THAI CULTURE & CUSTOMS
Thai Culture and Customs. You’ve made your dream come true, you are in Koh Lanta. Of course, you want to make a good impression as a new member of the community, or visitor.
Thailand is a well-loved destination, in part, for its gracious culture and friendly, accommodating people.
These attributes are based on code of conduct that it’s important to understand and participate in to the extent of your comfort level and appropriateness of the situation.
Please Try to Avoid
First, there are a few things you can do to avoid offending.
- Do not touch anyone’s head.
- Do not point your feet at anyone; for example, if you are sitting do not stick your feet out directly toward another person. Think of it as, the head is sacred, the feet are lowly.
The Thai people though friendly, are more formal in their body language than westerners. Though it may not offend, it is not mannerly to stand with your feet apart when conversing, stick your hands in your pockets, slouch, or use a casual body position. Crossing one’s legs when sitting is also considered an impropriety.
If, when addressing you’re hosts, you stand, or sit up straight, gesticulate moderately and do not use loud or vulgar language you’ll be considered a valued guest.
The elderly are honored as a part of the elaborate caste system in Thailand’s Hindu-Buddhist tradition. Simple ways to observe this: do not stand too close to a seated, elderly person, or talk to another person over them. This is called, “talking over their head”, and is disrespectful.
It is nuanced understanding and details such as this, which will aid you in integrating into your new community. Watch people, and emulate their deferential manner without condescending. As in any country, people appreciate visitors’ efforts to understand and learn the customs.
Although Koh Lanta’s community is mostly Muslim, these cultural standards come from the Kingdom’s majority’s religion – However, all still apply.
Sawasdee is the standard greeting and can be used at any hour of the day. To be polite, men should say Sawasdee khrap and women, Sawasdee kha. Sawasdee is also is used in parting. If you are addressing a friend or a person about your same age, casually, the word alone is sufficient.
How to Wai
A wai, is an additional gesture for greeting to show various levels of respect. Press your palms together at chest level with the fingertips touching the end of the nose, this is the basic wai. There are three variations.
- For monks and images of the Buddha, lift the pressed palms until the thumbs are on the third eye and the fingertips touch the hairline.
- For parents, teachers and the elderly the thumbs touch the nose and the fingertips are pressed to the third eye.
- For respected persons in general, the tips of the thumbs touch the chin and the fingertips the tip of the nose.
In all wai, keep the palms pressed together, the fingers straight and aligned with the middle body, fingers closed, it is a formal gesture not a wave. Bowing while preforming wai is an intricate ritual, it is best for the novice to bow the head slightly for all wai – You hosts will understand your intent.
Finally, the Thai culture is based on the respect of three precepts: The Nation, Religion and the Monarchy. Show your respect for these institutions with common sense.
When the National anthem is played or the flag raised or lowered, stand still, respectfully and silently.
Honor the temples and monks as you would any house of worship and person who has dedicated their life to service.
Do not speak ill of the monarchy even in jest. For many Thai people their king is akin to the Buddha. Also, in Thailand, it is illegal to criticize the monarchy.
And lastly, please remember that although you are enjoying the beach and the next-to-nothing clothing options found in the sand, please be mindful that Thai people expect you to cover up once you have left the beach. Men, put your shirts back on and ladies, wear a beach cover-up or dress instead of traipsing through town, going to a restaurant or zipping off on your motorbike in a bikini. Remember, Lanta is also a Muslim, Thai island making these standards doubly important to adhere to.
These manners may seem elaborate, but with observation, and the generous spirit of the Thai people as your guide, you’ll feel at home in no time. Sawasdee.