Thailand is divided into 76 provinces. Each province is divided into districts. As of 2013, there were over 875 districts. Add in the 50 districts of Bangkok and there are over 900 districts that create their rules and laws. Then there are the laws written by the national government to keep in mind.
The tangle of laws creates a problem for tourists who don’t always know when they’ve crossed into another jurisdiction.
While laws enacted at the federal level apply to the entire country, those written at the district level apply within the district and may, or may not, be consistent across district lines.
What goes unnoticed in one jurisdiction could bring jail time in another.
The Lese Majeste Law in Thailand says, “Whoever defames, insults or threatens the King, the Queen, the Heir-apparent or the Regent, shall be punished with imprisonment of three to fifteen years.”
Along with the other eye-raising rules, the strangest may be the one that prohibits leaving home without underwear on. Make sure you pack plenty to last the whole trip. No one is sure how they enforce this, but it’s probably a safe bet you don’t want to find out.
Step on any Thai currency and go to jail. Stepping on the country’s money probably isn’t hard to avoid but if you somehow find a baht under your foot, quickly and quietly reach down and pocket it before anyone finds out. The baht has the image of the revered King of Thailand and planting a foot on the currency is punished severely as a criminal act.
There’s a pretty stiff fine of $400 waiting for you if you throw chewing gum on the pavement. Anyone that has ever stepped in a flavorless wad of sticky will probably support the idea behind this law. By the way, if you believe you can get away without paying the fine, you’re right. You’ll just have jail waiting on you. The Thai take used chewing gum on the sidewalk seriously.
For guys thinking of driving around topless, don’t. The Thai treat it as a mark of disrespect to the culture and stand ready to fine anyone tooling around town sans shirt. While we couldn’t find the precise amount of the fine, we were assured that it was more costly than putting the shirt on.
There’s no law again the ladies driving around topless.
Some of the laws in place make sense.
If you ride a scooter, make sure to wear your helmet or be prepared to fork over 200 to 400 baht. Same for your passenger.
Keep your driver’s license with you when you ride. Not having it on your person will set you back another 200 bahts.
Don’t buy gold except in the official Goldsmith shops. Don’t buy more than you can wear since it’s illegal to export gold and anything in your suitcase will be considered as “export.”
While some of the laws are strange to western sensibilities, there is a serious side to the rule of law in Thailand as well. One concerns your passport.
The laws in Thailand, when it comes to your passport, differ than almost anywhere else in the world. Globetrotters are accustomed to getting a copy of the passport before locking up the original in the hotel safe.
In Thailand, keeping a copy of your passport won’t help. You’re required to have the original with you at all times and jail time is waiting if you can’t produce it on demand.
A permit will be needed to take certain things out of the country. Most global travelers understand that most countries have rules about what can, and cannot, be brought into and out of the nation. In Thailand its the nature of the items that might trip someone up.
A person cannot leave Thailand with any images of the Buddha, religious art or antiques without a permit. Make sure everything is straightened out before heading to the airport.