Mind Your Manners - How to Observe Thai Etiquette During Your Visit to Chiang Mai

A record 32.59 million foreign tourists visited Thailand in 2016. The Thai people are welcoming, peaceful, and consequently respectful towards foreigners. Thais also place a high value on decorum and etiquette. Learn a few rules of Thai etiquette and it will go a long way with the locals, making your trip more enjoyable. Keep reading for some valuable tips on etiquette for your next trip to Chiang Mai.

Temple Etiquette

There are many temples in Chiang Mai and throughout Thailand. Don't let the rules of Thai etiquette dissuade you from visiting them.

What to Wear

When visiting temples, a good general rule is to skip the shorts and wear a shirt that covers your shoulders. There are many temples in Thailand and depending on the "rank" of the temple the rules may be more or less flexible.

In more rural areas it may be acceptable for a man to wear a tank top and shorts to temple. Women, however, should never dress in this manner. For women, wear a skirt or pants that cover at least your knees.

Most inner city high ranking temples and royal palaces are prepared for foreign visitors and will supply a unisex sarong to make your dress acceptable. You won't be allowed to enter if you are not properly dressed.

Thai Etiquette - Don't Point

Pointing is considered rude, especially in sacred places or at religious objects. If you point with your foot it is the ultimate show of rudeness.

Don't Tempt the Monks

Becoming a monk is a serious lifelong commitment that requires one to separate from all worldly trappings that we are accustomed to. This would include sex.

If you are a woman, you don't want to tempt the monks by touching them or handing items directly to them. When you would like to give them something, place it on a table so the monk can then pick it up.

If you choose to attend a morning offering look for the monk's assistant. This go-between person assists the monks with offerings from women.

If you are outside of a temple and see a monk, women should step out of a monk's footpath. Do not sit next to them on public transport either.

Don't Sit On Buddha

The Buddha is a sacred religious icon and images or objects of the figure should be respected. No matter how small or old the object or image is, you must follow the Thai etiquette tradition of showing Buddha respect.

Do not sit, climb, hang on, sit next to them for photo ops, or put them on the floor. A general rule is to not put the Buddha in a position that would be "inferior" to a person.

Pay Attention to Your Feet and Remove Your Shoes

It is polite to take your shoes off when you enter someone's home, as feet are thought to be unclean. Failing to remove your shoes is one of the most insulting things you could do to the Thai people.

Traditional Hindu belief is that the head is sacred because it is closest to heaven. This means that the feet are the most unclean because they are the furthest away.

You must take your shoes off when entering a Temple. As we mentioned pointing is rude, so don't point your dirty feet at Buddha. If you choose to sit in the temple, do so in a way that you aren't showing the bottoms of your feet to people or the altar.

While you are at it, don't show the bottoms of your feet to people in general. Also, don't raise your feet in the air, just in case you were tempted to.

Return the Wai

A common method for greeting others is to perform an action called the Wai. Place your hands together in front of you and bow your head in a prayer-like motion. If someone gives you this gesture it will be adverse to Thai etiquette if you do not return it.

The only people who are not expected to return a wai are monks and the king. If you are holding items then you can slightly bow your head instead of the full gesture.

Use Your Right Hand, Not Your Left

Just like your feet, your left hand is considered unclean since it is associated with bathroom activities. It would be offensive for you to hand someone an object or money with your left hand.

Keep Your Cool

You will accomplish nothing if you lose your cool and get loud as a dissatisfied customer. If things are not going the way you want you'll be respected by the Thai people for staying calm.

Use Your Spoon

When you are eating Thai food the proper thing to do is use your spoon. Do not put the fork in your mouth.

Use the fork to help push the food onto your spoon. The only time you should use chopsticks is if you are eating a noodle dish or spring rolls.

Don't Disrespect the Royal Family

This is more than just a suggestion. Public displays of disrespect could land you in prison. You should treat anything depicting the royal family with respect, including money.

King Bhumibol was monarch of Thailand for 70 years and was a much-loved monarch by the people. Items depicting his image should be shown just as much respect as the current king's.

Smile Your Way Through Thai Etiquette

Let's do a quick review of what we've gone over. Remember to dress appropriately for your temple visits and to take your shoes off when entering them.

Show respect to Buddha and the royal family. When interacting with the Thai people, return a wai when someone offers one to you.

Use your right hand for passing money and objects to others. Always use your spoon for eating.

The Thai people are kind and forgiving and most likely will not tell you if you do something to offend. The best way to handle a situation where you have offended is to smile and offer an apology.

For tipping rules look here.

In the "land of smiles," your body language and a smile will communicate your intentions better than any words can.

Book your next trip to Chiang Mai, Thailand today.