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Thailand Customs Every Tourist Should Know

Paul has been living in Thailand since 2003. He is married to a Thai and has traveled all over the country.

A Thai Wai

A Thai Wai

A Thai Wai

Following Thailand Customs

There is a saying that when in Rome, do as the Romans do. This advice is especially true for tourists and newcomers to Thailand. They should know and practice Thai customs for the following reasons:

  1. to earn the respect of the Thai
  2. to make friends
  3. to understand Thai culture and
  4. to stay out of trouble with the law

Thai customs to know and practice will include interactions in greetings, eating, visiting homes and temples, personal disputes, public discussion, and visiting public venues. Fifteen customs that every Thai tourist and newcomer should know follow in this article.

1. Use a "Wai" in Greetings

All Thai will greet strangers and friends with a "wai." To make a "wai," you fold your hands in the form of prayer and place them in front of your face. You are expected to hold your "wai" until a person acknowledges it with a return "wai."

The Thai will also express their thanks by giving a "wai."

2. Use the Polite Particles "Ka" and "Krap"

When speaking Thai, end your sentences with the polite particles of "ka" and "krap." Note that "krap" is pronounced like the English word "crop." Females use "ka" and males use "krap." For example, to say thank you, a female would say, "Kop khun ka," and a male would say "kop khun krap." To express "hello," you would say either "Sa wa dee ka" or "Sa wa dee krap."

Use of Polite Particles "Ka" and "Krap"

3. Use Only a Spoon or Fork When Eating Thai Food

The Thai don't use a knife when eating because meat and vegetables are already cut into small pieces before cooking. When eating, a spoon is used to put food in your mouth. A fork is used to scrape food from your plate onto a spoon. Sometimes chopsticks are used when eating noodles.

Using a Spoon and Fork When Eating

The author uses a spoon and fork when eating.

The author uses a spoon and fork when eating.

4. Many Daily Activities Are Held on the Floor

Since living in northeastern Thailand, I have experienced many daily activities held on the floor. These include eating, entertaining guests, and sleeping. A straw or bamboo mat is always first placed on the floor.

The Thai also sit on the floor for public activities. When I taught at a Thai school, students sat on the gym floor for assemblies. Buddhist temple worshipers also sit on mats on the floor.

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Eating on the Floor

My wife and in-laws eating on the floor of my mother-in-law's home

My wife and in-laws eating on the floor of my mother-in-law's home

5. Remove Shoes When Entering a Temple and in Most Homes

Always remove your shoes when entering a Buddhist temple. My wife and I also remove our shoes when entering our home and others.

6. Don't Point Your Feet at People

If you cross your legs when sitting, avoid pointing your feet at another person. Since the feet are the most unclean part of the body, it is impolite to point them at someone.

7. Don't Touch Anyone on the Head

The head is considered sacred and the cleanest part of the body in Thailand. Therefore, you should never touch a person's head or hair.

8. Don't Whistle at Night

Whistling at night in Thailand is considered offensive. Many believe that this whistling will attract evil spirits.

9. Cover Your Mouth When Cleaning Teeth

Although some Thai pick their nose in public, they will always cover their mouth when cleaning teeth with a toothpick.

10. Don't be Inconsiderate of Others

The Thai have a concept of "greng jai." This is a feeling of not wanting to inconvenience or hurt another person's feelings. It is also related to not wanting to make someone lose face.

11. Don't Lose Your Temper and Become Confrontational.

In public settings, the Thai avoid losing their temper and becoming confrontational. If a person must be confronted, it should be done through a third party.

12. Don't criticize the King, Buddhism, and Thai Politics

Unless you want to spend time in a Thai prison, don't criticize the King or monarchy, Buddhism, and Thai politics. Thailand has a strict lese majeste law that forbids the insult of the monarchy.

13. Stand for the Playing of the Thai National Anthem

The Thai national anthem is played twice a day — at 8:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. If you hear the anthem played at a public venue, you are expected to stop and stand at attention.

14. Stand for the Playing of the King's Song

The King's song is played at all cinemas before a movie starts. All are expected to stand at attention during the playing of the King's song.

15. Don't Use Buddha Images as Ornaments or Decorations.

Since Buddha images are sacred, it is considered very disrespectful to use any Buddha image as a decoration in the home or on your body.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Paul Richard Kuehn

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