Thai People & Society
Customs & Culture When Meeting Thais
In order to offer you an insight into Thai culture, please take a few moments to read this page, which we hope will help
you gain an understanding of how Thais think and react to different situations.
Thais usually don't shake hands but rather "wai" which is to raise both hands gracefully, palm to palm, fingers together, and close to
the body bringing them in a prayer like gesture to the head while bowing slightly.
The higher the hands are raised to the persons head indicates the level of respect the person is paying. In Thailand, to
"wai" means not only to greet and say farewell; more importantly, it means to pay your respects. Therefore you will often see Thais
"wai-ing" when they pass a shrine or statue of a respected king.
Please also remember that it is considered rude to pat or touch someone on the head. Do not point your foot at another
person (or definitely not at a Buddha image in the temple) this is considered highly impolite, as is striding over a person who may be
sitting on the floor.
To the Thai, the head is the most sacred part of the human body while the foot is the lowest (and hence the least
Royality & Religion
His Majesty the King and Buddhism are held in great respect, Thais are tolerant of most behaviour as long as there is no insult or
criticism of either monarchy or religion.
(The penalty for lese-majesty is seven years in prison)
A smile and “sa-wadee krap” (hello/greetings) goes a long way to being accepted as making an effort to get along with the
Modest dress – a neat, clean appearance
Please remember to dress modestly. Outside of Bangkok and other touristy areas, Thais tend to judge people on their initial
Shorts are acceptable, as long as they are not overly skimpy or could be interpreted as provocative.
T-shirts are also OK, but it would be better if you do wear a T-shirt to wear one with sleeves which do at least cover the
If visiting temples, it is frowned upon to wear shorts or have uncovered shoulders. Please do NOT go out without wearing a
shirt, this is definitely not the thing to do!
For us foreigners in Thailand it isn’t expensive to wear decent clothes. If buying clothes here the cost is really very
modest, so there isn’t any reason not to look good, plus Thais definitely do appreciate seeing foreigners dressing
Discretion in behaviour towards the opposite sex
Thais being very modest in their personal attitudes will rarely hold hands in public. This is now more accepted than 20 years ago when a
Thai gent I know was thrown into prison overnight for holding hands in public with his girlfriend!
That aside, don’t try to “come on” to a Thai girl, thinking you can persuade her to sleep with you. We are talking about
decent girls, the lady will not entertain any sort of western ideas about this. Don’t even think that anything like this will happen unless
you have known her for a period of time or more likely you will at the least be engaged in order for anything like this to
Please don’t confuse the above with anything you may have heard from others who have been to Thailand and claimed to have
“had a great time”. Stories like these come around through foreigners having met girls in bars and then ended up paying for sex.
Here in Thailand, even in the more westernised cities, there is still a tendency for a lot of Thais to be what we would see as “late’ –
i.e. to arrive for appointments the way we would understand to be rude through bad timekeeping.
For Thai nationals this is something which they often tend to see not as unimportant, but through their relaxed attitude
they can often be unpunctual.
Hence the phrase “Thai Time” as a way to describe/accept their unwillingness to hurry - or become stressed as they would
see it. The only way around this is to smile and politely accept the situation, they do not see themselves as arriving late