Planning your getaway in the sun to Thailand? Before embarking on your trip, it’s important to be sensitive to the customs and traditions of your host country. Not only will it help you gain respect as a traveler but it will allow you to have a much more meaningful experience as you’ll gain insight into the values that Thai people hold dear. Although no one expects you to know everything, here are 7 basic cultural points to help you on your way.
1. Stand still when you hear the Thai national anthem.
Thai people have a deep sense of nationalism. They play the Thai national anthem twice daily; once at 8am and again at 6pm. Thai people and foreigners alike must pay respectto the anthem by ceasing whatever they’re doing, whether it be eating a meal, walking in a market or chatting to friends, and stand completely still with hands by their side until it finishes. It is customary to slowly bow at the end of the anthem.
It may be perplexing at first to witness in public – but don’t be alarmed! It will show Thai people much respect for you to join in with this custom. You won’t be asked to sing the lyrics, but do stand up and remain still throughout. You’ll hear this played on speaker phones, radios, televisions everywhere at the given times.
2. Remove your shoes before entering premises.
A very important custom in Thailand which you will see quite often is people removing their shoes upon entering certain premises, in particular sacred places like Temples andpeople’s homes.
When visiting a Temple, or known as Wat in Thai, it is obligatory to remove your shoes. There will usually be signs in English to inform tourists, however if there are no signs, take lead from Thai people to see where they are taking off their shoes. It is not necessary to remove your shoes when walking around the grounds, only when entering the Wat or any associated out buildings.
Shoes should always be removed when going into a Thai person’s home, no matter how humble or lavish the home is. It would be of the upmost disrespect to the host if you wear shoes inside. Shoes bring in dirt from the outside – so always bear in mind to do this!
Additionally, you should also take off your shoes when going into some cafes, pharmacies and small local grocery shops, known as “ran loong gub pa” or “mom and pop” shops. Again, signs may be put up, but in the case that there aren’t any visible signs, or other Thai shoppers present, take a look at what the owner is doing – if they’re barefoot, then you should be too. Generally, you will see shoes left out in front of the shop as a cue to do the same.
3. Don’t use your feet to point or show the soles of your feet.
Traditionally, feet are considered the lowest and essentially the dirtiest part of the body. Therefore using your feet to point or gesture is considered very rude. This includesshowing the soles of your feet such as putting your feet on desks, chairs or anywhere that is visibility higher than someone’s head. This is especially important with religious artefacts and any depictions of the royal family. It’s a big no-no.
You should not touch someone’s head as it is considered the highest and therefore most sacred part of the body. This is especially important for your elders, as Thai culture holds high esteem for their elders.
Furthermore, it’s considered rude and seen as accusatory to point with a single finger, particularly at another person. You will see Thai people generally using a whole hand to gesture toward someone or directions.
4. Avoid shaking hands or hugging.
You’ll notice that public displays of affection are not really seen in Thai culture. When meeting a Thai person, it is considered improper to initiate physical contact such as a kiss, hug or even handshake. Whilst it can sometimes be seen between family members, it is often limited in public. It’s best to pay respect by greeting or saying thank you with a Thai “wai” and a smile.
5. Do the Thai “Wai”
When greeting someone, you should use the Thai “Wai” coupled with the word “sawasdee” which is the most polite and respectful way to say hello. The Thai Wai is done by putting your hands together in a prayer like manner in between your chest and slowly bowing your head until you can see your toes. You place the Wai higher to your head level when paying respects to monks. Not only can the Wai be used to greet someone, you can use it to say thank you, sorry, good bye or to pay respect. Thais will often Wai to spiritual buildings or images of the royal family.
6. Royal Family is highly respected in Thailand.
Thailand is amongst the strictest in the world when it comes to speaking against the Royal family. It is considered a legal offense and should not be taken lightly. These laws are known as the lese-majeste laws and prohibit anyone from criticizing the royal family in anyway. One may praise the royal family; however it is best to avoid any sensitive issues on this matter.
7. Dress appropriately.
When it comes to dress code, there is a general saying in Thailand that translates loosely along the lines of know where you are and behave accordingly. Essentially, if you’re ona beach, swim ware is of course accepted, but when visiting a place of worship such as a temple, you must cover your shoulders and knees, and no visible cleavage may beshown. It’s also considered polite to dress in casual office ware (long skirts, trousers, long sleeves) when going to a government office or any official establishment.
Generally causal ware is accepted in day to day places, particularly in touristy spots. It’s always sensible to have something to cover up with on hand when you’re outside just incase. And you’re all set with the basics!
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