Here at XploreAsia we know how scary it can be to come to a new country (we’ve been there). We believe that having a basic understanding of Thai culture is essential to your success, therefore, we provide all of our future teachers with a cultural orientation week upon arrival to Thailand. Your first week in the program will include lessons on Thai culture, language, politics and more. Because we want each and every individual that comes through our program to succeed and embrace the beautiful and unique lifestyle that Thailand has to offer, we’ve created a basic guide to the cultural “Do’s and Don’ts” of Thailand.
DO: RESPECT CULTURAL DIFFERENCES
Thai culture is greatly influenced by Buddhism and is the world’s most heavily Buddhist country. About 97% of the population is Buddhist, making Buddhism one of the cornerstones of Thai culture. The Buddhist beliefs and values play a vital role in the day to day life of Thai people as well as the many tourists that flock to this country every year. Some of the most prominent values being respect, self-control, and a non-confrontational attitude. Thai cultural expectations revolve around these values and it is truly beautiful to witness and be a part of. Although Thai culture may be very different from our own, there are behaviors one can avoid in order be respectful and truly assimilate into the Thai lifestyle as smoothly as possible.
Buddha statue at Wat Thum Khao Tao
First things first, we all know how sweet it can be to show affection with our partners and friends in public. However, Thai people are very discreet and prefer to keep PDA to a minimum. Therefore, it is best to refrain from being overly affectionate in public as to not make others uncomfortable. Being a highly Buddhist country, the religion influences certain behaviors as unacceptable. In this instance, PDA.
DON’T: PECULIAR MANNERISMS
Another example has to do with certain parts of the body. In Buddhism the most sacred part of the body is the head. The feet are considered to be the lowest and filthiest. Therefore, it would be highly offensive to touch another person’s head and disrespectful to point, push, or step on anything with your feet. Most importantly, one should always avoid facing the bottom of your feet towards another person, as that is seen as a major sign of disrespect.
Pro Tip: Don’t step on Thai money. Since the King’s image is on the face of all Thai bills, stepping on it would be considered disrespectful to the monarchy. And Thai people take their monarchy very, very seriously.
Visiting our local monk in Hua Hin
DO: RESPECT THE MONKS
Monks are a significant aspect of Thai culture. You can encounter monks casually passing by, in temples, or even at the train station. Although we treat them with the most respect, it is important to remember that monks are prohibited to touch or be touched by women. Therefore, women should be careful to not come in physical contact with a monk.
DO: MAINTAIN FACE
The notion of “face” is important in Thai culture and there are many aspects that involve the concept of “face”. In general, it is best to avoid being overly emotional in public. Particularly, being angry or confrontational towards others. Maintaining “face” shows respect and dignity. AKA, keep your emotions in check.
Showing our best smiles while enjoying a barbecue dinner provided by XploreAsia
While in Thailand you will 110% experience a Thai greeting known as the “Wai”. Don’t be shy, the wai is a common Thai greeting, almost like a handshake. “Wai-ing” someone is easy – just press your palms together in front of your chest and bow your head slightly. Do keep in mind that there are different variations of the wai in Thailand. Thai culture greatly honors and respects the elderly, so when greeting someone older than you, make sure to do a very traditional and powerful wai as a demonstration of respect. Nevertheless, don’t worry (“mai pen rai”), if you get it wrong, making an effort shows a great amount of respect in and of itself.
Fun fact: The phrase “mai pen rai” is a very common expression in Thailand, translating to “don’t worry”, “it’s okay”, or “take it easy”. Something extremely fascinating about Thai culture is how open and safe it is towards the LGBTQ community. It is a great place to be respectful and accepting towards everybody. With that, don’t forget to live the mai pen rai life! Life doesn’t have to be rushed and in a hurry at all times. Just smile, enjoy your time, stay calm, and mai pen rai!
DO: PICK THE RIGHT SHOES
Stay comfy while you teach in Thailand by wearing flip flops and slip ons! While exploring in the warm and humid weather of Thailand, it’s easy to slide on a pair of flip flops and easily go on with your day. Not only will this keep you cooler, it’s also an easy way to take off your shoes – given that this is a common practice to do before entering temples, homes, and occasionally businesses. In addition to taking off your shoes when visiting temples, make sure to always wear appropriate clothing to cover your knees and shoulders.
Are You Ready for Thai Culture?
Last but not least, DO make sure to have an open mind. Be open to learning new things, experiencing new cultures, and DON’T forget to have fun. Thailand has a vast and rich culture and there is so much to learn about this beautiful country. Remember that it’s okay to make mistakes because that’s part of the learning process. At XploreAsia we are here to help enhance your cultural experience in addition to supporting you throughout your teaching journey.
Xploreasia teacher engaging in Thai culture by practicing her Thai language skills in Hua Hin’s local food market