10 Essential Cultural Tips for Traveling to Thailand

The beautiful country of Thailand is a backpackers dream, a retirees remote paradise, and generally speaking it’s the stuff travel dreams are made of. This exotic land is rich with tropical beauty, lively cities, and cultural history just waiting to be explored by adventurous travelers. It is also a place that is far different in comparison to the Western world, with many different practices and social norms. No tourist wants to make a faux pas on their holiday so to avoid an embarrassing encounter, here are a few things you should know about Thailand:

10. Don’t Talk About the King

Once in Thailand you’ll very quickly realize that the King is highly regarded, as made clear by the pictures of him displayed just about everywhere. Thai people are very sensitive to anything that could be taken as a sign of disrespect so to avoid this, it is best not to mention the King in any way shape or form. Also, never stomp on a coin rolling away or a banknote blowing away as it has the Kings image and stomping on it with your foot would be extremely offensive.

Thailand Coins and King

9. Hands Off the Head

Never ever touch anyone in Thailand on the head (this includes children.) This is probably something you weren’t planning on doing anyway but it’s worth mentioning that the head is considered sacred in this country and should not be touched. Similarly, try to avoid pointing your feet at other people. This is considered disrespectful, so if sitting directly across from someone on public transit, try to point your feet just off to the side a little bit.

child head

8. Cover Up When Visiting Temples

When visiting any temples, monasteries, wats, palaces or other religious places, it’s important to cover up past your knees and wear sleeves as a sign of respect. Long sleeves and pants are the safest bet to avoid any cultural ignorance. You probably appreciate when visitors respect the traditions of your own country so showing the same level of respect is a good idea. Also, when entering a building check to see if others have removed their shoes, if so better take yours off as well.

clothing thailand temple

7. Enjoy a Massage (Carefully)

It’s a great idea to take advantage of the abundance of cheap massages available in Thailand, so don’t hesitate to get a few (or more) during your trip. But beware of any massage parlors that post signs saying ‘happy girls’ or anything mentioning girls or women specifically, it’s almost a sure thing that you’re walking into a brothel.

somdul / Shutterstock.com
somdul / Shutterstock.com

6. Shoes Off Please

When visiting someones home or visiting temples or other religious places, it’s important to check and see if shoes are being removed. If so, do the same as it’s a sign of respect. It’s also important to never step on the threshold of the door when visiting someone’s home as it’s believed that the souls of the deceased live here.

shoes off thailand

5. When to Wai

The Wai is an important part of social behavior and customs among Thai people, used to express gratitude, apologize, greet someone or when departing someones home as well as many other situations. It consists of a slight bow with hands pressed together in a prayer-like fashion in front of your chest. There are many intricacies to using the Wai correctly so it’s advised that foreigners avoid using the Wai as much as possible, even if someone greets you with a Wai. In most cases, a smile or nod of the head will suffice as an acceptable greeting for tourists. Improper use of the Wai by a tourist may put a Thai person in an awkward situation.

thai Wai

4. Eat with Your Spoon

This one will be tricky for Westerners to get used to; eating directly off your fork is considered crude in Thailand. Always eat off your spoon and instead, use your fork to push the food onto your spoon. There’ll be no sideways glances your way if you remember this dining tip.

Photo by: Youtube/myruby123
Photo by: Youtube/myruby123

3. Thai Monks

There are several rules for contact with Thai monks, and it’s very possible that you encounter such a situation as monks are very open in Thailand and it’s common to see them out and about. Women must never touch a monk or their robe, even outside of temples. If contact is made, the monk must go through a cleansing ritual. If a woman must give something to a monk, best practice is to either set it on the floor or give it to a man first to give to the monk.

Monks Thailand

2. Stop at 8am and 6pm

In Bangkok, the Thai national anthem is played out loud every day at 8am and 6pm. If you’re out in a public place during either of these times, show respect by stopping whatever you’re doing and standing still until the song is over. If you’re sitting, stand up for the duration of the anthem. Don’t be that tourist walking around obliviously while every Thai person is standing in place paying their respects.

Artaporn Puthikampol / Shutterstock.com
Artaporn Puthikampol / Shutterstock.com

1. Never Lose Your Cool

Thailand isn’t called “The Land of Smiles” for nothing, Thai people are friendly and will try to avoid conflict as much as possible. Showing signs of anger or initiating confrontation, especially in public, is considered to be poor manners. Always try to keep your cool, even if faced with an aggravating situation.

puwanai / Shutterstock.com
puwanai / Shutterstock.com

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