Cultural Do’s and Don’ts in Thailand

Thailand, also called the Land of Smiles, is an amazing country known for its warm and welcoming people. This, along with its beautiful landscapes, has made it a top destination for tourists and expats. Aside from being a tourist hotspot, Thailand is also known for its world-class international boarding schools, like Rugby School Thailand

 

But despite embracing progress and globalisation, Thai culture is still deeply rooted in old traditions and customs. Thais are tolerant and patient people. They’re used to the presence of farang or foreigners, and while Thais are forgiving people, they’re also easily offended. If you’re moving to Thailand and sending your child to an international boarding school there, familiarising yourself with Thai etiquette will help you earn the respect of the locals.

 

Here are the top do’s and don’ts in Thailand:

 

Do’s

Like in other Asian countries, people in Thailand believe that the feet are unholy and unclean. This is why they take their shoes off before entering a house, temple, and even some restaurants, shops and offices. A pile of shoes and slippers outside one of these establishments is a good indicator that footwear is forbidden inside.

Thais dress modestly, and showing too much skin is considered disrespectful. This is especially true when visiting temples. Rules in Thailand state that before entering a temple, you should wear clothes that fully cover your shoulders and knees. The more formal the attire, the better. If you think the weather in Thailand is too hot to be covered up, you can find markets selling loose and light clothing items that are culturally appropriate.

Bowing in Thailand is called the wai (pronounced as ‘why’). It’s the traditional way Thais greet one another and say hello. When one is directed at you, you should always return it. Thais consider it disrespectful if a wai is not returned. The proper way to wai is to bring your hands together in front of your chest — make sure your hands are pointing upwards. Then bow your head until your nose touches your index fingers.


The wai is not only used to greet people; it is also used to apologise, thank someone or say goodbye.

You’ll encounter monks all over Thailand, and you should always treat them with utmost respect. Always bow when you meet one and never ask them overly personal questions. If you want to give them something, place the item in front of them instead of handing it directly. Women should be extra careful around monks because it’s strictly forbidden for women to touch monks or even to brush against their robes.

The proper way to eat in Thailand is with a spoon and fork. The spoon should be in the right hand and the fork in the left. The fork is only used to scoop the food onto the spoon; it should never enter your mouth.

Smiling is deeply rooted in Thai culture, which is why Thailand is called the Land of Smiles. It is an important part of Thai etiquette and can mean many things, including expressing various emotions such as embarrassment or frustration. Thais also smile to avoid confrontations. But that does not mean the Thai smile is fake. Thais are friendly people and their smile is a way of showing respect, so if you’re the recipient of a smile, make sure you smile in return.

Don’ts

The Thai people have a deep reverence for their king and the royal family. Insulting, disrespecting or talking ill of the king or images of the king can land you a one-way ticket to prison.

In Thailand, the head is revered as the highest and most sacred part of the body, therefore, you should never touch a person’s head or hair — this includes ruffling children’s hair. Don’t raise your feet over someone’s head and don’t step over someone who is sleeping or sitting on the ground.

Pointing at someone in Thailand is inappropriate and rude as it is in many other countries too. Instead, lift your chin in the direction of the person you’re indicating. If you’re asking someone to come closer, raise your arm horizontally and wave your hand up and down. Pointing at animals and inanimate objects is generally tolerated, although it’s better to use your entire hand to gesture instead of the index finger.

Pointing with your feet is just as rude as pointing with your fingers, especially when you’re pointing at Buddha statues in and outside of temples. You should also avoid showing the bottom of your feet because they’re considered to be extremely dirty, so don’t put your feet on top of tables and chairs.

Buddhism is the primary religion in Thailand, therefore you should respect the status and images of the Buddha. Climbing on Buddha statues in temples is highly offensive and is punishable by law. It’s also illegal to take images of the Buddha out of the country without special permission.

 

Learning how to be polite in Thailand is easy if you follow these important do’s and don’ts. It will help your family adjust quickly to Thai culture and prevent you from unintentionally offending someone.

 

Here at Rugby School Thailand, we’ll help your children adapt to the ways and traditions of Thailand to ensure that their stay here will be fun, comfortable and memorable. Call us today to learn more.

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