Don’t get too hung up about learning a huge list of do’s and dont’s! Most social indiscretions will be forgiven without you even realising. Thais know that foreign visitors have their own customs and different ways of doing things, but if you are aware of some of the do’s and dont’s you will earn respect from your Thai hosts. Most importantly of all, be particularly careful about respecting Buddhism and the Thai Royal Family.
- Do respect all Buddha images. Buddha images are held sacred and sacrilegious acts are punishable by imprisonment even if committed by foreign visitors.
- Do dress properly when visiting a temple.
Read more advice about visiting Thai temples
- Do remove your shoes before entering a temple, somebody’s house and even some shops.
When to take off your shoes
- Do treat monks with the highest respect.
- Do try and keep calm no matter what the problem or provocation may be.
- Do eat with a spoon. Use the fork to load food on to the spoon.
Read more about food etiquette
- Do lower your body slightly when passing between or in front of people.
- Do try and learn a few basic phrases in Thai, like ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’.
Learn a few Thai phrases and helpful tips for getting by in Thailand
- Do smile a lot.
Understanding the Thai smile
- Do enjoy yourself. Thais like life to be sanuk.
Understanding the concept of sanuk
- Do ensure that you have a visa if you need one.
Find out if you need a visa for travel to Thailand
- Do make sure you have adequate travel insurance.
Read more about the importance of travel insurance for Thailand
- Don’t show disrespect towards the Thai Royal Family.
It’s a criminal offence to insult the Thai monarchy. Read more here »
- Don’t cross your legs when you are in the presence of a monk. This applies whether you are sitting on the floor or in a chair.
- Don’t touch a Thai woman without consent. Despite the image portrayed in some bars and clubs, the majority of Thai women are conservative.
- Don’t be overly affectionate in public. This has changed in recent years and younger Thai couples can be seen holding hands, but snogging your boyfriend or girlfriend in the middle of the shopping mall won’t win you too many friends. As with many things, Thais know that behaviour in the West is different to Thailand so you won’t be chased out of town for holding hands with your partner, but resist the temptation to do so inside temple grounds.
- Don’t sunbathe nude. This is offensive to most Thai people although nobody is likely to say anything to you if you do so.
- Don’t worry too much about whether you should wai or not.
Find out more about the traditional Thai greeting
- Don’t touch a Thai person’s head or ruffle their hair. Apologise if you accidentally touch somebody’s head. There are exceptions to this standard of behaviour; for example, it doesn’t apply to lovers in the privacy of their room. Thai people will also sometimes pat a child on the head, but as a Westerner it’s best not to do this to any child to prevent any embarrassment.
- Don’t place your feet on the table while sitting, don’t point to anything with your feet and don’t touch anybody with your feet.
- Don’t raise your voice or lose your temper; try and be jai yen.
Find out more about being jai yen
- Don’t be offended by questions about age, marital status or what you do for a living. These are subjects that will often come up in small-talk. Of course, you don’t have to answer (especially the question about age), you can just smile and just say it’s a secret or ‘mai bok’ (‘not telling’).
Read more about Thai small talk
- Don’t take Buddha images out of the country. Strictly speaking it is against the law to take or send Buddha images out of the country unless special permission has been granted. However, this doesn’t mean that stores won’t sell them to you. They will sell them to you, but won’t necessarily tell you about the regulations.
Respecting Buddha images
- Don’t overstay your visa.
Find out why not.