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13 Things Not to Do in Phuket

What should you avoid doing in Phuket

Like in any country, there are a few do’s and don’t everyone should respect and a few things you should not do in Phuket. Some are petty and casual; some are serious and could lead to real trouble. If you are familiar with Thailand, you probably know and respect those rules, even the untold ones. Many of them seem so obvious and common sense; we shouldn’t even have to mention them. And yet, it is well known that people often do things outside their country they would never consider on their own, so if you know about the rules listed below and respect them already: well done! If you don’t, maybe you should think about it.

Also, let’s add that Patong is not like the rest of Thailand 🙂 so it’s a little more easygoing than the rest of the island, but once you go out of Patong, people might frown at you.

1. Don’t disrespect the Royal Family

Thailand Royal Family

The Royal Family is hugely respected in Thailand, and any sign of disrespect can have consequences. During your holiday you might be surprised how deep this respect is. Everyone stands up before the movie at the cinema when the national anthem starts playing. It’s only a minute, don’t worry, but stand, please. In Bangkok, and even more so in Chiang Mai, the national anthem plays in the streets at 8 am and 6 pm. Absolutely everyone freezes instantly (that’s how you spot the tourists: those who keep moving with a puzzled expressions on their faces)

2. Don’t wear your shoes inside a temple or in someone’s home

shoes at temples

Leaving your shoes outside is well known, and you probably already know that because you remember seeing a bunch of shoes abandoned in front of houses and temples. If you think about it, it does make a lot of sense not to bring the outside dirt inside your own home, especially in Thailand, where people tend to sit or even eat on the floor. If you stay in Thailand long enough, you might even start doing it back in your home country yourself!

Note that nowadays, you don’t need to take off your shoes in most shops or offices, but a decade ago, it wasn’t unusual to remove them to enter some offices! In doubt, look in front of the shop: if there are shoes, do it too or ask 🙂

3. Don’t ride a motorbike without experience or license

Bike Driving License in Phuket

Driving a ‘motorbike’ as mopeds are called here, is fun, cheap and offers amazing freedom to explore Phuket. However, driving here comes with new challenges and risks; most of the road rules from your country don’t apply here, the road can be treacherous and too many people don’t realize they had one drink too many before jumping back on their bike to return to their hotel. In addition, shops will accept your country’s driving license, but in case of police control or an accident, you need an international driving license!

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4. Don’t take that selfie with protected wildlife

Protected Wildlife Photography

“Oh, they are so cuuuute, and they look as sad as ‘Puss in Boots’! I’ve got to get a selfie with that slow loris (photo) or that cute gibbon or that weird-looking iguana!”. Just don’t. These are endangered species, and people going around inviting you to take a photo for money are doing something highly illegal. By taking this photo, you are doing something illegal, too, you encourage the trade, and you are making things worse for this species. Be smart.

5. Don’t ride elephants

Phuket Elephant Trekking

Some might say, “so why are there so many elephants trekking in Phuket, then?”. What was considered casual entertainment a few years ago is slowly changing, and riding an elephant is now considered animal cruelty. Elephants are respected, intelligent animals, and riding them creates stress. Fortunately, the new trend is to visit a sanctuary or rehabilitation camp (Tree Tops Elephant Reserve), feed the elephants and see them play by themselves in the water and mud! The same goes for other animal displays: zoos, dolphin shows or tiger kingdoms. It is best to avoid them!

6. Don’t take Buddha images out of the country

Buying Buddha Images in Thailand

A few years ago, it was considered ‘cool’ to have a Buddha image, a statue, carving or even worse: a Buddha head on a spike. These are religious items and not decorations. National campaigns helped educate travellers about this ethic, and things are improving. However, shops still sell those attractive golden or elegantly carved stone items, and some people always buy them. Unless registered, authorities may confiscate your Buddha statue or image if you are found in your luggage at the airport.

7. Don’t feed the fish!

Don't feed fish in Phuket

It’s frequent to be surrounded by a swarm of colourful fish when swimming on an island near Phuket. Feeding the fish seems to be a nice gesture as they look so hungry and eager to grab a piece of that toast you kept (or banana!). But beyond that simple gesture are ecological consequences you can’t see at first. Fish behaviour changes and relies on humans to survive, and they stop cleansing the coral below, which starts to die. Bread contains yeast which also provokes constipation, frequently killing the fish. In protected areas, it is illegal and could get you a year in prison or a 100,000 Thai Baht fine! So no feeding and no standing on coral, please!

8. Don’t collect coral or shells to take home


Don’t pick it up! It doesn’t look like much, and it can even be a nice souvenir, but shells and coral are protected, and you are not supposed to take any home. Eventually, you can buy some at the shop in Jungceylon and keep them in their bag to prove you didn’t pick them up, but we’ll need to clarify this point.

9. Don’t visit a temple in short clothes

temple dress up code

Temples are highly revered religious places, and it seems common sense to dress appropriately to enter a church or a mosque. At least, that’s what one would think. Unfortunately, it is not unusual to see people casually walking in with sleeveless shirts or revealing skirts. Please wear at least a T-shirt with sleeves, skirts or short pants that reach knee level, and remove hats or caps. This dress code is only enforced in a few temples, such as the Grand Palace in Bangkok, but theoretically, the same applies to every temple in Thailand. Monks live on temple grounds, so please have some respect and decency.

10. Do not touch a monk


It would be best if you did not touch a monk. It may sound strange, but that is how it has always been, so if you see a monk in the street, always give way. Monks are very respected; people step aside, and so should you.

11. Don’t point your feet at someone


That doesn’t look like much, but pointing your feet purposely at someone is considered disrespectful or even insulting in some cases, with feet being the lowest part of the body and in contact with the dirt of the ground. Thai people are generally friendly and not confrontational; no one will tell you to remove your feet from that seat in front of you, but you’ll frown upon it big time.

12. Don’t walk around Phuket Town without a shirt


Unless you live in a coastal town, would you walk without a T-shirt in the streets of your hometown? You probably wouldn’t. (We know some will say yes, just because). The same goes here. While it’s OK in Patong and other touristic beaches of Phuket, wear a T-shirt inland or in Phuket Town. If you ride a bike, it’s even worse; yes, it has this relaxed feeling when you drive topless, but it will be a ‘bloody painful’ feeling if you fall on the road! Anyway, even if you have a fantastic body, it’s not a pleasant sight.

13. Don’t Drink Tap Water

Can you drink tap water in Phuket?

Most people would not drink water from the tap anyway, but this brings up a frequent question many people ask: can we drink water from a pitcher at the restaurant? is it safe to drink with ice cubes? Yes, it is! Ice and water at restaurants always come from filtered water and ice delivered in the morning, but better avoid drinking water from the tap!

See also:

12 Mistakes People Make on a 1st Trip to Phuket!

10 Biggest Myths about Phuket

17 Tips to help you plan your trip to Phuket – First Time in Phuket!

10 Biggest Myths about Phuket

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Willy Thuan

Born in France a long long time ago, I started to travel the world early until I settled in Phuket in 1994. For the past 30 years, my passion for photography and my curiosity have taken me to every corner of Phuket, Bangkok and everywhere I could go in Thailand. My goal is to share my discoveries, photos and tips to help travellers plan their holidays by making Phuket 101 as easy as possible to use for everyone!