Thai people are known for being friendly and hospitable, tourists are usually given a warm welcome to the country.
Although Thai people are generally very tolerant, it is important to respect their beliefs and laws whilst visiting the country in order not to cause offense or encounter any legal issues.
As Thai culture is likely to be very different from that which western visitors are used to, some travelers are worried about cultural misunderstandings or even breaking the law.
Although doing or saying something which would be considered acceptable back home may be seen as inappropriate or impolite in Thailand, tourists can easily avoid such situations.
By following these straightforward dos and don’ts foreigners can enjoy their stay in Thailand and get along well with the local population.
Respect the Thai Monarchy and Buddhism
The first thing to bear in mind is that the royal family is of great importance to the people of Thailand. It is therefore essential that tourists show respect towards the king and all other members of the royal family.
In fact, insulting the Thai monarch is a criminal offense so visitors should be extra cautious.
As over 90% of the population of Thailand are Buddhist, this religion plays a central role in the life of the country’s inhabitants.
All images of the Buddha are considered sacred and should be respected, failure to do so could result in imprisonment. Monks are therefore also held in the highest esteem and should be shown great courtesy at all times.
How to Dress When Visiting a Temple
Thailand’s beautiful temples feature on most tourists’ travel itineraries. Spending time at the temples can be a truly enriching experience which offers a great insight into the importance of Buddhism to the country.
When visiting the temples dressing correctly is of utmost importance. Everyone must:
- Take their shoes off before entering a temple
- Wear clothing which covers the shoulders and knees such as long trousers/skirts and shirts
In fact, conservative dress is recommendable throughout a trip to Thailand, men shouldn’t wear vests and women should also choose tops with sleeves and not expose too much skin.
Head and Feet Etiquette in Thailand
In Thai culture, the head is considered to be the cleanest, and most sacred, part of the body, whilst the feet are the lowest and dirtiest.
Because of this, there are certain gestures which must be avoided or risk causing offense:
- It is frowned upon to touch another person’s head, including ruffling a child’s hair
- The feet should not be used to point at anyone or anything, or placed on a table
Tourists shouldn’t worry too much if they accidentally do one of the above. Thai people are known for being understanding, recognizing that Western culture is very different from their own, and will accept an apology.
What to Wear and How to Behave at the Beach
In order to enjoy Thailand’s idyllic beaches without any issues, it is essential that tourists abide by the following beach etiquette:
- Wear bathing suits when on the beach, do not sunbathe nude
- When going into town straight from the beach, coverup using a sarong, wrap or t-shirt and shorts/trousers
- Don’t walk barefoot from the beach to the town or shops
- In certain areas of the country, particularly in the south close to the border with Myanmar, it is recommendable to select more conservative swimwear
Other Behavior to be Avoided in Thailand
Some travelers planning a trip to Thailand are concerned about getting into trouble for public displays of affection which are considered normal in their home country.
As Thai people are generally conservative, public displays of affection should mostly be limited. Although, unlike a few years ago, it is not a problem for couples to hold hands, kissing in public is frowned upon. Kissing or holding hands within temple grounds is not considered acceptable.
Jai yen, the Thai expression which means ‘cool heart’ is tied into the idea that confrontation and anger are undesirable. Visitors are advised to stay away from disputes and, whenever possible, remain calm.
Thai Laws Most Commonly Broken by Tourists
Being unaware of certain Thai laws can result in tourists inadvertently engaging in illegal activity. Some of the laws most likely to be broken by foreigners are:
- Underage drinking: the legal drinking age in Thailand is 20
- Using a drone to take photographs without permission
- Smoking at the beach: smoking has been banned at 24 beaches across Phuket, Pattaya, Koh Samui, Prachuap Khiri Khan, Chon Buri, and Songkhla provinces
- Leaving litter on the beach or dropping it on the sidewalk
- Overstaying the Thailand visa results in a fine and may even cause a foreigner to be banned from entering the country in the future
By following the above guidelines and showing courtesy and respect to the Thai people, their customs and their laws, travelers can enjoy a fulfilling and hassle-free stay in the country.