Learn the traditional greeting of Thailand

How to "Wai" Properly in Thailand

Different cultures have different ways of greetings. Some shake hands, some hug, and some peck on cheeks when they meet. Each culture has their version of greeting that vary according to the respect that person demands.

Respect is determined by age, status in society, for example, monarch, emperor, etc., or their contribution to society.  

Imagine while you are mid-way curtsying, other people draw hands out to shake. You don't want to get into any awkward encounters; hence, it's best to develop a little idea of what is culturally appropriate and frowned upon in the country you intend to visit.

It is customary in Thailand to greet in a Wai. It is a traditional greeting of the kingdom, and it can be learned easily. Let's understand the history behind Wai before we learn how to perform the right style of Wai.


Thai Greetings - Wai


What is the Wai?

Wai is pronounced as 'Why,' and it is a traditional greeting in Thailand. It is a way to show someone respect in Thai culture. As a foreigner, you aren't expected to Wai everyone you meet. It is usually paired with hello, which is a Sawasdee.

When to Wai?

Wai is not just greeting each other in Thai culture, but you will witness people Wai each other to show gratitude, apologize, bid goodbye, and even when passing particular places.

You will see Thai folks Wai all spirit houses like temples, shrines, and monuments. Anything associated with the monarchy is also respected back with Wai.

It is difficult for a tourist to develop an understanding of Wai in such a short time. However, when someone Wai you, you can greet them back in the same fashion.
In Thai culture, respect is associated with age. Hence it's safe to Wai elders, but it is not suitable to Wai a child.

How to Wai?

In the traditional fashion of Wai, bring your palms together, so every finger touches the corresponding finger of the other hand. Bring your hands close to the midsection of your chest, keeping parallel to the shoulder.

Now bow your head until the nose touches your middle or index finger. This is one of the most traditional Wai poses. It is not required to bend at the hips.

Men and women Wai slightly differently. Women give a little bend in their knees while they Wai; however, men bend their head only.


Thai people Wai


Types of Wai

Generally, there are three methods of Wai observed across Thailand. The first and most common is the one mentioned above, with the slight bend of the head. It is used among friends and people who have the same social status as yours.

Second, a slightly formal version is Wai touching your forehead with index finger and thumb touching the nose. 

Third and used with monks, monarchs, and individuals who demand respect is the most formal version of Wai. In this Wai, you bring your head lower to touch your thumb between the eyebrows while your palms are resting near your chest.


Wai to Monks