5 Cultural Traditions to Observe in Thailand
When entering a new culture, particularly one which is vastly different to your own, the shock can make it difficult to adapt quickly. While most locals, particularly in traditionally tourist/expat areas, will be tolerant and understanding of the mistakes and faux pas made by foreigners, if you want to get off on the right foot and earn the respect of your new neighbours it never hurts to do a little research and learn of the most important cultural traditions observed in your new nation.
Thailand is a beautiful country, with a unique and distinctive culture. If you want to mingle with the locals without causing offence there are several traditions you could observe during your time there.
Heads and Feet
In Thailand the head is the most sacred part of the body, so you shouldn’t touch anyone’s head without their permission. Conversely, the feet are considered the least sacred and most ‘unclean’ part of the body.
Avoid showing anyone the soles of your feet when possible and remember to remove your shoes before entering dwellings or religious buildings. It will also be appreciated by locals if you refrain from pointing your feet directly at people/religious objects.
Although a proportion of Muslims and Christians live in Thailand, it is primarily a Buddhist nation and religious acceptance and respect are essential characteristics for anyone hoping to fit in.
When entering religious buildings bodies should be covered – which means no bikinis, short skirts, shorts or sleeveless tops!
Shoes must be removed outside and you must check that it’s okay to take photographs before whipping out your camera/smartphone.
Images of Buddha should be treated with deference and Monks must not be touched or presented with anything by a woman. If a woman wishes to give a Monk something they must first pass it to a man who can then pass it on.
The Wai greeting is a popular and respectful way of greeting a new or old acquaintance. Place your hands palms together at chest or nose level (as though to pray) and then bow your head towards the face of the person you’re greeting. Typically the higher you hold your hands and the longer you keep your head bowed the more respect you are showing with the gesture. Although you aren’t expected to wai at children or people working in the service industry, it is an appropriate way of greeting new associates or a way of showing your regard for old friends. It’s also a gesture to be used in thanks.
In Thailand the monarchy is greatly revered and highly thought of by the population. Images of the King, who has sat on the Thai throne for sixty years, are everywhere and people will often wear yellow on Monday’s in order to acknowledge the day the King was born. As well as being the constitutional monarch, the King is also Head of the Armed Forces and the upholder of Buddhism. Any signs of disrespect or any offensive language used in reference to the King will not go over well.
Thailand is a proud and patriotic nation, and the national anthem is played across the country on loud speakers twice a day. When the anthem begins to play locals will usually stop what they are doing and stand if they were sitting in order to show respect. Although foreigners are not expected to behave in the same way, locals will really appreciate you offering this show of respect.
For more information about Thailand check out our extensive country guide!