Thailand Culture – An In-depth Look at the Soul of Thailand

Thailand Culture

The results are in: Bangkok is now the world’s top international tourist destination (based on MasterCard’s Global Destination Cities Index). What should the close to 16 million expected visitors know before their trip? They must learn about Thailand culture.

Visitors from different parts of the world, even Asia, will find that Thailand and its people are unique. They will up their chances of having a hiccup-free, more fun and enjoyable trip by reading about Thailand culture before their visit; especially Thai religion and social conventions.


Thailand Culture: A Brief Introduction for Travelers

• Buddhism, Wats and Monks

Around 95% of Thais are Buddhists and 250,000 of them are monks. Most young Thai men become short-term monks to earn blessings for their family and for themselves. This is an important act of filial piety which is a big part of the culture of Thailand. There are more than 750,000 Wats (temples) and 30,000 of them are monasteries. Thai Wats are impressively crafted with amazing interior and exterior decorations.

Those who have read a bit about Thailand culture know that Buddhist or not, visitors must treat all Wats and monks with great respect. They must remember to wear appropriate clothing and take off their shoes before entering a temple. Once inside the temple, one’s feet must be pointed away from Buddha images.

How should women conduct themselves when monks are around? Any physical contact with a monk is a big no-no for women. Thus, women are expected to give way to passing monks and avoid any physical contact with them.


• Wai (Thai Greeting)

The Wai is one of the most noticeable Thai customs. In Thailand culture, wai is used not just in greeting people but also in praying, apologizing, begging, thanking, and bidding farewell.

How is wai performed? First, place your palms together. Then, position them at your chest level and slightly bow your head above your hands – while keeping your elbows as close as possible to your body and pressing your fingers together. Being a foreigner, you are not expected to wai; but, doing so will surely earn you some goodwill and smiles.


• Public Displays of Affection

When in Thailand, you must be careful when showing affection in public. The culture of Thailand is still very conservative when it comes to public displays of affection between lovers. You and your partner may get away with holding each other’s hand in public, but that is as far as you can go.


• Holidays

Songkran (also known as Thai New Year) is a significant holiday in Thailand culture. Thais officially celebrate Songkran from April 13-15 of each year. Prepare to get yourself wet during this festival as it involves water throwing; from squirt guns to hoses and high-pressure tubes. Water throwing was inspired by the washing of Buddha images and sprinkling of perfumed water on elderly people’s hands.

Loi Krathong is celebrated on the 12th full moon (Thai lunar calendar). Although it is a holiday that is not observed by the government, it is still a special day in Thailand culture. During this celebration, Thais float a small, decorated candle raft made from banana tree parts and leaves. This act symbolizes the floater’s fresh start as he/she lets go of all negative thoughts and feelings.


• Superstitions

Decisions in Thailand culture are most often than not influenced by astrology, superstitious beliefs, magic spells, and charms. For instance, some Bangkok landmarks and military weapons were relocated to ensure flow of positive energy. Most Thai superstitions were used to stop people from doing things that bring bad luck. Among the Thai superstitions that visitors should be aware of are:


  1. Giving compliments

Never compliment someone’s baby’s good looks. According to Thai folklore, when you praise a baby for being good looking and lovable, you are inviting evil spirits to take the baby away.


  1. Eating

Avoid singing or cracking jokes while eating. It was believed that ghosts steal the voices of those who make jokes while they are eating. On the other hand, those who sing while munching on their food will be cursed by ghosts. Also, after eating, you should never throw away your leftovers. According to Thailand culture, their “god of rice” who ensures that everyone has enough food to eat will be angered at such an act and may cause bad luck or widespread famine.


  1. Gifting

Handkerchiefs and 4-piece items make bad presents. Unless you want your relationship with the receiver of the gift to end in tears, never give someone a handkerchief. In Thai language, “death” and the number four are homophones. Thus, giving someone 4-piece items is tantamount to wishing them death.


  1. Visiting the sick

Wear anything but black when visiting someone in the hospital; aside from superstition, hospital etiquette dictates this. This belief and etiquette stems from the fact that black is used to symbolize sadness and pain during mourning.

Don’t bring red flowers and/or pears when visiting a patient since red signifies blood and a pear signifies death. Instead, bring something white or yellow, as they are the colors that symbolize life in Thailand culture.