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The Do's and Don'ts
Thai Etiquette 101
The Thai National Anthem is Played Daily
Thailand takes their nationalism very seriously. A short journey through Bangkok or a small town will reveal a dedication to exhibit their patriotism through posting their national flag. You will find that most Thais are very proud of their home country, its accomplishments, and its beauty.
In fact, twice a day the National Anthem is played throughout the country over PA speakers, the radio, and television. If you are walking in public at either 8 am or 6 pm, there is a strong chance that everyone will freeze and pay tribute to the country during the anthem.
Do: Stop and pay respects.
Don’t: Ignore the anthem and continue around the Thais.
Thailand has a very conservative culture overall. Do not make the mistake of thinking that all of Thailand is a free-for-all party mecca waiting for your escapades into debauchery. Not to say that these places do not exist, but they are exclusive to the tourist areas that accommodate tourist dollars.
For the rest of Thailand, you are expected to dress and behave as the Thais do - with a modicum of self-respect and dignity. This is especially relevant when visiting a Temple or addressing a Monk.
Do: Wear a regular shirt, bra (for women), shorts/pants, and footwear when in public – except for beach areas. When visiting a Temple, females must cover their legs – no shorts.
Don’t: Wear low cut tops or go braless, wear speedos or bikini bottoms, walk barefoot everywhere.
Visiting a Thai Temple
If you are visiting Thailand for the first time, or even the umpteenth time, you will more than likely be visiting a Thai Temple. They are magnificent structures with alluring architecture and awe-inspiring in design. Take note that there are specific “rules of etiquette” when visiting a Buddhist structure, be it a basic Temple or a Grand Statue of Buddha. The expectations for dress and behavior are reserved and conservative – think visiting a Church in a Western country.
Remember that you are entering spiritual grounds that should be treated with the same reverence as the locals, even if you may not agree with the fundamental expectations. In particular, Buddhism places a slight level of inequity in the expectations between men and women, be it in dress, behavior, and/or lifestyle choices. Many of which are no consequence to you as a tourist, unless of course you step foot on sacred ground and/or interact with a Monk.
The following is a guideline to better equip you to seamlessly visit a Temple without incident.
Dress appropriately with pants for men/women, or below-the-knee skirt for women.
Wear shirts with short or long sleeves.
Wait patiently in line and use quiet voices to communicate.
Take off your shoes before entering a Temple structure. Look for signs indicating “no shoes” and/or watch what the locals are doing.
Make a donation at a collection box.
Drink or smoke.
Sit or stand on platforms, raised pavilions, or seats reserved for Monks.
Speak loudly or yell.
Point your feet or the soles of your feet towards Buddha statues, Monks, or Thai people.
Don't Raise Your Voice - Keep Calm
Thailand is an Asian country and “saving face” is ingrained into their culture. This means that a delicate and non-confrontational approach to resolving conflict will help you achieve your goal in quicker fashion. Losing your temper, raising your voice, berating or talking “down-to”, or aggressive gesturing will most certainly get you into an undesirable position, and you are most likely to not get what you want. In fact, any of these behaviors can be seen as an escalation of events, which you are trying to avoid at all costs.
Do: Expect there to be misunderstandings and miscommunications. Be patient. Ask questions. Offer solutions if you have them.
Don’t: Raise your voice, yell, or make angry gestures towards anyone.
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