On top of it being an incredibly beautiful destination, Thailand is also home to one of the friendliest and most hospitable populations you’ll ever come across. They’re helpful, generous, kind and very understanding of tourists who may not be fully climatised to local customs. However, there are a few things which you need to keep in mind and observe about the culture so that you can enjoy your time in Thailand and the locals enjoy you being there!
One of the first things that you should be doing is smiling - and let’s be honest, in a place like this, it’s going to be hard for you not to be. If you’re approaching someone or even if you just catch their eye while walking along the street or beach, give them a friendly smile. It’s guaranteed that you’ll receive a smile in return and because you’ve appeared to be outwardly happy and open to them, they’re going to be more than likely to help you out with whatever it is you need. If you wanted to take your greeting a step further, the standard “Sawat Dii” (literally meaning, good luck) is always well received, even if your pronunciation is a little off. For men, you could also add ‘Krap’ to the end of it, and for women add ‘Ka’. That is sure to impress!
One of the reasons why Thailand’s population are such a relaxed and open group is due to the fact that a majority portion of them actively practice Buddhism. They hold the belief that your current life is influenced by the number of good deeds which you’ve done in previous lives, and so the next life’s quality will be determined by how good you are in this life. Over 90% of Thailand are Buddhist with the remaining population being made up of Islam, Hinduism, and Christianity.
When it comes to visiting religious buildings or shrines and places of worship, you should always be dressed in a very respectful manner. Never turn up without a shirt or in shorts, and for ladies, you must always have your shoulders covered. Observing these dress-codes when exploring the religions of Thailand is essential and not something to be taken lightly. On most occasions, warning is given, but you should also know that if you’re going to be entering private homes, chapels where Buddhist images are kept, or any of the Islamic community’s mosques, it will be requested that your shoes are removed - so wear a pair that are easy to slip on and off.
It should also go without saying that if you’re visiting anywhere with some religious significance, you show the appropriate amount of respect. Every image, sculpture or representation of Buddha is considered to be sacred in Thailand. So you should never climb the statues, play on them or take any kind of inappropriate photography. In the same note, Thai people consider the head to be the highest and therefore most important part of the body. Therefore, you should never touch them, or their statues, on their heads, even if it’s as a friendly gesture as the action can be easily misinterpreted as an insult. In similar vein, the feet are considered to be the lowest part of the body, so you should avoid pointing or signalling toward them, whether it be on a real person or sculpture.
The Thai people incredibly respectful toward the royal family. The King of Thailand (currently King Vajiralongkorn as of 2016) is loved by his people and any kind of insult or disrespect for him or the Thai democracy is not only considered to be highly offensive, but it’s actually a crime! So be careful with your choice of words when talking about the royalty in Thailand, and it’s best to not have conversations about the government - who wants to talk about politics on holiday anyway?
Throughout Thailand’s history, the majority of country’s output has come through agriculture and farming, which means that most of the population have lived in rural areas. And despite modern cities like Bangkok being built up to be thriving metropolises, this trend of rural habitation continues today. They are also an incredibly hierarchical population (as seen in their respect for the King), which means that respect towards parents, elderly and authority figures is something you should expect to see quite regularly.
When it comes to interacting with tourists and each other, Thai people are known for avoiding conflict. This is because they maintain a belief system that accepts fate without any form of complaint. Which also means that you will rarely see Thai people showing any form of anger or frustration - they are more likely to smile continuously and wait until the moment passes.
Language & Customs
The official spoken and written language of Thailand is the native Thai. Due to its complicated characters, alphabet and assortment of inflections on pronunciation, it can be a difficult language for native English speakers to pick up or even understand. However, due to the large number of western tourists who visit the country, English is fairly widely spoken and understood. Whether you’re in a hotel, restaurant or local markets doing some shopping, if you combine a little English with some hand signs, your communication probably won’t be an issue.
Tipping is another important custom which is widely accepted and encouraged throughout Thailand. This is particularly seen in hotels, where if good service is given, for instance if your bags are taken to your room for you, then a tip should be given to the person who delivered the service. If you go to many of the developed restaurants and bars, you’ll find that a service charge will be included in your bill, however, it’s common for an additional 10-15% tip to be added to this if the service has been exceptional or the initial charge hasn’t been included.