BEACH REPUBLIC - OFFICIAL BLOG
15 THAI CULTURAL TRADITIONS EVERY TRAVELER SHOULD KNOW
Greeting the Thai way
If you’ve been in Thailand for even a day, you’ll notice that people often use the wai, the traditional way of greeting by pressing your palms together at chest, chin, or forehead height and bowing the head slightly. The wai can be used when saying hello to someone, goodbye, or thanking them, and shows respect and reverence.
Public displays of affection
Despite its reputation otherwise, Thai culture is actually very conservative in many ways. For example, Thai people do not usually kiss, hug, or show other physical displays of affection in public, outside of maybe innocent hand holding.
Avoiding direct confrontation
It is polite and good manners to always speak softly, avoid aggressive speech or acts towards another, and avoid direct confrontation. Losing one’s emotions or coming to anger easily are very bad indicators of character in Thailand and therefore, disrespectful.
If you’d like to take a photo of a Thai person, it is good manners to ask them if that is ok beforehand.
Days of color
One of the most charming traditional practices in Thailand is the wearing of different colors depending on what day it is. Based on a pre-Buddhist Hindu legend, each day has a specific color associated with it for people to wear. Mondays are all about the yellow shirts to pay heed to the day the King was born, pink is for Tuesday, and light blue on Friday for the Queen’s day of birth, etc. Now that you know, see if you spot those colors on those days – or join in!
In the Thai language, this universal phrase means something like “take it easy,” “Relax,” or maybe even “Chill Different,” like we say at Beach Republic! But seriously, saying Sabai Sabai is a happy, sunny, and friendly reminder of the best vibe Thailand has to offer.
A national observance of pride
To encourage nationalism, the Thai government introduced several practices for all of its citizens, like broadcasting the national anthem twice a day. When the anthem is played at those times, everyone – workers, pedestrians, drivers in traffic, and students are expected to stop and stand. While it may not be required for foreigners to stop what they are doing in observance at these times, too, it would be polite.
You might hear the phrase “Mai pen rai’”used liberally, which is the Thai way of saying, “never mind.” It’s another way the people communicate the Thai philosophy of keeping cool, looking at the bright and humorous side of things, and letting worries slip away.
You’ll see a lot of religious sites as well as small altars in homes, hotels, businesses, etc. all throughout Thailand, as the country is about 95% Theravada Buddhist. Avoid touching or disturbing these altars, that often contain fruit, food, garlands, or even money.
Head high, feet low
In the Buddhist faith, the head is considered the most sacred part of the body while the feet are the lowest, as they represent base attachment to the earth, the cause of human suffering.
For those reasons, avoid touching someone on the head as it is considered highly offensive, and don’t raise or point your feet at someone or any religious objects. Also, don’t ever step over someone’s outstretched or crossed legs in Thailand – it’s more polite to walk around them.
Always remove your shoes before entering someone’s home or a religious site, leaving them by the front door.
What to wear
Yes, it’s hot and balmy in tropical Thailand so it’s far more comfortable to wear beach attire, but dressing too scantily can be seen as highly offensive in Thai culture, for women or for men. At religious sites, women in particular should not wear sleeveless tops, short skirts, shirts showing their midriff, etc., or they may be denied entrance. Interestingly, it’s also taboo for a woman to touch a monk or give anything to him directly, though it is fine to talk to monks.
Reverence for the King
Thailand is a constitutional monarchy and they take respect for their King and royal family seriously, as they have served for more than 60 years. You’ll see the King’s likeness everywhere – on money, photos in every restaurant, in the newspaper, in taxicabs, on billboards, etc. It’s definitely a no-no to do or even say anything to disrespect the King or his likeness.
Anything from defaming or altering a picture of statue of the King, speaking badly about him in public, or writing something derogatory about him will be met with serous reprimand – or worse. In fact, Lese-Majesty – the Thai Criminal Code – elaborates in Article 112: “Whoever defames, insults or threatens the King, Queen, the Heir-apparent or the Regent, shall be punished with imprisonment of three to fifteen years.”
Thai people are usually called by their first names, preceded with the honorary title, “Khun” for both men and women. If you get to know some Thai people well, you’ll also encounter a wide and interesting array of nicknames, drawing inspiration from colors, fruit, animals, money, and even automobiles!
Thailand is known as the Land of Smiles for a reason, so don’t be shy about flashing those pearly whites and you’ll fit right in with the locals!