Known as ‘The Land of Smiles’, Thailand is a treasure trove of cultural delights, inhabited by gracious and warm people. While Thais are known for being open, tolerant and hospitable, they may not always understand the nuances and eccentricities of other cultures. With this in mind, courtesy and respect in all your interactions with local people goes a long way.
Here are a few tips to help bridge cultural gaps and enhance your stay in Thailand:
Do try to wai.
This much-used Thai greeting involves a slight bow, with hands pressed together at upper chest level in a prayer-like way. Younger people will wai their elders first, and the greeting is then reciprocated. The Wai is also used to say ‘goodbye’ and ‘thank you’, and generally to show respect.
Do accompany your wai with a hello: “Sawasdee kha” (if you are a woman) and “Sawasdee khrap” (if you are a man).
Do get travel insurance.
Accidents happen and can be even more daunting when you are away from home. Gravity’s pull on a falling coconut harms more world travelers every year than sharks do!
Do visit some temples.
Thailand is full of beautiful temples (wats) and visiting them provides a fascinating window into many aspects of daily life. Visitors are welcomed, but proper dress is expected. Good temple etiquette requires that your legs, shoulders and upper arms are covered and shoes are removed. Temples regularly visited by tourists will usually have sarongs available for those who turn up inadequately dressed, but when visiting lesser-known temples, it’s useful to bring your own.
Do be adventurous with Thai cuisine.
Thai food is usually lightly cooked and fragrant, with an emphasis on fresh herbs and spices. Sweet, sour and spicy flavours are combined to create dishes that not only taste sublime, but are beautiful to look at too. The food can get quite fiery, so let them know if you can not handle too much chilli.
Do eat with a spoon.
Most Thai dishes are served in bite-size pieces and eaten with a spoon and fork, but the fork is just used to push food onto the spoon.
Do haggle when you are market shopping.
Haggling is expected and taken as a bit of fun. Enjoy the rolls of the eyes and all the associated drama but know when to stop, and bear in mind that a dollar probably means more to a local than it does to you. Keep the banter friendly and you’ll find the prices will come down more readily.
Do keep your cool.
Hawkers on the beach and other tourist destinations can be annoying, but keep your emotions in check as being openly angry or confrontational is offensive and embarrassing to the Thais.
Do ask before taking photographs of people and inside religious buildings.
It is particularly frowned upon to pose with (or to turn your back to) an image of Buddha.
By Tris_T7 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=78748290
Do be respectful of the monarchy.
It is a criminal offence in Thailand to be disrespectful of the royal family, so be careful what you say – and what you post on social media.
Don’t drink tap water.
To be environmentally friendly, refill your bottle from the high-quality chilled water in your villa’s dispenser rather than buying multiple plastic bottles.
Don’t use your feet to point – particularly at an image of Buddha – touch, or step over anybody.
And propping them up on a table is a big no-no too. Thais consider feet to be the dirtiest part of the body and one that should be kept low and out of sight.
Don’t touch people’s heads, including those of babies and children.
Heads are considered to be sacred and it’s felt to be very rude to touch them.
Don’t ride a scooter or motorbike without a helmet.
Always carry an up to date International Driver’s license, as police do random checks on both. We advise against hiring bikes as Thailand is notorious for motorcycle accidents, but if you do hire one, get heed sensible advice on traffic rules before heading out on to the seemingly chaotic roads.
Don’t swim if a red flag is showing on the beach.
Thailand’s rip tides can be vicious, and water can be rough during the wet season. Take a cooling dip in your private villa pool instead.
Don’t touch – or hand anything directly to – a Buddhist monk if you’re a woman.
This is not because women are considered in a derogatory way, but to avoid laying the monk open to any possibility of temptation. If you wish to give something, it’s best just to leave it on a table, from where the monk can then pick it up.
Don’t smoke in any enclosed public areas.
This includes shopping centres and restaurants. Please note that e-cigarettes are prohibited in Thailand.
Don’t walk around town in your beachwear.
Bare shoulders (for men and women) and skimpy skirts or shorts will make your Thai hosts feel uncomfortable. So throw on a shirt, pants or a sarong when hitting the streets, shops, a café or restaurant. You’ll be glad for the extra layers once you’re inside those air-conditioned interiors.
Don’t point at anything, or anyone, with your index finger.
Many Thai’s consider this common western gesture obscene, so use your whole hand or raise your chin towards whatever it is that you want to draw to their attention.
Don’t get into any situations that feel uncomfortable.
For example, some street sellers may offer prescription medicine – or any other drug – for sale. Thailand has strictly enforced drug laws so just keep walking.
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