I’ve already written about the concept of Losing Face in Thailand, and of course, that already implies a lot of dos and don’ts.
But then, let’s take a look at behavior in Thailand that doesn’t have so much to do with losing face, but simply with staying out of trouble.
The Royal Family
Let’s start with the Royal Family. It’s simply not done to speak badly about or insult members of the Royal Family. In fact, it is by law illegal to do so; you can get fined or end up in jail. No jokes there! Really!
Military and Police
The same as the above mentioned with regard to the Royal Family counts for the military or police. Stay respectful, stay humble, and don’t challenge official authorities in Thailand. They may smile at first, but things can turn out nasty.
Don’t mix-up in or talk about Thai politics. Even the Thai are very careful with such. It’s a very sensitive subject which involves the Royal Family, the Military, the “Reds” and “Yellows,” and one better stays out of that.
Please, don’t deal or use drugs such as Marijuana (Cannabis), cocaine, and the like, in Thailand. The law is very strict and sentences can be super tough.
However, the paradoxical situation is that you will see Thais (and foreigners) using Marijuana, especially on the holiday islands, in Chiang Mai, or in Pai, for instance, that is, notably in the more liberal, hippy-like tourist areas.
Things will be a sort of “okay” usually, but it’s not uncommon that the police reinforces the law and exerts so-called crackdowns to set an example.
Do mind that Cannabis in Thailand has now been legalized for medical use. There’s a tendency to also allow Cannabis for recreational use, notably when it comes to Cannabidiol products, but legislation is still heavily under development and constantly changing.
Well, maybe nothing really wrong with it, if in moderation, but you can be more prone to get mixed up in scams, fights, or violating the law, and the like, apart from definitely losing face.
Remember that in Thailand the foreigner is basically always wrong when it comes to traffic accidents or fights in bars, and so on. Be careful. Better safe than sorry.
The Buddha and Buddhism
Don’t stand or sit on Buddha statues or take “funny” pictures with a statue. The Buddha and Buddhism are very important and sacred aspects of the Thai culture and it’s really not appreciated being disrespectful with their religion.
Dress appropriately when you visit Thai temples. In Thailand, a temple is called a Wat, such as in Wat Pho — the famous temple in Bangkok. Shorts and skirts should not reveal the knees. Shirts must have sleeves and should not reveal shoulders.
If you don’t wear proper clothing, you will most likely be denied entry. When entering a temple building one should always take off footwear (that is, shoes, slippers, and the like). The rules are somewhat less strict for Chinese temples, by the way.
In any case, mind also that women should not touch male monks. In general, monks should be treated with the highest respect. In public transportation, for instance, you may see signs that give preference to giving monks a sitting place, or even special reserved seats for monks.
Generally, closed toed shoes are seen as more polite. In official circumstances you should definitely wear those. Then again, in many places, buildings, homes and such, shoes, slippers, or flip flops are removed anyway before entering the space, so the kind of shoes you wear isn’t that much an issue.
Don’t show too much affection in public. Although this has changed a bit in past years and young Thai couples can be seen holding hands, it’s actually not done to cuddle too much with your partner in public.
Certainly the Thais know that cuddle behavior in other countries is different to Thailand, but still, try to not offend their feelings.
Pointing with a finger at someone is seen as very rude in Thailand. If you must, do so by lifting your chin in the direction of the person or use your whole hand rather than just a single finger.
Don’t sunbathe nude. It’s offensive to the majority of Thai people, and most certainly in the southern predominantly Muslim parts of Thailand.
Just don’t overstay your visa. It can get you into trouble. If you need or want to stay longer in Thailand, there are many options to do so legally, including visa extension in the country, or so-called quick visa-runs to neighboring countries.
The Thai Smile
The Thai smile is famous and essential in Thailand’s etiquette. Thais smile abundantly, and you should try to always return a smile.
Smiles are used in many situations: during negotiations, when not knowing an answer, an apology, to relax an uncomfortable situation, and just in daily life to say “Hi” or thanks, or just to acknowledge someone else’s presence.