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Thailand Etiquette

Dos and Don'ts for Your Visit to Thailand

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Wat Phra Singh, Viharn Lai Kham with young monks.
John Elk/Lonely Planet Images/Getty Images

Following a few simple rules of Thailand etiquette will not only prevent you from accidentally offending locals, it will separate you from the tourist hordes who visit every year. Thailand is known as the “Land of Smiles” for a reason: The people will usually forgive simple infractions of Thai etiquette anyway.

First, read about responsible travel, then use these dos and don'ts for basic Thailand etiquette on your trip to one of Southeast Asia's friendliest destinations!

Don'ts to Observe in Thailand Etiquette

  • Don't point your feet: Pointing your feet at someone, raising your feet higher than someone's head, or simply putting your feet onto a desk or chair is considered extremely rude in Thailand. On that same note, avoid pointing your feet at Buddha statues as well. To follow strict Thailand etiquette, you should not cross your legs when sitting on the ground.
  • Don't touch someone's head: While the feet are considered the lowest and dirtiest parts of the body, the head is considered the most sacred. Never touch someone's head or hair; this includes playfully ruffling a child's hair. Avoid stepping over people who are sitting or sleeping on the ground.
  • Don't point: Pointing at someone is considered rude in many cultures, but particularly so in Thailand. If you must indicate someone, do so by lifting your chin in their direction. Whem motioning for someone to come over, wave your hand with fingers straight and palm down. Pointing as inanimate objects and animals is usually acceptable.
  • Don't lose your cool: Shouting, blowing your top, or displaying strong emotions is frowned upon in Thailand, where the rules of saving face apply. Keep your cool even when your bus breaks down; otherwise, innocent bystanders who witness your rage will actually become embarrassed for you.
  • Don't disrespect the king: The King of Thailand is the world's oldest monarch and the Thai people love him dearly. Never disrespect the king or images of the king, this includes currency. Openly disrespecting the king can mean imprisonment with an option for the death penalty!

Do Follow These Rules of Thailand Etiquette

  • Remove your shoes: As in many Asian cultures, removing your shoes before your enter a temple or someone's home is essential. Some businesses, restaurants, and shops also ask that you remove your shoes. If unsure, just look to see if there is a pile of shoes at the entrance, or check to see if the staff are wearing shoes.
  • Return a wai: The wai is Thailand's prayer-like gesture with the hands together in front and head slightly bowed. To not return a wai is considered impolite; only the king and monks do not have to return wais. Never attempt a wai while holding something. Read more about how to say hello in Thai.
  • Use your right hand: The left hand is considered dirty, as it is sometimes used for 'functions' in the squat toilet. Always use your right hand to pass objects and when paying. Touch your left hand to your right forearm if you wish to show extra respect.
  • Eat with a spoon: The proper way to delicious Thai food is with the spoon in your right hand and fork in your left. Use the fork to rake food onto your spoon; the fork never goes into the mouth. Chopsticks are usually only used for noodle dishes and treats such as spring rolls. See how to use chopsticks.
  • Show respect to monks: You will encounter many monks in places such as Chiang Mai; treat them with respect. When greeting a monk, monks receive a higher wai than ordinary people; monks do not have to return your gesture. Women should never touch a monk, brush a monk's robes, or hand something to a monk. Monks should be allowed to eat first at ceremonies and gatherings. Read more about etiquette for visiting Buddhist temples.
  • Smile: The Thai smile is famous, essential to Thailand etiquette, and Thais show it whenever they can. Always return someone's smile. Smiles are used during negotiation, in apology, to relax whenever something goes not as planned, and just in everyday life.

Thailand Temple Etiquette

Visiting temples in Thailand is a must for every trip, however, many tourists shy away because they don't understand Buddhism or the local customs. Use this guide for Thailand temple etiquette to enjoy your visit confidently without worry of offending monks or worshipers.

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