Obscure Rules Australians Need To Know When Visiting Thailand

When in Rome... Or rather, when in Phuket.

Night markets in Thailand.

Image: Hotels.com

Australians travelling to Thailand in search of their infamous full-moon parties might find themselves on the wrong side of the law given how easy it is to get caught in their minefield of obscure rules around drinking and partying.

We all know Aussies are obsessed with Thai food (it’s just one of those things) but we also love visiting Thailand, too. Pre-COVID, around 750,000 Australians visited Thailand every year. It’s not hard to see why: Thailand, with its amazing beaches, natural beauty and great weather; fantastic food and culture and of course, its friendly people, is one of the best tourist destinations on earth.

Yet Thailand is also a complicated place with more than a few strange laws on the books that you should be aware of before you book your next flight to Bangkok.

First of all, let’s talk about alcohol. Thailand might be famous for its beach parties (and the potent ‘buckets’ you’ll get served at them) but you might be shocked to find that most bars will be unwilling to serve you a drink outside mealtimes. Stringent licensing rules mean alcohol is only legally sold between 11 am and 2 pm and 5 pm and midnight.

The Thai government recently lifted the afternoon drinking ban for hotels to boost tourism – however, the sale of alcohol is still prohibited in most shops and restaurants, meaning it might be best to consider a well-timed nap if you’re day drinking.

A bar in Bangkok.
You might struggle to find a drink after midnight in Thailand unless you’re in a hotel. Image: TravelTin

Not drinking and driving may seem like common sense no matter where you are, but even passengers aren’t allowed to indulge in Thailand as open drinks are forbidden in vehicles. If you’re taking a six-pack downtown, keep them uncracked in the taxi until you get there.

And where is ‘there’? Well, not public areas like temples, parks, or shops, where being caught taking a sip will leave you facing a US$500 fine or even six months in jail. You’ll also have to stay dry if you’re under their legal drinking age of 20 or you happen to find yourself in the country during a religious holiday, including the King’s birthday.

On that: maybe pause before venting your frustration online, as insulting the monarchy is also illegal under the country’s lèse-majesté laws, which can land you in jail for up to 15 years. The Thais take this very seriously. This isn’t just limited to online, as stepping on the local currency (Thai baht) or defacing the flag is similarly considered offensive.

Thailand is a country that values respect and its monarchy; you’ll be expected to join the locals standing for the national anthem when it plays out at 8 am and 6 pm in urban areas, and before films play in cinemas.

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Thai baht notes.
Be careful how you handle Thai baht, as damaging banknotes could see you fall foul to Thailand’s lèse-majesté laws. Image: Thai Embassy

Respect also translates to modesty. Nudity on the beach is a big no-no, and tourists shouldn’t just remember to bring their passports with them when they venture out, as it is also illegal to go commando or drive shirtless on the streets.  By the way, tourists in Thailand are legally required to carry their passports with them at all times.

Starting to sound stressful? Maybe reach for other vices… Or don’t. Vapes and e-cigarettes are not allowed into the country, and smoking (or discarding gum for that matter) will result in a US$500 fine under public nuisance laws. Can’t pay up? You’ll be thrown in jail. Fingers crossed there’s an ATM there. 

What about drugs? Capital B banned, my friend. The death penalty is on the cards for anyone caught with illicit substances. The government did, however, recently decriminalise recreational marijuana, permitting products containing less than 0.2% THC.

But be careful if you want to smoke weed: it’s illegal to smoke in public places, you can’t bring marijuana in or out of Thailand, and again, you have to be over 20. Just because it’s decriminalised doesn’t mean it’s an open slather.

So what else can you do recreationally? Well not feeding pigeons (seriously), or flying a drone without a license, unless it’s under 2kg or doesn’t have a camera, but then what’s the point? Casino gambling falls foul of its morality laws… However, draining dollars on horse races and the Thai lottery seems to have gotten a pass. 

The famous Ko Phi Phi Leh island.
Drone footage would be nice but you’ll need a permit first. Image: DroneInsite

Plan on bringing back souvenirs? Maybe steer clear of any religious art or images of Buddha, because, without permission from the Fine Arts Department, you’ll face a 7-year layover in a Thai jail.

Has that put you off from leaving the country? Maybe don’t get too comfortable, as overstaying your visa will get you detained, fined, or blacklisted from the country.

Again, we’re painting a real doom and gloom picture here. Thailand is otherwise a fairly hassle-free place to visit. Like any country, do a bit of research before you travel, follow the rules and you’ll have an amazing time.