Things To Know When Travelling To Thailand

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Thailand is a rich and diverse country with a fascinating history and culture. If you are coming over from a Western country then you will come across many customs which may seem alien to you, but are part of the everyday life of the people who live here. It is very important to do your research before you leave as a few innocent actions (on your part) could offend the locals, and you don’t want to do that.

Interactions

Thailand is the land of smiles, so get those nashers gleaming! If a Thai person smiles at you, smile back. They are just saying hello! You may even find yourself smiling for no reason!

Foot massage in Chiang Mai Street markets

The feet are considered the lowest part; both literally and figuratively. Never point your feet at anyone (unless you are getting a foot massage). Use your feet only for walking. At no time should you use your feet for anything other than that. If something is dropped, bend down and pick it up with your hand (your right hand if possible). Do not put your feet up on a chair and have them pointing at someone, especially if you are in a temple and are facing a buddha! As the feet are regarded as dirty and the lowest pat of the body, it is highly disrespectful to use them to point, stop a door or prevent paper from flying away for example.

Never touch a Thai’s person head. The head being the opposite to the feet, standing at the highest part of the body; the head is sacred and should never be touched by another person.

Thai people are very polite and the way you greet them, especially an elder should be respectful. Don’t worry; it’s super simple. First you make a Wai. Placing your two hands together at your chest and bowing your head down slightly is what is called a Wai. When saying hello and thank you, a wai is used to show respect. The longer you hold your head down, the more respect you are showing that person.

Never disrespect the King in any way. The national anthem is played twice during the day where everyone will be standing in silence. Tourists do not have to stand still but it is respectful if you do. Plus it’s a great thing to witness.

Don’t shout, be rowdy or start chanting when you hear your football team from back home scored. Thai’s do not appreciate it and this sort of behaviour is frowned upon. You will be asked to leave from bars and restaurants if you display this sort of loud and inappropriate behaviour.

Eating

Thai pork soup and noodles

When you order a meal you will be given chopsticks and a soup spoon, if you are ordering a soup dish. Or a fork and spoon for any other dish. As a rule of thumb, use the fork or chopsticks to place food onto the spoon and then eat it. If your chopstick skills aren’t amazing when you arrive, they will be by the time you leave!

Street food is by far the best food going! The flavours are out of this world! But be warned, diarrhoea is always a risk but don’t let that put you off, just be prepared with a pack of imodium in your bag! 

Avoid restaurants/cafe’s which sell western food. In our experience of course your best meals will come from street stalls, but if you do pick an indoor eating area, see where the locals are sitting and if it’s all Thai on the menu, you may be on to a winner!

Monks

Wat Pho Monks

Monks. You will see monks everywhere and there are rules for them too. Monks are highly respected with the majority of Thailand practising Buddhism. Here are just a few things to keep in mind during your stay:

  • When boarding public transport; priority seats are marked for not only pregnant women and the elderly; but also for monks. These seats are priority seats. If a Monk boards the train then you must stand up and give that seat to them.
  • Train stations and airports shall have a seating area which is roped off. This area is for Monks only. Again; it is extremely disrespectful to sit here.
  • NEVER touch a Monk. EVER. Do not even brush past them with your shoulder. However innocent, the monk will react quickly to this and move out of the way. You cannot touch them physically in any way.
  • A monk is not allowed to receive anything from the hand of a woman. If you are ever passing something to a monk, place it down on the ground and allow them to retrieve it themselves.

Temple Etiquette

Chiang Mai Temple

Dress appropriately in temples. This may seem obvious but some people can forget or overlook this. Shorts, skirts, skimpy dresses and short sleeved shirts are not acceptable and you will be asked to leave. Both legs and shoulders must be covered.

Be respectful to Buddha. Obvious, right? No. A lot of tourists see a giant golden statue and disregard its symbolic purpose or have blatantly no respect. Here are just a few simple things to be mindful of.

Do not get too close to the Buddha. Stand back and admire it’s beautiful structure from a respectful distance.

Never cross your legs (as a women) or show the bottom of your feet to Buddha. If you wish to sit, then fold both legs to the side of you with the soles of your feet tucked tightly to your body. Or, fold your legs under yourself and sit your weight on your calfs.

Some temples will allow you take photos inside. Others will not. It will be signposted if photography is allowed. Just remember that when taking photos to be respectful; don’t wave your arms around or make a silly face.

These are just a few of the local customs you should become familiar with if you plan on travelling to Thailand, what have I missed? Let me know in the comments down below! Do these customs vary across different regions? I’ll be looking to update this post with new points regularly!

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Hi! Name’s Aly! Originally from Birmingham, England, I have been discovering the world for over 3 years straight. I am a psychology graduate with a love for Pho and red wine. Whether I throw myself into a novel or from 14,000ft up out of a plane, I look at adventure big and small and say “Let’s do this!”
  • One thing I learnt in Thailand was that quite an important custom worth noting is not to step on notes or coins if you drop them. It’s not something that the locals take or react kindly too as your literally stepping on their King or another symbol of importance. Also presenting a note when paying for something is something we should be considerate towards and do with respect..’presenting’ it with two hands rather than just swiping a folded-up or sweat-covered note from your pocket. This is considered insulting to the King and the note may even be refused. Mostly applies to Thailand from my observations. Have a great trip!!

    • Aly

      Yes, we were told this too! Which is something you wouldn’t think of coming from another country as we use our feet more than we think! Great additions there!

  • That’s an awesome selection of tips… Can’t wait to get back over to Thailand. Got to get that trip organised.

    • Aly

      Thanks Rhys! I can’t wait to go back either! It’s a country which is quite addictive!