A to Z of Thai Customs

A short A-Z of Thai customs and Thai social habitsof some of the important points you should bear in mind. This list isn't 100%, but if you follow these guidelines at least you won't unintentionally upset anyone.




Affection between the sexes should not be displayed in public. Nowadays holding hands is O.K. but kissing should be avoided.
Avoid things, people and situations you don’t like rather than complain and moan about them or try to change them.



Beckon Thai waiters and servants with the hand, palm downwards, fingers straight and waving rapidly. Don’t clap, snap fingers or hiss.
Boasting is disliked, don’t compare your country and people favorably with Thailand and the Thais. Or if you do make sure you mention something you like more about Thailand than your home country as well.
Buddha images should be kept in a high place and treated with great respect. It is against the law to take or send them out of the country except under very special circumstances and with the correct documentation.



Thai ceremonies are normally open to everybody; at family ceremonies money is often given, contained in an envelope, to the host and is placed in the tray provided. Do not wear bright colors to a Thai funeral.
Criticism: Avoid it; if absolutely unavoidable, balance with praise and be very indirect and vague.



Discretion is admired as maturity, if you must do naughty things, do them in private or well away from where fellow teachers and your students live and hang out.
Dress the same as your status. Thais are shocked to see their Thai teachers wearing shorts. Thai Women do not wear short shorts or revealing clothing.



Thai Eating habits are flexible. Most Thai people eat with a spoon and use a fork to load it. Salt is replaced by the liquid 'nam pla' (fish sauce). During ceremonies always eat after the monks. Inviting someone to eat is an everyday greeting, the normal reply is ‘eaten already’. It's the Thai equivalent to 'How are you ?' - ' I'm fine '.



Feet must be kept to yourself. Not on the desk. Certainly not pointing at anybody. Do not step over anybody or anybody’s food.
Flatter whenever possible, Thais loves it.
Fun - This is the essential ingredient of anything worth doing. If it's not fun then why do it ?



Generosity is the sign of an important person in Thailand; don’t be mean. If you go away for the weekend be sure to bring back inexpensive gifts for your friends and fellow teachers.
Gifts are to be opened in private.



Hair and heads should not be touched. If you do so by accident, excuse yourself.



Introductions are less frequent and more meaningful than in the west. The social inferior is addressed first.
Invitations are often less specific than in the west. If attendance and punctuality are important, use a card. If you specifically invite somebody to your house, they will expect to be given a meal there.


Laundry: If done by a man, don’t be surprised if he refuses to wash a woman’s underclothes.
Legs should not be crossed whether sitting on floor or chair in the presence of Thai monks. For men kneel and sit directly on top of your calves. For women sit in a 'mermaid-style' pose, bum on the floor & legs bent to the side of your body, not directly underneath.
Lower the body a little when passing in front of, or between people.



Monks are the most important people in Thailand and must be treated with respect at all times.
Touching of a Thai monk or his robes by a woman is strictly taboo. On a bus women are not permitted to sit next to a monk.



Names: Use a person’s first name, not the family name. Adults should be addressed as Khun, for both male and female, unless a title is used.



Parties: Dress appropriately; do not wear black unless at funeral.
Pass objects with the right hand, touch left hand to right forearm if extra respect is required.
Thai Women never pass directly to monks.
Paying is done after eating/drinking, not before; the invitor pays; if no clear invitation, the superior usually pays. ‘Going Dutch’ is very rare.
Pointing with fingers is acceptable for objects and animals but not for people. Use your entire hand not one finger to indicate which person you want to point out.



Relax : take it easy, especially at the beginning of your stay.
Rice is the lifeblood of Thailand; don’t throw it away in front of Thais.
Royalty must be treated with the greatest respect. Every building has a picture of the King and Queen hanging on the wall somewhere. Thais really do love their King. You will hear the National Anthem played on the TV and radio at 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. every day, as well as in the cinemas before movies. Stand up and stand still whenever you hear it in public. (Visit Lumpini Park just before 6 p.m., you will see hundreds of joggers, but on the stroke of 6 p.m. everyone will stop as though frozen in time and listen to the anthem. The second it's over everyone's off and running again.)



Shoes come off at the door of the main temple building and at all homes. They usually come off in school classrooms too.
Sit in the place you are directed to. Superior in front, inferiors at the back. As a foreigner you will usually have to sit at the front of any ceremonies you attend - look on this as an honour.
Speak gently, do not raise the voice. Shouting will get you nowhere and people will lose respect for you.
Smile and people will like you. A smile can be used to excuse small inconveniences, to thank for small services and to return the wai of children and maids. ( Yes, you can afford to have a maid here. To get someone to clean your room & wash your clothes for you 3 times a week will cost around 1,000 Baht/month )



Temper must be kept. As with shouting, people will lose respect for you if you display signs of anger. So don't get visibly angry, keep it inside until you get home.
Thank you, like ‘ please’, is expressed verbally much less frequently in Thai; a smile is often enough.
Throwing any object is bad manners.
Titles are always used. For example all teachers use 'Ajarn ' + their name. When referring to other teachers use this formula not just their name.



Visiting homes without specific invitation is normal; gifts of fruit, cakes, flowers, etc. are appreciated but not necessary. Shoes are taken off unless requested to keep them on. Casual visitors should always be invited to drink and, if mealtime, to eat.



Wai monks, old people and your social superiors. Do not wai servants, laborers and children. There are several different types of wai used by Thais, the type of wai depends on the social standing of the other person. The lower the head and the higher up the face the hands are held indicates the amount of respect shown. The inferior initiates the wai.
Walk slightly behind monks and old people, not level with them.