Information about Thailand. The dos and the dont's, business etiquette, general information about the country. The document was created for the project Info4migrants. Project number UK/13/LLP-LdV/TOI-615
AREA 513,120 km2
Baht (฿) (THB)
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Official name: the Kingdom of Thailand. The country’s official
name was Siam until 23 June 1939, when it was changed to
Thailand; it was renamed Siam between 1945 and 11 May
1949, after which the name Thailand was once again adopt-
Location: Southeastern Asia, bordering the Andaman Sea
and the Gulf of Thailand, southeast of Burma
Climate: tropical; rainy, warm, cloudy southwest monsoon
(mid-May to September); dry, cool northeast monsoon (No-
vember to mid-March); southern isthmus always hot and
Ethnic Make-up: Thai 75%, Thai Chinese 14%, other 11%
(Malay, Mon, Khmer, mountain folks)
Religions: Buddhism 94%, Islam 4.6%, Christianity 0.7%, Hin-
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The Thai language is comprised of 44 consonants, 32 vow-
els and five tones in Thai pronunciation, along with a script
that has Indian origins. The Thai language, belonging to the
Tai family, is the main language in Thailand, although there
are several regional dialects as well. Other languages spo-
ken in Thailand are Chinese, Lao, Malay and Mon-Khmer,
while using English is becoming more prevalent in govern-
ment and commerce. English is also being taught as a sec-
ond language in secondary school and universities, which
means that an English-speaking visitor in Thailand has little
Siamese cats are native to Thailand. In Thai they are called
wichen-maat, meaning “moon diamond.” A 14th-century
book of Thai poems describes 23 types of Siamese cats;
today only six breeds are left. Giving a pair of Si Sawat cats
(a type of Siamese cats) to a bride is supposed to bring good
luck to the marriage.
Thailand is a stronghold of Buddhism. Buddhists believe
that life does not begin with birth and end with death, but
rather that every person has several lives based upon the
lessons of life not yet learned and acts committed (karma)
in previous lives.
Buddhists believe that selfishness and craving result in
suffering and that compassion and love bring happiness and
well-being. The true path to peace is to eliminate all desire,
a condition which Buddhists define as ‘nirvana’, an inde-
scribable state free of desire, suffering, or further rebirth, in
which a person simply is, and is completely unified with his
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Unique flora and fauna
One of Thailand’s most curious creatures is the mudskipper,
which is a fish capable of walking on land and climbing trees.
It uses its fins to “walk” and can absorb oxygen through its
skin and lining in its mouth. It spends most of its time out of
the water, eating the algae in tidal pools.
More than 1,500 species of orchids grow wild in Thai forests.
Thailand is the world’s number one orchid exporter.
Thailand is home to what may be the world’s longest snake,
the reticulated python. The length of the largest one ever
found exceeds 10 metres. The country is also home to the
world’s longest poisonous snake, the king cobra. The cobra
can be over 6 metres long, and one bite from it can kill an
elephant. The world’s smallest mammal, the bumble bat,
also lives here.
The national emblem of Thailand is called the Phra Khrut
Pha, literally “Garuda as the vehicle” . The Garuda was of-
ficially adopted as the national emblem by King Vajiravudh
(Rama VI) in 1911. However, the mythical creature had been
used as a symbol of royalty in Thailand for centuries. The
Garuda is depicted on seals, which are used by the King of
Thailand and the Government of Thailand to authenticate
official documents and as its primary emblem.
The Garuda is a mythological beast in the Hindu and Bud-
dhist tradition. According to Hindu mythology, the Garuda
is the vahana (vehicle) of the god Vishnu (more commonly
known in Thailand as Narayana). The ancient kings of Thai-
land believed in divine kingship, and considered themselves
the incarnation of the god Narayana. Thus the Garuda came
to symbolize the divine power and authority of the king.
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Swiftlet nests are made from strands of saliva from the
male swiftlet bird. Swiftlet nests collected from Thai
caves can costmore than $900 per pound. It is one of the
world’s most coveted and expensive food items. The nests
used in bird’s nest soup are composed almost entirely of
saliva with little or no plant material. The soup is made
by soaking and steaming the nests in water and is said to
be an aphrodisiac and to have various medicinal qualities.
The nests can gain high prices and many colonies are har-
The national flag was introduced in 1917 by King Vaji-
ravudh (Rama VI). Its two horizontal red stripes symbolize
the land and its people. The white horizontal stripes rep-
resent the purity of Buddhism, the nation’s main religion.
The wide blue band across the center stands for the
monarchy. Before 1917, the flag had a picture of a white
elephant against a red background.
Thailand’s name in the Thai language is Prathet Thai,
which means “Land of the Free.” It is the only country in
Southeast Asia that was never colonized by a European
nation. Thailand has had several names over the centuries.
For hundreds of years, it was known by the names of its
dominant cities, such as Sukhothai, Ayutthaya, and Thon-
buri. Since the 1800s, it has repeatedly switched back and
forth between Siam (Sanskrit meaning dark or brown) and
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1 January: New Year’s Day
Celebrates the start of the
solar and Gregorian year.
1st day of the Chinese calen-
Chinese New Year
Observed by Thai Chinese,
usually celebrated for three
Full moon, 3rd Thai lunar
Buddhist observance com-
memorating the Buddha’s
teaching of Ovada Patimok-
6 April: Chakri Memorial Day
Commemorates the establish-
ment of the Chakri Dynasty
and the founding of Bangkok
by King Buddha Yodfa Chu-
laloke in 1782.
Traditional Thai New Year, and
the major holiday of the year.
Many people return home for
family reunions during this
5 May: Coronation Day
Commemorates the corona-
tion of King Bhumibol Adulya-
dej in 1950.
Moveable date during May:
Royal Ploughing Ceremony
and Farmer’s Day
Ceremonial blessing of the
Full moon, 6th Thai lunar
month (May): Vesak
Buddhist observance com-
memorating the birth, en-
lightenment and passing of
the Buddha. Also observed as
National Tree Day.
Full moon, 8th Thai lunar
month (July): Asalha Puja
Buddhist observance com-
memorating the Buddha’s first
First waning moon, 8th Thai
lunar month (July):
Beginning of Vassa
Buddhist observance marking
the beginning of Vassa, also
known as Buddhist Lent
12 August: Queen’s Birthday
Commemorates the birthday
of Queen Sirikit in 1932; also
observed as National Mother’s
Commemorates the passing of
King Chulalongkorn in 1910.
Commemorates the birthday
of King Bhumibol Adulyadej in
1927. Also observed as Na-
tional Day and National Fa-
Commemorates the promul-
gation of the first permanent
constitution in 1932.
New Year’s Eve
The last day of the Gregorian
Moveable day during winter:
Muslim holiday celebrating
the end of the fasting month
Moveable day during winter:
Muslim holiday commemorat-
ing the willingness of Ibrahim
to sacrifice his son Ismael as
an act of obedience to Allah.
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Ko Tarutao is one of the 51 islands that belong to the Tarutao National Marine Park archi-
pelago in southern Thailand. One of Tarutao’s greatest attractions is its wildlife; the island
and its surroundings are home to sea turtles, whales, monitor lizards, crab-eating ma-
caques, mouse deer and others.
Ayuthaya was founded in 1350 AD by King U Thong as the second capital of Siam after
Sukhothai. Throughout the centuries, the ideal location between China, India and the
Malay Archipelago made Ayutthaya the trading capital of Asia. By 1700 Ayutthaya had
become one of the largest cities in the world with a total of 1 million inhabitants. In 1767,
the city was destroyed by the Burmese army, resulting in the collapse of the kingdom. The
city was re-founded a few kilometers to the east of the ruins, which now form the Ayut-
thaya historical park. Most of the remains are temples and palaces, as those were the
only buildings made of stone at that time.
Located near the border with Cambodia, Ko Chang is the second largest island in Thailand
and the biggest in the Ko Chang Marine Park archipelago. Ko Chang is one of Thailand’s
most beautiful islands with several waterfalls, thriving coral reefs, rainforests and long
white sandy beaches. The island is also home to a wide range of wildlife, including birds,
snakes, deer and a number of elephants.
The construction of the Grand Palace started in 1782 when the capital of Siam was moved
from Thonburi to Bangkok. The Grand Palace covers a wide range of architectural styles,
ranging from a pure Ayutthayan style of the temples to a blend of Thai and Western for
later structures. It also includes the Wat Phra Kaew, home to the Emerald Buddha, one of
the oldest and most famous statues of the Buddha in the world.
The Similan Islands in the western Andaman Sea are considered the best diving destina-
tion in Thailand. The archipelago consists of nine islands covered in tropical jungle with
white sandy beaches. The views under the water surface are even more impressive. There
are two different kinds of diving spots around the Similan Islands. Diving sites facing east
consist of gently sloping coral reefs while diving sites facing east feature massive granite
boulders, covered with hard and soft corals.
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Chiang Mai Night Bazaar
Chiang Mai is one of the top Thailand attractions. The famous Night Bazaar sprawls along
several city blocks along footpaths, inside buildings and temple grounds. It has handi-
crafts, arts, clothing and and imported products of all descriptions, and a number of large,
well-appointed modern shopping centers. At first, the market was owned by Chinese mer-
chants, but since it grew in size as more commercial buildings were built, it was no longer
owned by a single group of people. Instead, there are many owners, and most of them
Railay beach (or Rai Leh) is a small peninsula that is only accessible by boat due to the
high limestone cliffs cutting off mainland access. These cliffs attract rock climbers from all
over the world, but the area is also a popular attraction in Thailand due to its beautiful
beaches and quiet relaxing atmosphere. Accommodation ranges from inexpensive bunga-
lows popular with backpackers and climbers, to the renowned jet-set resort of Rayavadee.
Phang Nga Bay
Phang Nga Bay is one of the top attractions in Thailand and one of most scenic areas in
the country. It consists of beautiful caves, aquatic grottoes and limestone islands. The
most famous island in the bay is a sea stack called Ko Ping Kan (more commonly known
as James Bond Island) which was featured in the James Bond movie “The Man with the
Koh Tao, literally Turtle Island, is a small island located near the eastern shore of the Gulf
of Thailand. Around 7000 new divers get certified on Koh Tao each year, making it one of
the most popular destinations in the world for learning to dive. Diving around the island
reefs is easy and fun and you can see an impressive variety of marine species such as
coral, turtles, lots of small fish, barracudas, and there is a very small chance of seeing a
whale shark. The average visibility is around 15-20 meters.
Ko Phi Phi
Ko Phi Phi is a small archipelago in the Krabi Province in Southern Thailand. Ko Phi Phi
Don is the largest island of the group, and is the only island with permanent inhabitants
while the smaller Ko Phi Phi Leh is very popular as a beach or for diving excursions. Tour-
ism on Ko Phi Phi has grown exponentially only very recently, especially after Ko Phi Phi
Leh was used as a location for the 2000 movie The Beach.
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1. In the past, all Thai young men, including the kings, became Buddhist monks for at
least a short period of time before their 20th birthday. Today, fewer young men observe
2. The longest toponym in the world is the full name of Bangkok: Krungthepmahanakhon
Amonrattanakosin Mahintharayutthaya Mahadilokphop Noppharatratchathaniburirom
Udomratchaniwetmahasathan Amonphimanawatansathit Sakkathattiyawitsanukamprasit.
It means “City of Angels, Great City of Immortals, Magnificent City of the Nine Gems, Seat
of the King, City of Royal Palaces, Home of Gods Incarnate, Erected by Visvakarman at
3. Bangkok was once called the “Venice of the East” because its original buildings stood
on stilts above the Chao Phraya River. However, as Bangkok grew larger, most canals were
filled and paved.
4. A century ago, northern Thailand was covered with dense hardwood forests. Today
only about a fourth of the country remains wooded. Thailand has the second-highest rate
of forest loss in Southeast Asia, exceeded only by Singapore.
5. Traffic police in Bangkok wear facemasks because of dangerous levels of air pollution.
Additionally, police stations are equipped with oxygen tanks in case exhaust fumes over-
whelm the officers. More than 20% of Bangkok’s police have some form
of lung disease. One Thai bank estimated that Bangkok’s pollution
problems cost the nation $2.3 billion annually in lost production,
wasted energy, and health costs.
6. Thailand has a reputation for sexual tolerance and
is considered very safe for LGBT travelers. Trans-
sexuals, also known as krathoeys or ladyboys,
are highly visible in society.
7. The 2004 tsunami hurtled a wall
of water 30 feet high over Thailand’s
coast, killing over 8,000 people (in-
cluding over 2000 tourists). An estimat-
ed 1,500 Thai children lost their parents
and more than 150,000 Thais working in the
fishing or tourist industries lost their livelihoods.
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8. Prostitution is technically illegal in Thailand, but the law is very rarely enforced. Esti-
mates of the number of sex workers vary from 30,000 to more than 1 mil-
9. A century ago, more than 100,000 elephants lived in Thai-
land, with about 20,000 of them untamed. Now, there are
about 5,000, with less than half of them wild.
10. Thailand’s and the world’s longest reigning mon-
arch is Bhumibol Adulyadej, who became King Rama
IX in June 1946. He was born in the U.S. in 1927
when his father was studying medicine at Harvard.
He owns a patent on a form of cloud seeding and
holds a degree in engineering from Switzerland.
11. World-famous golfer Tiger Woods is the son of
an American father and a Thai mother.
12. Bangkok is one of Asia’s top tourist destinations.
In 2005, more than 11 million foreign tourists visited in
13. The Ramakien is the national epic narrative of Thailand
and has influenced everyday Thai life for hundreds of years. The
story is actually the Thai version of Ramayana, a poem first told in
India 3,000 year ago.
14. Thailand has attracted many expatriates from developed countries.
15. The brothers who gave the world the term “Siamese twins” were born in 1811 in a
village near Bangkok. The twins Eng and Chang were joined at the chest and left Thailand
for the U.S when they were 17 years old. Each brother married, and between them they
had 22 children. In 1873, Eng caught pneumonia and died. Chang died a few hours later.
16. The first case of HIV/Aids was reported in Thailand in 1984. Thailand currently has the
highest prevalence of HIV in Asia.
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Thai cooking places emphasis on lightly prepared dishes with strong aromatic compo-
nents and a spicy edge. It is known for its complex interplay of at least three and up to
four or five fundamental taste senses in each dish or the overall meal: sour, sweet, salty,
bitter and spicy.
Thai cuisine and the culinary traditions and cuisines of Thailand’s neighbors have mutually
influenced one another over the course of many centuries. Regional variations tend to
correlate with neighboring states (often sharing the same cultural background and ethnic-
ity on both sides of the border) as well as climate and geography.
Thai food was traditionally eaten with the right hand while seated on mats or carpets on
the floor, which is still the case in the more traditional households. It
is now generally eaten with a fork and a spoon. An import-
ant concept with Thai dining etiquette is khluk: mixing
the flavors and textures from the different dishes
with the rice on one’s plate. The food is pushed
by the fork, held in the left hand, into the
spoon held in the right hand, which is then
brought to the mouth.
This herb-forward broth is often re-
ferred to in English-language menus as
‘sour Thai soup’. The shrimp version
– tom yam kung – is the most lauded,
and justifiably so: the combination
of fatty prawns and a tart/spicy soup
result in an unusual but delicious and
distinctly Thai amalgam.
Thailand’s northeast in one rustic dish; laap
(also known as larb or larp) takes the form of
minced meat seasoned with roasted rice pow-
der, lime juice, fish sauce and fresh herbs. Be sure
to eat it with sticky rice, short, fat grains of rice that are
steamed and eaten by hand.
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Typically revolving around chicken or beef, the optional sides of lime, sliced shallots and
crunchy pickled greens provide a pleasing contrast with the rich, spice-laden, coconut
milk-based broth and soft, squiggly wheat-and-egg noodles.
Som tam, a spicy papaya salad, comes from northeast Thailand, but it has reached near-
cult status throughout the rest of the country. Slight regional differences in ingredients
means placement on the sweet-or-sour scale may vary greatly between restaurants. Com-
mon to all recipes is shredded green papaya and a healthy dose of heat. Barbequed chick-
en and lumps of sticky rice are the perfect companions.
This street food staple combines meat flash-fried with holy basil (the eponymous kaphrao)
and a generous helping of fresh chilli and garlic. Served over rice and often crowned with a
fried egg, it is the epitome of a one-dish meal in Thai style.
For Thai food novices, there is probably no better starting point than this intersection of a
piquant/herbal spice paste and rich coconut milk. Remember to do as the Thais and cou-
ple the curry with a plate of jasmine rice – it is not meant to be eaten on its own as a soup.
As a side dish or drinking snack, you are bound to encounter this ubiquitous Thai salad
that combines meat or seafood with a tart/spicy dressing and fresh herbs. A good intro-
duction to the genre is yam wun sen, slinky glass noodles paired with minced pork and
Thai-style grilled chicken owes its fame to the people of the country’s northeast, who mar-
inate the bird in a unique mixture of fish sauce, coriander root and garlic. Couple the bird
with sticky rice and green papaya salad, and you have one of Thailand’s most legendary
For many Thai people, fried rice is comfort food. The variations are endless, and the dish is
often the result of improvisation, but a staple at seafood restaurants across the country is
the simple but delicious khao phat puu, rice fried with hearty chunks of crab and egg.
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Thais are tolerant of individualism, but find comfort and security in being part of a group.
Mai Pen Rai (never mind) is the Thai expression which characterizes the general focus of
life - “it is to enjoy.” Thais are productive and hard-working while at the same time happy
with what they are and what they have. They are smiling, pleasant, humble and patient
people who laugh easily, speak softly, are slow to anger, and never try to cause anyone to
Thais are very proud of their cultural heri-
tage and enjoy talking about it with visitors.
Thais are proud that they have never been
ruled by a Western power.
Names and Titles
Thais address one another by first names
and titles and reserve last names for very
formal occasions and written communica-
tions. Last names have only been used in
Thailand for the past fifty years. Two people
with the same last name are almost certain-
Foreigners are often addressed by their
given names because it is easier for Thais; it
does not imply familiarity. Thais will proba-
bly call you Mr. Joe or Mrs. Mary.
Titles, rank and honor are very important.
Introductions require only the given name
and title. Mr., Mrs., or Miss + family name
are appropriate for visitors to use in formal
Thai given names are preceded by Khun
(Mr. Mrs. or Miss), unless they carry a high-
er degree, such as doctor. Khun is used for
men and women, married or single. If you
don’t know a person’s name, address them
as Khun. Example: Anuwat (Given) + Watta-
pongsiri (Family) is Khun Anuwat.
Correspondence: Use Dear + Khun + given
name. Example: Dear Khun Mary.
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The wai is the common form of greeting
and adheres to strict rules of protocol.
Raising both hands, palms joined with the
fingers pointing upwards as if in prayer,
lightly touching the body somewhere be-
tween the chest and the forehead, is the
The wai is both a sign of respect as well
as a greeting. Respect and courtesy are
demonstrated by the height at which the
hands are held and how low the head
comes down to meet the thumbs of both
The wai may be made while sitting, walk-
ing, or standing. The person who is junior
in age or status is the first one to offer the
wai. The senior person returns the wai,
generally with their hands raised to some-
where around their chest. If a junior person
is standing and wants to wai a senior per-
son who is seated, the junior person will
stoop or bow their head while making the
If there is a great social distance between
two people, the wai will not be returned.
Thais respect hierarchical relationships: so-
cial relationships are defined as one person
being superior to the other. Parents are
superior to their children, teachers to their
students, and bosses to their subordinates.
When Thais meet a stranger, they will
immediately try to place you within a hi-
erarchy so they know how you should be
treated. This is often done by asking what
might be seen as very personal questions
in other cultures.
Status can be determined by clothing and
general appearance, age, job, education,
family name, and social connections.
Thais place great emphasis and value on
outward forms of courtesy such as po-
liteness, respect, genial demeanour and
self-control in order to maintain harmo-
nious relations. Many of their rules of
etiquette are by-products of the Buddhist
It is a non-confrontational society, in which
public dispute or criticism is to be avoided
at all costs.
• Being openly angry with someone might
attract the wrath of the spirits, which in
turn could cause violence and tragedy.
• Openly criticizing a person is a form of vi-
olence as it hurts the person and is viewed
as a conscious attempt to offend the per-
son being rebuked
• Loss of face is a disgrace to a Thai so they
try to avoid confrontations and look for
compromises in difficult situations.
• If two parties disagree, one will need to
have an outlet to retreat without losing
SOCIETY AND CULTURE
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If you are invited to a Thai’s house:
• Arrive close to the appointed time,
although being a few minutes late will not
• Check to see if the host is wearing
shoes. If not, remove yours before entering
• Ask another guest to confirm the
• Step over the threshold rather than
on it. This is an old custom that may be
dying out with younger Thais, but erring on
the side of conservatism is always a good
• A fork and spoon are the usual eating
utensils. However, noodles are often eaten
• The spoon is held in the right hand
and the fork in the left. The fork is used to
guide food on to the spoon. Sticky rice, a
northern Thai delicacy, is often eaten with
the fingers of the right hand.
• Most meals are served as buffets or
with serving platters at the centre of the
table family- style.
• You may begin eating as soon as you
• Leave a little food on your plate after
you have eaten to show that you are full.
Finishing everything indicates that you are
• Never leave rice on your plate as it
is considered wasteful. The words for food
and rice are the same. Rice has an almost
mystical significance in addition to its hum-
drum ‘daily bread’ function.
• Never take the last bite from the
• Wait to be asked before taking a sec-
• Do not lick your fingers.
Gift Giving Etiquette
• If invited to a Thai’s home, a gift is
not expected, although it will be appreciat-
• Gifts should be wrapped attractively,
since appearance matters. Bows and rib-
bons add to the sense of festivity.
• Appropriate gifts are flowers, good
quality chocolates or fruit.
• Do not give marigolds or carnations,
as they are associated with funerals.
• Try to avoid wrapping a gift in green,
black or blue, as these are used at funerals
and in mourning.
• Gold and yellow are considered royal
colours, so they make good wrapping pa-
• Only use red wrapping paper if giving
a gift to a Chinese Thai.
• Gifts are not opened when received.
• Money is the usual gift for weddings
and ordination parties.
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Respect to the Royal Family
Show respect for the King and his family – Thais will not appreciate even the friendliest
jest about their monarch. Thai people have a deep respect for their King, an affection
that reciprocates his many accomplishments and sacrifices for the country. Remember
that respect for the King isn’t just polite, it’s the law.
Thai Family Values
The family is the cornerstone of Thai society. Family life is often more closely knit than
in western cultures. The Thai family is a form of hierarchy with the parents at the top.
Children are taught to honour their parents.
Hello in Thai
Unlike in other Southeast Asian countries, Thai people use the same greeting regardless
of the time of day or night.
Although English spellings vary, the standard Thai greeting is: sawasdee -- sounds like
“sah wah dee” -- with a wai gesture and a smile. Women end their greeting with a
drawn-out “khaaa” which falls in tone. Men end
their greeting by saying “khrap!” with a sharp,
upward tone. The “r” is rarely pronounced, so
the ending sounds more like “kap!”.
Especially for Women
Men conduct most business. However, many
traditional gender barriers are disappearing.
More and more women are holding executive
positions in the workforce.
Ladies may not enter a bot, the restricted area
of a wat (temple). Never touch a monk, hand
him anything or sit next to or higher than him.
When visiting a mosque, cover your body. Wear
slacks, a long skirt, a long-sleeved blouse with a
buttoned neck, and a headscarf.
Traditional Thais believe a woman can lose face
if a man touches her in public.
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There’s a reason why Thailand is called ‘The Land of Smiles’. Smiling is a complex form
of communication that doesn’t always mean one thing. It’s been said that Thais have at
least 13 smiles they use for different situations. A lot of westerners can be confused when
Thais will smile in a very serious situation. Foreigners also misinterpret a Thai smiling
or laughing at them as not taking something seriously or being made fun of. This is not
the case. People might smile when they are embarrassed or sad just as much as when
they want to be playful. They aren’t disregarding a serious situation as much as trying to
maintain the harmony mentioned before. Be patient with yourself when trying to read
peoples’ smiles and smile a lot yourself. While bargaining, confronting somebody, or just
meeting a stranger, a smile will go a long way.
Thais are very communal. Most Thais sleep in the same bed with their parents into their
early teens and almost always share beds with their siblings. Families are very important
and many live in close proximity to their relatives. A lot of people don’t require the same
amount of alone time that most westerners do. There is a belief that the group is more
important than the individual. Any political leader that has gained the love of the Thai
people has done so by creating a sense of unity for the Thai people. Their culture has
expanded by this communal idea and building positive relationships. This is why some-
times villagers are able to connect more with groups of foreigners than an individual.
Sometimes, westerners can be seen as too individualistic or even selfish. If you are able to
show the proper courtesy while traveling in Thailand, people will want to get to know you
and accept your individuality better.
Confrontation and saving face
Anybody who has spent a lot of time in Thailand has seen a foreigner flip out at a restau-
rant for not getting what they’ve ordered, food taking too long, or somebody being
served first who arrived after them. In a western country, directly confronting the waiter
or asking to see the manager will get you quick results, whereas in Thailand people will
likely ignore you. The reason for this is that it is almost never acceptable to lose your cool
in public. Also, it is considered disrespectful to embarrass a person for doing something
wrong. The best thing to do is talk in a way that doesn’t cause disharmony. For example,
if your food is taking too long at a restaurant, instead of saying, ‘I ordered this 45 minutes
ago! Why is the service so slow?’ say, ‘Excuse me, did I remember to make my order?’ If
you ever see a confrontation between two Thais, people generally defuse the situation by
smiling, saying everything is OK, and gently offering a solution that works for everybody.
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DOS AND DON’TS
DO understand the meaning of the “wai”,
the Thai bow of politeness
DON’T point with one finger. It’s consid-
DON’T show affection in public or even
touch someone of the opposite sex.
DON’T pass something over someone’s
head. The head is considered sacred in
DON’T point with your feet or use your feet
to touch something. Feet are considered
dirty, because they are the lowest part of
DON’T talk with your hands or put your
hands in your pockets while talking to
DON’T step on a threshold when going
through a doorway. Step over it instead.
Thais believe that a spirit lives in the
DO expect men to primarily conduct busi-
ness, although women are beginning to get
more involved in Thailand’s business world.
DON’T rush negotiations. Business deci-
sion-making can be slow in Thailand.
DO expect to be addressed by your title
and first name, i.e. Mr. Bob. This isn’t to be
rude or disrespectful.
DO introduce colleagues of a lower profes-
sional status before introducing yourself in
a formal business situation.
DO greet with a wai if you feel comfort-
able. However, as a foreigner, you aren’t
expected to initiate a wai, but you must
always return a wai to be polite.
DON’T greet children, waiters, vendors,
etc. with a wai. If they greet you with a
wai, simply smile and nod back at them.
DO shake hands if not offered a wai.
DO dress conservatively. Women should
wear long skirts or pants and covered
shoulders. Don’t wear sandals.
DON’T take photos at a temple.
DO remove shoes upon entering.
DON’T sit with your feet pointing towards a
Buddha. Sit cross-legged or with your feet
tucked under you.
DON’T touch a monk, give him anything, sit
next to him, or sit above him.
DON’T touch a Buddha image. They are
sacred. Don’t climb on top of it, move it, or
even sit next to it to pose for a picture. It’s
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Relationships & Communication
In Thailand, business decisions may take
much time as decisions pass through many
levels before the final decision is reached.
Frankness is not appreciated. Be subtle in
responding with a negative reply. It is diffi-
cult for most Thais to say no, so you must
be aware of their non-verbal communica-
Thais prefer doing business with people
they know and respect. Relationships de-
velop slowly and do not flourish after one
meeting; it may take several meetings.
Thai communication is formal and non-ver-
bal communication is often more important
than verbal communication. Watch your
body language and facial expressions, as
these will be believed over your words.
Rank is always respected. Degrees, especial-
ly from prestigious universities, bring status.
Thais may list these on their business card.
Thais respect foreigners with powerful con-
Business Meeting Etiquette
Appointments are necessary and should be
made in advance.
It is a good idea to send a list of who will be
attending the meeting and their credentials
so that Thais know the relative status of the
people attending the meeting and can plan
You should arrive at meetings on time as
it signifies respect for the person you are
Always send an agenda and material about
your company as well as data to substanti-
Always be respectful
and courteous when
dealing with others, as
this leads to the har-
necessary within busi-
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ate your position prior to the meeting.
Remain standing until told where to sit.
The hierarchical culture has strict rules
about rank and position in the group.
Thai society is divided into upper and
lower classes. At formal occasions, dress
is expected to match one’s social station.
Appearance is very important. Wealth is
greatly admired. High-status Thais often
overdress, especially considering the hot
Western clothing is very common. Modest
clothing is recommended. General dress is
informal but always neat and clean. Cloth-
ing should be stylish and cool.
For Businessmen: Pants and shirts (white
or colored) with or without a tie. A light
suit or jacket increases status. In the eve-
ning, dark business suits or formal tradi-
tional Thai shirts are worn. Senior execu-
tives wear light weight suits to work.
For Businesswomen: Conservative dress-
es or skirts and blouses (not sleeveless).
Simple blouses and calf-length loose pants
and long wrap-around or tube skirts are
Business cards are given out after the initial
handshake and greeting. In theory, you
should give your card to the most senior
person first. Using your right hand, deliver
your business card so the Thai side faces
the recipient. Look at a business card for a
few seconds before placing it on the table
or in a business card case. As in most Asian
countries, it is polite to make some com-
ment about the card, even if it is only to
acknowledge the address.
Since Thais judge you
based on your clothing
and accessories, ensure
that your shoes are al-
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