Cultural Taboos


Cultural Sensitivity

The Thai Monarchy

The King of Thailand, Adulyadej Bhumibol, Rama IX, is revered by the citizens of Thailand. As the longest reigning monarch in the world, he is treated with great respect within proscribed practices and language associated with Thai Royalty. Buddhist and Brahman traditions are combined in ancient Royal Ceremonies.

Lese Majeste. Thailand has strict lese majeste laws. A visitor needs to refrain from discussing the monarchy and royal family in any way that is negative. These restriction include treating any object with a royal image with respect (i.e. bank notes should not be places on the floor or stepped on).

General Behavior

Thais perceive some visitors as insensitive to Thai culture. Dress for both men and women at temples should be appropriate with men in shirts (of any type with sleeves and trousers that are not too short), and women with skirts, sarongs, or slacks to the knee and shoulders covered. In most places, you will not be allowed to enter if you are improperly dressed.

Away from the beach, men walking around bare-chested and women in beachwear strikes the Thais as offensive and arrogant. Your six-pack or exposed belly button is definitely not a turn-on in spite of what you might think. The locals may smile at you, but they’re thinking you’re gauche, clueless, and looking down on them.

In Thai culture, the head is the highest and most important part of the body, As such, lower parts of the body, especially the feet, should not be raised above anyone's head. Placing shoes over someone's head (i.e. on an overhead train rack) is extremely offensive. Pointing you feet at someone is not polite, and bringing your feet near their head is not done. Period.

The Wai Greeting

The traditional wai greeting—placing of the palms together and raising them—follows specific rules. For a polite wai, the tips of the finger should be at nose height, about 2 inches in front of the nose. This position will always be appropriate. A lower position, which you might see Thais make to children, should be avoided. You will be considered lazy and/or impolite. It's better not to make a wai than to do it wrong. A higher position is reserved for monks and people of high status.

  • A younger person initiates the wai with an older person.
  • A lower status (i.e. govenrment position) wais an higher status.
  • All wais (except made by service personnel at hotels, etc.) should be returned. You may choose to return the wai to a service person, but you do not initiate it.
  • You wai each individual, not a group.
  • Wais to monks are usually done in threes while kneeling, bending, and touching the floor with your palms between each wai.
  • If the monk is standing or walking, a single wai with a slight bow of the the head is appropriate.