The most important attraction in any country is its people. It is important to attempt to understand the cultures, traditions, nuances, and even the idiosyncrasies of the inhabitants of a country you are planning to visit. This sensitivity is even more important when travelling to South East Asia.
To avoid offending your host, if you are travelling on a Thailand tour, you will need to be aware of the following etiquette tips:
1. Watch your Feet
In Thailand, feet are considered the most unclean part of the body. Pointing them towards someone is an absolute faux pas. Make sure you don’t cross your legs or put your feet up. Sitting in a cross-legged position is also frowned upon. It is also considered very rude to step on Thai currency since this is seen as a sign of disrespect towards the royal family. Thailand’s currency bears a portrait of Thailand’s reigning monarch. Please keep your feet off the royal family!
2. Don’t Touch the Head
While feet are considered the most unclean part of the body, Thai’s consider the head sacred. You should not pat anyone on the head or touch their hair. While it may be tempting to ruffle children’s hair if you are working with small children, resist the temptation. You might also want to have the famed Thai massage, but don’t be surprised if the masseurs ask for your permission to massage your sacred head. This is a sign of respect.
3. Always Respond to a ‘Wai’
It is impolite not to return a greeting in Thailand. The polite wai greeting involves bowing your head and having your hands in a prayerful posture. This is how everyone you meet will greet you. Return the greeting in a similar fashion. When greeting a monk, bow your head and bend from your waist as you keep your hands together.
4. The Monks are Hallowed; Respect Them
There will be opportunities for meeting the monks. In fact, many temples have sessions where you can interact with the monks if you want to learn about Buddhism. During such interactions, be respectful and avoid asking personal questions or trying to be too familiar. If you are a woman, do not touch them. Monks are forbidden to have any form of physical contact with a female.
Should you want to give something to a monk, set it down before them instead of directly handing it to them. While some monks are extremely young, you should respect them nonetheless. If a monk appears a bit nervous when speaking to you, be patient with them.
5. Cover Up in Temples
If in your street wanderings you come across a breathtakingly beautiful temple, before you enter, make sure your chest and shoulders are covered. It is important to wear a shawl or a long-sleeved top or shirt before entering a temple; otherwise, you will be turned away or cause offence due to inappropriate dressing.
6. It is Rude to Point or Beckon
It is rude to point or beck. It can also be seen as being laden with sexual innuendos. To signal someone to join you, extend your hand with your palm facing down and then wave your fingers towards your own direction. Tilt your head upwards and use your chin to beckon to avoid offending anyone. Avoid pointing at buildings and other objects; especially at a temple. Should you forget to show any of these common courtesies, quickly wai your apologies.
7. Be Ready to Pay Higher Fees than the Locals
Some establishments such as temples, museums, and galleries charge tourists higher rates than locals. You may be exempted from the higher fees if you place your request in advance, especially if you are visiting during the off-peak season or with a large group. However, there is no guarantee that your request will be granted; but it doesn’t hurt to ask.