Cultural Etiquette in Thailand: Make Friends and Influence People

The Do’s and Don’ts of Cultural Etiquette in Thailand

Knowing the basics of cultural etiquette in Thailand is going to set you apart from the average tourist. It would be perfectly possible to visit this incredible country without paying much attention to the small matters of manners and politeness for local sensibilities, but should you do it? Hell no! Thais are some of the friendliest people on earth and their culture deserves a little respect! Plus learning the basics of how to behave will probably get you better deals in shops, better service in restaurants and a better reception in temples.

The Best Temples in Bangkok Every Tourist Should Visit
Buddhist culture has shaped how to act in Thailand.

Here are our do’s and don’ts for a respectful trip to the Land of Smiles:

The Must-Do’s of Cultural Etiquette in Thailand

Remove your shoes

If you’re lucky enough to be invited into someone’s house then the number one rule you mustn’t forget is to take your shoes off. It’s pretty logical when you think about it- the streets of Thailand can be pretty grubby, and everyone in Thailand lives in bare feet or slippers inside. Thai people don’t want you trekking dirt through their nice clean homes! 

This rule also holds true for some shops and small businesses; if in doubt, copy what everyone around you is doing!

Use your right hand not your left hand

You’ll probably spot a few differences between your bathroom at home and the bathrooms in Thailand during your visit. You’ve probably developed thighs of steel from squat toilets, but have you spotted the lack of toilet paper in a lot of cases? Yup, Thai people often use their left hand for their toilet duties instead! 

Now we’re not suggesting that you go quite so culturally on-point as to use your hand instead of paper, but local people will appreciate it if you keep your left hand out of the way when you interact with them, whether it be passing money or shaking hands. It’s just good manners!

Every situation goes better with a smile

Thai people love to smile in pretty much every situation. If they’re feeling friendly they’ll smile, if they’re offering good customer service they’ll smile, and if they’re trying to deal with a confrontational situation they’ll smile. They use it to defuse the tension! 

You’ll get a great reception if you take a leaf out of their book and do the same. It’s a sign of respect and can help build rapport with your new Thai buddies. Plus, smiling takes way more muscles than frowning so you’ll be burning some calories too!

Get your bow on

The Thai tradition of bowing to show respect is one of the most endearing aspects of the country. The local name for it is wai, and it feels pretty good when someone does it to you so be sure that you return the favor. 

Press your hands together into a prayer-style position and bow your head forward. If you want to add maximum respect (for elders or monks for example), then bend a little at the waist as well. Your efforts will more than likely be rewarded with one of the massive smiles we’ve already talked about, and you’ll get a warm rosy glow inside!

Buddhist cultural etiquette in Thailand

The Must-Don’ts of Cultural Etiquette in Thailand

Don’t point with your fingers…

This might sound a bit bizarre, but pointing is a real no-no in Thailand. Jabbing a finger in someone’s direction is very likely to cause offence! This principle rings true even when gesturing towards someone’s pet so we’re not messing around here. Use your chin to indicate towards someone, or just walk over and talk to them.

…and definitely don’t point with your feet!

Similarly, pointing your feet at someone (think showing them the soles of your feet) is one of the worst things you can do, especially in a temple. Obviously you’ll spend a lot of your time barefoot given that you’ve already learned to take your shoes off, so practice folding your feet under yourself when you sit down to avoid committing a real cultural no-no.

Avoid touching other peoples’ heads

The head is the most revered part of the body in Thailand, and local people don’t like other people touching theirs! There is a real respect for personal boundaries here and if anyone accidentally brushes against someone else’s head then a flurry of apologies and bowing will quickly follow. Don’t step over someone’s head if they’re lying down (even if they have fallen over between you and the bar), and never stroke someone’s hair uninvited. Actually, that’s a good rule for everywhere, not just Thailand..! 

Keep control of your temper

We get it, sometimes traveling is frustrating. We’ve all had moments where we see red and just want to shout and swear. The only problem is that in Thailand, that’s the height of bad manners and is likely to get you into trouble! Take a deep breath and try to live through the heat of the moment without losing your cool. Everything will feel better after a Chang or two anyway. 

Don’t speak ill of the king

If you’re only going to listen to us on one point then listen to us on this one- don’t disrespect the king. It’s quite literally a criminal offence! The Thai Royal Family are held in huge esteem in Thailand, and there are laws against speaking out in opposition to them or not showing proper respect to their images. This isn’t a slap-on-the-wrist situation either; people have ended up in prison for a very long time. Treat yourself to a controversy-free holiday. Haven’t we all had enough of politics anyway?!

Put your knowledge of manners in Thailand to work!

The more you know about Thai cultural etiquette, the better your trip will be. Thai people really appreciate it when farangs make the effort to learn about their country. Learning how to act in Thailand will take you to great adventures.

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