I was enjoying a foot massage in Thailand recently when I overheard two of the masseuses discussing a customer who had just left. My grasp of conversational Thai is passable, and I understood that they were calling this man ‘cheap’ because he had left a tip of 20 baht. It got me thinking... to tip or not to tip in Thailand?
As most people are aware, wages in Thailand tend to be low, especially for the millions of people who make up the working class. A masseuse, bellboy, tuktuk driver or restaurant server working fulltime is doing well if they bring home A$200-300 every month.
One of the things tourists say they enjoy the most about holidays in Thailand is how affordable they are. Pad thai lunch for a dollar, $3 cocktails, $5 massages... it is possible to enjoy an indugent week or month in the Land of Smiles for the equivalent of pocket change and that is largely due to low labour costs.
|Don't be cheap when it comes to tipping!|
So if we can afford to tip a few bucks here and there for good service, should we? Even if it’s not culturally expected, as it is in the United States? Everybody’s view on this will be different. Certainly many of my Thai friends tip nothing at all. Here’s my personal policy, developed over 15 years and more than 30 trips to Thailand.
For massages: In cheap and cheerful massage joints, where the price is normally 120-250 baht per hour, I hand the masseuse an extra 50 baht. If I’m splurging at a posh spa, I might tip 100 baht or more, depending on the treatment cost.
In restaurants: I don’t have a strict rule on how much to tip in bars and restaurants. For cheap meals under 100 baht, I might leave a 20 baht note. In expensive bars and cafes, I might leave an extra 10-20% of the bill if the service was good. Bear in mind that many restaurants already add a 10% service charge to the bill, which should by rights be going straight to the servers.
In taxis and tuktuks: Rounding up the fare in a metered taxi is always appreciated by the driver. Leaving 100 baht for an 82 baht fare, for example. Since tuktuk fares are always negotiated with the driver, I rarely tip extra on top. I figure they wouldn’t accept the job if they weren’t happy with the price. Free market principles in action.
For room maids: Some people leave a small amount of money each day in their hotel room with a ‘thank you’ note for the room maid. If I’m staying in a serviced condo for several weeks, I generally wait until the end of my stay to give a tip of a few hundred baht.
For bellboys: Let the moths out of your pockets and tip 20 baht for the bellboy who has carried all your shopping bags to your room, or for the doorman who just ran out into the pouring rain to hail you a cab. It won’t kill you, I promise.
Avoid the 1 baht insult: Leaving a paltry tip of 1 baht is a deliberate insult and should be avoided. Better to leave nothing at all than a single baht.