Thailand Rules and Etiquette
Thailand is a pretty laid back place but it has a few unwritten and written rules that are good to know:
Let’s first cover the major ones, those that could get you arrested, fined, deported or potentially to sentenced death (though I’m pretty sure you have to be super bad or unlucky for that to happen).
1. Drugs. Avoid them. Sure, you might get let off with a fine and/or get chucked out of the country for possessing a teensy bit of marijuana, for example, but Thai jails have a pretty bad reputation and the law can come down pretty hard on you. I suppose a lot of these things can come down to luck. Wisest thing is just to not go there at all.
2. Don’t disrespect the royal family or the institution of monarchy. This carries a potential death sentence. I can’t say anyone has mentioned the royal family to me since I have been here so it’s not that’s particularly easy to do. The thing you might want to watch out for is disrespecting an Image of the king. This includes the king on the money, light your cigars with something else while you’re here.
3. Carry your passport. My dad actually let me know about this one; foreigners need to have their passports with them at all times. People have been arrested for not having them. Again, nobody has asked me for it yet so perhaps that only happens if you’re a bit rowdy? This is according to the UK’s Foreign and commonwealth office.
4. Supposedly there are regulations about taking an image of Buddha out of the country. I don’t know how likely it is that someone would check all your stuff and what is drawn on it but it’s worth bearing in mind if your down the market. Just because you can’t take a Buddha home it does not mean someone will not sell you one.
5. Do what your Visa regulations say. Including going when you need to leave.
These aren’t obviously all the laws that Thailand has, just some a tourist might not know…don’t be thinking you can do murders here or anything, It’s not on the list but it’s still bad.
Unwritten rules AKA manners and etiquette:
1. Don’t disrespect a monk or images/statues of the Buddha. Don’t cross your legs in front of them or do any of the stuff listed here to them. If you’re a woman basically don’t touch or give anything to them at all (get a man hand things over). Obviously this carries the insinuation that women are less awesome somehow but don’t think of it like that. Try: It’s a celibacy and personal purity thing; don’t want to be tempting them to forget their vows with all this junk in my trunk. Oh, and get permission before photographing the Buddha statues.
2. Return a wai. This is a common greeting in Thailand, as a foreigner you may alternately be offered a handshake. Standard wai: Hands together (prayer like) over heart, bow head slightly. Fancy wai (used for monks) : Same, but hands are level with the head. As a side note, you shouldn’t return a wai to people who are serving you or who you are paying for a service as you might embarrass them. Don’t wai with stuff in your hands, put it down first. Also, don’t worry about who you wai or don’t wai. Thai’s are tolerant about stuff like that, Pretty tolerant in general actually.
3. Beware of heads. Heads are sacred, so don’t touch someone’s head or hair. Don’t even muss a child’s hair.
4. Beware of feet. Feet are dirty so don’t point with your feet, put your feet on the table or raise your feet higher than someone’s head. Don’t touch someone with your feet. Also, look out for shoes outside a building some places like you to take your shoes off before you go in. This should also be done before entering a home or place of worship. Also, long trousers should be worn and shoulders should be covered in a place of worship. Hats off too, for respect.
5. Affection. Don’t be all touchy-feely in public and no naked/topless sunbathing. Nowadays hand-holding is okay. The first time I came here it was a pretty big no-no as it basically meant you were ‘intimate’ with someone and fancied telling everyone. Yet it’s totally fine for women to hold hands with women and even men to hold hands with other men. Chummy like.
6. Pointing. Like in many Asian countries it’s rude to point at people here. You might try kind of…pointing your chin in the direction of someone to indicate them. Pointing with your whole hand is okay too. To call someone it’s ‘hand flat, facing downward, bend fingers towards you’, like on anime.
7. Don’t lose your cool. You’ll embarrass people and yourself. Relax, you’re on holiday. Side note: since it’s not really done I don’t think many Thai’s are used to dealing with angry people, I have heard tales of some pretty scary responses to aggression.
8. Thai’s will probably ask you lots of questions about yourself at some point. Questions like: Age, job, marital status, kids? They are sizing you up to check your position in Thai society. Just go with it. Mind, you don’t have to answer if you don’t want to.
9. Smile like Shirley Temple. Look happy, return a smile, and smile during negotiations. I’m not sure there are than many situations that smiling can make worse but there are lots it can help. Smile. Now.
10. Have a little lookie-loo at table manners. That’s just good form generally. Most of it is fairly standard, but apparently if you have a group meal with a bunch of Thai’s and your perceived as the highest ranking member (I’m thinking aided by the white people=money prejudice, not the worst prejudice admittedly) you might sort of be expected to pay for everyone. It’s kind of a compliment. Shouldn’t be too expensive anyway.
Pretty sure that’s most of it. Enjoy.