Thailand truly is the Land Of Smiles - Thailand boasts a rich history and culture, its people are warm, friendly and respectful and the food is like nothing else you've tasted on the planet.
On a first visit to Thailand, travelers may feel a little overwhelmed with the hustle and bustle around them. The traffic, sounds and smells can make any novice traveler to the area feel a little on edge. It's not until the moment you look into the eyes of a Thai, who greets you with a 'Wai' does the heartbeat begin to slow and a gentleness starts to overcome your soul and spirit.
Thailand places a high emphasis on respect, so visitors to the region should familiarize themselves with the customs in order to avoid embarrasment or confrontation by a local who has been offended by your ignorance. Like any culture, there are nuances, both subtle and obvious which should be observed in any society. The following details my top ten, 'must know' customs tourists and visitors to Thailand alike should respect.
The 'wai' - pressing the palms together at the chest or nose level, with a slight bowing of the head is a gesture immediately encountered upon entry into Thailand. The wai represents respect and is used throughout the country between all people to communicate, hello, goodbye and thank you.
2. Reverence To The Monarchy
In Thailand, the Royal Family is revered throughout the country. The King who sadly passed away in 2016 is much beloved to this day for his over 60 years of dedicated service to the nation. A humble man still loved by his subjects today, his image can be found everywhere from building frontages, shopping centers, inside taxis and most everywhere in between.
All persons, of any nationality must stand when the King's anthem is played, which can be heard at sporting events, concerts and movie theaters. Visitors to Thailand and Thai Nationals alike can, and have been jailed under the country's strict Lese Majeste laws, which severely punish those who insult the King or other members of the Royal Family. Offensive remarks against the family are not tolerated anywhere within the country.
3. National Pride
Thai's love their country and are very patriotic, as they should be - they have much to be proud of. When visiting the country, always be respectful of the environment and the people of Thailand.
4. Sexual Tolerance
Sexual variance is much tolerated in Thailand and the country has a reputation for being non-confrontational towards those who may otherwise stand out in society. Ladyboys, transsexuals also known locally as krathoeys form part of mainstream society in Thailand.
5. Religious Objects
Buddhists make up almost 95% of the Thai population, so the traveler will often come across amulets worn as a form of worship and protection. Amulets are sold throughout Thailand and can be found in shopping centers, markets and stalls for sale.
Spirit houses are also to be seen outside most buildings and homes throughout the country. Offerings are placed at the spirit house including food, and colorful garlands in appease the spirits who inhabit the land on which the property is located.
Highly superstitious, Thai people refrain from touching these displays, fearful of disrupting their life balance. Foreigners, or Farangs as they are known by the Thai population should refrain from touching these symbols.
6. Bodily Conduct
In Buddhism, the head is acknowledged as the most valued area of the body, with the feet being the lowest. Touching of the head is considered to be highly offensive to most Thais as is raising your or using them to point at objects or other people. This also applies when coming into contact with children.
Shoes should always be removed before entering a residence or religious building. When visiting temples, as a sign of respect visitors are required to wear long sleeves, and long trousers, with no short skirts or shorts allowed. Failure to do so may result in entry being denied. Female visitors should also note that it is not permissible to touch a monk or pass things to him directly. Items to be exchanged should be placed on the floor, for the monk to pick up. Women are able to fully converse with a monk during their visit to a temple or outside of the environment.
7. Color Days
Each day of the week is represented by an auspicious color, when many people choose to wear clothing associated with the day. Yellow shirts are worn on a Monday, which honors the day of birth of the King. Light blue is worn on Friday's acknowledging the Queen's day of birth. Colors feature too in the area of politics, including Red and Yellow.
8. Never Mind
The phrase - Mai pen rai, or never mind, can be heard often as a mantra when the going gets tough for Thai people. The relaxed nature of the Thai people should be mirrored in other societies as a way to relax and not take life too seriously. Life for most Thai's is all about fun (sanuk).
As children, Thai's are assigned nicknames which remain with them for life. Traditional nicknames can incorporate animals, fruit and colors. More recently, nicknames including Benz, and Money have fallen into favor. Thai people address people using first the honorary title - Khun, followed by their first name, or nickname.
10. Bathroom Etiquette
Once outside of the main cities, squat toilets are the norm for both male and female. Squat toilets are flushed by using water supplied in a nearby bucket. A traditional Thai bathroom includes a trough filled with water. A bowl or ladle is used to wash the water over the body.