Do’s and Don’ts in Thailand – Thailand is a wonderful country with deep rooted historical traditions and culture. Although, tourism has exploded in recent years, there are still many parts especially in Chiang Mai and the smaller islands like Koh Yao Noi which are still deeply traditional.
Thus it can be pretty easy to offend and be considered rude. Whether your here on a Thailand tour holiday package, an escorted package or just female solo backpacking around! There are a few things to be aware of to have a smoother ride!
So if your traveling to Thailand for the first time what etiquette should you follow and social customs should you be aware of to avoid getting into trouble!
Top 10 Cultural do’s and Don’t’s for Thailand.
1. Do – Wear Appropriate Clothing…Cover up!
I have seen my people fall into error with this one, especially western tourists from the U.K , U.S.A and Australia! The goal is not to look like a nun but to just wear relaxed, casual clothing as you would normally.
The main variations come if you plan on visiting Historic Landmarks of religious significance, anywhere in which you see a Buddha is usually a good rule of thumb. This includes Temples, Monasteries and surrounding areas.
In these places you will be expected to cover your shoulders and knees and sometimes even remove your shoes and socks. The temples are sacred places of worship even though you may see many tourists dressed inappropriately here, it is considered to be extremely disrespectful.
Swimwear and Bikini’s on the beaches in Southeast Asia is perfectly fine! However, don’t fall foul to walking around the surrounding streets or towns in your bikini & swimwear, no matter the weather!
You can get away with this in heavily tourist islands like Patong, Phuket and even in places like Koh Samui.
However, if your planning on travelling to the more traditional less touristy spots such as parts of Chiang Mai and small islands such as Koh Yao Noi. Then it’s best to dress a little more conservatively and follow the correct etiquette when walking around town.
Fun Fact about Koh Yao Noi:
Koh Yao Noi is populated by a majority of Thai Muslim people on the island, so therefore follows more deeply rooted religious traditions!
All Thai muslim women here are always covered up, in burkas with just the face showing, even in the hot sun!
If you visit this island you do not have to go this extreme as long as your not wearing a g string in the village you should be ok! I know a Thai Muslim women who is from Koh Yao Noi and lives in touristy Phuket.
When in Phuket she dresses with very little and is comfortable, but when she travels back home she wraps up for the Parents! When the Cat’s away…
So…what should do I wear in Thailand?
Overall, Lightweight and comfortable clothing made from Cotton or other natural fabrics is the most suitable whilst travelling around all of Southeast Asia. It’s comfy, easy to pack and doesn’t make you sweat as much!
Who Says you can’t look like Angelina Jolie while in South East Asia?
2. Do – Ask Before taking photos of local thais
Lots of tourists love going up to the people of south east Asia and even monks, posing and snapping photos with them for Instagram etc.
Although most Thai people would be ok with this as long as it’s not disrespectful. It is best to ask to avoid offending them. Using your manners goes along way in any country but especially Thailand.
The Thai people tend to smile often even when shy or uncomfortable, so don’t ever presume it’s okay to take a picture of someone.
Look at the Thailand peoples body language for clues. If you ask and receive a nod of approval with a warm smile not a nervous one, then it’s ok! Snap, Snap to your hearts content!
3. Do – Bowing over a Handshake!
When you meet and greet someone bow slightly, and put your hands together in a ‘prayer’ position. There are variations of this Bow which depend upon the persons age/status relative to yours.
The more important the person, the higher the hands are on the body. For example, when greeting an elder or monk, the hands can be placed higher at the nose and a deeper bow is done.
In general, it’s best to put both your hands in centre of your chest and just bow your head slightly (The “Sampeah”).
This can also be a great way of saying thank you. If you meet monks or elders it’s important to remember this, as they are usually more inclined value the Thailand people traditions more and demand greater respect.
4. DO – Take your Hat off in Thai homes
When you enter inside someone’s home, a place of work or religious temple, take your hat of to show respect!
5. Don’t – touch Anyones Head!
The head is considered to be the most sacred part of the body to alot of south east Asia. In Thailand culture and traditions it is extremely rude to touch someone else’s. Be especially careful not to do this on children or elders.
6. Don’t – show the souls of your feet
The souls of your feet should never be pointed towards anyone, particularly at religious statues such as the Buddha. This is because feet are considered to be the dirtiest part of the body in Thailand.
It is even considered rude to cross your legs when sitting because there is a good chance you will be pointing the bottoms of your feet at someone.
7. Don’t – Show anger or frustration
In Thailand Society it is embedded in them to stay calm and even smile out of awkward & even dangerous situations! If you loose your cool and go crazy the Thai people may get embarrassed and offended.
Shouting loudly can also be considered quite rude to Thailands people in rural parts. To make it even more confusing they may smile as you or your friend is getting more angry making the entire situation worse!
Fun Fact – Kicks and Smiles.
I strongly suggest going to watch a Muay Thai or Thai boxing match while in Thailand. It’s their national sport and you will learn to see Thailand culture, social customs and body language all in the ring. The respect is upmost.
You will notice in truly competitive match up’s where powerful kicks are being exchanged both fighters have big smiles on their face. This is to not lose face and show their competitor that it doesn’t hurt them! Tough cookies!
I strongly suggest trying a training session while out there it’s great fun and doesn’t matter if your a beginner. I consider myself more of a lover than a fighter, but still had a great time!
To learn more, check out this great article on The Top 5 Muay Thai Camps in Thailand.
8. Don’t – insult while Bartering/Haggling!
We 100% recommended bartering when visiting any market in south east Asia. It is a Thailand culture fact that it’s part of their society. Negotiating a bargain is also a great way to interact with the locals.
However, there are rules to play by to make sure you do it right and don’t offend anybody. The most important rule in bargaining is to be friendly and smile. Keeping “face” is very important in Thailand, as in the rest of Asia.
The goal is to ensure that both parties finish the deal with their dignity, pride and respect.
I recommended practicing while souvenir shopping at local markets. However, it important to remember that food or snacks vendors usually have a fixed price so don’t bother trying to haggle these.
The same goes for restaurants and most street food stalls. A top tip is if they have a sign with a price it usually is fixed at that price!
A few haggling tips to help you along are shown below:
A) Smiles connect people – So always smile especially in Cambodia. A friendly attitude will ensure a better deal and more enjoyable experience for both parties.
B) Search around first – Check out a few stalls to find the average price for the item you wan’t.
C) Do the currency calculations before – Think to yourself how much would I pay in USD, or GBP £ or Euro. Then convert to local currency or you will pay a premium if you try it in your own. Then start negotiating.
D) Start very low if their price is very high. (The old low/high game)
E) Don’t look Desperate – Negotiation is about power in any culture
If the price isn’t coming down, don’t be afraid to walk away! They will usually call you back if they really can lower the price.
F) Bulk Buying is Smart – If you see a few items you like at a market for example, try to purchase them all from one store to get a deal on everything. My favourite line is, “What is the best price you could do for me if i bought not just 1 but 5??” .
G) Don’t push too far!
Never get carried away. Remember it’s just a game and probably the small amount extra would mean alot more to them then you!
9. Don’t give to Street Children – Honestly i’m not heartless!
So a cute little kid comes up to you and try’s to give you a flowery necklace or just ask for change? The best thing I do is offer to buy them food if they wan’t it but not give them money.
Why? Usually these children do have a home and parent who sends them out to pry on un-expecting tourists.
We really don’t like this as it can give some the courage to believe that it is more useful to spend their time begging than going to school for a proper education.
10. Monks and Women – Can I touch a monk??
As Monks have strict rules and codes of conduct to live by Women should not touch monks. If you wish to offer a monk something or a donation at a temple, you should place it somewhere within his reach or on the monk’s receiving cloth for him to collect
Thailand Cultural Tips & Faux Pas
Do I need to leave Tips in Thailand?
In Thailand Society and many parts of South east Asia, tips are not expected in restaurants or taxis.
However, it has started to become more common for those working in busy the tourist area to supplement their income using tips.
So maybe this is one thing from western culture which is perfectly acceptable as a way of showing your gratitude for services. I tend to tip when using a local guide, driver or boat captain.
Ladyboy Etiquette & Massage.
Yes, Unfortunately they are very common in many touristic parts of Thailand such as Pattaya, Patong and even Bangkok. Having said that these provide great sources of income for the local people in these areas and are a tourist attraction in their own right.
Whether they are you thing or not, you should be aware of how to spot them and not to offend them. Usually, they are based around various go, go bars and the more seedy looking massage parlours.
If you would like a genuine massage only, highly recommended! I would suggest looking for a place with looks larger and more established in a more built up area away from the bars.
These will provide traditional high quality Thai massage which is perfect to ease those aching travel feet.
Generally if approached a ladyboy most can be easy to spot, the Adams apple helps, size of hands. If approached and you feel uncomfortable just politely smile and decline, then walk on!
Don’t – Handle Objects with your left hand only!
Sorry lefties, in many cultures the left hand has been associated with lack of trust and evil spirits. For example, in Italian Sinistra means left or Sinister in english!
So avoid handing any object to someone with your left hand alone, the most polite way to pass objects being with both hands. An alternative to politely pass objects is to touch your right elbow with your left arm and then hand over the item with your right hand.