The most interesting customs in Thailand

photo by Mark McElroy on Flickr

Unless you are only interested in tourist attractions when you are visiting a country, Thailand will prove to be a great choice of destination not only because on its sights, but also thanks to its completely fascinating culture. Many travelers like to experience a country’s customs and traditions,  see how people live in other corners of the globe, and possibly even learn something useful. Being curious about a culture and showing interest in participating in customs, or adopting various practices while you’re on the road is a sign of respect. So if you want to get to know Thailand better and delve more deeply into this lovely country’s culture, here are some of the most interesting customs in Thailand that you can see and experience for yourself while you’re there.

Wai

Although Thailand is the kind of tropical paradise where everyone from any part of the globe feels welcome and English is widely spoken, traditional culture is still there to stay, and maybe one of the most visible signs of it is the traditional greeting, the wai. There are five types of wai, depending on whm you are greeting: the royal wai (it’s unlikely that you will meet members of the royal family though), holy wai (performed at religious sites), ender wai (when greeting older people, or those with a higher social status), equal wai (used among peers and people of equal status), and response wai (when responding to the greetings of younger people). It’s all about the social pecking order! If you’re afraid that you might wai the wrong way, it’s better not to wai at all – as a foreigner, you are allowed to not wai.

Careful with the head

photo by Akuppa on Flickr

In Thai culture, the head is considered to be the purest and most important part of the human body, and therefore worthy of far more respect than say, your hands. This is why it is seen as very impolite to touch someone else’s head, even if it’s a child. Even stepping on a coin is bad manners, because it has the emperor’s head on it! Feet are the polar opposite, and are seen as impure, so never touch or point at someone with your foot, or sitting with your feet pointed at a Buddha statue or other religious symbol is very impolite.

Touching monks

In Thailand, monks are forbidden any sort of contact with women, even if by accident. So if you are female, even if you’re a foreigner you are expect to give monks a wide berth. Thai women are always careful to give way to monks on the street, and even when making an offering to a monk they must put the offering at the monk’s feet.

Staying positive

Wat Traimit, photo by MShehan on Flickr

Public display of anger or disagreement is simply not done in Thailand. A serene and positive attitude is the way to act, and even if you are displeased with something you are expected not to show it. Thai people will have a smile on their face most of the time, because the idea of ‘fun’ is essential in Thai culture: whatever you do, it should be fun. It’s important not to cause someone to lose face and always deal with disagreements with a smile and “mai pen rai” – it doesn’t matter. Considering that being a pessimist is rather widespread in the ‘west’, keeping a positive attitude is definitely one of the most interesting customs in Thailand.

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