Travelling to a foreign country can be a little daunting as there are always cultural guidelines and rules to be aware of and consider. This is particularly true of Thailand too, where you don’t want to risk being disrespectful to the wonderfully welcoming and gentle natured people you will encounter and will host you during your stay. Here is an Etiquette Guide To Travel In Thailand that you may find useful.
Always Return a Wai
A wai is a prayer-like gesture where your palms join in the front of your chest and your head bows slightly. If you are greeted with a wai, it is very impolite not to return it, the only people that are exempt from doing so are kings and monks. If you are holding an item in your hands, then a slight bow is sufficient.
Don’t Disregard Buddha
Don’t touch a Buddha image, climb on top of it or sit next to it, even for a photograph. It’s very disrespectful. Do not make any inappropriate postures near images of Buddha or when visiting temples. Also, standing on a Buddha statue to have your photograph taken is one of the worst things that you can do in Thailand, because you are placing the lowest, your feet, upon the highest – Buddha.
Don’t Touch a Person’s Head
People’s heads are sacred in Thailand, so touching it is frowned upon. This even includes playfully ruffling a child’s hair and touching the tops of statues.
Don’t Shake Hands
As a general rule, most Thais shy away from touching people they don’t know well. Rather greet people with the traditional wai, bringing your open palms together at chest height and bowing slightly. Introductions are common only in a formal situation where you would introduce yourself by your first name.
Do Not Point at Anything or Anyone
Even if trying to call a tuk-tuk on the street or summon a waiter in a restaurant for service, do not point your finger. Pointing is considered very rude in Thailand and you will not want to point at anyone or anything. If you must point out a specific person to someone, you will want to do so by lifting your chin in their direction. Of course, there are times when you may need to motion for a person to come over to you. This can be done by simply keeping your palm facing down to the ground and your fingers out straight and then motioning them over. If you find that you need to point at an object, please use your entire hand instead of just a finger.
Remember to Take your Shoes Off
When entering somebody’s home, temples, shops and even some restaurants in Thailand it is important to take your shoes off. If you are not sure how to act when entering a building, all you need to do is look to see if there is a pile of shoes at the entrance or if the employees are wearing shoes. Since you will be removing your shoes multiple times throughout the day, it is a good idea to wear shoes that are easy to take off and put back on. Don’t step on the threshold when going through a doorway, always step over it as Thais believe that a spirit lives in the doorsill and protects the people living in the house. By stepping on it you would enrage the spirit and bring bad luck to the residents.
Don’t Show Your Feet
The feet are the lowest part of a person’s body and the bottoms are usually dirty. Therefore, you never want to show them to people, especially in Thailand where it is impolite to point your feet at someone, raise your feet over someone’s head, or place your feet on a desk or chair. If you happen to be sitting on the ground, make sure that the bottoms of your feet cannot be seen by others. You also should never step over a person who is sitting or sleeping on the ground.
Use Your Right Hand
The left hand is often considered dirty, so it is important that you use your right hand to eat and hand things to people. When handing objects to people, make sure you do so nicely, rather than throwing it at them rudely. To show additional respect, you may want to place your left hand on your right forearm, to show that it is safely out of reach.
The weather in Thailand can get very hot, much hotter than Halong Bay weather, but irrespectively everyone should have their shoulders, elbows and knees covered while visiting temples and holy sites. While you will not be spoken to if you are walking the streets in a tank top or shorts, it is better not to walk about in your bikiini or bathing suit, as this is considered inappropriate.
Don’t Disrespect the Royal Family
The Thai Royal family is highly regarded and much loved in Thai society and you will see many photos of them in restaurants and stores throughout the country. It is very disrespectful to say anything or act in any way negatively towards the Royal family. Even standing on a Thai coin as it rolls away is considered rude as they display images of members of the Royal family. Don’t step on or tear anything that has the image of the King and his family on it, and that includes photos, money or stamps.
Embrace your Thainess
Thainess is a term used in Thailand to describe the Thai people and encourages us to adhere to a Thai way of life, abiding by Thai customs and norms such as avoiding confrontation, being discreet, dressing modestly, expressing oneself quietly and communicating subtly. Actually, it’s a good way to walk through life in general.
Appropriately known as the ‘Land of Smiles’ with the Thai people of the most welcoming and hospitable in the world, it is important to avoid disrespecting or offending anybody during your stay, and rather ensure you have the best experience as an informed and sensitive traveller. You may slip up on occasion, but luckily for us the Thai people are very forgiving and accept that tourists aren’t fully aware of their culture and lifestyle. When in doubt you can simply wai and smile and with all the respect, aplogise and try to remember for the next time.