Thai Customs And Traditions You Should Know

15 Oct 2019

All societies are made up of some set of rules, principles, policies or laws which becomes customs that everyone followsIt is respectful and polite to know what they are wherever you go. Not only will it make those around you feel better, but it will also ensure you make the best of your visit without any unnecessary complications during your stay in Koh Phangan.    

Usually, if you are not familiar with the customs and traditions of where you are, you may do something wrong without even meaning toThe last thing you want is to upset people when you are on vacation or staying in a strange new land. Usually people can be understanding that you are a foreigner, however, sometimes they are not.  

So to make sure you have the best stay possible in Koh Phangan and make the most friends you possibly can, here are some Thai customs and traditions that would be best known before you arrive, not after youve made someone (and yourself) uncomfortable!


The Significance Of The Body

Certain parts of the body are of greater importance and significance than othersThe head is perceived as the most spiritual part of the body, which is why you should never touch somebodys head, not even childrenYou may offend a Thai parent if you ruffle their childs hair, even if you meant it affectionately.    

The feet are the oppositeThey are seen as dirty and symbolically lowNever touch someone with your foot or put your feet on thingsWhen you sit, have the sole of your foot pointing outwards so as to avoid pointing your foot at any personIt is very bad to point your feet at any Buddhist image. Also, never hold doors open with your feet, push a bag along with your feet, or do anything with your feet in place of your hands.  

Pointing a finger or beckoning someone with a crooked finger is seen as impoliteThais point with their lips or push their lips out to indicate a direction insteadIt is also ok to use your whole hand (all fingers outstretched) instead. For example, to beckon someone over your palm should be faced down with all fingers extended and the action from the wrist.

Public displays of affection are not okThai couples dont even hold hands or hug in publicKissing is completely not acceptable.  


Sexual Tolerance And The Acceptance Of LGBT 

Thailand has a strong reputation for having a non-confrontational attitude towards the sexual preferences of individuals. It is a very safe and comfortable place for LGBT travellersIt is not uncommon to see transexuals (aka ladyboys) out in the open and accepted for who they are. Even in mainstream society, they are highly visible, from scantily clad teens to high-profile celebritiesHowever, the first rule of no public displays of affection still stands strong. Anyone can do as they please behind closed doors but out in public is another matter completely.  


No Means No And Yes Means Yes And No

If a Thai person says no outright, they mean noIf a Thai person says yes, it doesnt always mean yes because Thais generally dont like letting others down and will often agree to things even if they dont want toThey may have no intention to follow through with what they have agreed upon but they say yes anyways.  

On a similar note, it is rare for a Thai person to want to admit they dont know something so if you ask for directions, for example, and they tell you them, they wont necessarily be correct. But! You cant call them out on itDo not tell someone they are wrong... just leave it be.  


Family First!

 In Thailand, family always comes first with a greater emphasis placed on the extended family than in western countriesIt is normal for extended families to live near each other and very common for children to be raised by grandparents or aunts and uncles if their parents need to workIt is expected that the younger members will take care of the older members through doing chores and/or financially.  

It is normal to hear people call each otherbrother”, “sister”, “aunt”, “uncle”, “motherandfatheras personal pronounsThey also do this with friends of which there is no blood relation at all, however.  


Mai Pben Rai 

This common phrase means  ‘no problem’, ornever mindbut it doesnt necessarily mean they don't careWhen a Thai saysmai bpen raithey could just be brushing it off because they are not the type of people to display negative emotionsThe person could just be saying it because they don't want to lose face by showing their feelings in public.  


How To Show Respect 

If you visit someone, especially at their home, bring a giftFor example, food - like some nice fruit, or possibly a Western food product that they might.

Always remove your shoes before entering a home because it is a major sign of disrespect if you do not.  



National pride is full-on in ThailandTwice a day theyll play the national anthem and it is expected that people will stop and stand until the song has finishedAlso, if you ever go to a movie theatre youll experience this: before the movie plays, the Kings anthem goes on and everyone must stand for it


Ghosts, Spirits, and Superstitions

Many critical life decisions are based on superstitious beliefs and many superstitions are connected to the belief of ghosts and spirits. It is completely normal for people to consult a monk for the best date for their wedding, buying a home, or even just test driving a car.  

Thais also have a tradition of giving newborn babies a nickname originated from a desire to trick malevolent spirits who may want to steal the baby away. Another one is that you cant attend a wedding if you have had a recent death in the family. Oh yes, and if you dream of numbers you better play them in the lotteryThe list of superstitions can fill a book.



Always give your seat to a monk on public transportationWomen should never touch a monk or directly hand anything to them or sit next to themAll offerings to a monk should be placed into their dish rather than into their hands.  


In the end, dont worry because the Thai are generally pretty tolerant and understand that foreign visitors will sometimes make mistakes. As long as you show respect to the religion and monarchy, and dont yell in public or walk around naked you should be all right.  


Related Topics