It’s one of the foremost reasons why people love to travel – to experience and learn what different cultures are all about. Depending on where you come from you might not have to go far. In various parts of the world cultures can differ wildly from one province, state, or territory to another. However, Southeast Asia, and Thailand in particular, has portrayed an air of mysticism and intrigue for centuries.
Clearly, a lot has changed in the modern era where the tall tales of distant travels to obscure locations has given way to the constant inundation of social media and selfie culture. Sure, some of the mystery is gone, but Thailand is a popular a destination for world travelers as it’s ever been, and if you’re one of them, it’s a good idea to learn a little about the cultural context so you not only avoid coming across as rude, but manage to stay out of prison.
Wai | Cr: www.lib.ru.ac.th
This is mentioned first because it is undoubtedly the first thing you will experience when arriving in Phuket, or anywhere in Thailand. On a basic level it is how Thais greet one another when saying hello or goodbye, however, the wai is a bit more nuanced than that. For example, it is a show of respect and a younger person or someone of lower status is expected to initiate the wai. The elder or higher status person can respond with a wai, a nod or slight bow, or nothing. Where the wai is positioned on the body signifies the importance of the receiver – typical placement is with the thumbs just under the chin and ranges to above the head for someone like a member of the royal family. In settings such as at a convenience store or other business, you’re not necessarily expected to return a wai, but a nod and smile of acknowledgement is best practice. As a non-Thai, you will always be forgiven for a faux paus in this practice, but it’s an easy way to show your respect for the people and culture.
Monks | Cr: storyv.com
If you visit temples or happen to be out and about early in the morning you are likely to encounter monks. Although most Thai males shave their head and don the saffron robe to become a monk for at least a short period, they are shown a great deal of respect when doing so.
There are certain things expected of monks such as refraining from eating meat and touching women in any way. As a female visitor in Thailand it is important to be very prudent in the presence of monks. Dress modestly covering shoulders and legs, keep distant from monks avoiding any contact.
In the early morning monks can be seen walking around with a bowl collecting alms. There are several meanings behind this practice such as monks refraining from engaging in agricultural practices and being generally devoid of possessions (hence the reason they are barefoot), as well as a way for offerers to get good karma for their good deed.
The National Anthem | Cr: dreamstime.com
The national anthem is usually taken quite seriously in Thailand. If you go to a sporting event or movie theater the anthem is played beforehand and people are expected to stand. It is sometimes even played over loudspeakers in random outdoor areas at 8am or 6pm and everyone in earshot will stop walking and stand still in honor.