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Etiquette in Thailand

By: Lucy Debenham BA (hons) - Updated: 10 Oct 2015 | comments*Discuss
Etiquette In Thailand

If you're planning a visit to Thailand your trip will go more smoothly if you follow three simple rules: respect the king, respect the monks and keep smiling! Most of the essentials of Thai customs and etiquette can be summed up in these three principles. By looking more closely at these principles, you will be sure to enjoy a pleasant and enjoyable stay in Thailand.

Respect the King

The country of Thailand has a long history of stability and independence even though it's nestled in the midst of sometimes turbulent Southeast Asia. The Thai people are proud of their history and culture, and give most of the credit to the monarchy. The king and royal family are highly regarded, respected and even adored by all. Any tourist who desires to fully experience everything that Thailand has to offer without offending any local residents would do well to adopt the same attitude of respect.

Obviously, you’ll want to avoid saying anything negative about the monarchy, the king or any members of his family. In the best of cases, criticizing the king will be considered rude and inappropriate. At worst, it's not unheard of for people to be fined or imprisoned for violating laws concerning proper behaviour with respect to the royal family. The Thai people are friendly and normally seek to avoid confrontational behaviour, but you should be aware of just how serious they are on this point.

Proper respect for the king also shows up in some unexpected places. For example, if you choose to visit a local cinema to take in the latest movie, you'll be expected to stand for the playing of the national anthem. The anthem, along with a montage of photos of the king, is played before every film, and everyone in the theatre is expected to rise and remain standing until the anthem is over. Not being seen to partake in this ceremony would be considered very rude and disrespectful.

The image of the king appears on all Thai currency (the baht). Have you ever dropped a coin and slammed your foot down on top of it to keep it from rolling away? It would be considered improper etiquette and inexcusably offensive in Thailand because you would be placing your foot (the least respected part of the body) on the face of the king. So if you drop a couple of baht on the sidewalk, you should definitely let them roll!

Respect the Monks

Some of the most fascinating tourist destinations in Thailand are Buddhist temples. Everyone is welcome at most of these temples. You will find them to be calm and relaxing retreats. But there are a few rules you should remember before wandering into these most holy places.Always make sure that you follow the correct dress etiquette for these visits. This means no shorts for the men and no sleeveless tops for the women. All females should have their shoulders covered and everyone should remove their shoes before entering.

Women should never touch a Buddhist monk, and monks won't accept anything directly from a woman's hand. It has nothing to do with gender discrimination. Remember, these monks have vowed to separate themselves from the world, and that includes insulating themselves from possible temptations. In most cases, Buddhist monks prefer not to be photographed and will often conveniently disappear when cameras are pointed in their direction. You should never just point a camera at a monk and start snapping away.

One other thing on photographs in temples: they are usually allowed, but you should never pose in front of any image or statue of Buddha.

Keep Smiling

Thailand is known as the "Land of Smile." When you first visit Thailand, you will be very aware of the apparent friendliness of everyone there. The Thai people will smile at every opportunity. In most cases, they are welcoming you and may indeed be happy that you're there. However, Thai people may be also difficult to read as they smile when they're embarrassed, smile when they're annoyed – smile in most situations!

Social relationships in Thailand are all about retaining a calm demeanour and discussing issues diplomatically. You should not that you will never get anything in Thailand by raising your voice. For instance, if your room reservation has evapourated, if the hotel limo fails to pick you up, whatever the situation, you must stay calm, smile, and resolve matters in a soft-spoken voice. Letting your emotions control you is viewed as a sign of weakness. Avoid showing your anger at all costs and you will find that disputes may quickly resolve themselves.Thailand is a land of contrasts. The high-energy urban atmosphere of Bangkok or the seemingly anything-goes atmosphere at the beaches of Phuket and Pattaya may give you the impression that you can forget your inhibitions and “live it up” a lot. But in reality, the real people of Thailand are modest and conservative. You should take into account that these are virtues and etiquette that is respected in others. If you choose to match their behaviour, they'll recognise you as a savvy and culturally sensitive traveller, and you'll be assured of receiving five-star treatment.

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In addition to the above. Never get up onto the stage in AGoGo to dance, you will be considered a fool. Also, Thai people can be rather indifferent to a foreigner speaking some Thai, but knowing a few words of the Isaan language will likely get you a very warm reception, amongst all Thais, not just those from the Isaan region.
Sam - 10-Oct-15 @ 4:31 AM
The Internet has on many websites incorrect information on etiquette in Thailand. Firstly, it is quite rare that a greeting will be given as a " wai" bow with clasped hands. This is done by telivision news presenters, and done to tourists by people who work in expensive resteraunts and hotels, but is not common elsewhere. Also, a significant number of Thai people generally speak quite loudly, they will quickly get angry and loose their temper, the exact opposite of how western people are advised to behave in the presence of Thai people. The don't touch the head thing also has to be treated with some degree of scepticism. Thai people will have no reservations about touching a westerner,s head, and girls will often be seen touching their female friend,s head in public, when looking for a white hair to pluck. Why do websites never inform westerners of actual, real Thai practises. When opening a bottle of beer, pour the first drop onto the street at the entrance door, for good luck. When opening a bottle of whisky, go out onto the street, face the entrance door and throw the first contents of the bottle towards the door. When in an evening establishment, and a girl walks around the bar sprinkling the contents of a glass of spirits, she will then throw the remaining contents backwards, through her legs, out onto the street. The correct ettiquette to follow, is to bang something metallic repetitively, as this ritual takes place, to show respect for dead people. Also, the word for yes is " Uh", given as a grunt.
Tim - 10-Oct-15 @ 4:07 AM
In Thailand, we have to respect adults. (Which is older than you). Play with the head or touch onhead of others is something that should not be done.
Jate - 2-Dec-11 @ 8:41 AM
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