Thailand Culture And The
Thai Etiquette And Customs

Get a quick overview on Thailand Culture - Etiquette - Customs...

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Ever seen Thais put their hands together and bow?


 • greet

 • wish farewell and

 • acknowledge each other

with a gesture called 'Wai'.

The hands being held in a prayer-like manner.

Palms are then pressed together and you do a slight bow of the head.

The Wai is also used to show respect.

Check Out How Thais Wai

thailand culture girl wai

The closer the hands are held to the forehead and the lower the bow the more respect is being shown. The Wai is also a way of saying "thank you", or to apologize.

The one lower in age or status bows first.  That person in higher age then responds.  If there is a large social difference between statuses, the Wai may not be even be returned at all.

In fact depending on where you go as a "rich farang" you don't even have to respond with a wai.  This is not considered impolite.  In fact it's normal because to bow back means either that

 • you're not so high in status after all

 • you come from a "low status" family

 • you are a tourist who doesn't know how things work in Thailand

On the other hand - you can still smile. 

Thais smile a lot too!

A Few Reasons Why Thais Smile

People from Thailand usually smile because of:

  • amusement
  • embarrassment
  • a way of saying thank you
  • to make friends

Smiling is part of the Thailand Culture and the generous use of wearing a smile will make friends and open doors.

It confuses Thai people to see Westerners who are serious looking or even worse, angry.

Thais love to smile and good humor and a smile from a foreigner is a nice treat. Expression of anger, or showing that you are not in control of your emotion, is "losing your face."

A Few Ways You Can "Lose Face"

Easy ways you can lose face and look bad is whenever you

  • talk loudly
  • wave your hands wildly
  • point your finger at someone
  • yell

It's important not to lose face because if you do you won't get as much support from Thais.  You also miss out on a lot of ways that the locals will help you.  In Thailand getting things done and living comfortable is very much tied to your relationships.

In my case I've had great deals on things I bought and didn't have to pay for other things because of the relationships I had cultivated with the Thais.  It's more than just for monetary gains.

At a restaurant because of my patience at a Thai restaurant that took a long time to make my meal - the next time I went they made sure I got my food right front of all the other people who had ordered first.

This is how Thais do things and it's in my opinion it's a great part of Thailand culture that's worth getting to know.

It's even at a religious level...

Thais Follow Theravada Buddhism

Thailand culture is tremendously influenced by Theravada Buddhism and about 95% of all Thai people are Buddhists.

Theravada Buddhism is-the Teaching of the Elders- or -the Ancient Teaching. The remaining 5% of the population are about 4.3% Muslims and 0.7% Christians.

Buddhism is supported by the Thai government and Monks receive an array of government benefits and are highly respected by all Thais.


in front of Buddha Statue Prayer

Buddha Statue

Buddha Statue Pattaya

Thailand is a Hierarchical Society and as a foreigner you will be given special social status. By learning about Buddhism and the Thailand culture you show that you respect the Thai culture and you surely will have a most memorable time.

The Hierarchical order is subtle but if you pay attention you will notice how Thais treat each other according to their rank in the Hierarchy.

Some Determining Factors Of The Social Status Are

  • Family Status-The royal family being on top then high, famous and common.
  • Wealth-Money is number One these days. In Thai society the wealthy is expected to pay the bills.
  • Education-Higher education more respect. This holds also true if the one with higher education makes less money.
  • Age-the older you are the more respect.
  • Career
  • Within The Family-Parents are superior to their children
  • Monks-are granted high respect and high social status.

Basic Thai values include the Buddhist believe in Karma. Karma is the believe that things happen to you because of your actions and deeds in a previous Life time but there are also other "spirits" upon which the Thai attitude towards Life rests.

Buddha Statues

Thailand's culture and buddha

Thailand Culture, Customs And Thai Etiquette

Three of The Thai Spirits

  • Jai Yen (cool Heart) Thais avoid any public confrontation. Stay Cool!
  • Mai pben Rai (Never Mind, it can't be helped) Avoid displaying visible irritation and embrace Mai pben Rai!
  • Sanook (fun) Stay cool, don't worry, and have fun!

Taboos Or No No's

  • Never speak disparagingly or disrespectful of the Monarchy
  • Don't deface or step on a stamp or currency displaying the King's portrait
  • Remove your shoes when entering a house or temple
  • Wear long pants and long sleeves especially when entering a temple
  • Women should never touch a monk or give him something directly
  • Public display of affection is frowned upon
  • Do not pat someone on the head

When you are near a portrait of the present King Bhumibol, or any King of the past, do not raise your head above the head in the portrait.

Women should not touch monks. It will violate a very important part of a monks vow if a woman touches him, sits next to him, or is giving him something directly.

"Wai" Not?

Again on the Wai - You show respect by putting your palms together at chest level in a prayer like manner, and gently bow your head. Older people or those of higher social status receive a lower, more respectful Wai.

Younger people and those of lower social status Wai first and the Wai may not always be returned.  If you speak the basics of Thailand's language you can of course greet them.

Inanimate object which have been blessed by a Brahmin Priest should receive a Wai.  These objects include spirit houses and miniature temples which house the spiritual guardians of the land on which the house or temple resides.

From Head To Toe

An ancient Hindu belief which is now incorporated into Buddhism explains the head as the most sacred part of the body and the feet the most unclean. It is very disrespectful to pat someone on the head.

Since the feet are considered the most unclean of the human body, do not point your feet towards an image of Buddha and don't point your feet at another person. Take your shoes off when entering a temple or someone's house.

Shoes are considered even more unclean than feet in Thailand culture.


Thailand Culture and Places of Worship


thailand culture and temples

Stop...Stand and Deliver

The national Anthem is played every morning at 8 a.m and the Thai Flag is raised. Every evening at 6 p.m. The national anthem is played again and the Thai flag is lowered. Be respectful of Thailand's national custom and stand up and be still as long as the national anthem is playing.

The anthem may be played before movies, at public events, in the bus station, in the market place, or just about anywhere. Especially in smaller cities everything comes to a standstill when the national anthem is being played. Participate.

Oh...and have fun with Thailand culture!

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