What are some of the cultural norms when visiting Thailand? I hear this question often. This is the reason why I compiled a list of ten cultural do’s to remember for those on vacation in Thailand. Some are sort of unspoken rules, while others are just some of my own suggestions. Regardless, when in Thailand remember to do these…
1. Have Fun
First off, have fun (sanuk). After all, you are in Thailand now. Enjoy your trip. There’s plenty of fun things to do in Thailand. Relax and take in the experience. Whether it’s the beach, temples, shopping, dining, museums, amusement parks….there’s something for everybody.
Thailand is famously nicknamed the Land of Smiles. This sort of goes along with having fun, but it’s also much more. Thai people smile for other reasons than having fun. If for some reason you are not having fun, you should still smile. If you do not understand something, keep smiling. Smile when you meet someone. Smile, smile, and then smile some more.
3. Respect the King
I place this one high on the list of things to remember because it is actually the law. Thai people loved their last king. Sadly, he recently passed. I hear mixed opinions about the new king, but I try not to get too political. Face it, this is not your country. Obey the law. Thai baht, the currency of Thailand, is included in respecting the King. His face is on it so don’t mark on it, tear it, or step on it.
4. Take off sandals
You will see sandals outside of residence doors and temple entrances. Thai people take off their sandals before entering these places. You should too. Also, if you haven’t bought sandals for your trip, go buy some. Especially if you are doing any temple viewing, you will be taking them off quite a bit.
5. Learn about Buddhism
Thailand’s population is more than 90% Buddhist. Why not learn a little? Thai people really appreciate those who respect Buddhism. You don’t have to become a Buddhist to enjoy the practice. Visit a temple. Admire the beautiful wats of the country. There is never one far away either.
6. Eat Thai food
When in Thailand, eat as the Thai eat. Just to be clear, not all Thai food is spicy. There are plenty of other foods to eat also. In fact, Thailand has a huge variety of fruits. Some you may have never seen before. However, if you do like spicy food then your are in luck as Thailand is known for some of it’s spicier dishes. Go easy at first, you may think you like it it hot until you see how crazy spicy a dish like Som Tum Papaya is.
7. Learn Thai language
At least learn how to say hello. Perhaps also thank you. I highly suggest buying a phrasebook for traveling in Thailand. It will probably come in handy. There are better books than just the travel ones if you actually want to start learning Thai, but at least buy something that will help you say some basic greetings. You can even just go online and jot a few things down if you wish.
8. Make merit
Yes, I said you do not have to become a Buddhist, but how about making some merit? Buddhists believe in karma. To achieve good karma they do what is called making merit (or tham bun). It can be something small or even something you would have done anyway. Consider making a small donation at a temple. My wife will feed stray cats. That’s one way she makes merit amongst others. Just do it with good intentions in heart and mind, though.
9. See elephants
Thailand is a country shaped like an elephant. Look at a map. These animals are absolutely amazing. They are known for their intelligence and social tendencies amongst themselves. It’s even said they are emphatic. It was one of the top things I wanted to do my first time in Thailand, and I suggest it here also.
10. Make friends
I only placed this last on the list because of the possible language difficulties. However, in the tourist spots you are more likely to meet Thai people who can speak English. Why not chat one up? Do it in a respectful manner and you may just make a new Thai friend.
Best of luck in your travels to Thailand. It is a fantastic place to make memories that will last a lifetime. Remember this list when you go, and you’ll be fine.