Greetings

  • The Greeting “Sawatdee” (Shan: Mai Song Ka):
  • The traditional Thai greeting is a “wai,” where the hands are brought together in front of the chin. The younger or lower-ranking person initiates the “wai.”
  • When approaching someone in Thailand, use a title before their name according to their age and status. For example, use “noug” (younger brother) for a child or “long” for someone older.

Respect for the Head and Feet

  • The Head:
  • Thais consider the head the most sacred part of the body. Avoid touching a Thai person’s head, even as a friendly gesture.
  • The Feet:
  • Feet are considered the lowest and dirtiest part of the body. Apologize if you accidentally step on someone’s foot.
  • Don’t rest your feet or put your shoes on a table, and avoid stretching your feet towards others, especially in temples. Never point your feet at a Buddha image or monk.

Religion

  • Buddhism:
  • Dress modestly when visiting temples. Both men and women should cover their legs and shoulders.
  • Remove your shoes before entering a temple. It’s acceptable to wear shoes around the temple compound but not inside the chapel where the principal Buddha image is kept.
  • Buddhist monks should not touch or be touched by women or receive items directly from their hands. Women should hand items to a man, who then presents them to the monk.
  • Treat all Buddha images with respect. Never climb on them or engage in any disrespectful behavior.

Behavior and Social Norms

  • Anger:
  • Displays of anger are considered a lack of self-control. Practice polite persistence and smile to show self-control.
  • Public Displays of Affection:
  • Public displays of affection between sexes are uncommon. Even married couples rarely show affection in public. Keep this in mind during interactions and when working with local staff.
  • Hospitality:
  • When visiting local homes or receiving visitors, it’s customary for the host to offer a drink. Guests are not obligated to drink it.
  • Royal Family:
  • The Thai Royal Family is highly respected. Avoid negative comments, even in jest. Handle items bearing the King’s image respectfully. For example, do not stop a rolling coin with your foot or lick stamps.

Interaction with Locals

  • Approach Behavior:
  • Thais are respectful of Westerners and may practice their English with you. Don’t be offended by personal questions about age, weight, salary, or marital status; they are not meant to be intrusive.

Dress Code

  • Respectful Attire:
  • Avoid wearing revealing or tight clothing. Men should generally avoid shorts in professional or formal settings. Women can wear long trousers or skirts below the knees and should use a petticoat if wearing skirts.

Hygiene

  • Personal Cleanliness:
  • Personal hygiene is very important. Shower or bathe before bed, especially if living with Thai or Shan people. Using deodorant is also important.

Communication Style

  • Voice:
  • Thais often speak softly. A high voice is associated with anger. Stay calm and smile, even in frustrating situations, especially with public authorities.
  • Thai Smile:
  • Smiling has various meanings in Thai culture, including amusement, apology, gratitude, avoiding issues, or showing embarrassment. Smile when greeting others or when smiled at.

Saving Face

  • To Not Lose Face:
  • Maintaining face is crucial. Avoid confrontations and approach sensitive matters with care to preserve mutual respect.

Tattoos

  • Spiritual Significance:
  • Tattoos hold spiritual significance for Shans. Shan Christians may want to remove them, but this can be difficult. Avoid complimenting tattoos if the person is a Christian. If you plan to get a tattoo, do so at the end of your stay.

Safety and Security

  • Safety Precautions:
  • Think about safety. Avoid risky behaviors like sitting on the roof of vehicles. Hitchhiking is uncommon and discouraged, especially for women.
  • After nightfall (around 8-9 pm), it’s advised that girls do not go out alone.
  • Water:
  • Drink only bottled or treated water. Avoid tap water. Stay hydrated, especially if experiencing symptoms like headache, dizziness, or nausea. Check your urine color; if it’s very yellow, you need to drink more water.