"If you reject the food, ignore the customs,
fear the religion and avoid the people,
you might better stay at home" - Quote by James Michener
The Thailand culture is warm, inviting and relaxing. But there's more to it...
When backpacking in Asia, it's logical that you should know something about the countries you're visiting.
That knowledge is important because:
Think about it this way: If a Thai person was to visit your home country, what would you expect of that visitor?
To understand the Thai culture, you should understand the religion (in my opinion).
Here are the things you should know about Theravada Buddhism:
A Wai is when the palms of your hands meet under your chin. If you meet an old monk, your Wai should reach your forehead. How high your Wai should be, depends on the person's status (elderly people should also have a high Wai). If a Thai greets you with a Wai, you should do the same.
This may seem obvious to you. But here's the deal:Thailand is called the Land of Smiles for a good reason. Don't get angry, or raise your voice. Getting angry is only considered as "losing face." Losing face is a dishonor in Thailand.
I have some friends from Thailand and they told me that this rule was made out of respect. The society in Thailand can be divided into a hierarchy where you have to pay a special respect to the elderly (if you're younger than them).
Their explanation was this:
You should never touch the head of an eldery person. But it's actually ok to touch the head of persons of your same age and small children.
This makes sense though. In the Philippines (where my parents are from), when we (the young ones) meet an elderly person it's common to take that person's hand, and touch our forehead against the top of their hand. It's a sign of respect as well.
Note: I saw "Grand Torino" with Clint Eastwood and the amazing Hmong people. In the movie, it's mentioned that the soul is in the head.
So, when Eastwood touched a Hmong kid's head (he wanted to be nice), every Hmong person in the room gasped. The scene was exaggerated, but great movie and great story - you should see it!
When the national anthem is played, stand up.
They play the national anthem twice a day (around 8am and 6 pm). It is played on all radio, TV stations, bus stations, police stations etc.
You should be prepared, stop what you're doing and stand up politely.
In Chiang Mai, I can personally tell you that they even played the national anthem at a cinema. We had to stand up, even if it felt weird.
If you're unsure, the best tip is to follow what the locals are doing.
Kissing in public is not accepted. Period.
Holding hands is OK, but it still embarrasses Thai people. Hugging and kissing are not accepted. If I were you, I would not hold hands, hug and kiss at all!
Thailand's Lese Majeste law is among the toughest in the world.
It is illegal by the Lèse Majeste law to insult the monarchy in any way.
Have in mind that the Royal family in Thailand is highly respected and loved by the Thai people (apparently not by everyone since Thai citizens also have been arrested).
Foreigners have been arrested. The penalty is from 3-15 years in jail.
2006/2007: Swiss Man jailed for Thai insult
If you're female, don't sunbath topless. You don't want the locals to feel uncomfortable. Remember that it's illegal to bath nude on the beaches in Thailand (applies for men and women).
In Thai culture, eating with your left hand in considered inappropriate. Because they use that hand to wash themselves when they're in the toilet and doing dirty business.
Too much to remember?
You'll be alright!!!
To adjust to the Thailand culture, you just need time to let go of your regular habits.
It will be awkward the first weeks of your backpacking trip in Thailand. If you make a mistake - apologize! Don't be hard on yourself. Thai people are known to be forgiving! :-)
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