CULTURAL ETIQUETTE IN THAILAND

Cultural Etiquette in Thailand

Thailand is a wonderful holiday destination, and as you may be aware, it is a mainly Buddhist country with religion being a very important part of most citizen’s lives, unlike the Western world. As such, there are plenty of dos and don’ts for a traveller to be aware of. In general, Buddhism promotes an honest and pleasant way of life, so most travellers will find the Thais to be friendly, reliable and fun, just watch out for a few points to avoid awkward situations:

- In Buddhism, the top of the head is the most sacred part of the body, so do not touch or pat people on the head, including young children. Likewise, the soles of the feet are the least sacred or ‘dirty’ part of the body. Pointing the soles of feet at someone, either when lying down or if stepping over someone, is a big no-no. Expect to get a very quick reaction if you step over someone who is lying down, whether you are on the beach, on a boat or in a massage studio!

- Thai timekeeping is very relaxed indeed, very different to what you may be used to. Whether you are waiting for a bus or train, or meeting someone for a drink, it is highly unlikely that they will be precisely on time, so be patient and relax. Certainly in Bangkok, the traffic can be absolutely horrendous, which makes this even worse, so leave plenty of time if going to the airport!

- In Thai culture, getting angry, and shouting or raising your voice is a very, very poor show of manners. If you have an issue with something not to your liking, stay calm, breathe and resolve it slowly. Getting angry will always make the situation worse, and is a very poor display of etiquette, do not do it.

- Buddhism in Thailand has many holidays, and on these days it is prohibited to sell alcohol. Therefore if you are planning a big drinking session, get your drinks beforehand, and try to be discrete. You may find small mum and dad shops that will bend the rules for you, but don’t count on it as the penalties are severe. Open and obvious displays of drunkenness are very much frowned upon, especially on Buddhist holidays.

- Going topless or nude on the beach is offensive and a very poor display of manners, it is offensive to Buddhists so make sure you never do it, no matter what others are doing. You may see Thai girls going into the beach wearing shorts and t-shirts, but that is the norm for them, so respect the Thai beliefs, you are the guest here after all.

- Holding hands, or any other public displays of affection are frowned upon, avoid where-ever possible.

- Always remove your shoes before entering a home or temple, not doing so is very rude and will attract unwanted attention. And dress modestly if visiting a temple – ask someone if you’re not sure what is acceptable and what is not.

- Pointing at objects or people is very rude, you will not see Thai people doing it. They either point with their whole hand, or, more likely, they point with their chin by tilting their head back.

- Never, ever deface images of the royal family or make disparaging remarks about them, you could end up in jail (which is much worse in Thailand than in Western countries). This includes the king’s head on coins and notes – never draw on them and don’t step on them either. Any kind of disrespect towards the Thai royal family could get you into very hot water, and much quicker than you could imagine.

- Recreational drug use in Thailand is punished incredibly harshly. Despite this you may encounter tourists using drugs, steer well clear as they have some of the harshest drug laws in the world, and retain the death penalty for drug dealers.

- Sometimes you may be prompted for a small ‘fee’ to expedite your request, or to make a problem go away. You may call this a bribe, but in Thailand it is known as ‘tea-money’ and a small payment can make life much easier. You may be uncomfortable with this, but paying a few dollars to get your documents faster or to make a problem go away is usually worth it. Likewise minor traffic violations can be avoided by way of a few hundred baht.

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