Thai Culture and Customs

As with living in any ‘foreign’ country, one can either adopt the ethos and way of life of the locals, or associate mainly with other foreigners (known collectively as ‘farangs’ here).

But whichever group you fit in with, your life will be made easier if you know what is, and what is not accepted by Thai society generally.

Probably the most memorable of Thai customs is the “wai”.

This is generally the action of placing the palms together similar to that of prayer for Christians, and often accompanied by a bow.

The height of the hands and the depth of the bow are determined by the perceived status of the people involved in the greeting, farewell or acknowledgement. The wai is a sign of respect.


Worth noting for couples; whilst affection in public is common between friends, it is less easily accepted between lovers. Of course, in westernised areas, these type of rules do not apply.

Thai belief is that the feet are the dirtiest and lowest part of the body, and the head the highest, both spiritually and literally.

Thus it is not considered acceptable to touch a Thai on the head, nor to put one’s feet at a level which is higher than someone else’s head.

These rules are even more important when one of the parties is considered to be of lower social status.

These attitudes also effect the way that Thais sit on the floor, you will notice if you are observant that they do so with feet pointing away from other people, often tucked under or behind them.

It is also customary to take off your shoes before entering a house, shop or temple, and to avoid standing on the threshold.

Buddhist Monks hold a special status in Thai society. You will see them around Bangkok and other parts of Thailand, swaddled in bright orange cotton, with bald heads.

These monks are prohibited from association of any kind with women, to the extent of women not even being allowed to hand a monk an offering.

They must place it at his feet. Only enter a temple if you are dressed appropriately, for men and women this means covering up.

An over-riding principal of Thai life is “jai yen” or cool heart. For many Westerners, this is an almost impossible attitude to adopt in certain chaotic conditions, especially in Bangkok.

Nevertheless, it is considered bad form by Thai nationals, for one to lose one’s cool in public.

So letting rip at the tenth inefficiency or stupidity in one day is futile and will get you absolutely nowhere with Thais.

A far healthier attitude (for you), although somewhat difficult for most Westerners, is just to accept that this is the way things work (or don’t work) here.



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