Travel taboos: how not to be an obnoxious tourist - wherever you're from

Chinese tourists may have made a few headlines recently but bad behaviour is truly a global phenomenon

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 07 October, 2015, 3:05pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 08 October, 2015, 11:27am

From the recent naming and shaming of four Chinese tourists for causing a  ruckus at  Bangkok airport, to the regular reports of bad manners (and worse) during  “golden week” holidays such as the National Day holiday, people from China have earned a reputation for being travel pests.    

Defecating in the streets, taking sneaky naked snaps in airport toilets and waiting for a plane wearing only their underpants are  among the complaints  Thais have made against Chinese tourists this year alone. Local feelings against  visitor misbehaviour  are so strong, the Thai tourist board has started  producing etiquette manuals  – in  Putonghua.

But  the Chinese are not the only terrible tourists in the world. In fact,  such nuisances can be found in all corners of the globe, whenever international travellers  forget to pack their common sense.  Here’s how not to behave  when taking a break.

Keep it covered

This is definitely the year of the naked selfie. Thanks to websites such as Naked at Monuments and the My Naked Trip blog, which encourage travellers to bare all at famous world monuments and post the results online, there has been a recent surge in foreigners flashing their privates across the globe. Naked at Monuments has compiled a list of the top sites at which to pose in the buff, with the Great Wall of China appearing in the top three: “Getting naked here is easy, as long as you go through in the afternoon and avoid the tour groups,” reads the advice.

However, what some see as a bit of cheeky fun has led to trouble for others. In May, a Hong Kong model caused a stir in the northern Thai province of Chiang Mai when she took a naked bungee jump and shared her experience on social media. Having already left the country when the video went viral, she escaped punishment. The owner of the bungee jump company, however, was slapped with a 1,000 baht (HK$215) fine.

Her naked escapades came hot on the heels of a spate of public nudity in Cambodia. Within the space of a few weeks, authorities arrested and deported  five American and French tourists who were caught posing for naked pictures in three separate incidents at  the Angkor temples complex.

Elsewhere in Asia, four of 10 Western trekkers who stripped off - the men completely, the women going topless - at the top of Malaysia's Mount Kinabalu were arrested and jailed. A local official linked their actions atop the sacred mountain to a subsequent 5.9 magnitude earthquake which killed 18 people. 

Peru was the  2014 nude hotspot, with eight people arrested in one week at the sacred  Machu Picchu site for stripping naked.

Toilet breaks

Every holidaymaker has been there. Be it midway through a bus trip after a few too many drinks  or  after dodgy street food, there comes a time when a toilet is too far away. Some, though, have caused a stink by relieving themselves in inappropriate places, so it’s probably best to keep your legs tightly crossed for as long as possible.

In July, signs were unveiled in Iceland  to   curb the rising problem of public pooping and peeing at major tourist attractions. The signs show a human figure squatting inside a red circle with a diagonal line  through it,  and the words “No human waste” in English. It came in response to an increase in tourists refusing to pay to use communal toilets.

Show some respect

Locals often complain that visitors show a  lack of respect. But while most can forgive if you forget the correct height to bow  when saying hello in Cambodia or how to place your chopsticks in Vietnam, some  shenanigans  go too far.

This month, officials urged tourists to stop  groping the breasts of a statue of   Yang Guifei, one of the   Four Beauties of ancient China, at Huaqing Hot Springs in Shaanxi province, after hordes of tourists  snapped shots of themselves touching up the stone tribute.

The Colosseum in Rome has been the victim of a spate of  vandalism.  Last month, an   Austrian woman was caught carving “M.D.S.” with a  penknife  on a pillar. In July, a Lebanese woman used a coin to cut into the monument – just days after a Bulgarian international footballer was allegedly caught red-handed doing the same. In   March,   two Americans were arrested after scraping their names into an upper level of the  ampitheatre, and last year a   Canadian teenager was  stopped with a souvenir brick in her rucksack.

Don’t drink too much 

A holiday is the time to unwind with a few alcoholic drinks, but the drunken escapades of some tourists have ruined their holidays.  Consider the case of the two British holidaymakers who, in an episode reminiscent of film The Hangover, woke up the worse for wear after a late-night drinking session to find a penguin in their hotel room  on Australia’s Gold Coast. It transpired they had broken into  a theme park while drunk, set off a fire extinguisher in the shark tank and  swum with dolphins before taking the penguin.

Passengers at Rome’s Fiumicino airport were shocked to find a   Norwegian tourist  amid the luggage on the carousel. It is believed he had drunk too much, climbed over a closed check-in desk and fallen asleep on the conveyor belt.

 Know the local laws

For years, Britons have been getting officials in the United Arab Emirates hot under the collar over their frisky public frolics. Several people have been  sentenced to jail terms in Dubai for engaging in drunken extramarital sex in public places – and not all have been as lucky as Vince Acors and Michelle Palmer, whose prison sentences were eventually suspended. Not knowing or abiding by local laws can cause trouble for travellers.

Eating in public in daylight during the holy month of Ramadan in the UAE can land visitors in jail. In Barbados, it’s an offence to dress in camouflage clothing, while in Nigeria it’s illegal to bring mineral water into the country.

When visiting Thailand, refrain from stepping on currency, as the baht carries the face of the country's revered King Bhumibol. It is a criminal act.

Visitors to Germany should make sure they don’t run out of fuel on the autobahn, as it’s an offence. So is feeding pigeons in St Mark’s Square, Venice, where fines are handed out to those caught.