We often receive letters from people asking if they can buy clothes and toiletries in Thailand. My reply is “yes” if you are an average or small size. However, if you are tall, have a wide girth or, like me, have big feet than you will run into problems.
Shoes have always been trouble for me. I have looked everywhere in Thailand and just cannot find any that fit my feet. As a consequence, whenever I have friends or relatives coming over from the UK, I always ask them if they can bring some shoes over for me. I feel it is important to have some spare shoes just in case something happens to the pair I am wearing at the moment.
If you have been to Thailand you would know that it is traditional to take off your shoes whenever you enter a house. This also includes some shops in town. At my local barbers, I always leave my shoes on the sidewalk along with shoes belonging to other people. Do shoes ever go missing? Maybe, but I have never seen it happen. It has never worried me that a passerby would walk off with my shoes. After all, who could make use of my “boat” shoes, as my students call them. They love comparing their shoes alongside mine.
At school, students are not allowed to wear shoes inside the buildings. When they arrive at the front entrance, they have to take off their shoes straight away. They then walk up the stairs in their socks carrying their shoes. Outside each of the classrooms are shoe racks. The students will keep their shoes here throughout the day. They will only need them again when they go down to the playground or are going home.
If the students meet any teachers in the corridors or stairs, they must first put their shoes down before bring their hands up to their face to make a “wai” greeting. In Thailand, it is not polite to bring in contact with the head anything associated with your feet. This is also important in the home. You wouldn’t wash lower garments like socks together with head scarves. The same goes for pillowcases which are used for your head. Don’t hang them on the clothes line alongside your socks.
If you are going to lose your shoes, then I think it will probably happen at one of the big temples. Take Wat Phra Kaew for example. There are hundreds of shoes outside this temple. Some are on shelves but most are scattered around the entrance. I am not so worried about Thai people stealing my shoes for obvious reasons. I am more concerned that a Westerner with big feet might feel that he needs a new pair of shoes.
For some reason, the staff in this temple are worried that shoes belonging to Thai people will get mixed up with the foreigner’s shoes. As a precaution against this happening, there are signs written in Thai that say which shoe shelves are only for foreign tourists! Who are they protecting? Thai people who cannot stand the smelly feet of the unwashed backpackers? Or do they think some foreigners might take a fancy to the bright orange flip flops?
[I]In the above left photo, the sign says in Thai that this place is for foreigner’s to put their shoes. The picture on the right says this is the place to put shoes for Thai people. It also reminds them not to pick up the wrong shoes![/I]