For the most part, Thailand is an easy-going country. Thai people are aware that overseas visitors have different customs and will often overlook minor cultural indiscretions. Most Thailand do’s and don’ts involve the same good manners and common sense you would apply to any country you travel to. There are, though, some important do’s and don’ts to be aware of to avoid causing offence.
- Do respect Thai culture.
- Do dress respectfully when visiting temples and palaces. Knees and shoulders should be covered.
- Do respect all Buddha images. Buddha images are sacred in Thailand and are not to be climbed or sat on.
- Do stand up when you hear the national anthem or royal anthem. You may hear the Thai national anthem in public spaces (train stations, bus stations, markets etc.) at 8am and 6pm each day. Take your cue from others around you and stop what you are doing and stand still. If you are in a cinema, the royal anthem is usually played before the film and you should join everyone else in standing for this.
- Do take off your shoes before entering temples and people’s homes. This can sometimes apply to shops too, so look for signs outside. If you see shoes already lined up outside, take yours off before going inside.
- Do smile! It may sound trite, but a smile can go a long way in establishing good intent and that will be appreciated in Thailand.
- Do adopt a mai pen rai attitude. When you are in Thailand you will hear the expression ‘mai pen rai‘ a lot. It translates as ‘no problem’ or ‘don’t worry about it’. Follow the Thai lead and don’t worry about the small stuff and enjoy your time in Thailand.
- Do return a wai. There are lots of subtle rules of etiquette involved with the Thai greeting, the wai. We could write a whole article about when you should or shouldn’t wai and how high the hands should be, but for a first time visitor to Thailand if a Thai person wais you, place your palms together, raise your hands towards your chin and return the wai with a smile.
- Don’t expect things to be done the same way in Thailand as they are in the UK or Ireland. Retain your sense of humour and go with the flow.
- Don’t take things too seriously. In Thai culture there is a concept known as ‘sanuk‘. Broadly speaking, it’s the idea of having fun and taking enjoyment out of everything you do.
- Don’t point to anything with your feet and don’t place your feet on the table while sitting. If you accidentally drop some money, don’t step on it to stop it blowing away. This would be insulting the King whose image is on Thai currency.
- Don’t stand on the raised threshold of a house or temple. Traditional Thai belief says this is where the guardian spirits reside and to show respect and avoid disturbing them, you should step over the threshold.
- Don’t raise your voice. In Thai culture, keeping calm and not raising your voice are qualities that are admired. Shouting and getting angry won’t do you any favours.
- Don’t touch monks. Women should never touch a monk or hand anything directly to them.
- Don’t show disrespect to the Thai royal family. Thailand has strict laws on this which also cover social media.
- Don’t take Buddha images out of the country. Although it is allowed in some cases and if a permit has been granted, there are laws about what Buddha images can and can’t be taken out of Thailand. However, stores and market vendors will probably still sell them to you without telling you about the regulations.
- Don’t touch a Thai person’s head. The head is regarded as the most sacred part of the body and shouldn’t be touched. There are exceptions (e.g between lovers, when you go for a head massage, and parents ruffling children’s hair), but generally speaking don’t risk causing offence by touching someone’s head.