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Thailand Culture and Religion

The Land of Smiles is called such for good reason. This is a friendly and non confrontational society and much more conservative than the average Westerner in terms of social behavior, dress, religion and sexuality. Given the large amount of tourists traveling Thailand each year, many visitors are mostly ignored or forgiven when disregarding the culture in Thailand, as well as its moral norms. A good indication of the tolerance of the Thai people.

The Land of Smiles
Thailand, The Land of Smiles

However, when in Thailand do like the Thais. Any sign of a foreigner trying to commit to Thai culture and customs, irrespective of how horribly you may fail, will always be received with excitement, friendliness and gratitude for the effort. Despite the reputation of a liberal attitude toward sex and the sex trade, which will certainly be found in some areas of Bangkok, some areas of some islands and places like Pattaya, Thais are extremely conservative people.

You will for instance not see a Thai girl in a skimpy bikini anywhere on a beach. Thais are however a very forgiving and tolerant nation, accepting the cultural difference between them and their visitors from other parts of the world. You are therefore allowed to make mistakes which will be accepted and immediately forgiven with a wide Thai smile when offering an apology.

Thai Greeting
Thailand, the Thai Greeting

Thais do not traditionally shake hands, hug or kiss. The “wai” is the traditional form of greeting. Hands are placed together in a prayer-like manner while the head is slightly bowed. “Sawadee Ka” when a female offers a greeting and Sawadee Kap when a male does so, is the verbal Thai equivalent of hello, accompanying the gesture.

The height at which the hands are raised depend on the status of the person you are greeting.

In the case of equals, hands are only raised as high as the chest. In the case of Monks, dignitaries and old people, hands are raised to the nose. Young people and inferiors are not “wai’d” but simply greeted with a slight nod of the head.

Thai's and Confrontation
Thailand, Thai's and Confrontation

Thais are an extremely non-confrontational people and will avoid it at all cost. When you visit this beautiful land, it is important to be patient, respectful and to keep your temper in check.

Thais will experience any indication of anger and aggression as embarrassing and an insult. Getting upset, raising your voice, shouting, swearing and pointing a finger will get you nowhere.

When experiencing this attitude, Thais will simply ignore you, turn their backs and walk away with a smile not intended to indicate they are in a good mood. These proud and friendly people see millions of tourists from all walks of life traveling their country every year. Many of these people are not familiar with Thai custom and tradition of non aggression, non confrontational and politeness, and show total disregard for this beautiful attitude toward life.

Needless to say to what extend Thais have been exposed to behaviour deemed by them as anti-social (as would probably the case anywhere else in the world). One can often not blame them not offering the wide smile they are known for at first contact. Be mindful of their customs and culture and you will experience the most generous reaction in return. Be jai yen (cool hearted) and bring out the best in any Thai.

Thai Smile
Thailand, Thai Smile
The Thai’s most common reaction to most daily social inter actions is to smile. They smile when they are happy, exited, impressed and amused, but also when they are offended, embarrassed, insulted and angry.

Visitors are not always able to interpret the smile they see and can mistake it all too often. Your actions preceding the smile will be a good indicator what the smile represents.

Personal Interaction
Thailand, Personal Interaction
Thais believe the head of the body is sacred. You should therefore never touch the head of a Thai or for instance ruffle the hair of a child.

Standing over someone older then you, a person more wise or senior, is also considered rude. One’s feet are regarded as dirty and the lowest part of the body. When sitting down, never point your feet at a Thai and never put them on a table.

When having food that are eaten with your hands, use your right hand since the left is regarded as unclean. Standing with your arms crossed or waving your arms is also considered boorish.

Thailand Temple & Monks
Thailand Temple & Monks

When entering a temple, or house for that matter, you are expected to remove your shoes and to be fully dressed, meaning wearing a shirt and trousers. Women should avoid bare shoulders and short pants when entering a temple.

Buddha images, no matter how old, small or derelict, are religious objects and must be treated with respect. Do not climb on them, sit on or next to them or put them on the floor.

To be a monk means to be completely detached from any worldly occupations. Women should therefore never attempt to touch a monk or speak to one. If a woman have to give a monk something, it would be better to place it on a table where the monk can pick it up by himself. Do not offer them money, it means nothing to them.

The King of Thailand
The King of Thailand
The King of Thailand is the longest reigning and most revered monarch on the planet. The Thais love and respect their king dearly and unwaveringly.

Whatever you do, never, ever do or say anything insulting about their King. It will not be looked upon lightly.

Long live His Majesty the King Bhumibol Adulyadej the Great.

Thailand Religion
Thai Religion

The primary religion in Thailand is Theravada Buddhism founded 2500 years ago by the Lord Buddha. Buddha which means “enlightened”. It is evident in the culture and behaviour of the Thai people to what extend they have adopted and are influenced by the Buddhist philosophy of simplicity, forgiveness and tolerance. In short, the culture in Thailand is something that can only be admired and appreciated.

  Much of it has to do with the Thai religion, Buddhism, paving the way for how Thais live and conduct them selves. This attitude toward life and other people is, apart from their scenic country, part of the reason why it is such a safe and popular tourist destination.

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Tel: +66 86 762 0662 | Author: George Conradie