Thailand is one of the most amazing places you’ll ever visit. Of course the temples and islands are incredibly jaw dropping, but the culture and way of life is just as awe inspiring. Thai people are very kind and patient, heck, their country’s nickname is ‘The Land of Smiles’. Being in their presence will make you want to mimic this peaceful behavior. There are a few other ways of life that you should mimic out of respect for the Thai people and their culture. I learned some of these before even leaving the airport, and others through the local people. It’s important to remember that just because you come from a country with many liberties, doesn’t mean you can take those liberties with you while you travel.
1. Buddha is NOT a Decoration
Before you even leave the airport you will see these signs. Buddhism is Thailand’s main religion. It is deeply ingrained into their culture and it should be recognized with the utmost respect. There are many different styles of Buddhas, as they are each person’s own depiction of this spiritual guide. He is not a god, but the most respected figure in the Buddhist culture. It is considered highly disrespectful to use a Buddha’s image on decoration items such as on towels, shoes, dog beds, etc…
2. Tattoos of Buddha = NO ENTRY
Expanding on how Buddha is not a decoration, if you have a Buddha tattoo, you may be denied access into the country. If you have one of these tattoos, hide it, cover it with make up, do what ever you gotta do to keep it from being seen for your entire trip. Otherwise, you could face deportation! It’s serious out here.
3. Avoid Touching Other’s Heads or Hair
In the Buddhist religion, your head is the most important part of your body. It is considered rude to touch a stranger’s head, and even a statue’s head- especially one of Buddha’s. Touching a child’s head may be a sign of endearment in the western world, but it may be not be perceived that way in Thailand. Like most cultures, elders are the most respected, so touching a child on the head or hair isn’t as big of a deal. If you are volunteering with kids, as a precaution, always ask before touching their hair to comb or braid it.
4. Feet 101
As you move lower from the head on a body, the body parts become less important, leaving your feet to last. In Buddhism, your feet are considered very dirty and you should never show the bottoms to people. When sitting, try to keep the bottoms unseen or on the ground. Never put your feet up on furniture and never raise them above someone’s head. Don’t use them to pick things up or to point with, as this may be considered a cool trick in America, it is seen as very rude in Thailand. When entering temples and local’s homes, always be sure to remove your shoes.
5. How to Wai Correctly
A local in Chiang Mai taught me the correct way to respectfully bow, or wai, to strangers. First off, you don’t wai to vendors in the market, other service workers, or very close friends. Start out by placing all 5 fingers completely together as if to pray. Make sure to close all fingers tightly with no gaps, keeping your thumbs close to your index fingers. Place your thumb on your face and bow half way. Always look down while bowing and lower your hands to your chest while standing up. For elders and parents, place your thumb near your nose. For monks, being the most respected, you raise your thumb higher up to your forehead. You don’t typically wai to children, but if you feel its appropriate or are returning a wai, lower your thumbs to your chin. If someone wai’s to you, be sure to return it. And try to have your hands free of objects while doing so.
6. Respect Monks Highly
Monks are the most important people in Thai society, second to Buddha. When passing a monk, one should always wai with their thumbs to their forehead. Monks always accept donations of all kinds, especially food and money. If you come across a monk begging- he’s not really a monk. He’s a panhandler. Try not to support this foul habit. Be weary of false monk blessings on the street for donations, as well.
7. Stay Peaceful
If that monk trying to sell you something or begging for money starts to get upset with you, then you really know it’s not a monk. It is considered highly rude to get angry in public. Do your best to refrain from yelling and showing anger in public places. The Thai like to pass on happiness through a smile, so share one frequently, and return a smile if one is offered to you- even during negotiations at the market. PDA is highly frowned upon, as well. You make think you’re sharing the love, but the locals don’t see it that way. Surprisingly, hand holding and hugging is not favorited in public either.
8. Dogs Everywhere
You might notice the number of stray dogs across the country. It is a serious problem- one the monks are working on! Most dogs frequent temples at feeding time for a meal from the monks, while others hangout all day. The monks are helping people and share whatever they can. In this case, it’s leftovers. Sometimes its adorable outfits. Most of these dogs love to be pet, but make sure to use hand sanitizer afterwards!
9. The Silverware Situation
In Thailand, and other surround countries, the spoon is the only thing you should eat your food with. A fork is given to help guide the food onto a spoon and to chop the food, if needed. There are no knives! The proper way to hold your silverware is with the fork in your left hand and the spoon in your right. Chopsticks are also used, primarily with noodle dishes.
10. Elephant Trekking and Tiger Temples
I know it looks like the time of your life, but please, please, please, do not visit or volunteer at these terrible places! Elephants and tigers are both endangered due to habitat removable and from being seized from the wild. The elephants are beaten and forced to carry heavy loads (aka tourists) that their spine is not built for. If they aren’t being tortured with a knife like hook while trekking, they are tied on cement with a 2 foot chain. The tigers are bred soley for tourist’s entertainment. Once they are too big to take pictures with, they are either killed or thrown into tight cages with other tigers- which puts a lot of stress on them, being solitary animals. Despite what you may believe, unfortunately, they were not rescued and they are not for conservation replenishment for the wild. They live a terrible life in captivity, because of tourists who will pay to pet them. Not to mention the black market of tiger blood and pelts, which tigers in similar places are bred for. If you love animals, never participate in their exploitation. 💔 If you are interested in visiting elephants, consider more humane places like elephant nature park, to give a rescued trekking elephant some love.
You should be all prepared to have the time of your life in Thailand now! From the jungle mountains of Chiang Mai, to the busting metropolis of Bangkok, all the way to the sparkling ocean islands of Phuket. There is adventure for everyone here in Thailand, it’s impossible to miss it. More Thailand blogs coming soon! Subscribe below to avoid missing them!
2 BONUS THINGS I WISH I KNEW! (really because I forgot about them while originally writing this post :0)
12. The Come-hither Wave
Many times we motion for others to come to us with a finger or all four fingers cupping inward to our palms. In Thailand, this is seen as more of flirtatious invitation or a sexual advancement. I’d avoid using this gesture while visiting Thailand!
13. Thai Belly
The food in Thailand is insanely delicious, however, your stomach will most likely be mildly upset for the duration of your trip. I’m not sure if its the introduction of an unpleasant amount of new bacteria or the fact that curry is a natural laxative (probably the latter), but you will be using the bathroom more frequently than normal. It is so common for tourists to feel these symptoms, that there is an actual term for it: Thai Belly. Remember to stay hydrated! It shouldn’t affect your vacation at all, so if it is more than mild, seek medical attention.
5 Additional Things I Shouldn’t Have to Tell You
1. Don’t carry your passport
2. Don’t drink the water
3. Wash your fruit thoroughly before cutting
4. Haggle in the market!
5. Don’t buy endangered species products (ie. ivory)
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