Do's & Don'ts in Thailand
Thais are used to foreigners so usage of common sense is typically enough when visiting this country. Most indiscretions will be forgiven without you even realizing, however there are some cultural aspects worth bearing in mind while in Thailand. Thais know that foreign visitors have their own culture and different ways of doing things, however you’ll do yourself (and your country) a big favour to understand some basic Thai cultural ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’.
- Be respectful of the Thai Royal Family. They are respected deeply and even King Rama IX was so popular that even now, long after his death, many Thai are still mourning. The Thais have an enormous respect for the Royal Family. In addition know that Thailand has some of the strictest lese majeste laws in the world (offence that insults the Royal Family) and even if you are just a visitor in Thailand, it’s something you need to be aware of. Please do not underestimate this; it is a criminal offence resulting in jailtime and deportation from the Thai Kingdom.
- Always be respectful of Buddhism. Do respect all Buddha images and treat monks with the highest respect. Buddha images are held sacred and sacrilegious acts (even committed by foreigners) are punishable by imprisonment. Make sure to dress properly when visiting Thai temples. In general it is sufficient once shoulders and knees covered for both sexes, but the more your clothes cover your body parts, the better. Women should never approach monks directly by giving them something; place it on the ground so the monk can pick it up, or better, hand it over via male companion.
- Leave your shoes outside. Feet are considered dirty in Thailand so it is common to take off your shoes if you enter homes, temples, some shops and even hotels. If in doubt if it is required to take of your shoes off or not, just look at the entrance; if you see many shoes left outside you know wearing shoes inside is not done.
- Do try and keep calm no matter what the problem or provocation may be. Always try to smile regardless the situation. Thai culture places a great emphasis on non-confrontation and on cooperation, hence the famous Thai smile. Whilst a Thai smile can mean many things, staying cool and respectful at all times will always be to your advantage. The Western tendency to show dissatisfaction or anger is considered to be rude.
- Always be respectful towards the elderly. Avoid bargaining with a seller who is obviously older than you. If you need to do, do this in a polite way, with a respectful smile on your face.
- Do lower your body slightly when passing between or in front of people.
- Try learning a few Thai phrases like “Hello” or “Thank you”, it is surely appreciated. Same if you adopt the Thai way for greeting; Just bring your hands together in front of you (as in prayer) with fingers pointing up and fingertips nearly at chin height. Note that Thais do not shake hands. Westerners not always understand a particular Thai greeting given. Like you can tell a lot from a handshake in the West, similar the Thai greeting can be “read”. A greeting with fingertips high at Chin level shows more respect then one at navel level. The way the Thai greeting is made and to whom it is initiated says a lot of given respect and social status. Where to elderly you give a greeting with fingertips high, you may simply nod while greeting kids or staff.
- An important DO is surely: Enjoy yourself !! Thais like life to be sanook.
- Don’t show disrespect towards the Thai Royal Family. It is an criminal offence to insult or be negative about or towards any Royal Family member.
- Don’t cross your legs when you are in the presence of a monk. This applies whether you are sitting on the floor or in a chair.
- Don’t touch a Thai person’s head or ruffle their hair. Apologize if you accidentally touch somebody’s head. Whilst touching another's head may be considered a sign of affection in the West, it is an insult in Thailand. There are exceptions; it doesn’t apply to people who are in the privacy of their room. Also you will notice that Thai people sometimes pat a child on the head, but as a Westerner it’s best not to do this to any child to prevent any embarrassment.
- Don't point your feet at anyone!. The foot is considered the very lowest part of the body, so using feet to point at an object or at a person, is considered rude and offensive. Therefore never Place your feet on the table while sitting. For much the same reason, you should take off your shoes when entering a private house or temple.
- Don’t be overly affectionate or too familiar in public. Although this has changed in recent years and holding hands is not that offensive anymore, still things like kissing in public are very impolite. As with many things, Thais know that behaviour in the West is different to Thailand so it will be accepted to certain extent, but resist the temptation to hold hands, kissing when you in or around a temple; this is considered very rude !!!
- Don’t raise your voice or lose your temper in public. If you have an argument with your partner or children wait discussing it till you are in the privacy of your room.
- Don’t sunbathe nude or topless. This is offensive to most Thai people. You should always wear bathingclothing on beach or swimmingpool and even when you go for swim in public waterfall it is more appropriate to dress like Thai, hence wear Tshirt and shorts; this is certainly applicable for woman typically wearing bikini. although nobody is likely to say anything, you will “feel” eyes staring at you.
- Don’t Dress in a too casual style when not at the beach, pool or your hotel/room. Thais judge others on what they wear and how they wear it. Sleeveless shirts or even no shirt, bathingclothing, very short cut jeans etc are not appreciated when you go out in public.
- Don’t be offended by questions about age, marital status, income or what you do for a living. Thai are very open on these subjects and when you show a new purchase the first question is often: how much did it cost? Of course, you don’t have to answer; you can just smile and say ‘mai bok’ (I am not telling you).
- Don’t touch a Thai woman without consent. The majority of Thai women are conservative and feel embarrassed and shy when you touch or are give too many compliments. Buddhist monks are forbidden either to touch or be touched by a woman, or to even accept anything directly from a woman's hand.
- Don’t take Buddha images or statues with you as souvenir. Strictly speaking it is against the law unless special permission has been granted. Shops can sell them to you but officially you can not take them out of the country. Although Thai customs are more flexible nowadays with respect of common available Buddha images or statues, they certainly will not when it involves authentic material or when it is just the head of Buddha.