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Culture and Religion in Thailand

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

    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 and gratitude. Despite a reputation of a liberal attitude toward sex and the sex trade which can be found in parts of Bangkok, some islands and places like Pattaya, Thais are extremely conservative. You will for instance never see a Thai girl in a skimpy bikini. Thais are however a tolerant nation, accepting the cultural difference between them and their visitors. You are therefore allowed to make mistakes which will be accepted with a famous Thai smile.
  • Thai Greeting (Wai)

    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 Krap 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

    Thais avoid confrontation at all cost and it is therefore important to keep your temper in check. They will experience any indication of anger and aggression as embarrassing and an insult. These friendly people see millions of tourists from all walks of life in their country every year, many of which are not familiar with their non-confrontational custom and show total disregard for this such attitude. Be jai yen (cool hearted) and bring out the best in them.
  • 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. Your best course of action here is to also smile, to be polite and discard confrontational attitudes.
  • Social 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, or 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 showing toward them. 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. Thais have a very polite way of inter-acting, especially when dealing with older people. You will do well and earn their acceptance when following their example.
  • 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 posessions. 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 is the longest reigning and most revered monarch on the planet. The Thais love and respect their king dearly and unwaveringly and when you have lived here long enough it becomes clear why. Whatever you do, never, ever do or say anything insulting about the king. It will not be looked upon lightly. Although the grand palace is located it Bangkok it is used for ceremonial purposes only. His Majesty the King Bhumibol Adulyadej the Great resides in his palace in Hua Hin, hence referred to as the royal town located 2 hours south of Bangkok where you can see it when entering the town by car.
  • Thailand 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 behavior 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 way religion influences Thai attitude is something that can only be admired and appreciated and evident in how Thais live and conduct them selves. This attitude toward life and other people is, apart from their scenic country, partly why it is such a safe tourist destination.
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