If there was a contest who could sleep the easiest and in the most unusual places, the Thais would most likely win hands down.
In the west, sleeping in public is frowned upon, and sleeping on the job can get you fired. In Thailand there is no stigma associated to sleeping in public, and sleeping on the job is not always an offense.
Sleeping massage therapists
Many times I have seen massage therapists take a nap in between clients in the typical Thai Massage shops where many floor mats are lined up next to each other in one big room.
Nobody minds that. If a client shows up, they are woken up and get to work.
Sleeping vendors and drivers
If market vendors have no customers, they might also just snooze for a while, and tuk tuk (three wheel mini taxis) drivers are often seen sleeping in the backseat of their vehicles. Nobody in Thailand thinks that this is unusual or inappropriate.
When scooters turn into beds
Thais have an amazing ability to fall asleep almost anywhere and in the most unusual places.
I have seen many people sleep on their (parked) motorcycles, and I have seen a number of co-riders asleep while the bike was in full motion in traffic.
Recently I went to my local market and saw a father and his son fast asleep on the same moped.
Clearly Thais are less stressed out than their western counterparts, and in general they don’t require mountains of sleeping pills just to be able to sleep through the night.
This is a typical scene at the train station in Hua Hin, Thailand.
Trains are mostly late, and often hours late. But instead of stressing over it, the Thais just lie down and sleep until the train shows up.
Thai sleeping habits
Traditionally Thais have been sleeping on the floor on simple bamboo mats, and in millions of Thai houses this is still the case today. Of course the Thai middle class has adopted western standards, and they sleep on normal beds nowadays.
Beware of mattresses in Thailand
However it is still an issue in many Thai guest houses and apartment buildings that the mattresses are so hard and uncomfortable that it feels like you might as well sleep on a wooden board. Many westerners have a hard time sleeping well on such beds.
This is because the owners of those establishments buy the cheapest mattresses they can find since they themselves have no problem with sleeping on hard surfaces.
When checking into a room in a Thai guest house or even a hotel, it is a good idea to check out the mattress first, otherwise you might not have a restful night.
The last two apartment buildings I have lived in both had such hard mattresses that I had to buy my own in order to be comfortable.
There is not much point in complaining since the Thai owners just cannot relate to our desire for softer sleeping accommodation. It is just not an issue for them.
Keeping the mosquitos away from you
Here is a creative solution for keeping the mosquitos out during the night: a mosquito tent. There are other ways as well.
Check if your room has mosquito nets in the windows, and make sure that the fan is working well to keep unwanted critters off you during the night.
It also helps if your room has a mosquito net which can be draped over the bed at night. There are not mosquitos everywhere at all times, but in many areas this can be an issue.
Family sleeping habits
Sleeping within the family environment also differs from western habits. I know Thais in their twenties and thirties who sleep with their parents in the same bed when they visit them. In the west this would be considered highly unusual behavior since children are given their own rooms when they are still very young.
In Thailand it is not common that everyone has their own room. Rather everyone just sleeps together in one room and people just pile into a bed if there is one. Even guests and family friends can sleep in the bed or somewhere in the room. The bed is not claimed exclusively by certain family members.
The urban middle and upper class, especially in Bangkok and other big cities, is getting more and more westernized in their living habits, and their habits might be more private than the small-town folks.
However in the smaller towns all over Thailand sleeping is often more of a communal affair rather than a private and exclusive one like in western countries.
I have had western friends visit me in my home, and their Thai girlfriends fell asleep on my couch within minutes.
It is also quite common that a truckload full of relatives, friends, and acquaintances visit someone, and everybody just piles into their house. They spread out mats and blankets wherever there is space in the house and sleep there without the host finding this strange or inconvenient.
Sleeping in public or in a friend’s place or even in a friend’s beds is quite normal and acceptable behavior in Thailand. The concept of strict privacy in the bedroom and exclusive rights to a bed is largely absent, especially in the lower social levels of Thai society.
The Thai attitude
In Thailand people can be seen sleeping in all kinds of places, like on the side of the road in this pickup truck. It is just part of the scene, part of life.
If someone has nothing better to do, they just lie down and take a nap – no problem, and nobody minds.
The Thais don’t have the compulsion that they have to be always doing something. Doing nothing for a while, like sleeping, is perfectly acceptable to them.
The pace of life is slower in Thailand, it is more relaxed, and people don’t easily get uptight about things. Sleeping in public is quite common, and is just a part of the way of life in this country.
The author, Shama Kern, has been living in Thailand for 20 years with his Thai wife. He is the founder of Thai Healing Massage Academy and has traveled extensively all over Thailand. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org