The “Wai”

The common form of greeting in Thailand is called the “Wai.” It is done by moving the hands together just under the chin resembling a prayer and dipping the head to varying degrees depending on the status of the person being addressed to show respect. Different levels of respect are given depending on how high you raise your hands and the level at which your head lowers to touch your thumbs. The wai is also used for an apology for social mistakes or inconvenience.

While it is customary for all people to greet each other with a wai it is generally initiated by the younger person in age or status and then reciprocated by the senior person. If there is a great social difference between the people a wai sometimes will not be reciprocated by the other. For example, when greeted by a hostess or waitress in a restaurant it would not be a normal custom to respond. Thais may not expect tourists to initiate a wai, but you should always respond in kind to a wai offered to you.

After your first meet someone during the day and you gesture the wai you should not do it again until you are leaving and will no longer see them during the day. Do not worry if your hands are full, simply raise whatever it is you have or raise one hand and make a great attempt at it. With some everyday practice you won’t even spill your coffee!

Hierarchical Society

Thais show a high regard to hierarchical relationships. In social relationships it is not abnormal for one person being superior to the other. Parents are superior in status to their children, teachers to their students, pastors to their congregation, and bosses to their subordinates. Status can sometimes be determined by clothing, age, job, education, social connections and sometimes just general appearance. Some may even ask you certain questions which would lead to a level of status. When meeting someone with a higher status it is important to speak politely and use respect and of course wai. The elderly in Thai culture are also to be respected. Try not to contradict them in word, deed, gesture or facial expression. Monks are universally paid respect regardless of their age.

Family Values

The family is the cornerstone of Thai society and children are taught to honor their family, especially their parents. The family unit represents a hierarchy of status with the parents at the top. Family life is often more closely knit than in western cultures. In villages, family units often live very close together and farm with one another. A community village resembles a family in many ways. Houses are normally closer together and many people help each other out. While many rural farmers tend to their fields during the day; they will often rejoin in the evening hours. Often meals are done together in families, especially if there is company visiting.

The love and respect of the Royal Family runs deep into the hearts of Thai people and many of those who call Thailand home. Our family mourns with the Thai people.

The Monarchy

His Majesty the King Bhumibol Adulyadej  ภูมิพลอดุลยเดช, passed away October 13, 2016 and is remembered as Thailand’s most beloved King. He was loved and adored by the people of Thailand and the mourning of this great King still continues today.

Thai people have a very tender ego and a deep sense of national independence, pride and dignity. When relating to them, it is best to avoid criticizing Thailand, Thai people and especially the King or Buddha. The respect for the Royal Family runs deep into Thai culture and they love their late King and Royal family. We should also show respect to members of the royal family as well. You should really not talk about the Royal family when Thais are present. Sometimes, even when we are trying to say something positive it may be misinterpreted and could offend Thai people. The National Anthem is played at 8am and 6pm and can be heard from government buildings, parks or university campuses, train stations and even many marketplaces. When you hear the anthem being played everyone stops what they are doing and stands still in honor and respect.

Respect must also be shown to anything that bears the likeness of the King which would include money, stamps, etc. Therefore, you should never step on a rolling coin or money to stop it. You should never disrespect the King, doing so could result in deportation or even severe prison sentences. A film clip of the King is shown before every movie played in theaters. All people must rise and remain standing until the end of the clip or you will be removed from the theater. Thais respect and would never say anything bad about their king or their kingdom, nor should foreigners. The love and respect of the Royal Family runs deep into the hearts of Thai people and many of those who call Thailand home. Our family mourns with the Thai people.

The Head and Feet

The head is considered the noblest part of the body, so avoid any gestures or movements in which any part of your body might touch, cross over, or approach the top of a person’s head. It would be a great insult to touch a person’s head, reach over them or to point at their face. If necessary to reach over someone it would be best to please say excuse me first. If you are a tall person you may need to lean forward a little when speaking with Thais. Anyone passing directly in front of others should dip their head lower. If you must get up and leave a circle of people seated on the floor, keep your head low and move behind the backs of people (outside the circle).

Feet are considered the basest part of the body and are thought to be dirty. Pointing the sole of your foot at anyone is very disrespectful and should always be avoided. The feet must never be used to point at anything or anyone. Don’t allow them to touch anyone or draw attention to them. Avoid the impulse to use furniture as foot rests or open a door with your feet. No one should ever be stepped over, you may politely ask the person to move. Never step over anything (boxes, bags, a coffee table, etc.) unless it is something that should be on the ground. When sitting you should never extend your legs out in front of you. Most men will sit in the squat position, which is actually quite comfortable and relaxed for them, while many women and elderly will fold their legs the side. You may sit cross legged as this is easier for most foreigners.

For respect and overall cleanliness you should remove your shoes before entering anyone’s house. You should also remove your shoes at many roadside shops and pharmacies. The rule of thumb is whenever you see shoes or sandals outside an entrance-way to take yours off as well. When entering a home you should avoid stepping directly on the threshold although the younger generation is now changing on this. When in doubt, it is best to be over respectful and allow the Thai person to show you what is correct.


Thais refer to their dignity as “face.” The concept of face is probably the most important in Thai culture. To keep one’s face is equivalent to keeping ones dignity intact. Americans tend to believe that everyone is born with dignity; the Thai belief is that they have only the dignity that they receive from others. You should take great care in your actions and encounters with Thais as to not lose face. The Thai ego is focused on others and their needs, very unlike the Western Ego. Thai people will go to great lengths to ensure that you nor themselves will lose face. A Thai tends to think his thoughts, feelings, and needs at the moment can be deferred because he knows that perhaps in the future they are likely to be fulfilled.

Thai people will rarely ever confront you if you have offended them. To do so could result in loss of face. Confrontation should always be done with great care and finesse, using a polite and caring heart so you do not shame your friend. Many times confrontation is simply not necessary. Subsequently, It is very bad manners to raise your voice or express anger. Thais value a “cool heart” and a warm smile. These will get you much farther in any situation. In public settings, loud or aggressive behavior is always frowned upon.

Buddhism in Thailand

The largest religion in Thailand is Theravada Buddhism and it is deeply rooted into their culture and everyday life. Buddhist believe that life does not necessarily start with birth and end with death but rather a person lives many lives. The quality of these lives depend upon the prior lives before them and how they lived according to the beliefs they follow. Buddhist believe that life consist of suffering and that all suffering comes from desire. To eliminate desire in their life would ultimately eliminate suffering. If a person were to live a selfless life and follow the path of peace to eliminate desire in their life they could ultimately reach the end of cycles of life and obtain a heavenly like state called “nirvana.” However, most Buddhist do not see this as possible in their own journeys and simply do the best they can to make things better in their next life.

Thais have a deep respect of Monks regardless of their age. Buddhist monks are forbidden to touch or be touched by a woman, or to accept anything from the hand of one. If a woman has to give anything to a monk, she first hands it to a man, who then presents it to the monk. Women should not sit down next to a monk either. When speaking to a monk, be sure to leave space between you and him. Never take their picture before asking politely first. Some may let you and others may not. When visiting a temple you must remove your shoes or sandals. In some temples, shorts or shirts without sleeves are not allowed. Men must wear long pants, and women must wear skirts. It is also against the law to blaspheme the Buddhist religion or disrespect a Buddha statue.