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Gap year in Thailand



To make the most of your volunteer travel in Thailand you should familiarise yourself with local culture and customs before you begin your gap year. This will help you to understand and appreciate the people and places you and can help you avoid unnecessary embarrassment or offence. Though any disrespect caused by gap year travellers is often unintentional, in some cases it can get you in trouble so it’s a good idea to be prepared.


The official language of Thailand is Thai. Like Mandarin and Vietnamese, it is a tonal language which can make it hard for Westerners to pick up. However, any attempt to do so is always appreciated so it’s worth picking up a phrase book before your gap year travel. Thai has numerous dialects though Central Thai, which is spoken in Bangkok, is used as the standard. English is the most common foreign language taught in Thai schools, so many young people have a basic grasp, but few are fluent.

Public signs are usually written in both Thai and English, with the English translation being roughly phonetic. It’s worth noting that some Thai letters have no English equivalent, so variations in translation are common. For instance, the Thailand gap year haven of Khao San Road can also be known as Kao Sarn, Kao Sahn, Koh Saan, or many other variants. When looking for a particular destination it will be useful to carry a map with both Thai and English, so locals can help you.


Personal appearance is important in Thailand. Dressing appropriately on your gap year in Thailand shows respect to the Thai people, and those who do so will find they are shown more respect in return. While allowances are made for the differing customs of foreigners, generally Thais will respond more positively to well-dressed Westerners.

Thai people are traditionally modest and conservative dressers and gap year volunteers and backpackers should try to avoid clothes that reveal a lot of skin. This is particularly important at temples and sacred sites where men should generally wear trousers and women must cover their shoulders and knees. Shorts, sleeveless shirts and short skirts are highly inappropriate and will cause considerable offence. Most temples will also request that you remove your footwear, so wearing something that’s easy to slip on and off is a good idea. Thailand may be a hot country but it’s important to respect its customs and culture during your gap year!

The Royal Family

The Royal Family is revered by all Thai people and it is illegal to show any disrespect towards the King. This is a crime that can carry a prison sentence up to 15 years, so it’s important to avoid doing anything that might be perceived in this light while you volunteer in Thailand. This can include burning or tearing currency. Also, do not be surprised if bars do not serve alcohol on commemorative days such as the King’s birthday.

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