Getting Along In Thailand

Thailand is known for its tolerance and hospitality, and the average tourist will have no difficulty in adjusting to the local customs All the same, as when coming into any unfamiliar society, a visitor may find it helpful to be aware of certain do's and don't's, and thus avoid making accidental misunderstanding. Basically, most of these are simply a matter of common sense and good manners not really all that different from the way one would behave in one's own country but a few are special enough to be pointed out.

The Monarchy

The Thai people have a deep traditional reverence for their Royal Family, and a visitor should also be careful to show respect for the King, the Queen, and the Royal Children. In a cinema, for example, a portrait of the King is shown during the playing of the royal anthem, and the audience is expected to stand. When attending some public event at which a member of the Royal Family is present, the best guide as to know how to behave is probably to watch the crowd and do what it does.


Thai law has a number of special sections concerning religious offences, and these cover not only Buddhism, the religion of the majority of the people, but also any other faiths represented in the kingdom. It is, for instance, unlawful to commit any act, by any means whatsoever, to an object or a place of religious worship of any community in a manner likely to insult the religion. Similarly, "whoever causes any disturbance at an assembly lawfully engaged in the performance of religious worship of religious ceremonies" is subject to punishment, as well as "whoever dresses or uses a symbol showing that he is a monk or novice, holyman or clegyman of any religion unlawfully in order to make another person believe he is such person."

In less legal language, here are a few tips on what to do and what not to do on a visit to a religious place:

  • Dress neatly. Do not go topless, or in shorts, or other unsuitable attire. If you look at the Thais around you, you will see the way they would prefer you to be dressed which, in fact, is probably not very different from the way you would dress in a similar place in your own country.
  • It is all right to wear shoes while walking around the compound of a Buddhist temple, but not inside the chapel where the principal Buddha image is kept. Do not worry about dirt when you have to take them off, the floors of such places are usually clean.
  • In a Muslim mosque, men should wear hats and women should be well-covered with slacks or a long skirt, a longsleeved blouse buttoned to the neck, and a scarf over the hair. All should remove their shoes before entering the mosque and should not be present if there is a religious gathering.
  • Buddhist monks are forbidden to touch or to be touched by a woman or to accept anything from the hand of one. If a woman has to give anything to a monk or novice, she first hands it to a man, who then presents it. Or in the case of a woman who wants to present it with her hand, the monk or novice will spread out a piece of saffron robe or handerchief in front of him, and the woman will lay down the material on the robe which is being held at one end by the monk or novice.
  • All Buddha images, large or small, ruined or not, are regarded as sacred objects. Therefore, do not climb up on one to take a photograph, or generally speaking, do anything that might show a lack of respect.

Social Customs

The don'ts of Thai social behaviour are less clearly defined than these concerning the monarchy or religion, especially in a city like Bangkok where western customs are better known and more widely accepted. However, what is acceptable in Bangkok may not be in the countryside where the old ways are still prevalent. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Thais do not normally shake hands when they greet one another, but instead press the palms together in a prayer like gesture called a wai. Generally, a younger person wais an elder, who returns it. Watch how the Thais do it, and you will soon learn.
  • It is considered rude to point your foot at a person, so try to avoid doing so when sitting opposite anyone, and following the conception that the foot is a low limb; do not point your foot to show anything to anyone but use your finger instead.
  • Thais regard the head as the highest part of the body both literally and figuratively. As a result, they do not approve of touching anyone on that part of the body, even in a friendly gesture. Similarly, if you watch Thais at a social gathering, you will notice that young people go to considerable lengths to keep their heads lower than those of the elder ones, to avoid giving the impression of "looking down" on them. This is not always possible, of course, but it is the effort that counts.
  • Public displays of affection between men and women are frowned upon. You may see some very westernised young Thai couples holding hands, but that is the extent of the displaying of affection in this polite society.
  • Losing your temper, especially in public, will more than likely get you nowhere. The Thais think that such displays denote poor manners, and you are more able to get what you want by keeping calm and concealing your emotions.
  • Do not be surprised if you are addressed by your first name: for instance, Mr. Bob or Miss Maryinstead of by your surname. This is because Thais refer to one another in this manner, usually with the title "Khun" (Mr., Mrs. or miss) in front. Follow the customs of the country as far as possible, and you will make more friends during your stay.

Special Advice

1. Beware of unauthorized people who offer their services as guides. Contact the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT)'s counters for all tourist information. The TAT's counters are located in the Arrival Hall of the Bangkok International Airport; at Terminal 1 Tel: 523-8972-3, or at Terminal 2 Tel: 535-2669 from 08.00 to 24.00 hrs.; at the main office on Ratchadamnoen Nok Avenue Tel: 281 -0422 during working hours of 08.30 to 16.30 hrs.

2. Visitors are advised to use the hotel taxi service at their hotel if they do not know their way around or cannot speak the local language.

3. Observe all normal precautions as regards to personal safety, as well as the safety of your belongings. Walking alone on quiet streets or deserted areas is not recommended. Be sure that all your valuables -money, jewellery, and airline tickets- are properly protected from loss.

4. Use the service of only registered travel agents.

5. Visitors needing assistance relating to safety, unethical practices, or other matters, please call the Tourist Assistance Centre immediately (Tel: 281 -5051, 282-8129) or contact the Tourist Police (Tel: 678-6800- 9 or 1699)

6. Penalties for drug offences are very severe in Thailand, do not get yourself involved with drugs.

7. Please drop your garbage into a waste container. The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration is now strictly enforcing the law in an effort to keep the city clean and healthy. The fine (maximum 2,000 baht) will be imposed on a person who spits, discards cigarette stubs, or drops rubbish in public areas.