Thai Culture, and Customs:

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When it comes to culture and customs, there is more to it then just a different way of doing things, it is a completely different thought process, a completely different way of thinking as well. I will attempt to educate you as to some of the different cultures, and customs, here in Thailand. I will share with you some anecdotes from my own experience while enjoying my own adventure in the kingdom of Thailand.

I was walking down the sidewalk in Bangkok one day, and noticed that part of the sidewalk had collapsed, and there was a large hole there. This part of the pedestrian walkway looked like it was made of bricks on top of sand. The large hole there appeared to be caused by sand washing away from underneath the bricks.

This hole was oval shaped, a good 2 foot across at the widest point, and at least a foot deep. There were no barricades up around it, no caution signs, it wasn’t taped off, not even a paint line around it to draw your attention to it. I walked past this hole nearly everyday for a week, and it looked the same every time.

If this hole was in the sidewalk in America, the first reaction of Americans would be much different then the reaction of Thai people. The first thought in the minds of the American people is who they are going to file a lawsuit against if they are injured as a result of falling into it. If someone were injured because of this hole in America, it is the cities fault for failure to maintain the sidewalk.

Do you who is to blame if somebody is injured in Thailand as a result of this hole? It is the pedestrians fault for failure to watch were they are walking. There is far more sense of personal responsibility in Thailand, but in America it seems to always be somebody else’s fault.

The same thing is true about eating in a restaurant. Let’s say you are hungry, and decide to eat in a restaurant. Shortly after eating there, you have stomach pains, diarrhea, and you are throwing up. You know, telltale signs of food poisoning. We all know what the American reaction will be, it is the restaurants fault for improper food handling procedures.

Can you guess what the Thai reaction would be? That’s right, it is the consumers fault for choosing to eat in the wrong restaurant. The American reaction will be to sue the restaurant, and the Thai reaction will be to choose to eat someplace else next time.

Sometimes the culture differences can be quite amusing. I was in a restaurant with a Thai lady, and we were looking at the menu trying to decide what to eat. The waitress came by to take our drink order while we were making our decisions on what to eat. I was in the mood for a cola to wash down my meal.

I am accustomed to ordering a coke when I am in a restaurant in America as opposed to Pepsi, even though I like Pepsi better, most restaurants in America only have Coke. So out of force of habit when the waitress asked me in broken English what I wanted to drink, I told her, “I want Coke please.” Well you would think that I had just killed somebody, or said something vulgar with the way the waitress, and my date both looked at me.

My date said something to the waitress in Thai language that I did not understand, and then turned to me and said, “No khun Greg, it is Coca Cola, coke is drug.” I had to smile, and laugh to myself at that remark. Khun, by the way in case you are wondering is a Thai word, in this case it means Mister. It is a respectful way of addressing somebody. It is a gender natural word, and applies to both sexes. Khun also means, you when used in a different context. (Learn more about Thai language on the language page here.... Learn Thai Language)

The Wai:

In Thailand a common form of greeting is the wai. This is done by placing the palms of your hands together with your fingers pointing upwards like you are praying. Your hands are usually at chest level, or as high as your head to show more respect. The wai may be given while standing, kneeling, or sitting. Slightly bowing is part of the wai as well.

The wai is also a way to show respect. The higher your hands are placed, and the deeper the bow, the more respectful the wai is. Thailand is a hierarchical society, and people of a lower status, are expected to show respect to those of a higher status. Although that may seem outdated in American society, it is still practiced in Thailand.


There are many things that determine a persons status. Age is one, an older person generally has more status than a younger person. The skin tone of a person is another. Someone with darker skin, is considered of a lower status, than a person with lighter skin. (They have skin bleaching salons in Thailand to help achieve a lighter skin tone. We have tanning salons in America. Tanned skin is considered healthy in America. One of the many culture differences.)

Some other things that determine status are, the type of employment a person has, and how much money they make. Where a person lives gives them status. Driving your own vehicle has more status then using public transportation.

Do's and don'ts:

Do smile, and be respectful.

Do stay calm. If you act aggressively, or become angry, it will reflect badly on you, and people will avoid you.

Do take off your shoes before entering a temple, or somebody’s home.

Do stand quietly still when the Thai National Anthem is played. Everyday at 8am and again at 6pm the Thai national is played.

Don’t touch anybody’s head, it is considered the most sacred part of the body.

Don’t point your feet at anyone, or anything. The feet are the lowliest part of the body, and it is considered very disrespectful to point your feet towards someone even while sitting.

Don’t talk negatively about their government. Even if they agree they won’t appreciate your negative comment.

Don’t speak negatively about Buddhism. The majority of the country practices Buddhism, it is a way of life for most Thai people.

Don’t cause anybody to lose face by insulting them, or humiliating them. Saving face is very serious in Thailand.

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