Thailand is famous for its unique culture and customs. Being aware of a few basic traditions practiced daily throughout the country will ensure your chances of learning why Thailand is also known as “The Land of Smiles.”
Westerners wave or shake hands. Thais wai.
The wai is a unique Thai greeting given upon meeting someone or thanking someone. You will most likely receive at least one wai before stepping foot out of the airport.
The common wai is given by placing your two palms together at heart center and bowing slightly. You can perfect your wai before your arrival, but first, you must know the different kinds of wais and how to use them.
A deep-bowing wai is given as a sign of respect. This wai is saved for monks, government officials and royal officials. You won’t be arrested for giving a deep wai to a regular citizen, but you might get a few weird stares.
It is never appropriate to wai first to someone younger than you. However, if a younger person wais to you, it is appropriate to return the gesture.
It is customary for service workers, such as cashiers and waitresses, to wai as a “thank you” when you leave. You are not expected to return the gesture, but you can say “khap khun khrap” if you are a man and “khap khun kha” if you are a woman. You can also wai back if you want.
Seeing a line of Buddhist monks swaddled in their orange robes and walking barefoot single file down a busy sidewalk can be one of the most memorable sights you take away from Thailand.
While many monks are super friendly and always eager to practice their English speaking skills with the “farang,” monks also are protected by rules in Thailand, and certain etiquette is expected when approaching them.
Women should never approach a monk. Monks are free to talk to women and often do in group settings, but touching a woman or being touched by a woman is strictly forbidden. This applies to women handing monks offerings or even something they have dropped.
When monks see women approaching on the sidewalk, they often swerve to the opposite side to avoid contact. Don’t be offended. This is part of their belief system, and if you get an opportunity, they will love to tell you why!
End seats on public transportation systems are reserved for monks. You can sit in one of these seats if it is available, but if a monk boards the subway or bus, you must relinquish your comfort.