A land with long, sweeping beaches and beautiful scenery, Thailand is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world—and it’s easy to see why when you take a look at its culture and traditions. The Thai culture and traditions are known to be unique and fascinating. From vibrant festivals to intricate artwork, here are some things you may not know about Thailand’s rich culture and colorful customs.
Getting to know each other
This is a big one. Thai people are extremely warm, open, and friendly. If you greet someone new with a wai, you should expect to receive one in return (and if you don’t have time to stop or just aren’t feeling social, say sawatdee ka—Thai for hello—but then wave). The importance of knowing people is reflected in many aspects of Thai culture. For example, when giving or receiving business cards or gift items, both parties will quickly scan each other’s information.
One of my favorite aspects about Thai culture is its inherent friendliness. That means if you’re traveling through a small town or village, your chances of making a new friend are quite high. The friendliness isn’t limited to everyday interactions—it even extends to customer service experiences as well. People are quick to smile, ask how you’re doing (sawatdee ka), and make small talk without expecting anything in return.
Another way Thai culture reflects its friendliness is through its high value on community. People aren’t just quick to smile or say hello—they’re also quick to lend a helping hand. When you see a person in need, it’s rare that someone won’t step in to help them. This concept is reflected in many other aspects of Thai culture, including food and transportation.
Thais are very expressive when it comes to greetings, touching each other’s arms, shoulders or hands when saying hello. They generally say sawatdi khrap/khap which means I saw you. It is common for Thais to greet each other with a kiss on both cheeks if they know each other well. Men usually shake hands, but depending on age, status and closeness will vary how close you stand together. Thai people tend to stare at foreigners because they don’t see many of them in their country; it is not offensive as some may think – in fact they do it out of curiosity since few tourists visit their beautiful country.
Thai people are very polite with strangers, especially towards tourists. It is common for them to say ‘sawatdi khrap/khap’ which means I saw you. When having a conversation, it is good to initiate eye contact as well as maintain it to show your interest in what they are saying or have a conversation about. Thai people value respect very much and so showing signs of respect like holding their hand out in a wai position (palm together, fingers point upwards) whilst greeting them with a sawatdi khrap/khap is essential.
Thai people always address each other by a title before their name. This depends on factors such as age, gender and status within society. An example of this would be addressing an elderly man as Krup/Kruu or ‘M’. Younger generations call all adults they do not know Auntie or Uncle. However, when it comes to addressing strangers formally in accordance with age, they’re likely to use ‘Uncle’ or ‘Auntie’. for example, an older person might be called Mr. Smith while a younger person might be called Mr. John.
Creating a relationship
According to The Land of Smiles Foundation, which promotes cultural awareness and education in Thailand, you should still make an effort to connect with your neighbors as well as local shopkeepers. One way is by participating in Thai celebrations like Songkran Water Festival or Loy Krathong. By being involved in these events, says foundation co-founder David Godfrey, you will help build a relationship that will last through good times and bad. It also doesn’t hurt to learn some key phrases—or at least smile a lot. After all, it’s what got them calling their country The Land of Smiles in the first place.
Small gestures go a long way, too. According to The Land of Smiles Foundation, you can express respect in Thai culture by using your right hand to touch your left forearm when greeting someone or bowing slightly. Be sure to put your feet together as you cross them at an angle while sitting down, which signals honor and deference. In addition, keeping a consistent schedule will also make it easier for local residents and businesses to become accustomed to your presence in their area. Always keep an eye out for cultural holidays like Loi Krathong.
Thai dining etiquette
Table manners in Thailand differ slightly from those in Western countries. For instance, waiters never approach a diner for orders—the customer will always initiate contact with them. When it comes to food, chopsticks are also considered dirty utensils. You should wash your hands before eating anything as well as rinsing your mouth after chewing or swallowing. And if you’re not yet finished with your meal when everyone else is, it’s perfectly acceptable to excuse yourself from dinner table until you are ready to eat again. It may take some getting used to, but what Thai dining etiquette really boils down to is respect for others around you—as well as their comfort level while eating around you!
Culture traits Thai people are quite well known for their smiling mannerisms, hence the nickname they’ve earned as The Land of Smiles. This is especially true when it comes to customer service—no matter how big or small a problem you have, no one will ever appear unhelpful. This may come across as overtly courteous or even rehearsed to foreign travelers, but it’s simply part of their culture to maintain an upbeat attitude at all times.
Showing respect at home and in the community
Many tourists can tell you that, while they were in Thailand, they felt welcomed, appreciated, and treated with respect. What many don’t realize is that there are rules as to how Thais show respect to others—both at home and in public. When Thai people bow to one another, shake hands or touch their palms together when saying hello or goodbye it’s a sign of respect. Besides being kind to others, being respectful towards those older than you is of paramount importance. Younger Thais must give their seat to someone older and they must get up when they enter a room. Thais just believe that once we are past a certain age we should be respected for our wisdom and experience.
When you are invited to a Thai home, it is customary to bring a small gift such as some candy or flowers. In return your host will offer you something that they think you would like to try. This is an honour, as it shows that your host really cares about you. Finally, don’t forget about good old-fashioned manners when you’re in public. Thais are not very vocal and so neither should be Westerners if they want to fit in with Thai culture while they’re visiting or living there!
Dress codes in Thailand
Are you headed to Thailand for a business trip or vacation? You’ll find that Thai culture is vastly different from your own. Dress codes are stricter than in Western cultures, so be sure to follow some key rules before you go. For example, avoid wearing shoes inside buildings as much as possible; do not remove your shirt if you’re a man; women should always wear shirts that cover their shoulders. If it’s 90 degrees outside, don’t open windows or turn on air conditioning because opening doors or windows will allow in bad vibes – according to local beliefs!
In addition to dress codes, you should also be aware that hand gestures are very different in Thailand. Thais rarely use their thumbs when pointing as it is considered rude. If someone points using just their index finger, they may be directing you toward an object rather than to a person – which could cause some embarrassment if you’re speaking with someone important. Instead, gesture with your palm facing downward or make an okay sign.
In addition to dress codes and gestures, there are other cultural differences in terms of how you communicate with Thai locals. In other words, refrain from speaking of your personal matters or ask intrusive questions when with a Thai person; if you do, you may make them upset.