logo
logo

Pretend Your Left Hand Doesn’t Exist, and Other Etiquette Tips to Follow in Thailand

good thai manners

Pretend Your Left Hand Doesn't Exist, and Other Etiquette Tips to Follow in Thailand

Your guide to greetings, utensils and common courtesies in Thailand.

If you don't want to completely embarrass yourself when travelling in Thailand, familiarizing yourself with proper Thai etiquette is critical. Though locals tend to forgive foreigners when it comes to Thai manners, it's still important to know the fundamentals of how to behave—you're a guest, after all.

Greetings

Introductions: Don't be too excited, and wait for your host (if you have one) to introduce you to others. They will often address you by your first name, and possibly add khun before your name— a term similar to mister or miss. The Thai term is gender-neutral, though, so don't feel offended if you hear them address you the same way they would the opposite sex.

The wai: Do not go to shake someone's hand; hand touching is not how you greet in Thailand. The typical Thai greeting is called the wai, and involves pressing your palms together and slightly bowing your head. Since Thailand has a social hierarchy, typically the youngest person, or the person of lowest status, will offer the wai first. The only exceptions are monks: they'll just look at you and walk away. Monks are not expected to return the wai as they are of high status, similar to how you are not expected to return a wai at children, waiters or street vendors.

Dining

Utensils: Most food is eaten with a fork and spoon—but never put the fork in your mouth! The fork is placed in your left hand while you use it to scrape the food into the spoon, which is placed in your right hand. Noodle dishes are the only meal that are often eaten with chopsticks. Some food can also be eaten with your fingers. If you're left-handed, you better get used to using your right hand at dinner: in Thai culture, the left hand is considered dirty as it is associated with bathroom functions, so only eat with your right hand to avoid the awkward assumptions of your dining hygiene!

Eating: In some cultures, if you finish all the food on your plate, it shows that you enjoyed the meal and are satisfied. Not in Thailand. You should always leave a few bites of your meal to show the host you are full, because eating everything on your plate indicates that you're still hungry. But it's not that simple, either: never leave rice on the plate, since it's considered wasteful, as Thai consider rice to be the most sacred ingredient. And while we're at it, make sure you don't lick your fingers after eating, because in Thailand this is considered extremely rude etiquette. If your fingers are slathered in sticky sauce, it's best to just grab a napkin.

Thai Do's and Don'ts: What You Should Do

Smile! Show Thai folks those pearly whites—even if you're struggling with the language, getting lost or feeling annoyed from the extreme temperatures, don't let your frustration show. Always smile and avoid showing strong negative emotions in public. These emotions are considered very negative and rude in Thai culture.

Be honest: Always tell the truth if someone asks you something. White lies are considered rude, so don't take offence if someone says something to you that may seem a little too direct; it is simply the norm in Thai culture.

Remove your shoes: It is a Thai courtesy to always remove your shoes when entering someone's home. Some shops and temples also require you to remove your shoes before entering, so if you are unsure as to what to do, look near the entrance for a pile of shoes. This is one of the reasons why Thai people place an importance on simple footwear.

Note the threshold: When entering a shop or someone's home, it's an old tradition to step over the threshold instead of stepping on it.

Respect the Thai anthem: Thailand's national anthem is broadcast at eight in the morning and six in the evening every day on TV and the radio, and played on speakers in train stations and government buildings. If you hear it, it's good etiquette to remain still and show your respect.

Thai Do's and Don'ts: What You Shouldn't Do

Don't be skimpy: When you're in Thailand, don't wear anything too revealing and immodest. You should wear neat and modest clothing and only wear bathing suits when you're on a beach.

Pretend your left hand doesn't exist: As mentioned above, since the left hand is considered "dirty", always use your right hand when passing objects.

Don't show your feet: Never show somebody the bottom of your feet. Thai people consider feet the lowest and dirtiest part of your body. (And, literally speaking, they may have a point.) It is rude to point with your feet and extremely rude to have your feet point toward a Buddha statue when sitting in a temple.

Keep your hands off that head: Unlike feet, heads are considered the most sacred part of the body, so never touch someone's head or hair, and never pass an object over someone else's head.

Don't point: If you're walking across the streets of Thailand and happen to recognize a Thai celebrity, don't wag your finger around—a chin lift in their direction is more common and polite.

Don't throw things: Even if you're in a rush and tossing someone money, it's considered rude in Thai culture. Take the time to hand things to people properly, and even unfold money when paying.

Don't touch a monk: Touching a monk is extremely disrespectful in Thailand, especially if you're a woman. Monks are forbidden to have any physical contact with women, and to make physical contact would go against their faith.

Don't show public affection: You and your loved one are travelling through an amazing country, you're more in love than ever, and that's awesome—just don't go showing your affection in public. Public displays of affection like kissing and hugging are considered rude in Thailand. Besides, you don't want to be that couple, do you?

—By Savannah Tran, Outpost staff

Watch the Show

Read More Delicious Blog Posts:

new friends in thailand

Time to Say Goodbye

Lena has trouble holding back tears when leaving Thailand.
10th May 17

So Long, and Thanks for All the Pad Thai

Sue bids farewell to Thailand while remembering the biggest highlights.
10th Apr 17

Travelling vs. Travel Writing: A Deeper Connection

Travel writing doesn’t just improve your writing—it makes you a better person.
7th Apr 17

When it Comes to Travel, Love Trumps Fear

No fear of the unknown should stop you from exploring new places.
27th Mar 17
24th Mar 17
20th Mar 17

The Man With The Tinny Guitar

You can’t meet the Black House’s architect. but you can feel his ghost.
10th Mar 17

Mastering the Art of Thai Street Meat

Sometimes the best meals are found accidentally.
6th Mar 17

Behind the Scenes: Travelling for Work vs. Travelling for Fun

Being a professional travel writer is, and isn’t, as glamorous as it sounds.
3rd Mar 17

Different, Different but Same: Finding a New Experience at the Lampang Market

Just when Lena thought she’d seen everything Thai markets offer…
28th Feb 17

The Thai Festivals You Don’t Want to Miss

The If you’re looking for an excuse to visit Thailand, here are four.
22nd Feb 17

How to Enjoy the Journey in all its Forms

Whether relaxing or panicking, it’s the journey that matters most.
14th Feb 17
thailand buddhist statues souvenirs

Don’t Buy the Buddha: Your Thai Souvenir Could Be Sacrilegious

Buddhism is a religion, not an accessory of trendy home decor.
9th Feb 17

When Talking Politics Abroad… Maybe Don’t

Sometimes, the biggest culture shock is what you can and can’t openly discuss.
7th Feb 17

What it’s Like to Travel with a Literary Mind

How did Lena feel after two weeks of travelling with Sue?
2nd Feb 17
eating bugs thailand

The Adventure that is Eating an Insect

Who wants to eat scorpion? Lena sure doesn’t.
30th Jan 17

Bangkok’s Backpacker Fashion Report

Diving into the latest trends from Khao San Road.
26th Jan 17
khao san road tattoo review

Getting Tattooed on Khao San Road

You’ll never guess what Sue got branded forever on her foot.
20th Jan 17
fly from bangkok to taiwan
17th Jan 17
awkward thai massage

Too Neurotic for a Massage

Sue’s biggest problem with Thai massages: You can’t understand the masseuses’ gossip.
12th Jan 17
why i could be a thai expat

Never Question the Chunks: Why You Should Eat Street Meat in Thailand

If you’re looking for good eats, take to the street… meats.
11th Jan 17
sisterhood abroad

A Sisterhood Born Abroad

Nothing tests friendship like travelling together.
29th Dec 16
cathay pacific flight options

6 Ways to Pass the Time on a 15-Hour Flight

From sharpening your chess game to slurping endless noodles, Cathay Pacific has you covered.
26th Dec 16
clif bar backpacking

The One Thing I’ll Never Travel Without

When you’re on the road, only real food keeps the hanger at bay.
22nd Dec 16
thailand expat living

Why I Could Be an Expat in Thailand

With glistening temples and a playful vibe, Sue would happily call Thailand home.
19th Dec 16
chiang mai cabaret show

Chiang Mai’s Cabaret is Second Only to Vegas

With infectious energy and beautiful dancers,  nobody dances like they do in Thai cabarets.
16th Dec 16
hiking northern thailand

In the Jungle, the Spiders Sleep Tonight

Searching for the heart of Thailand in its northern jungles.
14th Dec 16
chiang mai cooking class review

Setting Fire to a Thai Kitchen… in a Good Way

Don’t try this at home. (Unless your home is also a Thai cooking school.)
12th Dec 16
tea fields north thailand

Tea-Leaf Memories at the Choui Fong Tea Plantation

Nothing helps you escape the bustle of Thailand like a cup of tea.
9th Dec 16
opium museum thailand

Chiang Rai’s Opium Museum Makes You Never Want to Try Opium

A more effective anti-drug ad than “This is Your Brain on Drugs”.
8th Dec 16
chiang rai travel guide

Chiang Rai’s Black Temple: If Buddha Walked into a Bar…

It’s like a raunchy, hyper-masculine, American frontier tavern for Buddhists.
7th Dec 16
lampang travel guide

The Little Truk-Truk That Couldn’t

If you’re ever riding in a pickup truck racing up a mountain, jump out.
6th Dec 16
white temple travel story

Chiang Rai’s White Temple is a Modern Architectural Marvel

This place resembles an ice palace in a fairy tale.  
5th Dec 16
2nd Dec 16
dreamer cafe lampang
1st Dec 16
chiang mai bangkok train

Sleeper Trains: The Best Way to Travel When All You Need is Sleep

Of all the land transit in Thailand, the sleeper train wins.
30th Nov 16
yi peng lantern festival story

The Worst Way to End a Thai Lantern Festival

The 2016 Yi Peng festival was dazzling, popular—and ended in the hospital.
29th Nov 16
yi peng chiang mai festival guide

Flight of the Sky Lanterns

Yi Peng, one of Chiang Mai’s biggest festivals, is even bigger than we thought.
28th Nov 16
meeting strangers in thailand

Here’s to You, Grandma Poon

Lena finds an adoptive grandmother on the train to Bangkok.
25th Nov 16

I Love the Open Road and All That It Suggests

Riding in wooden trains, sleeper cars and pickup trucks across Thailand.
24th Nov 16
kanchanaburi train guide

That Time We Missed Our Train to Kanchanburi

Lena, now officially nicknamed Mom, got a little stressed.
23rd Nov 16
elephants world kanchanaburi review

The Ethics of Elephant Tourism in Thailand

Not all elephant sanctuaries are ethical. Thankfully, Elephants World is.
22nd Nov 16
what it's like river kwai kanchanaburi

Spending Remembrance Day on the Real-Life Bridge on the River Kwai

“Tourists snap selfies on the bridge. I don’t understand any of this.”
21st Nov 16

Reflections on Seeing My Grave in a Thai War Cemetery

Who was S. Bedford, the 22-year-old Cambridgeshire Regiment private?
18th Nov 16
thai king mourning bangkok

What it Means to Make a Country Great

Mourning the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej in Bangkok.
17th Nov 16
bangkok market travel

Investigation or Intrusion? Toeing the Travel Journalist’s Line

At Bangkok’s amulet market, not everyone wants to chat with travel writers.
16th Nov 16
bangkok river boat tour

A Banana’s Worth: Haggling on the Chao Phraya River

The traveller’s dilemma: Do you pay what you’re charged, or bargain down?
15th Nov 16

Returning to Bangkok: Same-Same, But Different

Humid, flood-prone and home to 15 million, Bangkok is a marvel.
14th Nov 16
cathay pacific yvr airport

6 Luxuries I Had No Idea People Actually Enjoyed in Airports

Airport lounges literally take your travel experience from a two to a 10.
11th Nov 16

Jibbing From Jabs: Getting Travel-Vaccinated When It’s the Last Thing You Want to Do

Sue’s no anti-vaxxer, but that doesn’t mean she likes getting stabbed in the arm.
8th Nov 16

The Push Factor: Less-Awesome Reasons Why We Travel

Sue’s visited 50 countries in a decade. What’s she running from?
7th Nov 16
travel inspiration

Forget “Finding Yourself” (Or: How Travel Transformed My Brain)

Travel isn’t about “finding yourself.” It’s about becoming someone new.
6th Nov 16

Thailand’s Four Most Stunning Unique Natural Wonders

These places are so cool, James Bond had a duel to the death there.
5th Nov 16
canmore kananaskis mountain climb

Always With the Trekking: Ruminations on Keeping Up With Lena

Lena likes mountains. Sue, less so. This makes Sue very, very worried.
4th Nov 16
how to behave in thailand

Pretend Your Left Hand Doesn’t Exist, and Other Etiquette Tips to Follow in Thailand

Your guide to greetings, utensils and common courtesies in Thailand.
3rd Nov 16
Why Lena Travels

I’ve Chosen My Shit Sandwich and It Tastes Damn Good

Not literally, of course. It’s a metaphor… for life. 
2nd Nov 16

From Full Moon to Full Circle

The first time Lena went to Thailand, she nearly got rabies.
2nd Nov 16
vodka red bull bucket thailand

Venturing Beyond the Bucket

On this Thailand trip, years after her first, Sue would like less vomit, please.
1st Nov 16

Copyright © 2016 Outpost Travel Media
-
Made possible with the support of the