Thailand is one of the most beautiful countries in the world. The Land of Smiles, as the country is called, boasts of beautiful beaches and friendly atmosphere, beckoning you to visit.
I’ve been to Thailand a couple of times. In fact, during my recent visit, I stayed there for a total of 4 months. Yes, I stayed there for that long which is why it has become my favorite country next to the Philippines. Because of that long stay, I had the opportunity to observe and embrace their rich culture.
Here are dos and don’ts when you visit Thailand.
Thailand has numerous Buddhist temples. It’s important that you show respect when visiting one. Make sure that your shoulders and knees are covered before entering any temple. If possible, try to dress the way Thai locals do when they visit temples. They get offended whenever people don’t dress properly when going to sacred places, as they consider it disrespect. It could even mean jail time!
Take your shoes off
On a similar note, Thai people are not particularly fond of feet. It’s crucial that you expect to be taking your shoes off when entering temples and other places of historical and cultural significance – you might even be needing to take them off when entering certain shops and similar establishments. In Thailand, feet are considered dirty and need to be kept on the floor at all times, which means there’s no putting your feet up in public or using them to point or move something. It sounds easy, but we’re unconsciously accustomed to using our feet much more than we think!
What’s ‘wai’, I hear you ask? Wai is the traditional way of greeting in Thailand. Whereas Westerners are used to shaking hands or hugging people, in Thailand, it’s customary to place both hands in a praying-like form towards your chest, pointing outwards at whoever you’re greeting before bowing. You’ll be seeing it often in Thailand and so it’s unlikely you’ll forget about it, but a local may be shocked if you extend your hand or reach in for an embrace!
Respect the Thai national anthem
At 8 am and 6 pm every day, public places in Thailand hear the country’s national anthem. It’s also played on TV and radio stations as well as in schools, and the flag is raised and lowered. You can probably tell it’s crucially important in Thai culture, and so it’s important you don’t go out of your way to disrespect it. Tourists and travellers aren’t expected to participate in the recital, but it’ll be wise to take a moment and stand still as it plays – it’s a show of respect, and won’t get you into trouble!
Touch a Thai’s head
This is an important one. In Thailand, the head is considered to be the most important part of the body. It’s a spiritual concept but it holds great importance in Thai culture, and so it’s not wise to touch anybody’s head, ruffle someone’s hair, or pat a child (all things that we commonly do at home). The only exception to this is when lovers are in the privacy of their home, but in public it’s a big no-no. Make sure to apologize profusely if you do accidentally come into contact with someone’s head, and do your best to avoid it!
Disrespect the monarchy
It has to be said that the Western monarchy doesn’t expect strict levels of respect from the people it oversees. The Thai monarchy, however, isn’t the same. Insulting the monarchy in Thailand is actually a criminal offence, and has led to jail time for many in the past. Tourists, you’re not exempt! The country’s lèse-majesté laws state that “whoever defames, insults or threatens the King, Queen, Heir-Apparent or Regent shall be punished with imprisonment of three to fifteen years.” The recent passing of His Majesty, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, has led to a year-long mourning period where flags have been raised at half-mast and people are expected to wear dark clothing, as outlined by 1Cover. Disrespecting the monarchy is not something you’re likely to do, but just be vigilant and watch what you’re saying in public.
Shout in public
Buddhism is obviously influential in Thailand’s culture and way of life. It’s a very peaceful movement, and so it’s disrespectful to raise your voice or get visibly upset or angry in public. Thai people are renowned for being calm, collected and extremely friendly – it’s how the country got its nickname of “Land of Smiles.” While on your travels, Travel Fish say it’s important to stay jai yen (cool heart) and return the same positive attitude to the people you meet. That’s not to say everyone will act the same, however – some shopkeepers and taxi drivers may not be as welcoming, but you’ll find that they are much friendlier than the people back home.
Disrespect the Buddha in any form
It’s common knowledge that the Buddha is the primary figure in Buddhism, an “enlightened” human being who is now held to the greatest respect in Thailand. It comes as no surprise, then, that disrespecting, defacing or ruining any images of the Buddha is, once again, a criminal offence. To go against such a highly-respected icon of Thai culture is awfully ignorant and upsetting for locals, as is climbing on or touching any sculptures or monuments of the Buddha. Make sure to treat any forms of the Buddha with utmost respect wherever you go.
I hope some of my tips will give you an idea on what and what not to do in Thailand. Just remember that all beliefs, religions, and cultures deserve an equal amount of respect. Even if they don’t mean anything to you, they mean the world to them. A taste of Thailand’s culture is surely worth experiencing.
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We also take off our shoes in India while visiting temples. However, it is not mandatory to remove shoes while entering historical places. Touching someone’s head is not considered an offence in India, where I come from. ‘Wai’ is called’Namaste’ in India. There are many similarities between India and Thailand.
There’s a lot of Indian too in Thailand. I think your culture is really strong in this country.
I’m taking note of these! Planning to visit Thailand soon! (Maybe November 2018) I’ve been longing to see mainland Asia and do a trip in Indochina. Accompany me, Cai! Hehehe
Grabe ang tagal namna ng Nov 2018 hehehe 😉
These are really important tips. I knew about getting the shoes off when entering into place of Worship. But I didn’t know about the not touching head of a Thai. It is absolutely important to know the local culture and practices and pay respect to them when we travel somewhere
Enjoyed reading this post for the cultural nuances that you have explained. Most travelers tend to miss out on these. Glad you did not . And more importantly, shared your bit with us. Thai culture is a lot similar to Indian and which is why I always enjoyed it.
What I like about Thailand, at least from what I’ve been hearing and reading about this country is that their culture and tradition are quite in tact. This is something that we Filipinos lack (sad but true). I’m amazed that despite this country being too famous with western tourists, they still prefer talking using their own language, and they still maintain their own customs despite the modern time. I honestly think that’s amazing. Not sure when will I be able to visit Thailand but I am hoping in the near future.
It’s quite interesting to know these unique qualities about them. I didn’t know that they don’t like to be touched on the head. That’s a rather unique custom.
Really great list of Dos and Don’ts . It’s so important to know the small yet important details before travelling anywhere. The Wai is kind of similar to ‘Namaste’ in India. Thanks for sharing!
Thank you so much for a post that is unlike the usual one’s I come across.
I have heard so much about Thailand but a list of Dos’ and Don’ts never harmed. I wasn’t aware that touching someone’s head was taken otherwise in the country. Will let my travelers from India know about that in future.
Thanks Ambuj. Hope you enjoy your stay in Thailand
Great tips and some I was not aware of (eg : not touching the head). Dressing like a local is so important and the fact that you need to remove shoes in the temple and some shops should forewarn you to wear walkable shoes which are easy to take off and put on. Thanks for sharing
Your welcome. Enjoy your visit to Thailand