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Thai Culture and Customs in Thailand

The culture of Thailand customs is intrinsically rooted in its religion - Buddhism - its history and the family.

All are deeply linked, but the overwhelming impression of the writer, is that Thai culture is based largely upon respect.

Basic Cultural Information

Respect for the King, the religion, the family and in particular for elders!

The sad fact is, that the average tourist – going to 'tourist areas' will not encounter or notice many of the Thai customs, or cultural necessities which are ingrained in the Thai people, but which have had to be 'diluted' to accommodate the influx of tourists.

For instance, Thai culture will not be visually apparent when visiting the tourist areas of Pattaya or even the Bangkok Metropolis.

The exceptions being the gentle reminders by staff at temples, that short shorts for men – and certainly ladies – are absolutely taboo.

But always accommodating, there will be suitable over-garments which you will be invited to wear in order to conform to the temple culture.

Even this is sadly ignored in major tourist areas, where almost anything is acceptable – even if privately frowned upon by Thais.

Like it or not, foreigners are rarely well informed about cultural etiquette, and worse still are not always invited to conform to such etiquette by the Thai people who are so eager to please the visitor.

Just because you are allowed to 'ignore' some of the customs and culture, does not mean that you should not bother to brush up on it before you visit.

A little respect and knowledge will endear you more to your host Thaïs – sometimes even more so than a tip!

There are Thai customs that you should be aware of if you want a 'comfortable' stay in Thailand.

Thai culture and customs are very, very different to that which is called culture in the west! The 'middle way' is seen as the norm - no extremes. It is a way of life that avoids - frowns - on confrontation and displays of anger.

The Wai

Thailand Customs: Thai lady demonstrates Thai WaiFor instance, the Wai greeting - seen left - is not simply "Hello". There are strict rules and customs about who should offer the Wai to whom, and even how it should be done.

But again, the Thai people are very understanding – and accept that foreigners do not understand the culture of Thailand customs.

The best advice about the Wai is only to do it in return for a Thai doing it to you.

You should never Wai first, for if you do it wrongly – or to a person who should Wai you fist, it will cause embarrassment – even if not shown at the time.

An example being that if you were to Wai a friendly member of your hotel staff, this would cause discomfort, for it is the position of the hotel staff to Wai you first.

If ever in doubt about returning a Wai – it is after all not your normal greeting or show of respect – simply nod (bow) your head briefly as a show of thanks!

That way you do not have to feel uncomfortable or even embarrassed with performing this very cultural greeting – or return of greeting.

By nature, the Thais are kind, accommodating people, often willing to share what little they have - sometimes with complete strangers.

By western standards, they are very relaxed about everyday life. Until you get used to it - and it would be wise to do so - you may find the haphazard treatment of such things as punctuality a little annoying.

There is no rush in Thailand - unless you are in a taxi or Tuk-Tuk!

Mai Pen Rai

Central to the Thai way of life is the short saying "Mai pen rai" (It's all right - never mind - no problem) So, if (when) your meal arrives a little late, don't worry, it will happen, have another drink. "Mai pen rai!" It's a great way of life once you get used to it. Embrace Thai culture and enjoy life!

Traditional Thai Culture

The traditional Thai culture of the country areas will rarely be experienced by the tourist, unless you are lucky enough to be invited or otherwise visit one of the rural areas.

Here you will experience the respect and hierarchy of the Thai family, the Total respect of to The King, and of course to the Thai Buddhist beliefs.

Respect to The King and to Buddha, are the cultural aspects that are still to be seen in even the most 'liberated' areas of Pattaya, Bangkok, and Phuket.

A bar lady, will have no problem in a short prayer offering to any of the many Buddha images. Even doing this whilst still walking.

Thai Food Culture

Thai Food CultureThai Food is of course world famous, and there is a culture in place about all aspects of the provision and consumption of food in the family environment.

You are unlikely to experience this unless invited to a family home.

If you have dinner with Thai friends, you will normally be offered the choicest morsels in preference to others - depending upon status.

Food culture will be described on those pages dealing with food and eating in Thailand. In touristy areas – simply enjoy as normal.

You will need to get used to the fact that if you invite Thai people out for a meal - or even join them for a meal in a restaurant, then the senior person - You! - will normally be expected to foot the bill.

This is all part of the Thai way of life, and should not be taken as a 'skinflint' attitude. Far from it, for the Thais are a very generous race of people.

Thai Business Culture

Business in Thailand is becoming more westernized in this global age. However, in some areas of business, you might find some of the customs a little bit disconcerting.

If you are coming to Thailand to conduct business affairs, you would be totally foolish not to acquaint yourself with the way in which your relevant business is normally conducted.

Culture Dilution

Obviously the 'developing' areas and centres, and those areas that depend - nay thrive - on tourism, are seeing a dilution of the traditional Thai ways.

In these areas, the young Thais are outwardly showing less of their cultural roots. This is the same as with any developing area of the world.

The Family in Thai Culture

The family, elders and respect are all ingrained into the Thai way of life. Sons and daughters still see it as their 'duty' to care - both emotionally and financially - for their parents and other close relatives if needed.

Thai ladies are better in this respect! If parents are wealthy, then this is not the case.

This is basically a big 'Thank You Mom and Dad' for bringing me into the world and looking after me. It is not unusual for Thai working kids to go without in order to maintain their parents.

There is a strict hierarchy in the Thai Family - based mainly upon age. Mama and Papa are obviously at the head, but then the status within the family extends downwards in an age related custom.

It is not unusual for a Thai young lady - even if living away from home - to have to take heed of what older sister or brother says.

It is in the North East and also areas of the North, where traditional Thai culture and customs are visible in everyday life. Here, the family is still very much at the heart of all people.

Certainly in these areas, the bare-chested displays of foreigners in Pattaya would be met with looks of disgust - at least.

Even seemingly harmless holding of hands with a member of the opposite gender would be frowned upon, but not the 'same-sex' touching amongst the females that shows a degree of friendliness.

Modesty in all things is the Thai traditional way, so if you travel to the country areas after a spell in the likes of Bangkok or Pattaya, you will be in for a bit of a cultural experience that will take a little getting used to.

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