Customs & Culture

Thailand is know as the ‘Land of Smiles’ for a good reason – you will find plenty of smiling face wherever you go. As well as being very friendly. Thai are also relatively conservative and you’ll do well to keep a few tips in mind help you to avoid offending anyone.

Thais greet other with the ‘wai’, made by pressing your palms together either at chest or chin level and bowing your head down to the tips of your fingers. As well as being a greeting. This is a show of respect and the ‘subordinate’ person should initiate the wai. As a tourist you will probably find many people wai-ing you first. It is impolite to not return the wai and even if you are carrying many bags, you should acknowledge the wai with a bow of the head. Only monks do not return wais.

Remember that the top of head is the most important part of the body and should be respected. You should never touch anyone’s head and if you do so by accident you should apologise immediately.

The feet are physically and spiritually the lowest part of the body and you should never touch anyone with your feet or point at anything with them, or rest them on a table for instance. Shoes should be removed at the entrance to homes or temples and even some shops.

It is common to be called by your first name; for instance Mr John, or usually with the title ‘Khun’. Thais refer to one another in this manner.

Don’t think that Thai women are ‘easily available’. It is true that some Thai women are working in the sex industry or look forward to have a ‘farang’ husband. But this represents a very small percentage among the female population.

The words ‘yes’ and ‘no’ are often also indicated by simply repeating the verb. So if the question was “Do you want to go?”, it would be answered by saying “want” or “don’t want”, rather than “yes” or “no”.

You will probably hear the phrase ‘mai pen rai’ as much as ‘sawasdee’. Thai people avoid conflict. If you notice Thai will disappear at the first opportunity when in a confrontational situation.

Thai life centres around the family. Most Thais are devoted to their family. And terms like uncle and aunt are often used to indicate an affectionate but non-biological relationship.

While visiting, you should be mindful to dress appropriately Bathing suits are for the beach, and not for walking around town. When visiting a temple, you should ware long pants or a long skirt and make sure your top covers your shoulders. Public displays of affection, even holding hands, are still taboo among the older generation and even much of the younger set.

The king and the family are highly respected and you should never do or say anything to disrespected them. Likewise Buddha images should be respected and although, it’s okay to take a photo beside them, you should always be dressed appropriately and never touch the image. Women should avoid touching monks.