5 Cultural Tips for Visiting Thailand

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The “Land of Smiles” is enchanting. Thailand is a country filled with beauty, wonder, culture and religion. It is unlike that of the western world, and adheres to different standards and cultural norms. Without a doubt, this country will leave a mark on you well after your visit. However, it is important that people coming to visit this tropical and magnificent place are aware of what is socially acceptable and respect the traditions which infiltrate life here. To help out, we’ve put together a list of five cultural tips for your visit to Thailand.

Cultural tips for Thailand

Photo via Flickr Creative Commons: Greg Walters

1. Dress politely

While this may seem like a vague notion, “polite” dress is expected in most places in the country. This means for women, shoulders and knees must be covered when entering into religious places. It also means that dressing more conservatively is considerate of the culture regardless of where in the country you’re visiting. For ladies, it means nothing too skimpy. It may be hot, but dressing in scantily clad outfits is insulting and inconsiderate to the culture of Thai people. Even on beaches, Thais abstain from bathing suits and instead wear clothing. While it is acceptable for westerners to wear swimsuits on the beach, as soon as returning to town, please cover up again.

2. Take off your shoes

When visiting wats or temples, shoes must be removed. In addition, it is likely you will encounter many stores and offices where a line of shoes lie outside the door. Please take note of that and remove your shoes before entering into the building. Keeping your shoes on when it is clear they should be removed is offensive and disrespectful.

3. Ladies, never touch a monk

When visiting wats or interacting with monks, it is important than women refrain from ever touching them. If a women touches a monk — even accidentally — the monk must fast and go through a cleansing ritual. Even passing alms must go through a man before reaching the monk.

4. Be polite

Thai culture largely centers around the notion of “losing face.” If you ask a Thai person for directions, and they don’t know, chances are they will still give you directions. Arguments do not occur in public. Yelling does not occur in public. Situations must be handled delicately if there is a miscommunication or other issue so people do not feel like they are losing face in front of others. Don’t pick a fight, don’t argue, and certainly don’t accuse anyone without being aware of this cultural norm.

5. Show respect for the Royal Family

In Thailand, it is against the law to criticize the King and his family. Visitors must show respect to him. At the beginning of the work day and at the end of the work day, the Thai national anthem plays. During this time, show your respect by standing up and still and being silent. In addition, anyone who speaks negatively or defaces images of the royal family faces imprisonment. Be sensitive to the political situation as well, and in most cases, it is best to not impart opinions on the subject.

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