When you are in a foreign country, it can be difficult to follow all the rules of etiquette and customs within that nation. However, as you plan for a vacation, it is important to know some of the basics in order to be respectful to the locals. In this post, we will introduce some rules of etiquette in Thailand for those traveling to the ‘Land of Smiles’. Make sure to read through them carefully and understand why these customs are important to the Thai people!
1. Do Not Criticize the Royal Family
If you didn’t know already, Thailand is a constitutional monarchy where its people hold great respect for their royal family. Therefore, we encourage you to also follow the basic rules of etiquette toward the monarch. Furthermore, under the lese majeste law, those who defame or insult the royal family can be severely punished. Even stepping on a Thai currency, which has the King’s portrait on it, is not only seriously condemned but also illegal under this strict law.
The respect and love the Thai people have for the royal family is well portrayed especially in the royal palaces that can be found throughout the Southeast Asian state. In Bangkok, the Grand Palace, which is a palace used for major ceremonial purposes, serves as the ultimate royal landmark. For those who would like to see the Grand Palace close-up, we highly recommend a walking tour of Bangkok. If you would like to see the architecture blend in with the city, go on a Chao Phraya River cruise on which you can see the Grand Palace as you glide along the river. Travelers going to Chiang Mai should visit the Bhubing Palace, the royal family’s official accommodation when they visit the city.
- Check out the highlights of Bangkok Old City with this Bangkok Private Walking Tour here!
- Get tickets to the Chao Phraya Princess Dinner Cruise here!
- Click here to book Doi Suthep Temple & Bhubing Palace Half Day Tour in Chiang Mai!
2. Be Respectful to Buddhism
95% of Thais are Buddhists, meaning that being respectful to Buddhism is especially important in Thailand. When visiting Buddhist temples, the #1 rule of etiquette to follow is to always be respectful to every Buddha statue you find. You should never touch or point at the statue, disturb worshipers, or take offensive photos in the temple. Another common mistake made in the temple is turning your back to the Buddha, so you might want to reconsider taking a selfie next to the statue. Also, make sure to wear respectful clothes even though you may want to wear light clothing due to the hot weather.
Due to the big presence of Buddhism, you’ll see many monks both inside and outside of the temples throughout your trip. If you are a female, be extra careful around them. Females should not touch a monk, sit next to a monk, nor hand something such as an offering directly to their hands.
Because Buddhism is such a big part of the Thai culture, the Buddhist temples in Thailand are some of the most beautiful in the world. Even if you are not Buddhist yourself, go to a temple during your trip to immerse yourself deeply in the Thai culture and see the amazing architecture of the temples. If you are not sure which ones to visit, here are some tours we recommend that take you to the major temples!
- Click here to book Bangkok Temple Half Day Tour!
- Click here to book Chiang Rai White Temple + Black House + Blue Temple 1 Day Tour!
3. Greet or Thank Someone with a Wai
Wai is an important form of greeting and communication in Thailand. To wai properly, press both palms of your hands together with your fingers pointing upwards. Then, bring your hands close to your chest, and slightly bow your head. The wai is used in situations in which you are showing your respect to someone, saying thank you, or even apologizing to someone. You’ll see locals wai in temples, to the pictures of Thai royalty, in business meetings, and on many more occasions.
Another place you’ll see locals wai is at markets, where market vendors will greet or thank you with a wai. Although you can choose not to wai to those in the service industry, a brief wai can be used to say thank you to them, especially if you received great service.
You will encounter many locals at markets, so if you are looking to delve deeper into the local Thai communities, go on market tours. Floating markets are especially a unique attraction that you must check out.
- Book a full-day tour to the Maeklong Railway Market and Amphawa Floating Market here!
- Book a half-day tour to Damnoen Saduak Floating Market here!
Keep in mind that a wai is usually not done to someone younger or in a lower social position than you. For example, if a child greets you with a wai, simply nod your head to respond to their way of respect.
4. Be Kind to Elephants and Avoid Abusive Elephant Tourism Sites
To the Thai people, elephants, their official national animal, symbolize strength, power, and patience. If you would like to meet these majestic creatures and fall in love with the characteristics that have set them as a national symbol, the best place to go to is an elephant sanctuary.
Elephant sanctuaries house elephants that are old, sick, or previously mistreated, and the money they earn through visits and donations are used to treat the animals. After the visit, not only will you have had a wonderful time feeding and playing with elephants but you will also feel proud of yourself, knowing that you have made a difference. Here are some elephant sanctuaries that previous tourists have enjoyed!
5. Learn How to Behave in a Communal Dining Setting
In Thailand, it is common to see the locals share communal dishes. If this concept is fairly new to you, sharing communal dishes basically means that food comes out in big dishes that require the people at the table to take small portions to their own individual plates. It can be frowned upon if you take huge portions at once, so take only one or two spoons worth of food.
Unlike many other Asian countries, it is uncommon to find Thai locals using chopsticks; they mainly use forks and spoons. However, forks are not meant to go into the mouth. Forks should be used to push the food onto the spoon, which is the utensil you will be eating with.
Knowing these dining table customs can help you when you go to a Khantoke dinner. A Khantoke dinner is a traditional northern Thai style of dinner where you sit together on the ground to eat various dishes served on a large wooden tray.
While eating is one way to experience the culinary culture, cooking can give you another perspective of the culture. To learn how to make traditional Thai dishes, take a cooking class! A local will teach you not only about the traditional recipes but also the traditional ingredients that are crucial in creating that Thai flavor!
- Click here to book a Khantoke Dinner: Northern Style Dinner with Cultural Performance!
- Book Traditional Thai Cooking Class & Market Tour in Bangkok here!
- Check out the Authentic Thai Cooking Class in Chiang Mai here!
6. Don’t Touch Someone’s Head and Don’t Point Your Feet at Someone
This etiquette unique to Thailand is an extremely important one to remember. If you do not follow it thoroughly, you will immediately upset someone.
In Thailand, the head of a person is considered to be the most sacred part of the body. This is due to the Thai belief that the spiritual force of life resides in the head. Therefore, you should never touch someone’s head. Even patting a child on the head can be seen as extremely rude.
Meanwhile, the feet are perceived as the dirtiest part of the body. Pointing your foot at someone or stepping over someone is an offensive behavior that should be avoided at all costs. This also means that your shoes are also regarded as dirty, which is why many indoor places in Thailand require you to take off your shoes before entering.
Knowing the basic etiquette of the country you are traveling to is important to become a better and smarter traveler. Furthermore, you will have a more pleasant time within the local communities by following this guide. We hope that this short guide helped those who were foreign to the unique rules of etiquette in Thailand.