Understanding Thai Culture – Do’s & Don’t

When visiting Koh Samui it’s always a good idea to learn about the Thai culture and traditions prior to arriving. Greetings, etiquette and religions can vary considerably from country to country. Understanding Thai culture can be a little daunting to some. We Love Koh Samui Travel Guide have pulled together some essential information for you.

Greetings – The Wai:  When and How?

Thai people use the Wai in the same way that Westerners shake hands. The main differences are that there are many degrees of the Wai. Certain groups of people you do not Wai first and others you do not Wai at all.

The degree of Wai depends on the degree of respect – the higher the respect the higher the hands go. Normally you do not Wai someone you’re junior unless the social class dictates. However, you should receive the Wai by placing your hands at chest level or simply nod your head.  Don’t stress too much. The locals know you won’t understand the complexities of how to use this greeting. Just raise your hands to your chest as in prayer when you greet or thank someone.


Certain gestures are considered rude to the Thais. It is rude to point with one finger at a person so indicate with open flat hand. When beckoning someone to come or follow do it with the fingers pointing downwards. Upwards can be considered a rude gesture similar to ‘flipping the bird’!  Hail a taxi or songthaew with this same hand downward motion or they are unlikely to stop for you. Don’t sit on tables or sit cross-legged in front of those your senior (in terms of age and social status). In formal situations try not to pass things with your left hand. Make sure that your feet never point directly at someone’s head, for example, when sitting cross-legged.

Personal Contact

Traditionally Thai people of different sexes feel uneasy with physical contact from the opposite gender particularly from someone they don’t know. Although this has been changing in larger areas such as Bangkok it’s best to consider it while in the South or rural areas. So don’t touch a person even on the arm when talking to them.

Many traditional cultural taboos are changing in Thailand (more so in larger cities and tourist areas). It’s still worth adhering to them if possible rather than offending particularly older Thais. Avoid touching children on the head especially if they have a Buddha image around their neck. Not such a big issue with small children but definitely don’t touch a Thai adolescent’s or adult’s head. Don’t use your feet to move things or to point at something. Treat any image of the King with the utmost respect (such as money) and avoid the topic of royalty or politics as you may unwittingly offend.

Etiquette at Temples

Visiting a temple or shrine is an important part of most Thai’s everyday life. Understanding Thai culture and what to do when visiting temples is important if you plan on exploring these beautiful buildings.

Here are a few reminders when visiting temple grounds: Dress conservatively in temples no midriffs or shoulders showing for the ladies and men please wear a shirt. Remove your shoes when entering temples and don’t pose on the religious statues. Take photos by all means but use your discretion – don’t take a close up of people at prayer and when in doubt ask. Ladies never touch a monk. Browse all Koh Samui’s temples…..

Just About Everywhere

Dress respectfully and remember to Wai. Smile and try not to become aggressive or confrontational if things aren’t going your way – it won’t get you anywhere.  Always try to say “Mai pen rai” (No problem!).

If understanding Thai culture is a little overwhelming for you make it simple – follow what others do. Watch out for the protocol whenever you enter a building or room. If everyone else taken their shoes off if so follow their lead. Sticking to our advice and taking onboard some basic do’s and don’t will save anyone from being offended or embarrassed during your time on Koh Samui.