Thailand Dos and Donts customs feet

Do's and Don'ts in Thailand


Common sense will get you a long way in Thailand, but some cultural particularities are worth bearing in mind during your holiday in Thailand.



The Thais have an enormous respect for the Royal Family. Do not show your ignorance (and risk arrest) by denigrating this respect.



Thai culture places a great emphasis on non-confrontation and on cooperation. Whilst a Thai smile can mean many things, staying cool and respectful at all times will always be to your advantage - whether bartering for a length of silk cloth or  at the scene of an accident that was patently not your fault.  the Western tendency to show dissatisfaction or anger is considered boorish and rude  - and will only increase the price requested or worsen any bad situation.


Don't touch a person's head - or point your feet at anyone!

Whilst touching another's head may be considered a sign of affection in the West, it is an insult in Thailand, as the head is considered the highest part of the body. Contrariwise, the foot is considered as the very lowest part of the body, so using feet to point at an object, or having them point at a person when seated, is considered rude and offensive.


For much the same reason, you should take off your shoes when entering a private house or temple. Often you will see that in front of  village shops, the locals will have  left their flip flops at the door. If you go into the shop, therefore, leave your shoes outside too!


Women and monks

Buddhist monks are forbidden either to  touch or be touched by a woman, or to accept anything directly from a woman's hand.  As a female, you may either pass the object to a male to in turn hand on to the monk , or you may place it on a piece of cloth that the monk may then use to recuperate the item.

As a male on a Thai flight, you may be seated next to a monk. If the stewardess gives you two objects where clearly you would only normally receive one, she is asking you to pass one of these to the monk of her behalf.

The Wai

Thais do not shake hands. In Thai culture,  the traditional "wai"  is used - bringing their hands together as if in prayer. Most visitors to Thailand will instantly recognize this greeting. However, Westerners may not always read what a particular "Wai" is saying.  A handshake in the West can tell you a great deal: is it readily offered and reciprocated, is the grasp firm or "dead fish", is the handshake held too long or not long enough?


The Wai is similar, and how it is made, and by whom it is initiated, can say much about social status. If you are greeted with a Wai by a waiter or waitress as you enter or leave a restaurant, you may simply nod to acknowledge the Wai - as you are the paying client. You could possibly Wai back to show genuine thanks for an excellent meal and service, but you would not initiate the Wai upon arrival. Likewise, the younger initiate the Wai to the elder, and not vice versa.  When a "high wai" (hands under the chin or nose) only evokes a returned Wai at navel level, the message sent is evident...



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