Proper Etiquette While Visiting Thailand (Bangkok)
When traveling to a foreign land it’s always a good idea to read up about their cultural do’s and don’ts. Yes, it’s true that Thailand is referred to as the “Land of Smiles” and yes, people here will generally will be very forgiving when it comes to visitors and tourists. But at the same time, it’s not a good idea to visit a country with total disregard to their cultural ways.
Below is a list of proper “Do’s and Don’ts” etiquette while visiting Thailand.
– Proper Etiquette DO’S –
Greeting People with a Wai and Saying Hello
Thai Wai Greeting
The “wai” (pronounced as “why”), is the traditional greeting of Thailand. To offer a wai, place the palms and fingers of both hands together in a prayer position near the center of your chest (using bowing slightly). When greeting someone with a wai it is usually customary say hello in Thai:
- Men – say “sa-wa-dee-khrap” (khrap sound should be a quick, sharp “krup” sound)
- Women – say “sa-wa-dee-khaaa” (khaaa sound should be pronounced drawn out)
Thai people can use variations of the “wai” for different occasions such as:
- greeting someone
- thanking someone
- apologizing to someone
- saying goodbye
- when passing spirit houses, temples, shrines, or anything related to the Royal Monarchy (such as an image of the King)
- Monks – a kneeling wai, making sure that their head is lower than the Monk
If someone wai’s you, you should return one to them – it would be considered impolite to not return a wai. Only the King and Monks are not required to return a wai.
Removing Your Shoes
As many other Asian cultures, in Thailand you must remove your shoes before entering a home, Temple, some public bathrooms, etc. As stated before, a person’s feet are considered the dirtiest part of the body. So since your shoes are connected to your feet they must be left behind when entering any type of residence or Temple. This may also apply to:
- businesses and shops
- sometimes bathrooms at Royal facilities
An easy way to know when to do this is by noticing shoes lined up around any entrance – this is usually the best indicator. Actually this one is a very good practice, studies show that shoes can track bacteria into your home.
– Proper Etiquette DON’TS –
Items Related to one’s Head
A person’s head (being that it is the highest point) is consider to be the most sacred part of the body, so it is not a good idea to:
- touch another person’s head or hair (including playing with a child’s hair)
- be careful when around people that are laying on the floor – you may walk around them but you do not step over them.
Items Related to one’s Feet
A person’s foot or feet (being the lowest point) are considered the dirtiest part of the body, so it is not wise to:
- point your foot/feet toward another person
- raise your foot/feet higher than a persons head
- put your foot/feet on a desk or furniture
- point your foot/feet when crossing your legs
- Do not point foot/feet toward any Buddha’s or Monks.
- When visiting a Temple where you may sit on the floor/ground – try to sit in a way that your feet are pointing away from the Buddha’s and Monks.
Items Related to Pointing with Finger
As in many other cultures, pointing with your finger is considered to be disrespectful, so do not:
- point at someone. Some may motion their head toward a direction or use their hand
- In a Temple it is very disrespectful to point toward any Buddha’s or Monks
Items Related to Clothing When Entering a Temple
Due to the sensitive nature of Buddhism (in regards to Buddhas and Monks) you must follow certain guidelines before entering a Temple:
- for women – no exposed skin (shoulders and legs) – typically the temple will provide wraps for women that they can use to cover their shoulders and or lower body.
- no see through clothing
- avoid short shorts or short skirts
- avoid sleeveless shirts, spaghetti straps, muscle t-shirts, etc.
- footwear – must be left outside Temple
Rules Regarding Interactions with a Monk(s)
- Under no circumstances can a women ever touch a Monk (even accidently). If making a offering (alms or food) a Monk generally will place a cloth down for them to make the offering.
- It is not allowed for the Monk and women to be touching the item at the same time.
- Generally one should never be in a position higher than a Monk – if necessary you should bow your head (or kneel) to lower yourself
- A person should never walk in front of a Monk – always allow them to walk in front of you or others
- It is wise to watch local people attending the Temple to learn the proper interactions
Items Related to Losing Your Temper
Remember that you are in a foreign country that has different rules when it comes to cultural things. It is very important not to lose your cool while in Thailand.
There is a complicated physiological condition at work within the Thai (and Asian) culture people called “Face”. There are two types of face, “losing face” and “saving face”. Saving face in Thailand would be the equivalent to a Westerner / foreigner’s “reputation” or “self image”. It’s one of those things that if you are in a situation where you feel you have been wronged, it would be in your best interest to keep your cool, smile and walk away.
Trust me on this – Thai people will respect you much more for handling the situation in this manner rather than you losing control or your temper. The concept of “losing face” and “saving face” is very confusing to a Westerner so it is best to not get tangled up if an opportunity arises . So with this being said, it is best not to:
- Lose your temper
- Raise your voice or shout at someone
- Display any type of aggression
Be Happy – Don’t Worry!
Items Related to the King, Royal Family and Lese Majeste Laws
Section 112 of Thailand’s Criminal Code: Insulting or Defaming Royal Family – Whoever, defames, insults or threatens the King, the Queen, the Heir-apparent or the Regent, shall be punished with imprisonment of three to fifteen years.
So while visiting Thailand, do not:
- openly disrespect or insult the King (Royal Family) or images of the King (and Royal Family)
- as stated earlier – this includes defacing Thai money
Do Not Take This Lightly – You Have Been Warned!