Thailand is called the “land of smiles” for a reason. Locals like to receive everyone with a smile. Here’s a list of do’s and don’ts we made to make sure they keep smiling in your presence!

6 Do’s

1. Do greet with a wai
The wai is a typically Thai way of greeting someone by which you press the palms of your hand together and move them towards your chin. Tilt your head slightly forward when doing this. This gesture is used to greet, to say goodbye and as of a way of saying thank you. Thai people love when you make this gesture!

Only the king and monks are exempt from the obligation of greeting back with a wai. Wais are best done empty-handed.

2. Do smile
Thailand is known for its smiling people and smiling is something that’s deeply embedded in Thai culture. Always smile back. Also smile when negotiating, apologizing and even if you disagree with someone.

Did you know that people sometimes laugh when there’s a motorbike accident, for example? When sad events occur, the Thai will often become uncomfortable and laugh to ease the tension.

3. Do eat with a spoon
When it comes to cutlery in Thailand, it’s customary to eat with a spoon in your right hand and a fork in your left. Use the fork to scoop the food onto the spoon; the fork never enters the mouth. Chopsticks are mainly used for Chinese dishes, noodles, and spring rolls.

4. Do respect the monks
When traveling through Thailand you’ll come across lots of orange clad monks. Monks are greeted with a deeper wai than others. Also, they’re not obliged to greet back. Women aren’t allowed to touch monks, sit or stand right next to them, or give them anything, as this might arouse lustful feelings in them; something which is strictly forbidden.

Monks are always the first ones to eat at festivities or events. All through Thailand, there are special areas for monks; in buses and trains, for instance.

5. Do use your right hand
Use your right hand! The left hand is seen as impure because it gets used in the toilet in the absence of toilet paper. So always use your right hand when paying or handing anything over.

6. Do take your shoes off
As is the case in many Asian countries, it is considered proper to take off your shoes before entering a temple. The same goes for people’s homes. Some companies, restaurants, and shops might also request you to take your shoes off before setting foot inside.

When in doubt, try and see if the staff or residents are wearing shoes themselves. And if you trip over a mountain of shoes and slippers at the entrance you’ll know for sure!

Shoes outside a Thai temple

Photo credit: Cazz

Dont’s

1. Don’t tie your shoes to your backpack
Tying your shoes to your backpack is not done in Thailand. Feet, and by extension shoes, are considered dirty and the lowest part of the body. Walking around with your shoes halfway up your body is seen as a sign of disrespect; mainly to yourself, but even more so if you happen to bump into a Thai person with them.

2. Don’t touch heads or hair
The head is seen as the most sacred part of the body; the highest. So never touch anyone’s head or hair. That goes for children as well. Also, try and prevent people from having to step over you if you’re sitting or sleeping on the floor.

3. Don’t point
Pointing in Thailand is inappropriate. Don’t point at people you’re talking about. Instead, try and tilt your chin slightly in the direction of the person. When you want to beckon someone to come closer, stick out your arm horizontally and move your fingers up and down. Pointing at animals or objects is normal.

4. Don’t insult the king
Thailand has one of the oldest monarchies in the world and it’s greatly loved by its people. Pay the appropriate amount of respect to any effigy of the king; such as, for instance, the banknotes on which his image appears. The maximum sentence for insulting the king in Thailand is life imprisonment.

Late king Bhumibol and Queen Sirikit

Late king Bhumibol and Queen Sirikit. Photo credit: Photo by Picture Post/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

5. Don’t lose your temper
Raising your voice, yelling, showing impatience, hostility or aggression is considered highly inappropriate in Thai culture. Always keep calm, even if you don’t agree with something. A smile is the best way to reach an agreement.

6. Don’t point with your feet
Don’t point with your feet, hold your feet above someone’s head or put them on the table. Super rude! Something else that’s rude is pointing with your feet to another person or a Buddha statue. Crossing your legs when in conversation with someone is seen as disrespectful as well.

More practical blog posts on Thailand

Here are a few more practical blog posts and pages on health, safety and what to take with you to Thailand.

Mariska

Author Mariska

Traveler, entrepreneur, book lover, foodie. In Thailand, you'll find me driving around on my motorbike, on the lookout for new hotspots.

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