The Dos And Don’Ts In Thailand
If you can say one thing about Thais, it’s that they’re prone to superstition. Leave your house when a gecko makes clicking sounds, and terrible things will occur. Use only one finger to point at a rainbow, and eventually, it will fall off. Put a Tukkata clay doll on your work desk, and soon you’ll be rich.
Some Dos and Don’ts in Thailand centre on good and bad luck, but there’s more to this distinctive culture. Following Thai rules of etiquette spares you raised eyebrows and enhances your experience in the Land of Smiles.
Here are the things to avoid in Thailand, plus their solutions.
DON’T POINT YOUR FEET AT PEOPLE
Showing someone your feet is one of the grossest infractions. That’s because Thai people consider the feet not just the lowest but also the dirtiest part of the human body. Likewise, you’re not supposed to put your feet on a desk or chair, shut a door with them, or kick something. And as the soles of your feet are the filthiest, ensure you sit on the ground in a way so others can’t see them.
Do: Use your feet only for walking, and you can’t go wrong. During a soothing Thai or oil massage, it’s okay when you can’t avoid pointing your feet at the therapist.
DON’T TELL THAI PARENTS THEIR BABY IS CUTE
Thai parents won’t appreciate it if you tell them how adorable their child is. That’s because they think a ghost could hear it and kidnap their little ladybug.
Unusual nicknames, such as “doll,” protect their babies from evil spirits in addition to hiding or not mentioning the fact that their baby is cute.
Do: Smile and carry Thai babies to demonstrate you dote on them.
DON’T WEAR SHOES IN TEMPLES, HOUSES, AND SHOPS
Keeping your trainers or sandals on when you visit temples or enter shops or homes is one of the things not to do in Thailand. This rule applies to many restaurants as well. By removing your shoes, you show respect and keep the dirt outside.
Do: Sport lightweight sandals you can easily slip on and off. If you see a mess of shoes before entering a building, following suit is best practice.
DON’T KISS IN PUBLIC
Among the dos and don’ts in Thailand is the no-public-exchange-of-caresses-rule. Affection-wise, people can do a lot publicly in countries like Switzerland but not in Thailand, a conservative country.
Stroking, kissing, and hugging your partner in the street, at the spa, on the beach, or anywhere public is frowned upon. Thai people consider it impolite. That’s because they see it as something private and not anyone else’s business. Therefore, snogging outside makes them feel awkward because it’s not a place for only the two of you. Instead, locals smile at each other in a lovestruck way when in public, showing respect or giving one other the eye. However, things are changing as young people are adapting to western culture.
Do: Hold hands or wait until you’re back in your own four walls.
DON’T SHAKE HANDS
Unless a Thai person extends their hand – which can happen when they see a farang (westerner) and want to make them feel comfortable – never shake hands.
Do: Wai. In Thai culture, people wai. A wai is a slight bow with a person’s palms pressed together as if praying.
Did you know? The wai is more than just a salutation. Depending on the situation, it can mean:
- Sawasdee krap/kaa (hello, hi, good morning, good afternoon,
good evening, goodbye)
- Kop khun krap/kaa (Thank you)
- Kho Thoht (sorry)
- Respect (to show respect)
Don’t fret if you can’t perform the wai correctly. You’re not always required to wai back as a foreigner. When visiting a Thai family or a monk, you should wai. But it’s inappropriate to wai in return when hotel employees greet you. However, to wai is always correct if you want to be respectful or apologise.
DON’T TOUCH PEOPLE’S HEADS
Other things to know before visiting Thailand include not touching anyone’s head. Since Thai people regard the head as the holiest and cleanest part of the body, touching someone’s head is disrespectful. Do not even playfully ruffle a child’s hair.
While other articles on the Internet read that this is a rigorous rule, Thai people have testified it’s less so if the person whose head you want to touch is younger than you and if you’re close to them. In other words, you can touch your Thai girlfriend’s or Thai boyfriend’s head if they’re younger than you.
Do: Wai instead.
DON’T WEAR SHORT OUTFITS OR SINGLETS WHEN YOU VISIT TEMPLES
What not to do in Thailand is a legit question, given that cultural etiquette includes many rules. You can only visit a Thai temple if your clothes cover your shoulders and knees. Wearing singlets, short skirts that don’t go down to the knees, shorts, or swimwear is disrespectful to Thai people and banned in Thailand’s temples and shrines.
If you flout the dress code and expose too much flesh, you will be denied entry to temples like Wat Chalong, which houses Buddha relics, a gilded statue, and Thai porcelain. The Chalong temple is a 20-minute drive from beach areas like Kata Beach, where you can
find family-friendly hotels like Metadee Concept Hotel.
Do: Wear clean and respectful clothes when you visit places of worship.
DON’T CALL SOMEONE ANIMAL NAMES
Locals are not accustomed to being conflictual; they don’t have the same capacity for vocal dispute management as westerners. Consequently, freaking out is a big no-no in Thailand, particularly if your speech is peppered with animal names like buffalo, which indicates big and stupid.
Other terms to avoid include:
- Elephant (big and stupid, too)
- Monitor lizard (the worst name to call someone – beware!)
- Monkey (disobedient)
- Rat (the same meaning as in other cultures)
Do: Choke back your anger and smile like the Thais; it goes a long way. Thai people smile to apologise, to control anger and other emotions, and to flatter someone.
Do you want to know where to eat in Phuket or the best time to travel in Thailand? Stay tuned.
- Written by: Philipp Meier – Travel Writer Words in Nat Geo Traveller India | SCMP | Thai Airways | Culture Trip