1. Temples will makeyou question everythingyou thought you knew

There is an air of mysticism and commanding respect about temples that will (literally & metaphorically) stop you in your tracks. If you travel to Thailand, visiting temples is a must. In fact, it’d be pretty hard to avoid them – they’re everywhere. But before you sit and marvel in front of an ancient monument, there are a few unwritten rules:

  • Women’s shoulders need to be covered. Bare shoulders are pretty much unacceptable country-wide, anywhere outside of the major tourism cities, so it’s a great idea to always carry a light scarf with you to put on anytime you want to make a spontaneous temple detour.
  • When you enter a temple, keep your head bowed. It is a sign of reverence, and will be appreciated by locals.
  • Lastly and most importantly, when you sit on the floor in temples, keep your feet pointed away from the Buddha. Buddhists believe there is a steady decline from our heads (good) down our body to our feet (the worst part of our anatomy.) To have your feet pointing at the Buddha is a sign of disrespect. No one will ever confront you, because they’re Buddhist and therefore innately kind, but it will not help you break the mold of the “Typical Farang* Tourist.” – *farang: “westerner”
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2. Monks are the coolestpeople around

You know, bald dudes in bright orange robes. Depending on the area of Thailand you’re visiting, the monks’ robes can vary in color (some maroon, some tan) but the color differentiation means nothing. All same monk rules apply. Numero uno, they love to give gifts. If they witness you admiring something, a handmade bracelet or trinket in a temple, they’ll try to give you one. The instinct you have to fight is the whole I-couldn’t-possibly-accept-something-so-valuable-for-free because there is no such thing as a polite refusal in Thailand. People will give you the shirts off their backs. That actually happened to me. I didn’t have shoes walking home from Muay Thai practice and a woman on a motorbike took off her sweater, ripped it, and tied it around my feet. It doesn’t matter how much you contest, it will still happen. Just be gracious about it. The other thing is that physical contact is really uncouth, especially since when monks take their oath they swear to never touch women again. So ladies, be very very aware of your proximity to monks at all times. The best practice is to step aside if you’re walking down a sidewalk and they’re coming the other direction. Men and women alike, just step onto the street for a few paces. This distance is your way of wordlessly appreciating the noble direction they’ve taken in their life.

3. How to dress like a respectfulbackpacker who’s interested innot dying from the heat

Clothing is one of those slippery slopes… how do you dress for both a monsoon and outrageously high temperatures but within a limited number of garments because, hey, your pack isn’t getting any bigger. Let me tell you, it’s a conundrum. Here’s what you can’t live without: Thin. Layers. Things like “bras” and “belts” will become so supremely laughable you can’t remember the last time either one was an essential article of clothing. One hot tip is to bring garments you don’t love, because a) you’ll probably never get rid of the sweat stains and b) you can leave pieces in different hostels as you travel to make room for all the things you buy. Open-toed shoes for the win, I’d suggest Chacos or something with a toe strap so you can hike/walk downhill comfortably. BRING YOUR OWN SUNSCREEN AND LOTIONS. I capitalize this because it’s of paramount importance: the skin products in Thailand all have some degree of bleach in them, because Thai people idolize fair skin. So if you want to avoid lightening your skin tone, pack your own. You can bring as much as you want as long as you check your bag.

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4. When to haggle and whento shut up and forkover the cash

First of all, unless you’re traveling in Bangkok, where foreigners make up over half of the 15 million person population… don’t be concerned about money. The Buddhist religion makes Thai people so inherently good they would never dream of taking something that wasn’t theirs. I once fell asleep with my bus money in my hand, missed my stop, and the driver woke me up tapping me with the money I had dropped on the floor and telling me he thought this was my stop. I mean… c’mon. That being said, there are parts of Thailand (Bangkok) where you will need to be a little more alert. Please haggle with cab drivers, especially who pick you up at the airport. They will try to run the meter, but the only way to get a good deal is to tell them: “40 baht.” ($2) or “60 baht.” ($3) or however much you think is reasonable depending on distance. Before you get into a cab, just say “No meter?” and if they shake their head keep moving till you find one who agrees. Change as LITTLE money as possible at the airport, you’ll get the worst rates. Change no more than $10, just the bare minimum for what you need to get to your first stop. People you cannot haggle with: Song-taos, big open-back buses, trains, sleeper buses and regular buses (sleeper will be more expensive because you can lie down.)

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5. Thais likeeverything spicy

Everything is hot. If you have acid reflux, you will never be safe. However, you can dial the spicy levels way down by saying these two magical little words: mai ped. It translates literally to “no spicy.” If you order mai ped and it still comes spicier than you’d like, wash it down with a cold beer… they serve them over ice.

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6. JET. LAG.

The struggle is real. Jet lag can really knock you out. Attempt, if you can, to get on the country you’re traveling to’s sleep schedule ON the plane. So if that means slipping yourself an Ambien with a decaf coffee at 10 a.m., do it. Sleep as much as you can, preferably close to the last leg of the flight. Editor’s Note: As much as you try to fight it, jet lag (to some degree) will be an issue.

So here’s what you do: After you land, get your bags and hail a cab, your next move needs to be to walk to a 7-11 and buy an m-40. They’re illegal in like 20 countries, and if you take it like a 5-hour Energy you’ll see why. However, buy a large, 1-L water and add the m-40 so when you drink it, you’re hydrating while you caffeinate! Can you think of anything more productive?!

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