Thai Culture – Quick Facts, Travel Hints, & Tips
About the People
- PDA’s (public displays of affection) are common in Thailand among friends.
- You’ll find that the way is similar to the Namaste gesture in India.
- Touching someone on the head, putting your feet above someone’s head, are all considered rude. The feet, especially, are considered the dirtiest part of the body. Anything that is considered rude is especially taboo when do to the image of the king and royal family.
- Among the Thai people, the king and royal family are highly respected. Jokes, or disrespectful comments made about the king may not only be rude but could be punishable offenses.
- Thai is overwhelmingly Buddhist. Monks are not allowed physical contact with women, and lay people are expected to keep their heads lower than that of a monk.
- Nicknames like tiger, lion, or non-sense words, are ubiquitous in Thaialand. Oftentimes very short, you might want to ask your Thai acquaintance what his/her nicknames is and why!
- Homosexuality is accepted by Thai society, and has a long history as part of the culture. Being an openly gay man or woman is not taboo, or in any way frowned upon in Thai culture.
- Freedom of Religion is mandated by law and you’ll find that most Thais are quite accepting of different religions. However, there are serious ongoing hostilities between some Buddhist and Muslim communities in certain areas of southern Thailand. Hinduism, Sikhism, Christianity, and Judaism dating back to the 17th century, are all present in Thai society.
Values and Etiquette
- Thai people are extremely polite, and skimpy attire is seen to be offense by many. Westerners have garnered a bad reputation among many Thais due to immodest dress.
- Shorts are seen, especially by older Thais, as inappropriate for adults. While attitudes are changing among the younger generations, you might find a more comfortable and acceptable alternative to be linen pants. Comfortable linen pants are readily available at street vendors, shops, and markets in Bangkok and other cities.
- Openly sharing your emotions, especially to strangers can seem strange to Thais. While not offense per se, try to make sure that you’re not making your hosts uncomfortable.
- Much as in India, the left hand is considered dirty. It should not be used to eat, receive gifts, or shake hands.
- Thai people eat with a spoon and fork for most meals, and sometimes with hands or chopsticks for dishes from India or China, respectively.
- Don’t lick your fingers! This is sometimes considered offensive in Thailand, something akin to what an animal might do.
- As part of a traditional Thai meal, you’ll typically be served rice or a rice dish with numerous other dishes simultaneously. These aren’t side dishes, main courses, or appetizers, but complimentary. The different dishes will be shared by all (so make sure you watch how you use your left hand when eating).
- Thai food has many regional variations and takes some inspiration from neighboring countries. One great activity can be taking a couple of Thai cooking courses during your stay. This can sometimes be very expensive, but if possible is a great way to familiarize yourself with Thai food.
- Thailand’s transportation infrastructure is very modern. In Bangkok you’ll find a very effective mass transit system, headlined by the skytrain. This elevated rail system crisscrosses Bangkok and is very easy to navigate. You can pay per ride and buy a pass during your stay. Frequently, instructions in English or an attendant who speaks English will be available to assist you.
- Trains can get you to any part of Thailand in relatively good time. Taking the sleeper car on a night train can be an interesting experience and can save you hotel fees you might otherwise pay if you traveled during the day!
- Cabs are metered by law, but make sure it’s turned on when you take a cab. They’re relatively inexpensive. Tuk-tuks, Samlor, rental cars, motorbike cabs, and buses are other options when traveling within a city.
- Thai is the national language of Thailand, and the language of the dominant ethnic group, the Thais.
- It is, however, not the only language spoken. In some parts of the country you might also here Isan, Phu, Phuan, Thai Dam, Galung, or other dialects and minority languages.
- The Thai alphabet actually has its roots in the Khmer script of neighboring Cambodia. Written Thai began to appear around 700 years ago.
- Though Thailand has a growing and dynamic economy, around 49% of the labor force in Thailand is still employed in Agriculture.
- Tourism also makes a large contribution to the economy, while the service sector generally contributes almost half of the GDP. Thailand is a relatively modern nation, with pockets of real poverty and need.
Music and Pop Culture
- Thai popular music and culture, from Thai films to Thai “idols”, together are a potent phenomenon. Modern Thai pop, or string pop, is influenced by Britpop and the popular movements of other Asian nations, but is very distinctive in its own right.
- Thai films are increasingly popular worldwide, but especially in neighboring Laos, where the Thai language can be readily understand by the local population.
Globe Aware has gathered more tips, hints, and facts on Thai culture from numerous sources both in print, from past volunteers, and on the web. Find out more by registering today and experiencing genuine Thai culture for yourself.