Do's & Don'ts in Thailand
Common sense will get you a long way in Thailand, but some cultural particularities are worth bearing in mind during your holiday in Thailand.
- Be respectful of HM The King and HM The Queen. They are respected deeply by the Thai people. The King 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. Do not show your ignorance (and risk arrest) by denigrating this respect.
- Always be respectful of Buddhism. Dress correctly in Temples (wear sleeves, do not wear short pants etc.). Don't sit on Buddha images if you want to be photographed.
- Smile! Thai culture places a great emphasis on non-confrontation and on cooperation. Whilst a Thai smile can mean many things, staying cool and respectful at all times will always be to your advantage - whether bartering for a length of silk cloth or at the scene of an accident that was patently not your fault. the Western tendency to show dissatisfaction or anger is considered boorish and rude - and will only increase the price requested or worsen any bad situation.
- Always be respectful of the elderly, in every situation. If you are bargaining at the market with a seller who is obviously older than you, or if you are bargaining with a tuk-tuk driver who is older than you, do this in a polite way, with a smile on your face.
- Use the "wai" - a greeting where you press your hands together. Thais do not shake hands. In Thai culture, the traditional "wai” is used - bringing their hands together as if in prayer. Most visitors to Thailand will instantly recognize this greeting. However, Westerners may not always read what a particular "Wai" is saying. A handshake in the West can tell you a great deal: is it readily offered and reciprocated, is the grasp firm or "dead fish", is the handshake held too long or not long enough?
The Wai is similar, and how it is made, and by whom it is initiated, can say much about social status. If you are greeted with a Wai by a waiter or waitress as you enter or leave a restaurant, you may simply nod to acknowledge the Wai - as you are the paying client. You could possibly Wai back to show genuine thanks for an excellent meal and service, but you would not initiate the Wai upon arrival. Likewise, the younger initiate the Wai to the elder, and not vice versa. When a "high wai" (hands under the chin or nose) only evokes a returned Wai at navel level, the message sent is evident...
- Learn at least a few words of Thai: the effort will again be very much appreciated.
- Be respectful of the country's ecology in the mountains and on the beaches.
- Don't touch a person's head - or point your feet at anyone! Whilst touching another's head may be considered a sign of affection in the West, it is an insult in Thailand, as the head is considered the highest part of the body. Contrariwise, the foot is considered as the very lowest part of the body, so using feet to point at an object, or having them point at a person when seated, is considered rude and offensive. Do not sit on the floor of a Temple with your feet pointing at a Buddha Image!
For much the same reason, you should take off your shoes when entering a private house or temple. Often you will see that in front of village shops, the locals will have left their flip flops at the door. If you go into the shop, therefore, leave your shoes outside too!
- Be too familiar in public, even if you are married. Things like kissing in public are considered very impolite in Thailand. Even walking hand in hand in or around a temple is considered rude.
- Shout or raise your voice in public (to anybody). If you want to argue with your wife or with your children, do this in the privacy of your hotel room and not in public!
- Dress in an overly casual Western "holiday" style when in town: no shoes or shirt etc. Thais judge others on what they wear and how they wear it. You should never wear bathingclothing outside 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.
- For Women: Buddhist monks are forbidden either to touch or be touched by a woman, or to accept anything directly from a woman's hand. As a female, you may either pass the object to a male to in turn hand on to the monk , or you may place it on a piece of cloth that the monk may then use to recuperate the item.
- As a male on a Thai flight, you may be seated next to a monk. If the stewardess gives you two objects where clearly you would only normally receive one, she is asking you to pass one of these to the monk of her behalf.
- If you would like to do drugs in Thailand, then read all about this in any number of accounts by foreigners caught on drugs charges and imprisoned in its notorious gaols, awaiting death-penalty.