Thais are very easy going and would rarely tell you if you are doing something that offends them. However, here are few things to think about before you arrive:
Heads: Never touch an adult on the head. Thais consider the head to be the highest part of the body (spiritually) and would feel incredibly uncomfortable if you were to do so. Children under the age of 10 can be touched on the head in a playful manner, but the best rule of thumb is to just not do so.
Feet: On the opposite side of things, Thais consider the feet to be the lowest part of the body (spiritually). Therefore, it’s extremely rude to do almost anything but walk with them. Do not put them up on chairs, ledges, etc to relax. Do not gain someone’s attention by tapping them with your foot. Do not open or hold open doors with your foot. This might seem a bit extreme and strange, but it will quickly become second nature.
Noses: Try not to blow your nose while eating. If you need to refresh your nostrils, step away from the table away from the table and other diners.
Shirts: In busy centers, keep your shirt on (unless on the beach of course). Trust us, despite Thais not sweating as much as foreigners, everyone is hot. Imagine if everyone walked around with their shirts off – Someone Call the Fashion Police!!
Affection: Thais are rather modest and rarely if ever express affection in public. While it’s common to see friends (even of the same sex) holding hands, couples would never kiss or ‘make-out’ in public. Doing so creates an uncomfortable spectacle.
Naughty Bits: Do not tan nude at any time in Thailand. Thais consider it very inappropriate and rude to expose your private bits and pieces in public. It doesn’t matter if you see others on the beach doing it – locals don’t like it; as mentioned before they are just too polite to tell you.
Royalty: Refrain from speaking about the Royal Family of Thailand. Thais highly revere all members of the Royal Family, to the point that it is almost rude to speak publicly about them out of respect. Never speak about any past or present Royal Family members passing away either.
Monks: Women must never come into physical contact with or directly hand anything to a monk.
Smile: Thailand truly is the Land of Smiles. There are 13 types of smiles used to express everything from extreme happiness to seething anger. You’ll make the most friends if you maintain a glowing smile as often as possible, especially when you’re upset or in an uncomfortable situation.
Voice: Thais are rather soft-spoken by nature and consider foreigners to be rather loud. Be conscious of your volume and never raise your voice or become visibly agitated when dealing with locals, even if there is a conflict. The moment you visibly and/or verbally lose your cool, your cause is kaput.
Holidays & Festivals
Chinese New Year, depending on the lunar cycle – This isn’t an official holiday but is celebrated by Thai-Chinese for three days. The exact dates differ every year depending on the position of the moon.
Makha Bucha, full moon day – This is the third of the years’ Buddhist festivals, which includes merit making and candle processions at temples across the kingdom.
Chakri Day, 6th – Commemorates the founding of the Chakri Dynasty, by Rama I in 1782.
Songkran, 13-15th – Officially running for three days, Thai New Year is a time to be with family, wash Buddha images and make merit. Nowadays it amounts to a 63 million person, nationwide waterfight. This festival is most popular in the northern provinces where it’s celebrated for up to a week.
Coronation Day, 5th – Marks the crowning of King Bhumibol, Rama IX, the current king of Thailand, who has been on the throne since 1946, making him the longest reigning, living monarch in the world.
Royal Plowing Ceremony, depending on the lunar cycle – This takes place at Sanam Luang (Bangkok), opposite the Grand Palace and marks the beginning of the rice planting season.
Bun Bang Fai, second week – This interesting festival in Yasothon province sees locals fire huge, homemade rockets into the air to encourage rain for the coming season. Combine drinking and merry-making and you’ve got all the ingredients for a huge party!
Visakha Bucha, full moon day – This is the most important date on the Buddhist calendar. It celebrates the birth, Enlightenment and death of the Buddha. There are beautiful candlelit processions at temples nationwide.
Phi Ta Khon Festival, mid/late month – This wild festival takes place at the village of Dan Sai in Loei province. Masked players reenact the legend of Prince Vessandon, the Buddha’s penultimate incarnation. Plenty of colorful people, masks and lots of partying – hang on for the ride.
Asanha Bucha, full moon day – The second of the year’s major Buddhist festivals, commemorating the anniversary of the Lord Buddha’s first sermon to his five disciples.
Khao Phansa, full moon day – This time marks the start of the three-month Buddhist Rains Retreat at which time monks stay at their temples to concentrate on study, meditation and young men usually ordain.
Her Majesty the Queen’s Birthday, 12th – This is also Mother’s Day across the country.
Vegetarian Festival, late month or early October – Celebrated with fanfare at Phuket and Trang provinces with locals performing self-mortification rituals following abstinence from meat. Many Thais across the nation tend to eat vegetarian dishes during this special time.
Chulalongkorn Day, 23rd – Commemorates the death of Rama V, one of the most beloved Thai kings; credited with modernizing the country. He was also the first Thai king to make state visits to Europe.
Ok Phansa, full moon day – Celebrates the end of the Buddhist Rains Retreats with nationwide celebration of Lord Buddha’s reappearance on Earth after a season spent preaching in heaven.
Elephant Roundup, third week – Held at the province of Surin, this festival pays honor to the national animal, its role in society and is capped-off with displays of forestry skills and a mock battle. Expect 150 elephants in attendance.
Loy Krathong, full moon day – One of the kingdom’s biggest and most beloved festivals. It honors the goddess of water Mae Khongkha and asks her for forgiveness for polluting her. Locals float krathongs on waterways in the evening, making for a very beautiful spectacle.
Trooping of the Colors, 3rd – This very colorful event takes place at Royal Plaza, Bangkok, when Royal Guards parade past the King and Queen, pledging their allegiance.
His Majesty the King’s Birthday, 5th – One of the biggest days of the year on the calendar. Locals pay homage to His Majesty, erect large pictures of him across the country and show their deep love for their beloved monarch. This also serves as Father’s Day across the nation.
Religion in Thailand
About 95% of Thais are Theravada Buddhists, which made its way to Thailand from Sri Lanka during the Sukhothai period (13th century). This Thai practice borrows heavily and incorporates elements of Hindu, Tantric and Mahayana influences. Thais believe that Buddhism is one of three elements that keep their kingdom strong, the other two being the monarchy and nationhood. Their faith is deep and dictates much of their behavior in everyday life. Most males, in the later teenage years will become monks, usually for about three months to make merit for and honor their family.
There are roughly 32,000 monasteries in Thailand and about 460,000 monks, who follow 227 precepts.
Three percent of Thais are Muslim, with most of them living in the three southernmost provinces.