A basic guide to proper behaviour and social interaction in Thailand

Thai people put a heavy emphasis on good social manners and politeness so it will help if you understand some of their customs, beliefs and values. Also, should you encounter a problem, remember a gentle smile, speaking softly and exercising patience will work things out in your favour more often than a scowl or raised voice will. 

  1. When entering a Thai home, or temple, it is customary to remove your shoes. This is not simply a religious custom but has practical cleanliness benefits too. Also, never point your feet at anyone, use it to indicate anything or purposely touch another person with them.  Don't be surprised if smaller business establishments also pratice this custom. Some homes, businesses and temples will provide indoor slippers for use only inside their buildings. If offered, you will customarilly see them just outside the main entrance way. Walking in bare feet, socks/footies or indoor provided slippers is acceptable in home, business and temple situations.

  2. The King and all the Royal Family both past and present are held in extremely high regard by all Thai people and due respect is required. This also applies to money, or any object bearing the King’s image. Above all, do NOT put your foot on money. Remember that Thailand has and does actively prosecute her Lèse majesté laws. It is a criminal offense to commit any act - verbal, physical or written, that shows insolent or disrespectful behaviour toward any member of the Royal family.

    the kingbuddha

  3. Any insult to the Buddhist religion or Buddha icons or images can carry heavy penalties. Again, respect must be shown at all times and, when visiting temples, appropriate clothing must be worn. When entering a temple you are requested to dress appropriately. Singlets and shorts are not acceptable. Also touching any part of a monk, or his robes, is strictly taboo.
    Do not climb or recline on religious statues.

  4. A ‘wai’ is when hands are put in front of the face as a gesture of greeting or respect. It has many meanings and visitors are advised only to reply to a ‘wai’ rather than ‘lead the way’. It is never proper to ‘wai’ to servants or children, although it may be appropriate to wai to a monk out of respect, but do not expect the monk to wai you back, (because monks do not wai a commoner).

  5. Always practice caution with your cash and valuables. Such things as passports and credit cards should not be carried externally, and all leading hotels provide secure in-room safes or safety boxes at reception. Shoulder bags and handbags may be especially vulnerable.

  6. It is NOT advisable to drink tap water or brush teeth with it. Bottled water is cheap and readily available.  Most all restaurants cook and serve with properly treated water. If you are unsure, ask your server.

  7.  Chiang Mai Tuk TuksTaxis come in all colours

    Traveling by Taxi you must:
    1. Always insist on using the meter when you travel in the Bangkok Area, including trips to/from Suvanabhumi Airport, or else move on to another taxi. *Never agree to a flat rate or "charter" whether the trip is short or not. If the journey is within the Bangkok Area the meter must be used (by law).
    2. Express Way Tolls, you have to pay these, it is not include in the fares.
    3. With regard to fares, they will usually have a table of fare calculations by distance in Kilometers visible from the back seats. It will give you a general outline of your fare. Fare = Distance travelled + Idle time + 35฿ flag fall + any tolls. When LEAVING the airport there is also an additional 50฿ fee which must be added to the meter reading. As a rough guide, you can calculate the fare by distance in kilometres as: 5฿ per kilometre + 35 baht  + any idle time. During the trip, do not nervously ask how much it's going to cost. Your acceptance of any amount the driver mentions could be construed as agreement to a flat rate. Occasionally drivers will refuse a fare with a "NO" or Mai Pai", becasue they are about to change shift. Daytime shifts usually end at around 1500 - 1700.
    4. few other cities in Thailand employ a lawfully enforced taxi "meter" system.
    5. Tuk-Tuks fares MUST be negotiated BEFORE setting off, and while unlikely to be cheaper than a taxi it is still a good experience to try them once. 
    6. Motorcycle-Taxi is also negotaible and a handy (if not entitrely safe) option during rush hour.

  8. When beckoning or calling waiters and taxis, or anyone else, do so by waving palm facing down -like patting a dogs head. Never clap, snap your fingers, or whistle. These actions and noises are meant to call or summon dogs and animals, not people.

  9. Do not accept offers of food, drink, or free trips or any offers from strangers. If a friendly stranger (Thai or not) approaches you for any reason, engage them with a fair amount of caution and don't agree to go anywhere with them or with the friendly tuk tuk driver they have waiting close by.

  10. Learn how to use the toilets properly! Thai "plumbing" is not really designed to cope with toilet paper - the sewage pipes are thinner than in the west and can become blocked easily. Many westerners remain fixed in their own wiping paradigm: many put disgusting smelly toilet paper in the trash; worse, some try to flush the paper and end up blocking the toilets. 

    The toilets are designed for you to use the spray nozzle (or scoop) to throughly rinse your nether regions with water while you scrub with the left hand. You then need to wash your hands thoroughly - and you will be reminded why you should favour the right hand over the left when handing people stuff.

    The paper is there for you to dry yourself. Thus what goes into the trash isn't anywhere near as disgusting as people think, and it hardly smells at all.

    This method seems gross at first to some people, but you get used to it very quickly - and indeed when westerners get home and have to revert to the western method, it can feel like they're not doing as thorough a job as they were in South-East Asia.

     "DO NOT" expect everywhere to provide you with toilet paper. Be prepared when you travel up country, and carry your own.

    Remember spray nozzle (bum guns) are not available everywhere, even in Bangkok. You can probably imagine the condition of some country gas station facilities will look like, where instead of a nozzle spray you will get a bucket of water with the container to wash, or maybe only tissue to clean. Very few gas stations will have a nice clean toilet so be prepared.


Now that you have a little extra knowledge, you will be quite safe and surely not offend any Thais while you are vacationing in Thailand.

Happy travels.


 White Temple, Chiangrai, North Thailand.