What Real Thai Culture is Like (from an Expat’s Perspective)

Thailand Travel, Travel

Nothing can help you better understand cultural differences than actually experiencing the culture—and I had the opportunity to experience the raw, real Thai culture living as an expat in this country for one year. 

Browsing around on Google, you can find a plethora of articles discussing the main cultural differences you will encounter when traveling in Thailand; but living in Thailand gives you an in-depth view on all the little cultural quirks that make this country so unique. 

Having lived in America (a first-world country) my whole life, there were plenty of things that I found “different” (and even a little strange at first) in the third-world country of Thailand.

These are the differences that I collected, and wanted to share to give you a behind-the-scenes look at the day-to-day, expat life in Thailand.

Food in Thailand

Real Thai culture is…

Street food carts and stalls on every corner, at all times of the day. 

Getting your dinner from the night market (set up and broken down daily by local vendors).

Food served in plastic bags.

Iced coffees, teas, and juices in a plastic bag (not a cup). 

Fried chicken and sticky rice for “breakfast”—or any meal with an egg thrown on it. 

Chicken feet, pork blood, gizzards, and bugs as the proteins in many dishes. 

Fish cooked or fried whole, and eating all parts of it (skin, bones, head, etc.).

Rice with every meal. 

Rotee with banana and Nutella.

Corn and red (kidney) beans as topping for ice cream. 

Pandan-stuffed sweets. 

Drinking every drink with a straw (and getting straws with every drink you purchase).

Toasties from 7-11 (if you know, you know).

Western chip brands with Thai flavors (Tom Yum and Pad Ga Prow flavored Lay’s). 

Western candy brands with abnormal flavors (Strawberry Kit Kats). 

Family-style meals with multiple dishes in the middle of the table and everyone sharing everything. 

Eating with a fork and spoon—no knives—using the fork to shovel the food onto the spoon then shovel it into your mouth.

Seating yourself at a restaurant, being greeted by a server, and having them awkwardly hover over you until you decide what you want to order. 

“Bottle service” at every restaurant and bar with a server refilling your beer (with ice in it—because everyone in Thailand drinks beer with ice). 

“Happy shakes” and “funky cigarettes”. 

Buckets of alcohol for $6 USD.

thai food
Family Style Meals
gizzard thailand
Chicken Gizzards
rotee thailand
Banana Nutella Rotee
thai ice cream
Red Beans + Corn in Ice Cream
tacos bell chiang mai thailand
The Thai Taco Bell
restaurant thailand
Cross-Legged Ground Seating
eating bugs thailand
Seasoned Bugs
thai street food
Chicken Sticks + Sticky Rice
thai chicken feet soup
Chicken Feet Soup

Transportation in Thailand

Real Thai culture is…

Driving on the opposite side of the road.

Traffic lights with count-down timers on them. 

Unorganized, organized chaos on the roads between motorbikes, tuk tuks, songteaws, mini vans, and cars. 

More motorbikes on the road than cars.

A family of 5 on 1 motorbike—with no helmets. 

8-year-old children driving motorbikes (again, with no helmets).

Stuffing 20 people into a mini van with a driver who thinks he’s in “Fast and the Furious”. 

Riding to work on a “Songeteaw”—a truck bed with 2 rows, a make-shift roof, and buzzers to alert the driver of your stop. 

Near-death experiences on tuk-tuks—rickshaw style motorized vehicles usually decked out with neon flashing lights and/or loud speakers. 

Construction workers riding on top of big rig trucks.

Walking everywhere (1 mile is a short walk). 

thai culture
The Things You Would See on Motorbikes
tuk tuk thailand
Tuk Tuk
thai culture
Casual Way of Getting Around in Thailand
songteaw thailand
Songteaw

Religion in Thailand

Real Thai culture is…

Gigantic, immaculate temples in every city. 

Monks walking the streets (barefoot) before the sun rises, collecting offerings from the community. 

Thai people bowing down and offering meals to monks as they stroll through the streets.

Shrines outside of every home and business. 

Offerings of Fanta bottles (with a straw), full meals, flowers, and incense on every shrine. 

Thai people doing the “Wai” every time they walk past a shrine. 

Shrine “graveyards” on old country roads. 

The smell of incense burning at local shops. 

Multiple holidays throughout the year with school/work canceled to observe them, such as the King’s Birthday, Queen’s birthday, Teacher’s Day, Children’s Day, etc.

monks in thailand
Regular Monk Offerings on the Street
thai temple
Buddha Statue
thai shrine
Shrines All Over the City
shrine graveyard thailand
Shrine Graveyards
offerings thailand
Chinese New Year Offering
teacher appreciation day thailand
Teacher Appreciation Day

Fashion in Thailand

Real Thai culture is…

Everyone wearing slip-on sandals. 

Local Thai people wearing turtle necks and jackets in 90 degree heat without a bead of sweat on them. 

Construction workers working in t-shirts and sandals with no helmets or protective gear.

Farm workers with large hats and bandannas that cover all parts of their faces but their eyes. 

Older ladies wearing floral, colorful button up shirts and just-as-bright baggy swim trunk bottoms. 

Safety pins (with some kind of small toy) on the shirts of pregnant women. 

No bras.

Arm-sleeves.

Required haircuts for children in primary school (flat-top razor cut for boys; short-below the ears bowl cut for girls).

Uniforms for children in school (at all grades), with different outfits that coordinate with each day of the week. 

Everyone wearing yellow on Mondays (for the King).

Wearing streaks of powder-like sunscreen on your face.

Whitening cream in all the makeup, face cream, and body wash. 

Everyone wearing face masks (due to constant high-levels of pollution).

Wearing plastic body covers to stay protected from the rain. 

No dryers—hang drying your clothes outside or all over your flat. 

motorbike thailand
How to Stay Dry When Riding a Motorbike
thai school uniforms
Uniforms at School
hang dry clothes thailand
How to Dry Your Clothes in Thailand
elephant sanctuary thailand
Elephant Feeding ‘Fit

Infrastructure in Thailand

Real Thai culture is…

Pictures of the King everywhere

The Thai flag hanging everywhere. 

Night markets, every night

Floating markets.

“Soi” (street) dogs and monkeys everywhere

A million power-lines tangled together strung high above the streets. 

Multi-colored, water-stained buildings with people living on the top story and local shops on the bottom story. 

7-11s on every corner. 

Outdoor fitness parks with body weight machines. 

Outdoor restaurants with low tables and pads to sit on the floor.  

Taking your shoes off when you go inside (even at the dentist office).

AirCon blasting in every restaurant and mall.

Multi-story malls with artistic architecture, 4D movie theaters, and theme parks inside them. 

“Bum guns” near every toilet—no toilet paper. 

Western toilets, and non-Western hole in the ground toilets (that you have to flush yourself with a bucket of water). 

Showers on the same floor/area as the toilet (no bathtubs—your entire bathroom gets wet when you take a shower).

Flats with no kitchens; just a hot plate, rice cooker, and water boiler. 

Hard ass mattresses.

Geckos casually living in your flat, running up and down your walls. 

king of thailand
Pictures of the King EVERYWHERE
thai culture
Obvious Signage in the Bathrooms
monkeys in thailand
Monkeys Casually Hopping on Your Car
fitness park thailand
Outdoor Fitness Parks
buildings in thailand
Homes on Top of Businesses
7 11 thailand
Everyone Loves 7/11 in Thailand
power lines thailand
Power Lines in Thailand
thai toilets
Thailand Toilets w/Bucket to Flush
fitness park thailand
Outdoor Fitness Park
thai floating market
Floating Market
night market thailand
Outdoor Night Market

People in Thailand

Real Thai culture is…

Everyone smiling (seriously).

Everyone greeting each other with the “Wai”. 

Everyone—young and old—squatting down (instead of standing). 

Sitting, working, and teaching on the floor—not in chairs. 

Everyone sniffing “Ya Dom”—a small white tube that looks like chap stick with a menthol smell. 

Everyone stopping when the King’s song comes on in public. 

People selling donuts and floral offerings to people in their cars (walking up and down the street) while they’re stopped at a traffic light.

Women riding around on bikes or sitting outside stores/markets with “suitcases” full of lottery tickets.

Cover bands at every market, bar, and restaurant (most likely singing Ed Sheeran). 

Generations of families living together and doing everything together—collectivism. 

thai squat
“Asian Squat”
thai cover bands
Local Cover Band
teaching in thailand
No Desks, Teaching/Learning on the Floor
thai lottery
Lottery in Thailand

Weather in Thailand

Real Thai culture is…

Hot, humid air, from the moment the sun rises to the moment it sets. 

Two seasons—rainy and dry (but still hot).

Sunny skies that turn to violent downpours lasting about 20 minutes, then transition back to sunny skies. 

Beautiful, rich, multi-colored sunsets that illuminate the entire sky. 

sunset in thailand
Real Sunset, No Filter
thai sunset
Thailand has the Best Sunsets

Falling in Love with the Real Thai Culture

Thailand and America couldn’t be any more opposite (if the aforementioned list didn’t already prove that). 

The Thai way of life is simple and slow-paced with a strong sense of community. The Thai people are the most generous and kind people I’ve ever met—and are so content with so little

Living as an expat in Thailand allowed me to experience—and fall in love with—these cultural differences. It showed me a different side to a country that is just a typical “tourist” destination for most. 

It humbled me. It taught me compassion, understanding, and gratitude.

It gave me a new perspective on life (and the things that matter in it). 

When people say “travel changes you“, they really mean it—and I will be forever grateful for the lessons I learned from the distinctive, otherworldly differences of real Thai culture. 

Grow with the flow,

Sierra Nicole

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