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First of all, tipping is not customary in Thailand. There is absolutely no mandatory requirement to tip anyone who gives you service in Thailand. If you notice you will rarely see any Thai service staff waiting for a tip. However, small gratuities for great service are very much appreciated as service staff in Thailand are often not paid very well.

At cheaper restaurants, it is good but not customary to leave your small change behind. If you don’t leave any tip, it is totally fine. Normally we just round the bill up, for example if a meal costs 392 Baht and you can pay with four 100-Baht notes, while some Thais often leave the 8 Baht change and it’s not so much of a tip. Let’s see how to handle tips in the following places/situations.

Taxis

No need to tip taxi drivers. The majority of Thai people don’t tip taxi drivers. Taxi fare in Thailand is very cheap,  why not tip the driver? We will tell you why in a second.

Instead of giving a tip, people normally round the amount up which is shown on the meter, for example the meter says the fare is 55 baht, you can just give the driver 60 baht.  If you give the driver a 100 Baht note, you should expect him to give you 40 baht change. Some greedy drivers will try every trick to get more money. For example, they might pretend that he understands you are giving him 40 baht for a tip and don’t give back change to you at all. It should be you who offer the tip, so just don’t leave the taxi and let the driver take the change. You should sit and wait until he gives you the change.

When you sit still after giving them money, most drivers will understand that you are waiting for the change. Dealing with taxis in Thailand is a little bit tricky as they haven’t had a good reputation for quite some time. If ever you feel you are being ripped off, you are probably being being ripped off, you have no obligation to give a tip.

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Tipping taxi driver just ruins their morality 
Here is the reason why you do not need to tip a taxi driver on every occasion. Normally when we’re giving a tip, we want to reward a person for good service and we also expect he/she will be more enthusiastic to provide service in the future. This works for almost every field, but not for taxis in Thailand. The more tips you give to drivers, the more they expect from you in the future and the more chance they will take advantage of you.

It’s true that the many drivers earn less than $30 a day, but this should not be a reason for you to feel pity and give them a huge tip. It just ruins their morality. What I mean by that is; the more tips you give to taxi drivers, the more they will expect the same from other passengers. When more and more drivers receive tips for a period of time, one day they will think it is a custom for passengers to give them tip.

If you’re in Thailand long enough, you will know that the biggest issue related to taxis is many drivers tend to reject local passengers. They only focus to pick up tourists or foreigners because from time to time they used to get huge amount of tips. As mentioned above taxi fares in Thailand are very cheap, starting at 35 Baht ($1.1) and increase 2 Baht ($0.06) every kilometer. A huge tip from foreign passengers is one of main factors that lead taxi drivers to reject local passengers.

For example, if you go for 10 kms, it will cost you around 85 Baht and even if you get stuck in a traffic jam for another 20 minutes, it is still well under 100 Baht or just $3 (okay, this could be the best thing about taxis in Thailand). At this rate, it’s convenient for foreigners to double or even triple the amount as a tip. Now it’s safe to say that the perception of taxi drivers in Bangkok is foreigners are able to give huge tips.

In many occasions, they will reject local passengers as much as they can in order to get foreign customers. The story doesn’t just end here. Because the drivers know that the exchange rate makes taxi fares cheaper for foreigners, they usually bargain not to use a meter but to pay per trip instead which is normally the double or triple of the price on the meter.

Tips for you for riding taxis in Thailand

Here comes the real tips for you when taking a taxi in Thailand.

  1. I try not to be generalized, but it is a fact that many taxi drivers are trying to take advantage of visitors. I am a Thai person myself and I know all about this. They rarely use their meter with foreigners unless you insist persistently. They will bargain with you to pay as per their quote which will be definitely more than double what the fare will be by meter. Remember it is a law to use the meter. When a taxi driver bargains with you to pay per his quote instead of using a meter, he is about to take advantage of you big time. They can say and give you all the reasons in the world they want but it is illegal not to use a meter. DO NOT ride in a taxi that doesn’t use the meter.
  2. If you find any driver is trying to negotiate something about your fare, there is something stinky there. Just take another one.
  3. When a driver is not able to bring you to your destination, you don’t have to pay. This is the LAW in Thailand, and not many people are aware of it. You only pay when you reach your destination. Some drivers act as a tout, he may stop by a shop hoping you will buy something there, and if you do, he will get commission from that shop. When this happens, you can tell him you have no interest in shopping, and just want to continue to your destination only. When you insist, most drivers will know that you know this trick and he will not bother you anymore.
  4. Only tip drivers who give you good service, who drive safely, who are polite and who are willing to take you to your destination comfortably. Don’t give them tips because you feel pity about their earnings. There are plenty of polite and good-heart drivers waiting to serve you, these are the ones who deserve your tips the most. Your tips should leave your pocket, only when you find these people.

Tuk-tuks

There’s no need to tip tuk-tuk drivers at all. Tuk-Tuk drivers are similar to those taxis. They will try every trick to get more money from you. Only tip when you’re willing to.  In some rare occasions for example, you miss all your schedules or plans and only have 20 minutes to get to the airport, all means of transportation has failed and a Tuk-Tuk can bring you to catch a plane on time. That is the occasion you might want to consider to give him a good tip.  However, I actually recommend you do not use tuk-tuks at all because most are bandits.


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Regular Restaurants

Again tipping in restaurants is not mandatory. In fact, there is one good reason not to tip. In some areas, more and more restaurants are adding a 10% service charge to the bill without leaving you any choice. No matter you want it or not, you are forced to pay this amount. This surcharge already serves as a tip of sorts. Normally it’s combined and shared among all employees at the end of the month in addition to their monthly salary.

However, in some hotels the issue with this is that you can’t be sure that what you tip actually gets to the staff or to somebody else. As for service charges, there is nothing you can do about this. When you get the bill, noticing the service charge is added to the bill, you have to make a judgment call on whether to tip the staff individually or not. If there are staff who give you exceptional service and you want to give something in return, you can tip him/her 20-40 baht but make sure you hand it to him/her directly. For small roadside stalls and eateries there is no need to leave a tip but if you like to, you can leave the change there.

Hi-End Restaurants

In high-end restaurants, tips are more likely to be expected because the waiters are professionals, but again it is not mandatory. You should tip when they provide excellent service, not because you feel obligated. If a staff member gives you exceptional service and you really want to leave a tip, you should hand your tip directly to him/her. This tip will go to him/her alone. Here you can tip for good service if there is no service charge on the bill, however 100 Baht should be the maximum regardless of the amount of the bill unless you really want to tip more. We don’t tip based on a percentage of the bill. Again if you want to tip big, make sure that there is no service charge on the bill.

If you are served by multiple people and no distinction of who gave you the best service, you can give the gratuity to the most senior waiter who served you. Also make sure that the other staff who served you can see this by indicating clearly to the senior waiter that the tip should be shared. They will arrange to share the tips later.

Image: samuiholiday.com

Hotels

Tipping in hotels is not expected, but again is always appreciated. You will notice that many porter boys in 3-star (or below) hotels don’t wait for tip. For a few very hi-end very unique hotels such as hotels that cost more than ten thousand Baht per night, people there definitely expect some tips. Normally 100 baht is standard for this type of hotel. When you can afford to pay 10,000 a night, 100-200 Baht as a tip wouldn’t hurt 🙂

For regular hotels, you can relax about giving tips. But remember, bell boys, concierges and cleaning staff don’t get paid well. If a bell boy delivers your bags to your room, then give a tip. 20 baht is fairly standard for hotels in the country side, 50 Baht is consider good amount for hotels in cities. More than 100 Baht tip is consider to be generous.


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Massage

Massage is quite another story when it comes to subject of tipping. Even it is not mandatory, most massage ladies in most parts of Thailand expect tips from customers. This tradition was established a long time ago in Thai society. We understand massage is a heavy duty not to mention that it’s a boring job while trying to make you feel relaxed, so we understand that the person who gives you a massage should be reward well.

Unfortunately, massage ladies normally can’t own a massage service shop themselves at first. They have to work for somebody else. So the only way they get rewarded is through tips. It is known that massage ladies earn more from tips than wages. For example, you pay a massage lady 150 baht for 1-hour massage, 40% (or sometimes 50%) of that amount will go to the owner. Each day one massage lady can handle maximum of 5 customers, given that she gives 2 hours of massage for each customer. Then she will get about 400 Baht per day. However, sometimes she has to wait all day and have only one customer.

When you pay a massage lady, you should consider to tip at least 50 baht because they get only a pittance out of what you pay the house, and often wait around all day for a customer. If she did a really good job, you can give her 100 Baht. Make sure you give your tip directly to the massage lady.

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Night clubs/Bars

These kinds of places, especially in Bangkok, have been established to suck money out of your pocket for quite some time. Be careful when it comes to tipping as sometimes tips are already included in a charge for bar ladies sitting with you. The price of drinks there is already very high. This amount is cheap compared to the West, but is is very expensive in Thailand. This makes some people think they don’t have to pay more as the bar owner already made a 70% margin from what you buy.

At night clubs/bars, they don’t normally make you pay per drink. A tab will run where they place all order chits into a holder and add it up at the end.  When you come to pay, you can give your waiter or waitress a small tip as you like. If you’ve only had one drink, then 20 Baht or no tip is fine. If you’ve sat there all night, then 50-100 Baht is reasonable. However, if you feel that you already spend a lot of money there, and no reason to pay more, leaving no tip is totally fine.

Don’t leave 1 Baht tip
Leaving 1 Baht as a tip is a known as a deliberate insult to the waiters/staff. Some people consider this as being not happy. It is best to avoid and better to leave no tip at all, unless you are really really unhappy with the service and you want to cause this offence. If the staff give small change like 3 or 4 baht and you don’t want to carry the coins, it’s better to to put in a tip box at the cashier counter. Or you can leave those few coins on the table, but don’t leave just only 1 Baht there.

When not to tip?
Of course, if the service is unacceptable or merely ordinary, you’re free not to tip at all. Another occasion you should not tip is when the person who served you asks for a tip openly and directly. This is not a situation you should give a tip. Some people understand that when you don’t tip, you may feel guilty about it. So they just take a chance by asking you directly for a tip. Don’t fall for this trap. The people who deserve a tip normally work hard to make you happy and never ask for something in return.

When should I tip?

Again, tipping is not customary in Thailand. It is rather a personal thing and not a requirement. In the US, 15 to 20 percent is normally the minimum, but not in Thailand. Thai culture is like “tipping when you want to”. If we want to tip, most people in Thailand don’t tip 20% of the bill, for example we don’t tip 200 Baht for 1,000 Baht dinner. A reasonable tip for a 1000-Baht meal in Bangkok would be 50 Baht if a tip is given at all. This post is not about trying to be stingy, but trying to minimize expenses to fit the current culture.

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Also please bear in mind the majority of workers in the hospitality and service industries in Thailand earn very little. The average Thais will work for about $300 a month.  Give a tip when you know that the person who gave you service deserves it not because you feel obligated.  A small tip will go a long way and will generally bring out extra enthusiastic service.

One more thing about Thai people, if you are a generous tipper in Thailand, it will pay off in the end. Thai people tend to remember those who tip above and beyond the average. Next time you come to have the service again you will likely get better and quicker service.

Article published by Tim, Chiangrai Bulletin


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