impact on their income. However, giving sweets to children should be avoided, as should giving money to children in the street – even if they are selling something.
- If you do want to take photos of local people – ask permission. It’s polite, respectful, and a wonderful opportunity to strike up a conversation. You’ll come away with a memory of the encounter, and not just a photo. And if they are uncomfortable with it – respect that, and leave them in peace.
Be careful when you visit hill tribes. There are many wonderful community tourism organisations, and our operators work with these, using local guides and allowing you to become part of the community for the day. However, there are also very exploitative tours – including coach tours, where dozens of tourists descend on a village, and trips to see the Karen or Kayan “long-necked women” – refugees from Burma who are famed for the metal rings which elongate their necks. They are such a lucrative "attraction" that the Thai government has refused to allow them to seek asylum elsewhere, for fear that it will affect tourism.
Liddy Pleasants, from our supplier Stubborn Mule Travel, explains more: “A lot of the hill tribe villages are commercialised because they receive a lot of tourists. Some of them sell things, which is fine as they’re making money from handicrafts, but other tours are very exploitative. The long-necked women in particular have become human zoos. If you've organised your tour back home, your operator is likely to have checked out the places for you. But if you’re arranging it locally, it’s just a case of asking. The operator will always have pictures of the places you’re going to, and if it’s a photo of a woman with rings around her neck then you’re going to be going to one of the exploitative villages."
- The water in Thailand is best enjoyed without a jet ski. These notoriously noisy monsters disturb wildlife and other holidaymakers, as well as polluting the pristine waters you are supposedly here to see. If that alone is not enough to put you off, be warned that there have been scams involving tourists being charged small fortunes for alleged damage to the jet skis.
- Thai food is famously delicious - but steer clear of bird nest soup, popular amongst the Chinese community. It is made from the nests of swiftlets - whose numbers are suffering as a result of the increasing demand for nests, the most expensive of which can command thousands of pounds per kilogram. Working conditions for nest harvesters are precarious, as they climb dozens of metres up rickety ladders inside caves; injury and even death are not uncommon.