Thai Ways: Tips on getting along in Thai culture
Thais believe the head to be the most sacred part of the body. Thus, refrain from touching a Thai on the head, especially an adult, even as a friendly gesture.
The feet are also off limits. They are considered the lowest and dirtiest part of the body. Be sure to apologize if you accidentally step on someone’s foot (or touch their head).
Don’t rest your feet or put your shoes on a table, and don’t stretch out your feet in anyone’s direction. This is particularly important in temples–don’t point your feet at a Buddha image or a monk.
Thais feel very strongly about their religion, so don’t wear your beach clothes to a temple. Both women and men should cover their legs and their shoulders. Don’t allow children to climb over Buddha images. Always remove your shoes before entering temples and Thai homes.
The traditional Thai greeting is not a handshake but a wai, where the hands are brought together in front of the chin. The younger or lower-ranking person wais first, but don’t let this stand in your way if you feel someone merits a wai.
Displays of anger are considered ugly and a sign of a lack of self-control. So don’t lose your cool in an irritating situation. Anger or a loud voice won’t get you anywhere; rather, practice polite persistence.
The Royal family is deeply respected and loved. Don’t speak ill of them even in jest. Lese-majeste laws in Thailand are strict and are enforced.
Displays of affection between the sexes in public are not common in Thailand, especially outside of Bangkok. Personal hygiene and cleanliness are very important. Thais generally bathe at least twice each day and tend to dress very politely; long shorts in the hot climate are the norm for most tourists. Don’t sunbathe topless.
Thais are quite respectful of Westerners and you will probably meet people wanting to try out their English on you. Don’t be offended by questions about your age, salary and marital status. They don’t mean to be intrusive as these are common questions in Thai culture.
Similarly, the greeting is often “Hey, you!” from Thais who don’t know English. This is not an insult, rather, it is an ignorant translation from the polite Khun in the Thai language.
The common way of greeting someone in Thai is not “How are you?” but “Where are you going?” rendered in Thai as “Bai nai?” Answer with “Bai Tio” (I’m going out). “Have you eaten yet?”, is another way of greeting in Thai.
Finally, Thais realize that you are a Westerner and oblivious to most of these customs. However you will be held in very high esteem if you attempt to follow the local customs.
There is a word in the Thai language which is sanuk. This word describes everything that is fun, enjoyable and gives a feeling of pleasure. This, combined with the phrase mai pen rai–never mind–should remain in your mind during your stay in Thailand.