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Thailand:Etiquette, Customs, Facts and Vital Information

Asia, Cultural Sensitivity, Thailand Add comments

Photo by René Ehrhardt


mapLocation: Southeast Asia; bounded on the West by Myanmar and the Indian Ocean, on the Southeast by Malaysia and the Gulf of Thailand, on the East by Cambodia, and on the Northeast by Laos.

Capital: Bangkok

Climate: Hot summers with tropical rain and cool winters

Population: 63,038,247 according to 2007 estimates. The Thai economy has recovered from a major slump in 1997 and now sees a steady growth due to a rise in exports, industry, tourism, and private consumption. Unemployment rate is just about 2%.

Ethnic Make-up: Thai 75%, Chinese 14%, Others 11% Religions: Buddhist 94.6%, Muslim 4.6%, Christian 0.7%, Others 0.1%. The government guarantees freedom to practice the religion of your choice, and evangelism is legal.

swimLanguage: Thai, English

Government: Constitutional monarchy

Travel Issues: For a 30-day stay, visitors hailing from U.K., U.S., Australia, Canada, EU, and Japan do not require a visa, but must have a valid passport and a confirmed return ticket. Others can obtain an entry visa at the immigration checkpoints at major ports of entry. You need to note that queues for this service may be interminably long.

For visits longer than 30 days, you need to apply for a visa at the Thai Consulate in your country. Submit a completed application form, with 2 passport-sized photos, visa fees, stamped, self-addressed special delivery envelope, an international health certificate, and a letter from a Thai business partner if requiring a business visa.

Health & Safety: Immunizations against Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Typhoid, Tetanus, Diphtheria, MMR, and Japanese encephalitis are strongly recommended. You should also be aware of the risks of avian flu, traveller’s diarrhoea, malaria, and HIV/AIDS infections.

Dehydration is something you should watch out for when being out in the tropical sun. There is a smoke haze hazard in the northern states which might trigger respiratory ailments. Watch out for jelly fish stings while swimming in the sea.

Photo by Butch Osborne


fruitThe People: Thais are very informal, friendly people famous for their smiling countenances. Traditional values and conservative behavior mark rural life, while the cities are epitomes of modernity. They are very hospitable and eager to please, and make visitors welcome.

The Religion: The religion of the majority is Buddhism, followed by minorities of Christians, Muslims, Hindus and others.

eyesRole of Family: Families in rural areas continue age old lifestyles based on farming and agriculture. Women take up the duties of running efficient households and bringing up children. They are subservient to the rule of the male but have total control of the home economy. Men rarely interfere in home affairs and often have no clue as to the intricacies of household management.

Ancestors: Thais have enormous respect for their ancestors and have various rituals and commemorations to honor their dead forefathers. The ancestors are counted on to help in times of need and bring good fortune, if suitably venerated.

Anything else important for this culture: Under the smiling countenances lie deep rooted traditional values of respect, discipline, and manners. Respect for elders is palpably shown in greeting and body language.

Photo by RussBowling


Meetings & Greetings: The traditional greeting is called a wai, and you do this by holding your palms close in front of your chest and bowing slightly. The higher you hold the palms, the more the respect. The highest is reserved for monks, elders and senior family members. Hello and Good mornings are equally acceptable in business circles. It is customary to shake hands as a form of greeting. Handshakes are never vice-like but rather limp. The former is considered aggressive and insulting.

soupCourtesy: Thais believe it is rude to disagree outright, and so always seem to agree even when they are not inclined to do so. It takes practice to discern their covert disagreement. It is considered rude to talk ill of monks, the royal family, or important persons.

Gift Giving: It is customary to give gifts to cement a relationship, though it is never done in the initial stages of a meeting. If after you have reached an agreement and find that everything is going well, you can consolidate your new relationship with a gift. A gift is also considered appropriate when invited to someone’s house.

Never use black or white gift wrappers; red is considered auspicious. Do not gift leather items to Hindus, or alcohol to Muslims.

hutDress Code: In spite of a reputation of a frivolous nature, the Thais are a surprisingly conservative society. Especially when travelling through rural areas it is recommended that women cover their shoulders, arms, and knees. Men can get by happily in shorts. In business circles your casual attire might not raise eyebrows but you would most certainly be considered low brow. It is best to suit up to impress your Thai counterpart.

Dining Etiquette: Dining is serious business and seen as a means of consolidating relationships than a mere exercise in consuming food. Traditional seating involves sitting on the floor and eating off low tables. While seated on the floor you need to keep your legs folded by your side. If you find that uncomfortable, you can sit any which way you like but make sure the soles of your feet are not pointed at anyone. Some foods are best eaten with your hands, but others can be eaten with a fork and spoon.

Visiting a home: When visiting a home, take along a suitable gift. Leave your footwear outside the home. Thais are extremely hospitable and will bombard you with their care and concern.

Photo by RussBowling

Communication Style: Thais have a placid bonhomie that makes conversing with them a lesson in relaxation. Aggression is considered a sign of weakness according to Buddhism and so you’ll be hard pressed to find them lose their tempers as often as the rest of us. They go to great lengths to not lose face, which means to avoid being disgraced in public either through arguments or shouting matches.

monkDos and Don’ts: When visiting temples, make sure your attire is suitable. You need to be fully covered and dignified in your behaviour. All statues of Buddha, even those in a state of ruin, are considered sacred. You should not indulge in frivolous behavior in their vicinity. Women should avoid looking at monks or making eye contact with them. Do not touch people on their heads or point your foot in anyone’s direction. This is the height of ill manners

It is important to note that the king of Thailand is deeply revered by the Thai people and should never be insulted.  Even when folding money, it is polite to make a 3-way fold so as to not create a crease on the face of the king. On certain days, a majority of people will wear yellow shirts to show honor to the king.

Photo by tootafunk

Map by Steph & Adam
Monk by Akuppa
Soup by joaquinuy
Village hut by Mot the barber
Fruit by Alaskan Dude
Floating kid by hélê
Boy’s eyes by Sarbil Olivier

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