10 Unusual Things Banned in South East Asia

There are many things banned throughout Southeast Asia that will come as no surprise to most visitors.

Despite what many people think, the drug laws are mostly much stricter in Southeast Asia than in many Western countries. Possession of a small amount of marijuana for personal use can result in heavy fines or prison sentences for example.

Despite some of the red light districts, especially in Thailand, prostitution is also also illegal throughout the region.

You also need to be careful where you take pictures in the region, near border crossings and military establishments is especially risky.

Here though we look at some of the more unusual laws throughout the region that tourists should be aware of.

Smoking in Public

On 27th March 2020 the Thai Department of Disease Control linked smoking with the impact of COVID-19. Thailand banned smoking in public with fines of up to 5,000 Baht (Approx £123, $159) for offenders.

There has been a smoking ban on the majority of Thai beaches since January 2018 with fines of up to 100,000 Baht (approx £2,450, $3,177).

Images of the Buddha

Walk around any tourist area or market in Thailand and you will see hundreds of ornaments, pictures, t-shirts but most people do not know that there are restrictions on what can be taken out of Thailand.

Any Buddha images larger than 12cm must have written permission and export permit from the Fine Arts Department. The smaller items common in tourist areas are ok but people are limited to five items per person.

Credit Jan Kopriva on Unsplash

In theory approved Buddha images will have an official tag confirming they are ok for export, in reality I can’t remember ever seeing one of these.

Chewing Gum

Banned since 2004 in Singapore unless it is for medical purposes e.g. nicotine gum.


Banned in Singapore since 2011 where Singapore’s Health Sciences Authority (HSA) has stated that e-cigarettes could be a gateway for people to graduate to tobacco products.Under the Tobacco (Control of Advertisements and Sale) Act it is an offence in Singapore to sell, use, possess for sale, import or distribute imitation tobacco products. In September 2019 a Singaporean man was fined SGD$99,000 (approx £56,000, $72,700) for selling electronic vaporisers.

Vaping has been banned in Thailand since 2014, this includes e-cigarettes and e-baraku and their refills. Using an e-cigarette in Thailand could lead to a heavy fine or even imprisonment for up to 10 years.

There are also bans or restrictions in place in Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Timor-Leste and Vietnam.

Credit FORMM Agency on Unspalsh

Nudity at Home

A strange one. In Singapore you need to make sure that no-one can see into your home or hotel room if you are naked. If someone looks through your window and sees you nude you could face a fine or up to 3 years in jail.


Known as the “King of Fruits” in some parts of Southeast Asia, Durian is also incredibly health, packed with iron, potassium, vitamin C and dietary fibre.

Credit Jonny Clow on Unsplash

If you have ever come close to this South East Asia favourite you may have a better understanding why there are restrictions. The smell is…. distinctive and unpleasant and can linger for many days.

Banned on public transport in Singapore and in many public buildings and hotels around Southeast Asia. You also can’t take a whole Durian out of Thailand without an export license.

Driving Without A Shirt

You have rented a jeep or convertible, the sun is beating down and you want to top up that tan.

Off comes your shirt and away you go, exploring Thailand under your own terms.

Until of course you get stopped by the police and get a fine.

Under the Thai modesty laws it is illegal to drive a car, tuk-tuk or bike without a shirt on.


It is illegal to bring in, or take out, of the country pornography in any form throughout South East Asia.

However it is also illegal to possess or view pornography while in the country. Be careful what you view on your smartphone while in Vietnam.

Crossing the Road

Jaywalking is not something we really have in the UK whereas in the USA it is far more common.

In Malaysia if you try and cross the road within 100 metres of a pedestrian bridge or crossing you could be hit with a RM500 (approx £93, $120) fine.

Going Commando

In Thailand it is illegal to leave your house without wearing underwear. Not one that we are aware that is enforced though.

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Published by flyingdogtravel

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