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Thailand Local Etiquette

New country, new customs – so many ways you can embarrass yourself and others. So, what are the most obvious dos and don’ts in Thailand?

Don’t get too hung up about learning a huge list of dos and dont’s! Most social indiscretions will be forgiven without even realizing. 

Thais know that foreign visitors have their own customs and different ways of doing things, but if you are aware of some of the do’s and dont’s you will earn respect from your Thai hosts. 

Just do not forget: be particularly careful about respecting Buddhism and the Thai Royal Family.

Things to Know

As in many Asian cultures, the concept of face plays a large role. Being confrontational, losing your temper, or showing strong negative emotions in public are all considered very negative in Thai culture. Not only will you lose face and look bad, you will also find that this sort of behavior is not productive in accomplishing what you want to accomplish. Avoid doing anything that may cause you or your Thai friends to lose face.

Thai culture is strongly hierarchical. Respect must be given to those of higher social status, and to elders. Education, profession, age, and clothing all help to place a person within this hierarchy and to shape the way that that person is treated by others. A person’s social status also determines how they should be greeted.

It is not common to touch someone’s hand when greeting them. The typical Thai greeting is called the Wai, and involves pressing your palms together and bowing your head slightly.  Typically, the person of lower status offers the Wai. Thais of very high social status, such as monks, are not expected to return the Wai.

It is considered rude to lie. Even white lies, which are generally more acceptable in Western culture, are taboo. If someone says something to you that seems a bit too direct, don’t take offense—just understand that honesty is the cultural norm in Thailand.

There are also important customs and etiquette surrounding the feet. They are considered to be the lowest and least clean part of the body. You should never show someone the bottoms of your feet, point with your feet, or have your feet higher than the level of someone else’s head.

Finally, the Thai national anthem is played every day at 0800 and 1800 hours. It is considered good etiquette to stop and pay respect at these times.

14 dos and don’ts in Thailand

Thailand is known as the “Land of Smiles” -- but the famous Thai smile has many meanings. Although Thai people are very forgiving of infractions, particularly when committed by farang (foreigners), observing these basic dos and don'ts will keep them smiling.

6 Don'ts in Thailand

1. Don't point your feet

Pointing your feet at someone, raising your feet higher than someone's head, or simply putting your feet on a desk or chair are considered extremely rude in Thailand. The bottoms of feet are dirty: don't show them to people! Avoid pointing feet at Buddhas. When sitting on the ground, try to sit in a way that doesn't show others the bottoms of your feet.

2. Don't touch someone's head

While the feet are considered the lowest and dirtiest parts of the body, the head is revered as the most sacred. Never touch someone's head or hair -- this includes playfully ruffling a child's hair. Don't raise your feet above someone's head; avoid stepping over people who are sitting or sleeping on the ground.

3. Don't point 

Pointing at someone is considered rude in many cultures but particularly so in Thailand. If you must indicate a person, do so by lifting your chin in their direction. When motioning for someone to come over, don't use fingers pointed upward; make a patting motion with your fingers straight and palm toward the ground. Pointing at inanimate objects and animals is usually acceptable, but it's more polite to point with your entire hand rather than a single finger.

4. Don't lose your cool

Shouting, blowing your top, or displaying strong emotions is generally frowned upon in Thailand. Always keep in mind the rules of saving face. Keep your cool even when things go wrong; you'll be respected for doing so. Don't lament that bus breakdown. Instead, laugh and say "mai pen rai."

5. Don't disrespect the king

Never disrespect the king or images of the king, this includes currency -- his picture appears on the Thai baht. Although Thailand's lese majeste laws are controversial, open disrespect toward the king can actually land you in prison! People have received lengthy sentences for Facebook posts that spoke out against the monarchy.

6. Don't throw things

Tossing an object or money in someone's direction is rude. Take time to hand things to people properly, face up, preferably with your right hand. Unfold money when paying someone.

8 Dos in Thailand

1. Remove your shoes

As in many Asian cultures, removing your shoes before entering a temple or visiting someone's home is essential. Some businesses, restaurants, and shops also ask that you remove your shoes. If unsure, just look to see if there is a pile of shoes at the entrance, or check to see if the staff are wearing shoes. This is why simple footwear is a good idea in Southeast Asia. It's better not to step on the threshold when entering homes and temples.

2. Return a wai

The wai is Thailand's prayer-like gesture with the hands together in front and head slightly bowed. To not return a wai is considered impolite; only the king and monks do not have to return wais. Try not to wai while holding something in your hands; a slight bow will suffice. You might want to learn how to say hello in Thai.

3. Use your right hand

The left hand is considered dirty, as it is sometimes used for "toilet functions." Always use your right hand to pass objects to someone and when paying. Touch your left hand to your right forearm (showing that it is safely out of reach) if you wish to show extra respect.

4. Wear modest, neat clothing

Wear clothes that cover your shoulders and knees while visiting temples and more rural areas. If you’re swimming in a waterfall, swim in a t-shirt and shorts. You’ll notice that local Thais don’t wear bikinis or one pieces because it’s considered disrespectful.

In general, Thais dress modestly and it is usually not appropriate to show too much skin. It’s hot in Thailand, but there are heaps of light, loose clothes at the markets that are both culturally and weather appropriate. Stock up on the ubiquitous (and inexpensive) harem pants to stay cool and modest while saving the tank tops and bikinis for when you go to the beach in the southern islands.

This goes for guys too – even if you’re hot it’s not okay to be out in public without a shirt on unless you’re at a pool or beach. (We can’t tell you how many times we’ve cringed seeing a tourist walking down the street in Chiang Mai without their shirt on!)

5. Eat with a spoon

The proper way to enjoy delicious Thai food is with the spoon in your right hand and fork in your left. Use the fork to rake food onto your spoon; the fork never goes into the mouth. Chopsticks are usually only used for noodle dishes and treats such as spring rolls.

6. Show respect to monks

You will encounter many monks in places such as Chiang Mai; treat them with respect. When greeting a monk, monks receive a higher wai than ordinary people; monks do not have to return your gesture. Women should never touch a monk, brush a monk's robes, or hand something to a monk. Monks should be allowed to eat first at ceremonies and gatherings. Monks in Thailand are commonplace -- you'll sometimes see them using smartphones and in internet cafes!

7. Do Smile

The "Thai smile" is famous, essential to Thailand etiquette, and Thais show it whenever they can. Always return someone's smile. Smiles are used during negotiation, in apology, to relax whenever something goes not as planned, and just in everyday life.

8. Try to learn the language

Learning basic Thai phrases will help you get around town and locals will appreciate when you make an effort. Plus, it’s just common courtesy to learn a few key words and phrases of a country you’re visiting. It’s a fun language to speak (or at least try to!) so you’re bound to exchange some laughs with the locals and might even receive some discounts at the markets. 

Why not trying some with the below Youtube video

Thailand Temple Etiquette

Visiting temples in Thailand is a must for every trip, however, many tourists shy away from interesting places such as the Tunnel Temple in Chiang Mai because they don't understand Buddhism or the local customs. Be sure to brush up on your temple etiquette so you don't offend any of the worshipers! 

Thailand Meeting Etiquette

You can expect to meet lots of new people and make lots of new friends in Thailand. Thai people are easy-going, and foreigners are quickly forgiven for minor mistakes in etiquette. However, to avoid embarrassing anyone, or causing anyone to lose face, you should have a general idea of what is expected when meeting someone for the first time.

  • If you are with a Thai friend or host, wait for them to introduce you.
  • Thais typically use first names, with the all-purpose title Khun in front of them.
  • To perform the typical Thai greeting, called the Wai, press your palms together at about the level of your chest, and bow slightly.
  • When someone offers you a Wai in greeting, it is considered rude not to return it. However, you are not expected to return the Wai to children, waiters, or street vendors.

Thailand Dining Etiquette

The people in Thailand pride themselves on their hospitality. As such, there is a good chance that you will be invited to a meal. Whether this invitation involves going to a nice restaurant or to someone’s home, make sure that you know the basics of dining etiquette before you go.

  • Remove your shoes when you enter someone’s home.  This also applies to some restaurants, as well.
  • Avoid stepping directly on the threshold of someone’s home. Instead, step over the threshold.
  • Most Thai food is eaten with a fork and spoon, not with chopsticks.
  • Some foods may be eaten with your fingers. Make sure you always use your right hand, though, and never lick your fingers after eating.
  • Finishing all of the food on your plate indicates that you are still hungry. It is good etiquette to leave a few bites, to show your host that you are full.
  • Seating is often arranged by social hierarchy, so it is best to wait for your host to introduce you and tell you where to sit.

Thailand Gift Giving Etiquette

Gift giving in Thailand is often informal. Except at weddings or other important events, it is not necessarily expected. However, preparing a simple, neatly-wrapped gift is certainly a worthwhile gesture of friendship and appreciation.  If you are going to give a gift to a Thai friend or host, there are a few important things to know:

  • Don’t wrap a gift in black, blue, or green. These are the colors used at funerals, and are associated with mourning. Red is an auspicious color for gifts among Chinese Thais.
  • It is not common for Thais to open a gift in front of the giver.
  • Fruit, flowers, candy or chocolates are always safe choices. You may also give books, liquors, or stationary. Use your best judgment about what your host would find appropriate or useful.
  • If you are invited to someone’s home, bringing a gift is not mandatory. However, a small token of gratitude is always appreciated.

Business Etiquette

Business culture in Thailand is formal, and very hierarchical. Business relationships form slowly, and it may take a few meetings to build up the trust needed to complete a business transaction.

The culture of respect, politeness, and harmony means that you will often have to read between the lines and pay close attention to non-verbal communication to know what is really being said.

  • Try to make appointments at least a month in advance.  Punctuality is especially important in business settings, so arrive a few minutes early to any appointment or meeting.
  • Men should wear dark colored business suits. For women, conservative suits, blouses, or business dresses are appropriate.
  • Business cards are an important part of business etiquette. If you are given a card, accept it with your right hand, look at it for a few seconds, and place it neatly in your wallet.
  • If you are handing out your business card, offer it to the person with the highest social status first.
  • Always show respect, humility and good humor, and avoid any displays of negative emotions.

Frequently asked questions

Q. Is Thailand safe to visit?

Thailand is generally a safe country to visit, but it's smart to exercise caution, especially when it comes to dealing with strangers (both Thai and foreigners) and travelling alone

Here is our full guide of Thailand safety and precaution.

Q. When is the best time to visit Thailand?

Although the climate varies throughout Thailand, you can visit all year round. The best time to travel is during the cool and dry season between November and early April. In the south, the climate differs between the eastern and western coasts. The west coast is more favourable during the winter months, when diving and snorkelling will be at its best. The weather on the east coast is good for most of the year, with the lowest rainfall in January and February and the highest in November.

Q. Do you need a visa to visit Thailand?

This depends on your nationality. Most of the western countries has the free visa on arrival while most of the countries from Africa need to apply for visa in advance.

For more detail, check out the Thailand Visa Policy

Q. How to find the cheapest flight to Thailand (or anywhere)?

It will require a little effort to do some research on Google and compare the price via some platforms. Read our full guide to find the cheapest flight to Thailand here.

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Thailand BLOG ARTICLES

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It is official, sort of. After months of kicking sand around debating if it will really happen, the Centre for Economic Situation Administration (CESA) has officially approved the Phuket Sandbox plan, an important step forward. The announcement, made late this afternoon, June, 4th, appears to answer the often-posed question if the sandbox plan would ever happen after the much more intense and deadly third wave of Covid-19 swept through Thailand.
Then, the island will be opening Phuket International Airport to foreign travellers as proposed by the Tourism Authority of Thailand.

The trial will be the first of its kind in the country, and if successful, may be rolled out across other parts of Thailand. The Thailand Authority of Tourism (TAT) has already earmarked Krabi, Pattaya, Bangkok, Buriram, Cha-am, Koh Samui, Phang-nga and Hua Hin as possible destinations to try out the scheme.

Each model will be slightly different, depending on geography, and international visitors will still have to get a visa in advance and fill out some paperwork (see details below). Nevertheless, this will come as promising news to those travellers desperate to visit Thailand!

If the Phuket Sandbox Scheme goes ahead, from June to September 2021, Thailand is expecting to receive up to 129,000 international visitors – will you be one of them? In this article, we’ll attempt to answer all of the questions you might have about the Phuket Sandbox and more!

Disclaimer – Information regarding the Phuket Sandbox Program is changing literally every day and is dependent on the COVID-19 situation across Thailand. While we update this article regularly to the best of our ability, we cannot be held responsible for any errors or omissions.

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Some of the feats performed include piercing cheeks with swords, walking on nails or hot coals, and climbing ladders made of knife blades! Most participants miraculously heal up without needing stitches or medical care.

WARNING! The content and the images are not recommended for the faint of heart! Consider before continuing.

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It is said that monks started remaining immobile in a temple during this time because they wanted to avoid killing insects and harming farmland. Apparently, traveling monks were crossing through fields, thus destroying the crops of villagers and farmers. After catching wind of this, Buddha decided that in order to avoid damaging crops, hurting insects, or harming themselves during the rainy season, monks should remain in their temples during these three months.

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Finally, some authors referred to the day as the Buddhist All Saints Day. 

In pre-modern times, Magha Puja has been celebrated by some Southeast Asian communities. But it became widely popular in the modern period, when it was instituted in Thailand by King Rama IV in the mid-19th century. From Thailand, it spread to other South and Southeast Asian countries. Presently, it is a public holiday in some of these countries.

It is an occasion when Buddhists go to the temple to perform merit-making activities, such as alms giving, meditation and listening to teachings. It has been proposed in Thailand as a more spiritual alternative to the celebration of Valentine's Day.

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