Americans are pretty good tippers around the world, and in some places they would be considered “over- tippers” which could label us by some as suckers that can spoil a travel destination for the locals and other travelers. And there are many travelers around the world that are notorious “under-tippers”. I don’t know if it’s true or not, but a friend told me what the difference is between a Canadian and a Canoe. The answer is that a Canoe tips once in a while. Tipping is different everywhere, and everybody is a little different, so it is important that you have some sense of what is acceptable where you are going. I will give you my Guide To Tipping in Thailand in this report.
Tipping is not a long Thai tradition; it has only been around since world travelers have been visiting the Land of Smiles. A savvy American in Thailand will always have a few 20 Baht notes on him — that’s about 60 cents US, and it is the standard tip amount for most run-of-the-day situations. Forget about 100 Baht notes (about $3) and never get stuck with just 1000 Baht notes in your wallet. One American friend of mine mistakenly gave a nice hostess that sat with him for a half an hour or so a tip of 4000 Baht ($133 US) upon leaving. It was his first evening in Thailand, and he had just got off a long flight and didn’t really think much about it, but that tip was probably about half a month’s pay for that very happy hostess. Huge over-tip. It should have been maybe 40 baht at best. Be careful out there.
Service people in Bangkok are more savvy at getting high tips than those in the countryside and small cities. Bangkok people are used to dealing with confused foreign visitors that easily over-tip.
Before thinking of a tip, check the bill carefully. Lots of restaurants are picking up the European habit of adding a service charge of 10% or 15% to the tab. If that’s the case, no tip is necessary. The restaurants in hotels or ones that obviously cater to tourists are the most likely to add the service charge to the bill. For other places, like typical small local restaurants, 20 baht plus any of the coins in the change (assuming it is not too much) is sufficient, regardless of the amount of the bill. If the service was lousy, don’t be scared to not a leave a tip at all. Don’t leave a one baht tip as a message to the waitress. That is considered a major insult and could cause a scene, and it is better to leave nothing.
An unfortunate trend in tourist areas of Thailand is for the waiter or waitress in a restaurant where you have already been charged a service charge which was included in your bill to bring your change (assuming you paid by cash) on a silver tray with the change in lots of small denominations, making it easy for you to tip. Please don’t fall for that, as it will perpetuate the system (think of us that live here all the time).
Understand that the local Thais will absolutely not tip as generous as an American; they are likely to just leave a few coins no matter the tab amount. We can be a bit more generous, but it is important to keep it restrained, and don’t even think how much you would tip back home in the US.
I have seen bellmen go above and beyond the call of duty when my wife and I travel around Thailand. As we are often transporting luggage full of things we are going to sell on one side of the Pacific or the other, our bags are usually heavy — too heavy. But my Thai wife takes control of tipping in this situation, and usually it is only a 20 baht note. Back in the US, I often tip a bellman ten bucks for a lot less, but that is totally unacceptable in Thailand. If the service people carry a lot of bags, and they are extra heavy, my wife says, OK, make it 50 baht ($1.50 US).
Although my wife and I seldom do this, it is customary for some Americans to leave something for the housekeeping. No matter what the room rate is, a 20 baht note per day is absolutely sufficient.
In Bangkok, stick with metered taxis only (which is the fast majority), and fares are very reasonable in the City. The accepted standard for tipping in taxis is to “round up” the final fare. If your final meter reading is 90 Baht, you pay with a hundred baht note, and the extra 10 Baht is the implied gratuity for the journey. Also you are expected to pay for any tolls on the skyway during the trip — so be prepared to hand over the 20 or 30 baht toll as they happen on the trip.
Of course, be very careful when you get out of the Taxi to grab all your bags. Things get a little rushed in Bangkok traffic. Recently a gold trader left a package with the equivalent of US $450,000 of gold in the back seat of a taxi, but he was very lucky that the cab driver tracked him down (via the police) to return the bag to the passenger (try to get this kind of attitude from a New York City cab — Ha!).
In Taxis outside of Bangkok, there may be no meter, and you should negotiate the fare to your destination before getting inside, and that would be the total payment.
Fares to any destination must be negotiated before jumping on board (there is no meter), and a “round up” on the fare, or about 20 baht is sufficient.
For a traditional Thai massage (legit), a typical accepted tip is 50 or 100 Baht. Other services could require the tip to go up considerably.
After Americans have been trained so well to be extremely generous with tips, it is hard to make the adjustment to other cultural norms in tipping. But remember, if too many Americans carry their standards overseas, we make it difficult for all future travelers and those that make their home in the foreign land.