Daily Archives: February 21, 2007

What not to Wear in Thailand

The latest scandal rocking the Thai establishment involves 22 year old actress Chotiros Suriyawong. She hit the headlines when she recently attended the Thai version of the Oscars in a very revealing dress. She later said that her intention was to get some media attention but she got far more than she bargained for. Her pictures have been plastered all over the Thai media. Consequences of her actions include a sentence of community service passed down by her university. A film producer also announced that he would delete all of her scenes in an upcoming movie.

Now this story has spread around the world with the international press now weighing in on the issue. The photos we posted on our sister site thaiphotoblogs.com received a record 7,000 hits in just one day. But it is the hypocrisy of the situation, which is puzzling foreign editors. After all, Thailand is world renown for its sex industry and the coyote style dancers who perform in public during festivals. But, I have been here long enough now to have an understanding of what the controversy is all about.

If you have ever visited any of the royal temples in Thailand then you would know that there is a strict dress code. Shorts, singlets and flip flops are not allowed. At the beach, the dress code is almost Victorian. Most Thais are shocked by the men walking around at the top of the beach or in shops wearing only a speedo. There is also the same reaction for the European ladies who go swimming or sunbathe topless. For Thai people, they prefer to go swimming in all their clothes. This is partly due to their aversion to getting a tan, but it is more to do with their level of self-decency.

The rules about dress code also goes for all government institutions such as district offices and courthouses. Even at schools they are very strict about visitors. At our school we have had dozens of tourists visit us over the years. However, if they are wearing shorts or sleeveless shirts then I am not allowed to show them around. But, these rules are not just aimed at foreign tourists. It is also aimed at educating the Thai population on how to dress properly.

I remember the first time I came to Thailand and being shocked to see children in the local 7-Eleven wearing their pajamas! Then a bit later being bowled over by the site of a woman wearing her pajamas in a local supermarket. Of course, these days I am not so shocked by this seemingly level of hypocrisy. These are local people going about their ordinary daily lives. It doesn’t really matter what they wear as long as they are wearing enough clothing for the situation.

Although Chotiros Suriyawong wasn’t at a university event, she should have realized that her position as a celebrity (though a minor one at the time) made her an ambassador for her university. A kind of role model for her younger fellow students. The same goes for teachers at schools. It is important for us to dress and act properly both inside and outside of school. I don’t wear shorts around the local community and local shops. The administration also tells me to inform our new foreign teachers on how to dress while outside of the school. Of course, to them, they see it as an invasion of their privacy. But, like Chotiros Suriyawong, we too are minor celebrities and we should feel obliged to try and uphold Thai ethics and the Thai sense of decency. If we have to set a good example then surely she can make the effort too. After all, who is more Thai here?