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Do's and Don'ts in Thailand for First-Timers - Smiling Tuk Tuk

Do’s and Don’ts in Thailand for First-Timers

If you’re doing this research about dos and don’t in Thailand, be proud of yourself. You are like a good student! A culturally responsible person! Often enough, Thai people see visitors doing what we consider indecent or inappropriate in public. Sometimes, they’re caught on a camera and become a news topic on TV! Following rules of Thai etiquette doesn’t only prevent you from offending Thais, but will also save you from being ‘obnoxious farang (foreigners)’ and earn you praises and smiles. To help you prepare for your first visit to Thailand, here’s our round-up of dos and don’ts in Thailand.

To experience local ways of life and authentic Thai culture, let a Thai culture expert like Smiling Tuk Tuk guide you. Our tours are catered to your interests, wether you love to experience Thai village lives, eat local food, or explore beautiful naturewe have all figured out for you.



#1 Do’s in Thailand

Take off your shoes

In Thailand as well as many Southeast Asian countries, taking shoes off before entering a home or temple is a must. A good advice: bring some simple footwear that you can easily slip on and off. For Thai people, shoes are known to carry germs and dirt. They are also associated with the feet, which are the lowest part of the body. (We’ll talk about the feet thing later.) Thai people are accustomed to sitting on floors. Leaving shoes in front of the door, keeping the inside of the home clean makes sense. You may even see Thai people washing their feet the first moment they get home.

In shops and restaurants, you may also need to take off your shoes. If you’re not sure wether to take them off or not, just check if there are piles of shoes at the entrance, or if the staff are wearing shoes.



#2 Do’s in Thailand

Dress Properly (Especially women)

In this tropical heat, you may think it makes sense to wear as little clothes as possible. But that’s not what Thai people think. You might see Thai women, especially teens, wearing Daisy Dukes shorts, spaghetti tops, and tight sexy dresses. But notice the majority of Thais don’t wear such attire, especially outside of Bangkok. Tight and skimpy clothing can offend many people, specifically the elders. No one will say anything, but know that you’ll be considered offensive and judged.

As liberal as as you may believe Thailand to be, the reality is quite different. A double standard applies between men and women. Women are scrutinized more than men. That’s why we focus on women’s attire. Men get more slack in this department (excluding temple visits). But this doesn’t mean men should wander in a city topless. You will see shirtless local men working on the streets, but they only do this on their home territory.

Unlike Islamic countries where the dress code for women is clear, it’s hard to define what is proper attire for Thailand. But if you want to play (super) safe: wear tops that covers your shoulders and bottoms that covers your knees. This dress code is strictly applied for both men and women when visiting temples. On islands and beaches, known to be farang’s (a local word for Caucasians) turf, it’s acceptable to wear bikinis, but don’t go topless. At waterfalls, which are more visited by Thai tourists, you’ll find local women in dark-color T-shirts and shorts for swimming. Follow their lead.



#3 Do’s in Thailand


Wai, the head slightly bow with the palms pressed together in front of the chest, is an internationally-known Thai greeting. It’s usual not to wai people of the same age or younger. But if you meet an elderly, for the first time or not, a wai is expected. If people wai you, you’re expected to return a wai. If you can say hello in Thai, sa-wad-dee, you’ll earn extra likes.



#4 Do’s in Thailand

Eat rice with a spoon

In Thailand, we eat everything with a spoon in the right hand and a fork in the left hand, especially with rice. Thais will you at you strangely if you eat rice with a fork. You’ll even see Thai people eating pasta with a spoon! Chopsticks are used for noodle dishes. Except for in a fine dining restaurant where foreign clientele is expected, you’ll be given fork and knives.



#5 Do’s in Thailand

Show respect to monks

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To greet a monk, you also wai but the palms are pressed in front of your head, not in front of your chest like you wai people. It’s OK to wai a monk even though you’re not a Buddhist. Women cannot touch monks and even their robes. You also cannot hand anything to a monk. If you want to give something to a monk, you’ll have to put it on a cloth for the monk to receive it.



#6 Do’s in Thailand

Keep cool

Losing your temper in the West can get you results, but in Thailand, it gets you nowhere. In Thailand, lots of things don’t go according to plan, you’re better off just letting it slide. You’ll be surprised by Thai people’s attitude of ‘mai pen rai’ (It doesn’t matter.) Thai people can accept many things that you as a Westerner would consider unacceptable.

Thai people are very uncomfortable with direct confrontations. It’s just not the way things works here. When negotiating with a Thai, try your best to relax and keep calm. If you start to freak out or complain, you may find that your conversation partner disappears. What you should do is keep smiling and think of it as a fun game. But if you’re in a high-class service oriented business meeting international standards, then complain away!



#1 Don’ts in Thailand

Point with your feet

Thai people consider feet the lowest part of the body. They’re also thought to be dirty. You shouldn’t use your feet to point or push something to a Thai. Feet must not be raised higher than somebody’s head. That’s why you shouldn’t put your feet on a desk or on top of the seat in front of you when you’re on a bus or a van. Avoid pointing feet at elders, monks, Buddha statues. In fact, when you sit on a floor, don’t point your feet to anyone at all.



#2 Don’ts in Thailand

Touch somebody’s head

Heads are considered the highest and the most sacred part of the body. They shouldn’t be touched, especially if people wear Buddha or other kinds of amulets on their necks. This includes touching a child’s head, unless you know them well. When you walk pass someone, especially an elder, who is sitting, ducking down a bit shows that you keep this idea of heads being sacred in mind. When you dry underwear on a rope or a rack, make sure to hang them below head’s level.



#3 Don’ts in Thailand

Toss things to people

Tossing an object or money in someone’s direction is rude. Take time to hand things to people properly.



#4 Don’ts in Thailand

Display affection in public

Many Thai people are conventional. Holding hand is fine. But kissing on the lips in public is a taboo in Thailand. You’ll be frowned by many Thais if you do that. Physical contact with a stranger is never preferred, especially between genders. (Unless it’s unintentional like on a crowded bus or train.) That’s why we don’t shake hand when we greet.


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