Thai Culture & people

What is Thai Culture like?

King, Buddha & People in thailand


There is not really a Thai word for cult ure. If you ask Thai people to describe Thai culture they will most likely answer with descriptions of traditional Thai music, dance or theatre.


Informality and general friendliness in relationships of all age, economic and social groups characterize the Thai culture and people. Thai people are tolerant of almost all kinds of behaviour and never expect foreigners to understand the intricacies of Thai social customs. But by following a few simple rules for conduct, and adopting a few Thai ways, you can quickly and easily gain respect from the people in Thailand.


Thai culture is vastly different from English culture and so before setting foot in Thailand you should find out about the essential 'do and don't' . Here are just a few, but the most important rules.



  • Do Smile Thais do not necessarily smile about something like we do in the west. They smile for a variety of other reasons too. To say hello or thank you, to make a request, to apologize, to smooth over bad feelings or to show embarrassment. Thais go to exceptional lengths to keep smiling even when they’re boiling inside. Thailand is often referred to as the “land of smiles”. The reason for this is that Thais seem to be able to smile regardless of the situation. In Thai culture it is more polite and more gracious to smile and overlook offenses and differences of opinion with smiles instead of harsh words.the king, king of thailand
  • Do show respect for the king Thai people show great respect for their king and they expect visitors to do so too. Do take care not to mention anything negative about any member of the Thai Royal Family as Thai people love and adore them. You should never insult or joke about the king or royal family, they will not be appreciated. All Thai people love their king, HM King Bhumibol; if you want to know why, ask them politely. Be very careful about your speech and other behavior toward this most important subject.
  • Do stand still and quiet like everybody else during the playing of the Thai national anthem. They play it before all movies in the cinema and at 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. daily in various places. Rule of thumb, if everyone is standing quietly – you should too.buddha
  • Do show respect for their main religion , for the Buddha, and for monks. Shorts or tank tops should not be worn in a temple, and shoes should be removed before entering. It is considered very improper for women to touch a monk. Dress correctly in Temples . Don't sit on Buddha images if you want to be photographed. Sit before the image then. That is perfectly all right. You will insult Thai people deeply if you offend Buddhism in these ways.
  • Mai Pen Rai - never mind. Symbolising Thailand's unofficial national philosophy these three little words help to calm the heart of a nation. Mai Pen Rai enables the Thai people to retain their composure, keep smiling and be happy in everything they do. Thai people care little about trifling things. If they are frustrated, instead of getting angry they simply say Mai Pen Rai and solve the problem by some other means. Thai people believe strongly in avoiding confrontation, which is one of the reasons travel in Thailand is such a pleasure. To the Thais, foreigners over-worry, see trouble where there is none, and are constantly fretting over the future. When Thai people think about their future, they are optimistic. If they are not so happy now, they believe they are sure to be in their next life!phuket
  • Take your shoes off before entering a Thai house, if you are invited to visit somebody in his/her home. Do the same at other places where the Thai people do so too. If you are not sure watch other people. A pile of shoes at the entrance is your clue to remove yours (socks are OK). To Thai people wearing shoes indoors is disgusting.
  • have some patience when you have to do business in an bank or in a post office. Sometimes you will have to wait for a long time, but the Thais are accustomed to that and will find your behavior quite badly if you become impatient. Just relax and wait for your turn!
  • Speaking Thai If you know a little bit of Thai you should always be adding “krup” if you’re a male, or “ka” if you’re a female to the end of everything you say. Thais love it when foreigners care enough to be polite when they speak Thai. You will likely get many compliments if you speak this way.thai culture
  • Do A Thai greeting If you are greeted with a Wai you should reply with the same gesture, though it is not necessary to return a Wai to a child. Think of a Wai as you would a handshake. Initiate a Wai because of sincere pleasure at an introduction. You will not cause offence if you Wai inappropriately in Thailand, but you may create confusion. Don't return a Wai from waiting staff, drivers or other help. You might hope to strike a blow for equality, but will in fact cause embarrassment. A Wai to your teacher is definately appropriate; any smiles you receive in return are of appreciation.
  • Say "SawasdeE", In Thailand people do not normally say 'good morning', 'good afternoon', 'good evening' or 'good night'. They greet each other with the word Sawadee, and instead of shaking hands, they put their palms together in a prayer-like gesture and bow slightly. It is customary for the younger or lower in status to begin the greeting. When taking leave, the same word and procedure is repeated. This gesture is called a Wai.
  • Using a toothpick Cover your mouth with one hand and pick with the toothpick with your other hand. It’s rude in Thailand to pick your teeth without covering the process so others can’t see it.
  • Eating your food Thais eat primarily with a spoon. They eat everything with a spoon, whether it makes sense or not. The fork is used only to help food onto the spoon. If you want to fit in you’ll ditch the fork and do your best with the spoon.
  • Accepting something from a Thai If you are offered a drink from a Thai man, you probably should accept. It doesn’t matter if you don’t drink at all – you probably should accept because the person offering you the drink is probably trying to build face among his friends or those watching. If you turn him down, face is lost. Not a good thing! Especially during Songkran (Thai New Year) or other situations where the Thais are already drunk it’s a really good idea to accept a drink and if you don’t want to drink continuously with them – thank them profusely and move on.



  • Don't touch anyone on the head. The head is considered to be very sacred. pologize even for slight, accidental touches.don't in Thai
  • Don't point your feet at anyone or anything. This is quite hard for a westerner to follow as, without realising it, we do in some circumstances seem to use our feet quite a lot e.g closing or opening doors. And do not wave your feet around people's heads! If you accidentally touch someone with your foot, apologise. Food in Thailand is often eaten on the floor. Stepping over food is a real faux pas.
  • Don't step over anyone instead walk around them. wait politely for them to move out of the way.
  • Don't think that Thai women are "easily available". Though around 1% of the female population is working in the sex industry, this also means that 99% is not working there! You can get yourself in big trouble if you offend a woman in this way. Her husband may find he should take revenge, which could be very unpleasant for you.
  • don't show your familiar in public, even if you are married. So don't kiss in public, don't walk with your arms around each other. These things are considered very impolite in Thailand.
  • Don't shout in public (to anybody). don't in ThailandIf you want to argue with your wife or with your children, do this in the privacy of your hotel room and not in public! You will loose much of your respect if you do things like this in public. You will -for the same reason- loose much of your respect if you find you should punish your children in public.
  • Don't take any packages through Thai customs for anybody! If you are caught carrying drugs, you risk the death penalty or life in prison. And prisons in Thailand are not exactly like the Hilton. Apart from that, you can hardly expect a milder punishment than life in prison. So be warned!
  • Don't get involved in prostitution in Thailand. You do not only put your health at serious risk, but the chance of getting robbed is very real. And apart from these dangers for yourself, give it a thought that having "budget" sex in a developing country like Thailand is very unfair towards the people involved.
  • Don't calling attention to yourself, Loud voices, pointing at people or things, throwing or dropping things, and making big hand gestures all seem graceless to the Thai sensibility. Preferred modes of comportment are those that reflect the quiet, subtle and indirect as opposed to the loud, obvious and direct. Although the southern Thais can at times be alarmingly direct in their interactions with others.king
  • Don't Raising your voice In Thai culture it is more polite and more gracious to smile and overlook offenses and differences of opinion with smiles instead of harsh words. In fact, the only time harsh words are spoken is during a physical fight or a verbal argument that will quickly lead to a physical fight. When Thais blow up emotionally it gets physical and sometimes deadly very quickly. Don’t raise your voice to anyone, regardless what the issue. If you’re going to lose some sum of money because of the issue take it up with the tourist police, don’t attempt to resolve it with words if it looks like you’re getting nowhere.
  • don't provoke Thais to anger, Thai fight in groups. They will all join in to fight you if you choose to fight a Thai. You can’t win. You and three other guys cannot win against twenty or thirty Thai men. Be very careful not to provoke Thais to anger because your first hint that you might have gone over the edge is a bottle or stick to the back of your head. Very few people have problems of this nature in Thailand, but it’s worth saying something about.
  • don’t give your Politics opinion. The country is split considerably about what group is best to rule their nation. Currently there are demonstrations, sometimes violent, in protest to the current ruling party. Stay away from discussions of political nature and don’t give your opinion if asked about it. Let Thais work the issue out for themselves, don’t be vocal about your opinion on how corrupt government, police, military and anyone else seems to be.don't and do
  • Don't stare at Thai people. They may be smiling, but still do not look into their eyes too long. Particularly in rural areas young and old may react violently to such a gesture, which is considered a rude insult. During normal conversation most Thai people do not look directly at one another, and will avoid anything but the briefest eye-to-eye contact. Phu Nawy (‘little’ people) often keep their head bowed when conversing with Phu Yai (‘big’ people) as a sign of respect. As a foreigner it can be hard to know if you have a person’s attention. And it is difficult to hear what people are saying if they speak with their back to you.
  • don't harp on about how expensive everything is in Thailand. Every single Thai person is well aware of the fact that just about every single thing in Thailand is less expensive than in your home country (apart from a few especially imported items). It is perfectly normal (even where you come from) for bars to serve beer at higher prices than supermarkets, even if they are close to each other. Cigarettes are more expensive on boats and in hotels than at discount stores. If you don’t want to pay the higher price, then please, simply go elsewhere at your inconvenience without comment.
  • don't expect western standards of perfection, unless you are paying western prices. Products and services are inexpensive in Thailand for the simple reason that it is possible to cut corners and pay very low wages in order to keep prices down.
  • Public displays of sexual affection are not acceptable in Thailand, although this may be changing with the younger generation in some areas. Thai people are extremely offended by public nudity, along with just about everyone else in the world. Thai people are modest in this respect and it should not be the visitor’s intention to ‘reform’ them. A polite man in Thailand will not touch a woman. respect buddha and king
  • Ladies must never touch a Buddhist monk (recognised by his orange robes) or hand things directly to him. Remember always that every monk is looked up to and respected (even if he is a child). Women should never be alone in the presence of a monk. But don't think that a monk is unapproachable. Polite conversation is quite acceptable, and if you are driving a car feel free to pick up any monk waiting for a lift.
  • It is an unpardonable error of sacrilege to misuse a Buddha image. Icons should be kept in a place of worship, not used as pieces of furniture, as ornaments, or for commercial advertisement. It is fine though to hang a Buddha from your neck. Many Thai people do so for protection and to attract good luck.

Thailand Good to know


Thai men staring


Thai men and women stare at foreigners a lot, especially in the smaller cities where they don’t see many tourists. Thais do not stare for malevolent reasons. As a male you may feel like someone is confronting you by staring at you. If you smile at the Thai person he or she will likely laugh embarrassed that you caught them staring. They stare out of sincere interest, not because they mean you harm. Unless you did something horrible, and then you’ll probably know why the person is staring!



The concept of saving face


Thai people have a refined sense of public image and believe strongly in the concept of saving face. That is, they will go to great lengths to avoid confrontation and endeavour not to embarrass either themselves or other people (unless of course it is Sanuk to do so!). The ideal face saver does not bring up negative topics in conversation, or talk in an argumentative, judgemental or aggressive manner.


Raising your voice or losing your temper will never be constructive in Thailand. It will result in loss of face for everyone involved, and you may be ignored as a result. You may notice Thai people smiling in the face of another’s misfortune. This is not a sign of callousness, but an attempt to save face for the person suffering misfortune.



Social status in Thailand


sicial status in ThailandAccording to simple lines of social rank defined by age, wealth, and personal and political power all relationships in Thai society are governed by connections between Phu Yai (‘big’ people) and Phu Noi (‘little’ people). When meeting someone new a Thai person will automatically make an assessment regarding their Phu Yai or Phu Noi status. They may ask quite probing questions in order to place them.


A set of mutual obligations requires Phu Noi to defer to Phu Yai through demonstrations of obedience and respect. In return Phu Yai are obligated to care for and offer assistance to Phu Noi they have regular contact with. Phu Noi may ask Phu Yai for favours such as financial help or assistance securing employment. It would cause Phu Yai some loss of face to refuse these favours. When eating out in restaurants, Phu Yai will normally settle the bill.



Please try to calm down!


Keeping a cool heart is essential in all situations in Thailand (unless you are prepared for a very serious kind of confrontation). The Thais are a sentimental people who react strongly to impolite, aggressive or confrontational behaviour (or even the suggestion of such). If you are upset it is most likely because of some kind of misunderstanding. Remember, you cannot expect ordinary Thai people to understand everything you say, or be able to express themselves perfectly in English.


And you must accept that you do not have a thorough understanding of every situation in Thailand. In your home country making a scene might get results.Here in Thailand, it gets you avoided. Even small children in Thailand are taught to supress their anger and strong emotions, particularly crying. If things are innexplicably becoming heated your best bet is to stop talking, even if you are just trying to explain or clarify. In Thailand rational discussion is usually percived as a continuation of the argument.



Thai Culture About Telling Lies


Thai culture does not permit telling lies. Again words have different applications. In western society people tell ties all the time, not only in politics, but to children, friends and in business and government of the people for the people.


In the west we dismiss these as ''white lies'', not important, or being polite to avoid the truth to confront someone. Not so in Thai culture, so travellers should understand a strict interpretation of the concept of a lie applies and when a Thai avoids telling you the truth then you know this is his or her way of refusing to lie.



What is so special about the way Thais wash their clothes?

Thai people wash the top of the body clothes separately from the bottom half i.e. shirts and jumpers go in one wash and shirts, underwear and trousers go in another. This is because, as Buddhists, they believe the lower part of the body is unclean whilst the top part is sacred. This is part of their religion.


A Buddhist Thai would also never take off or put on a skirt over their heads for the same reason.
The same rule applies when hanging out the washing on the line. Clothes from the lower part of the body are not placed next to or higher than clothes worn on the top part of the body.


The same rule applies to drying yourself after washing. If you take a shower you should not use the same towel for the whole body, the correct way is to use one for the upper part (the head) and another for the lower parts.
beautiful thai girl


A symbol of beauty is the whiteness

A sunbathed skin is not appreciated by Thai people because it is the symbol of the peasant, the poor person often working in the fields or on the streets. If one has a dark skin it means that he/she is working outside. Thais believe the paler you are, the higher you are in status. It is strange but true, as Westerners we look for the sun to get a sunbathed skin, where as Thai people try to escape from it.


It is quite common to see a Thai person with an umbrella when the sun is shining. Indeed, I have witness motorcyclists holding an umbrella in one hand whilst steering with the other!



Why is Thai culture changing?

Thai culture is changing with time because of the contact with Western civilisation. Although most Thais stick to their own culture, some are influenced by what they see on television and from tourists. It is therefore not uncommon to be greeted with a handshake rather than a 'wai' in the main cities and towns.

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