10 Thai customs you should know before you arrive

Monks at an evening service Young Monks at an evening service

Although highly Westernised the people of Thailand have been able to hold onto many customs and traditions which makes the experience of travelling to their country all the more interesting.  Thai’s are extremely friendly, kind and very respectful people, so here are my 10 Thai customs you should know before you arrive into their country.

The ‘wai’ greeting

As soon as you land in Thailand you will notice people clasping their hand together in what looks like a prey position and slightly bowing towards you. This is their traditional form of greeting called a ‘wai’ used in welcoming or thanking someone. Although not expected, it is polite to return the hand gesture, wai when being introduced to people for the first time or thanking someone.

Wai Greeting

Wai Greeting

Leave your shoes at the door

Removing your shoes when entering any religious buildings and the homes of Thai people is a must. Even when the host says it’s OK, remove them as a sign of respect. Some restaurants, shops and offices also prefer shoes to be left at the door. So if there is a pile of shoes at the entrance, take a hint and take yours off too.

Respect the King

Disrespecting the King is a definite no no in Thailand. Using the Kings name in negative context and showing a lack of respect to an image including currency of the King is a serious legal offence. If the King is driving through the vicinity, traffic and pedestrians are stopped. We experienced this several times in Bangkok and were even stopped from walking up the stairs of an overpass as to be above the Kings head is considered disrespectful.

Dress code

About eighty-five percent of Thai’s are Theravada Buddhists and respecting their religion is on top of the list of do’s when travelling or living in Thailand. When visiting any temple or place of worship remember to dress appropriately. No shorts, skimpy skirts or sleeveless shirts are permitted.

Dress code to enter the temples

A typical sign explaining the dress code to enter the temples

Don’t touch the head

The head is deemed the most sacred part of the body and touching it can be highly offensive. So think twice before you pat the little kid in the street on his head! The feet, being the lowest part of the body, are thought to be the least sacred. Pointing your feet directly at someone or something and showing the souls of your feet to someone is considered disrespectful and will offend.

No pointing

Pointing comes naturally to most of us in Western cultures, but to Thai’s it is considered a sign of disrespect particularly if you are pointing out an individual. The more polite gesture is to indicate the direction with your chin. It is also deemed disrespectful to point at images of the Royal Family, which are commonly displayed throughout the cities. But don’t worry, Thai’s are more lenient on children, so if they point or you are showing them something it is generally acceptable.

Keep calm

Raising your voice and becoming angry is considered to be highly impolite. Trying to keep calm in stressful situations is very important as Thai’s consider those to be shouting, cursing or showing signs of anger to be displaying a form of indiscipline.

Respect the Monks

Treat Monks with the upmost respect and as with the images of the Royal Family, never be derogatory towards pictures or Monks you encounter in the streets. Women should never touch a Monk and should also move out of their way. If a woman needs to give something to a Monk she should do so by passing it to another man. If a Monk boards public transport you should always offer you seat. It is considered polite to greet Monks with the traditional wai greeting and don’t expect it in return.

A smiling Monk

A smiling Monk

Use the right hand

When passing objects, money or touching a Thai person use your right hand. The left hand is often considered dirty as it is generally used whilst in the ‘squat’ toilet!

Smile!

Thailand is not considered the ‘Land of Smiles’ for nothing, so if all else fails just smile!

Jack smiling after being given a poncho in the pouring rain

Jack smiling after being given a poncho in the pouring rain

7 Comments on 10 Thai customs you should know before you arrive

  1. Spending some 16 months in Thailand over the past 3 years, all are dead on Sarah! Keep calm, or be ignored lol….great advice!

  2. Thank you for this list of good practices!

  3. Not leaving the shoes before entering a Thai house or temple is perceived as lack of respect to the place you visit. It was rule no.1 I was taught when visiting Bangkok last year.

  4. Great list – I’ve been living in Thailand for 3 years an still manage to do something wrong or rude everyday… 😉

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