When you are traveling to a new place it is always important to understand the culture a little bit. Here I have put together five tips to help you understand what is culturally respectful in Thailand, hopefully this will help you feel more comfortable and avoid any awkward interactions!
1. Wai, Wai, Wai!
A Wai is the action of putting your hands together and bowing your head slightly. In Thailand this is the universal greeting and basic sign of respect. You Wai everyone and anyone, always at hello and often at goodbye as well.
The higher you place your hands the more respectful it is – placing your hands together at your forehead and bowing is the most respectful and is only used when at temple. Normally you can keep your hands just below your nose. This is an acceptable level.
*You don’t need wai children, just people of similar age and older!
2. Never point the bottoms of your feet towards people:
Thailand is a Buddhist nation, and in Buddhism the top of your head is the most sacred while the bottom of your feet are the dirtiest. Be sure you never point your feet towards anyone especially a Buddha statue or a monk. This is seen as incredibly disrespectful!
When you are sitting on the ground tuck your feet in or if you are sitting in a chair, keep them on the ground. If you want to cross your legs while sitting make sure to do an extra foot tuck so the bottom of your foot is not pointing at anyone. Never ever ever ever put your feet on top of a desk or railing or anything of that nature!!
3. Barter/haggle but don’t be unfair:
Bartering in Thailand is the norm! It is expected that you haggle a little bit when buying anything from a taxi fare to a bracelet at a market! If you know you are being ripped off just politely say no thank you and walk away.
If you are bartering over a small amount of Baht and things are starting to get heated just remember that these people selling you that tapestry make a fraction compared to most tourists so you are arguing over maybe a couple dollars. Just be fair and kind – don’t get carried away!
4. Dress respectfully at temples:
It is very important to dress respectfully at temples around Thailand, this is something that is taken very seriously. Men and Women must cover their shoulders and knees. Be sure to not wear anything shear and modesty is definitely encouraged! Usually you will take your shoes off to enter temples so a good pair of slip-ons is a necessity.
5. Never discuss politics or the royal family:
This past October Thailand’s beloved King passed away and since then the country has been in deep mourning. If you plan on visiting in the next couple years it will be very respectful if you wear muted dark colors as this is what the nation is wearing. If you do wear white or a brighter color, you can pin a black ribbon on your shirt as a sign of respect. Remember that Thailand has very strict lèse majesté laws forbidding any conversation or remarks about the monarchy. Refrain from any discussion while in Thailand.
Thailand is an absolutely beautiful country, if you are coming to visit please keep these in mind! Tourists can be looked down upon because they do not understand cultural guidelines, hopefully these help when navigating your crazy adventures in the land of smiles!
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