While there are many customs in Thailand, most Thai people are used to tourist and can be very tolerant of cultural errors providing it is not insulting towards the monarchy or religion. While the country is full of smiles and sunshine, it can also be a cultural minefield for unintentionally committing a social crime. Here are some definite DO NOTS.
1. Take your shoes off
By far the custom I kept unintentionally break while is Thailand was the No Shoes rule. Whether you are entering a temple or someone’s home, you must remove your shoes before going inside. This is even the case for shops and business. If you forget the reaction can range from an evil death stare to being chased out of the building. Yes I have had them both happen. It is unhygienic to wear shoes indoors and as Buddhists do a lot of kneeling and sitting in lotus position or cross legged, they need the floors to be clean.
2. No patting
The head is considered spiritually the highest part of the body, and the feet the lowest. Touching someone’s head is seen as disrespectful, even little children’s. Although I did not feel the need to go around patting people on the head, I did cringe every time I saw a westerner with their feet up on the table.
3. Respect the King
Disrespecting and even criticizing the king is a criminal offence in Thailand. The Thais love their monarchy. You will see their picture in every business and in every house. Thailand has some of the world’s toughest lese majeste (injured majesty) laws protecting its extremely popular monarch. The national anthem is played at 8am, 6pm and before a movie in the cinema and you are expected to stand. The first time I went to see a movie and everyone stood up, I was very confused. I did actually end up enjoying it. I was moved my the Thais sense of pride and loyalty to a monarchy they love so much and who clearly loves them. Standing on a coin or a note with the king’s face on it is seen as an insult to an image of the king. In 2011 a US citizen was sentenced to two and a half years in prison for writing a blog post seen as disrespectful and posting a link to an unauthorised biography of the king.
4. No PDA
Well everyone who knows me will know this is not a problem for me. Some drunk travellers though… Uhoh!
5. Raise your voice
Generally Thais are usually mild mannered and softly spoken… Unlike us foreigners. Keep your voice down in stores and restaurants and stay calm if you get into a disagreement. Raising your voice causes everyone involved to become embarrassed.
6. Touch a monk
Monks are forbidden to touch women and often won’t even hand them something directly. While men are allowed to be in contact with monks they must keep a respectful distance. No one should stand over, or be positioned higher than, a monk and definitely do not touch their heads!