The Land of Smiles

Thailand is often referred to as the “Land of Smiles” and the Thai people are known to be some of the most hospitable people in the world. It is a country with an incredible history and a captivating culture which make for a unique character and flavor. There is nowhere in the world quite like Thailand. There are also a number of idiosyncrasies – large and small – that lend a certain ‘personality’ to Thailand that makes it what it is. If you are traveling to Thailand, being versed in some of the more interesting local customs and proper etiquette before arriving is wise. There are a number of things NOT to do in Thailand to avoid disrespecting the local culture. Here are just a few to help you become an informed and sensitive traveler.

1. Don’t Shake Hands

Thais do not greet each other by shaking hands because they do not like to have personal contact with strangers. Rather, they place both their open palms together at chest height and bow slightly. This is called wai. It would be wise to practice this greeting before you visit. Do not bow to children or a person of lower status however, as you would only be embarrassing them. If you are greeting a person of high importance, bow slightly deeper.

2. Never Whistle at Night

Here’s one of the things not to do in Thailand you might not be aware of. You’ll notice that Thais will become very uneasy if they hear a whistle after dark. This is because Thais are very superstitious and believe that whistling at night is bad luck because you’re calling the evil spirits. So even if you’re feeling like whistling a tune on your evening stroll, please restrain yourself.

3. Don’t Lose Your Temper

Thais have a philosophy of keeping their cool and not losing their temper, also known as jai yen (cool heart). Most Thais avoid confrontation and see raising one’s voice as not a good form. Staying calm and smiling often goes a long way in Thailand. It does not mean that you won’t encounter one angry person on your trip, but Thais are generally very hospitable, welcoming and tolerant. Don’t get frustrated, “mai pen rai” as the locals say.

4. Never Use Your Feet

Of all the things not to do in Thailand, pointing with or using your feet is one of the biggest faux pas. Feet are considered the lowest, dirtiest part of the body in many Asian cultures and the head is the highest. Pointing your toes or the bottoms of your feet towards someone or something is extremely impolite. Hence, do not hold doors open with your feet, point your feet towards the Buddha images or angle your feet towards the monks.

5. Don’t Disrespect the Royal Family

The King and the Royal family are highly regarded in Thai society. You will see many pictures commemorating the Royals throughout the country. Therefore, it is very disrespectful to say anything or act in any way negatively towards Royal family. Even stomping on a Thai coin as it rolls away it considered impolite as coins display images of members of the Royal family and past relatives. Remember, Thais find it insulting to be touched by your feet.

6. Don’t Take Your Clothes Off

Yes, Thailand is a tropical country and most days are sunny and warm, but walking around town in beach attire is considered impolite by the local people. Many tourists assume that because of the warm climate it is acceptable to remove their clothing in public, but that is not the case. Beach attire is acceptable on the beach, in some beachside bars/restaurants and in one’s hotel room. Otherwise, men, keep your shirts on and ladies, wear your cover-ups. Be extra-conscious of your attire when visiting temples. Dress conservatively (preferably in white), and women particularly should wear long skirts or trousers and have their shoulders covered.

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