When you are traveling to Thailand, locals don’t expect you to be perfectly polite Thai way. However, it's important to know the basics of local culture before your trip in order to better understand Thai people.
10 things about Thai culture Thais would love you to know before traveling to Thailand
1. Thais love the King
Thai people have a true and deep feeling of love and respect for the King as he has done a lot of good things for the country and Thai people. The King and the Royal family are held in a very high regard and they should never be criticized or offended.
2. Thai-style greeting 'Wai'
‘Wai’ and saying 'Sa-Wad-Dee’ is the way of Thai greeting instead of shaking hands. ‘Wai’ is an action when you put both your hands together to the chest level and bend the head to bring the hands and nose together while saying 'Sa-Wad-Dee’ to show respect for elders or people of a higher social status. If someone Wai you first, you should return the Wai.
3. Thai smiles
Thai people do actually smile a lot. It’s the culture. They are taught to be kind and friendly. You can see Thai smile everywhere and almost in any situation, even if they are sad or just don’t understand you.
4. Age and status
Thais are very conscious of age and status. They will address other people as senior to them ('Pi') or junior to them ('Nong').
5. Physical contact
Compared to Westerners, Thais are not given to much physical contact. Avoid touching people unless you know them very well.
6. Kissing in public
Forget about what you might see in Pattaya or Phuket, traditional Thai people are actually conservative in many ways. Thais don't show too much affection in public. Kissing in public is considered completely inappropriate, even in a big city like Bangkok. Nowadays, it is more open for a couple to show the expression, but still uncommon.
Every Thai has a nickname. They do not address to people by calling their last names. It’s more common to address each other by nickname or followed the first name. When you talk to somebody in a respectful way, you can use "Khun" (mean Mr., Mrs., and Miss) which is a polite form that can be used to address anyone.
8. Using flatware
Thais don't really use chopsticks often, only occasionally with noodles. Thais use a spoon and a fork, but not like westerners do. You should never put the fork into your mouth - Thais use it only for pushing the food onto the spoon. If you can’t use it this way, locals most probably won’t judge you because you are a foreigner. However, there are few meals that can be eaten by hand - sticky rice and most likely Isan food.
9. National anthem
In Thailand, you will hear the Thai national anthem played every day at 8am and 6pm when the national flag is also raised and lowered. It is played on every TV, radio, at schools and in most other public areas such as BTS stations, MRT stations and weekend markets. Don't be surprised to see everyone automatically stopping what they are doing and standing still until the anthem ends. They show respect to their country this way.
It is considered very disrespectful to step in a house with shoes on. The same rule applies to the temple - everyone is expected to be barefoot inside the main building of the temple as it shows respect to Buddha.
For more information on your expected behaviour in Thai temples, read our guide Etiquette for Visiting Temples in Thailand.