Customs

Thailand is a very relaxed and casual place and you will find most Thais to be calm and patient people.  Yet amongst the laid back lifestyle, there are certain customs that you will always see the Thais performing.  There are also several customs that deal with things you don’t do.  Below is a list of “Dos” and “Don’ts.” If you can only learn one thing on this list, go for the dont’s – this way you will be less likley to accidentally offend anyone.

Dos:

  • “Wai” (put both hands together and bow slightly) when you greet Thais especially the elderly and monks. As you bow say (if your Female) “Sawadee Ka” or (if your Male) “Sawadee Krup”.
  • Dress correctly in Temples, no tank tops and no shorts (many Wats will rent you a shirt or long pants  that slip over your shorts before entering).
  • When approaching a Monk in passing, move out of their path so they may pass by easily.  Don’t forget to wai.
  • Always speak respectfully about The King and the Royal Family. They are deeply respected by the Thai people.  Be warned that speaking ill of the Royal Family is actually a crime in Thailand and could land you in jail.
  • Be respectful of- and extra patient with the elderly. Don’t forget to wai.
  • Remove your shoes before entering a Wat, Thai house and some businesses (if you see shoes in front of a business, you should probably remove yours) If you are concerned about your shoes being taken, place them in a bag where they are not visible to others and carry with you.
  • Have patience when you do business at the bank, post office, airport or anywhere really.  At some point you will find yourself in a long slow moving line. This is common it Thailand. Just relax and wait your turn.
  • Ask for a receipt if you pay in advance (more than 1 day) for your room or apartment.
  • Agree on a price to your destination before entering a tuk-tuk, taxi or other transportation.
  • When riding a taxi, make sure the meter is started before you enter unless you have already negotiated a price to your destination.
  • If you have your laundry done for you, make sure the laundry returned is actually yours and that none is missing.

Don’ts:

  • Point at people or things with your feet. This is especially important in the Wats where you don’t want your feet to point towards monks or Buddha icons.
  • Point at people or things with a single finger, use your open hand instead.
  • Sit on Buddha images be they statues or painted on the ground.
  • Touch the heads of children (really, you shouldn’t touch the head of any Thai).
  • Be too “familiar” with your significant other in public. Public displays of affection should be kept to a minimum and not be overly “mushy”.
  • Shout in public (at anyone).
  • Get caught possessing any illegal drugs, you risk the death penalty or life in prison.
  • Buy precious stones, gold or other commodities off the streets.
  • Accept offers from strangers to assist you in finding places to do your shopping (common with taxi drivers).
  • Participate in any form of gambling, it is against the law in Thailand and carries severe penalties.
  • Buy bus or train, tickets from anyone, except an official or machine at a terminal or station.
  • Summon a waiter or waitress with the fingers of your hand pointing upward.  Put your hand up, but with your fingers pointing downward.
  • When having dinner with Thai friends in a restaurant, finish everything on your plate.  Leave a little left over to signal you have finished.

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