Pretty much every country has some odd laws, whether they’re dusty old pieces of legislation that time has all but forgotten, or relatively new and, to us, just downright strange. So, whenever I go to a new country, I like to check out what its weirder laws are – after all, these provide a little light entertainment when you’re doing the dull-but-necessary task of checking out the key laws and customs.
Thailand is definitely up there with the countries that have the longest list of weird laws I’ve seen – though admittedly I think some of these are so impossible to enforce that you don’t really need to worry about them. Below, I’m going to take a quick look at some of the strangest (and occasionally most amusing) nuggets of legislation, as well as clueing you into some of the more day-to-day laws you need to be aware of.
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Let’s start with the unusual stuff! Some of these are just plain good for a giggle, while others tread that fine line between weird and need-to-know. I’ll try to be as clear as possible about which is which!
- It’s illegal to leave the house without your underwear on. Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m not accustomed to strolling the streets sans pants, so this particular law isn’t exactly something I feel like I really need to think about. That said, if you do have a penchant for airy nethers, I don’t really see how this law can be checked or enforced, so you’re probably safe. Just don’t head out without your trousers, too – that’d be a dead giveaway.
- It’s a crime to step on any Thai currency. Again, this isn’t one I think is particularly difficult to avoid. Personally, I don’t go to the trouble of switching my currency only to fling it on the pavement and start trampling it, but just in case it’s a hobby of yours, consider your time in Thailand an enforced detox from it.
- It’s a punishable offence to throw (used) chewing gum on the pavement. I wouldn’t really class this one as silly – unusual, perhaps, but not out-and-out silly. Plus, it’s one that’s definitely worth bearing in mind because there’s a pretty hefty fine if you get caught (nearly £400). The penalty for skipping that fine? Jail. That’s one costly piece of littering.
- You mustn’t drive a car shirtless. Clearly this is only something to think about if you’re planning on hiring a car, but since us Brits do tend to be keen to whip off as many clothes as possible as soon as the temperature becomes mildly warm, it’s probably one that’s worth bearing in mind.
- It’s a criminal offence to be critical of the king or other members of the Thai royal family. I had a little trouble deciding whether this one should fall into the ‘unusual’ or ‘serious’ category, because in my opinion it fits both. But as you can see, the weirdness of it won in the end. The sentence for being caught making defamatory comments – known as Lese Majeste – is usually three to 15 years (sometimes more!) in prison, though, making it no laughing matter – so mind your Ps and Qs.
… And the more serious side
While having a giggle at some of the more unusual laws is fun, in all seriousness it is important to get acquainted with some of the basics of Thai legislation. As you’ve seen above, making a faux pas like throwing chewing gum on the floor can be very costly and is a pretty easy mistake to make when you’re from a country that uses its pavements like a rubbish bin designed specifically for Wrigley’s Extra.
So, to help you out, I’ve put together a list of some of the drier laws that could be easily infringed if you weren’t aware of them.
- You need to carry your passport with you at all times. I’ll be honest, I was quite surprised to find out this was a legal requirement; most people I know (myself included) tend to stow important documents like passports in a hotel safe for the duration of the trip, so normally I wouldn’t think twice about not carrying it. It’s really important that you do bring it with you, though, because it isn’t unheard of for tourists to be arrested if they can’t produce it when asked.
- You need a permit to take certain items out of the country. Of course, most countries have rules and regulations about what can and cannot be brought in and out without declaring it – but what might catch you out here is the nature of some of these. You see, in Thailand you’re not allowed to leave with any images of the Buddha, religious art or antiques without a permit, so make sure you work all this out before heading to the airport. If you want to find out more about this, you can contact the FCO.
Just to round off, here are a few facts that, while not law, are well worth bearing in mind before you travel:
- The condition of your passport matters. Having a passport that’s valid for a certain period of time is a standard requirement for travel to most countries (in Thailand’s case, it needs to be valid for a minimum of six months after your date of entry to the country). In Thailand, though, you also need to think about the condition of your passport, because you can be refused entry for things like missing pages or other significant damage.
- Keep an eye on store/market borders when shopping. Thailand can be a brilliant place for shopping, but you need to make sure you don’t accidentally cross demarcations for different shops and markets without having paid for whatever you’ve picked up. It’s fairly easily done in some places (the lines aren’t always particularly clear) and if it’s noticed, it can get you accused of shoplifting.