Having a basic understanding of Thai Etiquette

Etiquette in Thailand

Thailand is a land of friendliness and hospitality. It is also a land of traditions and customs that are different from those of the Western world. As a foreign traveller, you might not be expected to be a master of the complex world of Thai etiquette.

However, having a basic understanding of Thai etiquette, e.g. what is acceptable, what is frowned upon, and what is outright taboo can make a big difference in your tour.

As in many Asian cultures, the concept of face plays a large role. Showing strong negative emotions in public, you will certainly lose face and look bad.  You will also find that this sort of behavior is not productive in accomplishing a happy tour. Avoid doing anything that may cause you or your Thai friends to lose face.

It is not common to touch someone’s hand when greeting them. The typical Thai greeting is called the Wai, and involves pressing your palms together and bowing your head slightly. Typically, the person of lower status offers the Wai. Thais of very high social status, such as monks, are not expected to return the Wai.


Thai Greetings


Daily life etiquette

Thai culture and etiquette in Thailand is strongly hierarchical. Respect must be shown to those of higher social status, and to elders. Education, profession, age, and clothing all help to place a person within this hierarchy and to shape the way that that person is treated by others. However, as a traveller, Thai etiquette is not difficult to learn and understand. Common sense and enough respect will help a lot.


Thai people give a respectful wai when they meet their relatives, friends or acquaintances. They put the palms of our hands together and raise them up, at chest level for equals, nose level for people older or whom they respect, and forehead level for people they highly respect. As you do this, you should bend your head down a little to the raised hands.

In Thai etiquette younger people are expected to give older people a wai first. The latter then return the wai, at chest level. Being older, they do not need to bend their heads.

Visiting someone

According to Thai etiquette, you should always inform the person about your intended visit, and once you have appointed the time, you should be punctual. Do not visit other people too often. In each visit do not overstay. Greet the host with a wai as you see him and say good·bye with another wai when you are leaving.

As mentioned earlier, feet are thought to be the dirtiest part of body, so we must take off our shoes before entering a house (just like entering the temple). Don't step on the threshold when entering the house. Thais think this will bring bad luck to their family.


Take off shoes before entering the house


Body parts

In most Southeast Asian countries, many customs are universal such as pointing at someone with your finger is regarded absolutely rude. You should never do that.  Instead, Thai people often point with their chins.

There are also important customs and etiquette surrounding the feet. They are considered to be the lowest and least clean part of the body. You should never show someone the bottoms of your feet, point with your feet, or have your feet higher than the level of someone else’s head.

Public behaviour

Being confrontational, losing your temper, or showing strong negative emotions in public are all considered very negative in Thai etiquette. Winning the respect of others is the most basic. If you can keep calm when things go wrong, you will gain respect.

It is considered rude to lie. Even white lies, which are generally more acceptable in Western culture, are taboo. If someone says something to you that seems a bit too direct, don’t take offense—just understand that honesty is the cultural norm in Thailand.

The king of Thailand is highly respected by the people, and every move of the king is considered extremely serious. Don't show disrespect to the king (even the image on Thai currency), and don't disrespect the flag either. You will be arrested for this kind of disrespect.


Respect for monks in Thailand


Temple etiquette

All temples and images of Buddha are sacred. Temples are not the places to act like an ignorant tourist and mess up a good thing.

Visiting temples

General rules are as follows:

  • Turn off your mobile phone;
  • Remove your shoes before entering the viharn;
  • Dress in a proper way that doesn't expose too much skin;
  • Don't touch sacred objects in the worship area;
  • Don't point at images of Buddha.

Thailand temples typically have peaceful premises in a courtyard that house an ordination hall (bot), prayer hall (viharn), stupas (chedi), living residences (kuti), a kitchen, and perhaps even classrooms or administrative buildings.


Prayer in Thai Temple


The primary area for monks, that contains a Buddha statue, is known as a bot. The bot is often for monks only, while visitors— including travelers —go to the viharn (prayer hall) to pray or see images of Buddha. The monk-only area and the layman area may look very similar in architecture, but fortunately there are some ways to tell the difference. Just look for these things:

  • Signs in English (e.g., reminding you to remove your shoes) is a good indicator;
  • Donation boxes;
  • Other worshipers who aren't monks.

Women may never touch a monk or his robes. Even hugs from a monk's own mother are off limits while he is in monk hood.

Buddha images

Any area that contains a Buddha statue or image is really more sacred than other places in the temple. Most temples have more than one image of Buddha on site.

A few rules of temple etiquette in Thailand should be followed as you enter the main worship area. Remove your shoes before entering. Don't turn your back while near the Buddha statues to snap a selfie! Do not raise yourself higher than the image of Buddha. While sitting, never point your feet at the image of Buddha or other people.

Table manners

If breaking etiquette in the general run of our daily lives can sometimes be overlooked, bad table manners are often difficult to ignore. We eat meals with others, sharing the same table and the same joyful experience.

Respecting table manners is a way to assure a pleasant experience for everyone and to show respect to our tablemates.

If the behavior of violating etiquette in daily life is sometimes neglected, then bad table manners are often difficult to be ignored. We eat with others and share the same table and the same happy experience.

Observing table manners is a way to ensure that everyone has a pleasant experience.

Dinner etiquette

ALWAYS share your food according to Thai etiquette. Whatever you order at a Thai restaurant is for the whole table to share, unless you are at a quick lunch place, where that food will be for each individual.

Eat with your spoon and not your fork; the spoon in your right hand, fork is in your left. Use the fork to push food onto your spoon and put the spoon in your mouth.

Thais mainly eat everything with a fork and spoon. Thais would hold the meatball down with their fork (because the meatball might bounce out of the plate when you try to cut it) while using the side of their spoon to cut the meatball to a bite size, and then would scoop the bite-sized chunk of meatball in the spoon, then eat off the spoon.

Thais eat sticky rice by rolling it into a ball with fingers, while picking up a piece of other food with your fingers in your right hand. Only use the tip of your fingers, no more than two knuckles from the tip, to touch foods.


Thai Dinner Etiquette


Show respect to the owner
Wait for the host or the most senior one at the table before eating. Once they're served and start their meals, you can follow.

When it comes to paying, just follow the same rule: usually, the most senior person (or owner) at the table will pay. Don't argue about the bill and don't try to pay your bill either. Tips are uncommon, but are always commendable.