Local Do's and Taboos
King Bhumibol Adulyadej has ruled Thailand for more than 60 years, and is revered by his people. Any insult against him is an insult against the national religion and patrimony. Lighthearted remarks or comparisons to any other person living or dead are also taboo. If you don't have something nice to say about the king, don't say anything at all.
Thais aim to live with a "cool heart" or jai yen—free from emotional extremes. Since being in a hurry shows an obvious lack of calm, they don't rush and aren't always punctual. Try to leave space in your itinerary for this relaxed attitude, since something will invariably happen to slow your progress.
Always remove your shoes when you enter a home. Do not step over a seated person's legs. Don't point your feet at anyone; keep them on the floor, and take care not to show the soles of your feet (as the lowest part of the body, they are seen by Buddhists as the least holy). Never touch a person's head, even a child's (the head is the most sacred part of the body in Buddhist cultures), and avoid touching a monk if you're a woman.
When possible do not give or receive anything with your left hand; use your right hand and support it lightly at the elbow with your left hand to show greater respect. Don't be touchy-feely in public. Speak softly and politely—a calm demeanor always accomplishes more than a hot-headed attitude. Displays of anger, raised voices, or even very direct speech are considered bad form.
Thais don't like anything done in twos, a number associated with death. Hence, you should buy three mangoes, not two; stairways have odd numbers of stairs; and people rarely want to have their photo taken if there are only two people.
Out on the Town
Many Thais drink and smoke, but smoking is banned in many public buildings (including restaurants and bars). While you might spot a few drunken Thais stumbling about on a Saturday night, public drunkenness is not any more welcome here than it would be at home. Backpackers who flock to Thailand for cheap beer and beach parties rarely leave a favorable impression on the locals.
Thais are polite and formal in their business doings, employing the same sense of propriety as in everyday life. In professional settings, it is always best to address people with the courtesy title, khun (for males and females). As anywhere, greet a business associate with a Buddhist wai (hands clasped, head bowed.)
Business cards are hugely popular in Southeast Asia and it's a good idea to have some on hand. You can have them made quickly and cheaply in Thailand if necessary.
Local copy shops and business centers are about as common as Internet shops—ask around. In the cities, the nearest business-service center is likely a block or two away. Department stores such as Central (www.central.co.th/index_en.html) usually dedicate the majority of a floor to school supplies and business services.
Fodor's Trip Planning Ideas
- Fodor's 100 Hotel Awards: Check out the winners of 2013
- Weekend Getaways: Fodor's Recommends the Best Weekend Escapes in the US
- Great American Vacation: Find Your Next U.S. Trip with Fodor's
- 80 Degrees: Fodor's Helps You Find Your Best Beach Vacation Spots
- Best of Europe: Fodor's Picks the Best Places to Visit in Europe