Culture and Custom


Thailand is a very diverse country, and its culture is made up of a wide range of different influences from different sources, including Indian culture, Chinese culture and the cultures of other countries in Southeast Asia.

Thailand is overwhelmingly a Buddhist country, with around 95% of the population belonging to the Theravada branch of Buddhism. As such, Buddhist teachings and philosophy also play a big part in the formation of Thai culture. Generally in Thailand there is an underlying desire to attain ‘refinement’ and to avoid any behaviour or actions which could be considered coarse or rude. The prototypical Thai expression is a serene and welcoming smile, which is reflective of the friendly and welcoming people.

Thai people are generally polite and friendly, so smiling is important. You should be aware that the concept of “face” is important in Thailand, and therefore you should avoid doing or saying anything that may cause someone else to be embarrassed or to “lose face”.

Thai people tend to give each other a reasonable amount of personal space, and touching is not common, except between close friends of the same sex or between family members. Public displays of affection are not common, so avoid these if you can. You should also touching or getting close to someone’s head, as the head is viewed as the most sacred part of the body and touching it is taboo. As in many Asian countries, avoid passing things with your left hand, as this is considered unclean, and avoid showing the soles of your feet, which are also unclean. Do not point at people or things, as this is considered rude.

Elderly people are considered to be important in Thai culture and are revered. As such, if you are talking to or greeting someone who is your elder, you need to show them the proper respect by dropping your gaze after initially making eye contact. Furthermore, Buddhist monks should be treated with great respect, as Thai people hold them in such high regard that there are laws protecting them.

If you are invited to someone’s home, it would be polite to bring them a small git of flowers or chocolates, though you should avoid marigolds, lilies, or carnations, as these have an association with funerals. In Thailand, gifts will almost never be opened in front of the person presenting them, but rather in private later, so if you are given a gift yourself you should act in the same way.

Thailand’s most prevalent religion by a wide margin is Theravada Buddhism, and active participation in the religion is among the highest of any country in the world at around 95%. Most of the remaining population are Muslim, with only very few adherents to other minority religions.

There are many Buddhist temples throughout the country, often capped by large golden domes, called stupas. If you happen to visit a temple, make sure to remove your shoes before entering as a sign of respect.
Despite the dominance of Buddhism, which is even promoted by the government, Thailand is very accepting of people of all faiths and backgrounds.